My grandfather’s 100th birthday party took place on board a chartered boat near my father’s house. There were eighty guests, but only a fraction was from my branch of the family tree. The other guests were more distant relations or friends of either my dad or my grandfather. They were people who knew my name, but not necessarily my story and as a direct descendant of the guest of honor (and the host), I was expected to mingle.
For the last decade, if you asked what I did, I would tell you my day job title. Two years ago I might have also admitting doing a little writing on the side if it came up organically in the conversation, but I rarely lead with that information (unless I was specifically at an event promoting the book). Perhaps it was the fact that my second manuscript is done and I’m seeking beta readers (please check out my Coming Soon page to learn more). Perhaps it was the wine. Perhaps it was because we were simply celebrating an achievement of a lifetime. For whatever reason, on that day, I decided to introduce myself first as an author.
I almost instantly regretted it. A man in the buffet line with me asked if I had read a particular bestseller. I hadn’t. I had however seen the movie (which is a pretty big accomplishment for me considering how rarely I get to go out to the movies). I thought the storytelling was pretty great, and even though I assumed that the book was better, I just hadn’t gotten around to reading the source material. He named another book. It was one I hadn’t ever heard of, but the title sounded like something you would see on the New York Times Best Seller List. When I admitted to missing out on both, the man responded, “and you call yourself a novelist!”
He meant it as a joke, but I was crushed. Doubts danced in my head. What if he was right? Was I a fraud? Was I, in some way, a less legitimate author because I chose to enjoy a movie without reading the book first or because I chose to pick other reads over more popular critical darlings?
I wanted to run and hide, but we were surrounded by water and the buffet line was barely moving. After an awkward pause, the man asked, “well what do you read?” I named some of my favorite authors and some of my favorite books. He blinked. He’d never heard of them. I described amazing world building, their original thinking, and intricate plotting. The man grew quiet as my book nerd flag flew high. By the time we reached the food, my mojo back was back.
The experience reminded me that there is no guarantee that a great book will be a bestseller or vice versa. I knew before I ever started writing that I wasn’t going to sell my work to everyone and this man was not a member of my target audience. He could judge me based on my literary taste if he wanted, but in my opinion, by sticking to only the best seller list he had missed out on just as much, if not more. Perhaps he might never pick up on of my books (ahhhh – the plural sounds so very nice). That’s okay. It won’t make me any less an author, but if I convinced him to try out at least one other unknown then I will consider the conversation a success.
6 thoughts on “I am what I am”
I think all writers have similar experiences and they can be awkward and painful. Whenever that happens to me I try to remember all the books friends have referred to me that they just loved and I thought were so-so. The best-selling list is sort of like the stock market – it often doesn’t make sense!
I usually don’t pay any attention to the bestseller list. I mean I would, for the time I was on it, but I prefer recommendations from friends and authors I enjoy/respect. It was a humbling and yet freeing experience.
Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t be expected to read everything out there, and your work will not appeal to everybody. Both my grandmother and Tara’s were given copies of my novel – and neither cared for it. Rather than take offense at that, I branded the book “Not Grandmother-Approved.” In some small way, maybe that made it more appealing to some!
You ARE an author. Own it.
I love the anti-stamp of approval. I am totally in the camp of people that is more likely to check out your book because of it.
I saw his comment coming before you said it. Like you said, reading books that are recommended by people or finding them organically is best. Some books on the bestseller lists are just like some blog posts that are Freshly Pressed. Questionable and highly subjective.
I am glad to hear that I am not alone in thinking this