4 Ways to Avoid a Dead-End Writing Career

A writing career isn’t easy, but these four things will help you avoid a dead-end one.

Have you ever seen a talented new writer rise to seeming stardom, only to crash and burn within a couple of years?  I recall being a new writer and studying my contemporaries with a mixture of awe and fear, trying to figure out who the big writers would be in the future. Ten years later, nearly all of them were gone, even the big award winners.

So here are some tips for those who are starting out. I can’t tell you how many ways there are to go wrong, but here are some big ones.

  • Make Sure That Each of Your Novels Is Better Than the Last.
  • Don’t Be a One-Trick Pony.
  • Choose Your Turf.
  • Make Writing Your Priority.

1. Make Sure That Each of Your Novels Is Better Than the Last. 

When a critic is wowed by your first novel, he’ll rave about it.  Ideally, a dozen or more reviewers will do the same.  But critics look for a pattern of greatness.  If you turn in one of your trunk novels as your second book, something less than your initial offering, you’ll kill your career.  Why?  Because you’ve just created a pattern that suggests that you’re on a downward slope. Your great first novel was a fluke. You want your pattern to show that you’re growing in creative and writing prowess.

2. Don’t Be a One-Trick Pony.

Most first novelists who grab rave reviews have a few things that they do well. They might have a gift for a certain tone or style, or perhaps for developing gritty characters.  But if you do the same thing with every novel, readers are likely to get bored.  For example, I once saw a novelist write a story about an abused child that wowed the critics.  On her fourth novel about an abused child, a critic asked in a review, “Doesn’t she have anything else to say?”  Perhaps not.  Perhaps her own childhood experiences left her so scarred that nothing else seemed important.  But it did cripple her career.  So I recommend that with each novel, you struggle to expand your skills.  Let’s say that book 1 was set in a contemporary location.  Can you try expanding that—perhaps going into a historical period or moving to another continent?  If your character voices all sound too similar, could you try extending your range in your next novel?

3. Choose Your Turf.

As an author, you eventually have to define yourself, try to figure out whom you want to become.  For example, you might say, “I want to be the John Grisham of hard science fiction.”  By doing that, you create a brand for your novels, a niche market that you can take over.  If you try writing in several genres, the chances are good that you will fail to draw readers from one book to another.  (Take it from me: I’ve written adult science fiction, adult fantasy, historical, middle grade, young adult novels, picture books, and so on.  It’s great fun, but it’s a handicap when trying to develop an enviable career.)

4. Make Writing Your Priority.

When you’re an excellent writer, you will often have job opportunities come your way.  After winning Writers of the Future, I got a telephone call from a local computer company, where a manager asked, “If I start you at $24,000 per year, would you be able to come into work today?” At the time, as a college student, that was a good salary.  Later I was offered jobs as a college professor, as the president of a small movie studio, as the vice president in a videogame company, and so on.  But each time you as a novelist take on a side obligation, it squeezes your time for actually writing.  As a novelist, keep your focus on writing, if at all possible.

Previously Published


This week on Apex!

Apex Strategy Monday Call – Monday 5:30 pm – J. RoseApex 
Mastermind Monday Call – Monday 7:00 pm – Forrest Wolverton
Apex Accelerator Wednesday Call – Wednesday 7:00 pm – Forrest Wolverton
Apex Mastermind Saturday Call – Saturday 8:00 am – Darcy Love

Monday 5:30 pm – Strategy Call – J. Rose
Tonight at 5:30 pm Mountain Time (7:30 pm EST)
Topic: Plottr Class for Apex

You’ve a story in you…but how to get it onto the page without having all the ideas snarl into tangled behemoth. There are various strategies! In this Apex strategy session, J Rose will present on how she uses Plottr to plot her novels and series. Come learn about a fun plotting alternative to using a spreadsheet, notecards, Scrivener, etc. We’ll go over Plottr’s main features, outlines, templates, series bibles, characters, and more! Troy Lambert (from Plottr) will join us to share even more knowledge.

J. Rose is the author of TWINS OF ORION, an upper middle grade fantasy series. Last year, she did a successful Kickstarter for her upcoming series: it’s like GOOSEBUMPS, but with a proudly disabled heroine: VERA WARDEN and the TWO-FACED DEMON. J Rose is a natural discovery writer (“panster”), but has learned brainstorming and outlining strategies that help create a better first draft. And keep the process fun! One of them is Plottr—it’s way more user-friendly than Excel.

Monday 7 pm – Apex Mastermind Call – Forrest Wolverton
Tonight at 7 pm Mountain Time (9 pm EST)
Topic: The Art of Change (Something New from Forrest Wolverton)

Forrest Wolverton

Description: The Art of Change – an integrative approach for getting past what is stopping you from becoming who you want to be.

Forrest has been trained in, and continues to study new methodologies in the psychology of change. The Art of Change will give you the best and most up-to-date information about how to embrace and embody long-lasting change and help you become adept at stacking the odds in your favor. This is a newer and faster system to help you make a difference when trying to change your unconscious habits.

Wednesday 7 pm – Accelerator Call – Forrest Wolverton
Wednesday at 7 pm Mountain Time (9 pm EST)

Each week in Accelerator calls, Forrest Wolverton uses NLP and other tools for the mind to motivate and help you get past the obstacles in the way of your writing. He will help you become the best writer you can be. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Listening to Forrest is a little bit like listening to Dave.

Apex is one of the few writing groups with our own world-class and expert motivational speaker!

Saturday 8 am – Apex Mastermind Call – Darcy Love
Saturday at 8 am Mountain Time (10 am EST)
Topic: The Power of (at least occasionally) Working Under Pressure

Darcy will talk about his “under pressure” writing and creative experiences in the 48 Hour Film Festival and how to quickly pull things of greatness together when a deadline is looming.

Darcy was born in London Ontario and was whisked away to Australia at the tender age of 7. Making a triumphant return to Canada, Darcy decided to pursue film-making. He is the successful writer and director of several film-festival-winning short films such as “Of Dice and Men” (winner of the 48 hour film festival 2020; and the LTUE film festival in 2021); “The Glove” (LTUE film festival winner in 2022); and “The Man Who Loved Flowers” a Stephen King Adaptation that won Best Short Film at the Edmonton Festival of Fear.

Darcy earned a degree in music and journalism from the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, and a diploma in film production from the Toronto Film School. He is currently the creative producer for Toronto Film School. His responsibilities among other things include producing and directing all of Toronto Film School commercials. He has a couple of other exciting film projects in the works but is under non-disclosure at the moment.

Darcy also co-hosts a 3-hour pop-culture radio show in Brisbane. Prior to moving back to Toronto, he was a regular. Now, that his film career, recent marriage and other life events are picking up he hosts the show once a month.

To join any of Apex’s calls, simply sign up at apex-writers.comonce you become a member, click on “Upcoming Events” for the call links.

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