I hear ‘em all the time in chat groups and forums, and they drive me nuts. Author myths. Beliefs that are just not true, and yet continue to circulate like literary fool’s gold, luring newbies and veterans alike into a kind of idiotic somnambulism.
I’m here to disabuse folks of a few in an ongoing series of blogs. Here, in no particular order, are several doozies that I believe are responsible for more author misery than VD, divorce lawyers, and taxes combined.
1) Books Sell Themselves. No, sweetie, they don’t, at all, and never did. That’s why trad pubs spend massively on promotions. Because they know that visibility sells books, not invisible cosmic forces or author brilliance. It’s a highly competitive market with millions of choices, and it’s a retail market, and in retail, visibility is key. Which means constant promotion. Which most authors hate. But it’s reality, so get used to the idea. A companion to this aphorism is the next one…
2) Just write the next one. Sure, if you want to have two undiscovered gems instead of one. Look, writing the next one’s important, but not if it’s used to justify not promoting the last one, which is often the case. You have to both market the last one AND write the next one. Sorry. You do.
3) It’s all about luck. Well, perhaps some of it is. Maybe even much of it is. But so’s everything. You drive to the market, and 30 seconds after you pass the intersection some dumbass crashes into the car behind you. Luck. A hundred people start restaurants in town and two do well while the rest fail. Luck. A mugger attacks you after a movie. Luck. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. The book biz is no more or less random and chaotic than life, and yet some folks seem to consistently do better than others. I believe you need to work very hard, prepare, and be persistent, thereby creating some of your own luck. As an example, it’s possible you always wear your seat belt and the other driver didn’t today. In that case, bad luck becomes disastrous due to a simple lack of preparation. Or in the case of the restaurants, perhaps the ones that prospered had owners that worked 18 hour days and were talented chefs, and further, were savvy and inventive about getting people to try their cuisine. Preparation, persistence, hard work combine in that case to drag Lady Luck in their direction. With the mugger, maybe you have pepper spray or spent years on martial arts or have a concealed carry. Your preparation is the mugger’s bad luck.
Luck may be a factor, but in my experience it’s only one factor, and that perspective of it all being all about luck breeds apathy.
4) Do everything right and you’ll make it. Huh. If that were so, every book put out by big pubs would do well. The vast majority don’t. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do everything right, unless you want to worsen your already slim odds rather than improving them.
5) The best you can do should suffice. Mmm, not so much. This is a popular refrain from those destined for obscurity. In a highly competitive business you need every possible edge. Which means, in this one, your cover, your blurb, your concept, your writing, your formatting, and your marketing need to be top shelf, not as good as you can manage given all your issues. Nobody cares about why you can’t produce a product that’s great. Your job is to produce it. Cheap out or try to do it yourself (unless you’re one in a million and not only a brilliant author but also a brilliant, experienced cover designer, editor, formatter, etc.) and you just radically worsened your odds. Why would anyone buy something sub-par? Would you buy a sub-par car, or house, or phone, or anything, because the company producing it found it too hard or expensive or time-consuming to do it right? No. And neither will readers. At least not for long.
6) Do this and you’ll succeed. Whatever. No you won’t. Or rather, not necessarily. No more than practicing your basketball skills will get everyone into the NBA. Millions play every year, tens of thousands are good, many thousands are excellent, and yet only a handful make the cut. There’s no guaranteed formula, just ways to improve your odds. But fail to develop good work habits, don’t refine and improve your craft, don’t learn everything you can about the biz and put it to use, don’t turn out a polished product…well, your chances just got far worse.
7) The secret is X. Nope. There is no secret. The book business is, as are all businesses, a business of exceptions. Exceptions because most don’t succeed. So you need to figure out how to be one of the exceptions. That’s really tough. Almost impossible. It usually involves a ton of effort, sacrifice, and risk that’s commensurate with the reward. Beyond some general guidelines and common sense principles, nobody has the secret – and snake oil salesmen abound.
Nobody can tell you how to be an exception. You have to figure it out. Part of the job.
8) It’s all hopeless. Yes, it is. Or rather, it can seem that way. But every year some make it. Every week there are new names on the lists. It may seem hopeless at first blush, but the only truth is that every day someone beats the odds and has a win. That’s exciting as hell to me, just as it was when I first started at this 33 months ago. Put another way, it’s only hopeless when you give up hope.
There are far more of these destructive myths, and I’ll do another eight when I can. I had a fender bender the other day and due to a freak accident, my hand’s now in a cast for seven weeks (apparently if you wear a big watch, like nearly 50mm, if your hand hits the steering wheel just right, even going slow, the watch can transform into a blade and snap your metacarpals near your wrist, which my TW Steel did in two places – just put your hand up like you’re signalling stop, and imagine a disk the size of a silver dollar strapped tight to your wrist, and you’ll quickly get the idea).
If anyone wants a deal on a big watch, you know how to reach me…
Oh, and in some super cool news, I’ll be featuring two remarkable talents this season on my Author Spotlights: Bella Andre and H.M. Ward. They don’t get much bigger than that, and it should be fascinating to get a glimpse into their processes. Stay tuned. If anyone has specific questions for either, email me through this site.
Now back to editing my WIP one-handed. The fun never ends.