I hate to say this, but even before you begin writing your first book, maybe you should be thinking about career management.
As you begin your writing career, one of the very first questions you need to ask yourself is, “Is there a large enough audience for my first book so that it could help launch a career?” or “Is this really the genre that I want to be writing in for the next twenty years?” or “If I wrote this book, who would be my agent or my publisher?”
You don’t want to get bogged down with such niggling details, yet you can’t totally ignore them, either.
A few years ago, a good friend excitedly told me about a book he had begun. He told me the premise, and I asked him a question: “Do you want to keep writing books after this, or are you willing to let this one book your career?”
You see, the author was intelligent and passionate—a great combination for a writer—but the book he described had no audience. If he wrote it, he would be writing it for personal therapy. I’m all for that—writing something because you feel you have to write it, or because you simply enjoy it—but I think you need to be realistic, too. If you want to make a living from your writing, you have to develop a story that people want to read.
So he wrote the book, and with great delight soon announced that he had found a small publisher. The book came out and got nice reviews. It even was a finalist for a major award.
But two years later he wrote me a note which said, “I should have listened to you. I spent a year writing and promoting that book. I sold exactly 52 copies. Of those copies, 51 were sold to families and friends. The last one, I have no idea who bought it. With such dismal sales, no one is interested in my next book. A publisher suggested that she might buy a novel from me, but only if I wrote it under a pseudonym.”
That’s one danger. You put a lot of work into a project and then discover that you have to start over, using a different name.
Now, that’s not the end of the world. Many successful authors have had to re-brand themselves, recover from a bad start. But think about this: the average writer takes about seven years from the time that they begin writing to the time that they gain enough skill to get published. They typically spend another seven years from the time that they begin publishing to the time that they become successful.
Do you really want to add a few more years to that because you’re making career management missteps? How many times do you think you can screw up before you’re done? Do you want to write a bad novel—or a bad series—and then have to start over again?
You can write a book and sell it, but publishing a “small” book can give you a false sense of victory. Yes, you put everything into writing a book and got it published, but in doing so you won the battle while losing the war.
But there is another problem. One young would-be author once asked, “How do I write the bestselling young adult novel of all time?” I gave her a hard look and wondered, “Do you know what you’re asking? Do you really want to be that famous?”
So we sat down in my office and strategized. I told her how to write for the audience she wanted. We brainstormed the setting, the characters, and premise. We talked about how she would get her agent and her publisher. We strategized when she would put the book out and how she would promote it. She wrote the book and reached her goal.
Then came the put-downs from jealous authors. (Guess what, if you get a lot of success, you’ll also get a lot of abuse from other authors.). She got put-downs from irate parents who seemed to purposely misread the books. I heard stories of how fans swarmed her hotels on tours, and ruined a limo she’d rented. One cab driver told me that the author had crying jags while he taxied her to the airport.
Is that the career you want?
Personally, when I started in this business, I realized that I didn’t want to be rich and famous–just rich. I’d like the money, but I don’t want the notoriety.
Unfortunately, the fame may be tied to the job. I keep trying to figure out how to disentangle the two. So far, I’ve done an excellent job of avoiding both too much wealth and fame.
So, what are effective long-term strategies?
- You need to decide who you are as a writer, first. What kinds of books do you want to write? How are they similar enough to others so that you know you have an audience? How are they different enough from other writers’ work so that you can build a reputation and a following?
- Then you have to consider how you’re going to publish them? Will they be self-published or traditionally published? Why?
Once you ask that second question, you may find yourself tumbling down a rabbit hole. If I am going to self-publish, how will I promote my works? If I am going to publish traditionally, who is the best publisher for me and how do I get them?
You can worry far too much about things that you may never have much control over.
I think you see that worrying too much about such things could impede your work. You do need to consider career management, but can’t let the details run you ragged.
I used to have a schedule for brainstorming career moves. On Monday through Saturday I wrote. On Sunday evenings, I would consider my career objectives and meditate upon how to meet them—but first thing on Monday morning, I’d set my concerns aside and get back to work.
And now, back to writing!
Joining the Apex Writer’s group is now even easier! Go to https://www.thecompleatwriter.com/ to learn more about the group and to apply. If you are dedicated to your career as an author, you need this group.
I will also be part of a YA Novel Writing Workshop in June. Learn more and sign up here: