Photo by Peter Alfred Hess (Creative Commons)

Stop me, if you know this one.

You’ve sequestered yourself for hours in front of your computer, avoiding friends and families. Through sheer persistence, force of will, and embarrassing amount of caffeine, you have finished your novel. All told, you’ve spent hundreds of hours on worldbuilding, character creation, storytelling, revision, and editing.

You self-publish your book and wait for the inevitable readers to discover you. However, after several weeks, and dozens of posts, tweets, and snaps only 12 people have bought your book. You’ve given free copies to friends, family, and coworkers, all of whom promise to read it “when they find the time,” but the months pass, and your personally autographed copy is collecting dust on their shelves.

Repeat process.

Should you give up writing? No. Should you give up writing novels? Perhaps. At least temporarily.

Here is the harsh truth for would-be novelists. There are a lot of writers:

  • There are approximately 46,000 people who list their profession as writing, but only 21% of them earn all their income from what they write.
  • In 2018 (latest figures), there were 300,000 people who participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and more than 35,000 completed a novel.
  • Worldometer estimates 300,000 books were published with traditional publishers in the United States in 2010 (latest figures).
  • There are 1.68 million self-published books in the United States.

All of this leads to one sobering fact: there are a lot of novels out there competing for a limited market of readers. Even the books that are published through traditional methods have a low rate of return.

Let me be clear. I’m not telling you to stop writing. I’m suggesting that you stop writing novels if you are frustrated with the fact that nobody is reading them. The Field of Dreams adage (build it, and they will come) seems to be a poor marketing strategy for novel writing.

Instead of repeating the same frustrating process, try these tips:

  • Write flash fiction and short stories. There are hundreds of markets (top tier, second tier, etc.) who are looking for fresh perspective from new writers. These sites and publications already have a readership, so arguably, more people will see your shorter works. Many of the online sites will provide a link to your web site, which is free advertising.\
  • Start marketing now. If you wait until you’ve finished the novel to start marketing it, then you’ve started too late. Establish your presence on social media. Try to identify the type of audience who is interested in your genre and make contacts early. Then you can post or provide links to excerpts of your works in progress (WIP).
  • Change your expectations. If you are expecting for your first novel to hit the bestseller list and immediately fall into a bidding war with studios looking to convert it into a movie, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. There are a limited number of books and series that become famous. Not everyone is a Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. Instead, aim for smaller victories: 100, 500, or 1,000 loyal readers; 10-12 published short stories; winning a writing contest.
  • Focus on the craft. Writing is hard work. To get noticed, you may have to write dozens of smaller works in a variety of formats. You may have to give away some of your best work to entice readers to follow you. The key is to keep producing content and to keep improving. Your readers will appreciate the extra work, and hopefully, they will refer your work to their friends and family.

Finally, take courage. If you love to write, then keep writing. Creating new worlds can be an incredibly satisfying experience. Don’t let your perceived lack of success steal your joy.