How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Writing Career
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Authors make a lot of assumptions about how a writing career is supposed to unfurl. These assumptions can be deadly to a perfectly good career. Here are a few I’ve observed:
- Assume you don’t have to become a better writer with each manuscript. You don’t build fans or loyal readers by exerting less effort in every manuscript you write. Readers notice if stories start to all sound alike; so do Amazon reviewers and the good folks at your publishing house. One author I talked to said, “I figure it’s the editor’s job to take what I hand in and polish it.” Yes, but this author, I later found out, views “polishing” as “fix this mess.” He would hand in a manuscript that was only vaguely focused, and every idea that might fit under the book’s premise was tossed into the mix. His publisher–and his readers–eventually lost interest.
- Decide you can dash off a proposal with only the barest idea of what you want to write. As we’ve often said in our blog posts, a proposal is your business plan. If you’re not willing to carefully consider how this project fits into the market and into your oeuvre, then why should you expect your agent, your publisher, the marketing staff to do this work for you? They have neither the qualifications nor the time to do what the author can accomplish better than anyone else.
- Trust that you can rely on past performance to launch you into your next contract. In the past, publishers were kind of forgiving if an author’s sales trajectory wasn’t always upward. But in today’s market, if you’re lucky, you have three books to prove you can keep ramping up sales. After that, the publisher moves on to other authors. It’s brutal, but it’s how publishers are staying alive in an increasingly bloody business.
- Rely on the editor to fix a novel’s inconsistencies or a nonfiction book’s quotes and references. Why would an author think anyone would want to do work the author deigns too time-consuming to complete? Editors are under tremendous pressure to move a book onto the next phase of production, and don’t forget all those publishing layoffs that occurred a few years ago. Re-hires aren’t happening. That means editors are working on more projects and have more responsibilities than ever before. If a writer won’t do the nit-picky work, he can’t count on having a growing career.
- Think that a large number of Twitter followers or a significant e-newsletter list will be enough to make your book a success. Magic formulas have never existed in publishing, or every publisher could produce a best-seller whenever they applied that formula. That’s true for author’s efforts as well. It’s easy to think that having a good-sized number of Facebook “likes” will translate into book sales, but that requires someone engaged with you in social media to: 1) pay attention to what you put on social media; 2) like the idea of your latest book; 3) actually take the step to make the purchase. As Shakespeare wrote: “There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.” While it’s hard to translate social media activity into actual sales, we can be pretty sure that the lack of social media involvement is an even deadlier way for an author to go. But never assume a large audience is out there dying to buy your next book.
The bottomline: Never assume you’re a hot item or that the trajectory of your career can only go up. Not so, grasshopper.
Do you have a propensity to fall into any of these assumptions?
As a reader, what evidence have you seen of authors thinking along these lines?