7 Reasons Why Most Authors Fail
Posted by Violet VanDoren
This is a fabulous article on self publishing that ALL writers need to read. Here’s the link to the webpage; however, I copied and pasted the article below: http://selfpublishingpodcast.com/7-reasons-why-most-authors-fail/?utm_content=buffer0cd9e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
Now that the Self Publishing Podcast is almost 2 years old (old enough to drink and sell sexual favors, in podcast years), we’re beginning to notice some definite trends. We focused on a lot of the things that work in our self publishing bookWrite. Publish. Repeat, but it’s time to turn things around and bum everybody out.
Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important, because we all have defense mechanisms that let us justify tons of stupid crap.
Time to tip that sanctimonius cow over.
“I’m not doing what the guys suggest in Write. Publish. Repeat because I have my own ways but am obeying the same principles,” you may be saying, “so why am I not getting anywhere?”
Well, are you doing any of what follows in addition to all that “different but still correct” stuff? Because if you are, then Houston, you definitely have a problem.
Here the biggest reasons that self-publishers fail.
1. Not Starting
Let’s start with the most obvious one. It kills me even to include it, but there are actually people out there saying you can be a writer without writing, so I feel the need to step up and lob that idiot ball back into the idiot court.
That’s all there is to it. I can’t believe there is feel-good bullshit out there claiming that writing can be “within” you and that you can go around, wear a beret, and claim to be a writer even if you’ve written nothing.
Oh, those words are inside you? They’reincubating? Well, whoopity fucking doo for you! Good luck with spreading your ideas. Good luck getting sales. Good luck paying rent. Good luck getting your spouse or significant others to support you in spending time away from grunt work to do it.
Most people don’t put metaphorical pen to paper because they’re afraid. I get it. We’ve all been there. We’re not bashing you for being afraid — afraid of failing, afraid of being judged harshly, afraid that everyone will laugh at you. We understand that fear, but the only way to be a writer — especially a successful one — is to get past the fear and start. Your sweating ridicule, though understandable, is probably exaggerated. In most cases, nobody is paying attention to whether you succeed or fail.
If you write, you’re a writer. You’ve started. Excellent job. Now do more, and pour in the hours to do it better.
2. Not Finishing
This one should also be obvious, but we see it all the time. In these cases, writers aren’t surprised that they’re not successful, but are incredibly frustrated. We understand. Before joining the podcast, I couldn’t finish a second book. Before meeting Sean, Dave hadn’t finished his first. The phenomenon of the writer with great ideas but no clue where to take her story is all too familiar.
But take heart. The toughest nuts crack if you just keep trying. We also hope our upcoming Kickstarter project Fiction Unboxed will show a few frustrated “can’t finish” writers a few tricks by opening up every detail of exactly how Sean and I make the donuts.
Sometimes, though, it’s not a matter of not knowing how. Most cases of writer’s block, in our opinion, can be easily reduced to simple fear. Again, we understand. Once you finish your book, you must either publish it or confess to your fear. Once published, everyone will be able to read the language of your soul … and, in a few cases, criticize it.
You must push past this. Don’t worry about making your book perfect, because it never can be. Make it professional (see the next section) and get a good edit and generally make it as clean as you possibly can, but don’t sweat the story over and over and over at the expense of shipping. Sean has said on the podcast, “perfect is the enemy of done.” And it’s true. Don’t be perfect. In most cases, it’s best to be finished.
If you must use a pen name because you’re so terrified that what you’ve written is terrible, do that. But you have to ship it. You can’t move on until you do.
Finish, then finish more.
Keep moving, and improving.
3. Treating Publishing Like a Hobby or a Pure Art
We said in Write. Publish. Repeat. that we believe books and stories should be born as art, then sold as products. Be an artist first, but quickly switch hats and be a businessperson second. Fail to switch that hat and you’ll be too attached or timid about giving the book the exposure and marketing cues it needs to succeed. Do that, you’ll be sunk.
The same goes for treating writing like a hobby. Don’t get us wrong: writing as a hobby is fantastic. If you have no desire to publish or make an income but want to express yourself, go ahead and hobby it up. But if you want to build a career as an author, hobby-thought will kill you.
Set yourself a schedule. Personally, I write for four hours every weekday morning starting at 6am. If you have a day job, you might only be able to manage an hour a day, or four hours on the weekends. But whatever your quota, set it, put it on a calendar, and abide by it. Your writing hours should be unchanging and immutable, because this is a business.
Would you produce nothing and call yourself a plumber despite not actually doing any plumbing (because the pipes are marinating in your soul)?
Would you spend without thinking, and sell with no plan?
Would you attempt to do your day job while your kids climb all over you, interrupting you every two minutes, instead of having a decidated space that you insist they respect?
Of course not. So if you want to have a chance in self-publishing, treat it like a business. That means schedules, a marketing strategy, deadlines … the works.
Before we leave this section, let’s add that part of treating writing like a business instead of a hobby means presenting yourself professionally. Don’t make shit book covers yourself to save money. If you believe in the book, invest in your work! Don’t half-ass your product descriptions. Don’t have a writer’s website on MySpace filled with animated gifs of cats unless that’s your brand (Sean wants to meet you if you’re making that work).
That said, don’t act like an overly-pro robot. Don’t take “be professional” to an illogical extreme. Be loose but look good. A person with an engaging smile in a suit is still a pro at a business meeting, after all, whereas a stiff is a stiff.
4. Not Having Fun
I only have seven of these (because I’m a pro, and believe in schedules and deadlines … see what I did there?) and I’m devoting one to fun. Strange, right?
Not really, in our humble opinion. The ability to have fun — to enjoy what you’re doing — is instrumental to success. Even Dave, who seems to scrape his fiction from the black places inside his soul with a rusty garden trowel, has “fun” in his own way. He enjoys telling the dark stories he writes. He enjoys crafting tales. He even enjoys going into the shadows that frighten him, because it’s cathartic. Fun doesn’t need to mean balloons and streamers.
Sean and I are probably more obvious examples of having fun while working, though. We have so much fun, we made it part of our brand. What one attribute characterizes every book we release through genre-agnostic Realm & Sands?
Whether we’re writing sci-fi or horror, fantasy westerns or straight (adult) comedy, we had fun writing it and bet you will have fun reading it.
Take your business seriously. But don’t take it so seriously that it gives you an ulcer. Your writing must be fun. It should feel like inspired play. Often, we see people who are trying too hard to shove square pegs into small round holes, writing what they don’t want to write because they’ve heard it will sell better. That’s a recipe for failure. If you are forcing your stories, readers will be able to tell. If your books aren’t fun to write (again, adhering to a definition of “fun” that includes Dave’s darkness), they won’t be fun to read.
There’s a bit of the author’s soul in every book, and nobody wants to hang out with the soul version of a bitchy asshole.
Our business is a good time. Even the stuff we don’t like, we like because it’s part of a whole that we love. Our horror, told with a straight face, is fun to dream up. Our comedy makes us laugh out loud. We honestly can’t spend enough time doing what we’re doing.
And when you want to do more and more of something — strongly enough that you can bulldoze through the rough and uncertain times — guess what tends to happen?
5. Sweating the Small Stuff
Here’s an unpleasant fact: You’ll never get to everything you could be doing to improve your writing, get better at publishing, and win more fans.
Should you write more? Of course! Should you work on your marketing? Naturally! Will social media strengthen your reader bonds and earn you some new eyes? Yep! How about joining Goodreads, creating audiobook and foreign language versions of your books, writing lead-in short stories, perfecting your covers and product descriptions, blogging, podcasting, answering fan email, creating Twitter accounts for your characters, creating paperbacks and hardbacks, doing author signings … whew, are you tired yet?
This problem only gets worse the more dedicated you are, leading to an ironic circle: The harder you work, the more it’ll become obvious that you can’t do it all.
Sean, Dave, and I are full-time authors. We have all day on most days — excepting family and personal time — to build our empires. Chances are, you aren’t quite as lucky. Most of our listeners only have a handful of hours a week to work on their businesses. If that’s you, the extra bad news is that as crunched as we feel, you’ll feel it tenfold.
So what’s the solution?
There isn’t one — not if the question is “How can I do it all?” That’s the question many flailing self-publishers ask, but it’s the wrong query. Asking how you can do it all is a downward spiral. You can’t do it all. You can only do your best.
Stop trying to do everything that may work. We talk to people all the time who are flustered by our refusal to engage in some tactic or another.
Not exactly, and the first two are probably true, but it’s equally true that you’re a mortal human with a finite number of hours at your disposal. Stop asking if a tactic will work, and start asking which will work best for the time required. Stop asking what you should do, and start asking what you should do most.
If you haven’t heard of the Pareto Principle — the holy “80/20 rule” — look it up. Study it. Tattoo it on your arm. Then commit to doing the 20 percent of activities that will get you 80 percent of the results relative to the time required to do them … and in most cases, spending hours on Facebook isn’t on the list.
Write more. Market better. Build your machine to be more airtight, and more compelling.
Only mind the smaller (but still somewhat effective) details when you have time left over.
6. Thinking Short-Term
You’ve been writing for a year. You’ve published a few books. They’re good books, and they have fans. Yet, you’re still only making a few hundred dollars a month, if that. What’s wrong?
In all liklihood, nothing; you just haven’t given things enough time to percolate. Building an army of ravenous fans and strong, viral word-of-mouth for your work is anything but an overnight endeavor. The problem is that our quick-fix, give-me-$97-and-I’ll-show-you-the-magic-button society has conditioned us to believe that everything should be easy.
If something isn’t easy, things aren’t working and we should really quit.
If you’re writing good books and building a fanbase — even if it’s only growing at a rate of two people per month — you’re doing things right. If you write a sequel and the people who bought the original (all three of them) are dying to read it, you’re doing things right. If you’re well-reviewed, love your fans, and aren’t afraid to tell them about your new stuff, you’re doing things right. But as The Smiths sang, these things take time. You have to wait. Sorry.
Failures are impatient and quit even things that are working simply because they aren’t working fast enough. Those who ultimately succeed understand that they are in their endeavors for the long haul. You may have a book perform terribly. Your website may go down. You may sell well, then find yourself suddenly broke. You may work for months on end with no reward. It may look like you’re going the wrong way, and I won’t lie; it’s possible you are. But that’s how it looks when you’re going the right way for a long time, too.
If you want to make a career as an author, understand that you are playing a very long game. Don’t try to take shortcuts that cut off your nose to spite your face (unless you’re Sean; he has beak to spare). Don’t make choices that work today at the expense of tomorrow.
Before I started working with Sean and Dave, they did something that I admire to no end — something I wonder if I’d have had the fortitude to do myself. They finished the first season of Available Darkness, then moved to the next project without marketing it at all. They did it because they knew that long term, it was smarter to save their marketing push until they had a few projects rather than blowing their wad on only one with no follow-up.
Sean, working with another writer, also completed a full season of a project — over 80,000 words — and then trashed it without a thought. He did it because the project wasn’t good enough in the long term, and he thought he could do better down the road.
Fortunately for me, that project was The Beam. I reimagined The Beam with Sean a year later, and now with the release of The Beam: Season 2, it’s our biggest series.
I’m so glad he was patient enough to wait.
This is the big one. Like the bonus round in a game show, I almost feel this item is important enough to render steps 1-6 moot.
Why do most people fail? Because they don’t do the work. They don’t put in the hours. As the expression goes, “Everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to die.” And similarly, everyone wants success but few are willing to bust nuts (or nut equivalents) hard enough for long enough to make it happen.
And yes, there’s such a thing as working smarter rather than harder, and I definitely don’t want to work hard forever. But in reality, most of the people who say “work smarter, not harder” are waffling. They’re justifying mediocre, half-assed work with an aphorism. You can’t out-smart a lack of hard work. Work hard first; make it smarter later.
Making it as an author — even in the ebook age Nirvana — is hard fucking work. You will write hundreds of thousands of words, then release them and make a few dollars. You will erase huge swatches of text because it sucks, then must summon the fortitude to start again. You will send emails to your list and get no response. You will spend hundreds of dollars on a cover and an edit then fail to recoup it. You will watch people with less than a tenth of your talent lap you. You will see others get lucky, while you get nothing.
If you want to succeed, you must keep working. And working. And working.
You can complain, but you can never stop … not until you have what you want, and that could take decades.
So if you’re doing the above things, knock it off. You’ll feel so much better once you start to have some of the success you deserve.
(Because you do deserve it, don’t you?)
We do this work every day, and in our upcoming project “Fiction Unboxed,” we’re going to let you watch every little detailwhile we do it for 30 days straight.