Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why Writers Fail

A lot of people want to write books.  It seems like every other person I encounter wants to write the next great American novel.  Why then are there so few people out there who are successful?  Why do so many hit a wall that they can't get over?  I think there are several reasons for this:

1.  Many people write for the wrong reasons.
I have a friend who envisions that he can just poop out a book, and since he's such a fabulous writer, people will flock to his work.  He'll shoot up the New York Times Bestseller List, and the movie offers will roll in shortly thereafter.  In other words, he wants to write so he can be rich and famous.  After I got done laughing in his face, I did all I could to disabuse him of his delusions.

You have to write because you love to write, because you have stories inside you that will come out whether anyone picks up one of your books or not.  Unless your name is Kardashian, Canseco, or Cowell, you will have next to no cache to build an audience from, so you can't count on instant success.  Fame and fortune come later, if they come at all, once you're established and people are knocking down your door to read your next work, but not while you are struggling to build an audience.

2.  Writers get discouraged.
Being a professional writer means you need to have thick skin.  Not everyone will like your work.  Further, a lot of people will not only hate it - they'll go out of their way to tell you they hate it.

A lot of artistic people have egos made from crystal - one sharp tap and it'll shatter, and that writer's confidence will never return.  I've seen some who get a negative review and then walk away crumpling their pages before throwing them in the trash.  It's okay to evaluate the criticism and re-work your stuff, but it's another to give up on it wholesale and decide you're never going to write again just because someone told you that you sucked.  People told Stephanie Meyer that she sucked - and many still tell her that - but she fought through it to sell over 50 million copies of those sparkly vampires.
(This whistle has more talent than you do - you gonna cry now?)
Lots of writers get discouraged because they couldn't land a book deal or because they failed to sell more than five copies this month.  The life of a writer isn't all rose blossoms and peppermint - you have to fight through the rough patches if you want to catch on.  Yes, you might never catch on, but I guarantee you won't if you quit.

3.  A lot of writers fail to account for the business side of the house.
My ideal life would be to wake up when the sun is warm, pour myself a tall glass of my favorite beverage, and write my next masterpiece.  In this ideal world, someone else would worry about all that nasty marketing, warehousing, and promotion stuff, and they'd send me a check every month so I could continue to live as I should - focused on creating wonderful stories.

Unfortunately, the real world doesn't work this way.  Writing is only about 50%(if that) of being a professional author, and, of course, it's the fun part.  However, it's that other 50% that will get your work sold and keep food on your table.  Many writers get hives when they have to start making phone calls to solicit a signing or have to write that small town paper and beg for a review.  Shouldn't their talent just carry them?  Um, no.

There are plenty of writers who are willing to put in that legwork, and some of them have talent too.  Until you become an A-List writer, you can be ignored by others because they won't know you exist, and they won't care.

You need to get how to work taxes, what to do to create a website, and the ins and outs of creating your own small business so you can properly bring your work to market.  None of it is sexy, but the real world rarely is.

4.  Many writers shoot their load in one work.
Like I said above, a lot of people fantasize about writing a book.  However, when I ask them what they're going to do after the first book has run its course, they look at me like a 7th grader who forgot to study for his math test.

Are you in this for one book, or are you in it for a career?  If you're in it for a career, you better have a long term plan(back to that business thing again).  Some folks can sit down and crank out a book in a month.  Some need a year.  But whatever the case, you have to have more than a single novel if you want to do this full time.  Plan ahead - know that the month(at least) on either side of your release date is going to be so busy that you probably won't have a lot of time to write.  Beyond that, you better have at least a few ideas about your next novel.  If you want this to be a hobby, one book is fine, but if you want a career, you better be able to go beyond a single story.

5.  Some folks just don't have talent.
Not everyone can play in the NFL.  A writer can be persistent, hardworking, and business savvy, but it he or she can't craft a sentence and the stories are bland and boring, I don't see how someone overcomes that hurdle.  Desire isn't enough; you need to have some ability to carry it out as well.

Nearly everyone thinks they can write well.  Unfortunately, that's not true.  Shit, it's not even common.  Talent is something we either have or we don't.  That doesn't mean everyone's talent is well polished.  Even the best beef wellington once started out as a bloody hunk of meat.  If there's a spark of talent, a person willing to work on it can make themselves better.  However, if you have no ability to run and throw, you won't be quarterbacking the New England Patriots.  If that's the case, you should find something else to do where there might be a chance of success.

This is why there aren't more successful writers.  However, I'm sure I've missed a few reasons for failure - what do you think?

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