Be a Happy and Successful Author: A 9-Step Plan
I've been writing books since 1997. During that time, I've written 28 books. A few have tanked. Some have sold extremely well. And a couple have become bestsellers. I've learned a lot during about the publishing business over the past nine years. Here's the lowdown on some of the most important things I've learned -- tips that may help you to become a happier and more successful author.
STEP ONE: Be Nice to Other Authors
Other authors are not the enemy. If you learn to work cooperatively, you will find yourself on the receiving end of incredibly valuable information that will allow you to thrive in the marketplace. While some authors think that they have to operate as lone wolves, I think they have it all wrong: writing was actually meant to be a team sport. It's when we don't work cooperatively -- when we don't share market information with one another -- that publishers end up with all the power. And that's bad news for all of us.
STEP TWO: Invest in Yourself
You are the resource, the source, the supplier, the distributor, the factory, the product, and the package. Your entire career depends on your ability to protect and renew your creativity, ideas, and energy. If you intend to thrive as an author over the long-term, you need nurture yourself, enrich yourself, expose yourself to new ideas and new ways of thinking, and treat yourself as the precious commodity that you are.
STEP THREE: Have a Plan
Rough out a business plan, even if it's just a page of notes you write to yourself while you're sitting in a coffee shop or on a park bench. The secret is to make it an annual ritual and pull out and reflect on that business plan throughout the year. Your business plan is basically a road map for the upcoming year, and we all know what happens when you head out on an extended road trip without a road map. You can end up taking some rather unexpected detours -- and you may not even make it to your original destination at all.
STEP FOUR: Be Choosy About Who You Work With
STEP FIVE: Find Your Niche and Work It
Zero in on something that you can do better, faster, or with more style and passion than anyone else you know. Then think of all the ways you can work your niche. And look for some complementary writing specialties.
Expand your territory. Look to international markets. Look to other media. Think about self-publishing. Consider collaborations with experts and those with complementary niches. The sky's the limit.
Look for ways to get maximum mileage out of your existing material. Could those old features be reworked as tip sheets to promote your new book? Could they be updated and resold -- or repackaged as Q & As? Could they form the basis for a radio documentary?
STEP SIX: Become Contract Savvy
Don't sign the first version of a contract that is presented to you.
Realize that it's what's written in the contract that counts, period.
Don't start nodding off whenever the conversation turns to so-called motherhood issues like copyright and moral rights and intellectual property rights like trademarks. These aren't boring, abstract concepts. That's your retirement savings fund we're talking about.
Educate yourself about these issues and work with other writers via writers' organizations to ensure that our rights as writers continue to be protected.
STEP SEVEN: Don't Be Afraid to Pay for Good Advice When You Need It
Don't be afraid to pay for good advice when you need it.
Do you want to play amateur lawyer and amateur accountant -- and risk making some major career and financial faux pas -- mistakes that could cost you huge amounts of money for years to come? Or do you want to be proactive and pay for the services of lawyers and accountants when you need them?
You'll likely be able to keep your costs down by doing some of the prep work yourself, but when it comes to getting hardcore advice, it's best to trust the experts.
STEP EIGHT: Love What You Do
If you're doing something other than writing and you are totally in love with the written word, find a way to make writing a bigger part of your life. You owe it to yourself to follow your dream.
If you're falling into the trap of doing more and more of the writing work that "pays the bills" and less and less of the writing work that you love, see if you can find ways to free up more time to do the writing work that you love.
If you spend 50 weeks a year doing something you're less than passionate about, you're shortchanging the other people in your life -- your clients as well as your family/friends. Remember, you can't fake passion.
STEP NINE: Define Author Success on Your Own Terms
Know when to be satisfied and when to push yourself to shoot for more in the various arenas of your life. There will always be an author who is better known, more successful, better-selling, or better-looking than you. You can drive yourself crazy trying to be "the best" or to make it to the top of the bestseller lists (and the stuff you have to deal with just seems to get crazier the more awards you win or the higher your numbers climb at Amazon.com. Or you can come up with a recipe for success in your life that includes different ingredients: writing a book that makes a difference in people's lives, mentoring and encouraging other authors (particularly young authors), or simply taking joy in the act of writing. In other words, dare to define author success on your own terms.
The Art and Science of Being a Writer - Some of my favorite writing advice links
- Betsy Lerner, Author of The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers
A literary agent and author offers advice to writers.
- Making Book by Elise Proulx
On getting an agent.
- Royalty Calculations in Book Contracts by Ivan Hoffmann
What all that fine print in book contracts really means.
- Making Friends With a Clock: Time Management for Writers by Chip Scanlan
How to stay on track work-wise (as opposed to spending your entire day building lenses at Squidoo).
- Why Every Author Needs a Blog
My two cents how a blog can be a terrific creative and business tool for an author.
- Seven Steps to Getting Published
A how-to-get-published guide written by the truly remarkable Keri Smith.
- Why We Write in Starbucks
A major writing-world mystery solved!
- Scooped! When Another Writer Writes "Your" Article
Coping with writerly envy.
- Powells.com Interviews: Anne Lamott
An interview with Anne Lamott, author of the bestselling guide to writing, Bird by Bird.
Quotes About Writing
A list in progress
"Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you've made sense of one small area."
- Nadine Gordimer quotes (South African novelist and short-story writer, 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature, b.1923)
"Whether or not you write well, write bravely."
- Bill Stout
"Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else."
- Gloria Steinem quotes (American Writer and Activist. b.1935)
My Five Favorite Books About Writing
I own tons of books on writing. I've had time to enter a few of them into the system over at LibraryThing.com. (Just search for the tag "writing" and you should get 59 hits for writing books in my library.) But since Amazon.com limits me to five picks in this module, I've had to go through the tortuous process of limiting myself to these five:
Reading this book was an amazing experience for me. It made me realize I had what it takes to write fiction. I haven't had any published yet, but it's given me the courage to try. That was a major breakthrough for me. It's a truly inspiring and empowering book.
This is a brilliant non-fiction guide to the less-than-linear and gilded path that you can expect to tread as a writer -- assuming you can actually stay on the path. (Sometimes we stray from the path for a while, or decide we'd like to be anywhere but on the path. That's okay.)
A funny and reassuring guide to writing. (No, you're not the only one who plays head games with yourself in order to trick yourself into writing. That's part of the creative process, as Anne will teach you.)
This book taught me how to write book proposals. It's easy to read, straight-forward, and will teach you how to structure non-fiction book proposals so that it's clear to an acquisitions editor what makes your book unique and special.
Write: A 30-Day Guide to Creative Writing by Sarah Quigley - A book you'll want to read in September!
This book has been available in Canada for a few months, so I had the pleasure of reading it this summer. It's fabulous -- one of my all-time favorite books about writing. I'll be reviewing it at Amazon.com as soon as the book becomes avaliable for sale at the site.
Author wisdom brought to you by the members of The Authors Group
"Before I begin each new book I keep a notebook. I write down everything that comes to mind during that period before I actually begin. It might take months or weeks. That notebook is my security blanket so that I never have to face a blank screen (or blank page)."
- Judy Blume, during an author chat at The New York Public Library
Enjoy more author wisdom by visiting other lenses in The Authors Group.
Did I miss some of the secrets of becoming a happy and successful author? Do you have some secrets of your own to share?