For the last three years, the VP of my department at my Evil Day Job has been forwarding newsletters from motivational speaker Jon Gordon. Every time one of these newsletters comes into my email box, I eagerly read it from beginning to end. While most of what Jon writes and speaks about does not translate well into the publishing world, I always strive to find that one kernel of truth that holds even in this fickle industry. In fact, Jon’s ideas and words of wisdom have sparked more than a few blog posts of my own, and today’s is no different.
I have noticed a very distinct increase in the number of self-published “writers” over the past two years. I have only to scroll through my FaceBook newsfeed to see that approximately half of the 4000 people on my friends’ list considers themselves a writer, most of which have at least one novel self-published through Amazon or are working on their first novel that they plan to self-publish. One would think that being around that many creative minds would be conducive to helping a writer stay on track and do what they do best – write.
Unfortunately, as I have discovered so many times in the past, being around writers is actually counterproductive for a lot of us. We tend to measure our own successes by how much other writers have accomplished. It’s disheartening for most of us. Who wouldn’t be discouraged when they have a half-dozen projects going at once with no tangible goal other than to actually get one of them finished sometime in the next six months, while their newsfeed is filled with writers who have churned out their fifth book in as many months. Sure, we all know that we shouldn’t measure our own successes by those of others’, especially when we know what type of quality most of these “writers” are producing. But when you are bombarded by this information in virtually every other post in your newsfeed, it makes it extremely difficult to not feel at least the tiniest twinge of inadequacy creeping in.
Then today, I had this wonderful piece of advice from Jon fill my inbox, and I realized that what I have been telling other writers for so many years still rings just as true not only in the writing world, but in the business world as well:
Sell without selling out. Focus more on your core principles and customer loyalty than short term commissions and profits.
For years I have told budding young authors that they don’t want to write a word-vomit book, the self-published equivalent of a mercenary writer, those writers who focus more on quantity than quality. A word-vomit book is just that, a book that someone vomited words onto a page without so much as a single rewrite and little to no edits. These types of books are generally seen the most in categories that contain a propositionately larger number of sales than other categories, such as erotica. These types of writers will churn out large quantities of sub-par reading material in an attempt to keep a steady stream of royalties in their bank account. These types of writers rarely make any type of real name for themselves.
As I like to say, such writers are “selling out” their readers by offering them mediocre plotlines when they could have just as easily spent the required time to polish it to perfection. Consider this, Harper Lee only ever published one book in her life, and that book has become one of the single most read books of all time. It is a timeless classic, required reading material in half of the nation’s schools and banned by the other half. That is no small feat, especially these days. And while no one may know the author’s name, they have most definitely heard of the book.
I remember a fellow author friend posting on FB that in this day and age, a writer cannot just produce one book a year and expect to make any money. You have to keep churning out dozens of books to keep your name out there.
I find so many faults in this statement. It only takes ONE really great book to make a name for yourself in the writing world. And you have to ask yourself, do you want to be remembered for producing thirty mediocre books, or for producing that one book that is read for generations to come, the type of story and characters that stay with your readers regardless of how many other books they read? There are over 1.5 billion English speaking readers on this planet. You will make more money by selling one really great book to a few million of them than you will trying to market dozens of crap-tacular books that will only sell a few dozen copies each at most.
This is another reason why I love this wonderful piece of positive wisdom. So many writers are focused only on getting the next book out, to do a massive launch and sell as many books as they can the first week or two. And once they see their sales start to tank, they immediately start writing the next mediocre piece of word vomit and wonder why no one outside of their base 100 fans are buying. It never occurs to them that there are literally MILLIONS of readers out there that have yet to be exposed to their works. And if they did not spend the time and energy to produce the absolute best piece of literary work they are capable of, it does not matter how many books they produce, it only takes a reader getting hold of just ONE badly written book and they will never read another book by that author again.
The good news is that it only takes a reader getting hold of just ONE really great book by an author to keep that reader coming back again and again, even if it does take you a year to produce your next book. It is for this reason that while I continue to write and do a bit of marketing for each new release, I only really do heavy marketing for ONE of my books. Those who already know about my work stay in touch and eagerly snatch up the next release, but for those who have yet to discover my vivid imagination, I try to captivate them with only ONE book, and once they take a look around, they will see that I offer a wide range of books and adventures.
It only takes one. This is my motto for everything. It only takes ONE good book to make a name for myself. It only takes ONE reader talking about my book to spread the word. And it only takes ONE badly written book to turn off a reader forever.
My advice to authors is to start using this same philosophy. Stop trying to churn out an endless stream of sub-par books. Concentrate on creating just ONE really awesome book, and market that book far and wide. And once that ONE book has become a household name, you can start working to make another one of your books into a household name. Keep writing, and treat all your books as if it is going to be that ONE truly great book. When you do this, one day you will realize that you have a half-dozen really great books, and any ONE of them can help cement your name in the history books.