Every Author Just Wants to Be Liked

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Location: Books & Such main office, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Pretty much everyone just wants to be liked, right? Why, we’ve all taken to heart one sentence from Sally Fields’ earnest Academy-Award acceptance speech: “You like me, you really like me.”

But authors seem especially prone to need to know that they’re not only liked but also respected by the publishing industry. Which points to one of the reasons authors forgo the option of self-publishing. They want to be able to say, “My publisher likes me, really likes me.”

But I was reminded of how compelling that need is when I read a recent Wall Street Journal article about Darcie Chan, who crafted a hit, self-published novel. The Mill River Recluse is her debut novel and has sold more than 400,000 copies–in seven months. According to the WSJ article, she’s receiving offers from foreign imprints, movie studios and audio-book publishers–without having  sold a single physical copy of her book. And that’s the big rub for Chan.

Ms. Chan craves for one event to occur in her writing career that so far has eluded her: She wants a traditional publisher to produce a book–a physical book–Chan has written. Despite six film studios inquiring about movie rights and two foreign publishers bidding on the book, Chan “is holding off on such deals, for fear they might sabotage a potential contract with a domestic publisher,” according to WSJ.

“I have people writing me begging me for a hard copy,” she says, “book clubs and libraries calling me, and I don’t have a hard copy to provide for them.”

Chan is working on her second novel and hopes a traditional publisher will phone one day to say, “We like you, we really like you.”

As I read about Chan, I experienced a raft of responses. Here’s a short list:

  • Obviously, this intense longing for a publisher to produce a physical book isn’t just about having a hard copy. It’s much more about Chan’s desire to have the traditional publishing experience. She wants a professional editor to work with her on her book and for her book to be available in bookstores and libraries. Yes, she could create a physical book, but it wouldn’t be the same, would it?
  • Chan recognizes that a traditional publisher brings to bear certain elements the author can’t provide: Distribution to retail venues, placement in libraries, a marketing plan, an editorial eye, and a team of publishing professionals all focused on how to make her book a success.
  • The desire for “legitimacy” can blind a person to the shortcomings of going the traditional route. I’m sure several traditionally-published authors reading this blog post are groaning over how much they wish they could say their book had sold 400,000 copies.
  • Other self-published authors are gloating over how much money they’re making and how many fans they have. They feel plenty affirmed by their readers.
  • But, really, Darcie Chan is like all of us, including me–she has a set idea of how to know if she’s really liked–and she hasn’t experienced that yet.

What’s your response to Chan’s saga?

Now, here’s the hard part, thinking about how this applies to you.

  • What is the most affirming event that could occur for you, as a writer? To win a certain award (aka Sally Fields)? To sell a certain number of copies of your book? To get a multi-book contract? To hit a best-seller list (would any list do, or would it have to a specific list)?
  • What might you sacrifice to achieve your goal? Might you, like Chan, put film options and audio versions on hold so as not to hurt your chances of making your goal? (Be honest!)
  • How do you handle the disappointments this heartbreaking industry has handed you?
  • How do you keep belief in your abilities going strong?

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21 Comments

  • Donna Fentanes says:

    As a new writer, I don’t think I yet have a single event etched into my soul that must happen to feel that sense of achievement. I suppose the closest would be to hold in my hands my own book, but that can be achieved through self-publishing, even if it is one copy. Regarding sacrifices, I think any opportunities that come as a result of my writing would be ones to embrace. The only disappointments I have garnered from this industry are a healthy stack of rejection letters, that doesn’t bother me, at least I am getting a response. I keep going because I am endowed with a generous supply of ADD and forget about the rejections rather quickly. :)

  • Amanda Dykes says:

    Great food for thought about the changing industry and how our dreams and desires play into it.

    Materially, I suppose as my WIP is part of a series, a multi-book contract would be affirming to me.

    Spiritually, it would be to know that readers have been encouraged with truth in some aspect of their lives while simultaneously swept away in the story.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

    Donna, this is one time that ADD is helpful, isn’t ti?
    Amanda, it’s funny how the idea of touching people spiritually is a driving force for so many writers, but I’ve observed that, the more books you publish, the more you want to expand your readership. It seems to be an inherent part of the writer to want wide readership.

  • Great post and very important questions authors should ask themselves. I actually purchased and read “The Mill River Recluse” and enjoyed it, but as an editor I would have had suggestions for Ms. Chan to make it MUCH better. I think this is part of what she’s craving – the editorial help that can push her to be her very best.

  • Rick Barry says:

    Two weeks ago, after I preached a sermon in Kazan, Russia, the local pastor announced a time of open prayer for anyone who wanted to pray. A man in the back fervently prayed and thanked the Lord for my sermon and expressed how much it had moved and inspired him. I, in turn, was deeply moved. To think I had shared thoughts that inspired such a sincere reaction in a listener? Wow, what a privilege for which to thank God.

    In the same vein, I think these are the sorts of responses that could most affirm me as a writer. Even if I were to sell a million copies of a book, if I did so without ever touching readers’ emotions, their souls, I would feel some disappointment in my work.

  • The most affirming thing for me is hearing from readers, hearing those testimonies about how my work has touched their lives. I don’t need affirmation from publishers or other specific people. Except perhaps my husband. ;-)

    What interests me in this story is that Chan didn’t have a hard copy version. Maybe it’s not yet wide-spread knowledge, but there are solid paths available now for self-publishers who want to release a book both as e-book and printed copy. You can even get into some of the major distribution channels that publishers use. The folks over at The Book Consultant outline one way in this article: http://www.thebookconsultant.com/LPMArticle.asp?ID=182

    As for Rachelle’s comment — yes, yes, and yes! So many self-published stories could use the expert touch of a “real editor”. My personal publishing goals include developing relationships with top-notch editors and getting my work passed through them before self-publishing. As the industry re-structures itself in this new age of publishing, I think we’ll see more of that happening. (I hope!)

  • I agree whole-heartedly with you, Janet. We all want to be liked. Some of us crave it more than others. And the feeling doesn’t entirely leave despite our level of success. But I think we can also get lost in the “if only this would happen” and “when this happens” moments. There is something to be said for enjoying where we are now.

    I have caught myself falling into the trap of always wanting the next thing. New York Times bestselling list? Sure. Movie deals? You bet! I’d love to see BATHSHEBA on the silver screen.

    But God has been teaching me to appreciate any success He allows me to achieve, and to also hold it lightly. (Such things can be fleeting!) To be content with where He has placed me, yet still strive to be better for the sake of His glory, so that each new book is the best I can make it.

    I know some authors have wish lists and enjoy checking them off as they happen. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be affirmed by the industry and our readers. I guess I’m just slowly learning that contentment is a as much a gift as being liked. I want to be liked, just like Sally Field. But there is a limit to what I would do to achieve that.

    Great post – very thought provoking!

  • Caitlin says:

    What a great post. Very thoughtful, directive questions to help writers pinpoint goals. I think those are questions every writer should revisit periodically, to see if the goals or the measure of achievement has shifted.

  • Since I write for young readers I feel affirmed when my writing reaches them. About a million years ago, I was in a band and a young fan scrawled the lyrics of one of my songs on a t-shirt and wore it to an all ages show. THAT’s affirming.

  • Janet,

    I’ll take the first part of the question, the one Rachelle tweeted – What is the most affirming event that could occur for me as a writer?

    When one of my readers told me she thought about my characters during her workday, and couldn’t wait for her day to end so she could get back to my novel and find out what happened with them.

    That was it.

    Of course I want to sell thousands of books and get published by a Traditional House, but those words, I realize, are the most affirming words I could ever hope to hear.

    That simply says it all.

    Thanks,
    Paula
    http://www.paulamillhouse.com

  • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

    Teddi, I suspect Chan has been told she can have a physical copy of her book created. But what she craves is deeper than that–the physical book has come to symbolize: a strong editorial hand; a partnership with a publisher; someone else to help with the marketing; her books in libraries and retail venues. There are some things an author can’t DIY.
    Rachelle, thanks for bringing in the perspective of someone who has read Chan’s book.
    Jill, I appreciate your thoughts on being content in the moment we’ve been given. We are a restless and striving people!
    All of these comments are so great. Thank you.

  • Just to see my blog grow is affirming. Readers are learning of it somehow and choosing to come back to read more. The big affirmation would be a hardcover book on a bestseller’s list (it doesn’t matter which one). The hardcover book would demonstrate the publisher’s belief in my story and writing ability, and the bestseller’s list would illustrate that I am reaching people with my message.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    I recently blogged about affirmation. Here is part of what I wrote:

    Once after a local speaking gig, I unwisely fished for a compliment from the person who scheduled me. His sage response put things in perspective.

    “Whenever I wonder how I did, I just ask God what he thinks – and that’s all that really matters.”

    I have since followed his advice when I speak — and when I write.

  • jane says:

    Interesting..!

    I find that as a writer and knowing writers, this is very true!
    Not many people like to admit it though do they, so well done Janet for saying it and putting it out there!

    I would just like to add that many ‘writers’ (mainly self/unpublished) quite often go on about how they are writing for themselves… (why oh why..? ) fair enough…
    but what about the readers..?
    Surely a writers first and only job is to write for his reader. That is all!

    FAMOUS QUOTES….

    No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money. Samuel Johnson

    If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing. Kingsley Amis

    Manuscript: something submitted in haste and returned at leisure. Oliver Herford

    Everywhere I go, I’m asked if the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. Flannery O’Connor

    My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way. Ernest Hemingway

    Every writer is a narcissist. This does not mean that he is vain; it only means that he is hopelessly self-absorbed. Leo Rosten

  • Sue Harrison says:

    I’ve known the happiness of signing a multi-book contract. I’ve know the ardent, joy-filled disbelief of landing on national bestseller lists. I’ve sacrificed my writing and my career to do what God asked me to do – take care of my Alzheimer’s-broken mother-in-law, which broke my heart.

    I survived by reaching up every day, almost every minute. Sometimes we don’t really know what we want until we experience enough pain to see life – for just a fleeting moment – through God’s eyes.

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post, Janet.

  • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

    Jane, thanks for the clever quotes, each of which brings a perspective to chuckle over or agree over. And Sue, speaking of perspective, there’s nothing like life handing us a sacrifice to show us what’s important–and the variety of forms pain can take.

  • Growing up, when my sisters and I played library in our living room, complete with a date stamp, inkpad, and paper checkout slips, I dreamed about a book by me in the library. Still do. Now I’ve added Costco.

    My book (first one anyway) in the public library and in Costco. Does that make me shallow?

  • The thing I look forward to is hearing feedback from others that are far beyond my current scope of ministry.

    As for dealing with disappointment with writing, that same mindset and attitude helps me here to. I was shocked at the number of people who spent time and money for a writers conference because “I really really want to write” – but had no idea what they might write. It reminded me of men I’ve met who want to quit their jobs and start ministry to men full time – although they haven’t even started anything part time to see if they really like it.

    I want to see my WIP in print (traditionally), and I want to expand my writing with articles in expanding publications, but at the same time I do not consider publication to be the sole definition of success or failure.

    I will continue to minister where I am (men’s ministry, movie ministry w/ radio program, training, local church events & regional conferences), while prayerfully pushing the borders and knocking on doors to see what else He has in store for me, my ministry, and my family.

  • So let me give my Inner Sally Field its nod, and move on. C.S Lewis called it “clubbability” or the desire to be part of the inner club or circle. That’s in me, I confess. For Debbie Macomber or Jerry Jenkins (or Janet Grant) to look across a room and yell out, “Hey Bill, sit by me,” would be, umm, AWESOME. Pathetic, I know. :)

    “Distribution to retail venues, placement in libraries, a marketing plan, an editorial eye, and a team of publishing professionals all focused on how to make her book a success.”

    Some traditionally published authors might look at that list and feel their traditional, advance-paying publishers did very very little of it.

    Distribution: unlikely to happen except to A-list authors. Besides, Amazon is the biggest distributer, probably followed by Barnes & Noble. It is easy to get a book into either’s distribution network.

    Placement in libraries: also unlikely. And now the Amazon library pays about $1.79 per loan to its prime customers.

    Marketing plan: very slim except for A-listers. If the book doesn’t take off fast, it’s dropped. Most of the marketing is cast back onto the author.

    An editorial eye: again, reduced to the minimum in many cases. In any event, an author, acting as his/her own general contractor, can hire one, though it’s pricey.

    Team of publishing professionals focused: sounds like a dream come true.

    Having been traditionally published, and now having been self-published, I’m increasingly aware of the turmoil in this industry and how Amazon is forcing new structures into being. Ms. Chen’s story is one of many. I, too, have started and dropped too many poorly edited self-pubbed books to count. The industry does need gatekeepers, to be sure; it will be fascinating to see how it all plays out.

    Thanks for letting me ramble.
    I still hope to click with a traditional publisher soon.
    And I still hope you like me, you really like me.
    Blessings.
    Bill

  • So interesting, Janet.

    My response to Chan’s saga? She wants validation for her writing. Somewhere along the line, it has been imprinted upon her worth/non-worth self-estimation that to be a writer–a “real” writer, her book must be accepted and printed by a real publisher.

    Since that didn’t happen, she’s only sold her book via herself and the internet, even though in the eyes of the rest of the world she is a Huge Success, in her’s, she is still a failure. Very sad.

    Most affirming event? I don’t have to have an event. I’m a writer. I write. The rest of it is just part of the process. (Although it would be nice to win the Pulitzer. Laughing here.)Knowing I did the best I could do is very important to me.

    Sacrifice? Is not selling rights for a movie a sacrifice or just plain stupidity? I’d say the latter. She still has many books ahead of her with this kind of a first start. Which publishers will be salivating to bid on, I would guess.

    It makes me wonder if there is such a thing as sacrifice After the book is done. I would look at the publisher I’d want and not sell it to someone I didn’t. Which might be a sacrifice if I only got one offer. You have to look at the whole picture and try to make decisions for the best in the long run.

    Handle disappointments? You keep going.
    After you’ve buried two babies, publishing disappointments don’t mean a thing.

    Keep belief? God did this. He put the desire in me. He gave me opportunities. He supports me, encourages me and gives me work. He gave me wonderful writing friends who edit and improve my writing. Whenever I’m feeling sorry for myself, another surprise drops in my lap, and I am chastised again to quit whining and get back to work!

  • Cathy West says:

    I think you’ve hit it on the head – as writers, we all want to be liked. Maybe it looks a little different for each of us, but at the end of the day, who really wants to spend countless hours crafting stories that we hope to have published some day, only to hear, “Man, you really suck.” Nobody wants to hear that. Self-publishing might be seen as some as a ‘get out of jail’ card because you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of submitting and dealing with rejections…but I think you’re still taking a huge risk. You’re submitting your work to the general public. I think that’s pretty brave (sometimes stupid) but mostly brave. :) I chose the traditional route because I’m pretty traditional anyway. My most affirming moment to date was the email I received from my editor at OakTara explaining in two pages of great detail, exactly why she loved my book so much and wanted to publish it. After many, many rejections on this one, somebody finally ‘got it’. That was awesome.

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