Yesterday, I read this list that Meg Dowell compiled. It describes 18 things that writers should stop worrying about, and one item in particular jumped out at me, but not for the reason you might think.
6. Writing things your friends and family will read/love.
I suspect the reason that item is there is along the lines of worrying about what anyone will think, but having published a few books, I think it’s there for another reason.
Writers shouldn’t worry if their friends and family will read (let alone love) their stuff because said friends and family probably won’t read any of it.
I know. It’s kind of a tough pill to swallow. But there’s a reason for it, and it doesn’t involve your loved ones being huge jerk faces.
Ripley Patton wrote on the topic, and while all of her reasons (including your loved ones being afraid they will hate your literary creation) are plausible, I think she nailed it with one in particular: To your family, you will never be primarily a writer.
Side note – as you write for a while, you meet people who do primarily know you via writing, like your critique partners. This isn’t about them.
This is about people who watched you learn to play the flute when you were twelve, or who were there for you when you got dumped the first time, or who you helped move to their first apartment. They watched you graduate and wreck your car and opened Christmas presents with you and burned dinner when you were both too busy drinking wine to pay attention to the stove (hopefully those all didn’t happen in the same day).
To them, you are a fully-formed human with dreams and thoughts and other friends and probably a non-writing career. And then one day you appear to them and you’re like:
And they’re like, “Yay!! That’s amazing what an accomplishment!”
And you ask if they want to read it. “I’ll send you the PDF,” you’ll say.
And then one of two things will happen: They will agree and read your book, or they’ll agree and not read your book.
If it’s your first book, there will be more friends/family in the first group. If not, because either the novelty wore off or because the first book wasn’t as good as they’d hoped (I can only assume), there will be more in the second group (at least in my experience).
I come from a large family. I don’t even know for sure how many first cousins I have. Know how many family members have read my most recent release?
Two. My mom and my Aunt Shirley (and I don’t think Mom has finished it).
If you count my husband, the number goes up to three.
Add in my long-time friends and the number increases, but we’re still in the single digits. Most of my ARC and beta readers were people I met in the blogosphere or on Twitter (mostly other writers). When my first book, The Fourth Descendant, came out, three times as many family/friends read it.
Which, I think, is how it’s supposed to work. They supported me early on, and after Descendant did very well, they likely figured I didn’t “need them” so much.
I didn’t know that would happen or that it might even be normal (until I read Ripley’s post), and at first I was like:
I’ll be honest: when The Seventh Seed‘s launch didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, and I realized that even if one quarter of my Facebook friends had bought the ebook on Day 1, its odds of success right out of the gate would have greatly increased. I’ve been in a bit of a slump that sounds something like, “If I can’t get people closest to me to care, why should I?”
Here’s the thing, though: If they’re like me (and I know they are), they have many other friends trying to sell them makeup/leggings/nail art/body wraps/cooking stuff/essential oils/luggage/etc etc etc. I would love to support all of them and their businesses, but I don’t have that kind of income. So I only buy what I like and will use. I could buy all of the other things, finances willing, but I wouldn’t be those friends’ real “audience,” to use writer-speak.
Which brings us to the other heart of the matter: Just because you wrote a thing doesn’t mean your loved ones are the audience for that thing. Maybe you wrote a romance and they like thrillers. Or maybe they don’t like to read at all (neither of my siblings do). They might buy and/or read your book as a show of support, but it won’t be the same as acquiring a true, new fan who is in your audience.
So, coming back to Meg’s point from the beginning, if we understand our loved ones won’t likely read our stuff, we can adjust our expectations. We won’t get down on ourselves when it doesn’t happen, and we can write what we and our audiences want, knowing Grandma won’t be scarred by that one scene.