At the end of every year, I blog about planning. The new year is looming on the horizon, and to many it feels like the chance at a fresh start. We can say good riddance to 2020—for so many reasons, to be sure. But I also hope you spent some time writing and improving your writing chops.
Some people have been too busy and stressed to focus on their writing, but my hope is that in the coming months, space will open up, and the writing will flow.
If writing is more than a hobby for you—or you hope that will be the case this next year—you should already be starting to think about your career strategy. If you don’t have my strategic planning guide (you can get it by subscribing to my blog, on the side bar), grab it and start working in it!
Many writers work hard on their marketing plans and book launches, but they haven’t taken the time to lay out a vision for the long-term. A career isn’t about writing and publishing one book. Though, if that’s all you want to do, that’s fine.
However, even with one book published, you still want to present yourself as a professional author and build a reader base and get notoriety and great sales. Who know? Maybe if your book generates a lot of interest, it may inspire you to write more books. I hope so!
4 Key Simple Strategies for Success
For those of you in this for the long haul, there are a lot of life components to consider and juggle. I’ve been discussing this topic for years with many successful self-published authors, and these are some of the things they suggest for developing a successful writing career.
The first one is obvious: write. Now, everyone has different schedules and life demands. Some writers don’t write every day, though I hear that recommended a lot. I probably write every day, but when I write my books, whether fiction or nonfiction, I’ve found I do best in large intensive chunks. It depends on my editing workload.
I’ve written some books by putting in a few hours a day until I’m done. Other books I’ve taken a hiatus from my client work and written full days, sometimes seven days a week, plowing through until the task is done.
I would say most of my books were written in that fashion—over about 8-10 weeks from start to finish. I often wrote and published two novels a year, and the rest of those months I spend editing and blogging and teaching.
- Stick with whatever schedule works best for you—and this is why it’s important you do a self-exam to determine when it’s the best time of day (and year) for you to do your intensive writing (Get Crank it Out! to do that assessment).
- Take your career seriously. Writing isn’t something you do when you feel like it or when you have a few spare minutes. You wouldn’t take that attitude with any other career. You wouldn’t go to your workplace and sit at your desk, looking at the pile of tasks you are expected to complete and wait until you feel motivated to get to them. If you did that, how long would you keep that job?
- And if you’re not writing your book, you should be doing other writing: promotional materials, from email blasts to blog posts to description copy to social media posts. Some authors write articles and freelance to earn an income as a writer on the side. Keeping your writing chops sharp means writing all the time in some fashion.
The second most important aspect of your writing career is your online presence. You surely already know this. You hear the word platform thrown around a lot, and there are books and blogs dedicated to helping you build your platform.
- You need a terrific website that features you and your books, and you should get that in place yesterday, before you even finish your first draft. That is, if you are serious about a writing career.
- You need to be found online on social media pages, your Amazon author page, Bookbub author page, Facebook author page, Goodreads—there are lots of places you’ll want to upload your bio and professional photo to portray a consistent look and presence on the internet.
- If you are planning to write multiple books and grow your fan base over time, self-published authors recommend publishing two or three books a year. While devoted readers will wait a year or two or five for a favorite author to put out a new book, they’d rather read new releases more often.
When you’re first starting out, if you can follow this advice and publish a new book every 4 to 6 months (and only if you can write your best books in that short amount of time), you will have a better chance getting traction with readers and sales.
Yes, it takes a ton of work–not just writing so much but doing all the associated tasks of preparing to publish, launching, garnering reviews, and so much more.
Third: Get into community. Attend conferences. Hopefully we will be able to attend conferences in person again before too long. That’s where you meet successful authors, agents, publishers. You can chat with them, develop relationships.
One author I know went to Thrillerfest (a fantastic conference) and, without any clout or publishing cred, was able to get writers like Lee Child to endorse his novel. I’m not saying you should go stalk and nag authors just to get an endorsement. But these things come through connection. It may be harder to do this with online conferences, but there are ways to reach out to writers and others in the industry via chats and email to engage in conversation (but don’t make it all about you).
Sure, it’s intimidating to approach some people, but I always say “What do you have to lose?” The worst that can happen is the person will ignore you or say no. Shoot, I even wrote Robert DeNiro to try to interest him in a project of mine. He didn’t write back … but maybe one day he will!
And the last bit of advice: Never stop learning. Improve your writing craft. Get better at everything you do: dialogue, character description, pacing, organizing your content, honing that nonfiction voice. Learn from others by adopting a humble, teachable attitude.
My clients who “already know everything” never make any progress. But the writers who are eager to improve and master the craft of writing make great strides and improvement. I’ve seen some books that are train wrecks get turned into masterpieces that win awards because the author took advice, worked hard to apply it and make improvement, and stuck with it until it was the best book that author could write.
Some people online spout promises of getting rich by cranking out a book in four weeks, and if you just follow their formula, you’ll succeed. Folks, real success doesn’t work that way. To be a successful author, you have to put in the hours—both into your craft and your presence. Anything worth doing is worth doing well and requires time and effort.
I see a lot of writers frustrated by this, in our fast-paced, fast-food society. They want success now, and they don’t want to work for it. There is no hack or workaround, sorry.
I’m a big fan of lists and charts. This again swings me back to the strategic plan. Often, at the start of a new year, I lay out those goals: how many books I want to write and publish, which ones and when. What new online course I want to write. This leads me to calendaring all these things. We have to weigh our life obligations with our writing goals. We have to often rearrange our schedules, wake up earlier, delegate some responsibilities to others, learn to say no when people want us to commit our time to outside projects.
Prioritize. Don’t sacrifice family for career. But don’t let family overrun and squelch your writing time.
And be kind to yourself. I hear so many writers frustrated and despondent because they expect so much from themselves all at one. The most popular slogan in our family is “You eat an elephant one bite at a time.” Set immediate and reasonable goals for yourself, then once you’ve accomplished those, move on to the next set of goals. One bite at a time.
A career is a fluid thing. It’s not a straight line of trajectory up a slope. It fluctuates. Some months you’re in a lull with writing or sales. Other months your fingers are flying across the keyboard and you’re getting a lot done with your marketing and promotion and feeling in control and productive. Every day will feel different.
So on your off days, your sluggish or distracted days, or when life interrupts, go with the flow (one of our fave 60’s lines). Really, life is a dance, and we spin and fall and rise on updrafts like that feather in Forrest Gump. The more you relax and enjoy the ride, find joy in the process, the more your career will come together, bit by bit.
Finally, let me quote an author friend of mine who sells about 7 million copies of each of his novels: “Don’t say ‘I have a book in me.’ Say ‘I have an author in me.’”
The sooner you see yourself as an author and behave accordingly, the quicker you’ll experience the success you long for.
Which of these four steps do you need to take and plan to go after right away in the new year? Share in the comments.