Of course, the responsibility had to fall to me. I wrote the book. The world came from my own brain. I sacrificed mindless hours to the tasks of writing, revising, and editing this labor of love. Naturally, my editors and cover artist would grant me the 'honor' of finalizing the process. The honor? More like the responsibility. A responsibility that was weighing on me much more than I had anticipated. I had one last opportunity to chicken out, a last chance to pull the plug on the entire operation. I was tempted. I wanted to, really wanted to. But I had put too much time, too much effort into the endeavor. Everyone involved in the project had put so much time into it, they were counting on me. Indirectly, and probably unknowingly, pressuring me to do something I was so torn up about.
What was I even afraid of? I was afraid of backlash. I was afraid that people were going to hate me. As a lover of books myself, I had witnessed on many occasions unsatisfied readers attack authors. I didn't want that to happen to me. I was scared of faceless names on the internet, scared that people I didn't even know would be mad at me, be mean to me. If avoiding that circumstance meant not going through with my passion project, then so be it. As happy as I was to share my work with the world, it also meant I was putting myself out there. I was making myself vulnerable, at least in some respect, to the rest of the world. I was sharing a part of myself with others. That was something I wasn't prepared for.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and clicked my trackpad without even looking. I heard the telltale ring of the website, letting me know that my actions were forever irreversible. That was one of the many things I hated about the internet. Once you put something there, it's there for good. It will never go away. Even if I tried to delete it and back out, it would never be truly gone. This book, this decision I made, would haunt me for the rest of my life.
I closed my computer with a sigh. I didn't want to read the automated email from the self-publishing company, congratulating me on my "accomplishment." I didn't want to read the carefully composed email from my editor, praising me for all the work I had completed for this project. I didn't even want to see the heartfelt "thanks" from my cover artist, whose work was now the crown jewel of the online bookstore.
I didn't want to see any of it. I just wanted to block out the world, and all the opinions that came with it.
It had been a week since I had self-published my book. My novel had been available to people all over the world for 7 whole days. I was constantly promoting it on social media, though not of my own accord. I relied on the book's success, as well as the occasional odd job, to cover my cost of living. My editors and cover artists had also been promoting the novel nonstop, and the publishing company had even given it a shoutout a few days after its release.
I had been avoiding any and all private messages I had received like the plague. I refrained from reading the comments on the social media posts I had made about it, and I hadn't even dared to check the reviews on the online bookstore. To be quite honest, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the book.
It was an odd predicament. While I was writing, editing, revising, the only thing pushing me forward was the anticipation of these moments, where I would be able to share my story with the world. But here I was, and I definitely wasn't enjoying it.
I had sacrificed hours to a project that I was so excited to share with the world. But now, when I needed it most, that excitement and enthusiasm were absent, gone completely from my life. I had gotten so used to being one of the only people to know the secrets of the world I had built, the idea of sharing it with others was unsettling.
With time, though, I built up my courage. Slowly, but surely. My book was selling fine, I was making enough money off of it to pay my bills. From the stats I was forced to review, I could tell people were reading it and hopefully enjoying it. I still didn't know what people really thought, though.
I wanted to write a sequel. The idea had been in my mind since the writing process of the first novel. The problem was, I needed to confront the opinions of my readers, gather data to better administer to what they wanted in a second book.
I needed to face the fact that my readers knew almost as much about the world, the characters, as I did. It would be constructive to get their opinions. But I was scared. I didn't want the way other people thought of me to control me, to keep me from achieving my dreams. It wasn't even a tangible thing that was holding me back. It seemed silly, but still. I couldn't shake the feeling.
I was feeling impulsive. Words can't hurt me, I thought. I opened the bookstore app on my computer with no thought to my actions. I started scrolling through the reviews.
To my surprise, they were positive! I was elated. People actually liked my book!
Someone had even said it was their new favorite book. That blew my mind more than anything else. It was crazy that someone could pick my own story as the book that surpassed all others for them.
Some empty part of my heart, one that had been filled with worry and the disapproval of others, filled up with joy. I felt a warmness throughout my whole body. They liked it!
They liked my book.
I opened a new word document. I was ready to write the sequel, instilled with confidence, and motivated by the kind words of my readers.
Let's do this.
I opened my front door. There, sitting on the doormat, was a small brown box, addressed to me. I knew what was inside, but I still felt my heart start to race from the suspense.
I neatly sliced open the tape and unfolded the flaps of the box carefully. Sitting in a bed of bubble-wrap and tissue paper, was my first ever physically published novel. With shaky hands, I pulled it out, turning it over in my hand. I stroked the cover, flipped through the pages to smell them, and ran my fingers across the spine.
This was it, this was reality. I was holding, in my own hand, a book I had written. A story that had come from my mind and my mind alone. After I examined it carefully, all it would take was one email to get the production started. I had the email all written out already, I just needed to press send. I had the power to pull the plug if I wanted to. But I definitely didn't want to.
Sequels have a lot of pressure placed on them. They have to live up to the hype of the first book, while also offering a satisfying continuation of the story. Of course, I was nervous about the release. How could you not be nervous when you had hundreds, if not thousands of people to please. There were bound to be people who aren't going to like it. People who would attack me for my work.
I couldn't please everyone, even if I wanted to. I don't like people being upset at me, but that was the reality when you work in entertainment.
I walked slowly to my computer, eyes locked on the book in my hands. I cradled it like a child, because, in essence, it was my child.
I opened my email and took a steadying breath before hitting send. I heard the swooshing sound that meant the email was sent.
Looking at the online bookstore, I saw that I already had dozens of preorders. People had already started paying money for a book that hadn't even started production. They were so confident in me, in my story, that they were willing to give money before they even saw the product.
Ding! I switched back to my email inbox, where I opened the newest email. It was from the publishing company. "Thank you for your confirmation. We will now start production of your novel. Congratulations on your publication!"
The publishing company was small, but that didn't mean they didn't have a heart. I read the email over and over, trying to grasp in my mind the fact that this was real.
It had been a week since the production began and shipments started going out. I had been checking the online reviews periodically. Overall, people seemed to be enjoying it. I was energized by my success in making people happy.
I thought back to the writing process. I remembered feeling so nervous, like my every move was being monitored. Like if I made one mistake, my whole career would be over. Looking back, that feeling seemed so silly. The ridiculousness of that fear was perfectly demonstrated in the reviews.
But one morning, I opened the reviews to find something that deflated my spirits like a balloon.
"Great original novel, but the sequel was trash. The character development was off, the plot was limp and weak. The second book didn't do justice to the first."
My face fell as I read the words.
I felt this feeling come back to me. An unfamiliar one, but familiar all the same. I hadn't felt it in a long time. It was a feeling I experienced a lot as a budding author. The dread and fear of what people would think of me. I was so sad that someone who could be such a fan of my first book would utterly hate me after the second. I worked so hard to give them a second, and they were rejecting it?
I had plans to write a third novel, but I didn't know if I had it in me to push on after disappointing people.
I spent a long time contemplating everything that had happened. I left the sequel on a major cliffhanger, left the readers desperately yearning for more. Did I owe it to them to write the conclusion, even if I had disappointed some of them with the second? I didn't want more negative feedback. I might even be more prone to error knowing that so much depended on the ending story.
But what about those people who loved the second book? They deserved a satisfying conclusion, didn't they? If only there was a way to cater to everyone's needs.
That's when I remembered.
You can't please everyone. You just have to do what you think is right, and how people react is their own responsibility. I was going to please myself, and the fans who supported me. I guessed it was time to pick up my pen again, or in this case, my computer.
I couldn't believe I was standing on one of the production warehouses of a corporate publishing company. It was huge and very noisy. With the pending release of my third book, the company had invited me down to cut the proverbial ribbon. It wasn't a ribbon at all, actually, but a big red button. It was all a bit dramatic for my liking, but for such a momentous occasion, I let it pass.
"Ready?" one of the employees handed me the button. I took a breath. With the press of this button, I would begin the production of my third book, the conclusion of my epic trilogy.
"Ready," I confirmed with the employee. I pressed the button, and the sound of machinery quickly filled the room. The spectators in the warehouse let out cheers of excitement.
Not long after that, I was handed a book. I wasn't prepared for the book to be ready that fast. It was still warm from the printing press. Although this wasn't my first physical book, it was the first hardcover. It was also the first corporately manufactured book I had published. I turned it to the back and saw the little logo in the corner. That was a milestone for me. An indication that I had actually made it big. My writing was being distributed by a large company. I was partnering with a huge company.
I was frantically running around my apartment, gathering the things I would need. I was headed to my first book signing event for the new book. Although the novel had only been in production for a week, it had gathered quite a fanbase. I had received a phone call earlier that day, telling me that the crowd at the bookstore was already almost too big to manage.
I grabbed my keys and headed out the door. The bookstore was a half-hour drive from my apartment, so I had plenty of time to think in the car. I reminisced on the simpler times. The days when I didn't have physical copies of my book to sign, when I just paid to have it appear on a digital bookstore. Back when I didn't have multitudes of readers eagerly waiting for my next release. Now, I was going to a real bookstore, with real books and real fans.
I remembered the fear I felt, the apprehensive feeling that occupied me more than it should have. I was so afraid of disappointing people, afraid of what people would think of me. I almost didn't even write my second book because of that fear. Crazy. I almost didn't take the opportunity to further my career because I was scared of rejection. It all seemed so silly now.
I knew that at the book signing, there would be haters. There would be people who booed me, told me my writing was trash. But I wasn't scared of them, not anymore. What reason did I have to fear them? I wrote the book. I was my own judge. I was ready to confront those who pulled me down, not cower and push away opportunities because of them.
About halfway through the time slot for my book signing, I encountered one such hater. A teenage boy approached the table where I was signing books, and slammed a copy right in front of my face.
"How dare you?" he shouted. I wasn't scared.
"How dare I what?" I asked calmly.
"How dare you mess up the series with this atrocity?" He raised his voice, but I still wasn't intimidated.
"Well, I'm sorry to have disappointed you, sir. But if you're going to yell like that, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
He looked taken aback at how calmly I had handled the situation. A bookstore employee started to escort him away. As he passed, I saw other fans talking to him. His face changed from anger to remorse. I wanted to call for him to come back, but he was too far away.
As I looked out into the crowd, I didn't regret one action in my writing career. It had brought me all these people, so even if I was scared they would protect me and stand up for me. They would be there for me when I was frightened of the backlash. The funny thing was, I wasn't scared anymore. I was confident.