I was talking to someone the other day – alright, I’ll admit, it was to my reflection (I’m the only one who really understands me…sniff) – and the subject came up about whether it took talent to make it, or tenacity, the question being which was more important.
Gotta say, talent is important, but a solid work ethic is more so. I know lots of talented people who never reached their potential, but I don’t know a lot who failed to achieve at least some success who worked long hours at whatever they were doing, and did so in an even vaguely intelligent manner.
HUGE NEWS: King of Swords was made the Amazon Kindle Daily Deal Monday, April 22, at $1.99! WOW! That’s a first!!!
BREAKING NEWS: The Voynich Cypher will be .99 Monday, the 22! Come on, cheapskates, belly up to the trough!
NEWS: I was just featured in the Wrightforbucks blog, in which he talks about how great I am. Some of it’s even true.
In the arts, it’s tough to make it. That’s no secret. My little 22 month journey is surprisingly upbeat, but it’s also atypical. I looked at the market when I was getting ready to throw my hat into the ring, and figured that I could either write a blockbuster YA romance that would sweep the nation, or would need to have a good dozen books out to earn anything even approaching the kind of money that would make this worthwhile to me. Because I’ve learned that while money is nice, time is the most precious resource, and writing well is a time-intensive process, so it would take a lot of it.
I calculated what it would take to make a splash, and quickly realized that if I didn’t work 15 hour days for the first two years, to make up for the lost time (from when the whole kindle revolution really got traction and it seemed like anyone could do well), my odds of hitting it were pretty long.
I resigned myself to that schedule, and put nose to the grindstone, keeping it up seven days a week, with no breaks. I remember Xmas, 2011, and I was writing. New Years Day 2012, as well as 2013. Writing. No exceptions.
22 months later, I’ve got 20 novels out and another underway. I’ll finish this year with 25, maybe more. That’s the equivalent of two decades worth of production, and I don’t feel apologetic about any of the books I’ve released. There isn’t one that I feel like, “wow, I just phoned that one in.” I’m particularly proud of the JET and Assassin series, but then I go back and reread Fatal Exchange or Geronimo Breach and I realize that those are good books too – possibly even better books. Hard for me to gauge accurately – I’m just too close to it.
Point being that a lot of hard work went into this, and will continue to go into it. I took my first real 14 days off last month, and by the end I was itching to get back to writing – I’ve conditioned myself to where if I’m not writing at least three or four thousand words a day, I feel like I’m slacking.
They say once you do anything for 30 consecutive days, it becomes a habit.
I maintain that success is equal parts talent, luck and habit. It’s important to keep that in mind.
What’s the takeaway for writers? Everyone’s journey is different, but one thing I’ve noticed about every success I’ve looked at – and by success I mean authors who have long, productive, lucrative careers – is that they work their asses off. Even once they’ve hit. They still write a lot, or are polishing something, or are constantly looking for new plot ideas or better ways to skin the cat. They have conditioned themselves to be what they are – successes.
Sure, it helps that many are talented, but plenty are mediocre. Some are even plain old bad. But they’re consistent, and their fans like them, and they work hard churning out product to keep their fans happy and engaged.
Talent isn’t enough. Not by a country mile.
Hard work is as big, or bigger, a piece of the pie.
Sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news for those of you who bought into the image of the drunk writer who scribbles a thousand words every few days and hits the lottery on his first book. That’s about as realistic as me expecting the Rolling Stones to show up and play my next BBQ. It’s theoretically possible, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
In the good news department, April looks good to be another 20K unit sale month, with a daily average of more than 650 sales a day, so thank you Amazon! And this, without any books in Select. I have to say that it’s never been a better time to be an author, at least not that I’ve heard. But it takes diligence and determination, and a sprinkle of talent, as well.
Perhaps as important, it takes consistency. Consistency in your craft, consistency in productivity, consistency in application, consistency in demanding only the best out of yourself, consistency in marketing your wares – because contrary to the spectacularly bad advice masquerading as wisdom on the internet, your work’s not going to get itself discovered through some miracle. Sure, it’s possible, but so are many things that will never happen to you. You could be discovered by Spielberg while sucking on a milk shake in San Rafael. Anything’s possible. But I wouldn’t make that my business plan.
What’s the takeaway? Set realistic goals, develop a routine that you can live with and stick to for a period of years, pay attention to what’s working and what isn’t, don’t waste your time with busy work that doesn’t produce results, and write every day, no matter what, even if it’s only 500 or 1000 words. Get into the habit of aping success, and your odds of being one are much improved. The business of selling books takes a lot of work, so best to condition yourself to do it and love it, or you won’t last.
Will that guarantee you make it? Of course not. You want guarantees, get government work. But it will increase the likelihood that you make decent money at it. Which for many is all they want – to augment their income with some extra cash, or supplement their retirement with a little bonus every month. I know many, many authors doing that, some to the tune of $5-$20K a month or more. Many to the tune of $500, but they’re happy with that, as they were making zero a year or two ago, and they aren’t thinking of quitting their day job. Everyone’s different, and there’s no one size fits all. But there are some reasonable guidelines to improving your chances, and I just gave you most of em. Oh, and write a love story with some steamy scenes featuring a vampire. That can’t hurt.
As always: The book is dead…long live the book.