Someone in the comments here warned us not to think we’ve “arrived” just because we have put a book up on Amazon. He didn’t enlighten us on whether we should think we’ve “arrived” because we’re published by a traditional publisher, so it’s my sad duty to inform you that no, it doesn’t mean you’ve “arrived” I presume even if you were a best seller it wouldn’t mean you had “arrived.”

I remember the realization of this minutes after I sold my very first short story. I immediately wanted to sell the second. By the time I sold the novel, I didn’t expect it to feel like I’d “arrived.”

But it brings up an important point relating to the feeling that one is already a writer and doesn’t need to do anything more.

We all know people who feel that way. Mostly mega bestseller. And sometimes – not always – you can trace the decay of everything you used to like in their writing. This is often explained as “he stopped being edited” but I’m not sure that’s even it. I think some writers, sometimes, just stop trying. They color by numbers, or draw by the book. There is nothing new, original or interesting there. You see that a lot with overextended series, because there’s a tendency to be afraid to do something too different, lest the readers walk away.

I worry this might start affecting indie writers earlier. Not those of us who came from traditional, or at least not right away. We have the habit of being kicked in the teeth which probably both hampers our style and keeps us searching for something better.

Not to say that at some point we too won’t go “write, get money. Why struggle?”

What do I mean by struggle? Well, there are different types of struggle. When you start out, you’ll want to learn techniques. Say, how to insert description without bringing the story to a stand still. Study writers you admire, see how they do things, and learn to imitate them.

We had to do this, because when we weren’t breaking in, we kept trying to figure out why, and to improve. (This is not necessarily the right reason we couldn’t break in, btw. It might have been lack of contacts, or lack of the right political opinions, but we didn’t know this, so we studied technique.)

Even if you’re indie and selling pretty well, study technique, also. There is a good chance someone does things better than you do, maybe not everything, but individual techniques and bits. So, do that. For instance, I was listening to Waldo and Magic, and the way Heinlein builds the world, the way he sets everything we know about history and how magic works, without ever slowing down. I must learn to do that again, at least for shorts and novellas.

It is important to always learn, to get in the habit of learning.

But why if you’re selling?

Look – if you’re an artisan, you should perfect your technique. It goes beyond selling, and I believe it will help you sell.

Now, is your best option to imitate the people who were traditionally published? Probably not. It was when the publishers were selecting, because it meant that was what they liked.

Sometimes, granted, it was what the public liked. (For instance, I was told not kill children in my books because the book would sell worse. This was not a publisher hang up. The Musketeer’s Apprentice, in which I kill a 14 year old sells worse than any of my other books in the series.) But most of the time it was what the editor thought was or wasn’t cool. So, you knew where to find the samples of what they liked.

With indie, it’s more complex. Sure, you’ll know people (sometimes even in your genre) who sell more than you, and you could pick that, but–

But this is an hunch of mine. Just an hunch, not necessarily supported, but call it my intuition – I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think you should necessarily copy anyone. I mean, copy techniques and bits, but not the … important parts. Compete with yourself. See what you’re doing that isn’t right and look at other writers for hints. Copy some of it, but feel free to mix and match.

But most of all, for most of it, be yourself. Learn how to be yourself in your stories as hard as you can. Have a thing for funky greasy spoon diners. Throw them in the story. Your love for them will come through, communicate yourself.

Again, my example for how to be yourself, even while you’re doing a plot that you to be blunt, stole, is Patricia Wentworth’s The Chinese Shawl.

I mean, it’s the same “mystery” as Peril at End House. A lot of Wentworth’s books are like that, and if you’re me, and you are into Christie, you’ll be able to trace what she stole. But most of the time she steals more closely. In Peril at End House, though, she took the puzzle, but not the rest. The scene is what we expect of Wentworth, not Christie: poisonous old female relatives, and a self-centered beautiful young woman, and a couple in love, and of course, Miss Silver. The result is … not as good as Peril, maybe, but then again it’s hard to compare because they’re not even the same genre. Christie’s is a cozy while Wentworth is, as always “woman in Peril”

I think that’s why it’s my favorite Wentworth. Because she made it HERS.

So… arriving. You haven’t. You won’t. Good writers keep struggling with their weakenesses, seeking to improve. Even if they’re selling. To the real public, and everything.

Struggle in what direction? Depends on what you’re trying to do. My struggle is, usually, to both increase pace and to get out of the way of the story and let it happen.

But that’s me. Yours will be different. Now go out there and be you as hard as you can.


  1. I will think I’ve arrived when the people in my field I respect most turn out to respect me as well. It means I’ve honed my craft to the kind a level I aspire to, and it’s not just me flattering myself.

    Of course, hordes of adoring fans and women throwing themselves at my feet would be a pretty good sign of arrival too, but I’m not that optimistic. 🙂

  2. One reason we have to keep learning is that as we improve, we actually _notice_ the more subtle things we don’t know how to do. We start out with so many obvious weaknesses that we have to clear away first, before we can see them.

    Mind you, the urge to slap out 10K word stories of semi-impossible erotica and become a millionaire is strong . . . but I don’t know how to that, either.

      1. Even learning can be a pain. Frex, I assigned myself Fear of Flying. (Mebbe a mistake, but it’s held out as an examplar.) And there’s 20 pages of potty training. This is erotica? I must be doing it wrong.


    1. I have thought about erotica as well– except I am squeamish about adding a sex scene in my novels so how would I do with a full romp? So no–

  3. You are here.
    If this is where you want to be, you’ve arrived.
    If it isn’t, you’ve still arrived, you’ll just most likely be leaving soon and arriving at other locations.

    I’m not a big fan of the mindset.
    (Of course, I could just be bitter that my DD-214 did not come accompanied by trumpets from on high.)

      1. Damn, I thought you said strumpets and was going to dig mine out and go look for them

  4. In the old days of no internet I usually noticed the decline into formula usually came when a writer got “discovered” and roped into a book-a-year contract.

    1. Some of us naturally write more than one book a year. it was harder on typewriters, I guess, but some people like Turtledove managed it without formula. The question is not the speed of your writing, it’s “do you have more than one book in you, or do you think you’ve ‘arrived'”?

      1. Word processors do free us up to make changes to a manuscript on a whim. we can start writing without being dead certain what we want to write, where we want to start or even what the characters names are. It make experimentation almost effortless. Which, depending on how many times you change your mind, could make you either a faster or slower writer. Certainly, in my case, a bolder one.

      2. Walter Gibson may be the record-holder there, or close to it. He wrote about 300 Shadow novels and many other things as well.

        He turned out 1,680,000 words his peak year, and supposedly had typewriters set up in every room of his house, with a WIP going on every one of them.

  5. I will have arrived at the first level when I make over a hundred dollars per month from my fiction. I will arrive at the next level when people start asking if I’ve talked to Toni (or whoever is at Baen then) about my stuff. Level three is when Toni (or whoever is at Baen) tracks me down to ask about my stuff. Level four is when I look at my bank account report, and the Prometheus Award on the wall, the stack of letters from the Boykin Books Fan Club pre-order list, and wonder “dang, what am I going to do with all this d-mn money?” 😛

    And then I wake up. 😀

    1. Have you picked out the make and model of your first personal jet? And can I come for a ride when you get it? 😀

      1. Something modest and tasteful, like a Citation III, with the trim colors painted to go with my SBD or Wildcat. And yes.

        1. Yay! I applaud your choice (but where are the mount points for the missile pods?) Let’s do a barrel roll over Lake Washington, in honor of the *other* Tex …

        2. Hi TXRed, I sent a note to your Alma Boykin email. Don’t know how often you check it. Laura

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