22 January 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 25 comments

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, with literally hundreds of emails per day. Many ask the same questions, so I thought I’d summarize some of my responses so that everyone can read my thoughts, for what they’re worth, on what it takes to be a success as a self-pubbed author. Pretty much the same things it takes to be a successful any kind of author, so I’ll lump them together.

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BREAKING NEWS: I just did my first radio interview. Aside from sounding like an old woman yelling from the bottom of a well, it could have been worse. Big thanks to Pam Stack of Authors On The Air – Blogtalk radio.

NEWS: For anyone who missed it, in the last couple of weeks I was featured in The Wall St Journal, The Times (UK), and interviewed by Examiner.com, the Huffington Post, Jeff Rivera, and Simon Duringer.

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I was asked yesterday by a newbie writer to summarize what I thought was required in order to make it in this business. Now, given that every writer’s journey is different, it’s hard to pop out with meaningful guidance – I mean, some have one great book in them, others have twenty, or if you’re me, you have a whole bunch of questionable screeds banging around in your head. But it’s a question I’m asked fairly often, so here’s my attempt to answer it (with the caveat that if you’re looking for step-by-step guidance, you should also read last year’s post, How To Sell Loads of Books):

Besides a burning desire to tell a story and a rudimentary knowledge of craft, beginning (and not-so-beginning) authors need to have the three Ds: Dedication. Determination. Discipline.

None of those sound particularly fun, do they? That’s because they aren’t.

Let’s start with Dedication. I’ve found that I improve in my craft every day because I’m dedicated to doing so. I don’t have a lot of other hobbies, and I’m singularly focused on writing as my primary creative outlet. Every time I sit down to write another novel it’s with one thought in mind: that I’m going to try to raise the bar on some aspect of my writing, be it description, dialogue, plotting, pacing. I believe the best authors have that single-minded dedication to improvement, and the creation of worthwhile prose – prose that moves their audience as nobody else can.

But along with Dedication you need Determination. A sort of dogged, relentless belief that it can be done, and that even if it takes just short of forever, by God, you will do it. That determination carries you through the low points, the crises of faith, the doubts, the setbacks and rejections. One could call it being bullheaded or stubborn, and that wouldn’t be too far from the truth. A major aspect of Determination is drive (maybe I should have called this the four D’s). Drive is your willingness to do whatever it takes and create your own momentum. To overcome any obstacle. To succeed in a business where the odds are stacked against you. To sacrifice and make it happen, to be relevant, no matter what. And to push yourself, even when you don’t want to write, when the whole thing seems pointless. Determination fuels your drive.

Which is all well and good, but without Discipline, it doesn’t amount to much. Being dedicated to creating quality, and being determined to do so, are fine, but they don’t have much chance of success if you don’t have the discipline to pull it off. Writers tend to procrastinate, to spend hours on the internet reading bullshit blogs about how to succeed, to overthink and analyze and coddle their artistic side, to the detriment of actually accomplishing something. Discipline ensures you get it done. I recommend setting aside a specific time for writing every day, a target word count that you will hit (and won’t stop until you do), and a reasoned, systematic approach to creating a body of work you’ll be proud of, whether anyone ever buys it or not. But to do so, I believe you need to be as disciplined as though this were a job, where you punch the clock and do the work, every day, for as long as you’ve determined is necessary to achieve the result you want.

The three Ds.

Now, there are some other things self-pubbed authors must have, such as having the discipline to divide your literary time into writing and marketing. I counsel 75% writing, 25% marketing, because that’s what works for me. You may decide you prefer to operate differently. In most cases I’d bet you’re wrong, but hey, it’s not my career, so do what you like. But remember that books don’t sell themselves, and that the book selling business is as tough a business as any on earth. So if you believe the level of success you desire can happen without you allocating reasoned effort into marketing your wares, good luck with that. There are far too many authors out there investing time and effort into getting visibility for you to succeed with a strategy that basically amounts to hoping for a lightning strike.

This is what I tell beginning authors who want my opinion on what qualities they have to develop to do well in this business. Being an author is hard, but being a self-published author is even tougher, because you’re faced with all the tasks a publisher would handle, in addition to the writing workload. But that’s the job. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head. If you want an easier gig, there are plenty. If you want a better paying one, ditto.

But if you want to be a commercially-successful author, those are my recommendations. Get comfortable with the requirements, decide whether you’re willing to do what it takes, and if so, examine the three Ds and internalize what they mean to you and how you plan to apply them to reach your dream.

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Comments

  1. Thu 23rd Jan 2014 at 1:37 am

    A helpful post as always. Last year’s How To Sell a Load of Books was great too. A keeper.
    I’ve been taking the very affordable Blake course (only five bucks a book) on improving my prose. After writing my first novel, then reading/studying almost everything you wrote, I wrote my second. So many readers contacted me and mentioned how much better the second book was, which made me happy. And the training was less than a hundred bucks. It’s not like my cat had to lose belly fat while I learned.
    I’ve also come to realize that without a marketing budget there’s little to no sales. That it doesn’t matter how good your book is if no one can find it. If you have money allocated for editing, covers, and create the best book you can, you better have a budget for marketing or it’s not gonna happen. I’ve studied my own sales history for a year and now have a more realistic idea of the costs involved. Maybe they decrease as you have more books for sale and have a larger mailing list, but for now if I don’t advertise it’s 2-3 books sold per day versus 2,400 in three days with a BookBub ad.
    Because I want this so much I go without many things. Some would say I’m insane because I go without the basics, like health insurance. But that’s just how important this is to me. Apparently I’d be willing to die trying.
    I’ve always wanted to be a writer since I was a small child. I wish it didn’t take me until half my life was over to get started. Better late than never I guess.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 23rd Jan 2014 at 11:43 am

      I wouldn’t recommend going without health insurance – one must be alive to enjoy one’s success, so anything that would result in one being, er, not so alive, would be bad.

      Beyond that, all good.

      Reply
      • Kim Cano  –  Thu 23rd Jan 2014 at 2:20 pm

        I only go to witch doctors that insurance doesn’t cover anyway. Like Spring & Chakra. 🙂

        Reply
    • Susan  –  Sat 25th Jan 2014 at 11:33 pm

      Back in the day, most folks had no health ins. and we are still alive.

      Reply
      • Russell Blake  –  Sun 26th Jan 2014 at 1:43 am

        Kinda like seat belts, everyone who didn’t really, really need one at the precise moment they did…

        Reply
  2. John
    Thu 23rd Jan 2014 at 4:11 am

    Thanks for the advice and congrats on your success. I just finished Black is the New Black and it was great stuff. It would make an awesome TV series.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 23rd Jan 2014 at 11:42 am

      Glad you liked it!

      Reply
  3. Fri 24th Jan 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Hell with insurance. Soak yourself in tequila.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 24th Jan 2014 at 8:46 pm

      Do as I say, not as I…oh, F it. Bring on the margaritas!

      Reply
      • Stephen Charles  –  Wed 05th Feb 2014 at 3:09 am

        HA! 🙂 My kinda author.
        RIP, Hemingway – NOT Blake, Not yet, anyway.

        Reply
  4. Lynda Filler
    Fri 24th Jan 2014 at 7:44 pm

    In your past life — pre Baja days– I bet all three D’s contributed to your success. Thanks for taking the time to write this. It encourages us to take a good hard look inside to determine if this is something we really want.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 24th Jan 2014 at 8:46 pm

      Good guess, and you’re welcome.

      Reply
  5. Fri 24th Jan 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Great post. All writers should master the three D’s, but discipline is the number one thing many writers lack at one time or other. I’ve done my research on the craft of writing, but for me writing is the best way to learn. I write a successful cozy mystery series and when you write the same genre such as mystery, you learn the formula. Once you learn the correct formula it’s much easier to write.

    Of all the writers I have admired sold way better than me and I watched what they were doing. The ones that do the best write more. I can say for me discipline is something I work at, but I did manage to write and publish five books last year. This year I plan to up it even more. It’s so easy to let yourself get distracted with everything that is going on around us. Self publishing takes a great amount of dedication and investment. I’ve sacrificed many things to be where I am, but it’s now at a point where it’s paid off. The more books I publish the less I have to do to sell them. Building that audience for your books is daunting at times, but I’ve turned the corner.

    You don’t have to write eight hours a day to accomplish anything. I’m just not the type of person that can do that. While I do write full-time now, I’m also a single mother with children that need my attentions too. You can write a book easily in a month. I know because I do it all the time. I don’t have to write long books. In my genre 50,000 words works well. My average word count a day is 2,000 words. We all have our own process for both writing and publishing and but I’m really is awe over how many books Russell Blake writes, how could you not be?

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 24th Jan 2014 at 8:49 pm

      I’m so glad to hear it. The world’s opening up in a remarkable way for writers. While there are more terrible books than ever out there, there are also more authors making livings writing. I’d wager there’s never been a better era in which to be a writer. I’ve certainly never heard of one.

      We all have our own processes. For me, when I’m really on, I can go 7000-8000 words in a day, and it feels like flying. On the hard days, 3000 feels like a slog through the swamp. But I find the more I write, the more of the former I have. Of course, it still takes multiple drafts to get the words to behave and for everything to gel, but there’s no better feeling than when it’s clicking.

      Congrats on your success. Always heartening to hear.

      Reply
  6. Sat 25th Jan 2014 at 9:05 am

    Wonderful post. I have three writer friends I meet with once a week where we do some brainstorming on points of our novels we’re stuck on. We also make a yearly goal and weekly objectives which are tracked in a journal. We keep each other accountable by sharing each week. Last week we discussed the principle of treating our writing like a business. I’m sharing this link with them. I believe discipline is the number one characteristic we must employ if we ever plan to be successful!

    Reply
  7. Sun 26th Jan 2014 at 1:00 am

    Congratulations on all of the great news, Russell! I recently finished reading King of Swords and loved it. Clive Cussler has always been one of my favorite authors (and I actually finished writing a post on him earlier this week). I can’t wait to see what you two come up with. Good luck!

    Jason C. Anderson
    http://www.JasonCAnderson.com

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 26th Jan 2014 at 1:44 am

      Thanks, Jason. I’ve always thought of it as an honor.

      Reply
  8. Sun 26th Jan 2014 at 10:24 am

    Russell,

    Why does this ‘mature’ lady wearing pearls read Russell Blake (Jet I, at the moment):
    a) because we all want to live out our little fantasies, and
    b) because your books are really well written (not one misspelling yet!). Albeit leaving lots of bodies around, I came across some almost lyrical descriptions (not of the bodies, of course).

    Despite producing all this, you still have time to write your BS (your words, not mine) blog! For which we all thank you, I am sure–I for one we will keep reading it; and then, I shall get DISCIPLINE and go back to my own cold little garret (alas, not in Paris).

    PS: Many thanks for your nice Tweet about the Cannibal Rats! I am still breathing new life into that darn ghostship, the Lyubov Orlova.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 26th Jan 2014 at 1:36 pm

      Appreciate the kind words. I do strive for a certain lyricism without overwriting. Balancing act, as are most things.

      Discipline is a massive advantage in most endeavors.

      No problem on the tweet. My pleasure.

      Reply
  9. yoon
    Sun 26th Jan 2014 at 8:08 pm

    You certainly do know how to bullshit. If you’d describe the way YOU write, the title of this post would have been The Three Ts: Tequila. Tequila. Tequila.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 26th Jan 2014 at 9:09 pm

      Do as I say, not as I do. What’s next? You want kids on bath salts? Cats sleeping with dogs?

      No, better to go with virtues than vices. And stop leaking all my secrets.

      Reply
      • yoon  –  Sun 26th Jan 2014 at 9:59 pm

        What’s wrong with cats sleeping with dogs? I had a cat, Pepe, and a dog, Romeo, who slept entangled with each other all the time. Pepe sort of adopted Romeo, and he would snuggle with her, and she would groom him for hours because he was a Yorkie and had long hair and the hair would get stuck in her prickly tongue. Romeo was inconsolable when Pepe died.

        BTW, your “secret” has been out long time ago.

        Reply
  10. Tue 28th Jan 2014 at 8:45 pm

    Great advice RB. To me 3D=1,000 WPD (words per day).
    Sorry, just finished helping the kids with their math homework.
    Congrats on the great PR. Hard works pays off!
    P.S. Just noticed the clowns in your lenses. Glad to see it, for a minute there I thought your were shooting for a GQ cover…

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 29th Jan 2014 at 12:21 pm

      To each his own, said the man as he kissed the cow…

      Reply
  11. Lee
    Thu 30th Jan 2014 at 11:46 pm

    I think we spoke of this when you posted about tenacity, but for me, I think I received a triple dose of determination. I’ve added dedication (to improving craft, establishing relationships) and work constantly on discipline. Maybe it is the triple-D combination that results in that tenacity. Or maybe it is the result of it. Can’t forget about believe, too. Regardless, by all reasoning, what you’ve achieved, I’ve achieved, so many indies have achieved, should be impossible, yet it isn’t.

    Reply

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