Are Unrealistic Expectations Killing Your Writing Career?

I published my first ebook, Winterland, as an experiment. That was a year ago October. Recently, I received my third quarter royalty check from Smashwords for Winterland and was pleasantly surprised.

It takes a lot to surprise me. Which, I think, is good for a writer.

I have made significantly less money from Winterland than I have from
my two trad published novels. However, the money I’ve made from The Resurrection (2011) and The Telling
(2012), has all come by way of advance. I have yet to see a royalty
check (authors must earn back their advances before they can receive
royalties). Hopefully, that will change in 2013. I don’t know. Either
way, I’ll keep plodding forward in my writing. With or without fat,
rewarding, regular, career-affirming royalty checks.

Several months ago, my literary agent Rachelle Gardner posted a rather motivational article entitled There Is No Time for Despair. She begins by listing a host of things writers can despair about, things like

  • Many authors who have published numerous books are finding their advances going down, not up.
  • With self-published books now plentiful, there are more books than ever before for readers to choose from.
  • A book’s potential sales are highly unpredictable.
  • Many
    authors’ books don’t live up to the publisher’s sales expectations,
    meaning the publisher might not want to renew their contract.

may be a coincidence, but I personally know at least a half dozen
authors who’ve recently been dropped by publishers because they didn’t
“live up to the publisher’s sales expectations.” It’s one of those hard,
but commonplace realities of the writing biz. And it always produces at
least a twinge of despair.

But one of Rachelle’s points particularly hit home:

  • The publishing journey often doesn’t live up to an author’s expectations.

I’m a pessimist at heart. Frankly, my pessimism has saved me many times.
It’s been said, “A pessimist is never disappointed.” Which could
explain why I rarely get down or disappointed about my writing career.
You see,

  • despite the slog
  • despite some bad reviews
  • despite not being re-contracted by my first publisher
  • despite not being a marketing expert
  • despite having to do the bulk of my own marketing
  • despite not cracking the royalty threshold on my published novels
  • despite
    having to keep my full-time job, write whenever I possibly can (which
    usually means 4 AM and lunchbreak), and feeling constantly crunched for

despite all these difficulties — I rarely despair, get moody, or vow to bail on writing.

And a lot of this comes down to “author expectations.”

I keep mine very low.

don’t mistake my low expectations for mediocrity, a concession to poor
sales, disregard for conventional wisdom, low self-esteem, or a
defeatist attitude. In a way, it’s a survival skill. I’ve seen too many authors crash and burn because they had unrealistic expectations.

  • They expected to be agented and contracted.
  • They expected all their friends to be thrilled and intrigued by their writing pursuits (instead of looking at them cross-eyed).
  • They expected to sell books.
  • They expected to make some money. Maybe, a lot of money.
  • They expected to generate buzz.
  • They expected to get good reviews.
  • They expected to get a lot of good reviews.
  • They expected to gain a reading audience, a lively base of fans who can’t wait for anything they write.

Is it any wonder they succumb to despair?

course, I can rightly be charged with being a pessimist and having too
low of expectations. You’re right. The thing is, I’m just trying to keep
expectations in their place.

  • I have low expectations for what I CAN’T control.
  • I have high expectations for what I CAN control.

That’s a huge distinction. Which is why Rachelle closes her post with these words:

need to refuse to spend time worrying about things over which you have
no control (the publishing industry at large, for instance) and focus on
what you CAN influence.

Writers don’t have control of a lot of things. And if you tie your expectations to things you can’t control, despair is inevitable.

  • Expecting everyone will love your stuff.
  • Expecting to sell more books than you do.
  • Expecting that people will automatically respond to every marketing effort.
  • Expecting mostly good reviews of your novels.
  • Expecting a writing career to be easy.
  • Expecting to find your niche and sail off into the sunset.

these are the kinds of unrealistic expectations that can kill a writing
career. At the least, they will drain you of the joy, imagination,
camaraderie and appreciation for the business and the craft that is so
desperately needed to keep plugging away.

Call them low expectations if you want. But these are the things I have control over and build my expectations around:

  • I expect to improve as a writer.
  • I expect not everyone will “get” me.
  • I expect to have to work hard to make a name for myself.
  • I expect to have to motivate myself.
  • I expect to have to learn more about the industry and stay on top of trends.
  • I expect to expand my circle of writing friends.
  • I expect to have disappointments and letdowns.
  • I expect to have to change direction, eat crow, and stay flexible.
  • I expect to make mistakes along the way.
  • I expect my writing career to not go as planned.

I’m a glass-is-half-empty kind of guy. I purposely keep my expectations
low. This doesn’t mean I don’t expect a lot from myself. It means I
don’t expect a lot from anyone else BUT me.

* * *

Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike’s novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea  You can visit his website at