The other day I was chatting with an artist friend who is running her own business. We talked about the dual character of art and industry, and the sometimes-frustrating nature of trying to make a living off our work. We acknowledged that more of our success depends on factors outside our control than say a data entry specialist. People have to choose to buy our work, and then they have to like it to ever want to buy more. And that’s only if we’ve gotten it to market in the first place.
With that in mind, how do we stay the course? How do we face rejection, bad reviews, lack of sales, and the annoying commentary from family and friends who lament that they too could write a book if only they had time? Good humor helps. But beyond that, here are a few tips to help you stay the course.
Stay true to your passion.
Commit to what you love and what you’re good at. Even if the market is trending toward vampires (which it’s not at the moment), you don’t have to write vampires if you don’t like them! YA is hot right now. I love reading YA, but I have no interest in writing it. Would it be a good sales strategy to add some YA to my repertoire. Maybe. But maybe not, because it’s really not my thing, and as a writer, I have no passion for it. Instead, I’ll stick with what I love to write and try to become the best at that.
Don’t quit your day job until you have momentum behind you and can support yourself with your art. This rarely happens overnight. I have a friend who’s been on the NY Times best-seller list for more than two years straight. She’s been asked about her “overnight” success and laughs at the question. She was in her mid-forties before her first book was published, and by then she had a bunch of previous manuscripts collecting dust in her drawers. Being good at something takes time.
Recognize the things you can control.
If we understand and internalize the idea that some of our success requires participation from other parties, we’re left to focus on the things over which we do have control. Attending to those things makes the whole process much less frustrating.
If we want anyone but our family and close friends to read our work, at some point we’ll have to navigate the business side of the profession. We may work with an editor, an agent, a publishing house, a cover artist, etc. In all these interactions, remember to behave as a professional, and treat them as such. Publishing is a surprisingly small world. Honor your obligations, hit your deadlines, pay your bills in a timely manner, treat people with respect. It sounds simple, but we can get emotional around our beloved art.
Understand the industry.
If we understand the publishing industry, how promotion works, who our audience is and how to reach them, we will be able to get our work into more people’s hands. Have we researched the latest advertising tools? Are we developing our brand? Do we even know what keywords are? Today’s publishing industry is dynamic and complex, but there have never been more opportunities for writers to reach readers. Learn about the industry in which you work.
Commit to improving your skills.
If our writing skills are lacking, a good marketing plan probably won’t matter. Commitment to good writing doesn’t have to mean an MFA. It can mean joining a healthy writer’s group, attending conferences on craft, working with a critique partner, participating in a webinar, reading articles. Most of all, it means keep on writing. In this world, we get better by doing.
So, stay the course! Don’t give up. Really. I know it sounds cliché, but if you love to write, keep writing, and remember, this is a marathon not a sprint.