A couple of days ago I mentioned that most writers kill their own writing careers. Several people asked me to write about some of the ways they do this. So I’m going to take a moment and just mention a few career killers.
- Some writers focus on appealing to the wrong crowd. Very often new writers will try to gain the approval of literary critics, writing books that become more and more obscure and difficult to read, so that the average reader ends up not liking them. They try to load their books with (often simplistic and foolish) metaphors. I call these folks the FRM crowd because they are “fraught with meaning.” Remember: critics don’t buy books. They get them for free, and their tastes are not necessarily the same as the average person.
- Then again there are some writers who try too hard to write to the “common man.” They’re writing what I call LCD fiction—Lowest Common Denominator fiction. Remember, idiots won’t read your book. They won’t read any book. They’ll wait and watch the movie instead, or play videogames.
- Many authors can only sing one note. In other words, they have one tale that they tell with passion, but once they write that novel, they’ve got nothing else to say. Maybe they crave to write a story about child abuse or drug addiction, but after having dealt with the topic, they can’t move on. Some of these writers get quite famous—for one book. Try to develop wide tastes and be passionate on a range of topics.
- Fear kills careers. Some authors are afraid to read in public, afraid to talk to agents or editors or movie producers, afraid to travel, afraid to try new styles or learn how to write in different mediums. Such authors die a slow and strangled death.
- Many authors start out strong to great reviews, but decide that they don’t always have to put their best foot forward. Here’s a simple rule: Never excuse the weaknesses in your own writing. Yes, we’re all human, but when you spot a weakness, try to figure out how to eradicate it. If a fan or critic points out a weakness, don’t argue with them: thank them.
- Some writers get too rich. When money does start flowing in quickly, many authors will begin socking it away, and after they have a couple million in the bank, they quit writing.
- Other writers get a steady income stream and then act as if it will always be this way. Every writer, even professionals, will have up- and down-cycles. Plan on it. Don’t go out and buy your dream house on your first royalty check. You’ve heard the advice, “Don’t quit your day job.” Well, you might be wiser to quit it if your career is taking off, but consider those kinds of moves carefully. Remember: Invest. Save.
- Lack of FH. Your ability to write is determined by the number of “Focus Hours” you can spend on a project. Most people can only focus for half a dozen hours per day. If you spend those hours working at a second job, you will not write. If you spend them handling family affairs, you will not write. If you spend them playing videogames or watching television or exercising or chasing folks of the opposite sex, you will not write. Your Focus Hours—should be held sacred. You focus on your writing, and do other things on the side. Don’t spend all of your FH promoting your work. Watch out for fans or business acquaintances who will waste your time.
- Poor career management. Very few writers get any career advice or support from their agents or editors. We’re left to flounder on our own. You need to constantly keep your eyes and ears open and learn how to manage your career better—even before you ever begin your career. So many new authors are like athletes who are all geared up to run the race, but they stumble at the starting block. Sometimes they stumble so hard that they end up on the ground looking like roadkill. In short, you need to figure out which books to write, when to write them, and how to market them effectively. You may need to learn to write screenplays or turn your book into a videogame. Authors who sit back and expect their publishers to make them rich are fools. Even if it works for them (and sometimes it does), they’re being foolish.
- Poor personal skills. I’ve known a couple of authors who were so bad at interpersonal skills, their agents “fired” them or their editors couldn’t figure out how to work with them. As an author, we need to learn to play well with others. That doesn’t mean that you always demand your way, nor do you always give others exactly what they ask for. You need to learn to negotiate nicely, to play fair, and to avoid burning bridges. Create opportunities, not obstacles.