A good reason to tune out “successful people”

willywonka - No, copying my candy factory idea will NOT  make you the next "Shark Tank" success story.

For those of you who write, or for those of you who are readers who want to know what an authors thinks about before writing, you need to understand that most authors are merely “wannabes” who aspire to become bestsellers. What I mean is, they want to be the next JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King, or even the next Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, or Amanda Hocking, all multi-millionaire authors.

Knowing this, there is a huge market of people trying to peddle “information” or “services” to help make those writer’s “dreams come true.” While some services and information are legitemate and honest, this tends to fall into one of 4 camps:

  1. The entity offering the “information” or “service” sees a lucrative financial opportunity to make money off unsuspecting and desperate writers, so they make promises they can’t keep and stick you with a high bill. Vanity presses work like this, such as this one.
  2. The “bestselling” author sees an opportunity to make money and sell seminars based on “here’s how successful I am. Just do what I do, and you can be successful like me too!” They then give you “advice” which sometimes is practical, and sometimes is not. Here’s one example. The end goal is not primarily to help newbies achieve success: it’s to establish the bestseller as a credible authority because s/he achieved success and financial fortune, and to make money either from ad revenue on hits to their web page, or on seminars or books dedicated to “helping” you. Whether or not their advice helps you is none of their concern.
  3. The wanna-be author, who lacks an understanding of branding and market principles, follows the herd, not understanding just how many other people are doing the exact same thing. Which companies tend to be most successful long-term: the innovators, or the “sheep”? Our wanna-be, however, does not know this. So s/he copies advice from
    “self-help” books written by successful people who of course want to help them personally, and then claim it does work because their sales went from 50 a month to 100. They then write it in blog comments or on their own website.
  4. The entity which studies information and claims there is a specific formula to doing something. For example, the perma-free strategy. I have come around on it to some extend, conceding that it does work for some people and to some extent. But not for everyone; if it did, everyone would be rich. So giving away lots of freebies isn’t going to work just because you did it. You really do need a solid strategy in order to lure people to other offerings, using your free book as a “loss leader” of sorts.

You can substitute books and authors for any other topic, such as “how to grow a successful small business” or “how to reduce stress from your life”, etc. I just use books as an example. Again, some people do offer quality advice, but not always, and even then, you need to pay attention.

What the “successful” people fail to tell you, however, is how many factors, both in your control and out of it, play into achieving success. Yes, there is an element of luck and timing and various other factors, including socio-economic background, college education, access to capital, work ethic, ambition, being a producer first, not a consumer first, etc. Yes, there are some universal truths. But like religion, I really believe it is impossible to say there is one “true” way to live life to achieve the goals you want to achieve. Each of us is an independent human being with success as being defined by us, in the way which works best for us. A person who makes $30 million a year as an actor has different success than a kid living in a single-parent home in a federally-classified “war zone” who graduates college and earns $90,000 a year as a lawyer. Both are successful, in different ways. Very unlikely the actor and the lawyer could switch places and have the exact same success.

With that comes a post from the Huffington Post, which I believe is being unfairly maligned, but hits home some uncomfortable truths (bold emphasis mine):

“No matter what experts tell you, no matter what trends, conventional wisdom, social media chatter or your friends in the Facebook writers group insist upon, do NOT write four books a year. I mean it. Don’t.

Unless they’re four gorgeously written, painstakingly molded, amazingly rendered and undeniably memorable books. If you can pull off four of those a year, more power to you. But most can’t. I’d go so far as to say no one can, the qualifier being good books.

Beyond the fact that the marketplace is glutted with an overwhelming number of books already (many of dubious quality), writing good books simply takes time, lots of it. There’s no getting around that time. It involves learned skills, unhurried imagination, fastidious drafting, diligent editing, even the time to step away, then step back, to go over it all again. And, unless you’re a hack (and we know there are plenty of those out there), isn’t the whole point of this exercise to write good books?

So, her (blogger Penny C. Sansevierifirst piece of advice to self-publishing authors wasn’t to put more focus on fine-tuning one’s craft, it wasn’t about taking time to mull and ponder what stories, what narratives, most inspire you to put “pen to paper”; it wasn’t even a suggestion to be relentless about working with professional content/copy editors and cover designers to create the best possible version of your work. No, it was the insanely insane advice to pump out at least four books a year.

And people wonder why there are stigmas attached to self-publishing.

First of all, in looking at her point of reference, I suppose it depends on what you define as a “successful author.” I have a distinct feeling this may be where the disparities lie. Perhaps my own definition is a different one.

When I self-published my first book, After The Sucker Punch, in April of 2014, I had, by then, put years into it, doing all those many things I itemized above. Because I not only wanted to publish a novel, I wanted that novel to be a work of art, a book of depth and merit, one that would not only tell a compelling story but would meet standards of publishing that authors of the highest regard are held to. I wanted it to be a book that would favorably compare with anything put out by a traditional publisher. My choice to self-publish was a result of not having engaged a publisher by the time my book was done and I was ready to market it. It was not based on the notion of joining the “second tier club” where one is unbound from the stricter, more demanding standards of traditional publishing.

“Second tier club”? Yes. As insulting as that sounds, particularly in relation to self-publishing, there is no question that there are two tiers operating in the culture of the book industry. Take a moment to think about it: based on what advice is given to self-published writers, some of which I shared above; based on the”free/bargain” pricing paradigms of most book sellers hawking those writers; based on the corner (quality)-cutting measures required to pump out endless product to meet the purportedly endless demand of those sites and their bargain-hunting readers, “second tier club” is no misnomer.”

The author of that post was attacked by well-known authors like Larry Correia, who admitted he “averaged 2 a year until I quit my day job.” Now that he earns a solid living writing full-time, he can write more books and do so more efficiently. Good for Larry, but few authors earn a full-time living writing. so someone like me, with a full-time job (and seasonal/free-lance too!) who has no name recognition is not going to be able to churn out solid books every quarter to keep up with Larry, who is writing full-time because he was both lucky and good to make a lot of money. Of course, I may very well be so successful that I can do it, but even then my success wouldn’t necessarily translate to success for you because you did what I did. “First to market” principle is in place here.

Lorraine’s (HuffPo article author) attackers don’t get that she’s not saying you shouldn’t do it under any circumstances. She means you should do what works for you, not what others are telling you to do just because it worked for them or someone they know. Just because a few authors in this world got mega-rich, or even 6-figure rich, doing something doesn’t mean you will too, even if you do what they did, even if you’re a talented writer. Luck and timing are as important to the free marketplace as they are to casinos. My only advice is, consider advice from different sources and make your own decisions for your life. And quit propping up the “self-help” industry, because more and more I am convinced that most of those people are less interested in truly helping YOU than in helping themselves to some more money by dangling that success stick in your face and telling you how you can join the elite club for just $19.95.

The truth she’s exposing is that there is no “magic bullet” to success. Maybe an author who sells 10,000 copies can call it a day. Others could sell 100,000 and feel like a failure. But the people and businesses who earn money with seminars and books telling you how to do it don’t want you thinking independently, or else you won’t need them anymore. So they try to get you hooked so you can

If you don’t believe me, try writing a poorly-written erotic novel that sells over 100 million copies. Yea, thought so.

Do you agree or disagree? And it doesn’t just have to be books- how do you feel about people who offer advice or services, free or paid? Do you find most of them to be sincerely helpful, or are they tooting their own horn?

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