When my debut novel, In The Spirit Of Love, was finally released via Echelon Press, LLC in November, I was over the moon. Before it was actually out there, live and open to the world, I had no idea how I’d feel. Then I downloaded a copy to my Kindle and there it was! I sat in my tiny little office space (just a corner of a room really), and started to shake. Then I got all teary. Then I jumped up to find my husband and parents, whom we’re temporarily living with. It was surreal. I couldn’t believe that people all over the world would be able to seek out, download, and actually read the words I’d laboured over so long and hard. We celebrated with champagne and orange juice even though it was only 9:30 in the morning, my mother downloaded a copy to her Nook, and I cried a little more. Then I got up and went back to my “office” to begin the task of promoting it to the world.
That’s when it hit me. People were going to be able to read my words and judge them. They’d decide whether the story I’d crafted was good, bad or mediocre. But first, they had to know about it. My work wasn’t done. In actual fact, it had just doubled, or tripled. Now, not only was I going to have to keep working on my current project, the sequel, but I was going to have to start devoting a good portion of each day marketing and promoting the heck out of this now released one.
Then I made a tactical error. I started reading, at first hourly, the ratings on the sites it was available on. I don’t claim to understand how the ratings work. I don’t think anyone does, but I avidly went to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords, and OmniLit to see what the “numbers” said. They made no sense to me, but I knew they were important, so I watched. My emotions see-sawed with the numbers on the screen. The lower the number, the better, so when the numbers went down, I rejoiced, but when they went back up, which of course I knew they would, I still felt let down. I started getting edgy. How could I get those numbers down and prove, to myself, that my book had merit and that others were buying it. I had no way to know how many were buying it, or even where. I also didn’t know yet what people thought of it, so I focused on the rating numbers.
A few days went by like this, and I’m sure I drove my family nuts with it. Then I remembered something I’d heard Oprah Winfrey say once. She recounted how, in the beginning of her career, she too focused on the “ratings” of her new show. Her staff and producers did the same. They compared her to her contemporaries and determined whether or not they were on the right track with them. They told her she had to “keep her ratings up” to be successful and win the “game”. Then she said something I’ve never forgotten. She said she realized she didn’t have to compete with anyone. She only had to do her very best every single day and be herself. The rest would just have to work itself out. She told her producers and staff not to bog her down with talk of ratings, as this just interfered with her vision for herself and the show. She didn’t want to get caught up in the hype. She just wanted to do a good job and bring whatever wisdom and light she could into the lives of her audience. Well Amen. I had my Ah ha moment.
I’m no Oprah Winfrey, but that piece of wisdom makes sense to me. I guess I’ve always been of the opinion that I can only do the best I can at whatever I take on. I can only be myself. I write because it’s what I love and want to do, not because I’m being “rated” for it. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean the ratings don’t matter. In book sales, in business, they do. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be successful and make a decent living at this writing gig, I do. But now I check them once a day, just to begin to understand whatever trends they might indicate. What I don’t do is agonize over them anymore. I don’t judge whether or not I’m a good writer by them. What matters to me is whether people who read the books are enjoying them, so those are the ratings and reviews I focus on. If they’re positive, then I’m on the right track in terms of story line. If and when I get poor reviews, and I’m sure I will, then I’ll pay attention, take them with a grain of salt and take what I can from them.
I keep talking about how my lessons in writing mimic my lessons in life. This is another of those instances. Of course I want to be a successful, prolific writer, but only I can determine those terms. So I’ll work my butt off to get the word out there, I’ll promote my work when and where I can, I’ll continue to write the very best stories I can and grow into my craft, and I’ll have to let the chips fall where they may. Just like in life, it’s all any of us can really do. The rest is all just hype.