NOTE: We’re going to put randomizer to work on Sunday and pick one name from everyone who commented on either Part 1 or Part 2 of Jane’s post. The winner of a “Jane Porter Goodie Package” will be announced on Monday, May 20.
On Wednesday I talked about the first 5 keys to success. Today I’m going to lay out the last 5 tips.
6. Flexibility is Essential to Survival
I owe this important insight to the stellar Stella Cameron. I should have figured this one out on my own, but I didn’t. Instead I spent the past couple of years banging my head against the wall, and then throwing myself against the wall, determined to make the wall move. I was Jane Porter. I am nothing if not fierce and tenacious. I would make the wall move by my determination alone.
The wall didn’t move. I just got hurt, and discouraged, and the futility of my actions impacted my writing, as well as my sense of self-worth.
We can’t control the industry. We can only control ourselves, and I wasn’t doing a very good job of controlling myself, and it wasn’t because I didn’t lack conviction. It was because I’d overdeveloped my muscle and grit, and failed to develop flexibility and balance.
The tough Jane realized during Stella’s fantastic keynote at the Emerald City Conference that great intentions and dense muscle aren’t enough … one has to be able to shift, adapt, evolve.
One has to choose to be flexible. One has to make a conscious commitment to stretch, bend, yield, experiment. If traditional publishing isn’t working for you now, experiment with e-publishing. If what you’re writing now isn’t finding enough readers, take risks and try something new. If you feel beat up or discouraged by publishing, spend some time focusing on what would give you pleasure, make that a priority.
Make you a priority. Not you, the writer, but you, the person.
Make sure you’re getting what you need for a wonderful life. Work out both sides of your muscles and take plenty of time to stretch. And then stretch some more. You must be agile to survive. You must have hope and joy to thrive.
7. Success = Market Knowledge, Business Acumen, & Balls
Some of my biggest mistakes early in my career were in not getting proper market knowledge. Then I figured out that massive learning curve and started selling, and succeeding. I got comfortable. Happy. I knew what I was doing, I liked what I was doing, all was good.
And then, without consulting me, the industry started to change. Amazon came on the scene. The Barnes & Noble and Borders war swallowed up the small B. Daltons and Waldenbooks, and chased away lots of the indie stores. The battles intensified and then Borders got in trouble, and you know all this … we all know this.
But Darwinian Jane, committed to the Survival of What Jane was Doing Well, was going to continue with Jane’s Plan. So caveman-like, I pushed myself harder. Wrote more. Promoted more. Spent way too much on publicity because I believed in the books I was writing, and was determined to reach my readers…even though it was harder to find them since trade fiction is still very print dependent. Less than 50% of my trade readers, read on a device. Now the romance reader has embraced e-readers. The romance reader is at the front of the change. The romance reader loves new things. But the romance reader isn’t going to pay $10 for a Kindle download of my women’s fiction, and the bookstores that carry trade books are far and few and inbetween in many parts of the country now.
So despite my fierce, focused resolve, my passion, my commitment of time and resources, my trade books weren’t doing what I wanted them to do. The results weren’t what I’d hoped. The print runs were smaller, the sales smaller which doesn’t equal success in the traditional print world.
And there lies the problem.
Publishing is switching over to e. Traditional publishers are pushing e over p.
Jane Porter—the writer—hadn’t.
Thankfully I had an epiphany a few months ago that I’m on my way to becoming extinct. It was a jolt to the system, but the wake up call was just what I needed.
I’m a good writer. A passionate writer. There’s no need for me to give up, die out, or fade away. I just need to refocus, and relearn the market. I’ve spent the past four months revisiting my goals, my stories, my themes and see lots of opportunity ahead. But it meant giving up contracts I’ve held for years. It meant walking away from ‘a sure thing’, or perceived security for the new Wild Wild West of Publishing.
But its good. It’s exciting. And its not as if one has to give up all traditional publishing for new e-opportunities. You can have both. You can juggle, balance, risk, as well as stand back and watch…evaluate, experiment, play.
You can do anything you want. Isn’t that amazing news?
The great thing about having published 40+ books over the past 13 years is that I’ve been beat up good. I’m still kicking and smiling. And best of all, I’ve got some perspective now.
I believe we can succeed. But success (at least for me) isn’t just about money. Money is important. It pays bills, and being paid well gives one pride and a sense of self-worth. But I also want respect. Appreciation. I want my print readers to still be able to find me in a store. And then I want to write the story that my reader will cherish for years to come.
Clearly, for me, publishing is more than putting a book out there. I have a whole hierarchy of needs that must be met by my writing, and I didn’t get to this point overnight.
But then, most of us do not become successful authors overnight. Most of us have to grapple with learning the craft, with understanding the different markets, with discovering which editors will buy what, or which e–platform will give us the results we want.
So give yourself time to adjust to the learning curve. Learn.
Also, to use my friend Sinclair’s expression, know what you bring to the party. What do you do best as a writer? Where are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? These are ten market things I think every writer should know:
- Be able to identify your Voice
- Find a genre/line/style that suits your Voice
- It’s not necessary to go for the hard sale first
- Conversely, don’t merely reach for low hanging fruit.
- Avoid jumping from manuscript to manuscript, or genre to genre indiscriminately
- Don't target a genre or publisher you don’t read
- Don't send a query, or self publish a book, before its ready
- Know your market hooks – hooks still sell books
- Don't go overboard with market hooks – keep it fresh
- Know when the horse is dead (i.e., don’t be Cavewoman Jane)
- Don't try to please everyone
9. Quality Drives Success
Quality is huge.
Quality is everything.
Our readers deserve extraordinary stories. Our readers deserve to be delighted, enchanted, surprised, moved, entertained. Give your readers your very best story, each and every time. Your readers will thank you, and they’ll repay you with loyalty and making you an auto-buy.
Apply high standards to every aspect of the writing and publishing process: writing, editing, copy-editing, formatting, pricing, art, covers and blurbing, marketing.
Make quality part of your brand. You’ll never regret it. Readers love a success story.
10. The Successful Professional
I’ve learned to weather storms. I still don’t like them. I prefer blue skies and bright sunny days. 78 degrees is perfect. No humidity, please. But life isn’t like that. Publishing isn’t like that, either. Therefore we must learn to deal with stress, pressure, and reality, with grace. Dignity. And that all important humor.
There are times our careers will fly. There are times we will struggle.
I have enjoyed tremendous success, and I have had books that just didn’t sell. I’ve had critical success, too, financial success, and then I’ve had challenges that made me question my sanity and my desire to continue with this career.
Editors can be difficult. Publishers capricious. Readers fickle, or critical. Writers judgmental.
The writing life can be hard on families. The writing life can be hard on one’s sense of self. So strive for excellence, and yet hang on to your sense of humor. Forgive yourself when things go wrong. Savor the successes. Protect your muse. Guard your heart. Cherish your real friends, the ones that are strong and kind and supportive.
Publishing is a very small world. Be the writer editors and other writers want to work with. People talk. Publishing is constantly evolving. Editors change houses. Editors become agents, agents become publishers, readers become reviewers, reviewers become social media mavericks…
We don’t know the future. We can make predictions but things change. We know that now. Ten years ago New York had all the power in publishing. Ten years ago I couldn’t imagine a world without a bookstore on every corner (okay, I lived in Seattle with its proliferation of coffee houses and bookstores). We’ve learned that we’re going to have to be flexible, and adapt.
And we can.
Just remember, we’re in this for the long haul. And we’re not just going to survive. We’re going to thrive!
Bestselling author of the Jane Porter has been a finalist for the prestigious RITA award four times, has over 12 million copies in print. Jane’s novel, Flirting With Forty, picked by Redbook as its Red Hot Summer Read, went back for seven printings in six weeks before being made into a Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear. September 2012 brought the release of The Good Woman, the first of her Brennan Sisters trilogy, followed in February 2013 by The Good Daughter, and book three in the series, The Good Wife, is slotted for release in September. A mother of three sons, Jane holds an MA in Writing from the University of San Francisco and makes her home in sunny San Clemente, CA with her surfer husband.