Sterling's State of the Union - New York Times Bestselling Author, J. Sterling

Sterling's State of the Union

HAHAHAHAHA!  I amuse myself with stupid things- you know, like the title of this post. 

I'm about to get serious though, and my thoughts are super emotional and all over the place so I hope that by the time you get to the end, I'll have made some sort of sense.  Bear with me, cause it's a long one. :)

SOMETHING is happening in writer-land. Sales are down. Sales are down A WHOLE F'N LOT. Most of the writer's I know are not immune to what has been happening the past six or so months (longer for some of us, myself included). And while we all sit there struggling to figure out where things went wrong, what exactly happened and most importantly- HOW WE CAN FIX IT-  we are silently (or not so silently) freaking out.

Let me back up a little bit, first....  
Getting fired from my last job was one of the best things that could have happened to me. I was in a horrible situation but I knew I'd never quit because well, who quits their job without having another one to fall back on? Not me. Even if what happened there on a daily basis was slowly killing me from the inside out- I wasn't going to be the one to give up. I needed a paycheck. And that's truly the bottom line. Because if I didn't need money to survive, I would have left that job a long time before they ever had the chance to make me leave. I. Would. Have. Quit. Happily.

After getting fired, I bought a laptop and started writing In Dreams. I self published it (after months of trying to get an agent and doing all the things I thought I was supposed to do to feel like a "real" writer) and it flopped. To be honest, the writing sucked. I was completely naïve and I jumped into this world with absolutely zero experience in it. All I knew was that I had a story I believed in that I wanted to tell.
And so I did exactly that.
But I didn't tell it well.
And after getting over that fact, I rewrote it a billion (and a half) times to the point where it no longer haunted me at night.  (thank you Pam)

Much to my surprise, after finishing In Dreams, I realized that I had another story I wanted to tell. Who knew, right?! I sure as shit didn't. But that's where it all began. I'd opened creative floodgates in my mind that I didn't even know existed! I found something inside of me that called to my soul.... something that felt more right in terms of a "career" than anything ever had before in my life. I KNEW, in the deepest parts of my guts, that THIS was what I wanted to do.

I wanted to be a writer.
I wanted to write books.

And the fact that my books didn't sell all that well did nothing to stop me. I didn't care. In my mind, I was paying my dues- working hard to build a fan base that would take time and effort. Not to mention the fact that I was trying to grow as a writer. I wanted to be better, write stories that people wanted to read, that they talked about, that they loved. I was fully aware that I was a work in progress, but you see, I was OKAY with that. Because I never expected overnight success. I never really expected anything.

Boy how that's changed.

I released my third book, The Perfect Game in October 2012 and my world completely shifted. The unemployment checks had stopped about six months earlier and I'd lost my house. Writing was absolutely not paying the bills, but I still wanted to do it. I didn't want to stop because there was this THING inside me-  this thing that refused to let me quit- even when most people on the outside probably thought I was delusional, or crazy, or both.  But you can't make someone on the outside know how your guts feel because they belong to you. What fuels you from the inside out is something that only you truly know. It's something you own... or more likely, that owns you. 

The release of TPG was unreal and unlike anything I'd ever experienced up to that point. It was amazing. It was life changing. It was more than I could have ever hoped or dreamed for. And I loved it and wanted more of it. Sales were incredible and I actually thought for the first time since I started writing in 2010 that I could do this!  I could actually make a living working for myself and be my own boss.  What a blessing!  What an honor! Please don't ever let it stop!  :)

And things continued to be unbelievable throughout 2013.

And then 2014 arrived and took a big shit on most of us.

Writing is humbling. I was not prepared for how absolutely lonely and devastating this business could be. I've made incredible friends and met some amazingly strong and smart women since I started, but the truth of the matter is......   we often feel alone. I have never in my life felt more highs and more lows than since I started self-publishing. No matter how many other people can relate to the things you're saying or going through-  you still FEEL desperately alone in this business. Because the truth of the matter is, your book sales affect your life and your life only. And while others may understand that sales are down and can relate to it as well, it's still a very personal struggle and burden to bear.

My books are my business. It's all on MY shoulders to think of a story, to write it, to market it, to promote it, to envision things for it, to sell it, and to deal with every single aspect of it. So when I feel like it fails, there is no one to blame but myself. Writer's don't really take breaks- we're either writing, or thinking about writing, or feeling a guilt on par with mommy guilt for not writing. We don't get weekends or nights off and we don't get paid based on the number of hours we work. (Don't get me wrong- working for myself is one of the most fulfilling things I've ever accomplished. And you'll never hear me complain about how many hours I work, or how long, because I know I'm working this hard for me. I'm not working my ass off for someone who doesn't appreciate it, or who doesn't respect me and wants to replace me if they think I suck. I'm working this hard for my number one fan-  myself.  lol :) )

Almost every single day I hear an author talk about giving up. They question if it's all worth it because they don't feel like it is anymore. You see, when you go from consistently selling a certain # of copies of each one of your books, you start to assume/expect that you will always (at least) sell that # of copies. And when you don't sell even half that number, you think that there's something wrong with you. It's something you did. No matter how many other authors are telling you that the exact same thing is happening to them, you still blame yourself. Somehow, in this crazy fickle business, it has to be YOUR fault, right? 

I also think that since the stories most of us tell have pieces of us in them, it's just so much more personal in every single way when things don't go like you expected them too. Or hoped that they would. Because deep down, when you hear other authors talking about how bad it is out there right now, you sort of hope that you'll be immune to it. You silently wish that maybe it was just that author's latest release and hope it won't be the truth for yours.

But then it is.

And you're suddenly thrust into a group you don't want to be a part of, but you're there nonetheless. And while it is slightly reassuring that it isn't "just you" and "your books," you still feel alone in the struggle. You still feel like shit. And you still wonder what you could have done better to make your outcome different. Because you don't want to be like everyone else. You don't want to be part of the group that's struggling. You want to be the exception.

But it's not really up to us... and we know that. We authors have so little control and that's one of the hardest parts. All we can do is tell the stories we choose to tell and the readers do the rest. And it's frustrating as hell sometimes (lots of times). It's heartbreaking. It's gut-wrenching. It's confusing. We look at our sales dashboards and literally have to stop ourselves from crying because we don't understand how things could have changed SO drastically SO quickly. Low sales = low money = can't pay bills.

So we struggle with the whole "what comes next?" Especially when we have kids to take care of and bills to pay. And while I'd never tell anyone what to do with their life or their business, it breaks my heart a little when I see people who I know who are writing for the right reasons, thinking about giving it all up. It's the get rich quick schemer's who should f'n leave this business. Not the one's who are writing because their hearts refuse to let them do anything else.

The absolute bottom line for me is....
I don't want to quit.
I don't want to give up.
I don't want to stop.

And that is so different than how I felt when I worked for someone else. I couldn't wait to get out of there. I wanted to leave.

But this?

I don't want out. Because even through all the absolute shit, I still feel that fire in my gut. It still burns inside of me and I'll be damned if I let it burn out. Because the only one who can allow that fire to die, is me. And I feel like I JUST FOUND YOU, FIRE!!!  I JUST REALIZED YOU EXISTED!! I'm not ready to give you up!

But it sure as shit helps when you all buy my books. :)


  1. Thank you so much for spilling you heart like this! I have just begun my journey as a self-published author and hearing about your initial experience with your book flopping has given me the encouragement to continue if mine flops as well! Obviously, I haven't experienced the hardship caused by decrease in sales since I've just published my first books to KPD and as of yet, I have 3 sales. lol (I've been offering them free for promoting purposes). I commend you for pushing on even though it has gotten difficult. You have a large fan following and I am confident that your sales will recover.

    P.S. I love Jack Carter!!!

    1. Thank you for writing this.... it makes ME feel good to hear your thoughts and to have you appreciate my honesty and to read yours as well. Thank you and keep writing! I wish you the best of luck and hope each one sells better than the last. :)

  2. A million times this. A MILLION TIMES. And I started writing in SO much the same way. I finished my first book and was like - HOLY SHIT I WROTE A BOOK. And just like you, I couldn't stop. And after reading every paragraph of this post, found myself going - YEP, YEP, and YEP.

    1. I was the same way with the blog post you wrote the other day! So much relating going on. :)

  3. I'm gonna share this all over the place. I love everything about it. Thank you!! I recently published my first book and it's not even close to selling enough to cover editing costs, despite every member of my family buying it. So the business side of my brain goes, "eh, hold off" but the newly awakened creative side was all "eff it" so I wrote a second one and started on a third.

  4. JEN! I love you and your work so much. I am so glad that you aren't talking about leaving us, because my heart would break. I really have no author experience, so I can only ever look at this situation and the market from a readers perspective. I know when I found this whole indie world, in 2012, I was so incredibly excited. I read everything I could. I payed for books, I won a sh** ton of giveaways that fueled my addiction, and I just went crazy. I read 200 books in 2013. That is a huge amount for me, but I couldn't stop. I did this for about a year and a half. Then in 2014,when the market shifted, I realized that I didn't have to pay for books. Authors were putting them for free on Amazon, new releases were 99c all day long. I was shocked, but, honestly, I was loving it. But, it really didn't take me long to realize in this process I had lost some of my drive to read so 'religiously'. I'm not sure if I burned out, or if so many of the books were just ehh. Just something to fill the time, and not something awesome. And I wasn't getting to read the books I wanted to by the authors I wanted to because i was getting swamped with free and all that. So, when before I would have gladly paid $3-4 for a book, my cheapskate mind kept telling me to go to the 99c'ers. So, a few months ago, I cut WAY back. I cut back on free books, 99c'ers, and I really tried to focus on books that I would truly enjoy and that I really have been wanting to read, instead of only shopping for cheap. So, as of now, I am at about 100 books read this year. Still a good amount, but for someone who has spent her ENTIRE life devouring books, it definitely feels strange. Anyways, I don't really know why I am telling all this to you, I just thought I would give you a perspective from a reader, and maybe some other readers are having these feelings and reacting similarly, as well. Good luck with this crazy market, but I don't think you will need it. You are crazy awesome and I KNOW you will be around for a long time.
    Thanks for reading my ramblings. :)

  5. I love this post! I've been published 2 years and I've seen the ups and downs with it. Sales are low, I'm still fairly new and undiscovered and while I'd love to make enough to pay off debts, pay my house off in full, ect ect....the biggest joy for me is reaching readers. even if it's slow going. The characters in my head don't ever shut up and have me going nonstop. I see the same thing with authors, about how they want to give up and it's sad, to say the least. Like you, I'm not going anywhere because writing is where my heart is. Thank you for this post.

  6. Anonymous7:52 PM

    I hear ya!! You're bleeding all over me, girl, and I'm already red! Just put up my website, working on my FB page, learning to tweet and sing! AWK!!! Why can't I just write!? karyncanteesstagg

  7. Oh my god, my heart HURTS from reading this and all of the truth!!! I love you so much! You are so talented. It will turn again. It has to. It ebbs. It flows. It does whatever the hell it wants to, but we stay constant. And you are so talented, my friend. You are in the right place, doing the right thing. This IS lonely, but you are not alone. And the market is brutal right now, but it is not you.You are amazing!! Thanks for writing this and for your honesty. < 3 you!!!!

  8. Great post! I think it takes a lot to bare that part of yourself that harbors every ounce of self-doubt that we all have, but very few share so openly. I started self-publishing almost a year ago and it is THE emotional roller coaster from hell. The ups and downs are so extreme some days I question if my heart can take anymore. The bottom line, I love writing and I do it for myself first and foremost. It's a passion that cannot be denied. You brought me to tears because every word struck such a chord with me, and it is so VERY lonely in a writer's world ... it doesn't help that I'm nearly 40 and dealing with a shitload of hormones, LOL! Chin up, lady! You've got this!

  9. Exactly. The guilt. The fire in the gut. The 24-7 365 days/year. So well put. Keep inspiring us all.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this! I know what you mean, because I'm there too. You're an inspiration.