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The Most Important Quality In Best Selling Authors

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

There are a lot of important qualities that writers must have to succeed including patience, perseverance, and diligence.

But recently I was reading a fantastic post over on the Kill Zone blog titled "I Want to Succeed Now" that made me realize there was one quality that rises above all others.

The article was filled with examples of famous authors and how long it took them to reach success. It contained statistics like:

"Before Dean Koonz published Whispers, his big breakout hit, he wrote thirty-eight novels in twelve years."

"Tess Gerritsen wrote nine novels over nine years before she released her first NY Times bestseller, Harvest."

"Janet Evanovich wrote at least twelve novels before hitting it big in One for the Money."

First of all, I loved reading the article and getting the backstory on these bestselling authors. So often when we read bestseller lists, we don't realize just how many years and books most of those authors had to write before reaching that point. It gives us hope that our own struggles are not in vain.

And second, I loved reading the article because it helped me to see a common thread in most of those authors.

No, not all of them were on the cusp of a new genre that sky-rocketed them—although being on the cutting edge can help.

No, not all of them have fantastic, spell-binding stories that knock our socks off—although that doesn't diminish the critical aspect of having riveting stories.

No, not all of them were literary masterpieces—although that doesn't take away the need for learning and honing writing techniques.

And no, not all of them had hordes of marketing dollars poured into their book campaigns—although strategic marketing can be beneficial.

I think we can all agree that genre, stories, technique, and marketing can help books become bestsellers. But they're NOT a necessity. We've seen books hit bestseller lists without one or another of those traits.

So what is THE most important ingredient in helping authors and their books reach success? 

If you look at all the authors listed above (and even more in the Kill Zone article), perhaps you'll be struck as I was at the TENACITY of each author. They kept going, kept working hard, and kept writing books even when they weren't hitting it big.

What if they'd given up when their first couple of books didn't do as well as they'd wanted? What if they'd stopped after five books because they weren't yet on the best seller list? What if they'd thrown in the towel on the eleventh book (not knowing that it was the twelfth book that would bring them success)?

Without TENACITY many authors crash and burn before they have the chance to see where their careers might really take them.

So what does TENACITY really look like?

I like the definition of tenacity from vocabulary.com: The quality displayed by someone who just won't quit — who keeps trying until they reach their goal.

Miriam Webster defines it this way: Someone who is persistent in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired.

In other words, tenacious people STICK to their goals like superglue. They're bonded to the dream, they don't let go of what they're seeking.

Tenacious writers keep going, keep striving to write the best books they possibly can, year after year, and book after book.

That's not to say that simply putting out twenty books in twenty years will automatically qualify a writer for the best seller list. Because obviously tenacity involves more than just putting in the time. Yes, success requires a tenacity to time and effort.

But it also requires a tenacity to become the best that you can be. A tenacity to push yourself beyond mediocrity. A tenacity to weather the storms of the market and publishing industry. And a tenacity to stick it out even when you hit rock bottom.

Of course, there may come a point in our careers where we need to make a decision to change the course. But there's a difference between giving up in frustration and despair and consciously choosing to stop something.

So, dear writer friends, I encourage all of us (myself included) to stop expecting overnight success. And to stop complaining when it doesn't happen. Instead, we need to gear ourselves up for the long haul. And in order to do that we need an infusion of TENACITY!

What about you? How tenacious are you with your writing? Will there ever come a point in your writing career when you finally decide you've had enough? 

33 comments:

  1. You know how in Finding Nemo Dori keeps singing "Just keep swimming; just keep swimming"? That's what I tell myself about writing. "Just keep writing; just keep writing." And yes, I've got the really annoying tune in my head to go with it.

    But that's what I tell my self. One more scene, one more chapter, one more book. They'll all add up one day, even if I don't see it now.

    I suppose I'd consider quitting one day if I feel like I've gone as far as I can go personally with my writing, but my stories aren't having any kind of impact and the writing life is more stressful than it is rewarding. But I've got several years left before I'll be anywhere close to maximizing the potential I see now. So for the moment? "Just keep writing; just keep writing." :-)

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  2. This makes me think of that bit in Emily of New Moon, when Mr Carpenter asks Emily why she writes. Her first answer is that she wants to be rich and famous, but when pressed further, she says that she would write no matter what, that she HAS to, she can't not write. That, I think, is what distinguishes the writer from the author. The author might quit before achieving success, because he or she is in it for the money or the fame or just because they "like" it. The writer never, ever quits, because he or she cannot. No matter what the outcome.

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  3. Thanks, Jody. This is very encouraging and affirming today! :)

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  4. Jody, I, too, read that post in The Kill Zone blog and was surprised to see how long some well-established authors struggled before being published. An editor friend tells me that he and his colleagues agree that it takes writing at least four novels before a writer begins to "get it."
    Did I get so discouraged I almost quit? I actually did quit--but God had other plans, plans that eventually brought me to publication. Sort of gives new meaning to Jeremiah 29:11.
    As always, thanks for sharing.

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  5. I also read The Kill Zone post, but some of the facts mentioned didn't suprise me. I have heard that it takes at least three books before someone is really considered an "established" author, and sometimes it takes more than that before they really find success. A minute amount of the people who want to write are successful right away, and you can't plan for that. It's a fluke.

    I like that you thought of the trait "tenacity" that all authors really need to have. I went straight to "stubbornness," but I like "tenacity" better.

    Will I ever quit writing? Considering I started really writing more than 10 years ago with no thoughts of ever having anyone read what I wrote, I don't think so. I don't write for the attention or to be famous. I write because I want to, because it makes me happy and because I have stories to tell. If I am ever able to support myself from a writing income in order to quit my day job and just write full time, that would be great, but it's not necessary to keep me writing.

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  6. Thanks for this post, Jody. I really needed this today. Though I keep pushing through and writing more, I still don't think I've recovered from my first publisher closing down, and then my second publisher calling it quits on me too. I've had bad luck and I'm now self-publishing. But doing it on my own is HARD. I constantly feel like I'm writing to the soundtrack of a battle field. And I'm so tired of hearing from agents that my writing is good, but too different to sell. I keep writing. I keep pushing. Being true to myself. But the hill just seems to be getting higher and higher and I'm worried I'm going to burn myself out. I hope I don't. I really hope I don't.

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    1. Hey Jessica, There are definitely times when we need to take breaks or pull off the pressure a little bit. If you're starting to feel burned out, I'd look for some ways to ease up that pressure. Write something different than what you usually do. Take a break from social media. Take a vacation. Anything. Burnout can derail modern authors quicker than anything else! Hang in there!

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  7. LOVE! Both you and JSB are my go-to people for inspiration and clear thinking on issues for writers. Thanks for sharing this!

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  8. I'm so glad you named Tenacity as the number one quality because every time someone asks me to give writing advice, I usually answer "Don't Give up!" I'm glad I was on the right track with that one!

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  9. Agreed. And passion has to be intertwined with the tenacity, otherwise what keeps the drive to create and connect a significant one?

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  10. I love the Kill Zone. Even if you don't write crime and mystery genre, they have great writing advice from people who definitely know-- just like the article you cited. I think tenacity is vital to writing. Never stop learning, striving, trying.

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  11. Thank you for the encouraging post Jodi. I have an agent, am writing my third novel and have yet to have anything published. I'm thrilled to have found an agent who believes in my writing, but I've discovered that being agented doesn't mean publication in this day and age.

    I keep writing because I love it. I'm not sure if I'm tenacious or just lucky that I don't see writing as a chore. I'm certainly tenacious at looking at my emails every day to see if my agent has contacted me to say, 'Today is the day!'

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  12. Great post. Love the word "tenacity." Success really is about not giving up and continually working hard for something. A great thing to remember!

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  13. I agree.... keep on going... Many give up too soon. It is a tough road we choose, but we need to keep traveling down that path.

    Writing means more that just selling books. It's a passion and need to create beauty in words.

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  14. Thanks Jody! This is exactly what I needed to read this morning!

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  15. Oh, I loved this post today! Tenacity...I love that word.

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  16. What a terrific post, Jody! I can't wait to read the article on Kill Zone. And I agree--tenacity is vital. I think it also helps writers realize how badly we want it.

    Thanks for the boost!

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  17. Thanks for all the comments today, everyone! It's so reaffirming to hear your thoughts!

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  18. "tenacious people STICK to their goals like superglue. They're bonded to the dream, they don't let go of what they're seeking." ~~~ I love that. I had a feeling the answer was going to be something like, "They kept, kept, kept writing." :)

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  19. Hmm .. who'd have thought that good ol' sticktoitivity was the most important quality. I was expecting you to say "platform" or something. Thanks for the encouragement today! :)

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  20. I was just talking about this with my CPs. We do need to just keep writing. So true. :)

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  21. 38 novels in 12 years, wow! But it is helpful and encouraging to read about authors who kept trying. I don't think I'll ever be able to stop writing, just because I love it so much. And I'm going to keep sending my work out for as long as I can.

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  22. Jody, I sure did need this! I tell ya, not too long ago I had one of those "why the heck am I doing this?" moments. But then I remembered how much I love it...how I take something lumpy and make it something readable. It's so rewarding, even if I'm the only person who'll read it!

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  23. Wonderful post, Jody! Very encouraging and a good reminder that perseverance and dedication to what we love so much -- telling stories -- is the only way to become successful, whether that involves bestsellerdom or just the joy of knowing we never gave up fighting for what we value.

    Tenacity truly is the mark of the true writer.

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  24. I think we all need a post like this once a month! As a new writer, I think I need to hear this and remember why I do what I do- because I enjoy the process, not just the end product. Thanks Jody!

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  25. Wow, this was seriously the perfect post for me today. Honestly, I just got another rejection this morning and was hanging out in self-pity land, asking myself: WHY are you doing this to yourself??? But I love writing. I love how I feel when I'm writing. So I prayed, and asked for a pep talk. I need help to keep on going. A friend posted your blog on twitter and here I am. Tenacity. LOVE. Thank you.

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  26. Jody, thank you for the great reminder to keep pressing on.
    Tenacity is such a great word!
    Tracy :-)

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  27. I stopped reading after your first paragraph to ask myself the question. My own answer was perseverance which is almost a synonym for tenacity. It seems to go with one of my favourite sayings: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

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  28. Exactly what I needed to be reminded of today. Thanks.

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  29. I can't imagine me ever getting to a point where I stop writing. I've been writing for 6 years now, and only recently even started thinking about publication! I write because it's fun, sharing my stories with others is just a bonus.

    That said, I've been getting a real lesson in tenacity (which incidentally is the name of one of the spaceships in my book) over the last 8 months as I've been editing. Ever time I think it's done, someone suggests another change (that I just know will make the book better), or I feel it needs another round of proofreading. So I think even getting one book out requires a huge dose of tenacity. I have nothing but admiration for people who write 9!

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  30. No. There will not be a day when I give up writing. It's too much a part of me. I go crazy if I'm not writing, and I want success in it too much to stop.

    Thank you for the post. It's exceptionally encouraging.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Laura! I'm so glad the post was encouraging! :-)

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