As writer’s, we’re entering a space where art and industry intersect. Some days we’re hiding in a coffee shop, our minds immersed in an imaginary world. Other days we’re at conferences, conventions, or signings – networking, learning, and meeting our readers. Or maybe we’re working with an editor, agent, publisher, or creating a marketing plan. We may have the soul of an artist, but we have to negotiate our world with the savvy of a CEO.
I’ve recently released my third novel. With this release, as usual, came much rejoicing and much against. When I consider the source of that angst, I recognize it centers around things over which I have no control. Will my book get good reviews? Will my readers feel satisfied with how I’ve wrapped up the series? Will it sell? The answer to these questions is a solid, “I have no idea.” Hence, the angst.
My concerns all revolve around outcome, which is an exercise in frustration because no artist has control over how their work will be received by the outside world. So, how can we focus on our craft, and at the same time try to navigate the business oriented side of the house in a healthy way? I suggest we shift our focus from outcome to process. We can do this, in part, by recognizing the things we can’t control and by putting our energy into those things we can control.
Recognize the things you can’t control.
- Reviews – I’m calling this category “reviews,” but it really includes any kind of reader response. Reviews are just the most tangible since we can easily access them. Not everyone will love our stories, and that’s okay. We don’t love every story we read. Variety is the spice of life after all! Let this go.
- Sales – There are many things we can do to impact our book’s visibility and accessibility, but ultimately, we have no direct control over this. We can’t force people to read our work.
Recognize the things you can control.
- Work Ethic – We can make a commitment to our writing career. Even if we’re still juggling a day job, writing should still be a priority. Here are some tangible tips to help you do this: 5 Tips for Time Management – A Busy Writer’s Guide.
- Professionalism – If we want anyone other than 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.
- Industry Knowledge – While we can’t control sales or readership directly, we can learn about our industry. 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 get their work to readers. Learn about the industry in which you work.
- Commitment to Craft – I’ve left this one for last, but ultimately, I think it’s the most important. We are writers after all. 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 in creative writing. 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.
If we focus on process not outcome, and if we commit to our craft, we can navigate the complex intersection between art and industry and build a healthy, productive career for ourselves.