There are probably, what, like 10 million books out there? I dunno. Maybe 100 million? Who knows? My point is that that’s a heckuva lot of books, and sadly, out of all of those millions of authors, only a tiny select few will ever “make it”.
Because that’s the dream isn’t it? The dream of waking up one morning and you’ve found out that you’ve sold a million books overnight, and Hollywood left a message saying they’re turning your novel into a blockbuster movie, then shortly after your coffee and bathroom break, the Brinks truck pulls into your driveway and drops off enough money that Mark Zuckerberg gets jealous.
But like everything in life, these kinds of dreams rarely ever come true except for a tiny handful of authors. Yet, we cling on to these dreams because that’s what human beings do. And frankly, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
So why do we write? It’s no so much that we want to be rich and famous. It’s that we want our stories to be read and enjoyed. Sure, the rich and famous part would be a bonus, but I think I can speak for every writer by saying that writing is what we do, because we enjoy it, and we want other people to enjoy it as well.
I know a story about a man who wrote historical fiction mostly, and all other kinds of genres. This guy woke up every morning for over 35-years and wrote. He wrote short stories. He wrote incredibly long novels. He wrote poems and haikus. The guy just loved writing. But while he was alive, his work never got read because he never dared share it with the world.
Imagine a room with a typewriter, desk, lamp, window, coffee mug and next to it three very large green metal filing cabinets. Each cabinet is full of everything the man ever wrote. All indexed and sorted by year. Year after year, after year. He would write, file, then write again. As the years tore on his blond hair turned to white and his once athletic body morphed into saggy skin, age spots and wrinkles.
Then as sure as every living being on this planet. He died.
But his words lived on. About a year after his passing his daughter finally had the nerve to open the green cabinets and start reading. What she found was that her father, the man she never really understood, and the man who was always sitting in his room writing instead of playing with her, was a talented writer.
Over the next few weeks the daughter read as much of the father’s writing as she could. Then one day she decided to take one of his longer works, a story about war and loss, and have it published into a book, under her father’s name. She sent the manuscript to every big name publisher she could find and waited. Rejection letters appeared. Some, or most, of the inquiries were never returned at all.
Then one day the woman’s own daughter explained that she should try to put Grandad’s book into an ebook format and upload it to Amazon. “Why not?” she thought. So she did just that.
Hitting the publish button felt weird and futile. Who would want this book? I mean, every known publisher she had mailed had rejected it or ignored it completely. So why would this be any different? But she did hit the publish button and shortly after her father’s book appeared for sale on the mighty Amazon at the price of $7.00.
The first 24-hours went by and nobody had bought the book yet. Then a week. Then a month. The daughter gave up. She had tried to share her father’s legacy with the world but failed. She knew that the book her father had written was good, but nobody else did, and nobody wanted it.
Fast forward to eight months later and the daughter received a check in the mail from Amazon for $27.82. Someone, or actually a few people, had bought the book! Then the next month she received a check for $45.02. The month after, another check for $100.23 this time.
Curious, she decided to have a look at the Amazon page for the book and found eight wonderful five-star reviews of the book. “Success!” she thought. Her father’s work was readable and people do enjoy it. The money meant nothing. It wasn’t about that. It was about sharing her father’s writing with readers. Readers who appreciated the work.
The checks kept coming. Month after month. Increasing every time to the point where the daughter was beginning to wonder if this was really happening. Daily, sometimes hourly, checking of the earning reports became commonplace and almost obsessive for her. At month 18, the checks were bigger than her monthly earnings at her job. And at month 22, she quit.
Every penny earned from her father’s work was put into a college savings account for her own daughter. It felt good to be able to take her father’s writing and use it to support her family. But mostly, it felt even better that readers loved his writing.
She chose another piece from the second green file cabinet and uploaded that to Amazon as well under her father’s name. Sales came almost immediately this time. Within a few months the checks doubled in size again. The money seemed to fall from Heaven into her arms. Almost as if her father was standing on a cloud above her home and dumping buckets of cash on top of her.
As it turns out, the second novel was ever more well received than the first one. This time, the reviews came faster, and shortly after, calls from agents and publishers. They all wanted to know who was this man and where did he come from? And most importantly, how could they represent or publish him.
But the daughter relented to their advances and continued down the path that got her to this point. Over the next two and a half years, the daughter published 18 of her father’s works to the Amazon store. Almost every one was received as well as the one before.
But the one book, the first one, was the real hit. One day she received a call from an agent in Hollywood saying they were interested in the movie rights to the book. At first the daughter thought this was a hoax, but shortly realized, after other similar calls, that this was in fact really happening. So the daughter flew out to California and met with several agents, producers and well-known celebrities who did in fact want to tell her father’s story on the big screen.
After a while the daughter decided to sell the movie rights to a producer she had met with. They told her that just because they were interested in the rights did not mean that it would be made into a movie. Deflated, the daughter went about her life and waited. Until she finally did get the call.
The call came from one of the well-known celebrities she had met with in California. The nice man told her he had optioned the rights to the story and was going to star in it himself. The man was passionate about how her father’s work had moved him and how “this story had to be told on the big screen”.
22-months later, the daughter found herself on the set of her father’s movie. The nice actor was thrilled to see her. He wanted to know more about her father and about his writing. She provided as many answers as she could, but the truth was she never really knew him that well. You see, she told the man, he was always writing.
Some time later at the premiere of the movie the daughter had to pinch herself to make sure that this dream she was living in was actually real. She had flown out to Hollywood with her own daughter, who was now well on her way to being a young woman. The movie was amazing. Beyond what she could have imagined. As she put her daughter to sleep she stared out the window at the lights, looked up at the sky, and smiled.
Back at home the daughter stared at her father’s worn typewriter now sitting at her desk. She wondered what it felt like to write on this machine she had spent so many years listening to click away in he father’s office. To this day, she had never tried to use the machine. She touched the X key and heard the “clack”. Then she touched the “C” key and heard another. The daughter placed a piece of paper in the machine, the places her fingers in the proper position on the keys, and began to think about what to write.
But she couldn’t think of anything to say. So she gave up. Her father was the writer in the family, not her. The most she had ever written was her resume or a school paper about George Washington. Then one evening as she was preparing dinner she heard a sound coming from her office. Click, clack, clickety-clack. Upon entering the room she saw her own daughter typing away at the keys.
“What are you doing? she said to her own daughter. “I’m writing a letter to Grandpa,” said the girl. You can read it when I’m done.” The mother smiled and went back to preparing dinner. The clicks and clacks resumed.
After dinner the daughter put her own daughter to bed and walked into her office. On her desk was the following letter.
Mom says this is the typewriter you used to write all of your stories. I have stories too. Last year I read a book in school about a man who traveled the world while having amazing adventures. I want to have adventures too.
I want to write about those adventures and let everyone in the world read them so they can feel like they are with me. So that’s what I’m going to do Grandpa. I’ve decided I’m going to be a writer.
10-years passed and the granddaughter was now a vibrant young woman who also happened to be a successful writer of over five young adult adventure novels. In the front of her books was always the same dedication.
Dedicated to my Grand Father. The man I never really knew that inspired me to share my stories with the world.
How do we know when we’ve “made it”? The grandfather who wrote these amazing stories never got to see them read. Never got to see the movie. Never got the satisfaction of reading a five-star review.
Did he never “make it” because of all of those things he missed out on?
Writing should never be about “making it”. Sure, we live in a time when writer’s have the opportunity to flourish and shine, and that’s great. But even the writers who crank out works to market, and who master the art of book marketing and sales. Even those writers who have “made it” share one thing in comment with those that have not.
They write because they have stories to tell, and they want people to read them.
We live in an unprecedented time where the opportunity to write things that people want to read have never been greater. An author can simply hit the publish button and have their work available to the world, and, as a bonus, have the extra opportunity to make money from that work.
Some would argue that “making it” is the simple click of hitting that publish button. Others would argue that’s not enough, that “making it” is getting one sale or one good review. And many more would argue that “making it” means they earn enough money to become a full-time author and quit their jobs and live their dream.
Keep dreaming. Keep writing. Click, clack.