A part (arguably a big part) of being a successful writer is having some talent at writing. I don’t think many people would argue that. But it takes more than just a knack for writing to make it in this business. Here are a few things that aren’t writing a book that go a long way toward making a successful author.
Know how to take criticism.
This is huge. Every writer has undoubtedly met at least one person who asks for a critique, only to raise a debate about your feedback. And look, I understand. Writers put their hearts and souls into their books, and hearing negative feedback can feel like someone telling you your baby is ugly. The automatic reaction is to put up your defenses. I’ve told this story many times, but I still vividly remember posting the first chapter of my first attempt at a book on a critiquing website only to be left in tears when the first response was something along the lines of ‘I don’t care if the rain is falling like perfect teardrops. Never start your book with weather. It’s boring.’ (For the record, I didn’t write that line about perfect teardrops, dude was just mocking me, but you get the point—I’d described the weather in the first paragraph).
Was this guy a jerk in his approach? Yeah. But after I danced around the computer giving it middle fingers allowed myself to properly absorb and reflect on the critique, I realized that jerk was right.* Reading about the weather in the first paragraph of a book is boring. And so I edited, and my work improved exponentially. And at the end of the day, that’s the reason you share your work with others in the first place, right? It’s not to get a big pat on the back (though those are nice), but to pinpoint the weaknesses in your story and look for ways to make it better**. And in a competitive book market, going from good to great might be what it takes to get your work noticed.
*That’s not to say I worked with the guy again. Sure, the advice was helpful, but there’s something to be said for tact.
**And that’s not to say you should listen to every critique, even the person who tells you “Dont have a romance in your story, that wuz done in twilight”. You don’t have to agree, but don’t dismiss a critique without taking serious time to reflect on it. You may be too close to your project to be truly objective
Don’t let good enough be enough.
After taking months, sometimes years, to write a book, there are bound to be countless moments in any writer’s life when you want to throw up your hands and say it’s good enough, then promptly drown yourself in queso and wine. But then you feel that niggle of doubt, and your writerly insecurity starts to creep in, and you wonder whether pressing “send” is really such a good idea after all. And what I’m saying is that sometimes you should let your insecurity tell you something: your book may not be ready. Don’t stop making your book better until you (and others you trust), can honestly say it’s the best work you’re capable of. DON’T RUSH. In the words of my idol Britney Spears (don’t judge), you gotta work, b*tch. Okay so maybe that didn’t apply, but I really wanted to use that quote. Kill me.
There is a 100% chance that if you’re a writer, you will get rejected. Maybe even often. Which is why it burns me when I see authors saying they’re going to give up because they got XYZ number of rejections, especially when that number is under 30. What stands between successful authors and everyone is that they don’t stop trying after they get rejected. They send out more queries. They rework their query. They rework their novel. They write another novel. They don’t let rejection get them down. If I’d have stopped writing after my first novel got exactly one partial request out of over 100 queries, I wouldn’t have written HEXED. And if I’d stopped querying HEXED after the first 15 rejections (of which there would be over 90), I wouldn’t have known that the next response would be a request for a full. You get the idea. There will be rejection. What matters is what you do about it.
Don’t be a dick.
This seems straight forward, but I’ll expand anyway: If you’re a dick, people won’t like you. And if people don’t like you, they might not want to work with you or support your book, no matter how great that book is. You’re never too big or too cool or too important to be humble, appreciative, professional, and most of all, kind.
I can already hear someone saying, “But hey, so-and-so- is a huge dick, and he’s successful. What gives?” Are there some dickish writers out there with massive book deals and huge followings? Sure. But for every successful dick with a book deal, I bet there are a ton more out there without one. Nobody wants to work with someone who’s got “difficult” stamped all over them. And besides, there’s nothing to lose by being a nice person, right?
So there it is. There doesn’t seem to be a casual way to end my blog post after so many dick mentions, so I’ll just quietly leave now . . .