5 Things Successful Writers Do that Others Miss

Last week I mentioned that I have spent the last 8 years working with thousands of authors and artists. Today I want to share some of the trends that I see that successful writers do that others miss.

What I share here today is the heart of what my Creative Business Boost event will be about on July 27th in New York City. If you are considering registering for the workshop, please do so soon — we have very limited space. It’s a day spent with me and author/illustrator Lori Richmond. We are going to work directly with a handful of writers and artists to help them move their career forward.

I understand that most of you can’t make it to that event, so I wanted to share some reasons it was created, and advice that I think writers need to consider.

#1 Don’t Treat Your Craft Like a Hobby

The first step is always to write a good book. To put your craft first.

I often send writers to book coach Jennie Nash when they need helping whipping their books into shape. What do she and her book coaches  sometimes do? Rips the author’s rough draft to shreds. Right back down to the barest of bones, then rebuilds it. At times, this can be an arduous process.

Successful authors embrace this. No, it is not always enjoyable, but they know that this is the foundation of what stands between failure and success.

This is what novelist Tammy Greenwood told me about when I interviewed her:

  • She wrote a new book that she loved, but which was very different from her previous work.
  • But her publisher was not too enthused about it.
  • Nor was her agent was not too enthused about it.
  • So she ventured out to find a new agent.
  • Then to find a new publisher.
  • Then she did a major revision of the book. She says: “Ultimately, I did 7 major revisions of this book overall. It was bonkers, I couldn’t believe it was finally done.”

This kind of focus isn’t easy. It’s why when putting together Creative Business Boost, Lori and begin the day focused on ensuring you have clarity around what you create and why. To empower yourself to say “YES” with vigor to your craft, and “no” to all of the smaller things that simply get in the way.

This is also the heart of developing an audience and a business around your creative work. Your audience appreciates craft as much as you do. Don’t treat it like a hobby — take it to the next level.

#2 Without Colleagues, You Will Fail

This is a topic that turns a lot of people off. Why? Because there is a romantic vision that many writers have that working in isolation on your craft is somehow more “pure” than collaborating with others. Yet, more often than not, what I find is that creative work needs a network of supporters.

Art dies alone. If you are trying to develop a viable career with your writing, doing it in isolation is the surest way to failure.

Colleagues can mean many things:

  • Collaborating with others who create work similar to yours.
  • Being a part of a mastermind group.
  • Joining a writing group.
  • Having a mentor.
  • Joining a co-working space. (Not for the “space” but for the “co”)
  • Signing with an agent, publisher, or other formal business partner.

These types of connections shouldn’t be willy nilly. Seek them out. Organize regular meetups. Dig into the difficult stuff with them.

Whenever I talk to a successful author, you find they have a network of colleagues. “Behind the scenes” conversations with these people are often nothing like public chatter you see on social media or in blogs. When you have a colleague and talk one-on-one, you often get a clearer lens into the creative process and the business surrounding your work. You hear insider stories of what worked, what doesn’t, and what it takes to navigate the system.

That is why everything I do is about connecting closely with writers and artists, and connecting them to each other. Creative Business Boost is a day spent with Lori, me and approximately 10 others. We become your team. Suddenly, your journey is not one of isolation, but one where we have your back.

#3 Your Assumptions About Publishing May Be Wrong. Challenge Them.

If you are like most writers, you are drowning in information on the many aspects of the publishing process and what it takes to ensure your book finds an audience. You have read hundreds of articles, listened to podcasts, joined webinars, and perhaps even taken courses.

In the process, you may make assumptions about what is the correct publishing path, of whether you need a platform, of how to best query agents or promote your book.

Many of these assumptions are well reasoned and smart. Also: they are wrong.

Successful author write their own rules. Or rather, they have radical clarity about their goals, which allows them say no to hundreds of possibilities in order to optimize for the few things that truly matter to them.

Don’t convince yourself that there is one safe publishing path and if you just identify it and stay within the lines that you will find success.

Test your assumptions. Speak to others — many others — who have been down the road you have. Email them. Call them. Meet with them.

Do so long before you need to make a decision. Be intentional about setting your own path, and consider what lives up to these two goals:

  1. Doing what is right for your personal creative vision.
  2. Understanding the experience you want to give readers.

In my studio, I am surrounded by photos of, and books by, successful creators — writers, artists, musicians, photographers and more. I have studied their stories. That is also the heart of my podcast. Each of these people forged their own paths. They found their own unique ways to elevate their craft, reach their audience, and collaborate with partners along the way.

You can study trends. Obsess about the marketplace. Read the rules. Create a strategy. But in the end, you need to have radical clarity on your creative vision. In doing so, you will create opportunities that others will miss.

Creative Business Boost is a great way to jumpstart this process. Beyond the thousands I have worked with, Lori Richmond’s experience is amazing. A great primer to her work is this interview we did not too long ago.

#4 If You Haven’t Met 100 Ideal Readers For Your Book, You Shouldn’t Publish It Yet

Authors often tell me that agents and publishers are interested in their books, but say to them, “Come back to us when you have a platform established.”

Theses writers usually misconstrue that to mean “I guess I need 10,000 Twitter followers.” But that isn’t the case.

Instead, get to know one ideal reader. One person who likes books similar to yours. Just ask questions. Be interested in what they read and why.

Then, talk to another person. Then another. Learn why people love books like yours. How they find books like yours.

What agents and publishers want is for you to have clarity on who this audience is — to have a dialogue with them. Can that be on Twitter? Sure. But it doesn’t need to be. It can be through old fashioned communications as well. In fact, you can often go to deeper places when you communicate via email, phone, Skype, in-person, through interviews (like a podcast or blog) or other channels.

This is the key: listen before you can be heard.

I explored this process in detail in my book Be the Gateway. The foundation of your marketing should come from meaningful connections with your ideal audience — not social media ads.

In Creative Business Boost, Lori and I will be sharing the process to do that that we have found works best. None of this is theory — it all comes practical experience. Our days are spent in the trenches creating, sharing and connecting. To be honest, I think that is why we are both so excited about this workshop — it is another way to connect with other writers and artists in a deep and meaningful way.

#5 Chances Are, Your Marketing is Boring, Vanilla, and a Copy of What Everyone Else is Already Doing

Often, I see writers do the following:

  1. Bemoan how crowded the media landscape has become, and how fickle people are with their attention.
  2. Then, the author sets their own marketing plan for their books on doing the same exact things as everyone else, in the same media channels.

They bet their marketing effort on vanilla, boring things that everyone else is doing. What does this lead to? Disappointment. It makes me sad when writers or artists finally release their work to the world, only to end up disappointed with the results.

I do have empathy as to why people do this. A writer who wants to do just enough marketing that feels “safe and reasonable.” They want people to find their books, but without risking standing out. I get it.

But when I profiled author Eric Ries, I found (again) that testing your assumptions is critical. Eric is a highly paid consultant, and he took an entire year off to market his book, The Lean Startup. My blog post outlined again and again, how he was convinced that a specific marketing idea would work, but in reality, it flopped.

Test your ideas early. Begin reaching out to readers early. Study what other authors do that truly stand out to you. This is why I follow so many authors on social media. Why I love seeing how Emily Giffin connects with her audience and markets her books on Instagram. Or how Gretchen Rubin does these things in her own way on her podcast or through videos.

This has been perhaps the most fun part of Creative Business Boost planning so far. Discussing the case studies we will share that illustrate that marketing can be fun and effective.

If you want to dig into these things for your own work, please consider joining Lori and I in NYC on July 27th at Creative Business Boost! If you can’t make it though, I hope that some of the advice and links above help you find clarity and connection with your creative vision and those who will love it!