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02 October 2015 by Published in: Uncategorized 20 comments

Four years, four months into this, and I’ve learned a lot.

Someone asked the other day what the number one thing I would pass on to myself as a newbie. It may surprise you. After much thought, what I came up with was this:

If you’re successful, you’ve bought yourself a job. Just like buying a liquor store, or a clothing outlet. A job can be rewarding, both economically and emotionally, but it’s very different than a lottery win, in that you are signing up for a long haul of showing up every day and doing the work.

That’s different than I thought when I started out. I kind of hoped that the old canard that you wrote a great novel, sold it to NY, and then sat back and got rich, was true. That you only needed to produce a little work over the years, and could devote lots of time to thinking great thoughts, traveling the world, observing, etc.

Maybe for a few of the very top earners who’ve been doing this for decades and can command seven and eight figure advances. Of which there are fewer than 100, by my estimation. But for the rest, and certainly for the self-published, it’s a job, just like showing up to work at Pixar or Disney and creating content is a job. If you don’t put in the time, your slot goes to someone else, and the world keeps turning, only without you getting paid as a writer.

That’s a harsh truth, because it basically says that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not the equivalent of an annuity that pays out year after year, but more like a nice business where you still have to work nine to whenever, five to six days a week. Don’t punch your time card, your sales fade, you’re forgotten by all but a few die-hards, and someone steps in to fill the gap.

Which all implies that you’re successful. Your odds of being successful are lousy. Better than trad pub, but still, terrible. Just as your odds of being a pro musician are terrible if that’s what you aspire to, or a pro dancer, or a pro anything in the arts. Which brings me to another point: while it’s important to have a positive support group, delusion doesn’t help you succeed. Cheerleaders, assurances that you can do it, all that nonsense, doesn’t improve your odds. What does is no-nonsense counsel from those who have taken some bullets and learned lessons that might translate, and your own inner ability to motivate yourself – because like all jobs, there are plenty of days where you just don’t want to get out of bed to do the work.

Knowing all this, would I have done anything differently? Probably not. I’d already learned these harsh truths in other businesses. Those past experiences might have actually been one of the reasons I was able to break at the time I did. I didn’t bemoan the fact that I needed to create a compelling backlist to be taken seriously. I didn’t resent that it would take 12-14 hours a day. I didn’t insist that I was doing the best I could, as though that should earn me some reward. I come from a school of hard knocks where just showing up doesn’t get you a treat – nobody hands out A’s for effort in the real world. That shit stops at high school.

But it would have been nice to hear it going in. Would have confirmed I was approaching things correctly.

I got an email last night that made me think about this. An author bud of mine who has been struggling to get a toehold in his/her preferred genre took my advice and wrote a couple of books in a different genre, and saw his/her first four figure day yesterday. He/she asked me whether there was any secret that could take it to the next level. I responded that the secret was to put out a new volume every sixty days so your name appears on the hot new releases list with regularity and momentum is built with readers, and never forget that you’re there to entertain your readership – not to get too clever, or if you’re bored, change things up for your amusement. It’s a job. Do the work, do it well, and maybe you get paid for a while. That’s the secret.

I’ve given that advice to plenty of authors: pick a genre that can support your aspirations, write to reasonable quality for the genre’s expectations and publish with astonishing regularity, put forth a pro package, and pay attention to what’s working. Some now earn seven figures. That’s gratifying. Many don’t. That’s life.

So those are my ruminations on the biz. My new one, Emerald Buddha, is selling briskly, which is all good. Later this month BLACK in the Box releases, and next month, Rage of the Assassin, so a busy Fall for me.

Oh, and in the spirit of writing what your audience wants, I’ve caved in and am penning another in the JET series, tentatively titled JET – Incarcerated, which with any luck will be available by the end of the year. We’ll see. So far it’s a good one. But then again, I say that about all of ’em, so I can’t be trusted.

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Comments

  1. Fri 02nd Oct 2015 at 11:26 am

    “A job can be rewarding, both economically and emotionally, but it’s very different than a lottery win, in that you are signing up for a long haul of showing up every day and doing the work.”

    This right here is the single best advice I’ve been given from every successful author out there. It is single highest weedout in the profession.

    Reply
  2. Lucian
    Fri 02nd Oct 2015 at 11:35 am

    Thanks for the advice. You’ve said it before but for whatever reason, it helps to keep hearing it. Writing a new one every two months is impossible for most of us but over time (5 year plan) I’ll have a backlist. All my best–Lucian

    Reply
  3. Fri 02nd Oct 2015 at 1:59 pm

    Tsk. You mean you think that all authors need to actually *work* for a living? Write a 100,000 novel every two months? But how can one write novels so quickly – it’ll just be trash! Quality will suffer, our craft will be lost! The world will be full of low-quality rubbish novels! How will publishers survive?! The End will be NIGH…!!

    … said every author not willing to work hard. Great post again Russell, although I doubt that it will be taken aboard by many. Which I suspect suits the rest of us just fine 🙂

    Reply
  4. Fri 02nd Oct 2015 at 2:11 pm

    2015 is my first full year writing full-time (no more “day job,” woo!), and it’s been a learning experience, certainly. More so that the two prior years of self-publishing because this is the first year that I’ve really started looking at writing as a business, as you’ve suggested many times before. I started tracking my productivity, and in so doing discovered something entirely shocking and encouraging: taking anything more than two, MAYBE two and a half months, to write a publish a book is too long for me. It gives me too much time to fall into that “post-release” funk I’m prone to, during which I worry over the new release’s sales and write nothing. I have called myself a master procrastinator before, and it’s true. I’m one of those people who needs that looming deadline to focus on the task I need to do. I’ve always been like that. Ask my poor mother. I swear my procrastination tendencies in school were the cause of every single one of her gray hairs.

    All that to say this… Excellent advice. Definitely not what I expected, but definitely what I’m finding out to be true.

    Thanks, Russell.

    Reply
  5. Fri 02nd Oct 2015 at 4:42 pm

    JET – Incarcerated sounds good. Looking forward to it!

    Reply
  6. Kirk Alex
    Fri 02nd Oct 2015 at 5:39 pm

    Another amazing post. Easy to respect. Easy to admire.
    You pretty much nail it every time, Russ. If you ran for president . . . I wouldn’t bet against you. 🙂
    Best,
    Kirk

    Reply
  7. bazinga
    Sat 03rd Oct 2015 at 2:20 am

    az usue russell keeps it simple…hatz offz

    Reply
  8. Sat 03rd Oct 2015 at 10:14 am

    I keep coming back and you keep telling me the same thing.

    You can’t get anywhere by sitting on your hands.

    As I’ve discovered, the hard way, you’re absolutely right.

    Now let’s see if I can put that into motion.

    Thanks for being there for all of us little guys still struggling towards the dream.

    Reply
  9. cinisajoy
    Sat 03rd Oct 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Wise words as always.
    Now as your loyal and devoted follower, I have been paraphrasing you for a while now. Please note: this does not make the “but I want it all now for nothing” crowd like me.
    Still love you.

    Reply
  10. Zarayna
    Sat 03rd Oct 2015 at 5:28 pm

    Hello Russell,
    Have just witnessed England being knocked out of the Rugby Union World Cup, at Twickenham, their home ground, by Australia. And by no small margin.
    Have just read your post, for which I thank you, but I am unable to be as productive as you, even if a gun was put to my head.
    So my life may not be full of success but I am enjoying myself immensely.
    And that’s no small thing, is it?
    Kindest regards.

    Reply
  11. EC Sheedy
    Sat 03rd Oct 2015 at 6:53 pm

    Drat!

    All I want to do is loll on a chaise lounge, dictate a few words a day, eat bonbons, drink fine wine, and join the one percent club. You’ve stomped all over my dream, Russell.

    Wise words.

    Reply
  12. Sun 04th Oct 2015 at 1:00 pm

    “If you’re successful, you’ve bought yourself a job. Just like buying a liquor store, or a clothing outlet. A job can be rewarding, both economically and emotionally, but it’s very different than a lottery win, in that you are signing up for a long haul of showing up every day and doing the work.”

    Right on the spot. Whenever I feel like I’m not getting the recogntion I deserve, I’m going to reread those words.

    Thanks a lot, Russell. I’m going to have to buy some of your crap. Looks like I’m stealing from you and not giving back!

    Reply
  13. Mon 05th Oct 2015 at 11:14 am

    “If you’re successful, you’ve bought yourself a job. Just like buying a liquor store, or a clothing outlet. A job can be rewarding, both economically and emotionally, but it’s very different than a lottery win, in that you are signing up for a long haul of showing up every day and doing the work.”

    KO says: REALITY

    “That’s different than I thought when I started out. I kind of hoped that the old canard that you wrote a great novel, sold it to NY, and then sat back and got rich, was true. That you only needed to produce a little work over the years, and could devote lots of time to thinking great thoughts, traveling the world, observing, etc.”

    KO says: SECRET DREAM of every WRITER, I think…

    This was an amazing post. You are so dialed in! I needed the reminder too of the reality versus the dream. It’s always good to be reminded of what we do (putting in all the work) and why we do it. Nicely done!

    Reply
  14. Tue 06th Oct 2015 at 3:34 am

    I would love to put in 12-14 hour days writing and make it a full-time job. I can’t do that, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. So I do what I can, in the middle of the night, plotting in the grocery store, making the most of every opportunity, knowing if I’m ever going to be successful at this, part-time, I better love what I’m doing and give it all I have every moment when I’m not doing my regular job that pays nicely for excellent book covers, editing, and all those things I can’t do that make my books competitive in the marketplace. . I’m okay with that. Priorities are priorities. In the end, God is in control and I can trust Him for the final outcome.

    Reply
  15. Mon 19th Oct 2015 at 1:12 pm

    One of the few self-publishers whose advise you can take to the bank (no pun) Great advise Russel. Always insightful, full of wisdom and hard truths. Thanks. Godspeed.

    Reply

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