Please welcome author Susan Wolfe to WU today!
Susan is a lawyer with a B.A. from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Stanford University. After four years of practicing law full time, she stepped out and wrote the best-selling novel, The Last Billable Hour, which won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. She returned to law for another sixteen years, first as a criminal defense attorney and then as an in-house lawyer for Silicon Valley high-tech companies.
Escape Velocity is her second novel.
Born and raised in San Bernardino, California, she now lives in Palo Alto, California, with her husband.
If You Write a Book That Nobody Reads, Are You Really a Writer?
Most writers start every story with the hope of writing either a blockbuster or a story that transforms readers’ lives. Very few books meet those high expectations. When our readership falls far short of our dreams, what if anything keeps us writing? Should we try to dial our hopes back? Should we go look for a different way to make an impact? If a tree falls in the forest, how many people need to hear it for the tree to have really fallen?
I wrote my second book, a legal thriller called Escape Velocity, with high expectations. I left the practice of law and invested five years to make it the book I really wanted. I decided to self-publish (St. Martin’s published my first book but turned this one down.) When an agent told me I needed to sell 10,000 copies in order to get a traditional publisher even to look at my third book, I locked on that number as my goal. My first book sold more than 100,000 copies almost 20 years ago, so no problem, right?
Wrong. So very wrong.
Almost a year after publication, despite winning the 2017 IPPY gold medal in suspense/thriller, getting a starred Publishers Weekly review and some other kudos, I have sold fewer than 500 books. Let’s call it failure to launch.
Never mind what happened. I have now accepted that my launch has failed and very few people are going to read this book.
So what do I do now? I’ve heard plenty of people talk about how writing is really about the process and the artistry, and I know there are writers who never try to get their work published: Emily Dickinson, whose best poems were discovered by her sister only after her death, or J.D. Salinger after the publication of Catcher in the Rye. But I personally think the whole point of fiction is to communicate something too complicated to be told with dry exposition. If nobody reads the book, where’s the communication?
If nobody reads my book, am I even a writer?
This isn’t an idle question for me. After almost a year of increasingly frantic and futile efforts to sell my book (which shockingly involves quite a few things I don’t particularly feel like doing) I have now spent another six months grinding on the question of whether to write a third book at all. I won’t pretend it’s been a happy exploration.
Am I an idiot to expect any different outcome with my next book? And if I expect the same outcome next time, am I an idiot to write it? I’ve made a few lists. [Read more…]