The Most Important Thing
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
We talk so often about all the elements necessary for a writer to (a) get an agent (b) get a contract (c) find his readership and (d) build a successful career. As a blog reader your head must be swimming with all this valuable advice.
I set myself the task today of boiling it all down to one thing. It’s kind of like the desert island challenge. You know, if you were stuck on a desert island and you could only take one thing. . .
There are any number of possibilities. For instance, a great query. A great query can catch the attention of an agent and set the whole ball rolling. Plus your query sketches out your whole book in a nutshell, tells who you are, who your audience is likely to be and demonstrates your writing skill. That’s a lot to pack into one single page. Plus your query shows how well-thought-out your prosed book (nonfiction) or how creative your novel (fiction) is likely to be.
As important as a good query is, that’s not it.
How about your skills? You ability to write is essential and if you go one step further and write books that take our breath away, that’s a huge leap. Writing that sings will overcome a bad query, small platform, obscurity and any other number of things.
As important as stunning writing is, that’s not it.
Speaking of platform, could that be the one thing? We hear the call for a vigorous platform, especially in nonfiction, ad nauseum. I mean, if you have 30,000 Twitter followers and annual visits to your blog numbering in the six-figure range wouldn’t that insure success? Not necessarily.
As important as an impressive platform is, that’s not it.
Would it be connections? We’ve all heard it’s not what you know but who you know, right? If I’m friends with three different publishers and can call any number of editors for a lunch date when I hit the city, won’t that count? Maybe some, but not as much as one would think.
As important as a vast network is, that’s not it.
Before I make you absolutely crazy, let me confess that I’m not going to tell you what I think is most important. Not right now, anyway. First I want you to chime in with what you think it is. Late this afternoon I’ll add it to the end of this blog and mention it in the comments but I don’t want to give an answer until I hear what you have to say. My guess is that you may even have some arguments strong enough to make me reconsider but I promise I’ll post the one thing I’d already decided is the most important thing, even if you come up with much better arguments.
So comment away. What do you think is the most important thing to meet these four challenges: (a) get an agent (b) get a contract (c) find our readership and (d) build a successful career?
First let me say, if you want real wisdom, read the comments below. Make a list from these comments and you will have a solid game plan for success. Especially all those who pointed to the unseen element—the God-part of what we do. I’ve come to the conclusion lately that there is no truer thing. Then all of you who talked about perseverance and flexibility. Beth Szabo summed it up beautifully: “Have a thick skin, don’t give up on your dream, learn the rules, then learn how to break them to present a fresh voice, be flexible without losing yourself.”
After reading all your wise and wonderful guesses, I feel like mine is so prosaic, so market-driven. I wanted to make all kinds of apologies but I’ll stop myself because mine is no less true.
Here’s what I’ve observed as the one thing that sets those who are uber-successful apart: These writers have carved out a unique place for themselves in the industry. They own their place and no one can do it better than they do. For nonfiction, this is the person who becomes the “voice of [whatever]” or the “go-to person for [whatever].” For fiction this is a combination of voice and subject or era or category.
It’s difficult to explain but I can sure identify it. These are writers who never fail to give their readers the book they want. These are the writers who grow their readership every time a new book comes out because of word-of-mouth excitement.
I look at some of my most successful clients (and these are just a few of many) but they each own their niche. Lauraine Snelling owns inspirational, Scandinavian immigrant, family saga. Julie Klassen owns inspirational regency. Debbie Macomber owns her brand of heartwarming women’s fiction. Ann Gabhart owns a subset of Amish fiction (Shaker) while Judy Miller owns another (Amana). Jill Eileen Smith resurrected Biblical fiction in the CBA and continues to gain readers. Their readers love them and know they exact kind of read they’ll get from them. In nonfiction Pam Stenzel is the go-to person for teen sexual issues and is the one to get called to appear on all the talk shows when the subject comes up.
What does this mean for the pre-published? If you’re still in the exploration phase, don’t hurry this up, but realize that to be successful, you’ll have to eventually declare a major, so to speak. You can’t write all over the place and build the kind of readership that will take you over the top.