How to Become a Successful Author

This post is the final part of my Analyzing the Behavior of Book Buyers Series.  See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

There’s a lot of bad news if you’re trying to replace your day-job income with your passion for writing:

  • There are millions of books out there, and people just keep writing more!  Would they just stop already?  It’s hard to stand out from the crowd.
  • If someone does happen to find your book page, you have opportunities to lose them with you description, the reviews, your preview section, and the price.

There is, however, one piece of very good news: Book Buyers actively look for books.

I’ll buy somewhere between 20 and 30 novels this year.  There are a lot of Goodreads members who have goals of reading more than 50 a year.  In order to buy that many books, we’re going to have to search them out.  You don’t have to come to us; we’ll be trying to find you.

If you can make it easy enough for a lot of us to find you, you’ll be a success.  How, then, is the best way to do that:

Step 1 – Write a good book.

Step 2 – Repeat Step 1 over and over again.

Fellow Mythic Scribes members Michael Sullivan and Kevin McLaughlin convinced me of this approach, but logic bears them out.  Let’s look at how Book Buyers find books on a macro scale:

  • If they find a single book they really like, they consider every book by that author.
  • They wait for their favorite authors to publish a new book.
  • They get recommendations from Goodreads, people they know, forums, and lists.  They search out these recommendations.
  • They search within their favorite genres for new books.

Three out of four of those methods involve the book being good.  If the reader doesn’t like your writing, they’re not going to look at your other books and certainly not going to wait for you to publish another one.  If readers in general don’t like your writing, they’re not going to recommend them to anyone.  With so many books in the marketplace, you simply cannot rely on driving customers to your book through advertising or any other method; you must have word of mouth working for you.

I’m planning on releasing Power of the Mages later this year.  Let’s explore two possible scenarios on how that release goes:

Scenario 1Power sells only a few hundred copies in the first year, but I get favorable responses back from the people who did read it.  What do I do?

Write a new book.  If people like Power, it means that I need to give them more time and opportunities to find my writing.

Scenario 2Power sells only a few hundred copies in the first year, and the response is generally bad.  What do I do?

Concentrate on getting better at writing.  I obviously wasn’t as ready as I thought I was to publish a book.

As I do for mine, you probably think your writing is good enough to publish.  Let’s face facts:

  1. Most of the self-published stuff out there isn’t all that great.  The odds aren’t in forever in your favor.
  2. You are not the best person to judge the quality of your work.

Take a long, honest look at the feedback you get.  I know it’s painful, but you’re never going to become a success if you bury your head in the sand.  If you want to get better, you have to try to get better.

I’ve heard many times that the only way to get better at writing is to write.  I think that advice is horse manure.

In the absence of feedback on what you’re doing wrong, it’s unlikely that your writing is going to do much improvement at all.  If you need to get better, get opinions from people who know writing.  Take their suggestions seriously.

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9 thoughts on “How to Become a Successful Author

  1. I totally agree that the most prevalent advice out there about writing is horse manure. I love to write and do it every single day. But if I want to write something that more than 1 person (me) is willing to read, it takes a great deal more time and effort than simply spewing words on the page. The single greatest asset a writer can own is the ability to accept constructive criticism. It’s not only helpful, but it encourages the people who have the skills to help to continue giving advice. Thanks for a great blog on the subject.

  2. I think that one of the best ways to get better at writing is to write, so I disagree with the idea is that it’s “horse manure”. That being said, I definitely agree critical feedback is crucial. It can also be difficult to find. Friends and family will say it’s good, or they loved it, but to find someone who understands how to critique specifically can be challenging. Another important ingredient, I believe, is reading and enjoying stories. Honestly, I think every writer has to find what works for them, and I don’t think it can be canned and sent on an assembly line. There are more paths to a good book than one. I’d be interested in your thoughts on finding critical feedback or support for writers searching for feedback.

    • I don’t know about an assembly line, but I have a hard time understanding how someone can learn in a vaccuum. I spent years writing without any improvement before I started getting feedback. Ten years for a tiny bit of improvement without feedback. A year and a half with feedback for ridiculously huge improvement.

      To each his own, though, and I can be a bit hyperbolic.

      To get feedback, the first place to start is a writing critique group. Try meetup.com. If there’s not one in your area, start one. The next best bet is online groups and forums. There are a lot of them out there.

      I offer feedback as well. Check the Submissions page.

      Thanks.

      Brian

      • Feedback can be tremendously important, I wasn’t disagreeing with that; just the idea that writing itself cannot be developed. I often give the advice to people to “write” to improve their skills. Admittedly, none of them write on a regular basic, so a great deal of the purpose is getting them comfortable with writing and expressing their thoughts. We can learn in so many different ways. Feedback is tremendously important, but it’s not the only thing that can help someone improve, that’s all I meant. As far as the assembly line reference, I watched an RSA video about Education Paradigm shifts, which was interesting, and made me think of a one-size-fits all model (and sometimes how it’d be great if success were canned), but mainly I was referring to the multiple approach/ingredient perspective. Perhaps those ten years of your preparation were given the proper pruning with the feedback. I would think you gave yourself a foundation to build from, but that’s just a guess. One of the things I’m looking forward to is engaging with people who can give critical feedback. It’s probably one of the most challenging aspects of being a writer.

      • Truthfully, the process of getting feedback sucks in a lot of ways. When you pour your heart and soul into a piece, what you really want is for someone to say, “Man, that rocked.” Most of time, you’re going to get your piece completely picked apart. Every flaw and poor word choice will be laid bare before you. It sucks.

        On the other hand, if you use it correctly, it spurs improvement fast. I submitted an excerpt for editor’s critique and plan to post it on Monday (no promises on that one; I have more ideas for posts than I have days at the moment). When it goes live, it may be worth looking at as I intend to show exactly what I got out of the process.

        Thanks for the comments!

        Brian

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