Field of Dreams Syndrome

If you build it, he will come.

Not everyone has watched the movie, but most people have heard the line.

We writers, by and large, are a sedentary, solitary lot. Sitting, hunched over our keyboard, learning and spending time with characters we’ve worked for months or years to create is our idea of a fun time. We laugh, we cry, we love these stories we create — of course, everyone else will love them too! Once we click “publish” the virtual headlights will shine for miles and miles from cars (computers) filled with people who just want to experience the world we’ve created. They’ll gladly hand over their hard-earned money just to read our words on their screens.

This is the Field of Dreams Syndrome.

I was fully infected myself when I hit “publish” in 2010. I’d read about the success stories. How hard could it be? I thought. The writing, the completion of the book — that’s the difficult part, right? Of course it is. How many people actually finish writing a book? Oh, sure, everyone thinks they can, but how many actually do? I’m a one-percenter! All I have to sell is ten or twenty books a day. There are hundreds of millions of people out there. Surely ten or twenty of them will buy my book each day.

*click*

I tapped my fingers on the desk, waiting patiently for that first sale. Sure, it might take a few minutes, maybe an hour. After all, the book has to propagate through the system before it shows up on every computer screen in the world. Any second now …

Three days later, my patience had worn thin. How long was this going to take? I had spent months writing the thing! The least people could do is acknowledge all that hard work and buy the damn book. Then, after hitting “refresh” for the thousandth time on my sales report, there it was: my first sale! Yes! Finally! Now things will start rolling.

I grabbed the phone and dialed my mother. “Hey, Mom, great news! I got my first sale!”

“That’s wonderful, Dear! I just got online a few minutes ago and bought one, too. Now you’ll have two sales!”

My heart sank. “Um, yeah, that’s great. Thanks, Mom.” I hung up, knowing full well that my first sale would likely be my only sale.

Any of that sound familiar to you? I feel your pain. I, like many other writers out there, was incredibly naive and thought, if I write it, they will come. Do your research, understand your genre, your audience, what makes a great story. Get involved with a writing community, either online or in your home town. Share experiences. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your writing or your marketing.*

Above all, remember one thing: if you love writing, then you’re in this for the long haul. Once you type, “The End,” follow it up with the next, “Chapter One”.

Is this heaven? No, it’s the life of a writer.

But there are times when it can feel like heaven.

*Edit: Check the comments below for some of the things I’ve done as examples of this.

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About Alan Tucker

Writer, Dad, Graphic Designer, Soccer Coach … not necessarily in that order!

Posted on March 7, 2014, in Books/Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Great word Alan. When I finished my first book, I literally started dreaming about how I was going to quit my day job and where to invest all of my royalties. After several “Thanks but no thanks” letters from agents, I realized the harsh reality that the world wasn’t going to beat my door down to read my literary genius. And so we hustle and schlep our books wherever we can… This post is so true for me, as well.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Mark! It is a harsh reality that lots of folks face, not just writers. Our brilliance should be self evident! The real key is falling in love with the process. If we can do that, then everything else is gravy.

  2. I enjoyed this post and even chuckled at your description of your mother buying a copy of your book. It resonated with me because as an indie author I’ve had similar moments and experiences, but I think I wanted a bit more at the end. You say:

    “Do your research, understand your genre, your audience, what makes a great story. Get involved with a writing community, either online or in your home town. Share experiences. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your writing or your marketing.”

    but I think I was hoping for you to delve a little more into how you went from that place of “thanks mom” to doing those generalized suggestions. How did you research? What understanding of your genre did you come to? How did you get involved in the writing community? you even say to share experiences, yet you don’t really share your own. You just sort of vaguely list ways to recover from this, but give no example of such. I was invested in your personal story but

    Please don’t take my comment as being overly critical, because I’m not intending it to be. I’m just sharing my experience here for your benefit. This is my first visit to your blog (linked here from writers’ cafe) and you had me hooked and interested, amusing me with your excellent storytelling and compelling allusions, and then you just… sort of… lost…. steeeeaaaammmmm………. leaving me wanting more details about what’s transpired in the 3-4 years since you published.

    • Sorry, please forgive the “I was invested in your personal story but” part. I posted this before finishing that thought. I was going to say: I was invested in your personal story but I would have loved to hear more of it than you offered.

    • R.T., thanks so much for taking the time to comment! Completely valid criticism, so I’ll endeavor to explain…

      I by no means should be considered an expert. I’ll leave that to Konrath, Blake, Dean Wesley Smith, and others who have track records of success. What little success I’ve had has come recently and I have no idea whether it will continue or if I’ll sink back to the doldrums. With that in mind, I’ll share some things I’ve done.

      Research: By this, I’m referring to the business side of things. Understanding what options are out there such as jumping on the query-go-round and trying to find an agent to self publishing with Amazon exclusively or using any or all of the other platforms. Each author’s needs and wishes will be a little different and one size definitely does not fit all.

      Genre: Read other work in the genre you plan to write in. Pay attention to how the stories are written as well as common themes in cover design, blurb language, and pricing. Break with conventions knowingly and for a specific purpose or risk the ire of your…

      Audience: Know who they are. When I wrote my first series, YA was all the rage. So, I wrote a story I would have wanted to read as a teenager — adventurous and fun — not understanding at the time that the vast majority of YA readers (read: buyers) were women in their mid twenties and up. That’s not a bad thing, but marketing my adventure stories with little or no romance in them as YA just because YA was selling well may not have been the best business decision ever. 😉 I also didn’t really understand the age groups for YA when I started. Meaning that kids tend to read about characters who are a little older than they are, so my story about 8th graders was more likely to be read by 5th and 6th graders rather than 8th or 9th graders.

      Writing: I’ve joined up with a group of middle grade authors to form a cooperative of sorts (Emblazoners.com) where we cultivate readership as a group. We’ve developed a website and catalog of our books to appeal to teachers and librarians. I’ve attended local book fairs (though I wish there were more of these!) and interacted with other authors in my home town. I’ve done my best to hone my craft by reading good works and attending some virtual creative writing sessions (online stuff – check out Brandon Sanderson’s classes).

      Honestly, my pendulum has swung in the other direction to where now, I’m amazed when anyone DOES want to read something I’ve written and take interest. I tend to leave my blog posts as short as possible for that very reason I think. So, thank you again for pointing out this shortcoming and I hope this quenches some of your thirst for wanting to know more. 🙂

  3. Well, at least I don’t have to call my Mom on the PHONE… 😉

  4. armenpogharian

    I certainly understand your not wanting to write an overly long blog, but I do appreciate the additional info you provided in your comment above. I particularly like the idea of working together with other authors. I’m with a small press, which I had hoped would facilitate some of those types of interactions, but sadly it hasn’t. While there are benefits to being with any publisher (editing & cover art in particular) there really isn’t much in the way of marketing. I write YA fantasy, and find it difficult to reach the YA market – something creepy about a middle aged man connecting with 10-16 year old kids through the internet. I suspect most of my marketing and sales are really to their parents (moms) and twenty-somethings who enjoy the genre. As for watching sales, I’m just as guilty as anyone else. My heart races with each review or rank improvement. I really appreciate the support of my family and friends, but I’m always a little disappointed if one of them tells me they posted a review or bought a book.

    • armen, you’re very welcome and thanks for taking the time to comment. I totally agree with the creep factor in trying to connect with teen readers. I’ve struggled with that also. Check with your local schools to see if they’d be interested in having you talk to some classes. I’ve donated paperbacks to my local middle and high schools and I’m hoping to set up some classroom visits for next fall.

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