The Truth About Book Sales, Having Heroes, Being an Introvert, and the Haters
I open up my Mentor Authorship program every summer, and, every summer, writers and creatives respond to it en masse with anxiety. They want to do it, but they fear they aren’t ready or capable or good enough or can you really make money as a writer? And the list goes on and on. But what I know to be true is that all of these fears and anxieties are birthed from lies society tells us about creatives.
I am lucky. I had parents who encouraged me to pursue writing. They saw my passion and talent for the craft when I was very young, and they let me submit to every contest and magazine out there, but they were also worried about my future and what my career might look like.
I won my first award for poetry at eleven years old. My poem was published in a coffee table collection (Ya, I’m getting old. They don’t make those anymore.) and I was to accept my award at a ceremony somewhere in a Texas banquet hall. When my grandfather found out that my parents decided not to let me go to the ceremony, he was furious, and that stuck with me. His anger at the situation was encouragement, because it showed me that he really believed in me and that he thought I deserved the recognition being offered.
Fast forward to college. When it came time to pick a major, I was conflicted. I’d written a full novella by this time, had won awards for writing, had a weirdly extensive LiveJournal (again, old) full of my literary meanderings, and identified so deeply as a writer that it was impossible for me to separate out any other piece of myself that could be happy in a different career. Plus, I grew up in the age of Harry Potter, the first book coming out when I was in eighth grade, so I had big Rowling-sized dreams. But my father warned that I needed something to “fall back on.” He wasn’t strict about it—if I wanted to pursue writing, fine, but I took this warning to heart because I’d heard it before. Everywhere.
I’d been inundated with the age-old story of the broke and desolate writer, dying drunk and penniless, only to maybe have his work become famous posthumously, never getting to enjoy the spoils of his labor.
I’d heard that being a writer was like being an artist—that it wasn’t a “real” career. It was more of a hobby or a side hustle or something you dabbled in on the weekends. And you couldn’t major in becoming an author. There was/is no program that guided you specifically down that career path. So the whole thing did seem like a gamble. In the end, I majored in psychology, and I used all of my elective credits on writing classes.
I had to take Creative Writing 101, and while I was excited about it, I was also frustrated that you couldn’t test into higher level writing classes in the same way you can test into different levels of math. (Even writing that sentence still stings with a tinge of stigma. Did you feel it? That I should be so bold to think I could skip Creative Writing 101! But you wouldn’t feel that way about someone skipping Algebra I and testing into Calculus, would you? No, you wouldn’t. You’d just simply assume they’re good at math.)
Something life-changing happened to me in Creative Writing 101, though. My professor was a small, sweet-faced woman with wavy blonde hair and thick glasses. She always wore a mid-length skirt in some unassuming color and spoke in soft tones. She was the first person to teach me how to conduct as well as participate in a workshop, how to shape the ideas in my imagination into paletteable story arcs, and she was the first person to really take notice of my talent and encourage me.
I need to pause here and tell you something entirely unrelated to my point, but while in this class, I wrote a story about a man who wakes up in a museum at night. He’s locked in, he’s scared, but as he gets his bearings, he starts to explore the exhibits and dioramas around him. One by one, they come alive and he is transported to different points in history, experiencing the exhibits throughout the night. Sound familiar?? Yeah. That’s because I wrote a more adult version of NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM in college and didn’t do anything with it and then this big movie with all these superstars came out and I kicked myself so hard because, damnit, that was a good idea I had and this is a lesson, kids. Don’t ignore your ideas. Always act on them, because the worst that can happen is they flop, and the best that can happen is they become a multi-gajillion dollar franchise. End rant.
Anyways. This professor went out of her way and above and beyond her responsibilities as my teacher and took me, just me, to see Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche speak at Carnegie Hall. It was an intimate and magical experience, where we all sat very close and asked her questions and fawned over her talent and the beauty in that talent. We talked about her father, about her lineage, about American politics, about literature, and it was just one of those nights you read about in storybooks. It changed me. Forever.
After graduating with my psych degree and working in the field, I was still called to pursue writing. Afterall, I was running storytelling workshops with my clients and discovered that I could use writing to help people heal. This led me to understand that I could use my psych degree to my advantage—that having dual degrees in psych and creative writing set me apart from the pack. I’d found my point of difference.
Going to school for writing was everything and more than I expected. I moved to Chicago and went to class in a historic building made of stone and stained glass. I spent my days talking about Chaucer and Faulkner and Woolf, and I spent my evenings at readings in the city and writing in the den of my apartment. I was happy, euphoric, and in time, I went on to study at the University of Prague under authors I’d never dreamed of meeting.
But it wasn’t enough. As much as it pains me to say that, it just wasn’t. With all of my experience and education, I still didn’t know how to build a career as a writer. What does that even mean? I thought. How would I make money? Was it true—writing really would be just a thing I do on the side?
And without any guidance, and as time passed, I really lost confidence in my ability to “make it.” I went from feeling encouraged and talented and excited to feeling deflated and disappointed. I didn’t feel good enough anymore, because there was such a huge disconnect between “success” in college and everything that came before “real adult life.”
It took me years of staring into the void, of writing and submitting and fielding rejections, of pondering what it meant to be a writer, of trying and failing, of working a 9-5 while carrying this side hustle—it took me years of disheartened frustration.
And then, one day, I quit it all. That simple. I JUST QUIT. I quit everything. I quit my job. I quit worrying about my bank account. I quit answering to other people. I quit ignoring my fears. And I quit letting how the world viewed me rule how I viewed myself. I knew that I need to take control of that.
Quitting was my true beginning. I dove head first into entrepreneurship like a sinking buoy. I didn’t know anything at all. All I knew was that I had certain set of talents and a vision, and that I’d forge a path along the way.
It’s six years later. Now, being a published author, a renowned editor, a publisher, having seen my work put on stage, having received recognition from my city and in magazines over the years, building one of the largest annual writer’s conferences, having spoken at multiple universities, having coached hundreds of writers and creatives—in all of this, here are the most important things I’ve learned so far:
Find your heroes.
This is the foremost important piece of advice I can give you. We spend SO much time worrying about what Nancy next door thinks or what Karen from accounting said to us yesterday when what the hell are they doing with their lives? Forget about all that. Find your heroes.
One of my favorite creatives is Kevin Smith, and while I like his movies—they’re funny and smart, and that’s cool—what I really love about Smith is his mission to encourage other creatives to pursue their dreams. He spends so much of his time just talking on stages to people, to college kids, to anyone who wants to do what he did, telling them exactly how to do it. I often repeat his sentiment that it takes NOTHING to encourage an artist. Literally NOTHING. And you never know what your encouragement might help spur in another person. The world is FULL of why. Why do that? You want to write a book, why? Why do you think you can do that? Fill your life with WHY NOT. Surround yourself with people who support you and your creativity, who simply say, “Yeah, why not?” whenever you tell them about your ideas. Stop making time for people who doubt you.
I listen to Kevin’s talks every time I’m getting ready to do an event, and it juices me up! I still listen to Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche while I’m creating, and it inspires me! And I have a whole list of go-to heroes who remind me that they’re no different than I am as long as I keep pushing towards my goals.
It’s not about you, it’s about them.
The naysayers. The haters. Nancy next door and Karen from accounting. Listen to me when I say this: Their negativity is not about you. It’s about them. It takes so much more effort to knock someone down than to build them up, so understand that when someone else says something negative about your creative dreams that it’s because they have their own spite, self-doubt, and stifled sense of happiness to deal with. People who can’t see or encourage your dreams likely aren’t living out their own, and their negativity is simply a projection. Dust that shit off and keep it moving!
Your book should not be your sole source of income. That’s crazy.
A lot of haters get bitter because they did things the wrong way the first time and never tried again. Did I say it took me YEARS of mis-steps to figure this life out? Because it did. YEARS. If I had quit on myself, I’d probably be pretty bitter, too. That said, one of the biggest mistakes authors make is JUST publishing their book and then expecting gold to pour into their mailbox. It doesn’t work that way.
No matter how you publish, self or traditional, royalty rates, printing costs, and getting your books in front of people’s eyeballs and into their hearts is all costly, so it’s tough to make a reasonable amount of money from book sales. Being a WORKING author—a full-time writer—is not just about publishing books. It’s also about marketing, it’s about building platform and presence, but most importantly, it’s about finding your offerings and your point of difference, and then positioning those things to be monetized. This is what I teach authors and writers in my mentorship program. THIS is what no one taught me in college, and the lack of THIS knowledge is what left me reeling for years—too close to becoming Nancy or Karen.
Being an introvert is not an excuse.
Hello. My name is Amanda, and I am an introvert. Many writers and creatives are. But being an introvert does not render me incapable of building a career. In fact, being an introvert, in the simplest of terms, just means that I’m up in my head a lot. I think about things a lot. I need time and space to re-position things from different perspectives and to process the different angles of my feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Introverts are notorious for needing time to re-charge, and this is certainly true for me, but it doesn’t mean that I hate people or that I need to burrow away from society like some angry squirrel. It just means that I want to hang out with you for like 3-4 hours and then I want to go home and be alone for the evening. It also means that I’m a little awkward at times, that I stumble over my words because my thoughts are a little quick and disorganized (hence being a better writer than speaker), but I love living out loud as myself—as a writer and as a creative.
The second I hear people say they can’t do something because they’re an introvert, my ears perk up, my nose starts twitching. Because there’s a problem with that—a common one. If you are hiding, it’s because you haven’t faced up to your fears or your shame or your guilt or your self-doubt. It’s because you’re harboring a limiting belief that is lying to you, telling you that you can’t or that you’re not good enough. And you probably learned it in the same way I once learned that creatives can’t make money. But let me tell you that being an introvert should never inhibit your ability to harness your dreams.
Anyone can publish a book nowadays, and we should celebrate that!
This is important, because there needs to be a shift in perception in the creative world. So let me start by saying that I used to be really stuck up in my ideas about publishing. I was definitely one of those people who thought that publishing should be guarded by some sage gatekeepers who could determine proper talent, and that only those people should get to publish books. Gross. But true. But the irony of this is that we all grew up with some majestic idea about successful artists—and that idea included our own inability to be one of them. NOW, anyone can publish a book. YES. Now, everyone has access to this world. And let me tell you something. There aren’t any sage gatekeepers. There haven’t been since Leonard Woolf died along with Hogarth Press. Let’s get that straight. The people that are between you and a book deal are so much like you that you’d be shocked. And the more you immerse yourself in your industry, the more connections you make, the more knowledge you acquire, the higher up the ladder you will climb. Who cares who publishes what?! Are people reading less because Sue down the block can freely publish her cat’s memoir? No. So keep on keepin’ on, dreamers.
Wishing you all creative love and light on your journeys. Don’t stop. You’re amazing.