25 years, over 60 books, and I still screw things up. Here are six things I’ve done “wrong” according to most accepted practices for a successful writing career and a note on whether I’ve corrected each, will correct each one, or screw it, it’s just the way I am.
- Not networked enough.
This is a people business, just like any other. Early in my career I really believed I could just sit at home, write books, and everything would go fine. Not. I should have made more of an effort to get to know agents, editors, publishers and especially other writers.
Fixed? This is something I’ve worked hard to correct, especially since forming Cool Gus. I try to make it to Seattle once a year to meet with Amazon; in New York to meet with Barnes & Noble. Been to Toronto to sit down with Kobo. Go to BEA to meet industry people. Go to various writers conferences to meet writers. Perhaps the one thing I could do more of is attend science fiction events, since I have had several bestselling series in the genre, but I also have seen too many scifi authors get caught up in the con thing to the detriment of their writing. A balance has to be struck. I’ve noticed that I don’t have a single conference scheduled for 2015, which is a first. I’ll be going to BEA for business networking, and probably stop by RWA Nationals and Thrillerfest for author networking. But beyond that—the slate is wide open for the year. Maybe I’ll do something science fictiony?
- Not taken charge of my career.
I thought my agent was in charge of my career for a long time. Wrong. An agent can help shape your career, but it’s up to the writer to determine goals and actions. I received a lot of good advice from agents over the years, but didn’t focus enough on implementing a business plan that I originated.
Fixed? Once more, since forming Cool Gus, I’ve had to take complete responsibility for my career. There are two sides to this. On one hand it’s a lot of work, but on the other hand it’s tremendously liberating. I determine what I’m writing, how long I take, when I publish, what I publish, etc. etc. I think a trad author (having been one for 20 years and 42 books) really has little idea how great it is to be indie. Yes, you lose a lot of the support of agent/publisher, but the freedom is worth it. As well as the much higher profit margin. I think a lot of authors are seeing sales go down—the best way to offset that is to make more per sale.
- Not stuck to one genre and focused on one series.
I’ve had bestsellers in science fiction, thriller and romance. Not a formula for success. I recommend to authors that if they want commercial success, they pick a specific niche and become known for it. Which means do what I didn’t do. I’ve got books that don’t even technically fall into a genre. I tried starting a new genre, technomyth, where I mixed technology and mythology. My Atlantis series was in the vein. My Area 51 series was pitched as an X-Files type story. The Rock, one of my favorite books, was reviewed by Publishers Weekly as the “best combination of science fiction and thriller this year.” Which means it didn’t fit in either.
Fixed? Nope and not really going to be. I just turned in the 4th book in a new series, Nightstalkers: The Time Patrol. I’ve start a new nonfiction series: Shit Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure. I’ve got to write book 5 in the Nightstalker series, then book 8 in my Green Beret series, but after that, who knows? I write what I care about and what interests me. My Shit Doesn’t Just Happen books might turn some people off with the title but I strongly believe the subject matter is so important, it’s worth it. If we don’t learn from past catastrophes it leaves us vulnerable to future ones.
- Not accepted others and gotten in feuds.
This is connected to not networking. In fact it’s the opposite. My wife says I’m a contrarian and I tend to disagree with her on that. Enough said. I think it’s a guy thing. I have noticed that most of those speaking out in publishing and ranting are male. The women are quietly working and making the big bucks.
Fixed? I work hard on this every day. I don’t post comments on blogs like I used to. My own blog rarely gets into the business of publishing these days– I’ve discussed pretty much everything and its in the archives here. I’ve decided trying to talk about publishing is like eating soup with a fork because, as we say at Cool Gus, there are many roads to Oz and Oz means different things to each person. I work hard to respect everyone’s path, even if I don’t agree with it. I simply don’t have to take that particular path.
- Not enjoyed the gifts of a writing career.
Seriously, it’s a great job. I forget that I don’t have to commute, technically don’t answer to a boss (other than the reader!). That my work of 25 years all earns me income now. In essence, becoming an indie author and the ability to sell to readers through various platforms has completely changed the business model for authors. What would have been 50 out of print books gathering dust on my shelves, now earns me a very nice revenue. It’s not backlist if you haven’t read it! I get to work at home, with my two yellow labs snoring underneath my desk. Get up and go for a bike ride whenever I feel like it. Can’t beat it.
Fixed? I try to be grateful every day that I can work at a job I love.
- Not taking enough time off from writing.
The flip side of being my own boss, is that I’m not a very good boss at times. I work all the time. I always feel under pressure to deliver. Under deadlines that I impose on myself. It is rather stressful.
Fixed? Nope, but I’m aware of it. I actually penciled in three days of ‘vacation’ near the end of October, right after a conference. I already know I won’t take those three days off because I have a manuscript due at the end of October. Unless, I work really, really hard and have it done before that conference. Sigh. Catch-22.
What mistakes have you made in your writing career, and what have you done to fix them? Or do you not care about fixing them?
9 days until publication of Shit Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure! Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks
Filed under: Write It forward