20 August 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 29 comments

Anyone that knows me professionally has probably read my “How To Sell Loads Of Books” blog, which offers indie authors a template of sorts for making it in an extremely tough business.

That blog has been viewed more than any other blog I’ve written. I get at least one email a week from an author who has applied all the counsel in it consistently and is making respectable money now after flailing for months, or years.

I was asked the other day why I still keep to the schedule I do. Why, with 30 books out, co-authoring with Clive Cussler, I push myself to write 8 or 9 novels a year, some of which aren’t plagiarized or completely derivative of whatever’s hot at the moment.

The reason, in a nutshell, is I love getting it right, and almost more importantly, getting it right my way, on my own terms.

The reason I write so much is because I’m always trying to get it a little more right. Evoke emotion a little more powerfully. Paint a scene with a little more skill. Tell a story a little better.

One could look at me, as The Wall Street Journal did in January, and think that the story is, “Wow, the man’s written 25 books in 30 months.” No disrespect to the WSJ, but that’s not the story. The story, in my mind, is that I’ve been able to establish Russell Blake as a viable brand in action/adventure, a quality storyteller in that extremely competitive genre, and do it my way. That I’ve got tens of thousands of readers who enjoy my work in a genre I keep hearing is almost impossible to break into, much less break into big, and where sales are down for all but the very biggest names.

You wouldn’t know it to see my sales. If this is a down market genre, God bless the gasping wreckage of Men’s Fiction. It’s provided handsomely for me so far, and appears to be willing to do so for the foreseeable future.

The real story is that authors don’t require anyone to vindicate their skill or their plan other than readers. You don’t need to win the lottery. You can control your destiny to a large extent through sheer force of will, extremely hard work, and a constant drive to best your very best work every time you sit down to write.

Does that mean you’re guaranteed to sell? No. Of course not. If you’re writing because you hope to make money at it, perhaps view it as a better way of doing so than your day job, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, IMO. If you write because you have a burning desire to tell your story better than it could ever be told by anyone else, that’s why you should write. If you have that desire, and you apply yourself, pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, constantly strive to improve your craft – not the craft of formal structure that arbiters of quality find so important, but the craft of telling a story in as compelling and entertaining a manner as possible – you will create a legacy of worthwhile work. The more worthwhile work you create, the better the odds are that someone reads it, likes it, and tells a friend. You win readers one at a time, and if they love what you do, they will stick with you for an entire career.

You’re not trying to make a sale. You’re trying to earn your readers’ trust by telling your stories as well as it’s possible to tell them, and if you’re like me, do it on your own terms. What does that mean? It means that you accept full responsibility for every aspect of the product, and that you are constantly reexamining your work, asking yourself if that’s truly the very best you can do, with no compromises, shortcuts, excuses, or concessions. It means that you will move mountains to find your audience, and you will reward them with an experience they can’t get elsewhere. It means you will be relevant to them.

If you can do that you’ll eventually make plenty of money. Doesn’t matter what you’re doing, actually. Any business, any occupation, if you do it because it’s absolutely what you must do, no matter what, and you’ll do whatever it takes to make it, money will find you – at least that’s been my fortunate experience. To many, your success will look a lot like luck. Many of the lucky authors I know have been working for years, doing this in the manner I’ve described, and the world finally caught on to their good thing. They appear to have come out of nowhere or won the lottery. But they all work extremely hard, are exacting in their demands on themselves, constantly try to better their efforts, and do so exactly the same way, whether they are selling next to nothing, or are bestsellers.

They do it because it’s important to them. In a way, they’re extremely selfish people, because they’re fulfilling their inner desire to matter through their chosen medium: the written word. Some make a lot of money, others very little. But they all do it with single-minded intensity because that’s just how they are, and this is just what they do.

Audiences can tell if you’re full of shit. Over time they can sense it. I don’t believe you can fake what I’m describing. I know plenty who try, but there’s always something just a little off about their effort. Sometimes they can fool the audience, but over the years it unravels. Because it’s hard to sustain a lie indefinitely. It requires energy that eventually sputters out. And then the audience is left with whatever is beneath the lie. And they don’t respond kindly.

Audiences are fickle and have short attention spans, but most importantly, audiences tend to buy entertainers who mean it. Maybe not the most talented. Not even the most skilled. Many a singer who’s a marginal talent goes big and stays big with a mediocre instrument and limited range – I cant think of more than a few pop icons who fit that bill. Many authors who go big and stay that way are described as plodding or untalented by the critics with more refined, elite tastes, who purport to know good from bad. That’s why the best work is not the most popular, and the most popular is often not the best, in their view.

My point is simple: If you want to be a bestselling author, write lots of books that matter to your audience, and never let them down. Promote so your audience knows that you have what they’re searching for. Deliver for them. Mean it. Tell that story the best it’s ever been told, and wake up every day trying to get it a little more right, a little better, and you’ll never run out of motivation. For me, the drive to be a successful author is simply the drive to matter.

It’s not what you do that’s important, it’s why you do it that counts. At the end of this we’re all worm food. Nobody gets out of it alive. And none of us knows how long we have. That’s the big lie – we imagine we always still have time, which is perhaps why we’re surprised when our time runs out. If you’re writing because you want success and all that comes with it, money, recognition, notoriety, admiration, whatever, you’re writing for the wrong reasons. If that’s your motivator you’ll be let down. You’ve chosen a business that’s extremely difficult to make it in, where the odds are beyond terrible. If you’re doing this because you believe you’re a special snowflake who will get all those things on account of you’re just you, probably not.

This is very different from the practical advice I offer in my “How To Sell Loads Of Books” blog. That’s more concerned with tactics and strategies for bookselling, tips on how to be a producer of goods people want to buy, on how to operate your publishing company in a businesslike fashion and approach both the publishing and the writing side with discipline. It’s the how to part of the equation. Important, but very different from what I’m talking about in this blog.

As an example, if you help people because you want to appear helpful or compassionate or generous or whatnot, because you hope that you’ll be noticed as such, and will gain some sort of advantage (be it thought of as a good person, or perhaps inspire folks to support you, or have people like you), that’s not the same as helping people because you feel driven to help.

Writing because you hope for the trappings of success is very different than writing because you want to matter to someone – your audience. And the way you matter to your audience is by telling your stories in a way that nobody else can or would. That takes work. A lot of it.

In my experience, if you keep your reader at the forefront of every decision you make, you’re way ahead of those who start their decision making process by trying to figure out what they can easily do, or what they can afford.

That’s all I have today. It just occurred to me as I looked back at my career over the last 38 months, and at my schedule for the next 12. There’s no frigging way I would work nearly this hard for anybody but myself, which means for my readers. For the people for whom I actually matter. Those who get it. My readers. For them, I’ll move the earth.

In closing, I’m reminded of one of my favorite authors, James Lee Burke, whose novel was rejected by every big brain in publishing, 110 times, for 13 years, all of whom were unified in their belief that his work was unfit for publication. When a small university press finally picked it up and printed it the novel was nominated for a Pulitzer. Point being that all the experts, all the cognoscenti, got it completely wrong. They had gold in their hands and for whatever reason, they passed. Readers had a completely different take than the experts and critics – none of whom had ever written a bestseller themselves, but all of whom were convinced they knew one when they saw it, and knew what it took to be one. Turns out, not so much. But JLB wasn’t writing for them. He was writing for his readers. Thank God he did.

So what’s the takeaway?

Readers matter more than anyone if you want to be a successful author. And you’ve got to do it because you’re driven to do it, if you want to make it for the long haul. If you’re not driven to do it, do everyone a favor and find something easier to pursue. Really. Because it won’t end well, and you’ll feel like you’ve wasted a lot of time, rather than invested it wisely in something you’d pay to do.

For those wondering how my NA/YA/Romance mashup is going, here’s the cinematic trailer for Less Than Nothing, releasing Oct. 7.

 

Share

Comments

  1. Meredith Jacobs-Smith
    Wed 20th Aug 2014 at 7:51 pm

    I’m a new Indie Author. I write because like you I have a compulsion to write. I sit down everyday and get it all down. I am inspired by your post. Really inspired.
    Thankyou.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 12:32 am

      Glad to hear it. Usually I’m a cautionary tale.

      Reply
  2. Wed 20th Aug 2014 at 8:05 pm

    Absolutely, positively yes, and again, yes. Thanks for being the one writer out there who makes me feel like a slacker. The relentless drive to do it better, and faster, and more…telling fearlessly those stories that burn to be told…and making my readers happy while I do it.
    What could be better? Making a living is the cherry on top.
    Toby Neal

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 12:32 am

      Yes, the making a living at it part definitely doesn’t suck.

      Reply
  3. Wed 20th Aug 2014 at 9:41 pm

    Nice post RB. It’s all about earnestly pursuing excellence and then letting the cards fall. Glad to hear you are doing so well. Looking forward to checking out your Clive joint work.
    W4$

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 12:31 am

      Gracias, my friend.

      Reply
  4. Wed 20th Aug 2014 at 11:34 pm

    Wow. This is a moving post, Mr. Blake. And made my eyes tear up reading about the whys of going indie. Once again, you’re right on.

    One other thing I remind myself is that I need to take care of my own health to preserve my longevity as an author. I think James Scott Bell has something there when he said that he writes 6 days a week and takes a day off to recharge. IIRC he says if you do that you can write perpetually.

    And BTW you got me at cognoscenti. Write on, Mr. Blake!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 12:31 am

      You have to do what you have to do. I tend to write 7 days a week when I’m in a novel, but I also have my treadmill desk, so I’m getting a lot of exercise. I think that makes a world of difference in terms of resilience.

      Reply
      • Jan Thompson  –  Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 1:55 am

        Good for you! I considered a treadmill desk until I looked back at my own history of uncoordinated clumsiness and realized that it might be hazardous to my health if I trip right off the treadmill and lose my train of thought!

        Still, a treadmill desk is on my list of must-try’s. Thanks again!

        Reply
  5. Wed 20th Aug 2014 at 11:55 pm

    Magic formulae = Hard work + Persistence. Who’d have thought?

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 12:32 am

      Yep.

      Reply
  6. Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 2:54 am

    Underneath that gruff exterior is a heart of gold.

    Reply
  7. margaret rainforth
    Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 8:40 am

    Great post, thanks! I noticed that you left the “H” out of IMO. Tell it like it is, brother! Geez, I love you!

    Reply
  8. Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 9:30 am

    Hello Blake,

    I’m planning to up my book count a la your recommendations. In order to clear the decks for my writing marathon, there are few details that I have to address:

    A. Sell house. Or at least move to a lean-to with no maintenance problems or time-wasting repairs.
    B. Throw out kids. Talk about distractions. I’m sick of rap and pregnancy scares anyway.
    C. Kill wife. Nothing new here, except now I can blame you…

    OK, here goes nothing…

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 11:12 am

      Larry, I have as good a sense of humor as the next guy, but there are some things that are too serious to joke about, and frankly, I’m a little offended.

      Selling a house is a big step. Make sure you’re comfortable with your decision and have really thought it through. Don’t do anything rash.

      Reply
      • Larry Bonner  –  Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 2:27 pm

        There you go.

        That, ladies and gentlemen, is what separates the men from the boys…

        Reply
  9. Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 11:38 am

    Love this post!

    I saw a show once where they tracked 100 people’s lives for like 20 years or something. In the end the few that did what they were passionate about were the happiest, healthiest, and also happened to have become the most financially successful.

    Reply
  10. Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 12:47 pm

    hi, always enjoy your very apposite notes. i’m 12 months into the journey and 4.5 books written – yeah i know a part timer by comparison …….

    Am looking forward to reaching some sort of tipping point – see all sort of parallels with fishing. “Dry lines catch nae fish” – you have to be out there with a line in the water to stand a chance of catching anything. As with fishing the more you do the better you get; still no guarantee of a fish but one does at least take pleasure, or one should, at getting better at developing the skill.
    Keep casting & “Tight lines”

    Reply
  11. Fri 22nd Aug 2014 at 3:42 am

    I’m following your lead in writing every day and trying to put out quality work in my own series. Book no.5 in about 3 weeks’ time, which will be the fifth book in 15 months (two of them not series books) … that makes me feel pretty damn good, actually! And I’ve got your example to thank for that. Thanks … I think. 😉

    I’ve been banging on about JLB for about 15 years now, and I’d forgotten that story about his first book not getting a publisher. A sobering tale – for agents and publishers, not just writers.

    Keep up the good blogging – and keep your health!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 22nd Aug 2014 at 11:14 am

      Point being, with JLB, is that the experts were all convinced there was no market for his florid, overwritten prose.

      It hasn’t stopped one of them from being convinced they were right all along, though. One wonders what the publishing industry would be like if it were like Wall Street, where if you’re wrong, you lose everything. I have a feeling there would be a lot of MFAs wandering around destitute, because the ones that can pick winners are so rare as to be hens’ teeth. It’s the same in the music biz – for every guy like Rick Rubin or David Geffen or Dr. Dre, there are thousands of folks with jobs in the industry who know zip about much of anything, but have the power over who gets signed and who doesn’t. And they all have the same flaw: they ignore their misses and count their hits. Guys like Geffen work exactly the opposite – the misses drive them nuts, and they don’t want repeats of the negative experience.

      Reply
  12. Fri 22nd Aug 2014 at 8:10 am

    This is spot on! Whenever someone asks me for advice about being an author, the first thing I tell them is, “Why are you asking ME??” Then, if they persist, I’ll say that you should become an author only if you love to write, as if the stories in your head are threatening to make you explode if you don’t write them down. Now I can just refer them to this article because you’ve said it much better than I could.

    Reply
  13. cinisajoy
    Mon 25th Aug 2014 at 2:20 pm

    “Readers matter more than anyone if you want to be a successful author. And you’ve got to do it because you’re driven to do it, if you want to make it for the long haul. If you’re not driven to do it, do everyone a favor and find something easier to pursue.”

    This. Russell have I told you lately that you are wonderful?
    If not then you are wonderful.

    Reply
  14. Mon 01st Sep 2014 at 7:23 pm

    This post is really inspirational and, I think, good advice. Have tweeted it, +1’d it and will now be a follower of your blog. So glad I found you! Look forward to reading your books & benefiting from your advice/experiences.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 02nd Sep 2014 at 12:10 am

      Glad you liked it.

      Reply
  15. Mon 01st Sep 2014 at 9:47 pm

    An inspiration to reality which can easily dampen a narcissus’s ego. Thanks for the refreshing glass of truth. It’s like lemonade on a dusty day.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 02nd Sep 2014 at 12:11 am

      Happy it resonated. Not everyone enjoys my message.

      Reply
      • J.M. Lominy  –  Tue 02nd Sep 2014 at 6:41 pm

        The truth is like stone to glass; shattering.

        Reply
  16. Thu 11th Sep 2014 at 8:50 am

    What a terrificly awesome post! I’m not an indie writer but the passion remains – and my publishers have to be on board.

    Your post is applicable across so many areas of life – not just writing!

    Love it, love you – you’ve just won over another reader ????

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 11th Sep 2014 at 11:29 am

      Glad to hear it resonated. And yes, a life lived without a burning passion is a life only half lived.

      Reply

Add comment

Copyright © Russell Blake 2010-2014 All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress

Join Russell Blake's Mailing List

  • Get Latest Releases
  • No Spam
  • Exclusive Offers

The best way to get the latest updates from Russell Blake