‘Write from the heart.’
This may be one of the most misguided pieces of advice out there for authors. It’s everywhere, and I believe it’s wrong.
Let me qualify that – it’s wrong to do it more than once, if what you’re looking to do is sell books (unless that first time is an epic success, which it won’t be).
Writing from the heart is a lottery ticket with incredibly long odds. There is a near-infinitesimal chance that a book born from the virgin writer’s heart is going to sell. It’s like walking into a university and saying your first research paper will revolutionize particle physics, or like walking onto a basketball court and expecting to dunk on LeBron James.
It’s not going to happen. You may have thought a lot about particles. You may have watched a lot of NBA. But you’re nothing yet, not until you get your particle physics PhD or work your way up on the courts.
But we all want to win the lottery. We want to believe that the perfect book resides in our heart, and if we can just write it out, it’ll soar.
Most likely it won’t. Just like you won’t win the lottery.
And if it does soar? Then you won the lottery. It’s amazing. We hear about this happening all the time – because it’s the better story than the truth, and people want to read about the fantasy. The truth is that most authors barely sell a handful of copies of their books.
We all dream of winning the lottery, but you can’t plan on it. Play that game once, for sure, by writing one book purely from the heart. Maybe your heart has the winning lottery ticket. Get that book out. See if it flies.
Most likely it won’t. And that’s OK. It’s far from over. It’s time to roll up your sleeves. Start working toward your PhD, hit the courts. For us writers, that means moving toward the reader.
Move out of your heart. Writing from the heart is an act of invitation. You’re inviting the reader into your heart, 100% on your terms. You want them to come all the way over to you, validate you, and we all know how wonderful that’s going to feel.
But, again, it will only happen for an infinitesimally small number of us.
Far better is you quit inviting and start going out to meet. Build a bridge from your heart to the reader’s. This means you validating them, by figuring out what they want and giving it to them. This goes for your cover, your title, your blurb and your book’s body text itself. It covers genre, sub-genre, tropes, motifs, themes, settings, plot, character.
You go to them. They come to you. It’s beautiful, because they get their expectations met and validated. You get someone on the road to your heart, engaged in an act of true communication. They give. You give. Everybody gets.
Do this well, and often enough, and you can win the lottery of book sales through hard work. Not luck. Not random chance. Like a particle physicist. Like an NBA baller. Like a bestseller.
All the time I see people in FB groups asking why their books don’t sell. I’ve been there. With some of my books, I’m still there. So I can recognize a fellow traveler of that road, influenced by this terrible advice.
Write from the heart once? It’s a sensible gamble. You really may have what it takes to dunk on LeBron the first time. But again and again, to the same poor result? That’s the definition of madness.
We see it in covers that don’t draw in the right kind of readers. Blurbs that don’t match expectation. Books themselves that are off-genre, left unwanted on the shelf. And many writers have dozens of these books. Still they keep on writing more, because they’re writers, and they think that writing from the heart is the right thing to do, when all they’re doing is chasing bad bets.
Why don’t we retire the advice to write from the heart? An infinitesimal number of us are going to win the book-from-the-heart lottery. All the rest need to quit buying lottery tickets and start listening to our readers.
Don’t insist the reader comes to your heart. Build a bridge and meet them halfway.