Monday, March 19, 2012

The Downside to Chasing a Dream

I  would love to say all it takes to be content and happy is to find something you're passionate about, something you think of as your Dream, and chase it with all the fervor and intensity you have to give.  That you'll always have an optimistic outlook and with hard work, a bit of faith and tenacity, it'll all fall into place.  I can't say that though, because it's not true.  Not in simple, pragmatic terms at least.  There are as many people who have spent a lifetime chasing their dreams who never saw them realized as there are people who found the pot at the end of their rainbow.  In fact, a realist perspective would say not to bother chasing dreams at all, unless of course your dream is a very sensible, easily controlled one.  No realist is going to tell you that if your dream is to get a bachelors degree that it is not worth trying for, but I'm speaking more of the dreams we all have that are, let's say, less than sensible.  Becoming a successful author, a musician, a famous artist, a well renowned actor.  These dreams which so many aspire to, rely on a multitude of factors, so many of which can't be controlled or predicted.  Things like being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, having famous parents, getting a lucky break.  All utterly beyond your control.  Because of these unfortunate facts, those of us chasing our dreams run into an interesting, although not surprising range of emotions on our quests.
There's that optimistic, almost manic feeling of getting your query letter together, reading it over till it's perfect and putting in the mail.  The hopeful trips to the mailbox as you await a response.  That twirling butterfly feeling as you open the envelope followed by the "I figured," when the form letter says something dismissive.  My personal favorite is "We are not accepting any new clients."  Good luck with that.  The point is, we go through ups and downs.  Periods of hopeful elation and moments of depression. 
When I first decided to publish through Amazon, I felt like I was on top of the world.  My novels in print finally and in a couple months, I'd be signing copies on the street and beating away movie deals with a stick.  Yeah, I know.  But in that moment of optimism anything seems possible.  I'm not here to say it's not.  I am not a realist.  What I am saying is that you need to prepare for the low moments, because unless you are a very lucky individual, they will come.  You and I have to learn how to get through them and keep reaching for the proverbial star, because if there is one thing I know for sure, nobody has become successful by quitting. 
So, for the sake of catharsis and getting over the low point I'm feeling at the moment, I'm going to put it out there in this post and then I'm going to leave it behind.  I would like to be a successful author.  Let me rephrase, I would like to become what I view is a successful author.  I have many artistic notions of what this is, but for the purpose of this post I'm going to stick with the more practical definition.  A successful author under my practical definition would be one who could make a living as a full time writer.  My books fall under the indie publishing category and as the going rate for an e-book in the indie world is $0.99, with my percentage of the proceeds, I would have to sell about 150,000 books a year to make my current salary as a firefighter.  Seems quite a reach and unfortunately, it has put me in a bit of a funk.  It seems like the only real hope for success is still to get noticed by a major publisher, which really negates all the excitement of being a part of the indie scene.  Getting noticed by a major publisher is something I've taken a shot at once every couple years since I was 19, so...I'm not feeling very optimistic.  Second problem with the indie/e-book world is that as the books are so inexpensive, people are far less compelled to read them and share their thoughts.  Someone who buys Stephen King's new hardback for thirty dollars is much more likely to read it than someone who decided to download an e-book on a whim for $0.99.  The biggest thrill of being a writer is having someone read your work and tell you what they feel or think about it.  Mr. King can be pretty sure that the million people who bought his last book read it and he receives constant feedback from his fans.  I sold about 1,000 copies of my books last month and I have no idea whether anyone actual read a single line.
Ok, now that I've put it out there, let's turn this pity party around.  I am a writer.  I can't help it.  While more normal people are thinking about normal things, I'm making up plot lines and dialogue in my head.  My commute to and from work is nothing but a private story board session.  I would write even if there was no such thing as publication.  And the thing is, grammar and spelling aside, I do it well.  The odds may be stacked against me, but I'm a big fan of the underdog.  I believe, despite or in spite of the moments of doubt, that one day I will be a successful writer.  And somewhere out there, a publisher or agent is going to be saying to his colleges, "I can not believe we passed on that West guy.  Man did we miss the boat."  If you are one of those realists, I wouldn't take the safe bet just yet!
On April 1st I will be publishing my first spy thriller Wake Me When I'm Gone.  I think you'll enjoy it and I hope you give it a read on April Fools.  It, along with my other books will be made available for the Barnes and Noble Nook and iBooks as well of course, as Amazon.  If you are among those who have purchased or downloaded my books, please shoot me a line by email or comment.  I would love nothing more than to hear what you think.  Thank You, Brandon Charles West, author.


  1. Great blog posts, and believe me I have been there (emotions) with writing, publishing and filmmaking. And with e-publishing and everyone wanting to self-publish books, and the competition--is it really worth it. BUT if you wake up and go to sleep with a story, then you're a writer, so you will do it no matter what. Continued blessings on your journey and thanks for following me on twitter. @kankan929

  2. Chin up Brandon. Now, more than any time in the history of the world (that's a big history), authors have a chance to make a living off their work. You said you'd have to sell 150,000 books - of ONE book - this isn't a one book game. It's a backlist game, which gives previously published midlisters a headstart...but it also opens a door that has never been opened before for all of us. Think of it this way - price your books in a tier - start with 99 cents (or a short freebie), then move to 1.99 and the golden number for 70% royalty - 2.99 to 4.99 (visit JA Konrath's site - price point for indies have every indication of going up). Say you can write 4 books (a mix of short an long) a two years that's 8 books at an average of $2.00 a book. In two years, you'll only need to sell 26,000 books a year, split between 8 books, which is an average of selling 3,250 of each title a year. THAT IS DOABLE my friend! In the meantime we're able to build a fanbase of readers who love our work--and that is priceless. Who knows what the deal will be ten years from now with publishing? If you build your fanbase NOW - you'll have a built in audience to support you in the years to come regardless of whether or not Amazon keeps giving up high royalties. The time is now and we're here doing the exact right thing. Keep up the good work, Brandon. Ignore those bouts of depression because this is no longer a dream - it's building a small business. And all that takes for success is smart planning and hard work and don't let anyone (yourself or others) tell you it's not so. I've built my own businesses for over two decades (yeah...I am that old...LOL!) and self publishing is no different. Sure there are challenges to be met, but I'm up for it. And I know you are too - I can hear the passion in your post. Your heart is in your writing, and that will produce success. Big hugs.