Not everyone has it. Earlier today I was directed to a blog of an indie who has decided to give up. After five years in the game she was disgusted with having only sold 300-500 copies of any one book.
So she’s going to quit. Forgive me if I don’t believe her. When you’re a writer – writing is like crack. It’s not easy to just wash your hands of it and walk away. On that same token, writing (especially if you’re an indie) isn’t going to be a career just anyone can excel at either.
I’ve been thinking about this for awhile. What really makes a successful indie author? Sure – sometimes it’s about luck. Kind of like Kesha suddenly got popular because people liked her sound. Perhaps what becomes popular isn’t your best work, either. We don’t always get to pick and choose what the general population likes. In my own case, for example, my fantasy and mystery novels are far more serious than my erotica (even though I love writing all of it equally) and yet it’s my erotica that hit it big. ::shrug::
I think there is a formula to success regardless your career. I sat down and tried to pinpoint what makes a successful indie.
1. Persistence. Yeah, so the author who said she was going to quit says she has been doing this for five years. Guess what? I’ve been writing and submitting to professional markets for twenty. I’ve been doing indie stuff since the late 90’s and more pro-actively since 2005. So I’ve been doing it twenty years which either makes me extremely stupid or terribly persistent. I’m not sure which. And yes – I, too, have titles that have only sold 300-500 copies. Titles I busted my arse on. It’s a sad but true reality. It’s the reason I’ve kept my day job (even though I don’t have to).
2. Versatility. I am pretty sure that if I stuck to just one genre and wasn’t willing to experiment and step outside my comfort zone I’d only be selling maybe ten to twenty books a month instead of thousands. Just sayin’. Of course my NF has always done well.
3. Prolific. Successful writers are prolific. This means putting out a couple books a year. I do this. I constantly have books in progress and they all reach completion at different times. So while it appears I have 4 books coming out a year, it may have been that I wrote half that book, or even the bulk of it, at an earlier time and it was merely finished or went through editing in any current year. Don’t forget that I’ve got twenty years (or more) of material. I really have been writing seriously since I was a teenager. Now granted not everything I write will be published (or has been published, or should be published – yikes), but if anything I’m prolific. I write about 400K – 600K a year give or take a few thousand and maybe only half or a third of that gets published in the same year.
I don’t think I sacrifice quality for quantity. Just because some writers can’t write the same volume I write doesn’t mean my work is worse. I dare you to read Left Horse Black and then Outer Darkness and tell me which was better. I’m betting an equal number of readers would pick each one (based on their preference) as the better one. Even though one was written in four months and the other took me (technically) fifteen years. As a matter of fact – the one that took longer actually feels more unnatural and stilted, IMHO. So I don’t think the time it takes someone to write something directly correlates to the quality. Especially when both manuscripts undergo the same editing process.
4. Realistic Expectations. I love what I do and I’m not expecting to hit it big – ever. To be honest, I could give a crap if I end up with a big publisher or not. I actually could have had a big publisher with Outer Darkness. I did have an offer. I turned it down because they wanted me to change certain aspects of the story that made it what it was. So getting a publishing contract with one of the big six — that’s NOT why I write. Sure, having a loyal audience is awesome! I love my readers – you guys really are great. And while I’d love to have more of you, I don’t expect it. I try to have no expectations when it comes to how my writing is received just because I’ve learned that when you expect such things – you’re always going to be disappointed. Not to mention I don’t need validation from others that I can write or that I can tell a good story. I know this sounds egotistical but I’ve had a lot of people praise my work over the years. Enough to tell me that I can write my way out of a box. I passed that insecurity a long time ago even though I still fight moments of self-doubt and feelings of being out of my league. I have enough of an audience that if I did need that validation – I’d have it. I don’t need millions of readers to tell me how great my work is. As a matter of fact that kind of success scares and intimidates me because the better known you are – the more critics step out of the woodwork and the more people think your personal life is open to scrutiny. Trust me – on my NF books, as popular as they are, I’ve had critics come right out and say my personal life should be an open book for them to examine. On my popular titles I’ve had more scathing reviews of me as a person sometimes in place of criticism of the work, as well as in tandem with the work. Sad but true. The more popular you are — the more brutal your critics (often because there’s more jealousy).
5. Doesn’t Listen to Naysayers. I don’t let the critics hold me back. If I listened to other people and took everything people said to heart, I would have quit writing years ago. Or I would have kept my work to myself. You have to learn when to take criticism to heart and when to let it go. REAL criticism that is constructive does not attack you as a person and it’s not vague and slicing. Instead, real constructive criticism is helpful and is actually meant in that spirit. It criticises the work and lists specific problems and sometimes ideas to fix those problems. This is why a critique group is helpful, but the review of your latest tome written by your enemy, or someone who just hates your writing style, is usually absolutely worthless. Nonetheless I always try to find something useful in all criticism, even the scathing reviews. Sometimes you just can’t. Sure, I may have allowed criticism sidetrack me for a day or two. I’ll cry to my friends and cuss the critic in private. But I get over it and move on. Not all writers seem to recover as well from criticism. It’s part of the job, though.
That’s enough for now. I’m tired and need my beauty sleep. I need to finish CHC. I’m actually having a hard time writing my concluding thoughts without giving a boring summary.