Wake Up and Work

The Wake-Up Call: What it Means to Be A Self-Published Writer

Share this post:

I know what you want. It’s the same thing I want:

Freedom to write without distraction. A full-time income from one book. Enough money in the bank that I can travel to each of the settings in my novels. Some magic marketing bullet that guarantees my books’ success.


How about these:

Books that “flow” from somewhere inside, without really trying. A website that I can set up in 10 minutes that suddenly gets millions of page views per day. A perfectly-edited first draft.


Well here’s a wake-up call:

That crap doesn’t exist. 

I know, it sucks, but it’s true. I just finished the busiest month of my life, writing books like this one and this one, and it’s true.

Sorry for the word choice, but this is a “debunking” post that I wish I would have read four years ago. I didn’t, so I’m writing now, to myself.

Read it like a personal letter written from me to me, but if you can get something out of it, go for it.

Below are the seven things I wish someone would have told me, explicitly, simply, and in plain English, four years ago. They’re also the things I get emailed about, day after day, from people just like me who are frustrated, defeated, and confused. Here’s the takeaway: this isn’t a judgmental, “you won’t succeed hahahaha” post.

Instead, it’s a “here’s what you need to remember in order to succeed.”

Ready. Dive in!

“Overnight Success” Takes 10+ Years

One of my favorites. I remember starting my first blog (about marketing), and it was awful. (No, I won’t show you a screenshot!) I would sit down every afternoon and riff about marketing. Things like “marketing shouldn’t be shady. It should be fun! Yay!”

Like I said, it was awful.

I remember growing frustrated a few weeks into it, when there were still zero people who’d visited the site.

I thought blogging was supposed to be easy? I thought writing was just “sitting down at the keyboard and bleeding” and then people would rejoice and shout my praises and buy my stuff?

Then I realized something. Every other “famous blogger,” writer, and online presence I looked up to seemed to come out of nowhere.

And in some ways, they did. There was a day that I didn’t know who they were, then the next day, I did. Simple enough.

But I also remember each of these bloggers’/writers’ posts/books/articles about how they got popular. And guess what?

Every single one of them had an “origin story.” That story wasn’t a “yeah, I woke up one morning and I was famous!” type of story, either.

Nope. It was, instead: “I woke up every day for ten years and just wrote. And wrote, and wrote, and wrote. Wow, I can’t believe I’m here!”

That “overnight success” I was watching was really a slow-moving rocket, slowly gaining speed as it lifted off. But instead of launching in an hour, it took ten years. Or more.

Stop looking at the people you look up to and thinking, “dang, if only I could get noticed as quickly as them! They have it easy!”

No One Cares. That’s Why You Have to Market Your Work

Seriously, this one bugs me. Have you written an epic sci-fi/fantasy romance novel about chickens with no heads?


Let me spell it out for you.

I. Don’t. Care.

I really don’t. Why should I?

I already have a stack of “to-read” books up to the ceiling of my office, and more digital novels on my Kindle than I could read in forty Alaskan cruises.

Oh, but what’s that? You think I’ll like it?

That’s nice of you, but it’s not your job to assume you know what I like. It’s mine.

You’re supposed to write the book well and position so that it’ll provoke me to buy it.

Oh, but marketing sucks, you say? Marketing is hard, and dirty, and gross, and you just want to write and positioning your book be damned?

Sorry, that ain’t gonna cut it.

Oh, but your traditional publishing house is going to do it for you? Cool! You must be James Patterson or J.K. Rowling!

Oh, you’re not.

Okay, then how are you going to do it? That’s the question. Start there.

Again, just to be clear: YOU ARE GOING TO MARKET YOUR BOOK. If you choose to ignore it, you’re just actively choosing to do a  crappy job marketing.

Choose instead to start learning how to position your book for success, what a call-to-action is, and how to write great back-cover and listing description copy. Then focus on finding your ideal reader. When you’re ready, read this.

Books Won’t Write Themselves

Ah, we’ve come to the one I wish so much wasn’t true.

Your book won’t write itself.

But you knew that, right?

THEN WHY ARE YOU WASTING TIME READING THIS BLOG? You should be writing, editing, rewriting, and editing some more. Do. The. Work.

Sit down every day and do the work. It’s simple, yet the most challenging aspect of writing. I constantly find myself avoiding the task like the plague.

There’s No Such Thing As A Muse

Part of the previous truth I wrote about. Sit down and write — you can’t afford to wait around for this “muse” thing to show up.

Some of your writing is going to suck. Some of it will be okay. Some might even be great.

But all of it will be great with… wait for it…

Proper editing.

I did not say “when you get lucky enough to be visited by this vague creature we writerly types have dubbed ‘the muse.’”

I love Johnny B. Truant’s (of The Self-Publishing Podcast) quote (paraphrase):

Your plumber doesn’t show up and say, “well, I’m going to wait around a bit until I’m visited by The Muse.” No. He gets to work. Immediately.

Work like a plumber. (A good plumber.) Sit down and write, even if you feel like you’ll trash all of it the next day. Don’t worry about that, that’s for tomorrow.

You Are NOT An Editor

Oh, yeah, so you got to “tomorrow” and realized that everything you wrote sucked.

You want to trash it, because, well, you have a PhD in awesome writing and a masters degree in English. So you know best.

Yeah, sorry to pee in your snow cone. Hire an editor.

For every person who tells me “I self-edit my work,” I think to myself, “well, there’s another person who’s keeping the stigma of self-publishing alive.”

Too harsh?


I understand completely. I have a music degree in composition, but that does not mean I don’t show a completed piece to a trusted friend before I finish it completely.

I get it: you want to get your work to market, as fast as possible, without spending a dime. Editing-schmediting. Blah.

Do it anyway. Find a great editor who will do a dev and plot edit on your work, then send it out to beta readers for a line edit. It won’t be perfect, but it will be way better than if you do it yourself.

No One Has Time for Anything

Probably my favorite on this list.

I can count on one hand the number of times people have said to me, “I just don’t have time for that” and believed them.

Actually, I lied. I usually believe them — but the difference is, I know that if whatever it was they were talking about really mattered to them, they’d make time for it.

Here’s the takeaway: No one has time for anything. You make time.

I know a single mom who runs a very successful blog and an extremely successful cleaning business. Her resume makes mine look, well, nonexistent.

We have to stop looking around us and assuming that we’re the busiest people we know. If we do, we’ll be that much more upset when we find the person who’s blowing us out of the water with their forty-seven kids, an ailing mother, and is writing every day.

Instead, start looking intensely at your schedule. One of the greatest things Jon Morrow taught me was this (paraphrase):

The secret to my success, as simple as it sounds, is to schedule everything on my calendar. I don’t always like what’s on there, but I’ve already decided those things that will get me to the next level, and I do them. Every day. Without fail.

Start using that calendar program that’s built in to your computer, or go to Google Calendar and sign up (free). Stick an hour or two in the morning on it for writing, then another hour or two in the afternoon or evening. Or in the middle of the night.

If you honestly can’t find that time that works in your daily schedule, give it up.

Seriously. Stop whining about not having time — make it, or give it up.

Sorry, but that’s the truth. I used to complain about not having enough time to blog every single day, so guess what? I gave up trying. Instead, I write every day on my latest book project, and I blog once a week.

There Are No “Dues” to Pay

Writing isn’t a club. There are no chapter presidents, treasures, or weekly meetings.

That means there are no dues to pay.

There’s no amount of money, time spent, or work performed that’s going to suddenly make you worthy of success.

You do the work, keep doing the work, and then work some more.

You’ve been writing for 10 years? 20? 30?

The only thing that should mean is that you’re able to write a great book — you’ve had plenty of practice.

It does not, however, mean that you’re “owed” anything by the Fates, or by God, or by whatever you think controls it.

Stop complaining about how you’ve “paid your dues.” I used to think that since I’d graduated college, I was “owed” a $100,000/yr. job at a high-end marketing agency.

Turns out they wanted people with experience, so I got some (a few years at a smaller marketing firm).

Turns out then they wanted me to know someone at the company, so I met some people there and schmoozed them.

Turns out then they weren’t hiring.

I wasn’t owed anything. No one cares that I’ve done the work, put in the time, and have the requisite certifications/degrees/experience. No one cares about my sob-story tears-shed struggle to get there.

Instead, people care what you can do for them. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s true.

Write a book they care about, then position it well, market the hell out of it, and find those people who you know will love it.

Then do it again. And again.

There are no dues to pay, and if you live your life waiting around for permission to succeed, you’ll be waiting around for a long time. Go buy a lottery ticket instead — the odds are better.

The end. 

Okay, well that was part rant, part tough love, but I hope you get the gist: four-years-ago Nick would have loved to see something like this, so right-now Nick wrote it to himself.

I know you’re probably resonating with one or more of these truths, too, so I’ll leave you with this:

Don’t feel defeated, beat up, or worn down by the truth. Be energized and excited by it, because if you acknowledge these truths and try your hardest to succeed in spite of them, you’ll probably succeed.

There are very few people who will actually live by these truths and put in the work to overcome them. If you do the work, that puts you in a very small category of people, and makes your odds for success that much better.

And if what you read just made you really angry, remember: I was writing it to myself, not you 😉

Leave a comment and let me know what you think! What “truth” have you learned?

Nick ThackerThe Wake-Up Call: What it Means to Be A Self-Published Writer
  • viljoendale

    Learned from the blog: Hang in there, no matter what, no matter how bad you feel about yourself and about what you wrote.

    Learned recently: Know your audience inside out and write for them!

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Absolutely — great points!

  • hat72

    Yeah, I needed all these reminders. There are days, like today, when I’m suddenly feeling like all the work I’ve already put in isn’t paying off. No ROI. And it takes a kick in the keister to remind me that until seven months ago I wasn’t doing ANY marketing for my books. In that time, I’ve written three more and published them with at least a tiny amount of success. Now I just have to put as much dedication into marketing as I’ve put into writing. Time to make some time.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      I hear you — just stick it out, and keep writing!

  • Iola Goulton

    Love it.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker


  • DJob

    Supewrbly crafted share of Internal thought processes that puts me 7, count ’em, 7 suggs. closer to getting the debut out, and published. The longest singular movement in that direction, ever. Straight talk to the writer in anyone who will listen.Worth it.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Thanks, DJob! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Dhaval Gajera


    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Haha, thanks Dhaval!

  • John T M Herres

    I wish more of the respected (yes, Nick, you!) bloggers would post for people to “STOP RELEASING SELF-EDITED WORK.” Bothers the dickens out of me when I see mistakes that could be eliminated by an edit.

    I think I’ll post something to that effect on mine! http://johntmherres.wordpress.com/

  • http://mckinneywriting.com JeffMcKinney

    Great post, Nick. Immediate cessation of whining about time results. Ok, well, maybe not IMMEDIATE, but you landed a good chop-buster there. Thanks!

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Thanks, Jeff!

  • Alvin Kato

    This was a dagger to the heart. But we all need it. Good article Nick!

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Thanks, Alvin!

  • Stephen L. Wilson

    Thank you for sharing your insight. This is a truly informative article with a no-nonsense approach. I, for one, appreciate it.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      No problem, glad you liked it!

  • Cathryn Cade

    You. Are. Awesome. And you tell the truth stylishly.

    Writing groups are rife with people who corner you and say ‘I want to write, I really do. Here’s why I can’t … blah, blah, blah.’

    Well, guess what? The rest of us just do it–with full time jobs, kids, spouses who need love, through illness, surgeries, major moves and the disappointments of life.

    And 15 books later, we’re an over-night success. Yes, like you, I’m talking about myself. Now I’m writing full time, but while my production is faster, it isn’t any easier. Writing is hard work, brutal at times.

    Nothing else I’d rather be doing, though. So onward!

    • JudithAshleyRomance

      Impressive post – glad you write to yourself and it is shared, Nick. And I remember Cathryn working full time, writing, supporting her chapter and other writers – yes, if it is important to us, we do make time for it.

      • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

        Thanks, Judith!

    • Bea Vanni

      I love it, Cathryn! How pointed to say “And 15 books later…” So often individuals see successful people and think it was overnight because they don’t see their years of hard work and struggles. Blessings for lots more success!!

      • Guest

        Thanks Bea!

  • http://meglivinginsideout.net Meg Davis

    This. Is. So. True.

    I’ve deluged myself in more than one artform and that’s always the way it is. ALWAYS.

    Which reminds me, I need do some editing.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Yep, I ALWAYS need to do more editing!

      • http://meglivinginsideout.net Meg Davis

        Update! This article is the primary reason I decides to hire an editor to help me polish my short stories for an eBook. Currently posting monthly at http://storiesofalberian.com :)

        Any suggestions on ebooks?

        • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

          GREAT! Glad you did! It’s an exciting, frustrating, and totally worthwhile process.

          • http://meglivinginsideout.net Meg Davis

            That’s what I’m expecting! Haven’t gotten any feedback yet, so just trying to preliminarily revise … Nervous!

  • http://www.erniezelinski.com/Bio-and-Contact.html Ernie Zelinski

    This is the advice that I give to people who want to share in the incredible gold rush of self-publishing. First, the gold rush is a pipe dream, one for delusional people. (Self-delusion is one of the greatest creations of the human mind.)

    Here is how anyone as an individual writer can share in the “incredible gold rush.”

    Be committed to being a 1-percenter.

    First: Create a damn good book. And disregard the over-emphasis on perfect editing and a great book cover. (This is advocated by editors and cover designers who want to make money off authors whether the author has a viable book or not.)

    Instead, follow this valuable advice that has served me well over the years.

    “It’s better to do a sub-par job on the right project than an excellent job on the wrong project.”
    — Robert J. Ringer

    Second: Once you have written the “damn good book”, then put more time and effort to promote the book than 99 percent of writers are not willing to do. My motto is: “Content may be king but promotion is the supreme ruler.”

    Just a note that I first started self-publishing in 1989, with my role model being Robert J. Ringer. He is the only person to the best of my knowledge to write, self-publish, and market three #1 New York Times bestsellers in print editions. His books sold several million copies in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Not so long two of Ringer’s self-published books were listed by “The New York Times” among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

    Robert J. Ringer was a 1-percenter and that was the key to his success. It it the key to my success as well. That is why my pretax income from self-publishing (and just a bit from traditional publishing) will likely be around $200,000 this year. (By the way, I only work one or two hours a day.)

    In short, if you want to share in the incredible gold rush related to self-publishing, forget about analyzing data. Just do it. Commitment leads to results. Everything else is just an excuse.

    Put another way, reasons only help you sound reasonable. They have nothing to do with manifesting achievement and prosperity in your life.

    Moral of the story: Yes, you must pay your dues. Paying your dues takes time. At first, you must put in a lot more into new projects than you get out of them. You will put in five to ten times what you are getting back. Later, you will break even, getting back something equal to what you put in. In time, however, you will get back ten to twenty times what you put in. This is when you will be prosperous and free. People will then wonder why you are so lucky compared to them.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 200,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Ernie, this is fantastic! I’d love to have you expand on your experiences as well, have you considered guest posting here?

  • Bea Vanni

    Okay, thank you, and oh, did I tell you thaaaank youuuu? Eloquently said: Sometimes we need a kick in the butt; sometimes we need to know we’re not alone; sometimes we need to know we’re NOT so different than all the others in terms of, well, everything, and sometimes we just need to know there IS someone who’ll say what needs to be said, when to say it and then do it!!! And, oh, I forgot one thing, the biggest thing: We all need an editor–for our head, for our mouth, on paper, and most of all what comes out of our computers. Thanks, Nick, I so enjoyed the read!!

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Love it — thanks, Bea! Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for sharing!

  • Bonnie Snyder

    I am looking for your article on how to build an Amazon platform. Can you direct me to that post. Thank you

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Not sure which one you’re looking for… there are probably 100 on this site that deal with platform-building!

  • Maggie Anton

    Important info for potential authors, self-published or not. I self-published my first historical novel 10 years ago, then sold 26,000 copies before contracting with Penguin for 5 more books. Does that make me a success? Not if that means I’m self-supporting. Much of my advance goes to my free-lance editor, my freelance publicist and for advertising. Yes, Penguin provides those things, but authors today have to put some skin in the game too. The truth I learned is “work like crazy on your book, both writing and promoting, but don’t quit your day job.”

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Great info, Maggie! Thanks!

  • http://www.GoDeeperStill.com/ Lana Vaughan

    Evernote clipped it to add to my motivational reading rotation.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Awesome! Glad you liked it!

  • Z B Myers

    Thank you! I truly appreciate your sharing that with those of us who desperately need to “look in the mirror”.
    My excuse lately has been, I’m getting ready to move to a different state; I am packing to move to a different state; I am getting my house ready to go on the market; I am driving 1400 miles to a different state with an elderly relative and 2 dogs; I am going through selling my house/settling into my relative’s house until mine sells and I buy another, etc., well, you know.
    I have started to tell my relative, I’m working, in order to get some peace to write. I need to put aside a place, and announce that I am going to be writing for the next hour or two.
    Thank you for making that VERY clear to me! I truly appreciate it.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Hi Z B!

      Thanks for the awesome comment, and for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Barry Wax

    I read this with doubt in my eyes. I am to old “say I” (from the hermit on Treasure Island). I do not care to be published for money is not important. But the bills come in, say I. I am resistant for I do not care, but do I, say I. Maybe, you have read my blog, crap or not, say I, and what say you.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Haha, nice comment.

  • Neale Orinick

    I really needed your tough love here. I have been dancing around republishing my novel and the rest of the series for 3 years. Yes, 3! I have always found something else to do. Yet some how I found the time to train for and finish two Ironman triathlons and start my own freelancing writing business…Hhmmm? Time to stop letting fear of failure (or success) keep me from hiring a dang copy-editor and getting my book back on the market. This post was just the kick in the pants I needed. Thanks.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Thanks Neale! Glad you got something out of it! Thanks for the comment!

  • Will Advise

    I’m awake. I’m awake.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Haha, nice!

  • http://www.bemoreuniversity.com/ Jimmy Burgess

    Great post. I will be sharing on Twitter. it never happens in the time we want, but if we keep writing it will happen.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Thanks Jimmy — very true!