You wrote a book! It took a long time and it was tough, demanding work. Much harder than you thought it would be. You carved out time to write around work and family. Your hobbies, fun outings with friends, TV, sleep and even quality family times were sacrificed for this endeavor. But the sacrifices were worth it. Now your marvelous creation is published so everyone can read it and shower it with adoration.
No one is buying it. No one is reading it. The dream of a bestseller has turned into a nightmare of a total flop.
What do you do now?
First, allow yourself to feel your emotions. Don’t pretend it doesn’t matter because it matters. A lot. You may feel sad, rejected, confused, disappointed, frustrated or annoyed. Or perhaps a whole roar of negativity combined together. You are allowed to feel like that! It is called a feeling because you FEEL it.
Let your emotions move through you. They won’t stay in your body forever, except if you try to stuff them down. Feeling a bad emotion should be the same as stubbing your toe—intensely painful and all-consuming at first and then fading to less painful so that soon you forget what that pain even felt like.
Next, work at being happier again. Don’t expect to switch into cheerleader mode any time soon, but you don’t need to wallow forever either. Remember, you are not replacing the negative with the positive. The negative is gracefully released and you are now inviting the positive back in.
Getting back to a more cheerful state is not just a ‘nice to have’. It is actually essential, according to positive psychologists, to shake off negative emotions in order to rediscover your creativity, productivity and ability to see solutions to the problem at hand.
Sometimes it seems too hard to find the silver lining in a spectacular failure, so here are three reasons to smile when your book is not a bestseller:
1. You Completed Something
You actually wrote a book. You have achieved something that 99% of the population will never do (even though many would love to). It is a massive achievement. Sit up right now, stick your right arm straight up in the air, bend it at the elbow and give yourself a pat on the back. Bask in some self-congratulation.
It is impossible to finish writing a book and not learn something. You may have had do some research to write a particular scene in your novel or to clarify a point in your non-fiction book. You may have learned more about yourself in terms of when is the best time to write for you or whether you prefer the first draft or editing stage. You will have certainly learned more about the craft of writing, even if it was just that you should only have one space, not two, after a full stop or period. Learning something – anything at all – means you grow and growth is a major factor in lifelong happiness.
2. You Created Something
You allowed your creativity to come out and play. The muse who has been in the background whispering to you was freed. You relished the chance to unleash the creativity that has been stifled for far, far too long, perhaps even since you were a child.
In the process of permitting your creative side to show itself, you found yourself in periods of ‘flow’. A flow state occurs where a challenging task that requires some skill brings a person into deep concentration and so the sense of time stops. Although emotions are absent at the time, flow states are associated with long-term happiness. Sure, sometimes writing a book is exasperatingly hard. But, on occasion, it feels effortless and we forget ourselves for a time. Not everyone experiences this wonderful, magical state.
3. You Showed Courage
No matter what type of book you write, you reveal some of your authentic self. Writing a book, whether it be an epic fantasy novel or a how-to on potty training, will leave a piece of yourself on the page for anyone to see. A book is a window to the writer’s soul. By writing your book, you have let yourself be vulnerable. An uncomfortable thing to do but a truly courageous act. You are extremely brave.
Pick any of the three reasons above – finishing a book, being creative or bravely showing your vulnerable side – and use it to pull yourself out of your negative state.
Find your smile again.
Use this newfound positive state to problem solve. Look back: find possible reasons why the book has not sold and come up with ways to improve its sales. Or use being happier to look forward: tap into that creativity and productivity and write the next book.
Instead of being a sad, rejected loser you are now a courageous and creative author. Yes, it is simply a variation in language, but you are a writer so you know just how powerful words can be.
This blog post was originally a guest blog post on The Creative Penn with the title, ‘7 Reasons to Smile When Your Book is Not a Bestseller‘.
How to cope with difficult emotions – and much, much more – is covered in my book, Crappy to Happy.