Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 29, 2023

Two Success Factors No One Wants To Talk About

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.

It’s sad.

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. 

Luck and time.

Do You Believe In Luck?

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.

Considerations for ranking

  • What is the definition being used, and what are the parameters?
  • Even if you can get keywords to the front page of Google, how long will it last? An hour? A day?
  • Will it be a local listing?
  • What size demographics will actually see this top Google ranking?
  • Will the marketing company charge you for satisfying the technical definition, or truly satisfy you the client with actual, profitable results?

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.

Just Consider

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.

When Hard Work Looks Like Luck

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.

As Time Goes By

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.

  • How committed are you?
  • What price are you willing to pay?
  • What sacrifices are you willing to make to achieve your goals?

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.


Overnight Success?

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.

Look For Anchors

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.”

Kathi cried.

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.

The Takeaway

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.

* * * * * *

About Jaime

Jaime Buckley

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.

Check out Jaime's current books:

25 comments on “Two Success Factors No One Wants To Talk About”

  1. This is a great reminder, Jaime, that there is no such thing in the writing world as an "overnight success" and that WOM--word of mouth marketing--is an unmeasurable driver of our hard-won success. I'm sharing this to remind all my writer friends!

    1. Thanks for that, Karen. You know, I keep wondering why so many of us either forget, or worse, don't believe that word of mouth is a viable (and probable) way your works will get discovered?

      There's an odd fact with me, and that is I can market for others with success, but never had much success marketing my own works.

      Maybe it's the ego, maybe the skill, maybe it's just tacky...don't honestly know the real answer (maybe it's all the above), but it's forced me to leave it be and work on relationships instead.

      Thank you for the comment =)

  2. Jaime, Thank you for these encouraging words. I’ve been working on the first book for 12 years and the second book for 7. I’m finally ready to start looking for a publisher or agent, and I’m terrified! I’ll send my queries all over the place and trust God to do the rest. But I needed to hear your stories today.

    1. Awwwww Deb, bless your heart. So glad this could help in some small way.

      These experiences are always for our good, blessing with opportunities to stretch, grow, and hopefully expand our capacities. The thing we should always remember, IMO, is that we were created to succeed, not fail.

      Don't listen to the Nay-Sayers. They're idiots with too much time on their hands, set on ruining and hurting others instead of making their own lives better.

      You are more than you think you are.

      That's the truth you can look to and focus on.

      I wish you all the success in thew world, my friend!

  3. TERRIFIC post. Thanks for the inspiration and the reminder that writing is a long-haul project and that overnight successes don't usually happen overnight. Just what I needed to hear this morning.

    1. Thank you, Amy.
      Glad you stopped by to have a read =)

      Can I share something silly here?

      I know many people (me even) would love overnight success, but would I be ready for it? Would you? Maybe, but not likely.

      Doesn't mean we shouldn't HAVE some success -- to feel those "wins" while we walk the paths to what we want, so why wait?

      Take the time and make some milestones to reach for yourself. Make a LOT of them, and make them achievable. List the things that MUST be done to get to that success, and then destroy those goals as if they were made to get the %$#%$#!! out of your way.

      As for me, I like to make lists each and every day of things I want to accomplish, and when I get it done, I check it off. Small, but consistent successes are oh so powerful. Heck, when I'm too sick to work, I trudge about the house, trying to do anything I can during the day. When I'm exhausted and feeling a tad down due to the lack of accomplishments, I cheat.

      I'll sit down with a cup of coffee, or tea, and make a list of all the things I've done for the day, and then with a sarcastic smirk on my handsome face -- I check off each and every thing on the list!


      I win!

      Here's the thing with carving out own path as Indie Authors: WE GET TO MAKE THE RULES.

      Ever thought of that?

      I choose to be happy and experience success today, while I'm writing, publishing, and in the long run also.

  4. Yes! Thank you. This is also my philosophy. I don't follow baseball, but I believe in the attitude that the more swings you have at the plate, the more likely your success. For me, that means the more time I spend learning the better I become. It also means, the more books I publish the more likely I'll be discovered by someone, maybe a someone who'll tell someone else about the book.

    If you're looking for a particular tree in the forest, it's going to be difficult to find. If you're just looking for the forest, then you're going to discover a lot of trees.

    1. HAH!

      Christina, that's perfect. Brilliant!

      Live in a way, and write/market in a way for it to be impossible to not succeed.

      It's no longer "if", but "when" it will happen.

      That's how I live =)

      Thanks so much for your comment -- I agree 104.3%!!!
      (I'm 100% bad at math...)

  5. I've had the good fortune of having met and listened to many authors as a reader, before I tried this writing thing. I've heard firsthand the stories of "overnight" success from winners of awards whose first ten or twenty years of learning the business were ignored. So yes, it's luck and a whole bunch of hard work. Even if the good luck of "overnight" success never comes my way, I'll keep at this writing thing. Success can be measured in a hundreds of ways. And by my measure, I'm doing okay. Thanks for this effort-affirming article, Jaime.

    1. Lynette, that’s a fantastic attitude, and though you certainly don’t need my feedback, I think it’s the right attitude.

      It reminds me of when I attended my first writers convention years ago. Sitting next to a college professor who decided to write a fiction book and to his astonishment, he made more in 4 months than two years of salary from the college.

      When I asked him how he did it, he just shrugged. “No clue, but it motivates me to write a second book!”

      Be you. That’s probably the best key I can think of. Be you and keep writing.

  6. I really really needed this post, Jaime, so thank you for writing it here. I started this writing gig in 2009 and learned soooo much since then. And I'm still taking classes and writing and learning. I've self-published 8 books so far and continue to write - only because of one well-known publicist who loves my work and told me not to stop. So I continued because I believe in myself. Though I've sold very few books over the years, I will not stop because, as you said, there's a lot of "luck" out there and maybe I'll get a following and maybe I won't but I won't stop trying. On to write my ninth novel now!!! Thank you!

    1. Dear Patricia,

      Your words excited me, and I had to drop what I was doing (installing a shelf in our new home for my darling wife) so I could respond while the thoughts were fresh.

      I've published many works, most importantly (to me) the 11 fantasy novels, and 13 comic books (+2 graphic novels) all from the same world. Though some may say that selling over 24,000 copies is a 'success' for an Indie Author, it wasn't for me. I thought I'd sell a hundred times that many novels.

      It told me that I had to do it better. Much, much better.

      Not sure what to do, I unpublished everything and have started over. Nearly 18 years of dedication was thrown out in less than 24 hours...because it wasn't what is 'should' have been.

      Crazy? Maybe.

      Like you, however, I have a number of well respected friends and acquaintances who told me not to give up, and all of them have said that my own personal success is not a question of 'IF', but 'WHEN'...because of my love for readers, people, and dedication to give the very best I am able to give.

      What you shared with me is a winning combination, I hope you know that, Patricia.

      I'm excited that you will succeed.

      One more thing -- and this is something I've never shared in any article -- and that is a simple belief I gained, back when Wanted Hero was a comic book.

      I wanted to make comics that mattered to kids. That weren't dirty or scummy, and that parents would want their kids to read. So that's what I made, and people mocked me. A lot of people.

      Nothing happened at first. I worked day and night, putting in over 80 hours a week, hunched over a drawing table and desktop computer.

      Then someone bought my eComic.

      Just one.

      A 54 year old woman, who had no kids at home, and she told me later that she had never read a comic book in her life.

      I was confused. Why would she buy my comic??

      Then I realized, "Does that matter?"

      The story resonated with her so strongly, it hit me: If ONE person would buy my book, then there IS someone else out there who would buy it also. And if TWO would buy it, why not THOUSANDS...or MILLIONS?

      That sweet, kind woman became and advocate for my comics, and I kid you not, she helped me get hundreds of thousands of downloads over the next decade. She cemented that belief into my mind and heart and it's part of my rock foundation to this day.

      You will never know....never...who (or what) could be that tipping point for you. So yes -- DO believe in yourself -- because, dear Patricia, if you give your best and stay consistent...you're a sure bet.

      Thank you for reading and leaving a comment. It made my day.=)

      - Jaime

  7. Though I receive email notifications from Writers in the Storm, I don't automatically click through and read. Today, the nudge to do so was impelling, and I am so glad I followed through because all you have said in your blog and in your responses to other comments has fanned my dimly flickering flame with a much-needed challenge and encouragement to keep going. Thank you so much, Jaime.

    1. Good morning, Mazzy.

      I'm so happy you took the time to read and then to leave a comment for me...and I relate to not always clicking on notifications. This morning has been a bit rough for me, and I was going to pack for a trip and just leave...until I saw your comment.

      Ahhhh, the power of a smartphone.

      So here I am, because you inspired me to push my 'yuck' aside, and do my job, as a friend.

      There have been so many situations where I felt to leave writing behind. To abandon a project or projects. Heck, I even unpublished my life's works last year, and still haven't started the climb back up that mountain.

      That's when I took the time to ask myself "why".

      WHY did I stop, or change, or give up?
      WHY did I listen to the opinions of others rather than my own?
      WHY did I think I was less worthy or able to find success than another writer?
      WHY did I believe the negative words of strangers, casting aside the positive ones?
      ...and WHY did I ever ACCEPT the negative from others as some twisted TRUTH, rather than the actual "truth":

      ...that ANY and ALL feedback are opinions.

      They may be right, they may be wrong, but they remain 'opinions'.

      I'm only guessing about you, Mazzy -- for I don't have enough information to make any accurate call about what you're going through & experiencing -- so please forgive me if it sounds like I'm encroaching here. Just want to share a thought.

      Last year I asked myself a hard question in my writing path:

      Are the challenges stopping and/or hindering me, from others...or created myself?

      If they were from others, I could simply not listen and turn my back. Focus attention on improving myself, my habits and my skills, and no -- my stories wouldn't be perfect -- but they could accurately convey what I wanted to tell. If I worked on developing what I had, right here, right now, I would win...eventually.

      Funny thing was, if the challenges were from myself, I could simply not listen and turn my back. Focus attention on improving myself, my habits and my skills, and no -- my stories wouldn't be perfect -- but they could accurately convey what I wanted to tell. If I worked on developing what I had, right here, right now, I would win...eventually.


      No matter what, the end results would be mine to determine, regardless of what anyone thought.

      That was, and still is, undeniable power over our future.

      • We get to pick our path.
      • We get to choose what we are willing and able to sacrifice to achieve our goals.
      • We get to choose those goals.

      WE get to set the definition of what "success" for us is, not someone else!

      My only goal with this article was to offer a perspective, in the form of hope.

      You, Mazzy, responding to me today, gave my own heart a boost...because it sounds like maybe, just maybe, I found a measure of success in that goal.

      Thank you for helping ME meet a hard start to a hard day, with more confidence...and a smile. =)

      -- Your Friend,
      Jaime Buckley

  8. Thank you for this, Jaime! I struggle in my classes to try and explain to people that I'm not going to offer an instant fix. I don't believe such things exist. I teach them how to do the work. In websites, when someone comes along and says they'll get you on the first page of Google, the appropriate response is to run like mad away from them.

    A friend of mine actually paid someone to do this. (I was NOT consulted.) When I heard, I panicked, and she said, "Oh, it comes with a 50% money back guarantee and I used my insured card, so if it is a scam, I can get my money back."

    In the end, she DID get 50% of her money back. But she also got blacklisted by search engines and had to start a completely new website.

    One of my clients had a slow start, but just had his biggest traffic weekend EVER, with a special badge from Google for over 6000 hits to a blog post in one day. (Memorial Day... themed...) It happens, and it is so beautiful to see it! But that comes after about 4 years of HARD work, posting multiple times each week and putting out some of the best work I've seen.

    1. Hello Lisa =)

      Yeah, the whole "first page of Google" is a racket and one I refuse to involve myself in.

      I realize there are many paths, techniques, and strategies to get discovered. My preferred path is the long, evergreen road, so my efforts last.

      Remember, the key here is to eliminate your weaknesses...even more so than focusing on your strengths. Do the little, consistent things, so you build the foundation of success, until results just can't help but manifest.

  9. No, Jaime, I certainly don't believe in luck.
    I believe in God the Father and hard work.

    It appears you are a lot further along the path of being a successful author than I.

    Perhaps you can provide me with a few tips.

    I have several self-published books that seem to be just sitting there on Amazon KDP.

    I look forward to hearing from you, Diane.

    1. Hello Diane,

      Tips are easy to come by, and the web is full of solid strategies to help any writer accomplish just about any goal you can think of.

      What kind of tips are you looking for? Where are you stuck?

      If you have books just sitting there on Amazon KDP -- why is that? Have you been telling others about them? That's a process we must engage in each and every day as authors.

      What may be of help, is recommending the last article I wrote for Writers In The Storm:


      There's quite a few tidbits of knowledge there to help any author who wants to progress.

  10. You are so right with this writing life being one of luck and determination. My debut picture book will be coming out this September— but only because I happened to send out the manuscript, before it was ready, an editor saw it in the slush pile, liked it, even though the other editors did not, and continued to push for it. And in the end made me a better writer and convinced the other editors that the story was worth publishing. She could have just as easily passed when the other editors said no. She had to have perseverance and determination as well. And now I, have to continue to push forward and take advantage of opportunities and work on my craft, so that I can have another book published.

    1. Good morning, Bridgitte....

      Perfect example of a beautiful (and amazing) opportunity opening when you might not expect it. Yes, we hope to be found and accepted by the professionals at the Gate, but to have someone fish out the manuscript in the slush pile?

      That's not normal and cannot be counted on.

      Thank you for sharing that story and the good news that you've got a picture book coming out, congratulations!!

      As a freelance author who works regularly with children's book authors, I know that wonderful feeling when a new work is to be published. It's a high I crave to feel again and again, sharing that bliss and excitement with the author.

      I hope you become a Best Selling Author, Bridgitte. Make enough to fan those creative flames for many projects to come =)

      - Jaime

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