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Expect to Work Hard

Friday, September 30, 2011

Occasionally people ask me for the “secret of my success” either in relation to my books or my web presence.

In fact, in a recent interview, Marcy Kennedy of Girls With Pens asked me to share the secret to my social media success. Here was my answer: “There are a lot of factors that have helped me to grow my web presence. If I had to pick the top ingredient—the one thing that has helped me the most—I’d have to say hard work. There’s no easy way to gain a following. It takes dogged determination day after day.”

Michael Hyatt, Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, had a post a couple of weeks ago: “7 Ways Successful Creatives Think Differently than Unsuccessful Ones.” I agreed with all seven points.

But interestingly his point number five was this: Successful creatives work hard.

Hyatt said, “The best creatives are not lazy. They don’t assume that their work is done once the book is written, the speech prepared, or the album recorded. In a real sense, their work has only just begun. They don’t display a spirit of entitlement. Instead, they roll up their sleeves and do the work that lesser creatives are unwilling to do.”

It’s tempting to look at writers with large platforms or best-selling books and think that somehow they had an insider connection, or got exceptionally lucky, or made it big before the market changed, or have a better publisher, or whatever.

If I were to let you glimpse through the screen of my laptop into my home so that you could watch me in action, you wouldn’t see any minions running around doing my work for me. And I don’t have super human powers.

No, instead you would see me sitting with my hands on the keyboard working hard, day after day. Over the past several years I’ve literally spent every spare moment pouring my energy into my books and into building a web presence.

Hard work has indeed been the primary ingredient in helping me climb forward in my writing career. There are no shortcuts. No easy paths. And anyone who thinks so is terribly deluded.

Whether we’re working to complete a novel, or find an agent, or land a book contract, or to find a way to market our self-published book—there aren’t any simple ways to find success.

As I’ve watched the market change over the past several years, I’ve tried to make sense of what’s happening. More writers than ever before are fulfilling the dream of publication by self-publishing. Even traditional publishers seem to be spreading themselves broader—having a wider base of authors with small to mediocre sales rather than a narrow base of big sellers.

I’m seeing that most authors (particularly in the CBA market) are ending up getting lost in that wide pool of mediocre sales. I know authors who feel lucky to sell 5000 books. Recently agent Steve Laube mentioned in his post "What Are Average Book Sales" that 10,000 sales is fairly typical for a  MAJOR publisher. For self-publishing, most writers can expect to sell even less.

Let’s face it, if we work hard enough to finally fulfill the dream of publication (whether through self or traditional publication), most of us will struggle to sell our books—even our really good, well-written books.

I’m not saying all of this to be a naysayer. Rather, I’m pointing out that NOW more than ever before, writers need to expect to work hard if they want to rise above average.

Maybe some writers will be completely satisfied with seeing their book in print—regardless of the sales. Maybe some will find happiness in knowing that readers are enjoying their books—no matter the numbers.

Everyone defines personal success differently. But let’s be honest, after spending months pouring our hearts and souls into our stories, most of us want our books to sell well. We want them to succeed. We don’t want to get lost in the millions of books out there.

The bottom line for me is hard work. There’s nothing magical about it. We just have to roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty, and do what needs to be done. Digging for a successful writing career is not for the faint of heart.

Do you agree with my opinion? Can hard work really put you ahead in today’s market? Or do you think that other factors are more important?

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Here's where I'm at in my blog tour! Make sure to swing by!

Friday 9/30: I'm stopping by Diane Estrella's blog and sharing what 5 items I could NOT leave behind if I went on a trip like Priscilla in The Doctor's Lady! Plus I'm giving away a signed book!

34 comments:

  1. Jody I just got the first professional critique of my novel back from a contest I entered. I did not expect to final and was not disappointed there! Ha! The suggestions were great and it was good to hear about specific things that I need to change. I've read through the critiques twice now, and although I want to edit and polish, I am a little overwhelmed by the work that I need to do. It WILL be hard work and even though I know it will be worth it in the end, it is a little daunting to feel like you've given something your best, and now you need to make it better! I have to remember that God honors hard work and sticking with something even when it's difficult, AND the wonderful thing about God is that he is always taking our best and making it better. If he's called me to do this (writing) he will equip me to learn and grow. You're totally right - it's just hard work!

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  2. Hey girlie, it might be my computer, but I can't read your post. The background somehow crept over your words.
    I'll come back later. :-)

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  3. Agreed, Jody. I haven't made it to the point of even seeking an agent yet, but I've already prepared myself that the work to come would be no less than the work I've put in thus far. And that's a lot ;) Working hard for something we love doing is so fulfilling. I couldn't imagine not giving it my all.

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  4. If a writer wants to go far in the industry, hard work is a must. Great post, Jody. I agree with every word. You can't work hard and not have a quality manuscript. And once you're published, you have to learn the fine art of multi-tasking--plotting book 3, editing book 2, and marketing book 1. None of those successes happen without a lot of hard work and dedication to the craft.

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  5. LOVE this!!!! (I think I start all my comments on your blog that way, HA!) Hard work is OH SO IMPORTANT!! I'll be honest, the whole "sales" numbers make me NERVOUS at the moment. Before, it was "someday in the future" now it is "holy crap that's just next year!!!"

    I fully intend to work really hard at it. I just... yeah. Fear is a yucky thing!

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  6. Oh Jody, I so needed to read this today! I'm in the process of editing my novel for about the hundredth time and wondering if it will ever pay off. Thanks for these words!

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  7. Well said, Jody. Many years ago, when I was starting to run a small business, I got a motivational tape from the legendary football coach George Allen. I couldn't wait to hear his secrets. And the first thing he said was, "Work hard." I thought, c'mon Coach...but then realized this is something you have to motivate yourself to do every day. (Which is why I tell new writers my #1 rule has always been the word quota).

    I would just add, vis-a-vis self-publishing, that you also have to work smart. That's a whole other subject. But certainly you can't market what isn't written, and what isn't written well.

    Note: I initially mistyped the quoted phrase above as "Word hard." Seems apt.

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  8. I agree 100%. There is no magic bullet. It takes dedication and hard work and maybe even sometimes a little luck and timing. But most of all, it's nose-to-the-grindstone hard work. Very nicely stated post...

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  9. It's like the Nike slogan Just Do It. How much you do is reflected back to you in how much you achieve, period. Knowing what genre you should be writing and sticking to it is important first though :)

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  10. Of course I'm agreeing with you. Of course! Hard work is the key factor in most success stories. I also think the old adage "work smarter, not harder," is true too. When we keep our eyes open and see what is working for other people, we find ways to get more bang for the buck. How's that for a paragraph full of cliches? Ha!

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  11. Jody
    I think hard work is the major key. A lot of other factors come into play, but without hard work they don't really matter. I'm still figuring out how to build my blog/web presence, and realizing that in itself is at least a part time job, lol. But it's an important key to selling, so I've got to do it.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  12. I'm having great success in publishing right now, because I have 20 years worth of hard work in backlist to republish. I couldn't do that overnight. And even then, every single day is working two jobs: author and publisher. I can tell that I work every single day because my Excel spreadsheet that lists my Kindleboard/UK Kindle/ and Nookboards promotional threads have been bumped every single day since the start of this year-- except one day, when I was traveling and didn't have access to the internet. The #1 thing that will separate out those who succeed and those who don't is hard work.

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  13. Couldn't agree more. Off to tweet!
    ~ Wendy

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  14. You're a shining example of one who works hard, Jody!

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  15. I totally agree with this. Hard work is imperative.

    But I also think we can get so wrapped up in ALL the things we have to do that we can get completely overwhelmed.

    Yes, we have to work hard. But it's also unhealthy to think we need to do it all. That the whole of our publishing success rests solely on our own shoulders. That if we're not doing well, then we just need to work harder. That philosophy can lead to ulcers.

    At the conference, Dan Walsh said something that really resonated with me. He talked about the little boy who gave Jesus his five loaves and his two fish - everything he had. Yet that still wasn't enough. There was no way that would feed 5000 people. Yet the boy gave it to Jesus and Jesus did the rest.

    So yes, we need to work hard. We need to give it all we've got. But God is going to multiply what He wants to multiply. I felt the truth of Dan's words bring a lightness to my soul. It was one of my ah-ha conference moments.

    Just my two cents.

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  16. Well, one thing's for sure: If you don't work hard, you'll end up behind the pack, watching everyone else pass you by.
    So, it's an individual's choice: Hard work and accomplish something (lead the way) or slack off and be left behind.
    Of course, hard work doesn't guarantee everyone will love my book(s) ... but you just have to let that obsession go, don't you?

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  17. REALLY loving all of the thoughts today, everyone! Thanks for ALL of your input!

    It's great to hear from some successful industry icons--James Scott Bell and Bob Mayer. Thank you for sharing your insights too.

    And Katie, great point. Everyone has to determine how much hard work they are willing and able to give to our writing careers. We won't be able to do it ALL at every stage of our lives. There may be seasons when we put forth less effort (and that will be okay). And then other times when we'll need to vamp it up. The bottom line is that those who are seen as successful had to work really hard to get to that point. We can't expect any less in our careers.

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  18. I think you're totally right. Absolutely. It really is what will set apart the wannabes from those who are making a living off of their writing. But when we're in the throws of work that hasn't quite payed off yet, it is helpful and inspiring to hear that we just need to keep going and it will all eventually work out somehow. So thank you!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  19. I agree completely! Hard work is important now more than ever. To get ahead we can't sit back and let the publisher do everything for us because they're doing less and less. Other factors come into play of course, but success often comes down to hard work.

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  20. I totally, totally agree...and I think this is what separates the people who "want to be a writer" and the people who "ARE writers."

    I think the question for me remains, where do you put your hard working efforts when it comes to social media. I mean, I am more than willing to work to promote my novel's release... but I want to be smart about how I do it... that's always the challenge!

    Great post, Jody! :)

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  21. Courtney, knowing where to focus in social media IS a challenge. Before publication, I think writers are using social media to build their teams/tribes who will be invaluable in helping with promotion down the road. Then after publication we're working at keeping in touch with our team, but also connecting with readers. Those connections can take many forms, but the key is having them.

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  22. Jody, yep, you got it girl. It really is all about hard work, and believing in yourself, and pushing through disappointment, more hard work, etc. The successes may be few in the scheme of all that we do, but they are also very sweet. :)

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  23. Great post, Jody, as always. There are still people who believe that once the book is finished and published their job is done. I'm afraid they are for a big surprise when their book goes straight to the clearance section and the royalty checks won't come.

    I'm finishing my first novel and soon will start quering but I've been already working serious overtime on building my platform since July. Every single day I dedicate at least two hours (usually more) to social media. It's a hard work and requires a lot of discipline and planning but I'm hoping to benefit from it one day.

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  24. Great post, Jody, as always.

    Hard work, dedication and simply believing in me have always been my best allies. I'm close to finishing my first novel and soon will start querying agents but for the last few months I've been already working serious overtime building my platform. I dedicate a few hours each day to it and it is very challenging but a good organization and staying on task pays off. I'm hoping all this effort will bring good results in the future.

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  25. Though I do believe that hard work plays a major role in success, there's also a bit o' luck or serendipity involved. Regardless, we should work as if our success depended solely upon our work ethic.

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  26. I agree, but it's also discouraging to feel like you're working as hard as you can to build an online presence, do all the blog interviews and market your book as best you can, but really not seeing any great change in sales. I feel a little tapped out of my resources and I'm not sure what to do next. I think maybe all these things you have talked about do work, but maybe it's also hitting the market at the right time, with the right product. Who knows. Some days I feel like I'm as much in the dark as I was six months ago when my book released!

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  27. A good post, Jody, as always.

    You have to work hard to write a good book even if you don't make a lot of sales. The odds of the latter get higher and higher as people's pocketbooks shrink and bookstores close.

    I agree with what Catherine West (above) says. Sometimes it's hitting the market at the right time with the right product. And I would add that even publishers don't always know when that "right" moment is. And so, I think we have to enjoy writing enough to get out there in the fray. I've been thinking a lot about this lately as I too have been feeling like I'm "tapped out of my resources." I've wondered what to do next, then decided to get a second memoir written and get it out there. A second book can help sell the first one. It just takes a lot of time and determination, and hard work, as you say, to do it!!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

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  28. Jody, One of my daughters has done a lot of work in the theater community. They have a slogan - work begets work. I think that holds true for us as well.

    Great post.

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  29. Hi, dear Jody, such as the exciting article posted you! I am feeling excited to read your blog post. I highly appreciate this outstanding post! Thanks for the share!


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  30. Your comment that "Everyone defines personal success differently" reinforces the preceding paragraph, and for me that suggests perhaps the reason some writers won't be ideal clients is because they don't really want to work hard enough to achieve the level of success a publisher seeks for them. For some I think it's difficult to accept that the work they've already done isn't going to be enough. Lisa mentions "dedication". Without it there's no motivation to do the amount of work required. And that dedication won't materialize if there's no passion. We have to *love* what we do enough to love the work that goes with it. I hope that makes sense to someone other than me! :)

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  31. Thanks for acknowledging that self-published authors work hard, too!

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  32. Jody,

    When you're writing, do you ever feel really overwhelmed, trying to put all the details together and all?

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  33. Anon, Absolutely! There are definitely times when I feel overwhelmed. However, I've found that having my ongoing plot notebook really helps. I tend to plan out each scene as I go (before writing it). That helps me to stay focused on that scene, keep it organized, and allows me to go back and reference things I've either added or left out. Wishing you all the best!

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  34. I totally agree with you Jody that hard work is the bottom line to success. Anyone who finds writing, editing, marketing, and staying involved in social media a chore, is in the wrong business.

    Every day I learn new techniques and gain more knowledge. If I didn't love every aspect of writing, I couldn't imagine contining.

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