I’m taking a little breather from Right Reader related stuff to talk about career planning.
When I got my first contract at 26, I had a goal. I’d sell 100,000 copies, I thought. That’d be a decent start. Then I’d start really making some big numbers.
(If you’re not laughing now, you should be. Trust me. 100,000 copies is nuts, especially for a debut series romance author.)
Still, once I “made it” through the door, I was determined to hit the big leagues.
The one where I decide to become a bestseller.
I have been a fanatical plotter. My career was no exception: I schemed and plotted that thing within an inch of its life.
I signed contracts for about two books a year. I looked for new markets, and hammered out proposals. I hung out on email loops (this was pre-Facebook.) I dropped a couple thousand on a website and business cards. I taught classes and spoke at conferences and established myself enough that I got quoted in papers like the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post.
Yeah, I had a day job, but I didn’t have kids. Besides, sleep was for losers. I had a boatload of caffeine and the determination of… well, a lemming, in retrospect.
Where life says: “LOL! Good one!”
Life intervened. My plan — crafted desperately, rather than carefully — crumbled around me.
And about three years ago, I hit a death spiral.
Productivity was a laugh. Contracts went late. I ducked deadlines like dodge balls.
And new writing? Not even with a gun to my head.
What I learned by failing.
1. Know what it takes.
When I started, I had no real concept of the numbers it took to make a “bestseller” — or how the industry worked. I didn’t understand how publishers sent books to booksellers, or what sell-through was and why I needed to care. I certainly didn’t know I could go from selling 50,000 copies of one title to being left off a catalog the next.
Without understand what needed to be done, and what was in my control (and what wasn’t), all my efforts were like trying to light a fire in the ocean. It wasn’t for lack of persistence… it was just sheer stupidity.
2. Know what I’m good at (and what I’m not.)
And we’re back to the Hedgehog.
My world got rocked, and not in the good way, due to circumstances that had nothing to do with my writing. For me, writing was no longer a sideline dream — it was a bill-payer. And I had a new little human that had expenses.
I actually went to one of my editors and said: “I will write about anything. I will write about lesbian crack-addicted nuns. Tell me what the hole is in your list, and I will write it.”
(Yes, I said that. Verbatim.)
Thanks to this little jaunt into creative problem-solving, I learned that I can come up with plot ideas all day long. Doesn’t mean I can write them… which really sucks to discover after I’ve signed the contract on a paragraph proposal, with a seven-month delivery.
I’ve also learned erotica is a very precise art form, and while I admire those that can write it, I’m not in their ranks.
Basically, if I want to sell a lot… I can’t sell out. Period.
3. Know my limits.
You know how you can pull all-nighters when you’re twenty, and suddenly you’re thirty-four and something comes up and you think, “I’ll just stay up all night?” Remember how wretched you felt — and how surprised?
I’ve learned that if I’m unhappy, tired, frustrated, or going through cataclysmic life changes — surprise! It’s incredibly difficult to write!
I know I can’t write the way I used to, in tsunami-styled waves of words. That said, this “defect” has helped me develop a neat thing called craft. Like an athlete that discovers natural talent only gets you so far (and seems to decrease as you get older), I am discovering the beauty of developing my skills beyond hotdogging.
4. Hold the dream, but make the plan.
There’s this Persian saying: “Trust in God — and tie your camel.”
I was too into the “tying your camel” bit early in my career, admittedly. In fact, I nearly strangled the thing.
Then, in the dark days of write-for-hire, I sort of abandoned the camel altogether.
I’ve learned the happy medium. In order to rock my writing, I need to stay connected to why I write — what I do best, what I love. And then I’ve got to plug into what I want, and how to get there. What’s in my control (learning, attitude, craft) and what isn’t (the market, editors, readers, sales.)
Most of all, have a smart, achievable goal. Build gradually, and track progress. See what’s working and what isn’t.
I am still planning on being a publishing success.
My definition’s changed somewhat — and I’m open to it looking different than my assumptions.
More importantly, I have every intention of sharing my hope, experience, and knowledge with other writers who are muddling through the journey, with nothing but a dream and a plan that isn’t working.
That’s why I started Rock Your Writing. Because that’s the last thing I learned:
5. Everyone writes alone. No one succeeds that way.
In fact, maybe I should’ve opened with that lesson. It was one of the hardest, strangely enough.
But it’s definitely the most important.
What about you? What have you learned by “failing,” or not succeeding quite yet, or succeeding and having it look nothing like you expected?
If you liked this, please re-tweet!