Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 11, 2022

How to Succeed as an Author

by Lisa Norman

people writing and working for success

When I’m teaching, students ask me what the magic key to success is. My clients ask me, too. Just last week, I met a young writer who asked me this same question. He wanted to know the magic formula for success. In his email, I saw the same emotions I’d seen many times over. “I’m afraid. I want to do it right. I don’t want to waste time. Just tell me what to do!”

There are a lot of people selling the magic key: The one thing that you can do to guarantee success.

The key is: There is no key.

Even more amazing: there is no lock.

Perhaps you will argue with my thoughts, but let me share what I’ve learned from years of working with authors from different backgrounds who have obtained different levels of success.

Why do some people succeed, and others don’t?

It isn’t skill.

I’ve been in the industry for a long time. Long enough to know that some very talented people haven’t broken through while others have.

It isn’t luck.

Sure, some people get lucky, but lots of folks have succeeded by making their own luck.

It isn’t patience.

Although patience certainly helps when things get tough, I’ve seen impatient people succeed and patient people fail.

It isn’t hard work.

I’ve seen lots of people work hard and succeed. I’ve also seen people work hard and fail. And then there are those who don’t work hard and somehow just fall into success!

It isn’t how much money you invest.

Money makes things easier sometimes, but there are doors that money can’t open. I’ve seen people succeed with little to no money invested, and I’ve also seen people fail despite throwing money around.

I’ve also seen the opposite of each of these points. I’ve seen people succeed with skill, luck, patience, hard work, and money. Each of them tackled their career using their own unique life experiences.

So what is the key?

Define Success

First, define success for yourself. Don’t use anyone else’s definition.

  • Want to be on the NYT bestseller list? Why?
  • Want a traditional contact? Why?
  • Want a certain sales level? Why?

What will achieving that goal give you? I know NYT authors who don’t feel successful! I know award-winning authors who feel unsatisfied.

Go deeper. Ask yourself what you really want. What’s your underlying goal?

Once you have that definition, now you know what success looks like for you. Achieving that underlying goal may look very different than your first answer. But achieving that underlying goal will be more fulfilling.

Stay Flexible

Be open to new trends and new experiments. Try new things.

Find Joy

Having fun while working can keep you going when everything seems to go wrong.

Make a Plan

How can you make that happen?

I teach marketing and indie publishing, social media and websites. I give writers tools. But no tool will guarantee you will reach your goal.

There is no one path to success. There is just your path. And that path starts with a single step.

A friend years ago likened our path through life to steppingstones in a misty swamp. Sometimes we can only see the next step.

What’s your next step?

* * * * * *

About Lisa

head shot of smiling Lisa Norman

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy.

Interested in learning more from Lisa? See her teaching schedule below.

Classes:

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19 comments on “How to Succeed as an Author”

  1. Yes, great tips, Lisa. I'm a big fan of asking yourself "Why?". Doing what everyone else says you should or what everyone else appears to be doing, isn't a good enough reason.

    1. Thanks, Sandy! That's it exactly. It isn't that nothing works or that there's no path... just that everyone's path is different. Following someone else's path rarely turns out well!

  2. Love what you're saying! Definitions are different for everyone. Understanding your own definition and its importance to you is crucial to have what you want.

    I'd be curious to know what your definition of success was in the beginning of being a writer and how that has changed to where you are now.

    1. Ah, you've known me for a long time, and you know me so well! Early on, I wanted a traditional publishing deal and to hit the NYT bestseller list - because I wanted to prove to those who said I couldn't do these things that I *could.* Then there was a time in my life when I wanted to be seen as successful, and the goals during that time were muddy. I've landed in a very different place. I sorted through what success would give me: time with family, ability to have the frills in life that I wanted, yes, respect... but more than that, I wanted people to read my stories and to have those moments of talking about them. I realized that critical acclaim didn't factor into anything I wanted. When I looked at those things, I realized that I could have them without the struggles. Many of the things I wanted were already available to me once I stopped struggling. I love writing, and I love the joy of sharing my stories with the people who love them. I don't have anything to "prove" now.

      At this point, I am continuing to write and experiment with craft and creativity. I'm living in a place where I'm enjoying the process, enjoying the stories... and enjoying the time and things that matter to me. I'm watching my sales improve, and enjoying the journey.

      1. It has been a privilege to see your growth and expansion-becoming congruent within yourself and creating not only new definitions of success with goals that match, also finding out success can flow and be easy and fun! I am so incredibly proud of you and inspired by you.

  3. You hit the nail on the head here, Lisa. This is such an important insight. Defining success for yourself is crucial, otherwise you end up following widely held beliefs about what success looks like for a writer.

    My own definition success now, after self-publishing for five years: To build a group of avid readers for my fiction by writing novels that they would enjoy, and which consequently pays for the publishing and provides me with extra money. Why do I want this? Because I want my fiction to be enjoyed by readers, to entertain, and affect them emotionally.

    Defining success also lets you manage your expectations, because if your success is, as in the example above, to build a group of avid readers for your fiction and have your writing pay for itself, providing you with some extra cash, that's vastly different than being a NYT or USA Today best selling author, or winning a coveted literary award, or making seven figures a year from your writing. Dashed expectations can really throw a spanner in your writing works, so defining your success and why can help, I think, prevent that.

    Thanks for a very important post!

    1. That's a fantastic goal, Dale! And the irony is that it may lead to accomplishing much higher levels of success than you could ever imagine! And you get to enjoy every step of the journey while having that empowering fan base.

      You said it: Dashed expectations can completely derail a writer and destroy their productivity. Empowered experiences with true fans push you forward into productivity and creativity. There's power there.

      Fantastic goals!

  4. Yes, knowing what our "specific" (and measurable) goals are, and how we define success really matters. With those two things in mind, it's easier to devise a plan with detailed tasks we need to do, and check those off as we accomplish them. Seeing that in writing gives us a clearer path of where we need to focus on each day/week/month. And practice. Lots of writing. Unless it's on the page, it doesn't really have value if the stories are just locked away in our heads.

    1. Yes! My friend Holly is a motivational coach, and she's taught me that these solid goal strategies will empower our subconscious to achieve them. I love that, because so much of what we do as writers comes from our unconscious mind working together with the conscious mind. We're freeing our muse to create and empower as opposed to weighing the poor thing down with "shoulds".

      Business plans - I've written a few over the years - and I've said many times that it really takes a fiction writer to do them well. In fiction, we take all of the research we do and the goal, and we can draw a path to it that is both reasonable and fun. Writers need plans, too!

    1. Thanks, Denise! I see so many authors fighting "should" so much that they can't see what they can and do want to do. I watch them get derailed and it just breaks my heart. Then I see another writer come along without that baggage, and it is a beautiful thing to see!

  5. I love everything about this post. But my favorite thing?

    "The key is: There is no key.
    Even more amazing: there is no lock."

    I think many authors build their own locks because of that fear you mentioned. The only thing keeping us from success most of the time is a skewed definition of what success means.

    1. You're absolutely right, Jenny. I love meeting with folks who don't have the burdens of what they "should" be doing. I've seen magic happen with these unlocked folks!

  6. Making a decision regarding what I really want as a writer took more thought than I expected. My goals have changed over time, but I'm guessing that's common. Now it's time to make a plan.

    Thanks, Lisa!

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