Sunday, December 27, 2009

What I Know

I've been blogging for almost five years, and am closing in on 500 blog posts all about the publishing industry.

As a result, this blog gets a lot of hits from people who don't know who I am. That's the point. As I've said many times, anyone can find you on the net if they're looking for you. The goal is to have people find you when they're looking for something else.

That said, I often get emailed questions that are already answered in my blog. On one hand, a newbie author discovering me is anxious to get answers, and often enthusiastically fires off questions to me without reading all 500 of my posts. On the other hand, anyone who wants to succeed in publishing needs to be in it for the long haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Reading all of my entries does a lot more than simply familiarizing you with my writing. It's an encapsulation of how this business works, and how one writer views it.

So it's worth it to the read old posts.

But it's almost 2010. We're in a technological tsunami. Instant gratification isn't fast enough for us.

So here's a blog post that distills the essence of what I've learned in this biz.

Luck Is Important

I say this all the time. In fact, I think it's the #1 factor in determining success in this business. But I've never specifically identified what luck is.

In essence: Getting someone within the industry with enough power and money to recognize they can make money from your work. That's luck. It involves having the right book, in the right place, at the right time. Too soon, too late, wrong person, not good enough--these all can minimize your luck. But hard work, paying attention, and being willing to roll with the punches and accept criticism can maximize your luck.

Still, at the end of the day, it always comes down to a roll of the dice. No one said it would be fair, easy, or fun. But if this is your dream, it is worthwhile to pursue it.

Why do I pursue it?

First, because I love to tell stories. I think it's a fundamental part of the human experience.

Second, because making a living doing something I love is the whole point of life.

Third, because I'm ensuring my little place in history. The most important thing I can do as a human being is be a good husband and father. And yet, who remembers husbands and fathers? How many can you name that you don't personally know?

But writers--everyone can name a dozen writers. That I'm able to reach people, and at the same time become immortal through my work; that speaks to to the essence of what I believe humanity is.

As a species, we love to create things. I'm doing my part and making my mark, in a way that makes me thrilled to be alive.

Understand The Industry

The publishing industry is broken. No doubt about it. Any business that allows returns,
where a 50% sell-through is considered successful, where no one can figure out why things succeed or fail, is fundamentally flawed.

But the more you know about how things work, the better you can manipulate the system.

Good decision-making comes down to facts. The better informed you are, the likelier your decisions will be correct.

Listen. Ask questions. Follow examples. Experiment. Take chances. Stay alert.

The Harder You Try, The More Books You'll Sell

You will not become a bestseller by doing all the things I tell you to do, no matter how logical or well-informed I appear.

You will not become a bestseller through your blog, your touring, your speaking efforts, your internet efforts, or you social networks.

The only way you will become a bestseller is to have your books available, at a discount, in as many places as possible. And that's beyond your control.

That said, every little thing you do to sell your books can help your career.

Books sell one at a time. If you're the one that sells them, one at a time, its one more that probably would not have sold without your efforts.

The Race Is With Yourself

You can't ever compare yourself to any other writer. EVER. This isn't like the business world, where certain positions have a salary range. You can make $100 a year, or $5,000,000 a year, with no discernible difference in your output or your quality.

If you want to compare yourself to someone, compare yourself to yourself. Monitor your successes. Learn from your failures (and if you aren't failing, you aren't trying hard enough.) Try different things, make mistakes, grow, adapt, evolve.

Your peers are a tool you can use to better yourself. But they are NEVER something to aspire to.

Your only aspirations should be within your control. Which brings us to:

Set Achievable Goals

Goals should be within your power. In other words, anything that involves a yes or no from another human being isn't a goal, it's a dream.

You can and should dream, and dream big. But "I want to be a bestseller" isn't a goal. "I want to attend three writing conferences this year, polish my novel, and send queries to ten agents by November" is a goal.

Learn the difference. And don't forget to reward yourself when you reach those goals.

Love It

The term "tortured artist" is an oxymoron. Art is not food, clothing, or shelter. Art is what we do to express and entertain ourselves. If you slave over your writing, I recommend finding something more enjoyable to do. Life is too short, and too many bad things happen, to waste time making yourself miserable.

No one ever gets farmer's block. No one ever bitches about being too uninspired to wait tables.

If writing is so hard, perhaps you should find something easier.

This may seem to run contrary to:

Make Sacrifices

Nothing worthwhile in life is easy. Victory is sweetest when it's hard-won.

You shouldn't EVER believe you deserve anything, or that you're entitled to success. But if you want to reach your writing goals, it often involves giving up other things in order to focus on writing.

You need to love writing. In fact, you need to love it so much you're willing to give up other things that other people (perhaps even you) deem important.

How do you know if your love is strong enough and worth the sacrifice?

When you write THE END, if it isn't the coolest feeling in the world, perhaps you should consider a different career.

But if writing THE END is so fulfilling that it was worth giving up TV, sleep, food, sex, and surfing the internet, then you're in the right profession.

Get Used To Insecurity

As a writer, you'll have the biggest ego in the world, and no ego at all, at the same time.

Money will sometimes be plentiful, and sometimes be scarce.

You'll have major accomplishments, and major setbacks. Your mood will swing on a daily basis.

Some dreams will come true. Some will be murdered.

There are no guarantees.

This business is unstable, and being an artist, you're probably a bit unstable to begin with. These things can feed on each other. Doubt, insecurity, and depression, are all part of the career.

There will be long periods of waiting. Lots of them.

There will be challenges (and by that, I mean you'll get screwed.)

But you need to roll with the punches. Set-backs are opportunities to grow. Rejections are learning experiences. This is a business, and can't be taken personally.

If you go into this understanding you're in for an emotional roller coaster, you can handle the turns and dips much better.

Know When To Quit

The measure of a human being is what makes them finally give up. The stronger the person, the more they can take.

In my previous blog post, I said that you are the hero in the movie of your life. Act like it.

What do you want? Who do you want to be?

That dictates what you need to do.

Quitting, like admitting you're wrong, is one of the noblest things you can do in life. It says that you understand, and accept. It allows you to grow.

But if you want to conquer, quitting isn't an option. No one ever accomplished anything great by quitting.

Know your limitations. But also know your potential for greatness.

Be Cool

Gracious. Grateful. Easy going. Helpful. Fun. Giving. Thankful. Courteous. Honest.

In other words, be a nice person.

While "nice" doesn't mean "successful", it does mean you'll sleep better at night.

I believe a successful life is one where people miss you when you die.

As a writer, you have the potential for a great many people to miss you.

But not if you're a dick.

There. Now you don't have to read 500 blog entries.

Happy New Year! See you in 2010!

I have a feeling it will be the best year ever...