Your Writing Career Is Not A Lottery Ticket

Your writing career is not a lottery ticket.

A mere hope.

A mere chance.

To become what you intend to be.

This week I attended BookExpo in New York City – a tradeshow featuring hundreds of booths of publishers, authors, and everyone involved in the publishing process. The key word for a show like this is: “buzz.” What is a “buzz” book? What book do we think will be big, or what book is profoundly interesting? Many are guessing. They are hyping. Hoping. Trying to convince others that they have gold.

So here I am in a room with all of the insiders in publishing, all with big expensive booths pushing their best upcoming books – stuff that will come out in the Fall, and here we are, hoping.

BookExpo

It strikes me that many writers feel far removed from this place. That they feel it would be a high point of their career to even have a book that is featured by anyone at BookExpo. But when you walk around the show floor, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed. That even those authors who have “won” the publishing lottery by getting an agent, getting a publisher, and being featured at BookExpo – even at that level they are just one book among thousands to come out this Fall. And this cycle happens again and again several times a year. Thousands more. Thousands more.

I have been thinking a lot about how writers can stack the deck in their favor – to hone their skills and creativity in order to produce great work, and with greater frequency. Where they do not just hold a single lottery ticket in their hands, but rather, they have the ability to create their own luck.

“We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.”
– Sir Ken Robinson

This is a quote shared by Corbett Barr at another conference I went to this week: Blogworld. Corbett made the point that you need to cultivate creativity, and not just wait for lightning to strike. This is a skill that you build. Malcolm Gladwell famously shared the idea that you need to work on something for 10,000 hours in order to find success. That quantity is what matters most. But quality matters too – that you need to also challenge yourself to push outside of your comfort zone, otherwise you just create more of the same stuff again and again for those 10,000 hours, all at the same low level of quality.

 

“Your Writing Career Is Not A Lottery Ticket.”
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This is an issue I have been obsessed with recently, so much so that I am in the process of developing a resource that deals specifically with this topic. It is a partnership with Gabriela Pereira, of DIYMFA.com, a resource for writers to hone their creative process, to ensure it is a skill that they can leverage when they need, not just when lightning strikes. More on that later in the summer.

Coming away from BookExpo and Blogworld, I can’t help but feel enthused. I met so many people who were focused not just on creating “buzz,” but on creating meaning. On trying to create a positive impact on others, and ensure that their work has a lasting legacy. For some, it is with the books that their company publishes. For others, it is via their own creations or business ventures.

But if you are a writer. A creator. If you have a vision. I encourage you to not just wait to be discovered. Not just offload the means of success to others. This is a skill. One that you need to develop.

Thanks.
-Dan

Writers: The Path To Success is Not a Privilege, But a Choice

I saw a video recently that showed the quality and craftsmanship of how products were made years ago, a look at the Fender guitar factory in 1959. What you see is a world operating at a different pace than the one we know today – what looks to be a community of people crafting guitars, not an assembly-line of replaceable wage-slaves:

Even though they were creating what you could call a commodity, you see a level of caring and craftsmanship at every step of the process. Today, the very guitars you see being made in this video – if they survived the test of time – would be coveted and worth thousands of dollars.

There are videos showing the modern Fender factories, where a premium price is put on products that are made in the USA, and done by hand, and not machine. (EG: this video and this video.) Our culture has become so automated, that anything crafted with human hands and a deep level of passion is treated as special.

With all of the transformation in the publishing world, the one thing still done “by hand” is the writing. Sure, it’s maybe done ON a computer, a laptop, even a iPhone, but it requires the meticulous care and attention of an individual. In any other industry, their work would have a premium price associated with it. It would come out with a gold label that said “hand-crafted” or “made in the U.S.A.,” or insert your own country of origin here.

Whenever I experience poor customer service – a bad relationship with any brand – I often here these words from the person on the other end of the phone, or other side of the counter:

“The system won’t let me.”

In some instances, they are referring to the computer not giving them the option that I am asking for – to return something or reprice it or special order it. But most of the time, they are reading from a manual about approved procedures in their company. I have had managers at companies tell me the “system won’t let me,” when I know full well their job should not be to just enforce rules, but to know when and how to bend them to meet the larger goals of that company, and how it values their relationship with customers.

Writers are facing a wildly changing landscape in publishing, and while few like uncertainty, there is one notable change that they should embrace:

“The system WILL let you.”

Writers now have more options than ever for having their work published, shared, and read. To connect their ideas to the world. You have the choice of a variety of “traditional” avenues for reaching an audience, new “self-pubbed” avenues, and a mixture of the two. There is no longer “one way,” even in a single writing career. You, the author, are an entrepreneur.

You not only get to create a world in your writing, but you get to choose how that work reaches and effects others. No, it isn’t always a straight path. I love this drawing I found on the web months ago:

What success really looks like

When we look back at videos like the 1959 Fender factory above, we tend to want to think “it was a simpler time.” But it wasn’t. The cold war was raging, the undercurrents of a dissatisfied population were brewing – to come to a head throughout the 60s, and people then had the same concerns as people do now. Even those with a stable job and stable family lie awake at night worrying about things. People are people.

No, we do not live in simple times. But what is important – CRITICALLY IMPORTANT – is that you have the ability to choose your path. To make the decisions necessary to craft your writing career. To not only create the best work you can, but to get it into the hands of readers, to ensure it has an effect on the world.

I can’t predict the future – I don’t know what the future of publishing is. But I do know that it is your choice as to whether you want to be a part of it or not.

-Dan

Loneliness, Depression, and Developing Your Writing Career

It can be lonely to be a writer. It is often a second identity, where even your friends and family define you by your family role (mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter) or what pays the bills (your day job), and not by your passion – your writing.

You sneak away writing sentences in stolen moments, as a squirrel stores away nuts for the winter. Your year is filled with resolutions to get back on track, to find a system that works to really finish your book, to really grow your audience.

I love social media, but do notice that my feeds on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere are filled with mostly positive affirmations. We update Facebook to tell people we just ran 4 miles, not that we just at an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s, then ate half a bag of potato chips. And then had a slice of cold pizza.

We don’t talk openly about things many writers face on a daily basis: the loneliness and depression of developing your craft and of building your audience.

Writing can be a lonely endeavor, with many ups and downs that those around you never see. You are creating something from nothing. You are trying desperately for an idea to be born, to grow, to spread. I often look at writers as entrepreneurs because of this. Most businesses fail. Most writers’ work goes unpublished, or worse yet: unread.

I work with writers to help them build and engage an audience for their work – to grow their author platform. Now, when you hear about a successful writer – you often imagine that they started with more than you did. What you don’t see in their story is the long lonely months and years of effort that went unrewarded. My favorite website is Mixergy.com, where Andrew Warner interviews successful entrepreneurs, telling their stories of how they went from a lonely idea to really having an impact in the world (and often earning millions of dollars along the way.) Here is a 30 second story that is not unusual, about how one interviewee’s wife’s blog went from nothing to something. Does the first part of this story sound familiar?

That’s Rand Fishkin talking about his wife Geraldine’s blog http://everywhereist.com.

This applies to most creative endeavors, and certainly to many writers. No, we don’t talk about it often, but it’s there. I like how Rand talked about the need to start with a small team – just a few people around you, supporting your work. I spoke about the importance of building a team in another blog post about how writers can learn from Weight Watchers. That we often need support and accountability in order to reach our goals.

A profile of author John Locke makes a similar point. He wrote his first novel only three years ago, and has since sold more than 1 million ebooks on Amazon. Even after he went through the process of writing and publishing his book, it was a lonely road:

“It took nine months before anyone bought anything. It wasn’t a matter of price point but word of mouth, people telling others, one sale at a time — just like insurance.”

How many would-be successful writers would have thrown in the towel at month 3 or month 8? Just moments before they would have found their audience and had their dreams become reality?

I recently came across some blog posts from the startup world about how to help reduce depression & loneliness when developing something new. I think writers may find lots of helpful tips here, things such as:

  • Get an advisor/mentor.
  • Be open with those around you about your challenges, not just your successes.
  • Create rituals.
  • Create stability in other parts of your life.
  • Connect with colleagues.
  • Sleep.
  • Break large projects down into smaller milestones.
  • Know when to step away and recharge your batteries.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.

Here are the articles, be sure to check out the comments in those posts as well for other stories/tips:

I work with a lot of writers via online classes, workshops, one-on-one consulting, and a mastermind group. I have found that these types of things often provide the structure and support to help folks stay on track in developing their craft and grow their audience. They provide not just a framework, but a team that works with you. This is not a pitch for my services, but just an observation about it’s value. LOTS of folks offer classes, groups, workshops, and events that may help you in your writing career. Find a partner that speaks to you, aligns to your purpose and goals, and take that step to reach out.

And of course, if there is any way I can be of assitance, just let me know:

-Dan

973-981-8882 | dan@danblank.com | @DanBlank

The Year Ahead for Writers and Publishers

I had the pleasure of speaking with Joel Friedlander of TheBookDesigner.com about the year ahead for writers and publishers. Check out the 24 minute video interview on Joel’s site, along with his description. I have also embedded it below so you can get a preview:

Thanks so much to Joel! He can be found on Twitter at @JFBookman.
-Dan

The Value of Social Media for Writers: Self-Promotion or External-Validation?

When a writer engages in social media to “grow their platform” are they turning into heartless self-promoters, shilling themselves for the desperate attempt to lure others to read their books?

I don’t think so.

For someone who engages in producing creative work – writers, artists, musicians – sharing is much harder than it looks. You are often alone, not backed by a corporate entity. When you are on your own, you don’t have the immediate validation that a regular job provides – fancy business cards, job title, or a stable salary and a benefits that makes you a “card carrying writer.” The writer lives and dies by their own confidence to create something from nothing, to push onward when the world chooses not to pay attention.

Validation is important. To know that your work matters; that you are growing; that it impacts the lives of others; that it is creating a work of meaning over time. The work is often very personal, even if not on the surface. It’s easy to read someone else’s book and call it ‘garbage.’ It’s hard to write a book and not be hurt when someone else calls it ‘garbage.’

It’s exposing to be a writer. I was listening to the commentary track of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (yes, this is what I do in my spare time), and something reminded me of the plight of writers: In one scene, a character is facing a crisis of identity, and he stares at George Seurat’s pointillist painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Since the image is only made up of very tiny dots, the closer he looks at the child in the painting, the less of it he sees. The director explains the meaning of this as:

“He fears that the more you look at him, the less you see; that there isn’t anything really there.”

Here is the painting, and examples beneath it of the pointillist style used to create it:
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
(image source)

I’ve heard people describe having kids as the act of watching your heart run around outside your body. As a father of a 1.5 year old son, I can say that is true. But I think the same expression holds true for writers. After the sometimes arduous process of creating a work you are proud of, how do you ensure it flourishes and grows?

People always say: Don’t self-promote on social media. Don’t be self indulgent. But I feel that most people, and certainly many writers, simply want some sort of validation. A sense of self. To be able to own the identity of “writer,” even if for a single moment during the day. They want to matter, and they want their work to matter.

There is a perception that author platform and writers engaging in social media as jumping on a bandwagon to drum up publicity and sales. But what I often see is someone making meaningful connections around topics they are passionate about.

I also feel there is incredible value in putting yourself and/or your work out there. That there is a risk in the safety of writing without sharing. You can’t fail if you don’t share. But when you move out of your comfort zone to engage with others, that is how you evolve.

Some writers are brash self-promoters. Others are not. Social media is a medium that levels the playing field between the two extremes, allowing all writers to be a part of a community of like-minds.

Thanks.
-Dan
973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com