One of the things I have struggled with throughout my writing career is the nagging fear that I may not be working hard enough. People who realize great success in this world tend to fight their way to the top, they don’t simply ascend to it, so working extremely hard to get what I want has always been part of my great Master Plan.
For the most part, I think I have worked hard: I’ve put in long hours, rewritten my work endlessly, and cultivated relationships with dozens of people capable of moving my career forward. I’ve done things to promote my writing that have forced me completely out of my comfort zone, and I’ve done scores of readings and signings for no other reason than to avoid the bad karma of declining.
But I don’t work sixteen-hour days.
I don’t Tweet.
I don’t push myself to write X number of books in Y number of months.
I don’t do cold calls seeking reviews or reads or meetings.
I don’t blog on multiple websites.
I don’t follow book-industry news on a daily basis just to keep up with the latest developments in e-publishing.
I don’t attempt to sell myself to anyone I don’t have reason to believe will be at least vaguely interested in buying.
I have my reasons for all these “don’ts,” of course:
I’m a married father of two pre-teen children who needs his sleep.
I’m on a very limited budget.
Self-promotion makes me feel like an ass.
I have a low tolerance for rejection.
All of the above would be fine if I were selling my work in decent numbers regardless, but I’m not. As I’ve alluded to here on occasion, I’ve been writing from the depths of a career downtrend for a while now, so if ever there was a time to pull out all the stops to get ahead, this would be it. The trouble is, I feel like I am pulling out all the stops. The effort I’m making now to grow my career feels like everything I’ve got to give, despite all the things I’m not doing that so many writers today are.
But maybe I’m just kidding myself. Maybe I’m in denial. Lazy slackers are always the last to realize they are lazy slackers, so maybe I have a lot more to give in terms of elbow grease than I’ve simply been willing to admit.
Maybe what feels like 110% effort to me is in fact only about 85 percent, relative to the real ass-kickers in our business.
If so, I’ve got to find that extra 25% somewhere, and fast. Because my desire to succeed as an author is as strong today as it’s ever been. Despite all the seeming evidence of sloth and indifference to the contrary.
Good advice! When we think we're giving everything, and still not making our goals, it's time to give a little bit more. Sometimes it feels like bleeding the stone. I love the saying "Nothing worth doing is easy." Good to keep in mind for all writers!
Gar, I'm compelled to jump in here. The only thing you NEED to do is love your family and write the very best book you possibly can. All the rest is just noise. A brilliant book trumps self-promotion, every time. The time spent away from the book is time you could be spending making it even more wonderful. And I've never ever heard an editor say " I wish you'd tweet more," or "I don't see you out on Facebook enough."
So go easier on yourself. And realize what you see as 85% is someone else's 100%.
Don't confuse "slacking" with venturing outside your comfort zone – some of these things are like the antartica of your comfort zone. If you try and do something that is abhorent to you (or cuts into the "needs" like sleep, kid time and writing time that you must have) it isn't going to be effective anyway. We cannot be all things. You do what you are comfortable with and maybe a little more. If you feel that you need to push yourself a little further, pick one thing, and maybe do it in a more comfortable way. Instead of cold calling, ask one of the many who admire you to introduce you (you have a lot of folks out here who would be more than willing to help in that way). Or do a guest blog once in a while (Jungle Red is very gracious or The Outfit, the Chicago folks, etc.). Corbett just started Tweeting. Don't be overwhelmed, just do one new thing.
What JT said.
JT, Allison, Twist: Thank you. You know that expression "feel the love"? Well, I can feel the love. And I hear you all. This post wasn't supposed to sound like a pity party, but maybe it did. I'm not feeling sorry for myself, just questioning my commitment as it compares to that of some others. I see the output of some and wonder when in the hell do these people SLEEP? If never coming up for air — and I swear, that's what it seems some name authors do — is what 110% effort/commitment looks like, then I just don't have that to give.
Pride plays a huge part in all this, of course. Going balls-to-the-wall professionally requires a certain amount of pushy jackass-like behavior, and who wants to be seen as a pushy jackass? And where is the line that separates admirable, aggressive initiative from counter-productive badgering?
I know this feeling, Gar. I read stories about authors, and it seems to me that all of them are working 16-hour days, and these 16-hour days are the reason they're megasellers. I often feel inadequate to the task of author-dom.
Here's a reality check: the megasellers who are active on every social media outlet plus pumping out their books? They've got people doing their social media. Lucky them, they can afford it.
Also, I think when you're a nice person, you come off as nice even when you're shamelessly self-promoting yourself. I've been observing Hank Philippi Ryan since before THE OTHER WOMAN came out. She's self-promotes with the best of them, and man did she ever in the months leading up to that book's release. But she's so funny and nice and responsive and friendly and even self-deprecating at times, that it was OK.
Gar, please… what JT said. Honest and truly.
Well, not to take issue with JT, but I just spoke with Deborah Crombie, who admitted she works 9 months a year at promotion so she can jam three months of writing into the new book. She was speaking with Tony Broadbent and I at the time. She spends an inordinate amount of time on Jungle Red and other blogs and twitter and FB and WTF. I'm doing a lot of that now, and can't escape the feeling I'm drowning in minutiae. Meaningless minutiae to boot. I can't say I hate it but I can feel it swallowing my days.
Cara Black voiced similar testimony. Publishers are demanding more and more in the way of promotion from writers, and it's an incredible time drain.
Then again, maybe one day I'll write the Great American Tweet.
Gar, I will agree that your family and sanity come first. And I love your books. That's what little wisdom I can add.
Gar, don't believe everything you see. Appearances can be deceiving. So can comparing yourself to others. The ones without day jobs write good books (or have rich spouses), they don't tweet more to get there. I didn't read your post as a pity party invite, but it's a tough call.
One of my law partners was accused of being "too aggressive" by a client — because she asked for business. We suspect a male partner would not have engendered (ha!) the same reaction. So being a jackass and being effective is a fine line and sometimes in the eye of the beholder. Think about when your kids want something, what works and what doesn't….
Gar, I am so, so hugely glad you wrote this post today. In itself, it is important, ans it has initiated revealing comments about the writer and writing, the business of writing and all the psychology that goes with.
I didn't mean to be glib in dittoing JT, only to express my agreement regarding the importance of love and choice of focus. Focus saves me from despair, as much as love. People who love cannot separate the two.
David, that's incredible about Deborah Crombie. Not only all the promotion, but she writes her novels in three months?!?!?
Gar, I think as long as you're writing as much of the time as you can (i.e. not procrastinating too much) you ARE working at 100-110%. You do need sleep, some R&R, time away from the computer, etc. But I agree…it's hard to find the balance. I'm struggling, too! If it weren't for my discovery of the 10k day process a few years back I wouldn't have been able to write nearly as much in the short space of time as I have.
Listen, bud, I'm right there with you. Maybe it's not about working MORE, or "harder," but working smarter. I look to people like Brett Battles for that – he just sits down and writes and writes and writes, and then he self-publishes. He took a print career and made it his own, so that money doesn't go to agents or publishers. A lot of us are working just as hard as Brett (maybe), but I think he's doing it smarter than a lot of us – definitely smarter than me. Or there's balancing the print career with the self-publishing, like Zoe, Tim Hallinan, Alex, and many others do. Which I'm not doing.
Basically, I'm slowly writing, not putting the pace and anxiety into the work that I used to. Not making the work more important than the family. I'll do all the crazy promotional things when I have a book to sell. Still, though, I've stopped doing a lot of the stuff that takes up my time – like speaking at library panels and reading tons of books to provide blurbs – and no more judging competitions for a long, long time. Judging two competitions ate 5 months of my writing time.
I don't know if I said much, here, but I said something, and that counts for 2% towards my 110%.
I agree with Corbett – I hear most of my author friends talking about publishers aggressively pushing authors to do more social media marketing. And I agree with Steve – I think the key is to work smarter, not harder. I can't imagine that you're NOT working hard enough, Gar.
Here's a quick example of what I mean by smarter. Since social media seems to be a do-it-or-die mandate for authors these days, I’ve invested a lot of time recently in growing my Facebook presence. I make time for it every day. I’ve found a way that I can do it that feels like play, not work. In fact, it has become a needed break from my writing. I don’t get the same kind of pleasure out of Twitter, so I don’t do it. And I spend the vast majority of that FB time socializing, not promoting. But when I do need something promoted, people are amazingly happy to help, as I found out in spades last week. I'm blogging about it for my turn here on Friday.