“Whatever is worth doing at all it is worth doing well,” said 17th century British statesman Phillip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield. That’s an excellent piece of advice for writers, and one that they too often ignore. One does not achieve success as an author by chance. You need to have a blueprint to guide you every step of the way and you use it to stay on track.
Approach Writing as a Business
Begin by understanding that for a successful author writing is a business. There are two elements to being successful in the business of writing:
- Produce quality books that people want to read, and do so as quickly as possible.
- Make sure that the books you are producing are financially successful.
The first element requires you to hone your craft. Very few writers are “successful” the first time they bang away at the keyboard. Read like a writer. Learn from what other successful writers are doing. Practice. The more you write the better you get. Revise. It’s usually a long way from a first draft to a finished manuscript. Persist. There’s a learning curve when developing any skill. Your first book may not be as successful as you hope it will. Your second one will be better.
The second element of success requires you to embrace something that many writers want to avoid at all costs – marketing. If you say, “I’m a writer not a marketer. I just want to concentrate on my writing,” you aren’t likely to succeed as an indie self-publisher. If you think that all you have to do is write a good book, put it up on Amazon, and the world will beat a path to your buy button, think again. If you aren’t marketing your book, you have to make sure that somebody else is.
Blueprint for Success
1. Keep your eye on the prize. It’s a reality of modern life that we are all too busy and too stressed. There’s never enough time to get all of the things we need to do done. So set priorities. Stephen Covey the successful author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, (whose title we borrowed) outlined a simple system to help you do it. Organize all of your potential tasks into four quadrants.
URGENT NOT URGENT
IMPORTANT Quadrant 1 Quadrant 2
NOT IMPORTANT Quadrant 3 Quadrant 4
Quadrant 1 includes things like medical emergencies, filing your taxes, car repairs, and driving your kids’ carpool. Quadrant 2 includes things like exercising, professional development to build your skills or knowledge, and working on tasks related to the two elements of a successful writing business. Quadrant 3 involves things like constantly checking email or texts, picking up the phone while working, and monitoring social media. Quadrant 4 includes things like shopping for online bargains, spending time on Reddit, and managing your fantasy football team.
A successful author spends most of his time in Quadrant 2 where the focus is on things that benefit you in the long run.
2. Set goals that inspire action and stick to them. Think big! If you say, “I just want to get a good book written and out there,” or “I hope I sell a couple of hundred books,” your goals aren’t big enough. What will inspire you to do the things necessary to have a successful writing business? Do you want to quit your day job and write full time? What kind of monthly income must your writing earn to do that? Is 10,000 sales a good target for your next book? Doing the things success requires can be hard, so your goals need to be big enough to keep you going when things get tough.
Commit more time. Look at your four quadrants. Some things need to drop out to make time for writing and marketing. Find a way to adjust your schedule putting writing first. Once you have committed to a regular schedule don’t break the chain. Mark your calendar with the days you worked on your goals. Set deadlines like a hard release date for your next book. Tell people about it. Going public with your deadline is a great motivator. If you fail to meet it, don’t give up. You’ll learn how to better estimate how long things will take and set more realistic deadlines.
3. Follow the 80/20 rule. It goes like this, 20% of what you do each day produces 80% of the results. Think about your task quadrants and eliminate some things that don’t matter from your day. Here are some suggestions. Don’t answer the phone while you are writing. It’s not just the time you lose to the call itself, but the disruption of your concentration that reduces your productivity. “Email is a productivity killer,” says Forbes, “and usually a distraction from tasks that matter.” Set a time to deal with email (or text messages) and resist the temptation to check it obsessively throughout the day. Says Forbes, If your email chain goes beyond two replies, it’s time to pick up the phone.” Limit your time online and social media. Taking a class online is valuable. Watching cat videos on YouTube is not. Similarly, using Facebook and Twitter can be valuable ways to market your books, but joining in the latest political rant or sharing your thoughts on your favorite NFL team aren’t.
4. Have a marketing plan. There are many ways to market your book yourself successfully. But if you don’t want to be a marketer, for whatever reason, you need to make sure somebody else is out there publicizing your book and guiding readers to the buy button. Which brings us to the next habit…
5. Outsource. Self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to be a one-man-band doing everything yourself. In fact, you are better off if you don’t. Unload some of your more routine tasks on a virtual assistant. Make sure your book is of the highest professional quality. Hiring professional editors or book designers can enhance your book’s chances of success. Forbes.com reported that authors who got help with editing, copy editing and proof reading saw their earnings increase 13% Authors who hired professional book designers as well as editors saw their books earn 34% more than the average for a self-published book. There are a growing number of marketers willing and able to help make your book a success. If you don’t know how or don’t want to do your own marketing one of them can do it for you. Of course your marketing will be more successful if you are involved in it.
6. Relax. “Taking more time off is counterintuitive for most of us,” says Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project. “Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity…” Indeed, says Schwartz, “By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably.” The author of four books, Schwartz wrote the first two with a typical nose to the grindstone approach. Each took a year to write. Applying his lessons about relaxation he completed the second two in six months each.
(Image courtesy of Nick Youngston, The Blue Diamond Gallery under Creative Commons)