Like most professions where you have absolutely no control over the outcome of your efforts, writers are very superstitious people.
What do I mean by no control? Don’t I understand that people can write a better book and therefore have a better outcome?
Well, maybe now with indie – I don’t know, I haven’t done enough to know if that’s true – but in traditional? Pull up a barstool and let’s talk. My third musketeer’s mystery book is exponentially better than the first two. Even the publisher agreed with that. BUT they gave it exactly the same cover as the first except for details you had to focus on, like the inset picture, and even in that the look was similar, and so it almost didn’t sell. Or Draw One In The Dark, hardcover… buddy, I didn’t want to be in the same room with that cover. It was the very best book I’d written to date, but it didn’t go anywhere.
And there are a ton of other factors – other than cover – that are vital for how well it sells and which I have no control over. For instance, there’s the time it’s published. January is the absolute suckiest month to bring out a book you expect to do well. October isn’t much better. Why? Because in January people just got socked with the Christmas bills and they’re holding tight to their money. In October, they’re starting to think holidays and being more careful with money. The best times are summer or spring. Also, does the book come out in hard cover? Half the people don’t buy trade. Also, what is the print run and how much push will this book get from the reps to the books stores. No control. None. I hand in the book and that’s it.
But Sarah, you say, it’s still possible for a book to have everything against it and make it if it’s very, very good. Not everything. I mean Darkship Thieves had a ton against it, but it had a wonderful cover, and that carried it. I was also lucky to get reviews in a few romance blogs. But when you get everything against you – and it’s easier than you think – even the most wonderful book won’t fly. People can’t buy it if they don’t know you exist. And if you’re not already selling some amount, people won’t LOOK for your book on Amazon. (Hence the promos we engage in.)
Look, it wasn’t so long ago that Terry Pratchett – a mega bestseller in the UK – was selling about what I sell in the US. How come? Cover, push, print run, time of publication. He changed editor and agent and suddenly, overnight, was also a mega bestseller in the US. That is how important those factors are over which the writer has no control.
Now, even if you get all factors going for you, if the book sucks, it will tell over time. We all know – naming no names – people who were pushed and pushed and sold three or four books and then the fourth or fifth tanked badly because most people who’d bought the first couple of books on hype had READ them by the time the third/fourth came out.
But still, a huge part of the book’s success is RIGHT out of your hands. And writers become superstitious.
It’s a form of going insane that avoids actually going completely buggaboo crazy, the type of crazy where they come and lock you up.
I’m as sane as the next woman, mind (and the next woman is my friend Kate who takes interesting medications.) and I know where the superstitions, the rituals, the weird taboos come from: they are part of one convincing oneself that he can control what one can’t control. Again, part of keeping oneself sane.
The writing-rituals I know of personally range from “in a certain room, at a certain time” to “I can’t wear the color blue” or “I can’t answer the phone till it rings three times” to much weirder things. There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of a writer who was convinced he could write only by the light of a certain lightbulb. And he knew the lightbulb was magical, because he’d had it for years and it never went out.
Then his marriage went bad, and on leaving, his wife revealed how she’d changed that lightbulb every week so that it would never go out.
He didn’t write for two years.
Now, I don’t have real rituals or taboos. What I have observed though is that my luck tends to run in cycles. If I’m stuck in a really bad cycle, everything will go wrong, not just in writing: appliances break, trees fall, my writing sucks, books crash, etc.
My way of breaking this is perfectly rational: I make a radical change for a while. Usually this means a vacation to Denver.
Why perfectly rational? Because to the extent luck is influenced by my mood: I might not see the opportunities, I might miss good things that could happen if I just did something; and I know that a run of luck like that makes me depressed which means I can’t write and I can barely function. Taking a vacation – usually two days, sometimes even just one – resets my internal clock and even if the “luck” doesn’t change makes me more capable of coping with it.
Of course, the fact that every time I eat at Pete’s Kitchen in Denver AND TALK WRITING I sell a book also doesn’t hurt. What? No, I swear. It’s like magic. In fact my friend Rebecca Lickiss tried it, and it worked for her as well. So, it’s proven.
It’s not superstition. It’s science! Because unlike all those other mugs, I don’t have any weird rituals and I’m so rational you find my picture under rational in the dictionary.
Now, excuse me, I have to go dust my glass floats before I write. If I write while they’re dusty, the stuff just doesn’t sell.