26 March 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 44 comments

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.)ย  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.




  1. Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 3:02 pm

    “Do this and youโ€™ll succeed. Whatever. No you wonโ€™t.”
    I love reading your blog posts. You make me laugh and don’t feed me butterflies and rainbows.

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Friendship is magical. Until she steals your wallet or boyfriend…

  2. Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Such awful news about your broken hand. Feel better soon.

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 4:02 pm


  3. Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Excellent post, Russell!

    After 30 yrs in sales and marketing, I got tired of people asking me “what’s the magic bullet that will propel me to #1?” So -an hour ago- I started a series called: Marketing for You, the Indie Writer . (Hope the shameless plug is acceptable in context…)

    About your #3, I asked Richard E. Burke, founder of United Healthcare, what was the key to his success. He said, “Luck.” I then asked, “So why did you retire then?” He said, “I was tired of the 100 hour work weeks!” Luck=work.

    Peace, Seeley

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 4:02 pm


  4. vvrabinec
    Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Dude, learn to drive, man. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I like #6. So few people want to admit that. Say it publicly, and everyone who hasn’t made it despite their best efforts will hate you for it, because it’s the truth. I think it’s harder to accept not having the “talent” or whatever you want to call it to succeed in writing because physical gifts are overt, clearly visible. But mental gifts are hidden, and everybody can dream they have “it.” A 5’4″ guy is gonna give up on that Laker center dream early. But it takes a long time to figure out you ain’t got what it takes in the gray matter. Anyway, good post.


  5. Mimi Strong
    Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks for another great post! I’m sorry to hear about the freak accident… the one nobody would believe if it was in a book. I wish you speedy healing. And great job on the podcast interview! Just heard it. Great stuff. As always, I appreciate having someone sensible to refer people to rather than blogging myself. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Sheryl
    Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 4:25 pm

    Russell, you always have a way of reducing what should be obvious into everyday language that permeates stubbornness. Keep it up.

  7. Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 4:58 pm

    I’ve been authoring now for 31 years. My first book in paperback was an instant hit but since then sales have been slow until I put all 37 books up on KDP as ebooks. Income doesn’t quite support me yet but definitely getting there. My advice to fellow authors is to just keep firing by writing and promoting. There’s no other way to get there.

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 6:25 pm

      Perseverance is never a bad thing.

  8. Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 6:05 pm

    Good luck with the hand. I once wrote a script with a severely fractured (put back together surgically) arm.

    I feel your pain.


  9. cinisajoy
    Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Great post. Hope your hand feels better soon. No I do not want your watch.

  10. LIsa Grace
    Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Praying you heal fast. Working one handed sucks. I agree with all the points you brought up. See you around the web. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Russell, just had a serious thought…….good thing you weren’t wearing a Sundial on you wrist!

  12. Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 9:02 pm

    Typically awesome post.
    Thanks for looking out for us, RB.

  13. Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 9:17 pm

    Don’t forget, Editors will make your book perfect and there won’t be any errors.


    • James Coyle  –  Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 9:49 pm

      Too true! I am pulling down a ton of books at the moment as I am a speed reader and retired. About 50% of them need some degree of editing and a small percentage are quite hopeless. I have never picked up an editing error in one of Russell’s books.

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 9:50 pm

      Well, editors can only do so much. And thank God for what they can…

    • John Nuetzel  –  Thu 27th Mar 2014 at 8:06 pm

      There are just as many typos and errors in traditionally published works as the best indies. I think that editors should police themselves and weed out the shysters who charge reading fees and worse.

  14. Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Great list! I love your take on things and it’s the needed kick in the pants I need today. Life is so terribly busy but I do have power to arrange it so that I can focus on what really matters to me, and writing and marketing fall into that category.

    Having had some trouble with typing over the years, I recently bought Dragon Naturally Speaking, which converts spoken words into text, and it’s truly wonderful when I’m in a lot of pain and not able to type much. You might give it a looksee. I used to have it years ago but it’s gotten a lot better since then.

  15. Doug Dorow
    Wed 26th Mar 2014 at 11:39 pm

    Nice list, and you’ve covered the myths well. I think when sales slow or author’s compare their sales to others, they look for excuses, reasons to help them sleep at night.

    People don’t want to work on #1, because that’s more work. As a reader I don’t know about the next Michael Connelly, or Russell Blake or Clive Cussler book if I don’t see them advertised or hear from others about their release.

    Taking a break from skiing to write and check up on my favorite blogs.

    I don’t wear a watch anymore, but I have a large phone in my pocket, makes me wonder what will happen in an accident…..

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 27th Mar 2014 at 12:25 am

      Actually Doug, I can tell you. If you carry it in your breast shirt pocket, as I do, it will crack your ribs when the seatbelt snaps it against them. Painful. Been there, done that.

  16. Thu 27th Mar 2014 at 8:32 am

    Good stuff, Russell. Regards #2 I do think that often writers’ have only one book up and spend a whole lot of time promoting it to little effect. If you’re an Indie I think you have next to zero chance (of course lightening does strike every once in a great while) of selling much. Until you have at least 3 or 4 books up I think it’s best to concentrate on the writing.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 27th Mar 2014 at 6:29 pm

      I disagree. I think you need to do both.

  17. Thu 27th Mar 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Good post, Russell. Can’t wait for the author spotlight guests. Both ladies are great inspirations!

  18. L.L. Akers
    Fri 28th Mar 2014 at 9:07 am

    Sucks about your wrist. Maybe that’s a sign that you needed a break (lol, get it? A break…)

    Anyhoo, get well soon!

  19. P.A. Woodburn
    Fri 28th Mar 2014 at 5:54 pm

    You are so right. Mend soon!

  20. Fri 28th Mar 2014 at 6:08 pm

    Great post. I think you hit most of the big ones. I have a couple tangential points on success.

    I think a lot of authors also need to define success and when talking to each other make sure they are using terms the same way. I will have two authors talking to me about their sales both selling about the same number of books. One will be excited & the other depressed. The depressed one will say “x is doing so well and my sales are crap” because they don’t think to ask each other what “a lot” means.

    Also is success replacing your day job income or does it require hitting bestseller lists? It’s really important to know this ahead of time & remind yourself of it instead of constantly raising the bar and deciding your a failure because your not a NYT or USA today bestseller when you are bringing in more than your day job (initial goal).

    Ouch on the car accident. May you have a speedy and complete recovery. Think of you and wish I was around more as I miss Twitter banter.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 28th Mar 2014 at 8:18 pm

      Yup. Terms are meaningless if the definitions are anything the speaker might be thinking.

      Thanks for the well wishes.

  21. Sat 29th Mar 2014 at 5:47 pm

    An injured hand for a writer is like van Gogh cutting off his…oh, wait. He still had his hands and eyes…Bad example. But best wishes for your quick recovery. Hope you have a tape recorder or speech recognition thingy lying around somewhere.

    Great article. Now, I am either all stoked up again or totally depressed; you never fail to deliver.

  22. Sat 29th Mar 2014 at 7:13 pm

    You actually cheered me up this morning! Everything you said is what I have been struggling with. Good to know so I can get on with ‘promoting’ my book without hating it so much and seeing it as taking time away from the new book I am writing!
    So sorry to hear about injury. Hope it heals quickly.

  23. Sun 30th Mar 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Thanks for confirming every suspicion I’ve been having. I believe it’s important to keep it real.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 30th Mar 2014 at 2:55 pm


  24. Mon 31st Mar 2014 at 2:03 pm

    I’ve found hard work trumps talent. The #1 determiner of success is setting a long term goal and then doing whatever it takes to achieve that goal.

    Sacrificing goats is optional.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 31st Mar 2014 at 2:10 pm

      The goats will be relieved to hear that.

      All fortunate, as I’ve always depended upon work over talent. So far so good.

  25. Mon 31st Mar 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Great post. It takes time to separate the myths from the truth, and as time goes by after six books of my own, I’ve learned you are right on all points. Why didn’t someone tell me what challenges lay ahead when I had this brilliant, driving urge to write a book ? It would have saved a lot of disappointment on those days when I crashed and burned over marketing failures, tried another formula that didn’t work, and realized millions of books hit the market every year that would drown mine. And that’s not to mention that darn fairy of luck waving her wand in all the wrong places except over my head. Clearly, she’s lost. Had I known it all at the beginning, perhaps I wouldn’t have traveled this route as a writer. When you feel like quitting, I guess you just have to remind yourself, where is the fun in that?

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 31st Mar 2014 at 4:39 pm

      It is what it is. I learned all this the hard way. Note I’m not saying quit. I’m saying go in with your eyes wide open.

    • James Coyle  –  Mon 31st Mar 2014 at 5:16 pm

      Stick with it Vicki. I’ve got 37 books and mini-books on Amazon with a new one on the way. Basically about 5 years of serious work. Still not making a full-time living out of it. I get fed up at times but just keep ploughing onward. Never give up…. if you believe in something hang in there. Lady Luck tends to favour those who put the effort in.

    • Inge H. Borg  –  Mon 31st Mar 2014 at 6:23 pm

      Not much fun, loads of 12-hour days, and a few dings to your self-esteem. Keep at it, Vicki, and don’t be discouraged by less than stellar reviews – those are the ones that I, for one, value the most.

      They tell me “there is something rotten in Denmark” or, in my case, in Egypt…well, we all know that anyway!

      I am not too proud to rewrite/re-issue-an already published novel when several readers tell me the story starts too slowly. I don’t worry about the 5 books I have sold (don’t groan, Russell)…but the 5000 (yeah) I am about to sell. It’s a never-ending labor of love.

  26. Tue 01st Apr 2014 at 10:37 am

    Brilliant! I love it when someone bashes conventional wisdom and this REALLY needed to be done! Yes, book promotion is key and you can never give up on it. But the more books one has, the more one would need a team of promoters…which I don’t have (chuckle!)

    Looking forward to your intrviews and take good care of your hand. Must be atrociously painful – wishing you all the best and a quick recovery.

  27. Mon 07th Apr 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Or, you can do all the publicity you can, and earn stalkers — PLUS terrible sales.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 07th Apr 2014 at 5:38 pm

      You’ll earn stalkers no matter what. Most books don’t sell squat, so terrible sales are the norm. But they’re guaranteed if you don’t promote. So either sell nothing and remain quiet, or take a shot and maybe sell something. To me it’s rather obvious…

  28. Tue 08th Apr 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Love this list! YES promo, and write.


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