Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Dangers of Chasing the "Blockbuster Novel" Dream

By Maggie Wells, @MaggieWells1

Part of The Writer’s Life Series 

JH: There's a lot about writing and publishing that's beyond a writer's control. Maggie Wells shares thoughts on one of them, and what we can do about it.

By day, Margaret Ethridge is buried in spreadsheets. At night, Maggie Wells pens tales of people tangling up the sheets. The product of a charming rogue and a shameless flirt, you only have to scratch the surface of this mild-mannered married lady to find a naughty streak a mile wide. Maggie has a passion for college football, processed cheese foods, and happy endings. Not necessarily in that order.

A hybrid author of 40 novels and novellas, Mags has been published with Sourcebooks-Casablanca, Kensington/Lyrical Press, Harlequin-E, and Carina Press. She is represented by Sara Megibow of kt literary.
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Take it away Maggie…

how much control do writers have, writing blockbuster novels, writing bestselling novels
Elephants don't forget their dreams.
And neither should you.
There's an elephant in the room.

Let’s just say it. We’re all chasing the same dream.

Now, I know that we all have different goals and aspirations, but for the most part, we’re all striving for the same thing. After all, our world is a pretty small world. There aren’t many people who do what we do. Even fewer pursuing publication. Few of us like the idea of shouting into the void, so I think it’s safe to assume we want our work out there for others to read. And because we’re all essentially going after the same thing, many of the milestones we hope to achieve are interlocked.

As a new writer, we may think the end game is having our book published and placed on a bookshelf. But the dream doesn’t stop there, does it?

It’s only natural that we’re hoping someone will pick that book up and read it. And, let’s be honest, we don’t want them to stop there. We want them to read it and love it. No, wait—read it, love it, and tell all their friends about it. Then, we want all those friends to buy a copy.

Not only does this (hopefully) result in some monetary gain, but it also feeds that priceless commodity—buzz. Once we have the buzz going, that book has a shot of being noticed by those who influence other buyers, which leads to even greater sales, more money, and possibly some recognition. Awards, bestseller status, the sale of ancillary rights. And with the sale of those rights, the possibility of transforming our precious book into another form of media. Or two. Or three. With merchandising tie-ins. 

Anyhoo, you get my point.

(Here's more on If You Want to Succeed, Define What Success Means to You)

The one thing almost all these metrics have in common is that they are measured against the competition. 

A reader chooses our book over the one next to it on the shelf. They fall for it harder than any of the other books in their to-be-read pile. So much so that they can’t contain their love and must make all their friends love it too, so they can talk about it. As the buzz grows, our book gets noticed over other books in the same niche. As sales increase, it makes more money and climbs higher on those charts we chase. And from there, all the rest snowballs.

The publishing arena is just that, an arena. Every week, publishers and indies alike push their darlings out into the ring, hoping theirs will come out the winner. 

Writing is an avocation, but publishing is a competition.

And it’s a brutal one.

In this fickle business, everyone is on the lookout for the Next Big Thing. 

If the industry is like a dog chasing its own tail until a squirrel comes hop-skip-and-skittering by, we writers are not much better than a bunch of seventh-graders peering around at each other after being handed a pop quiz.

But the truth is, there’s very little of this process we can control. As a matter of fact, there’s only one thing—the book.

You remember? The ones we write in hopes that they will find a space on the shelf. Sure, now we have the power to put them out there ourselves, but beyond that? Nope.

(Here's more on Set the Right Publishing Expectations)

We can stand on the sidewalk wearing a sandwich board and tell everyone who passes by how great it is, but we can’t make them take it from the shelf, shell out their hard-earned money for it, fall in love with it, or tell all their friends about it. 

We can buy ads, bombard social media outlets with fabulous visuals, and chase the algorithm of the day, but the only control we have on that is how many dollars we spend. Doing all of the ‘right’ things will not necessarily make our book break out.

There. I said it. You cannot make your book a blockbuster. You can only make your book. Period.

So, if we’re not looking to profits, pundits, and the publishing gods to anoint our endeavors, how should we measure our accomplishments?

I say we should start small.

(Here's more on The Emotionally Healthy Publishing Career)

Did you write something you liked yesterday? Great! Write some more today. The only way to mine gems is to keep digging. Have you finished a book? Five? Ten? Twenty? When was the last time you reviewed your accomplishments? Because finishing even one book is an accomplishment. Something like less than 3% of the world’s population has actually written a book. (Don’t ask me for the actual stats or math, I’m a writer.) Celebrate that. Celebrate you.

Or, as my friends and I like to say, own your awesome.

Maggie Wells, owning her awesome.
I confess, I have not been good at doing this.

Like so many others, I’ve spent the last decade on the hamster wheel. I’ve cranked out book after book, mastered new tools for creating marketing materials, thrown money at ads, and giveaways, and list-building schemes. But I’m done with all that.

What I’m not done doing is writing books.

So that’s where my focus will be for this next decade. I‘ll be writing the books I want to see on my own shelf. Books that make me proud. Telling stories that speak to my heart.

(Here's more on A Secret for Success in Publishing: Define Success)

If I can do that, I will own my success.

And if I put those books out there and they speak to someone else too?

Well, that makes me a breakout success, doesn’t it?

About Double Play: A Love Games novel

She knows what she wants, and how to get it

Avery Preston knows her mind. The Women’s Studies and Literature professor is the latest in a long line of feminist firebrands determined to break the mold at Wolcott University. When her biological clock tells her it’s time to bust a move, Avery does what she does best—she takes care of business all by herself. Or, so she thinks…

Dominic Mann is happy with his life just as it is

The widowed baseball coach is content and sees no point in changing his lineup this late in the game. Still, a man would have to be dead not to notice a live wire like Avery Preston. But a one night stand was all either of them wanted.

There’s only one complication

The clinic where Avery was inseminated has been hacked. Now, she not only knows who the father is, but she knows the father. In the biblical sense. Avery shows up on Dom’s doorstep with a bun in the oven, a bellyful of ethical righteousness, and the absolute conviction that she doesn’t need him, and soon, the two of them are caught in a rundown between their hearts and their heads.

Amazon | Apple | Google Play | B&N | Kobo | Audible


  1. What a great article! So much to think about with this piece. I'm really gonna have to work toward focusing on only the things I can control--in the publishing world and beyond. Thanks so much for writing this, Maggie!

    1. Thanks you for reading, Julie. It's so hard to cut through the noise and just stay in one's own lane. This year, I'm really going to work on keeping my eyes on my own paper!