This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain talk all about the lies that authors tell themselves around publishing fears. They discuss different ways to handle tough questions like, what if no one reads my book?


Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m Chris Cain with my cohost, J Thorn.

J: Hello, Crys. What’s going on?

Crys: As you predicted last week, not a lot has been accomplished by me this week. Yeah, like I sent out an email for TASM.. That’s it.

But some other things have been happening. One is with Priscilla starting her new job. And it’s really funny, for folks who have been following along with the summer of chaos and have fallen in love with Priscilla, she’s not leaving like my family unit, like we’re still remaining together. She just has a new job because the kid doesn’t need her anymore. So fear not, our chaos still continues.

But one of the awesome things she has done is, I was like, I cannot handle the social energy of attempting to sell the van, will you please do that? So she posted it and has had so much interest and it’s so funny cause when I posted it in November, I got zero expressions of interest except from like people who already knew us.

And now that it is you know, dead of winter and everyone’s really tired and they’re dreaming of van life and she’s posted it now, everyone’s like, oh my gosh, I’m so interested. And so I am flying up Sunday to New York to hopefully sell the van Monday, Tuesday. If not, then I’m gonna write a power of attorney for my sister to be able to sell it.

But one way or another, like the van is going to move out of our hands this next few months. So that’s exciting. It’s sad, Vancy is an epoch of my life. And I’m not even telling the kid because he’ll just lose it. Rather it just fades into his memory.

And because she started her new job, which is with a cleaning company, a maid contracting company, they’ve got I don’t know, like five different the major Metro instances. And I’m getting like all of the backend maid gossip. And I think it’s hilarious. And I was like, oh, this would make a great setup. Add some fantasy into it, it’s a great setup for a TikTok serial. So like now I finally have an idea to start running with telling a story that way.

So I’m really excited about that. And then last but not least, my episode with Zach Bohannan on Creator dad went to live today as we’re recording this, a few days in the past for y’all. So if you go to Creator Dad, and you just can’t get enough of my voice or van stories, you can go check that episode out.

How about you?

J: That was a lot of fun listening to that too. Yeah, just some unexpected travel for various things. And I’m in my brother’s place. Luckily, he’s got good internet and this is the lifestyle I’ve chosen. As long as I have my laptop and throw my good microphone in my bag, I can do this anywhere.

One of the upsides is that I’m not really a pet person, but I have a new podcast co-host you can’t see behind me, but my brother’s cat’s been following me around since I got here. And he’s just lying on the bed as I’m podcasting. He’s like a dog, like he follows my brother around and hops up on the chair at his feet. And it’s just bizarre.

So I’m just amused because I don’t have these interactions with animals.

Crys: Cats are the best because they can tell who doesn’t give a fuck about them. Like not the people who don’t like them, but the ones who just don’t care. And they’re like, you’re my people.

J: Yeah, that’s pretty much it I’m like, oh, he’s there. All right. Whatever. Yeah.

Crys: You’re not going to bother me. Like I can just exist.

Excellent. So the question for this week came out of a conversation of one of the weekly questions I ask TASM, and this week my question was kind of like about the lies that we tell ourselves in our head over the fears. And one member posted something similar to this. And I was like, oh, that is a question that so many of us struggle with, especially before we publish. It’s heavy before we publish, but then sometimes it’s even darker after we publish because it’s realized, and this is: what if no one reads my book? How do we handle that?

J: I’m laughing cause it’s one of those like dark deep author fears, like one of those things that keep us up at night. Let me ask you first, have you ever had that question? Have you ever asked yourself that question?

Crys: I think I struggle less with this currently. And I may have at some point, but I have a terrible memory and so that fear is like way in the past. And because I started publishing under a pen name, I didn’t care as much if anyone read my books or not. I was like, oh, if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It was putting it out there as not me, so it like reflected less on me. It was less stories I wanted to tell.

So that fear wasn’t there. And it’s one of the reasons I recommend interning under your pen name. But with writing under my name, the fear is more like what if they read it and they hate it. Which is a related fear, but not quite the same.

J: No, that’s almost a better fear to have, because that means you’ve solved the problem of how do you get people to read it.

Crys: I’m just narcissistic and I think people read it. That’s where we’re at. I’m like, eh, everybody read my romance stuff, of course they’ll read my fantasy stuff. Which means that I’m possibly setting myself up for a really hard pride fall if no one reads my fantasy stuff, but we’ll deal with that if we get there.

J: I think we are going to go into therapy mode on this because I really feel like this is one of those questions that needs to be unraveled and really examined because it’s hard to figure this out, especially when you’re earlier on in the journey. Because a lot of conventional advice you’ll hear is write for yourself, and write what you’re passionate about, and don’t care, and keep the doors shut.

And that’s all true, like to a point, but I don’t think many of us are doing that just to put the manuscript in a drawer and never see it again and never show it to anyone and start over. I guess what I’m asking is like, what part of art or creativity is dependent on an audience?

Crys: I would say that there’s a certain element of art that is 0% dependent on the audience. And that is simply your interaction and your enjoyment of the process of creating. And most of us then have a desire for someone to look on the finished work and admire it.

We are terrified of people looking on the finished work and not admiring it. So some people might hide their stuff forever because they’re afraid of it not being approved. But I think all of us who create, at some level, and maybe not all because there’s always one or two of us weirdos out there who are completely outside of the spectrum, but most of us want to have our work admired.

J: It’s a bit of a loaded question in that there are underlying assumptions within the question itself. So if the fear is will anyone read my work, what I interpret that as is, number one, you want them to. And number two, that you’re not talking about the enjoyment of the process, like that’s independent of this question.

So there’s an assumption here that like, yes, you may or may not enjoy the process, but like finishing it is important and you have an expectation that someone else is going to read it. And whether that is a free copy, whether you’re talking about selling it, whatever it is, will people read my book, to me, says you want it to be read. And you know, how do you then manage that fear, if you want it to be read but you’re not sure it will be.

Crys: Yeah. And it’s not helped by the fact that most authors do not sell a lot of books. And we’re not even talking about money earned here. We’re just talking about like, that is an indication of how many people have your book in their hands.

And I have trouble like figuring out what’s an answer to this. I tend to lean into like more of like tactics and techniques, because I’m like if someone’s not reading your book here might be the fixing reasons. But that doesn’t help the fear itself. That helps get people to read your book, but it doesn’t help the fear.

J: Yeah. And I don’t know if the fear is, is it a marketing problem? Is it an exposure problem? Like when the question is raised you know, why aren’t people reading my book? It’s hard for me to conceptualize what the issue there is, because it could be just a marketing thing.

Crys: Yeah. And I think often it’s either a craft or marketing thing. It’s honestly one of those two.

But as I’m sitting here thinking about this, pulling back just a little bit further, with the fear, what if no one reads my book, I think how I would say the way you address that initially is say five people will read my book. Five people reading my book is my point of success. Because that gets you past, like your mom, your dad, and your sister.

So then you get like your two best friends to read your books. So five people read my book and that’ll be a success for me. You could even make it a little larger and be like five people who are not my family or friends will read my book if you really want to push it. If you set a really low metric as your marker of success, you’re far more likely to then feel successful and then continue to create books and get to the point where more people will start reading your books, first of all.

The more books you have out, the more people who are likely to read. So start there. Now with any particular book, if people aren’t reading it, it is either a craft or a marketing problem. We talk a lot about how to improve your craft here. We talk a lot about how to gauge if your book is good enough. And one great way of doing that is hiring editors, beta readers if you can’t afford that. And training them to give honest responses and not just, I like it, but like fuller responses.

I think we’ve talked about all of that in earlier episodes. So let’s just address the marketing and the exposure, because that honestly is where most people fail. And I actually was just having an interesting conversation with another friend this week. And I’ve talked about before, how I can literally turn anything into money, like anything, all of my hobbies, like I can see how I could make this a business.

I choose not to because I need a life. But I can see the steps. And one of the things I’ve learned throughout the last few years of selling books, of doing other things, is that for books specifically, this is entrepreneurship in general, I find that the write what you love falls short at some point. Because at some point you have to say, okay, what is it I love and what is it that people want, and where do they cross over?

And this is basically what Chris Fox talks about with Write to Market, but like his original version and not just like, “pick one of the hot genres and write to it.” Which is what indie publishing has turned that into. But knowing what you look for in books that you choose is a really good step.

 For you, J, like what is it in fiction books? What is something that if you read that in a description, you’re like, oh, that’s one of my favorite things, I want to read that.

J: It’s usually something that sits in the uncanny valley, something that is speculative that is not exactly explained. Something that’s mystical, has fantastical elements to it, but it still has contemporary setting.

Like I always think of Blake Crouch. Like he’s one of my favorite authors of all time, and those are the exact kind of stories he tells us. Basically anything he publishes, I’m going to read.

Crys: So like knowing you, I’m going to just throw some ideas at you and see if this is a book that you’re like, yeah, I would pick that up.

So you have a musician who rose from relatively nothing to fame at the edge of a world breaking scenario. And there’s several ways you could do that. But if a story had, and it doesn’t have to be post-apocalyptic modern thriller, but I feel like those two elements would make you look at that book and go, oh yeah, that’s my style.

J: Yeah. It could involve warping of time and space, time travel elements or memory, or anything that’s wrapped up in that sort of mysterious veil would be of interest to me.

Crys: And so like when you’re thinking sometimes, especially after you finish a really good book, you’re like, I really want something else like this. You’re often looking like, how do I get this feel again but with a completely different story? And as authors, we need to start examining what it is that we look at books for.

 Romance authors do this really well. But they have it quote unquote easy, in that they know that their readers want romance, first of all. They want a love story. And then they get real specific.

Readers in romance are real specific. They know what they want. They know if they want it spicy and sexy, they know if they want it clean and wholesome, they know if they want second chance romance. Romance authors have it really easy when it comes to marketing because the readers have done most of their work for them.

And for those of us in other genres, we have to think like, what are the elements that my readers really love? Cozy mystery, we know that we want a mystery that is often small town, very quirky characters. You’re going for a feel of fun with a puzzle.

But then we get into fantasy and sci-fi, and the world is so much larger. And you’re like, it’s fantasy, people love fantasy. Yes. But they don’t love all fantasy. Like I don’t go out reading grim dark for the most part. Like I read it because I read all over the place and I want to read everything. But like when I’m looking for my comfort read, it’s like, okay, like it’s a fantasy world with deep complex relationships.

You throw some interesting characters with really complex problems, like you tell me that in the blurb and I’m there And so knowing what your readers are wanting, or what readers in general are wanting, and what you like to write, and seeing where those crossover. Because sometimes what I read is not also what I like to write. But starting with knowing yourself helps you figure out knowing other readers.

And the importance is not just to write whatever you want, but to find out where that crossover is. And that’s how you learn how to tell people about your book, because you’re like, Hey, you want bisexual pirates in a fantasy setting? I’ve got bisexual pirates in a fantasy setting. You want a magician who’s really shitty at his job and has to deal with bureaucracy cause you like humor and you’re like maybe like a Douglas Adams kind of fan? I’ve got you.

Like learn what these keywords are, what the feels are that people are looking for, and then you learn how to talk about your book and then people will be like, yes, those are my keywords. I want that.

 We’re just sophisticated search engines.

J: I think what you’re essentially saying is that maybe part of the question should be, which people? All right. It’s not all people. And it’s certain people who like a certain particular story. And maybe that’s where you start.

I think then if you put something in front of those people and they taste it and they don’t want it, that’s a whole other conversation. But the idea of like, what if nobody reads it? It should be maybe, what if nobody who likes bisexual pirates reads it? Maybe that makes it a little less overwhelming as a question.

Crys: And coming back to what you can do to initially in the moment ease that worry, is set your expectations very low and very reasonable. It’s how I go through life on everything. Like I hope for the stars, but my expectations are so small as it would be difficult for me to fail.

J: Excellent. I’ll add one more thing to that, which is, don’t forget the level of commitment you’re asking when you ask someone to read your book. Whether they’re a friend, family, or otherwise, reading a book for many people is an incredible commitment. Some people don’t read at all, some people read one or two books a year. Even voracious readers and writers like us are pretty choosy in what we decide to read, because there’s only so many hours and we have to make hard choices.

Getting someone to read your book is more than just getting them to take their wallet out. It’s a real commitment. It’s not like listening to a song where it’s done in three minutes. So just remember that, like when you get really down on yourself, remember what a tremendous commitment it is to read a book.

Crys: For sure.

Thanks so much to our community for all of the questions and wisdom you share in our slack group.

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