Passion is the Key to Enjoying What We Do

Lately it seems there’s a lot of talk about selling books.  How can I sell more?  How can I get noticed in a sea of other authors?  At what point can I quit my job and make a living writing?  What do I do when my sales drop?  What if I have to go back to work?

Last time I posted a question on this blog asking what kind of posts authors wanted to read, most people wanted to know how to sell books.  It’s why I hesitated to ask the question again.  I have been trying to come up with blog post ideas, but my mind keeps coming up blank because I have no magic answer on how to sell books.  I wish I did, but I don’t.  And the truth is, you might be making money today, but that doesn’t mean you’ll make it tomorrow.  That is true with any job.  No matter how secure a job seems, it’s really an illusion.  Self-employed people are just more aware of this fact than others.

If anyone has a post they’d like to read that doesn’t involve how to increase sales, please comment below.  I would love to get some fresh, new ideas.

But to address this issue of selling books, the truth is, I don’t know how you can increase sales.  There are strategies that are preached all over the Internet already by authors who sell much more than I do, so I don’t feel like I have anything new to add.

Some authors have said their sales have been taking a hit.  Mine have, too.  I’d say the drop has been close to half.  A very smart author friend of mine told me a year ago that the bubble we’ve seen in this market (at least in the United States) will climax and start dropping.  She then said there will be a leveling point where things will become more stable.  When or how long this all happens she didn’t know, but how could she?  We’ll only really know years from now when this is all history.

So what does this all boil down to?

The only constant we have, as writers, is passion for our work.  This is something that doesn’t sell books.  It only writes them.  It can’t make someone find your book, take an interest in it, and tell others about it.  All it can do is make writing fun.

Can lack of sales hamper the passion?  Of course.  Can bad reviews hamper the passion?  Absolutely.  But do all these external sources have to kill our passion?  Not if we don’t let it.

The good news is that passion for what we write is one thing we have full control over.

So I guess my post today is an encouragement.  It’s not a promise that if you write more books, sales will come.  I’m not trying to be a downer.  I’m just trying to be realistic.  The more books there are, the harder it will be to get noticed.  That’s common sense.  And I’m seeing a lot of good quality books being published.  Great covers, great editing, and great content.  There’s a lot of talent out there.  (Before someone says there’s a lot of garbage, it’s getting a lot easier to find the quality books because more authors entering the market are taking this seriously.)  Compared to when I started with ebooks in 2009, there is a lot more professional books being self-published than ever before.  It amazes me, and that is in a good way.  It’s given a lot of respectability to what we do.

And I guess what I’d like to say is that it might be more important to focus on the passion in our work than in things we can’t control.  

I know it can be hard to get back to that place where you wake up in the morning eager to get some writing in.  I don’t know how to help anyone get there.  All I know is that I had to get beyond the stress of sales rankings, sales, money, and what people think of my books to get my full passion back.  Passion is something that comes from within.  Whatever you can do to feed your creative spirit is worth doing.  Over and over, I hear authors say they write because they have to.  It’s ingrained in them.  That’s called passion.  Nurture it.  Give it room to grow.

I’ve considered writing books that I believed were wildly popular.  I even tried to write a couple.  But my heart wasn’t in them, so I had to stop.  This year I decided I would focus only what I enjoyed, and it’s made a huge difference in how I feel.  I’m energized again.  I have returned to the days when I first discovered I enjoyed writing.  I don’t know about anyone else, but that period of my writing life was the easiest time I ever had in writing a book.  I didn’t worry about sales or what others thought.  I only knew I was having fun finding out what would happen next in the story.  That’s the kind of passion I’m talking about.

Life is short.  Enjoy the time you have while you have it.

40 Comments

  1. ronfritsch says:

    Ruth, thank you very much for this post. I’m glad I’m not the only author who cares much more about my passion for writing than I do sales. I wonder about the authors who admit they check their sales every single day. That’s not passion for writing; it’s passion for sales, which will only lead to disappointment for a great many of them, no matter what they write or how well they write it.

    Thanks again, Ruth. It’s always good to hear from you.

    1. I don’t know how authors can enjoy their books if they’re obsessing over sales. I guess when sales are up, then it’s easy to be encouraged. But sales never stay up forever on every single book. There’s a point where sales drop. That’s when it’s hard to write. And I don’t know how it is for other writers, but I run the danger of having too big of an ego when sales are way up. That’s not a good thing. God has to come in and level me out so I don’t think more highly of myself than I should. I’d much rather stay level because it reminds me of what’s important, and that is the passion that makes me enjoy each book I write.

  2. lornafaith says:

    Thanks Ruth! Just the refocussing I needed. I admit I have been focussing too much on the stuff I can’t control… which isn’t very smart. It’s so true…when you focus on writing what you are passionate about, then the writing is fun again 🙂
    Also, you were asking if anyone had some blogposts ideas to mention them. I did have one idea that I heard awhile back on The Creative Penn podcast when David Farland talked about having “resonance” in your writing. He was talking about how authors draw similarities from well known novels that people who are reading, recognize, and he said it pulls the reader further into the story. Somehow it makes them feel like ‘oh I recognize this.’.. and it pulls them in deeper. Anyway, that would be a topic that would very much interest me… because I just don’t think I understand it well enough 🙂 Thanks so much Ruth – appreciate your posts!

    1. I’ll check out the post with David Farland to see if I can get a better understanding of what he’s talking about. I haven’t heard of that idea before. Maybe this is similar to the vampire genre where people do better when they write within the expected norms of vampire lore instead of those who do something different. Readers have come to expect vampires to be a certain way so when they are approached by a new idea, they immediately reject it. I suspect this is what he means, but like I said, I’ll check out the podcast. Then I’ll do some digging online to find out what else I can learn.

      By the way, you’re not alone. I spent too much time last year focusing on what I couldn’t control that I didn’t enjoy writing as much as I should have. It took me longer to make my word count because of it, too. I never realized how much harder writing is when the passion isn’t there. 🙂

      1. lornafaith says:

        Thanks Ruth – I’m glad I’m not the only one who has gone through periods of focussing on what I can’t control ;( I’m doing a lot better this year. Staying steady with writing Book #2 in my Historical Romance series and then thinking of ideas for a short novella also… so that’s fun 🙂

        Thanks so much for digging deeper into “Resonance”… I guess I just wish I understood how to apply that to novels I’m working on. Especially if it helps draw readers into the story. Thanks for getting back to me – and happy writing 🙂

        1. I wrote the post for resonance and scheduled it to publish on February 1. I didn’t want to get it up too close to this and others I did. It’s a really neat concept. I also like the transportation idea David mentioned in that post. I want to do a post based off that idea, too.

          It sounds like he really understands the concept of getting the reader completely immersed in the story, and I especially liked how he emphasized how important it is for writers to love what they’re doing.

          Oh, it’s awful for me when the business side takes over and so much focus goes to factors I can’t control. I end up getting depressed, and it’s hard to write anything. It’s a daily struggle to remember how important passion for writing is. 🙂

  3. lccooper says:

    Thank you as always, Ruth, for your insight. I, too, have struggled with the ego – crushing reality of declining sales, which led to my poor output in 2014. However, as you pointed out, it’s all about the passion. I’m back on track and not focused on sales at all.
    Two ideas for upcoming blog posts:
    (1) Best practices version control
    (2) The value proposition for writers using book track.com. I joined the site, and I appreciate the novelty, but haven’t understood yet how it really works for the writer.

    1. 2014 wasn’t such a great year for me either. I got to the point where I was so emotionally exhausted I couldn’t write for over a month. That was horrible. I never want to be in that position again.

      I’m not sure what you mean by best practices version control. Could you give me an example?

      I’ve never heard of book track.com. Is this the site: http://www.booktrack.com/#!/ What is the perk supposed to be? It looks like all you do is read a portion of your book into a file that someone can listen to. Am I understanding it right? So it would be a marketing tool for people to see if they like the book enough to buy it? I don’t know why someone couldn’t do that with a You Tube file. I did that with one of my scenes early on. I don’t think it made much of a difference, but then, I haven’t heard many positives about audiobooks.

  4. The main success I have had with selling books is to either a) price it $.99 or b) free and then pay to have it listed in those ebook deals newsletters – bknights on fiver produced a surprising amount of free downloads which went on to sales of the other books – the trouble with this is that sales trickle off as everyone who downloaded the free copy and is going to read it and then go on to buy has done so.

    I have several posts I need to write…

    1. I can see the pricing and free runs being a good strategy. I haven’t run many ads. I did Coffee Time Romance early on and another blog I can’t remember the name of, but I have no idea if they worked or not. I can see how things running their course as you do the ads on those places and the people who check those ads on those sites have already read your books.

  5. Yeah! I’m a writer and an editor and I’m seeing so many writers who are more concerned with selling than with writing well or having something worthwhile to say. Drop by my Write Through It blog if you’re interested in the important stuff. I also give free advice to any writer who’s trying to write better or maintain her/his creative serenity in this sell-sell-sell world.

    1. busy lady says:

      Thanks for your comments. I write mostly poetry but I may try my hand at a book because I love to write. I sent a friend request through facebook so I can keep in touch.

      1. My hat’s off to you for being able to write poetry. I’ve dabbled in it from time to time, but it’s definitely not a skill I have. 🙂

        Did you send the Facebook request to Ruth Ann Nordin or to this blog? I can’t remember if we still have the page for the blog up on Facebook or not. It’s been over a year since I’ve been to that page on Facebook and am not sure if it’s there anymore.

        1. busy lady says:

          It was through this blog.

          1. In that case, I won’t see it. That page is linked up to the original creator of this blog, and she is no longer active over here. She set up the FB page, and I have no control over it. I’m not sure if she’s still using it or not.

    2. I followed the blog. It sounds perfect. I find the more I write, the more I want to learn about it. I’m tired of thinking about marketing, selling, and sales rankings. I just want to get back to enjoying the storytelling process. Your blog is exactly what I need.

      1. Come on over! We’re basically egging each other on to keep putting one foot in front of the other — one word after another. 🙂

  6. I’m an author who believes I need the sales if I’m ever to realize my dream of writing for a living, but also, I need to write what I love. I can’t write a good story if my heart isn’t in it. I tried it and by page 4, I’d lost interest and I just knew it wasn’t going to work My heart has to be in it, because I believe readers can see if you’re passionate about your story, or if you’re just ‘bunging it together’ to get a popular genre out there for them. Also, no way could I sit at my keyboard after a hard day at my day job, if I wasn’t looking forward to immersing myself into my current character’s worlds! My writing I class as a job I love, so basically I have 2 jobs (as so many of us do).

    There’s no problem with authors who write what they love and don’t worry about the sales, just as it’s okay for authors who write for sales and not for love. Everyone does it differently and has a different POV of what they do and why.

    As for what works, I’m sticking to what I know at this time. I try a few different things now and again, but I refuse to put a lot of money out there unless I’m certain the return will be worth it. The way I personally see it, the more books you get out there, the better your chances of being discovered. Word of mouth is still one of the best ways from my POV.

    Good luck to all! Oh – and happy New Year!

    1. I agree with you. I think readers can pick up on books we enjoyed writing and those we didn’t. A couple have told me they prefer self-published books because they see the spark of passion in those they don’t in traditionally published books. Granted, not all traditionally published books will lack passion, but I guess enough of them did for the readers who said it.

      You sound like an author friend I have. Her husband is due to retire in a couple years, and she wants to be making a living at her writing by the time he does. I don’t have a problem with people making a living writing. If you can do what you love and get paid for it, that’s ideal. But the stress can come in knowing outside of writing the book and publishing it, it’s really out of the writers’ hands on whether or not they can make a living at it. They can’t make people buy the books, no matter how much marketing or writing they do. It’s stressing my friend out so much, she can barely think straight.

      That’s why I don’t like writing posts on how to sell books. What works for one author might not work for another. But you can’t have a shot unless you write the next book. That’s the only strategy I know of that is in the author’s control. Anything else is out of our hands. Word of mouth is the best, but it’s something we can’t do.

      It is possible to make a living at this. Authors are doing it. I hope you can be one of them. 🙂

  7. I would like to read about authors experiences with the most common techniques that are around. We read the masses of advice and sometimes act on it, but we never really know what that advice has translated into for other authors that give it a go.

    1. Do you have any techniques in mind? I think you’re talking about running ads, joining Kindle Unlimited, writing serials, or something similar. But I want to make sure I understand what you mean before I jump into opening a post for a discussion like this.

      1. Yes, you’re spot on, Ruth. There is a lot of advice out there, such as the examples you mentioned, but I only ever see the advice. It would be great to see actual results from authors who give it a try. I often wonder how many authors who follow the tips got the results that were detailed. Without hearing about both sides of the coin it is difficult to make a judgement on how good the advice and whether it is useful. Some things word better for some genres, but fail for others.

        1. The problem is that what works for one author doesn’t necessarily work for another, even if they write in the same genre. Too many other factors come into play, like the quality of the storytelling and which reader picks the book up. Some readers are more likely to promote an author via word of mouth than others, and not all readers leave reviews. Authors can try techniques based on others’ successes, but there’s no guarantee those techniques will work for them, despite similarities in genre. Just wanted to throw that disclaimer out before I agreed to do something like this on this blog. 🙂 I’m willing to open up a post that will be more like a forum post where people can share what worked and what didn’t.

          In the meantime, you might want to check out Kindle Boards where the authors do a lot of what you mention: http://www.kboards.com/index.php/board,60.0.html.

          1. I forgot to add, this is The Writer’s Cafe portion of Kindle Boards.

  8. Barb says:

    Ruth Ann, doesn’t it seem like questions and events have moved in a cycle.? At first everyone wanted to know…how to write or what to write. Then how to publish? Now it seems we’ve moved to “How to sell.” For me, I’d like to read posts on how people do all of this and the marketing crapola AND have time to ENJOY a world outside of writing..which is soooo Important for refueling.

    1. I hadn’t thought about the cycle, but you’re right. It did move in that direction, didn’t it? Maybe that’s why I blogged more back then? I liked writing the posts on how to publish because and where to publish. So it’s no wonder I was doing more posts in the past. These days the focus is so much on selling, and I don’t know how to tell people to sell books, so I stopped blogging over here as much.

      I love your idea for time management. That is definitely something I can do.

  9. I haven’t published anything since 2009–I thought the decline in my sales was due to that. I had a curious thing happen recently, though–I ran a “$.99 special” that went nowhere, but sold several books after they went back to the regular price.

    I like lornafaith’s suggestion. Also, I’d like to know your thoughts on serializing. As someone with the attention span of a flea, I’ve found myself drifting away from reading in favor of movies and TV. I hear this is a common problem. Would stories in shorter doses (not chapter by chapter, just shorter formats) be a good way to attract readers?

    One of the reasons I opted to self-publish after 14 books with conventional publishers was to be able to write what I wanted when I wanted. Sometimes I need to be reminded of that, so thank you for the reminder.

    1. That’s interesting about the sales going back after the sale ended. I wonder if something got triggered somewhere that made your book more visible.

      I’ll have to look into what lornafaith suggested. I never even heard the term “resonance” in relation to writing before. It sounds like something fun to investigate.

      Are you talking about writing a serial where every story is a standalone but also connects up to a larger story? I’ve been watching different TV series and notice the trend is more and more to having the main characters have something that the writers keep going back to in order to develop further. For example, in Grimm, the individual show will feature a murder that needs to be solved. But within that episode will be a tidbit that hints at something to do with the main character’s family or his love life that will be developed in another upcoming episode.

      Or are you speaking more specifically about novelettes or novellas?

      Personally, I don’t like the chapter by chapter format. It’s fine on a blog or in Wattpad because you expect those places to have installments like that, but in a book, it doesn’t seem fair to the reader.

      Every now and then I have to remind myself the reason I decided to self-publish was so I could write what I wanted without someone telling me what to do. Following trends in what is selling was making it tempting to do that. I had to remove myself from being online so I could remember what it was I wanted to write.

      1. From what I can tell, Wattpad is geared toward a very young crowd–25 and under. I haven’t seen 25 in a very long time!

        I don’t like the chapter-by-chapter format, either.

        I’m thinking of a series of shorter books–possibly novellas–that end in a cliffhanger. I’d be interested in your thoughts on that.

        1. I haven’t been on Wattpad. I only heard about it, but if memory serves, it has been the younger people who’ve talked about it. I’m 40, and I feel like I’m struggling to catch up to all the new things that keep popping up.

          Okay. Got it. I will do a post on those, but to briefly give my opinion, as long as the novellas come out close together, I think it could work well.

  10. Ryan M. Church says:

    Reblogged this on The Way of the Storyteller:.

  11. A couple of thoughts. First, and I say this with all kindness and sincerity, for those authors who tell other authors that book sales aren’t important, it’s JUST the passion…please don’t say that. This is a business, and if you don’t have book sales, you don’t have a business. BUT…you have to have the passion, too. This is a CREATIVE business, so you have to love what you do. I admit to checking my book sales each day, just like we check sales every day here at my day job. It’s a sound business practice. You have to decide for yourself how often to check sales, and I do what I’ve been doing in my full time job for 33 years. 🙂

    The other thing is, I think that someday those writers who aren’t really serious about publishing will eventually stop doing it if it’s not making any money. The cream will rise to the top, and we all just keep waiting for that to happen. Those of us who ARE passionate about our writing and want to do this for a living will keep doing it. We’ll keep writing those books and love what we’re doing, and I think the book sales will pick back up. But we are going to have to be patient in these down times. Amazon has made it harder for us, and I’m really hoping they’ll eventually do away with Kindle Unlimited. They will if they lose money on it. If it makes money, they’ll keep it. That’s why I won’t participate. I don’t want to add fuel to the Amazon fire.

    So, I totally and completely agree that you HAVE to have that passion. That’s what keeps us writing. That’s what keeps us motivated even when sales are down. The only way to possibly succeed in this business is to keep writing and writing and writing and…. 🙂

    1. My only reason for hitting on the passion issue so much in this blog post is because when I ask what authors want to read posts about, 95% of the time, it’s how to sell books. There’s rarely ever any other interest. And I have said all I can on the topic of promotion and marketing. I have nothing new to add. So unless I emphasize that in this blog post, I will have nothing else to say over here, and I might as well hang up my hat and leave.

      When I go to some forums and other blogs, the tone is the same. How do I sell books? I guess I’m getting tired of the business side being so important that the other aspects are forgotten. When someone mentions ways to improve the quality of storytelling, those discussions run pretty dry. You mention sales, and everyone is there. The whole thing is unbalanced. How can anyone expect to sell books if they refuse to seriously consider the quality of the stories they’re writing? The two go hand in hand. Readers won’t get passionate about books that they can’t invest their emotions into. But so many authors want the business side, they lose sight of the creative part.

      It’s frustrating. If it wasn’t so one-sided, I probably wouldn’t mind discussing the business angle.

      1. Like you said, the business part does get discussed to death. I think it’s because people are desperate to quit their day jobs and write for a living. It’s their dream, and without the sales, the dream dies. BUT…without the passion, the books won’t be good. If you discuss the passion more, maybe writers will understand that readers really can tell if you’re passionate about writing. I hope you didn’t think I was saying you should discuss the business end instead of the passion. That’s not what I meant. I just get tired of the other side of the coin…writers telling other writers they shouldn’t care so much about their sales. There HAS to be a balance. We are artists, so the passion has to be there. And it’s totally okay for a writer to write only for themselves and not for the money. As long as no one judges writers for WANTING to make money. It’s a personal choice for each of us as to what we want out of this. But as to your original topic about the passion…I completely and totally agree with you. It HAS to be there.

        1. As long as those authors who are trying to make a living writing are passionate about writing, I have no problem with this. My problem is when people assume writing is easy and decide it’s the quick and easy way to make a buck. Unfortunately, I’m seeing a lot of this. They write something they don’t like because they heard the genre is popular then they don’t worry about polishing up the story or getting a decent cover. They aren’t professional in their approach, but they expect to magically sell because they wrote what was popular.

          When they write a book they aren’t excited about, I believe readers can tell. Readers are a lot smarter than some writers give them credit for. Words on a page doesn’t equate to a good story, but that is what these writers believe. They aren’t invested in the emotional journey of their characters, and it shows. The best writers are those who cry and laugh with their characters, who bleed and sweat through the pain of the edits, and who do everything they can to improve their craft. Those writers deserve to make a living because they are working at it. They’re already passionate about it.

  12. And the ones who assume it’s an easy way to make a buck? Those are the ones I hope just stop doing it so the ones who are serious about it can actually be found. It’s NOT easy. It’s very, very hard, just like any job worth doing.

    I was lucky that vampires were popular early in my career because I’ve loved vampires since I was a kid. That worked out well because I was passionate about the genre AND it was popular. (Not so much now.) This journey can be frustrating, but it feels right. 🙂

    1. I happen to like romance, and it’s luck that I was able to be passionate in a genre that was already popular. So sometimes the mix happens to be ideal. I hear big money can still be made in writing serials, erotica, and thrillers. But none of those appeal to me, so I’m not doing them. I even thought I could do a sweet mail order bride story since those are doing well right now. But as soon as I started developing a plot for this sweet mail order bride story, I realized the characters need to have sex in order for the hero to feel he is truly accepted by his wife because of his background. It wasn’t the direction I wanted to go, but it’s where the characters are taking me. Mail order bride books with spice in them don’t seem to be doing as well as the sweet ones (not from what I noticed anyway). But I’m going to write the book the way the characters want it because that will be a story I will care more deeply for.

      Sorry to ramble. It’s just recently, I had to ask myself if potentially making more sales was worth writing a book I wasn’t as excited about, and I decided it wasn’t. But it was a hard decision to make. I understand the dilemma.

      I think those just looking to make an easy buck will soon realize it’s not easy to make that buck. This is cluttering things for those who are serious and passionate about their work. I would think, though, that in time, as we keep writing and publishing, it’ll shift so it gets easier again. Other factors may start creeping in, and these concern me, like Amazon and others deciding to give us less royalties. That is a possible thing that could make a huge dent in income even if sales increase or are sustained. But it’s something we have no control over, so I have forced the concern aside.

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