The Bookstore Blues

If you want to induce an anxiety attack in me, take me into a bookstore.

I’m not talking about doing a bookstore book signing, either. I’m talking about walking into a bookstore to browse, to wander aimlessly among the shelves, to read titles on spines and admire book displays. I stroll through the aisles, suddenly paralyzed by the enormity of talent that lays before me between book covers.

I’m terrified.

The reason for my reaction is that walking into a bookstore brings me face-to-face with what I am attempting to do with my writing career: competing with all the other authors out there for readers. It unleashes a storm of insecurities inside me.

Why would someone choose my book to read over all those others?

What value does my book have in comparison to the other thousand on the shelf?

Did I write a good story?

Did I write an adequate one?

Can anyone even find my book amid everyone else’s?

Who would be willing to pay money for it?

What was I thinking?!

And then I recall a pivotal conversation with a dear friend of mine, my mentor and an accomplished author in his own right. “You should write a book,” he said.

“I know,” I replied, voicing the nagging desire I’d felt for years. “But why would anyone want to read what I have to say?”

“Because no one else can say it in the same way as you will,” he assured me. “Every one of us experiences life in a way unique to us, and that’s what you’ll bring to the table. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, no one will tell it like you will.”

Encouraged by his confidence in me, I took the plunge and wrote a non-fiction book about personal spirituality. The first publisher who was interested in the manuscript wanted me to change the perspective to reach a different audience than I had originally intended; I wrote the book for adult Christians, but he wanted to revise it and aim it at adolescents. I did something that I now (as a much more experienced author!) marvel at – I told him “thanks, but no thanks.” I believed in the value of what I had written and for whom I had written it, and even if it meant I had to continue looking for a publisher, I would do it. Eventually, I did find the right house and the book was published.

And then I learned, the hard way, that I was almost solely responsible for marketing it.

I had no idea what to do. The book never took off, although it sold enough copies for me to savor being an author.

I vowed if I ever wrote another book, I would do it differently.

Differently may be an understatement.

Now I write fiction – both humor and suspense – and market aggressively. I love what I do, and I know that if just one reader enjoys my book, I’ll be glad I wrote it.

But I still try very hard to stay out of bookstores.

What keeps you writing when you think of your book afloat in a sea of competition?

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12 thoughts on “The Bookstore Blues

    • I’m often asked that question and my first response is (shame-facedly) “Pride.” I read so much fiction that I’d encountered enough poorly written ones, that I was sure I could do better! Now I realize it was God’s nudging – yes, He can definitely use our sins to make us better people – that got me to make the leap to fiction. And now I see fiction as a way to connect people to God, so I’m accomplishing the same thing I wanted to do with non-fiction, after all! These days, I keep my hand in both between my website blogging and my manuscript work.

  1. Oh my, you just coined my fear! I love bookstores, but I also hate them for this very reason. When I’m doing what I need to do, plugging away and writing, I feel purpose driven. When I walk into a bookstore, I feel like the piddliest little drop in the grandest bucket ever. But then I remember I’m a legend in my own mind, if nowhere else. 🙂

    • “A legend in my own mind” – love it! Legends have to start somewhere, don’t they? I’ve found a key to my continued ability to write is NOT going into a bookstore while I have a manuscript in process. Avoidance is one of my preferred coping techniques…

  2. I love the honest appeal in your questions. I’ve mentally voiced them all, and felt the power of insecurity threaten to sweep me into writing paralysis. What keeps me writing? Passion for the message, and the hope that it might actually help another person.

    • Oh, Anita – you have your eyes on the prize, and I know that’s where your success comes from. Passion is why I write, too, and I consider it God’s call to me. In fact, that was what my first book was all about, and it helped me focus on using my gifts to build up God’s kingdom.

  3. What keeps me writing is this thought I must continually think: “If God is in control and I’m not, than my books are on his shoulders, not mine.” Not to sound simplistic ~ because I hear your fears, but it’s too easy to be ignorant of Satan’s devices. And fear’s his biggest, most debilitating one! So yeah, it helps to remember we’re in a spiritual battle.

    • Fear is such a terrible weapon against us! I often struggle with anxiety, and learning to hand it over to God has become one of my most demanding priorities. I think the whole idea of spiritual battle is fascinating, and the ways it manifests even in our writing life is eye-opening. I use a very similar mantra, Cheryl – “I am in good hands; I’m in God’s hands.” Blessings on you today!

    • Anytime, Dianne! Like Summer said in her comment, if others can do it, so can you! But it sure helps to have the support of your friends and sister writers along the way.

  4. Jan, bookstores always bring this author to her knees. I can’t step in one without being staggeringly grateful that out of ALL the choices, people sometimes choose mine. What keeps me writing? Not being able to stop. 🙂 Blessings~

    • Thanks for your comment, Shellie. I can’t stop writing, either. I’ve always believed that about writers – we write because we can’t NOT write.

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