It’s tempting to put all our effort into a big debut or breakout book. It’s natural to want our work to make a big splash and gain attention. We might think that if we break out, we’ll have it made.
But there’s a dark side to that approach, especially if our eyes are only on our debut book. If we don’t succeed in making our debut huge, we might think we’ve failed right when we should be thinking about how we’ve just started our publishing journey. We might give up before giving ourselves a chance.
On the other end of that possibility, if we do succeed—if we do start at the top—we might always worry about how there’s only one place to go from there. Down.
Is a Big Debut Really a Good Thing?
The chances of having a huge debut are very low. The chances of that success continuing release after release are close to nil or worse. I can’t think of any authors who hit it big with their first book and continued to reach those numbers with their later efforts. I’m sure there are a handful out there, but joining that single-digit number club isn’t a realistic goal when there are so many factors in that situation we can’t control.
However, when we decide we’re in this for the long haul, we stop chasing the mega-success we can’t control. And we start focusing on the things we can control: our writing quality and our consistency of output.
The number of authors who started off modestly and then grew their readership from one release to the next is a much larger club. Most mega-authors we can think of fall into this category. That goal of growing our success from the ground up is within our grasp. If we improve our writing and continue releasing new books, we have the opportunity to gain new readers each time.
What Does a Long-Haul Attitude Look Like?
A few months ago, I saw a quote from filmmaker Woody Allen that really resonated with me:
“I’ve managed to avoid over decades the hit-flop syndrome. Most filmmakers work in that spectrum, and they have the pluses and minuses. They get the delight and pleasure out of a great hit, and they love the awards, they love the parties, the premieres. The box-office returns are heady for them, and they love it. But when something doesn’t work, very often, they have trouble getting money for their next picture.
I’ve never had that problem. I’ve never had their joys or their lows. I’ve just sort of existed since 1968 making films kind of on a low flame, burning on a low flame. And that’s fine, because the fun for me is to make the picture.”
That’s the attitude I want to have for my career. My focus is on writing the best stories I can—and that’s where I get my joy.
Woody Allen has had big successes. But that was never his focus, never his goal. He didn’t dwell on those successes because he was always looking toward the next story. Similarly, he didn’t dwell on his failures, on the years where people said he was a has-been, because he had a job to do: make the next film. We can do the same.
What Does “Long Haul” Mean to You?
I certainly wouldn’t mind a big debut or a big breakout book, but that’s not my goal. My goal is to keep my head down, work hard, improve my skills, and gain readers over time. I’m okay with being patient.
Some people have wondered why I’m not yet published. Why I haven’t jumped on the self-publishing opportunity to get my work out there. I’m sure my career choices will continue to create questions about why I decided a, b, or c about an agent, contract, or publisher.
Here’s the thing. We all have different goals. We all envision different career paths for ourselves. If I wanted a different path, yes, I could have been published by now.
But I’m not in this for the now, the immediate, the breakout. I’m in this for the long haul. And that attitude places me on a different path than some would assume. As long as I’m making progress along my path, I’m not frustrated. This is also why I don’t get jealous of others’ success. Their path is not my path.
The Dangers of Short-Term Thinking
We can apply this long-haul approach to not only to book publishing, but everything else as well. Some obsess over their blog traffic numbers. Or Twitter followers. Or Facebook friends.
And some might need to focus on those things depending on their goals. But too many worry about their social media numbers, sales numbers, or ranking numbers when it doesn’t really matter in the big picture of their goals.
As I mentioned above, focusing on the wrong things can make us give up before we really start. And that would be a shame.
I know writers who have stopped making time for their writing because they’re frustrated or discouraged or what-have-you. Some of them are great writers, and I hate to see them prematurely give up.
Others have gotten impatient and published their work too soon. I see their potential for greatness, but they never gave themselves permission to take the time to do things right.
Self-published or traditionally published, giving up or pushing too fast, patience plays a much bigger role in our long-term success than we think. Woody Allen’s goal? Make one movie a year on a modest budget and avoid the hype.
The key to being in this career for the long haul is having goals one year, three years, five years, and ten years out. The key is having the patience to realize we won’t reach all our goals this year. And the key is being okay with that. *smile*
Are you in this for the long haul? What does that mean to you? How do you maintain that attitude? If you’re focused on the short term, why have you chosen that approach? How has it helped you?Pin It