I remember the first time I confided in someone that I someday wanted to be a writer. I was a teenager and I shared it with an adult whom I respected. He told me that was great, then added, “But you know everybody in the world thinks they want to write a book.”
I let that bother me for a long time. I figured that was way too much competition for a kid like me. After that I took notice of how many movie characters either wanted to be a writer, were a writer, or solved all their problems by becoming a writer by movie’s end. This only served to reinforce the idea that the odds were hopelessly stacked against me.
Somewhere along the way, many years later, I decided to give it a shot anyway. The urge to write was too strong, and I got the right kind of encouragement at the right time from a friend and from my wife. Still suspecting I was hopelessly outnumbered, I got involved in an online writing workshop, started learning the ropes, and reading up about all things writing and publishing. A funny thing happened along the way. The more I learned about the realities of the publishing world, the more convinced I became that time, determination, and the willingness to learn and grow would inevitably stack the odds in my favor. Here’s what I mean:
For argument’s sake, let’s assume “everybody” is at least entertaining the idea of writing a novel:
– The vast majority of those people will never do anything more than think about it. They’ll never put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).
– Most of the people who sit down to write a novel will never finish. They won’t even come close.
See? We’ve already weeded out a ton of the competition and we’ve only just completed the first draft. It gets better. Most completed novels will suck for one of a several reasons:
-The writer didn’t bother to learn the basics. (Point-of-view, passive voice, adverb abuse, show vs. tell…)
-The writer was aware of the basics but did not adhere to them because (s)he wanted to write the book (s)he wanted to write.
-The writer completed the first draft, but didn’t put the novel through adequate subsequent revisions.
-The writer didn’t use beta readers, or used and ignored beta readers.
-The completed novel was not adequately copyedited.
-The writer did all of the above but the book still sucks because storytelling is a gift most people don’t have.
So let’s suppose you’ve cleared all those hurdles. You look around and realize you’ve left almost everyone behind. That doesn’t mean stiff competition does not remain. Fortunately, there are still ways to distance yourself from what remains of the pack.
Suppose you’re going the traditional route and are ready to begin your agent search. More writers will weed themselves out by:
-Not researching how to write an effective query letter.
-Not researching agencies and directing their query to a specific agent who would make a good match.
-Not reading/following an agency’s guidelines for querying.
Or perhaps you plan on independently publishing your book. There are plenty of chances to get ahead. Other writers will sabotage themselves by:
-Choosing a cover that is designed to “expresses the content of the book” rather than “designed to sell to readers in the genre.”
-Choosing a cover that is just plain ugly.
-Not putting time and effort into crafting effective back cover/content page text.
-Not soliciting blurbs and reviews.
-Bad formatting (print and ebook.)
-Poor pricing decisions.
-Pouring too much time and effort into pushing their one book and never getting around to writing other books.
-Not learning everything they can about what’s happening and what’s working in independent publishing.
-Doing it “my way” at the expense of doing it in a way that pleases readers.
-Having no plan for building a brand and an audience.
-Being impatient and refusing to stay in for the long haul.
There you have it. So, next time someone tries to tell you that the odds are stacked against you in the publishing game, just think of all the people you’re leaving behind every step of the way.