A lot has changed from when I first started self-publishing in 2013 to now. You can say life happens. Priorities shift. You realize things aren’t guaranteed. Not even your health. So one of the biggest things I’ve learned in the past 26 years on this earth is the simple mantra I go by.
I accept this mantra. As a writer. A man. A human.
Of course this mantra is not to excuse us from growth. Nor is it an excuse to not work on potentially damaging character flaws. But I’ve come to accept myself (mostly) for my idiosyncrasies, my temperament as an introvert, and my core values that keep me grounded even if others find them odd or “old-fashioned.” I’ve learned not to give too much credence to what others think. That gets tiring after awhile.
But in the context of writing, I’ve come to stay true to the stories I write and the characters that give life to those stories. As I’ve alluded to in previous posts about writing compelling characters, it’s important to write characters that you can connect with as well as your readers. Whether a story is plot-driven, or character-driven, having solid believable characters helps me to stay invested from beginning to end.
Part of what I love about writing is creating worlds and then populating that world with real characters with real hopes and fears. Brainstorming what your character aspires for and then plotting how they overcome obstacles to reach their goals is quite satisfying. From middle school till now, I’ve followed my character, Troy from a precocious 4 year old to an angsty adolescent to a young man who understands what truly matters in life. His story just so happens to take place in an age of antiquity although places and events are fictionalized. Of course as the writer I’m already invested in the character I’ve created. It’s only natural for writers such as myself to hope that readers feel the same level of interest and investment. Of course you can’t tell what readers are thinking about your works except by means of reviews. That’s why authors love reviews.
Early on in my writing career, I never expected to be a best-selling author on the New York Times. I just wanted to write a good book, publish, and make some sells and rack up some reviews on Amazon. While I was able to write and polish the 1st book, Before the Legend, before publishing it, I didn’t get the results I was hoping for in terms of sales and reviews.
Initially I was very disillusioned with the publishing process and even writing in general. Was my book not good enough? Was I not good enough? So I swallowed humble pie, read David Gaughran’s book Let’s Get Visible and focused on putting out a more polished product with a better understanding of how to market a book.
So how did I do the 2nd time I re-released it? I had a renewed sense of optimism in terms of sales. While I did experience a slight bump in sales, it still was not significant enough to make me think that writing would ever be profitable for me. Thoughts crossed my mind that I was writing in the wrong genre and the wrong audience. That if only I stuck more, “romance” or “drama,” that I would draw more people. That if I wanted to appease readers interested in Roman history that I needed to put more emphasis on action and battles fought. Hence that was something that influenced my decisions when writing the last two books, particularly Chasing Blue. The last book is probably the longest of the series but also the most emotional and grittiest thing I’ve ever written. It was quite an emotional roller-coaster but a very satisfying and bittersweet journey.
Even with the more serious direction in latter works, my last book would never be as popular as some of the books that are trending now. Let’s face it, romance, dystopian, and mystery/thrillers are what’s hot right now. And many of these genres are geared towards the Young Adult audience. Considering there’s not many fans of alternative-historical fiction it’s very tempting to switch genre boats when your sales have reached a stalemate. So do I jump ships even though historical fiction is still my first love? Do I write something that strictly suits the historical fiction crowd? Or do I surrender with something more mainstream to appeal to a broader audience?
Let’s fast forward to 2016.
I’ve come to accept and embrace what I’ve already written even if it’s not perfect or my target audience is quite small compared to other audiences. I’ve taken feedback (good and bad) from editors and readers alike to make my existing body of work stronger. Some changes I protested at first, was just what I needed. At the same time if a suggested change doesn’t jive with my overall vision, makes me extremely uncomfortable, or makes me hate my own story, then that’s the time the feedback would not be in my best interests. Even if my stories will never be popular, that’s OK. I’ve made peace with that.
Recently I’ve taken a break from new writing projects and publishing, to strengthen the body of work I already have and to pursue other goals I want to reach in the coming year. Will I explore other genres in the future? Maybe. After all my interests are varied. I never liked being put in a narrow box. I personally like reading books of different genres especially YA/Dystopian in recent times. But whatever I choose to do, I want to do something I will be invested in, and at my own pace. Throughout this whole process I realized you’ll never please everyone. Not even in your own genre. And that’s a fact of life. Even in my personal life, I’ve learned that not putting too much stock on other people’s opinions to feel validated is quite liberating. The only people’s opinions I still want to seek are those that matter. Those that have my best interests at heart.
So I have to stay true to myself and values, even if that means less sales and notoriety. Because at the end of the day I have to do me.