I’ve noticed on some of the writer forums and blogs I check out, and in responses to my newsletter, that there is this obsession with getting it right.
What’s the right way to plot, some ask. How should this work? What do editors want to see? What should they focus on, or ignore?
Or, if they’ve sold: what’s the right way to promote? What works, what doesn’t, and how do they make the time for it all?
Ultimately, I think that what they’re asking is:
What can I do that will ensure I succeed?
I feel for them. I’ve been there. It took years to realize just how much this question permeated my life.
I’ve got books out, and more coming.
I’d been freaking out, despite my intentions to the contrary.
But, in true ask-and-you-shall-receive style, there was one answer that kept coming up, year after year.
What can I do that will make me succeed?
There is nothing I can do to guarantee that I’ll succeed. I could create an alter ego on TikTok and post three times a day, build an Instagram platform that could populate a small city, write a novel that would make the angels weep.
And it still might not work.
But you know what?
That’s the good news.
Yes, you read that right. I have no control over the success or failure of my book.
And that is awesome.
By saying that I have no control over the success or failure of my book, I’m not saying that I am going to crawl under a rock, pretending that my book releases are not happening — on the assumption that I still have book releases. I’m not going to give up my writing career because I can’t check off an entire list and get guaranteed results.
I’m powerless over the ultimate results, yes.
That’s not the same as helpless.
It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t take action, and it certainly doesn’t relinquish agency over my writing or my promotion. It means that I can do what I feel, in my gut, is right — and then let go of what happens afterwards.
There’s an element of accidental Buddhist here. There’s detachment.
I can want something (namely, success for my book) without being crushed if I don’t get it.
I can look at what I might want in the future, and what resonates with me in the present that lines up with what I want then.
I’m probably sounding like a goob, or terribly obvious, but bear with me — this has been a big one this week.
So what would you do, if you were guaranteed to succeed?
You might look at the market less, and write more of what you felt really passionate about. You might look at different ways to sharpen your craft. You might take more time to write. Or, conversely, you might write faster, because you’re not paralyzed by getting things “perfect” and release things to readers who you know will enjoy it.
You wouldn’t stop promoting, either, even if it’s guaranteed. Why? Because ideally, you are going to be writing books you are thrilled with. Because you’re guaranteed to succeed, you know that there are people out there who are dying to read what you’ve written. So it’s not shoving something they don’t want in their faces. It’s letting them know “hey, that thing you love is available” and letting them squeal with delight before one-clicking or zooming to their local bookstore.
You’d approach things with a lot more joy and a lot less fear. Your mindset around what you’re doing would go from dragging your feet to enjoying yourself.
“But I’m not guaranteed!”
The trick is to act as if you are, and then just go for it.
You can’t control things, true. If that’s the case… what do you have to lose? There are enough painful, frightening, gross things in life. If you’re running the gauntlet of publishing by choice, why make it harder on yourself?
Let go, and leap. You’ll be surprised how much more successful the approach is.