Tag Archives: writing success

Success Breeds Success

It seems like a trite observation, but if you think about it, there’s a lot of truth to it, as there is with so many sayings we dismiss as ‘trite’ or ‘overused’ or ‘cliche.’ Think about it both in terms of storytelling as a writer, and in terms of business as a writer.

Remember Dumbo’s magic feather? There are a lot of things you can say about Disney, but one thing you can’t say negative – the man knew how to tell a story. That ‘magic’ feather gave the baby elephant the first successful flight, but once he had that success firmly grasped, he discovered he could succeed over and over without the ‘magical’ assistance. I know I’ve seen this same trope used in other stories, and we accept it to some extent, and why?

Because we know it works. Look, I used to get myself motivated on days when I didn’t just have a to-do list, I had a list of my lists. That gets daunting, fast, especially when some of those action items are small, wriggly, and fuss when they don’t get fed (and oh, by the way, feeding station is attached to me). Challenging, and there were days I felt like I just. Couldn’t. Even. So I’d play a game with myself. I’d pick something to lead off the list that I knew I could do. Even on the worst of days, I could do this one thing. Because I knew that if I did that one thing, I could do another, and another, and I wouldn’t go to bed at night feeling like I’d gotten absolutely nothing done that day. I knew from painful experience that waking up feeling like I was worthless and useless would only send me further and further down the rabbit-hole.

Reality is that we’re not always going to succeed. However, if we can succeed in a little thing, we can persist and build that into a big success. If we’re writing a space opera, the kid that succeeds in scraping a job on the spaceship, even as a cabin boy, can build that success to becoming captain, and then admiral, and then Master of the Universe!!! Muahahah… ahem.

You see how you can use a small success to build a story. It’s sort of the opposite of the try-fail sequence. Someone who is so low and broken, they can’t even afford a lime slurpee, how are they going to become the Beautiful But Evil Space Princess (sorry, Sarah, I couldn’t resist)? By succeeding in something. Maybe that first one is rehabilitating the Grand Dark Duke’s orphaned kitten with the broken leg. It takes a lot of work to hand-feed a kitten, I’ll have you know, and keeping one still with a broken leg? Wow… might seem silly, but you can play that for laughs and show the character’s determination and ability to persevere in the face of the near-impossible.

How about you as a writer? I know a lot of people who want to be a writer, and they have reams and reams of half-finished stories. So for them, that first success is going to look like finishing something. Even a piece of flash fiction. I started out thinking I couldn’t possibly write more than 5K words. Just couldn’t do it. Now? I know I can do that, and I can wrap up a 300K+ word trilogy with fans asking more, more? That’s a boost to my authorial ego, and it’s one I can use to build into another successful book finished. I started that out by finishing just one story. Getting just one story (a tiny one, only about 600 words long) published. Finding out I could succeed as an Indie author/publisher.

So how do you start succeeding? As an author, you can start writing every day – or at least on a schedule. Right now, with my full-time job taking a lot of my time and energy, I’ve been surprised to discover I can fit in writing time on the weekdays, but the weekend? Forgetaboutit. That’s family time and I just can’t pry loose the time and mental energy to put words on the screen (at least, not fiction). So pick what works with your schedule, if that’s every day, 5 days a week, 3 days… I wouldn’t go with less than three days. Treat it like exercise. Schedule it, and do it. Set small goals at first. If you fail, you’ll find it that much harder to succeed: but be persistent. Just like your hero has to face-plant a few times before you let him win, you’re going to go through the same cycle.

Once you have gotten that daily writing habit, work on finishing something. A story, then a novel – it’s a snowball that will eventually get out of your control, and then you start on other snowballs. Like publishing, and marketing, and so on and so forth. In time, if we follow that snowball’s trail, we’re finding you the Queen of Ice Fort reigning supreme over your snowy castle. Which is a successful independent publishing house, with residual income from backlist, and side-income of associate ads, and other stuff. Or maybe that’s just me. I don’t expect this to make me into a millionaire. I do expect it to be a profitable hobby until I’m ready to retire (again) and make it even more successful. Trust me, if I can do this, you can, too. I think I don’t need to get into my background again, but I will if I have to *waves fist* don’t say you can’t! I know better. You can. And if you can do the little thing, you can step up on it and do the bigger things.

 

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Persistence

You won’t be successful at writing. 

You will never be successful at writing as long as you measure yourself against someone else’s yardstick. Your success has to be yours, no one else’s. You can’t write like Heinlein/Correia/Nuttall – only they can (or could, since I don’t think zombie Heinlein actually exists, no matter what Sarah says). Sure, you can go look at Larry Correia’s list of writers, and figure out where on the alphabet you fall. But the honest truth of the matter is that the only way for you to be successful is for you to write. You don’t have to write 10,000 words a day to be a success, or even a thousand. If, like most of us, you are juggling the writing, family, and a career or something, then you know that there are days you can’t keep all your balls in the air.

Some writers are really spectacular jugglers. They can keep six flaming torches aloft, and spin ’em under their legs and the rest of us are all gaping, or peering through our fingers with hands over our faces flinching because dang, that’s gonna hurt if he misses… Look, I know some folks who eat fire, or juggle with it, and they didn’t pick up the chainsaws and say ‘look, Ma, no hands!’ and not mean it. They started out slowly, with things like scarves that float a little and give you plenty of time to get your hands in the right position before you have to grab.

Writing is like that. Sure, there will be days your wordcount is in the thousands, but there might also be a week with no words at all. Instead of beating yourself up, pick up the balls and start again. Keep your eyes on the balls in motion, because if you’re looking at the floor all the time, you’re going to miss them. If you’re looking at the dude with the flaming chainsaws, you’re going to feel like a failure, and you’re not.

For one thing, we don’t all write the same stories. Thank goodness. How boring would that be? Each one of us has a different voice, a style all our own, and only we can tell that story in that way. Is there a market for it? Who knows? You won’t, until you put it out there. The beauty of Indie Publishing is that you can put it out there, for very little or no capital expenditure, and find out if there’s a market. If there isn’t, you shrug and move on. But you’re still a success. Why? Because you wrote that. You finished it, and you put it out there. Success is not about how much money you get, it’s about the completion.

Money is good, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be trying for money. It’s a great milestone of ‘readers like me!’ and ultimately it’s what tells us how successful a story is. But you, the writer, are a success when you write something. When you don’t write, or when you ditch all your stories before they are complete, then you fail. It’s what makes you a writer, not how much money, or who publishes you.

Now that you’ve succeeded in writing a story, what comes next? Write another one. And another, and…. you get the idea. If you want to make money, if that’s the goal of this juggler’s act, then you need to have more than one story out there. Simply put, readers want to read, and having read, they move on to the next book. One is not enough. I’m not sure where the point comes in that volume creates it’s own momentum – at six novels, I had it for a while, and then lost it when I didn’t keep publishing. Momentum is important.

Does that make me a failed writer? No, I think not. I still have fans. I have a book that should be out already, but has been delayed while I added a new career to my juggling repertoire. I have more stories in progress (including a children’s book that unfolded in my head today nearly fully formed. Weird how that works, after years of saying I’d never be able to write one). I am a successful writer. I’m a slow writer, now, managing a thousand words a week rather than a day as I once did. But I’m not trying to make a living as a writer – that would change my goals. I want to up that wordcount, but for the moment other things have priority. I’ll creep slowly back up to adding the writing ball into my daily juggling.

In other words, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t manage pro-level output on a daily basis. Push yourself, but don’t burn yourself out. Set a manageable pace, and don’t quit. When you drop the writing ball, pick it back up, and instead of rushing, slowly work up to speed. If you rush, you’re more likely to make mistakes. And you don’t want that with a flaming chainsaw, really you don’t!

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10 Points to Writers!

Cedar Sanderson

There are far more readers than there are authors writing.

Hear, O fellow authors, and consider this. Writing is not a competition. There is not a scarcity of readers, and although there has been for lo, these many years an artificial scarcity of of reading material, that drought is coming to an end with the Age of Indie. So why do we hear fearsome cries from certain throats, proclaiming that those who are elders in the field should step aside and let them in?

The young person who has been most noticed for this recently (although it is not a new lament), has apologized. “Shepherd apologised for upsetting writers and readers alike, explaining that she had “only ever meant to raise the issue of how hard it is for new writers to get noticed and how publishing is much more of a zero sum game than people often think” However, it remains that she thinks publishing is a zero sum game.

I had to look that up. I’d heard it before, of course, and from context knew more or less what it meant, but for the writing of this article, I needed to research, to make certain that what I was saying was accurate. So, here: “The theory of von Neumann and Morgenstern is most complete for the class of games called two-person zero-sum games, i.e. games with only two players in which one player wins what the other player loses.” However, this is palpably inaccurate when it comes to writing. There are far more than two players involved, and the success of one writer does not predicate the loss of another.

By the success of JK Rowling, there are more readers, rather, for us the authorial sort to lure into reading of our books. What we must do to win is not to shove aside those who have succeeded, demanding our turn in the game, but to write engaging books readers will not only read themselves, but recommend enthusiastically to others. You will note I have removed the publisher from this equation. At one time, there was a bottleneck, for the publisher can only afford to publish so many titles, and to promote so many (a fraction of those they do publish) authors. That bottleneck is breaking open, and as independent authors our reach is spreading. My books, published by the very small imprint that they are, can be ordered from any bookstore, and when I look online, they are available at least in webstores of the largest book retailers.

In order to win this game we play, it’s not the other writers we need to defeat, it is ourselves. For fear of rejection, for laziness in not wanting to promote and market one’s own book, for lack of confidence in getting the best cover and editing we can, we shoot ourselves in the foot, and do not succeed. I venture to say that the Shepherd person has not succeeded because of Rowling’s success, but her own shortcomings. Like a child in a game, she has pitched aside the board, and now pouts petulantly, blaming her loss not on her own lack of skill, but her opponent.

The readers are out there, I say again. Writers, if you can offer them a good product in the form of a story with meat on its bones, with engaging characters, well-constructed plot, and emotional appeal, you will win. If your story is not selling, or selling too slowly for your tastes, inspect the product you are offering, and ask yourself questions.

The oft-discussed post demanding “I want an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories.” is an excellent example of another writer who feels that it is failing in a field do to discrimination against itself. In this case, not by another writer, although certainly it seems to feel it is hard-done by those who view its views as odd. No, it wants more stories with its viewpoint in them. Lovely, dear. Go write them. If they sell, wonderful! If not, do not go around moaning that you are being discriminated against because you are an it/she/alienbeing. Again, that is not how the game is played. Appeal to the readers, and you have won. Make them yawn, or repel them, and you lose.

When I started mulling this post over in my head, waiting for it to gel and be ready, someone mentioned the calls for Stephen King to retire. I went to look as part of my research, and found that rather than calling for him to step aside and let other writers in, the cry seemed to be that his writing had gone downhill, and he should stop. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to have made a dent in Mr. King’s presence, as this took place over a decade ago, and I believe (I don’t personally read him, but as a librarian was very aware of how much shelf space he occupied, and how many requests we had for his books) that he has another book coming out this year. You see, no matter what the critics think, it is the readers who matter. They are the ones who buy the books, and that is what wins the game.

Readers win, with good books they want to read, and authors win, with sales. Publishers who care about giving the readers what they want (coffBaencoff) win, and publishers who care only about pushing their agenda (see blog address for ‘it’ above) lose. Zero sum? No, more like exponential growth, and I don’t see a limiting factor, yet… Want to feel like you are winning? write more!

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