Monday, October 21, 2013

The ABC's of a Writing Career



Attribution
If you’ve been writing for a while with little results, it’s challenging to stay focused. Your writing buddies may have landed contracts, launched a second or third book or perhaps hit a best-seller list. While it may seem as if some writers achieve success overnight, there is no such thing. A book or series will come to prominence and it seems as if they materialized out of thin air, but the reality is that the writer laboured over the book/s for months, did numerous edits and re-writes before coming up with a product good enough to submit or publish. A prime example of this is Michael Wallace who talks about his ‘overnight’ success.

Since we know there is no magic formula, let’s talk about the building blocks of a career in writing.

Apprenticeship - There’s no getting around it. We learn to write by putting our brain in gear, pasting butt to chair and fingers to keyboard. We may buy dozens of books on the craft of writing, attend conferences and/or workshops. Some of us have Diplomas in creative writing. Although they are useful, none of these tools can take the place of practical experience, which we gain by writing short stories and novels. Over time, we develop a style that is unique and with each new story our skill level climbs.

Build a Body of Work - If you’re convinced there is no overnight success, you’ll also believe what I’m about to tell you. The best form of advertising is your finished product—your book. All the advertising in the world won’t be worth much if people buy your novel and it is full or errors, plot holes and incredible situations. However, if you’ve written a good book and follow that up with a few more that can stand on their own, you’ll have the freedom to call yourself a writer by profession.  That said, once you have a few books under your belt, it’s time to find at least one method by which you can expand your fan base.

Create a  Loss Leader - I’ll state up front that I’m not a fan of giving away my books, but I’ll also say that the one book I’ve made perma-free has rewarded me. It’s been in the number one spot on Amazon several times in the short story category and after a year and a half has fallen out of the top ten. Between March 2012 and last month, that book was downloaded 165,580 times. This is modest by the standard of best-selling writers, but the positive spin-off is that gradually, I’m seeing an uptick in sales. If you don’t have enough books to let one go free, you can offer a sample of something new in the back of your current book, compile short stories or write a prequel for an upcoming novel and use it as a deal sweetener for readers.

Yes, there’s a D.

Don’t Become Discouraged - When you’ve worked hard to produce a good book and sales are a trickle, or you haven’t sold to a publisher, it’s easy to become discouraged. You’ve probably come across this data in one form or another, but I invite you to read this article about thirty famous authors who faced rejection time and again. Self-publishing has opened other options to the enterprising writer, but some struggles are the same.   

A career in writing is a marathon, not a sprint and if you give up now, you’ll never know if you would have had a respectable writing career. It’s also important to remember that your stories will never have a bigger champion than you. Nobody can spin a tale the way you do and if you don’t believe in your writing, nobody else will.

Keep studying the craft. Keep writing. Keep believing.

Do you feel less insecure knowing that overnight success is more of a myth than reality? Are you prepared to keep working on that masterpiece you’ve yet to complete? Will you continue putting your building blocks in place?

30 comments:

YVONNE LEWIS: said...

Great post to read, I have just started my third poetry book, still a long way to go. Must keep up with tenacity and positivity.
Have a good week.
Yvonne.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Smart advice, Joy.
I'd have to write something new to create a story I could give away for free.

J.L. Campbell said...

Keep going, Yvonne. Being positive is a necessary ingredient on the journey.

That would be something of a challenge, Alex, since your story is complete. Unless, you have another series in you waiting to get out. :)

Pat Hatt said...

Good advice indeed, but sometimes tons of advertising can make a book sell, even if it is a joke.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I think we all know someone who seems to have leaped to success over our struggling climb up the ladder. It's always great to hear their personal story of how it usually isn't a leap but a difficult trudge up that ladder.

J.L. Campbell said...

Pat, true that, but I'd rather write a good book than have a popular one that's considered a joke. :)

Susan, that's so true. I can think of other writers who seem to have shot to best-seller status in no time, but I know there's a story in there of the struggles and set-backs.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Great points, Joy. I remember when I first began marketing and I'd see how hard certain authors worked at promoting their books and wondering why they weren't more successful. And then I purchased a copy and saw poor formatting, holes in the plot, unappealing characters. Hurts to see a fellow author not able to recognize what's wrong with their stories. Building a body of work is so important. Really good points.

Pk Hrezo said...

It can be frustrating when some authors seem graced by the book gods. But you hit a great point: we dont know how hard they worked to get to that point. Every path is different and the only way to succeed is to keep writing.

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic post. I often feel that frustration. I have to remind myself that everyone's journey is different. And I'm nothing if not persistent. :)

J.L. Campbell said...

Joylene, this is why it's important that we write long and hard and study the craft so that over time our style will improve.

PK, true that. You work long, hard hours with no sales to show for it, but for many it takes years before writing turns a profit.

Christine, I get the blues too sometimes, but I know this is game that's not won overnight. IMO, I think you'll do great, you're a fab writer.

Robin said...

As someone who had downloaded MANY free books, I can testify to the positive effect of having one free book available for download. This is particularly true if you are writing a series. If you want your series sales to spike, offer the first one free occasionally. Once someone is hooked, they will buy the rest to see how it ends!

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Fantastic advice. I've just published my first novel, which is paid, but I'm soon to publish a book of short stories which will be free. Hoping one links to the other!

Sandy Campbell said...

Thank you for your advice! Much appreciated, and I am loving this site! Sandy

L. Diane Wolfe said...

A marathon is the best way to describe it.

J.L. Campbell said...

Robin, yup, I've found that out. It keeps me writing too as readers ask when the next one is coming out.

Cathy, here's hoping your book does well. Your free on with definitely net you some new readers.

Glad this is useful, Sandy.

So true, Diane. :)

Miranda Hardy said...

It's amazing to see the overnight success stories, and I'm always pleased when it happens. Maybe it'll happen for me one day.

All great points!

M. J. Joachim said...

I'm working it. I'll never stop writing.

This is such a great post...I really enjoyed it!

Michelle Wallace said...

I'm a bit wary of that phrase "overnight success". Well, I AM a realist after all. You have to be in it for the long haul.
Quite often we have no knowledge of the earlier, behind-the-scenes part of the journey that we perceive as overnight success.
So now I'm off to expand that "body of work" you mentioned in your second point.

Lynda R Young said...

What? No overnight success?!?!!! Noooo!!! I was looking forward to my overnight... in the long and distant future ;)

Wonderful post and a great reminder!

Lexa Cain said...

Excellent post! I'm trying to do the freebie prequel novelette thing, but my CPs have turned thumbs down on my efforts so far. Much more revising to do. lol

J.L. Campbell said...

Miranda, keep going.

MJ, good attitude. Keeping doing what you love.

So true, Michelle. We don't see the hard slog, but certainly notice the glory days. And yeah, get writing! :)

Lynda, you made me laugh. A little overnight success would come in handy right about now, but I figure I'm a few years off yet. :)

Lexa, hope that works out for you. Keep polishing that story. You'll get there for sure.

Shell Flower said...

I love encouraging posts like this. After yet another short story rejection, I feel better knowing at least that story can go in a collection I could give away free.

Camila Rafaela Felippi said...

Hello! I liked your blog a lot... I'm following you :D

Discouraged: this is my problem. And sometimes I don't know what to do. But I'm trying to change...

Hugs

E.J. Wesley said...

Hear! Hear! to the last one. :)

You have to believe in yourself, because so many times, no one else will--or at least you'll feel that way.

J.L. Campbell said...

SF, Keep working on your story. It can only get better.

Camila, my best advice is to keep writing no matter what. Continue studying the craft and putting what you learn into practice.

EJ, oh yes, nobody can push our writing with the enthusiasm that we can. After all, we know our writing and our stories inside out.

Jen Chandler said...

This. Is. WONDERFUL!!

I can relate to the feeling that it's happening everywhere but at my computer. The truth is, hard work pays off. And writing is HARD WORK. If it's not, you're not doing something right.

Guess who's not doing something right...

Thanks for this post! :D

Liz Blocker said...

Such good reminders. I need to bookmark this and come back to read it when I'm discouraged!!!

Elsie Amata said...

Very solid advice, Joy. I'm still working on my first book so I can't give anything away for free just yet but I will probably sell it for dirt cheap once it's done.

J.L. Campbell said...

Good observations, Jen. Writing is indeed hard work.

Glad it helps, Liz.

Wishing you good progress on the journey, Elsie.

JJ said...

I am now your newest follower!