One of the most daunting challenges for any writer is overcoming that feeling that you’re just spinning your wheels. I think every writer that ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) has felt disillusioned with the entire process. I’ve been there.
Sometimes, after all the hours spent writing and editing and re-writing and editing yet again…you start to get tired. And that’s not even counting the work to get it into print once all of that’s done. Then there’s the marketing and promotion work. Especially when after all of that, it still goes largely unnoticed by the world.
First off, just finishing the writing of a novel is a major accomplishment all on it’s own. Not many people ever accomplish even that much of the process. In fact, if you’ve gone through it all to get the work into print and out into the world, you’ve already achieved a huge amount of success.
But D.A., why aren’t people lining up to buy my book, you ask?
I wish I had an answer for that one. I truly do. In fact, if I did, I would gladly share it with you. I’ve said it many times, we all win when we promote writing and reading. My success is in no way diminished by your success. I honestly hope you make it huge. I’m still trying to get there, myself. Maybe one day, but until then I’ll have to keep my “day” job.
There are many nuances to the exact formula that will turn you into the next J.K. Rowling. I haven’t discovered the recipe, yet. I’m still working on it. I think there might be some kind of alchemy involved, but I’m not completely certain.
Here’s what I am certain of:
- Story. You have to write an excellent story that appeals to your readers. That’s the biggest step. Not every book written is destined for greatness. It’s a sad and bitter truth, but it’s one we all have to face. Not all of us can be on the level of a Rowling or a King. Sometimes we’re the footnote instead of the headline. Reach for the headline and never quit trying. Just remember that even relatively unknown authors are still authors.
- Editing. Your editing has to be spot on. Readers will tear a badly edited book apart. I’ve seen it happen. Great stories can be lost when the editing isn’t clean and precise. Take your time on the edits. Hire a professional if you can afford it. If not, then be thorough and make multiple passes through the manuscript. Fix it to the best of your ability, then ask someone else to take a look at it, too.
- Cover. Yeah, I know the old saying “Never Judge a Book by it’s cover.” That’s a great saying, but that’s all it is. A saying. The simple fact is, your book cover can make or break your writing. Great covers attract attention. Bad covers get ignored or ridiculed. Neither one is what you’re looking for. Invest in a good cover. You’ll be glad you did.
- Marketing. Also known as the bane of my existence. I am not great at marketing. For one thing, Marketing is all about influencing people and opinions. I’ve never been good at that. I’m more of a direct confrontation kind of guy. I’m good at hands-on problem solving, but subtle marketing has thus far escaped me. It’s a skill. One you might be better off leaving to the professionals. I plan to hire someone to do it, when I can. Publicists aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every penny.
- Promotional Appearances. Yes, it’s very different from marketing. Most promotions involve the personal touch, for example booking personal appearances at conventions or book signings. You have to present a good public face if you want to make a successful appearance. You can’t just sit at your table and wait for the adoring throngs of fans to come to you. You’ve got to be both approachable and friendly. Be professional, though. Your public persona has to be one that the fans can relate to as well as respect. I try to keep any political, religious or philosophical ideology out of my appearances. Personal opinions are just that; personal. Unless you write religious or political books, then by all means…go with it. Just be the person your audience expects. We’re there to entertain with our writing and to gain readers, not to soapbox on any particular subject. Keep your conversation about the books and related subjects.
- Luck. Yeah, there is a certain amount of luck in all of this, too. It’s the intangible aspect we can’t quite count on or count out. Being in the right place at the exact right time is huge, just don’t expect it to happen. It’s like getting struck by lightning or winning the lottery. An “A List” Celebrity being seen reading your book is this kind of lightning strike. Or if a bored movie producer sees your book on a table and picks it up, then decides “I’ve got to make this into a major movie.” You can’t control luck, but sometimes it happens. I wish it would happen to me. It’s that ethereal wisp of smoke that we can visualize but can’t reach it. Then it vanishes just as your fingers get near.
I’m sure that this is not an all-inclusive list. You might know of more things to add to it. If you do, let me know. I’d be glad to add them in. I’m sure this will be an evolving list.
This process happens over and over, each time you release a book. I liken it to rolling a snowball up a hill. One book is a small snowball. Your hill might be short with a long downhill on the far side. In that case, you’re lucky. You just push a bit and then gravity takes over. Your snowball will take off and get bigger on it’s own. Unfortunately, that rarely happens for most of us. We have to keep rolling that snowball up a much longer hill.
Each book you publish adds to the size of that snowball. Each book also adds to the work or promotion and the like, thus adding to the weight you’re pushing up the hill. Eventually, your snowball will be massive, as long as you keep writing and adding snowballs to the pile. It’s a hard journey, but well worth it when you reach the top of that hill.
Keep writing those books and getting them out there. Once you reach the top of the proverbial hill, the momentum of passing the crest will take over. One success will bring success to the other books. The snowball effect will take over from there. Once you get that snowball over the top of the hill, gravity will do the rest. Once your name is out there, all of your other books will be noticed too. That’s just how it works. They might all have different levels of success, but that will depend on many of the above listed things.
Doing the best job you can in every aspect of the book will carry that snowball much farther than you would ever believe. Keep writing and don’t give up. Don’t think that it’s all for nothing. Find your muse and write those stories. Like Dory said in “Finding Nemo.” Just keep swimming.
Remember, you’re not alone. Every writer from the giants of literature to the as-of-yet undiscovered talent have all doubted themselves at one point in their careers. Write your stories and share them with the world. Even if you never reach the level of a Tolkien or a Twain, you have still accomplished something amazing. You wrote and published a book. Treasure that success. I always do, each and every time I release a book. I hope that I always do.
Even if all that I ever achieve is to leave behind a collection of writing that sits on a shelf in my house, I will count myself fortunate. My sons will have the books I have written to show their children and grandchildren. I want them to always remember that they should follow their dreams. Mine was to be an author. So what if I’m not a Rowling or a Tolkien. I will still leave that legacy for my family.
Now that’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome the chance to be considered one of the greats of literature. All of us would gladly join those hallowed halls. To be remembered generations from now is the closest to immortality that we can hope to achieve. I would love to think that people will be enjoying the stories I wrote long after I’m gone.
Keep writing. Keep believing. Keep reaching for that dream.
I honestly wish you all the success in the world.