On Writing,  publishing

What’s the Point? A Deadly Saying

What Exactly Is the Point?…

(I did this blog just over a year ago. I figured as part of getting ready for 2017, this might help some of you out there clear out some roadblocks.)

A couple people got angry at me in letters because I told them that following sales numbers (the number of books you are selling or what Amazon list you are on) is an addiction.

A deadly one to your writing and your career for the long term.

So what are the first signs you are into the deadly part of this addiction?


When you are sitting at your computer, your creative voice really, really wants to write a certain story or a new book in a certain series, and you hear yourself think, “What’s the point? It won’t sell.”

Oh, oh…

Tust me, folks, I am not immune from this in the slightest. When I realize that one of my books or series is selling better than others, and yet I am firing up a book that is in the poor-selling series, I hear myself ask that question.

How I get around it is tell that tiny part of my critical voice that is trying to stop me that maybe this book in this lower-selling series will be the one that explodes. That answers the question, “What’s the point.”

And makes the critical voice crawl away whimpering.

But realize, I’ve been doing this a very long time. I never read reviews of my work and I do not follow any sales numbers or bestseller lists. Yet this still creeps in at times because one of the wonderful things we have about this new world is immediate information on sales.

A real double-edged sword if I have ever seen one.

But it just isn’t choices of what to write next that this “What’s the Point?” question pops up. Let me list some of the major ones.

After each one say to yourself, “So what’s the point?” (See if any sound familiar to you.)

— Choice of next writing project that isn’t one of your top sellers. (So… )

— Comparison to others. (Speed or sales higher than yours, so…)

— Life event stops you. (You feel behind or lost so…)

— Imaginary lack of time to write in the future. (I hear this one all the time, so….)

— I’m too old to start now. (So…)

— No one makes a living with their fiction. (This one just makes my head shake sadly. So…)

— There is too much to learn. (So…)

— I’m no good in business. (So…)

There are many, many more. Sadly.

But many of these, if not all in one form or another, come from watching numbers or reading reviews.

And all of it is your critical voice trying to do its job and stop you.

And when you start hearing “What’s the point?” the critical voice is winning. It really is that simple.

So how exactly does this kill your writing and career?

A thousand ways with a thousand cuts, actually.

If you listen and act on the question, you won’t learn, you won’t write anything except stuff that you think will sell and chances are it won’t, or at least not for long.

And the first time you write a couple things you don’t like just because you think they will sell and they don’t live up to some made-up expectation your critical voice has put on the project, the “What’s the Point?” question gets so loud, you can’t hear yourself think, let alone write.

Coming back from a life event is never easy, and you feel behind, so what’s the point of even starting? So you don’t do anything, because something might happen again to stop you.

You are too old (by some made-up yardstick in your head…I heard a 28 year old say this once) so it’s better to not start.

And so on and so on.

This question, when you hear it, is your critical voice trying to stop you. It is mostly triggered by watching your own numbers, reading your own reviews, or comparing yourself to someone else’s numbers or success.

It is also triggered by an attitude of dread instead of excitement. 

For example, I get excited when I look at how much more I have to learn in the craft of telling a story. That excites me.

If you look at the same thing with dread, that there is too much to deal with, and here comes the question, “What’s the Point?”

Indie publishing has a lot of learning curves, from covers to interiors to decisions on where to sell your books. Not even counting learning the business and money aspects. I love the ever-changing nature of this new world and thrive on it.

But if you stand back and look at it and shut down and think there is too much, you can’t learn it all, here comes the question… “What’s the Point?”

In my last few years of traditional publishing books, I had grown to hate what I was doing, hated writing, hated the idiots in New York, hated the stupidity of baby copyeditors and editors, hated the bad contracts. And I got to the point where I said clearly numbers of times and out loud, “What’s the point?”

And for me, at that moment in time, there was no point.

So I quit writing, quit the business. I was headed to play poker for a living for the second time in my life when the indie world fired up.

Suddenly I could see a way again where I would be challenged with writing and publishing. I wouldn’t have to deal with the stupidity of a baby editor who thought she knew everything, even though I had been selling books before she was born.

I could see a way I could control my own life, my own writing, my own problems in publishing.

And I got excited at the massiveness of numbers of things I needed to learn.

I was challenged by that.

And so, at the age of 62, I fired up my writing and my own magazine, and have been learning ever since. At that point I had one backlist book to publish and that was it. I was going to have to write all new.

I told Kris that I felt like the most experienced beginning writer in the world.

To me, that’s a challenge and except for the few times when sales numbers creep into my office, I never ask the question… “What’s the Point?”

If you can get past what is stopping you and switch your focus, stay away from watching reviews and book sales numbers, and have fun writing, you might be surprised at what will happen.

And the best way to find your trouble spots in your business and writing is listen for that one nasty question… “What’s the Point?”

Because if you hear it, you are headed the wrong way.

— Stop.

— Figure out the Problem.

— Change Attitude.

— Change Practices.

And go back to having fun telling stories.

Because honestly, that is the point of all of this.


  • Lisa Nixon Richard

    In August, my father passed away. He inspired me to read and write. I was lost in grief. The thought of what is the point of writing since Dad couldn’t read any more of my books did flash through my mind. At the end of September, I crawled out of the debilitating aspects of mourning and looked at my fiction word count. I was 151,000 words from reaching my 2016 goal. I was 112,000 from the amount I wrote in 2015. What was the point? I only had three months left in the year. The point was and is to never give up.

    I hit the ground typing on October 3rd. I have written every day since. Not all stellar days, but I did have a count. I have written 87 days in a row, my longest streak. I have a total of 110,455 additional words. I will write at least 1 word more then last year. I am counting that a major win after losing one of my closest companions. I have played with the words and cried over the words. What is the point? For me it is to conquer the raiders trying to invade my country, to play, to live, to write for my dad, and my children.

    And by the way, thanks Dean for all the words of encouragement in your blog posts. They have helped me through the entire year!!!

  • J.M. Ney-Grimm

    When I realize that one of my books or series is selling better than others, and yet I am firing up a book that is in the poor-selling series, I hear myself ask that question.

    How I get around it is tell that tiny part of my critical voice that is trying to stop me that maybe this book in this lower-selling series will be the one that explodes. That answers the question, “What’s the point.”

    Thank you!

    I really needed to hear this. I’m currently doing a fix-mistakes pass on the first book in a series. I find myself thinking that when I finish the fix-mistakes pass, I should start the second book.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m excited about that second book. But what I really want to write next is a story I started while I was waiting for feedback from my first reader.

    I’ve been arguing back and forth in my head about which story I would write next. “Series sell better, and this is my first real series, as opposed to my sort-of series books.” “But Dean and Kris would urge me to write the story I’m longing to write!” “But my first reader thinks I should write that second book in the series.” “But I really want to carry on with the story I started in November. I love that story and want to see where it goes.” And so on.

    Now I’m going to firmly tell the voice saying “should” that it is being ridiculous, which it is. How can I possibly know that my new series is going to sell so awesomely anyway? I can’t. And how can I know that the stand-alone story I’m longing to tell won’t be the one that will break out? I can’t. And even if either or neither of these potential books is my big chance, so what?! If I tell the story I’m longing to tell, I’ll have a great time writing it. And then, when I’m ready to tell the next story in my new series, I’ll enjoy that too. And both books will get written. Win-win!

  • Kate Pavelle

    Thank you, Dean! There is a point. Changing lives matters. I found that my buddy writers felt all blocked after the election, but I had a pub date coming up, and I took a big risk. I incorporated political overtones into what’s usually a feel-good, low-angst romance brand. Writing it did me good, it seems to be hitting a chord if the “best seller” amazon tag means anything (I know, they don’t mean much to you but it was a first for me, and it lasted a whole week!), and nobody got upset. Writing what makes us upset or scared or passionate matters to the readers, not just to us.
    Then again, there is the 80/20 rule, which is why 80% of my books just sit there as show window decorations 🙂

  • Teri Babcock

    Dean said: “A couple people got angry at me in letters because I told them that following sales numbers is an addiction.”

    In 2012-13 there were a lot of newly minted indie authors blogging the hourly play-by-play of their sales Amazon sales and rankings. They justified this behaviour as being necessary to manage their business, but really, it was because it lit up certain reward pathways in their brain. It was exciting and gave them a dopamine rush.There was no good reason for it. Watching the pot boil (or not) doesn’t sell books.

    That reporting on rank and sales is still going on, if not so much by the hour. Recently I read a post on a blog about a new release by a writer who pulled out all the stops in his goal to hit ‘Amazon Bestseller’ status in his chosen category, improvising on the fly when the plan didn’t quite work, then achieving an extremely temporary but glorious victory before the book drifted down again.
    I wondered what the point was.
    I’m seeing a lot of people fixated, not on readers, but on their rankings, where their book debuted, did it go higher, did the twitter blast work, the BookBub or whatever promotions they lined up. It’s all ‘Hey, Series Book 4 got to #10 in Pretty Big Category’ and not so much ‘Series Book 4 sold 400 copies in 3 days. I think that means I have 400 hard-core fans of the series who bought the book as soon as it was available.’ Fans who couldn’t care about the book’s rank, and will buy the next one whether it shows up on page 1 of a search or page 10. That’s what makes long-term success.

  • Sheila

    Oh, the life event thing! In 2012, my mother got sick. She actually died in the emergency room, but was quickly revived. The next year, at about the same time, my father was diagnosed with a fatal bone marrow disease.

    Taking two parents to various appointments and emergency room visits took almost all my time, with the rest spent dealing with my youngest son’s issues. I had nothing left for the writing, and my family was frankly more important.

    The next year, I got sick, and was down for most of the year. I finally got back to writing around the end of October, so nothing much came out between 2012 and the end of 2015. I did better in 2016, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

    When I’d look at how people who’d started self-publishing around the same time I did, in 2011, and saw how their careers were going, with more and more books out and sales growing, it was hard not to wonder why I bothered. It’s a pretty human thing to do.

    I am also older than many just starting this journey, though I’ve been writing for a long time. I was 53 when I put up my first works. It was exciting, and felt so right, but it was hard not to think that maybe I’d left things too late. Should have gotten the courage to go trad pub a long time ago, but never did.

    Still, when I’ve had those dark moments and asked myself what the point was, the answer is always: to tell my stories. I’ve had them in my head since I was a tiny child, and it’s good to see that others like them.

    So, I’ll regroup and plan for a better 2017. As long as I’m above ground (or out of the crematorium’s sight, he he), I’ll be writing. I can’t stop doing it, though I’ve tried over the years, because as you say, children are important and that’s _my_ firm belief.