Note: this content first appeared in episode 004 of Profiles in Encouragement (below).
On the day after Christmas in 2017, it felt as though my life was destined to change forever. And it was! But not in the ways I might have anticipated when I first slid into my email inbox while on lunch at my place of employment.
I remember reclining, my back against the soft cushion of the booth in which I sat, and taking in the first words of a new email again and again and again.
After assessment of your submitted novel, Accounting For It All, I am thrilled to offer you a contract for publication with NineStar Press. Your talent shines through and I look forward to reading more of your works.
Whew. Even now, three years removed from that email, goosebumps rise on my forearms, but that emotion does not compare to the moment I first read that email. Tears welled in my eyes, and I had to dash into a stairwell, clutching my phone, to keep my co-workers from thinking I’d received awful news instead of amazing news.
I called my then-fiancée, now wife, to share the news, but my voice cracked when she answered, and all I managed to get out was a very shaky “I have news” before the call dropped. She called me back, worried, but once I shared my update with her, all that worry washed away.
Then, with two more contracts for publication arriving in the subsequent months, it seemed as though my career as a published author was set to take off. We were talking book tour, conference gigs, interviews on radio, TV, and in the paper.
It did not, however, work out that way.
The Expectations Game and Ineffective Promotion
Now, a pox upon my name for any portrayal of my journey that insinuates I’m not grateful or extremely fortunate to have been in the position I was in. On the contrary, it’s been my great honor to have found myself in this place. One can hardly complain about the unique joy of holding one’s book in their hands for the first time, of speaking before a crowd and sharing one’s journey from “I think I have an idea for a novel” to becoming a number one new release on Amazon.
But here’s the thing: I deluded myself into believing that just because I wrote it, readers would read it.
I promoted my books, of course, but not in any meaningful, reader-outreach kind of way. I convinced myself that tweets with buy links and pull quotes from New York Times bestselling authors would do the trick. I believed if I spent hours coordinating and scheduling a book tour around my home state that my mere appearance in those places would be enough to drive out at least a handful of readers at each location, all of whom would be eager to hear from a fellow Wisconsinite-turned-author.
If you’re a regular listener to the Writescast Network, however, you know that, in retrospect, I fondly refer to this book tour as “The World’s Saddest Book Tour.” I could go into extraordinary detail about how, despite the graciousness of the bookstore owners and my attempts to promote the events within their communities, nearly every stop proved to be an immense letdown.
I won’t dive too deeply into that now because, well, the details aren’t as important as the takeaway. In the aftermath of the world’s saddest book tour and finding my book sales dwindling, I was devastated.
Awards Season, With Years Between
When award season arrived, I didn’t bother submitting any of my books to awards for which they would have been perfect candidates. Months later, after winners were announced, readers contacted me, confused as to how I hadn’t at least landed an honorable mention anywhere.
Folks, I cannot tell you how sad it made me to email those readers back to tell them I simply hadn’t found my books worth the time it would take to submit them.
A year passed. Another. The news increasingly began to look just as horrifying—if not more so—than the content of the books in my EMPATHY sci-fi saga, Imminent Dawn and Mourning Dove. The third book of five was due out in March 2020, and I rushed, rushed, rushed to get it ready in time for my publisher. If only I could only make another big splash, if I could develop some positive momentum and find new readers, perhaps I’d overcome my hesitations about publishing a book of its nature during times like these.
Then, two months before the book was due to be published, I pulled it. What was the point? If books one and two hadn’t found the readership I longed for, how would book three suddenly churn that up? Besides, I was really disappointed with how, based on restrictions beyond my control, I couldn’t write the third book I originally intended to write.
So it faded. All of it. It seemed the EMPATHY sci-fi saga was destined to fade away, unloved and forever incomplete.
Turning Points, Taking Chances, Making Mistakes
Months later, while scrolling through Facebook, I saw something about the International Book Awards. Immediately, my cynicism kicked in. Surely none of my books were worthy, and, besides, it was 2020. My books came out in 2018 and 2019, so there was no way they would be eligible.
As it turned out, curiosity overpowered cynicism, and I did some digging. Not only were my 2019 books eligible, it seemed, but my 2018 release was, too.
I’m not sure what came over me in that moment: it was a Sunday afternoon, and we were long past the hours I should have allowed myself to work on the weekend, but part of me knew if I didn’t fill out the entry forms and submit the other requested materials that very day, I’d never do it.
So I did. I kicked off all three entry forms, and that was that.
Well, not entirely. I re-read my entry forms and realized that, of course, I made several errors in the information I attempted to submit. Embarrassing.
I swallowed my pride, however, and sent follow-up emails apologizing for my oversights and including corrected information. Not that it would matter: surely these blunders on top of my books’ failure to gain the traction I thought they were worthy of had already doomed my books to wind up in the honorable unmention awards.
I got over my shame more quickly than I thought I would, and soon forgot I submitted my books at all. Spring flowered and wilted, summer rose over the horizon and, by the time July rolled around, the International Book Awards were nothing more than a half-remembered dream.
On the evening of July 22nd, however, I received an email.
The results of the 2020 International Book Awards have been announced.
Your book, IMMINENT DAWN, has been honored as a “Finalist” in the “Science Fiction” category.”
The Moral of the Story, of Our Stories
Friends, family, writerfolk: do not give up. Your stories are worth it. You are worth it. Every word you pen can mean something to someone someday, but for that to be true, you have to believe it first. You have to live it first.
So thank you, everyone, for your support. Thank you for your reviews and encouraging emails and for sharing Imminent Dawn with family and friends. I’m ready now, I think, to get back into the EMPATHY sci-fi saga.
Because every writer deserves to write the story they’re destined to write, and every story deserves an ending.
A version of this content first appeared in episode 004 of Profiles in Encouragement. Click here to subscribe to these episodes and never again miss conversations like these.
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