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?