The life of a writer is a challenging one. Ours is an uphill battle against self-doubt and the blank page. Throw in the business of getting our books out to readers and, well, the train can go off the rails a bit. Author, entrepreneur and podcaster Michael La Ronn offers some things to focus in on to find success.
5 Things No One Told Me About Being a Successful Writer
Authors are always looking for secrets. This article is full of them. This year, I’ll be finishing my second year as an indie author. After two years, fifteen books and countless hours of learning, there are at least a thousand things that I wish someone would have told me when I was just starting out.
This won’t be your typical self-publishing advice article. Trust me, you probably haven’t seen this advice before. If you’re looking for advice on marketing, writing a bestseller, or finding readers, you won’t find it here. There are a ton of resources out there. The writing posts on Anela’s blog are a good start. What I’m going to teach you comes BEFORE all of that.
Let’s talk about what really matters: how to plan for your eventual success.
#1: Focus on the Fundamentals
OK, so I lied a little. You know the first lesson already: it’s all about the storytelling. When you’re just starting out, this is very easy to ignore. You’re going to chase after shiny things: sales, advertisements, reviews, social media, experimental promotion techniques, shortcuts, anything that will help you sell a ton of books and quit your crappy day job. You’ll invest so much time in these things that your writing time will suffer. Pretty soon, an entire year will be over and you won’t have anything to show for it but a lot of money spent on things that didn’t make you any money at all.
New authors never believe me when I tell them this. I got laughed at a few months ago when I gave this advice to a writing group, actually. They’re going to learn this lesson the hard way.
The first thing YOU must do, above all others, is commit yourself to producing more books regularly, faster, and better. Think about it like this: if you buy an ad and it doesn’t sell any books, you’re going to regret it. You’ll especially regret it if you buy a bunch of ads that don’t perform. Will you ever regret publishing a new book? Ten? Twenty? Never.
When I stopped chasing shiny things that didn’t matter and focused solely on writing more books, I got the sales I had been trying to chase before. My sales doubled. Not kidding.
#2: Develop a learning plan
Remember in school when teachers passed out a syllabus with all the things you were going to learn in the class?There’s no set syllabus for being a writer, but I developed one for myself. It’s a very, very long bulleted list that covers virtually every element of the writing craft and business. I systematically knock things off the list one by one. I’m continuously adding to it every time I encounter something that I want to learn. It’s a living document that will never truly be conquered, but every time I cross something off the list, I’m more in control of my career.
In this business, the most successful indie authors are the ones who are the most knowledgeable. You must spend the time and money on your own continuing education, or you won’t last very long.
The worst thing you can do is look at something and think, “I’ve got a good grip on that. I don’t need to learn anymore” (or some variation on that thought). If such a thought ever crosses your mind, chances are you probably haven’t even begun to understand how it really works. Guaranteed. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I “knew” something about writing (pacing, storytelling, character development), only to discover, embarrassingly while running my mouth in the presence of professional authors, that I actually didn’t know anything at all.
There are many layers to learning. Start educating yourself and never stop. And stay humble. It’s good for you.
#3: The best business advice comes from non-writers
While you should absolutely pay attention to how successful indie authors are conducting their businesses and implement what makes sense for you, you should pay more attention to other businesspeople and how they do it. Reality television is great for this. For example, I recently watched two seasons of “Hotel Impossible” on Netflix. It follows Anthony Melchiorri, a famous hotelier who travels to struggling hotels around the world. He shows them the reasons they’re struggling and how to fix them. He’s brutally honest sometimes overbearing, but he knows his stuff.
Almost all of Anthony’s advice on “Hotel Impossible” can be applied to writers. In fact, I learned more from two seasons of “Hotel Impossible” than all the writing business books, blogs and podcasts I consumed previously. The best way to learn how business truly works is to approach it from odd angles. Look at the music industry. Listen to interviews with entrepreneurs like Jim Henson, Walt Disney, Mark Cuban, etc. Watch shows like Hotel Impossible and Shark Tank. Take nuggets from their advice and apply it to your situation. This will give you a clarity that other writers won’t have. You’ll learn the true fundamentals of running a business. You’ll also be able to identify the critical mistakes that your contemporaries are making and how to avoid them for yourself.
#4: If you don’t manage your fear, it will manage you
So much of being a writer is about overcoming fear. Here’s a secret: just about every mental struggle you will have will be rooted in some kind of fear. Worried about your sales? That’s fear. Don’t think that readers will like your work? That’s fear. Think it’s impossible to write a novel in one draft without revision? Yep, fear.
Dean Wesley Smith, an indie writer I admire, says all the time that there’s nothing to be afraid of in this industry. It’s true. Any fear you have is imagined. It’s not real. It took me a long time to learn this, but when I did, I skipped light-years ahead. I highly recommend Dean’s “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing” series. Read the books in that series several times and internalize them.
Learn how to be fearless. Stand up for your art and believe in yourself. Keep the fear at bay, and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.
#5: You’re always going to be impatient about something
Namely, sales. But they’re not going to come at first, and that’s okay. Use your first few years to cement your understanding of the writing craft and business. The beginning of your career is the best time to fail. No one will ever see or care about your mistakes. That’s a wonderful thing. In your early years, focus on laying the groundwork for your eventual success. This means developing your learning plan and embracing it. This way, when you reach success, you’ll be ready for it.
Have a vision for the next five and ten years. This is hard when you’re just starting out, but as you release more books, you’ll be able to see the future more clearly. I already know what books I’m going to be publishing in the next two years because I have a greater vision of what I want my overall catalog to look like. As that vision slowly becomes a reality, I am confident that readers are going to love my books. But it’s going to take a lot of work to get there, and it’s hard NOT to be impatient.
Fighting impatience never gets any easier. It’s actually a good thing because as long as you don’t give up, it will keep you hungry.
Bringing It All Together
The above lessons are just a few of the many lessons I have learned. Here’s the recap:
- Focus on storytelling and writing craft above all things
- Develop a learning plan for yourself so that you can keep growing
- Learn business advice from people outside the writing industry and apply what makes most sense for your situation
- Overcome your fears or it’ll hold you back
- Deal with impatience and use it as fuel
You’ll be able to avoid most career-ending mistakes if you follow my advice. This will ensure that you’ll be ready to embrace your success when it arrives. If you keep writing, reading and learning like I am doing, you’ll get there eventually.
Here’s to your success!
I want to thank Anela for inviting me to do a guest post on this blog. I had a lot of fun writing this.
Many thanks to you for such an insightful article!
Michael La Ronn writes fearless fiction. His novels feature unlikely heroes such as teddy bears and vegetables, and his writings are filled with quirky and imaginative humor. He also co-hosts the To Be Read Podcast where he talks about the books he’s reading. You can find him at www.michaellaronn.com.
Love your advice on having a vision for the next five and ten years. This will help me spread my expectations out, instead of anticipating everything in the first year.
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I agree! This bit of advice is golden. I make different lists of goals: for this year, next year and the next five years. I keep them realistic (No “Become a famous writer” goals. That’s a dream, not a goal). I find it helps combat that fear Michael talks about.
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