Reaching a high level of success as an author is hard. Harder than building a working rocket out of underwear. I’m not talking about authors that get lucky and win the lottery of bookdeals because their high school English teacher is the daughter of the lead editor of TOR. I’m also not referring to the writing process, editing process, idea creation process, endless revision process as individual struggles. I’m not even talking about reaching your own idealized vision of success (which let’s face it, could be just to hold a physical copy of your own book and sell it to your mom).
I’m talking about: the on-and-off collectively summed-up 12-hour-work-days-worth of labor improving your craft and social footprint, every day, while hitting solid walls of failure and rejection, for years and years. I’m talking having everyone in your life, both personal and professional, tell you no, what you’re doing isn’t working out. It’s having the results themselves show you that it’s not working out. It’s trying to figure out some moment in your day where you can sit without interruptions for ten seconds and type words regardless of if you have “writer’s block”. It’s watching authors around you reach fame and get slammed with praise (even though you’re not bothering to take into account all the trials they went through, the bad reviews given to their books, and hard work they put in). It’s fighting your own inner demons telling you that dude, it’s just not going to happen. Sorry. Because honestly, for most authors that reach high levels of success, that is a sum of the first ten to fifteen years of their career. It is not frikin’ easy. It is also the trial by fire that kills the dreams and willpower of just about every person who tries to become a writer. Not that many of us survive through this time.
Yet there is something to be said about all the difficulties. The really annoying ones…and the really painful ones that make you want to break your computer in half and move to Alaska to never be seen again. These trials break your heart. They really do. Especially if you are hell-bent on being a successful author and the idea of it is the sun that you orbit. But if you can withstand it all, push through each difficulty, learn from it (those trials that actually have a lesson embedded in them somewhere), then just maybe it will make you stronger. Those trials are there to make you a better writer. They are meant to take the little flimsy reed that you are and turn you into a solid oak. You can’t be prepared for the crazy, dangerous, reckless life of publishing houses, world-wide audience critiques, and expected deadlines while having a doe-eyed romantic perspective of authorship. This is ugly business! It is ridiculous work! Even more so now when authors are expected to achieve God-levels of success self-marketing and still find time to write on the side. Let’s not even talk about the politics swirling through acclaimed reviewers, publishers, agents, and award givers.
This process is going to break you. Maybe not at first. Maybe not even after you’ve written six novels and the only people who agree to read them is your grandma and the homeless dude in the Walmart parking lot high off marker fumes. But it will break you. And most likely, if you survive the first break, it will break you again. And again. For years.
The only people that keep going are the people that are obsessed with writing, are passionate about it, and whose delusions of grandeur blind them to anything else. And the clinically insane. I’m talking absolute bonkers-don’t-under-any-circumstance-for-the-love-of-all-that-you-cherish-let-your-family-near-them bonkers. Those that keep going hate the trials, but love the process. Oh you didn’t know? All authors are crazy.
THE RANDOM BREAKTHROUGH:
But eventually something changes. A network connection you made years ago in some convention and whom you’ve been talking to endlessly finally takes pity on your miserable soul and gives you a shout-out to his tens-of-thousands of fans. Or maybe you catch a famous editor when they are out on a binge and somehow convince them to take your manuscript. Or maybe after a score of self-published novels, one finally starts drawing enough attention that people come to you for permission to review the thing. Or maybe you die and the struggle finally ends. Either way, eventually you will either give up, or you’ll survive long enough to see people start to buy your books, see people request local libraries to house it, receive an email from a convention asking you to participate as a panelist, etc.
And understand there’s a million of us out there going through this process right now. All of us are biting at the bit and clawing up the pile of author carcasses that have failed and given up. Each of us are making rookie mistakes and messing up. Each of us are banging our heads against brick walls trying to come up with some illusive secret formula to success (there isn’t one, good luck). The longer you climb this hill of work and trials, the closer you get to the peak, even if you can’t see it. How many will keep trying after five years of failure and no results? Ten years. Fifteen? Its success by attrition, baby.
And understand this. This success by attrition is not you pitting yourself against all the other authors out there. It’s you pitting yourself…against yourself. Against your own willpower and desire. Can you survive yourself? Because if you can’t, well golly-gee buddy, you’re not going to survive the rest of the world.
Yeah, skill and luck play heavily into it. Networking and having a strong social footprint too. But the real trick behind it all, is keep doing it. Keep writing. Keep posting those tweets and Instagram photos and blog posts and facebook updates. Keep writing. Keep showing up to writing events and supporting all the authors around you. Keep writing. Keep engaging yourself and throwing yourself out there for the world to chew on. Keep writing.
A miracle isn’t going to fall in your lap. No is going to telepathically learn who you are. Your first few books will suck. You will spend years honing your craft while having no idea if you’re even on the right track. Keep going. Learn. Study everything. Inhale every aspect of what makes the book industry tick. Analyze the ones who have been successful. Learn their tricks. Learn which tricks work for you. Incorporate your own ideas and personality into what you’re doing. Be as real as you can be. People can see through your bull easier than you can. Relatable sells. Your heroic ideology doesn’t. It’s okay to hate the trial, but know that you need it. You’re just going to have to survive to win.
If you don’t stop, one day you’ll be there. A train only gets to its destination if it keeps going. You’ll look back at all the trials you went through—no one will speak about it in your book signings or advertise it in Barnes&Noble—but you’ll walk past another author of your caliber and they will look in your eyes and understand. You won’t have to say anything. They’ll just understand. Welcome to success, baby. You made it.
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If I'm not writing, I must be dead.