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.
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…
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.”
Let me tone it down: STOP RELEASING SELF-EDITED WORK.
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.
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?