What Will Writers Need in 2012 to Survive & Succeed?

What are your predictions for the publishing industry in 2012?

Any time I talk to agents, editors, or other authors about the future of publishing, where it’s headed, and what’s going to happen, I usually get something like, “No one really knows at this point.”

We’ve seen incredible changes over the past twelve months: the explosion of e-readers and e-books, the rise of successful mid-list self-epublished authors, the closing of Borders, the ever-shrinking shelf-space of brick-and-mortar stores, Amazon becoming a publisher, dropping sales figures for authors who once considered themselves secure, self-published millionaires taking center stage, etc.

The changes often leave us feeling a bit excited and unsettled as we try to understand how we fit into the publishing picture. Whether we’re headed toward traditional or self-publication (or both), we know things won’t ever be the same again.

We may not be able to predict what’s going to happen in the upcoming year. But as I sat down to think about what would help me survive the upheaval and even succeed through it, here are five traits I want to cultivate:

1. Keep an open mind.

There's no one “right” way toward publication anymore (if there ever was). Those who turn up their noses at self-publication or who scoff traditional methods are likely to miss out on opportunities.

Wise authors are looking carefully at both options and considering how they can best build their readerships.

And publishers need to keep an open mind too. James Scott Bell said recently in his post, 10 Reasons Why I am Self-Publishing: “Traditional publishers should not fret over authors self-publishing . . . An author who makes more readers helps the traditional publisher sell more of that author's books.”

2. Maintain a long-term vision.

Whether starting out in traditional or self-publication, the climb upward for most writers is slow and gradual. Very few writers have instant fame and fortune. We can’t put one or two books out there and hinge our hopes on them. Instead, most authors have to publish multiple books before they develop a loyal fan base of readers and the sales figures to show that.

3. Grow in internet marketing savvy.

Most people I talk to insist that while venues are changing, readers are still buying books. Fewer readers are browsing brick and mortar stores which has led to a decline in impulse buying. Instead, readers are heading to online bookstores and are usually more directed—knowing what they want even before they click onto the shopping page.

Such changes within the industry have increased the need for publishers and authors to find ways to help draw attention to their books online. Those who want to succeed will need to study what’s working, find new inroads, and continually grow a web presence.

4. Write powerfully but pragmatically.

I wish all it took to find publishing success was a powerful, well-written story. However, we could all probably name at least a dozen incredible books published in 2011 that only had mediocre sales and tepid success. The writing and story alone are not enough to rocket a book to fame.

So while I firmly believe we need to write passionately and powerfully, we also can’t ignore the market and what readers like. We have to begin to understand what sells and what doesn’t and then why.

I’ve learned from personal experience that traditional publishers must keep reader needs paramount. But the reader relationship is key in self-publishing as well. As Bell said in his 10 Reasons post: “The readers themselves -- get to decide how much reward an author gets. That's as it should be. The more an author writes and publishes and pleases readers, the more the market will reward said author.”

5. Work incredibly hard.

There are no shortcuts to success. Anyone who’s reached a level of success either through traditional or self-publication has put in the time and the effort.

As the numbers of writers and published authors continues to grow, the factor that will separate the wannabes from the want-nots is WORK—and lots of it. Talent, friendliness, and savvy won’t take a writer the distance. Sure those qualities can help. But without plain old elbow grease, a writer won’t make it very far.

So those are the traits I hope to have in 2012. What trait(s) do you think YOU need in the upcoming year to stay the course? And do you have any predictions for 2012? I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

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