The Big Idea: E. E. Williams
E. E. WILLIAMS:
WRITING FOR YOURSELF MEANS HAVING ONLY ONE READER.
Write for yourself.
That was the advice I kept getting from many friends and family members after I wrote a humorous Facebook post lamenting the meager sales of my last mystery novel, My Grave Is Deep, the third in a series featuring an amateur detective named Noah Greene.
Just write for yourself.
My friends were trying to soothe my feelings because they knew, behind the comic musing, I was probably hurting. Truth be told, I was.
Because I don’t write for myself. I don’t believe many authors do.
Writing a novel isn’t something you do on a lark. It’s hard. First, you need an idea, a story that will grab a reader by the throat and won’t let go. You need a plot with no holes, relatable characters with relatable backstories, authentic dialogue, a coherent beginning and middle, and an end that kicks ass. One that makes a reader laugh, cry, or reach for something to calm their nerves. It’s like wrestling a giant squid.
Once you’ve got all that, you’ve got to write the sucker and that can be laborious, tedious, and often tortuous. Not for all of us. I know a famous Science Fiction writer (oh, you know who I’m talking about) who once scrapped a manuscript not to his liking, and is so talented and fast, he took less than a month to write a new novel that only went on to become a best-seller and win a slew of awards.
Most of us are not that writer.
Some days you feel it, some days you don’t, yet you slog on until you reach at least 80,000 words, the generally accepted total for a typical novel. (The average is 60,000 to 100,000.)
When you finally drag yourself across the finish line and typed THE END on your manuscript, you’re mentally exhausted and the last thing you want is do is pat yourself on the back and shout, “Now what else can I write that nobody else will read?”
I once had a manuscript squirreled away in various desk drawers for 35 years before I finally said enough is enough and finished my first Noah Greene novel, Tears in the Rain. It didn’t take that long to write My Grave Is Deep, but many, many hours did go into composing it. Many, many more revising it. Many, many more rewriting it. Many, many more agonizing over each paragraph, each sentence, each word.
I grappled and cursed and threw too many tantrums to count while writing My Grave Is Deep, and when I finally finished, I was pretty happy with it. Then again, as that great philosopher, Snoopy, once said, I’m a great admirer of my own writing. Still, I thought My Grave Is Deep was the best of the three novels. Not high art, but not pulp fiction, either. Even Kirkus Reviews, a well-known reviewer of books, liked it, calling it “An involving installment of an offbeat detective’s journey toward redemption.” That right there!
I thought readers would buy it. Hoped they’d buy it. Prayed they’d buy it.
They didn’t buy it.
At least not in the numbers I’d have liked.
A little background here. That first novel and the one that followed—Tears of God—were published by a small independent publisher that subsequently went out of business. I don’t think it was my fault, but … maybe? Afterwards, I tried some other publishers where I thought my books would fit, but most of them didn’t take unsolicited manuscripts. Get an agent first, they told me. Good idea, except for the most part, agents want writers with a track record. My track record was maybe, perhaps putting a publisher out of business. Which meant, I didn’t have an agent.
So, like many a couple of million other authors who are wishin’ and hopin’ and prayin’ that someone will notice them, I published the book myself through Amazon’s KDP platform.
It was an incredibly easy process, and with a little advertising dollars thrown here and there, I managed to sell more books than I ever had.
Five is better than two, right?
Nah, it sold more than that but not a lot. I think one of my royalty checks from Amazon was for 80 cents. You either gotta laugh at that or cry.
The problem with publishing on KDP is that the only place readers can get your book is at, well, Amazon. Not Barnes & Noble, not Books-A-Million, not Powells. Not in any independent bookstore. Only Amazon. Period.
That’s going to limit your readership. A lot.
Bottom line, authors want to be read by as many people as possible. For the money, yes, because they like to eat. But there are other reasons to tackle a novel. Some do it to scratch a creative itch. Some to stroke their ego. Some because they have something to say … about themselves, the human condition, the world, life. But all do it for the reader.
As I say, My Grave Is Deep reached more readers than the first two novels. Just not the numbers I’d hoped for. My 16-year-old granddaughter recently asked me about my writing and when I told her of my disappointment she asked, “Why don’t you just quit?”
I could, I would, except for these voices in my head. (Metaphorically speaking, for any psychiatrists in the crowd.) I go to bed at every night hearing dialog of characters, fall asleep creating scenes, and rise the next morning with the characters playing out the scenes from the night before. It’s non-stop. I suspect it’s the same for most authors.
Some reading this will think this is nothing more than an unabashed play for you to buy my next Noah Greene novel, No More Tomorrows, which is available today through another small independent press, Moonshine Cove. While I wouldn’t exactly put it that way, I wouldn’t exactly not put it that way, either.
Look, I don’t have 20,000 (or even 20) followers on Twit … ah, ‘X,’ or Instagram, or an email list of hundreds (things authors need to gain traction these days), so I’m not expecting to wake one morning and find “No More Tomorrows” rocking the top of the New York Times bestseller list. And much as I’d like to believe 74 is the new 40, unless I suddenly become the Grandma Moses of mystery fiction, I’m not going to be signing John Grisham-like mega book and movie deals. My goals are much more … modest. Like having people who don’t share my last name read my work.
It might not matter as much had I another dozen books left in these arthritic fingers. But realistically, time isn’t on my side.
So, while my friends were being kind in advising me to write for myself, it’s not something I can or want to do.
I want to write for the person who’s lonely and alone and needs to escape into another life for a while; for the person stranded in an airport because of a flight delay or cancellation and needs something to occupy their mind so they don’t go crazy and do a Karen on the gate attendant; for someone who belongs to a book club and is desperate to read something a little spicier (and a whole lot shorter) than Ayn Rand; for those who’ve had a trying, depressing day at work; for the parent staying up late waiting for their teenager to come home safely; for the sick and bedridden and hospitalized; for someone looking for a smidgen of sanity in our insane world.
I want to write … for you.
No More Tomorrows: Amazon