by Jaime Buckley
New writers often have questions. We want to understand the path to walk so we can find success.
Thing is, ‘success’ has various definitions, depending upon who you ask. You and I are motivated by different things, and this complicates conversations between writers.
YouTube and Facebook ads offer ‘secrets’ to success in nearly every aspect of the writing and publishing industry. Each ad pulls at newcomers, offering solutions to implied problems at a seemingly reasonable price, guaranteed or your money back.
Many would-be authors give up their future before they get a running start.
I’ve personally watched people fall by the wayside due to the wrong information. People crippled by a fear of failure they probably didn’t have until the ad took hold! People who, in my honest opinion, probably have more talent for storytelling than I do — and I’ve made a living writing and drawing for decades.
But there’s good news here, and I’d like to share it with you. Hard won wisdom that’s kept me going in my own career, despite the odds, the crashes, and the setbacks. Two success factors the writing community doesn’t seem to talk about.
My personal belief is that God determines the results in my life, but it’s up to me to do the work first. The more things I do right, the more He accelerates and multiplies the results. It’s the way I live, and it works for me.
When I talk with others, I call it luck, good fortune, or chance.
Whatever title you’d like to attach to the event, I define this as something that happens that you cannot directly control. You can influence it, by being in the right place at the right time, doing the right things for the right reasons...but you cannot make the results happen.
It’s the unknown factor.
The easiest example I can think of is the internet. Web guru’s and marketing companies often make claims that they can ‘guarantee’ results — like getting a first page ranking on Google.
Well, yes and no.
Results are manipulated. Rankings can be fudged. Reviews can be bought, forged, traded, and challenged. If someone has a bigger wallet, they will buy the position ahead of you. Yet none of this worries me. You know why?
Because I’m starting to believe you can’t measure your influence using the internet.
Stop laughing at me.
Seriously, it’s rude.
Oh, you can measure a portion of your influence, sure. You can also track internet sales. Yet the true measure and effect of your progress cannot be fully seen through Google Analytics or any other software. Let me show you why I think this.
You write a book. Everything is done as best you know how. It’s listed with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Draft2Digital, Smashwords, an armload of other platforms, Ingram Spark for hardback, and on your own website. Each service, including your own site, has some form of analysis/tracking program to show sales. You can track sales, visits, pinpoint countries, cities, even IP addresses around the globe. You have everything covered.
Or do you?
What happens when a reader talks about your book around the dinner table with friends? When the topic gets shared with people at work? Phone conversations with family out of state, maybe even out of the country. A chain of interactions you never saw and likely never will.
It was personal. Real. It was something you could not control, and I’m bringing this up because that’s how I’ve made a living since 2004. Over 90% of my success has come exclusively through word of mouth.
There is a tipping point when we reach a certain stage in our progress. It’s when a connector — someone who knows and has influence with others — enjoys, supports and recommends your work, often causing a ripple effect. The influence of one turns the heads of the many.
The ‘luck’ part is that we never know when or where that tipping point will happen. It might happen in the first week...it might not happen for years...or at all. You may never have a landslide of readers, but perhaps a steady trickle that builds.
I’ve literally had a burst of sales, more than 9000 copies in a 72-hour period, which happened again months later, never to happen again. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t do a thing. It wasn’t a launch, it wasn’t a promo. There was no data to track, follow, or study.
There was a time I walked into a library in another city and found my books on display. I was flabbergasted, excited…and confused. When I asked the librarian, she said the books were requested by the mayor.
Yeah, I’ll let that one sink in, ‘cause I didn’t get it either.
I met an Indie Author so happy to finally be making $1,000 to $1,500 a month with his books. He explained that the income had grown every 90 days or so. After cheering for him (which I love to do), I asked how many books he’d published?
“I’ve written 40 stories so far.”
He’d been at this for years. Many told him it wouldn’t work, but he didn’t listen. Now he had a steady, monthly income that continues to grow to this day.
People, specifically Americans, tend to want everything yesterday. Patience falls by the wayside and many forget the journey, focusing instead on the destination. Many miss hidden opportunities along the way…a wealth of growth offered to those looking for it.
Life rarely turns out the way we think it will, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You simply have to accept the reality that there are no shortcuts in this venture. Yes, there are stories you will find online, talking about riches and overnight success — but if you dig deeper — you’ll likely reveal years of labor to get there.
Yes, I said years.
This is one aspect many marketers try to hide.
To sell the books and programs, there must be ease, shortcuts, and again let’s not forget the famous ‘secrets’ promise. All backed by a ‘guarantee’ to wipe away any hesitation or fear of spending money, or worse, money you don’t have.
What gets me, is what’s wrong with working hard on a worthwhile project until you succeed?
Oh, that’s right...nothing at all.
This is a good time to think deeply on how important being a writer is to you.
Admit the hard truth…
It isn’t about if you can do this, but will you do this.
Only you know the answer.
Amanda Hocking became one of the first self-published Indie Author millionaires in America. She got rich in less than 12 months after publishing to Kindle. Yet most don’t recall the painful nine years previous to that point. The hard work and determination she exuded until the tipping point.
It was like…luck.
Amanda wrote 17 novels and had every book rejected by traditional publishers. She did all her own editing. She did all her own formatting for Smashwords and Kindle, as well as marketing on Twitter, Facebook, and her own blog.
I understand her pain and frustration, trying to get everything ‘just right.’ Having people pick out flaws in her work, no matter how much editing she did. Amanda dealt with technical issues, answered countless emails, and created her own book covers. No wonder she got burned out!
Despite all the hardships, she sold more than a million copies of her books, finally catching the attention of the New York publishing houses. A bidding war started between them to get her contract. In the end, Amanda saw her dream realized.
Unlike many of her fans, I applauded when she signed that traditional contract. That was what she wanted…the freedom to write and entertain people for a living. The money and fame were secondary. The publishing house offered a professional staff to do all the frustrating work for her.
The point here, my friend, is that it took over nine years for Amanda to become an ‘overnight’ success. Time was something she accepted and was patient about. She focused on doing what she loved, committed for the long haul, not the short sprint.
In 2009 I sat down with a famous author to discuss my first book, a meeting arranged by a mutual friend. I was nervous. He had told my wife and I the day before that it took an average of seven years to get published. He then added that it took another seven to get onto the NYTimes Bestseller list.
All I could see was fourteen years of struggle ahead of me.
He’d taken my script, agreed to skim it over that night, his intent to provide some advice. Instead, he’d read it in its entirety, then asked us the following day to take us to lunch. For what seemed like an eternity, he just sat across from me…staring.
Then he said something I never expected.
“You could send his out, right now, without changing a thing and you’ll get picked up. You’ll find a publisher and make a living.” He paused. “But with a little work to get your skill level up, I think this is New York Times Bestselling material.”
I think I might have also.
Manly tears, of course.
Encouraging comments from a veteran in the industry was a historical marker in my journey. An anchor that helped me shun the unsolicited opinions of those who didn’t care for my future. An anchor that caused me to look at myself, my circumstances, and then chart a course I was determined to follow.
I’ve published many works since then and made a living doing what I love. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment.
I’d just do it better.
So, my advice to you, now and forever, is to keep going, no matter what. Things will happen, and that’s okay. Just bob, weave, take a breath, adjust your course when you need to, get back up, laugh it off, or ignore them all and prove them wrong.
Because the longer you walk, the closer you’ll get.
Don’t be afraid of hard work and consistency. You just might achieve what you shoot for…and if you make a habit of paying attention, a whole lot more.
* * * * * *
Jaime Buckley is a cartoonist and best-selling author.
More importantly, he’s a loving husband and father of 13 children. Since 1986 he’s worked for famous authors and TV personalities, and illustrated for hundreds of new authors across the genre spectrum. If you can think of a creative project or marketing strategy, Jaime's likely done it… but always finds his greatest success by being himself. You can find Jaime writing fantasy for readers on LifeOfFiction.com and sharing his parenting antics through kidCLANS.com.
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