I’ve pondered this question often during my years as a writer. As an editor, it’s one of the first questions I ask potential clients. And as I navigate the wide ocean of Indie publishing, I often remind myself of the reason.
As I read began my journey on how to successfully to market my books, I kept coming back to one word of advice: WRITE. To make a name for myself as a writer, I must always remember to keep writing. Even when books sales lag, I must keep my fingers flying over the keyboard.
And when I write, I must write great stuff, preferably not using words such as “stuff.” But I’ve clarified that declaration: I must write pieces that satisfy me. It’s true writers must determine their audience, but that can be carried too far if we forget our No. 1 audience is the person cranking out the words.
For so long, I wrote with far too much focus on audience. When I worked as a journalist who depended on a paycheck, it was essential. When I worked for a state agency as a public relations director, there was no choice but to write for everyone but myself. But as a novelist and blogger, I am freed from some of those constraints.
When I published my first novel in 2000, I think I expected instant success. The day I sat in a bookstore next to a life-size poster of Harry Potter the same year J.K. Rowling became a household name, and I sold one book during a two-hour signing, I realized success was not knocking anywhere near my door. I wrote more novels, always chasing that nebulous dream of “success” and writing for that and not myself. I didn’t know what success meant, except as described by others.
“Send the book to Oprah,” friends said.
I did send five books of that first book to Oprah and her producers. That’s the last time I wasted my money so foolishly – even more foolish than playing $20 on a slot machine at the casino.
“Get an agent,” the pundits shouted from the pages of writing magazines.
I did and for two years I heard nothing but promises. So I dropped out.
I became a cynic about my chances for success as an author. I still wrote fiction, but put a first draft away in a drawer and actually finished another novel all the way through the editing process. Then I put it away in a drawer. And I continued to write for other people in a stilted, non-creative way. If you’ve ever had to write a news release in less than an hour with four scientists and the director of a state agency breathing down your back and shouting edits as you type, you’ll never understand how my creativity left me for a few years. It’s not recommended unless you treat the job as a research position for your next novel – which I did. My novel Trails in the Sand is the result of that research. My next novel, Native Land, uses even more of my research. I probably have ten novels inside me based on that work experience.
I’ve changed as I’ve moved into this new phase of my writing career. I’m no longer working for a paycheck. I’m working for myself. It’s been a strange transition, and not always a comfortable one, but I’m growing into it.
I realized how far I’d come when I finished the final edits on Trails in the Sand. I read the last paragraph of the book and found myself crying. The story moved me. I realized in that moment, nothing else mattered. It didn’t matter what the reviewers said or if I became an overnight sensation or if I sold only a dozen books. In that moment, I was as successful as any author can ever be. I pleased myself with my writing and knew that I’d written the book I wanted to write.
That profound moment forced me to make some changes in my day. Instead of writing at the end of the day after marketing and dealing with social media, it’s now the first thing I do. Writing takes precedence over everything else because above it all, I am a writer.
As an editor, I say to all of you writers out there, write first and for yourself, and I promise you, the writing will make you proud.