Many authors believe that the key to becoming a successful author is “writing a book” or “getting lucky enough to find an agent/publisher/contract offer.”
Although there are undeniably elements of luck involved in publishing–perhaps more accurately explained as “being in the right place, with the right manuscript, at the proper time”–there are also some important things authors can do to increase their chances of being on the spot when the lightning strikes.
First and foremost: KNOW THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY.
Publishing is an art, but it’s also a business, and savvy business people learn about the way the industry works–regardless of whether they’re opening restaurants, manufacturing tires, or writing novels. Modern publishing has two sides–the traditional route and self-publishing–and smart authors investigate both, regardless of the path they plan to pursue. An increasing number of authors find themselves in a hybrid model, self-publishing some of their works while traditionally publishing others. You cannot know which publishing model works best for you and your works unless you know how all of the various options work.
BEHAVE LIKE A PROFESSIONAL–ALWAYS.
Career authors are professionals, and should always act like professionals, regardless of where they are on the publishing path. If you don’t know what professional behavior looks like, educate yourself–and default to “good manners over selfishness, and politeness over anger or entitlement.”
While we’ll deal with professionalism in an upcoming post, for the moment, remember: people will remember the way you behave, especially in the public sphere. (For the record, social media is the “public sphere” despite the veneer of pseudo-anonymity that it carries.) If you act like a self-entitled jerk who only cares about getting people to buy your latest book, that’s what you are in the public mind. Beware.
DON’T BURN BRIDGES WITH OTHER PROFESSIONALS.
Publishing may feel like a giant industry, but it’s also a highly connected one. Editors, agents, and even authors develop friendships and professional relationships quickly and keep them for many years. Slamming a person or a class of people (e.g., “agents”)–in person, on your blog, or on social media can and will come back to haunt you. While honesty is important, good manners are too, and the hand you step on going up the ladder of success may well be in the position to smack you back on your way down.
It’s also possible to torch your bridges in more private ways as well. For example: adding your entire contact list to your author marketing emails often means including industry professionals–like agents, editors, and other authors–who didn’t ask to be included. People who already receive dozens (or hundreds) of emails a day will consider your emails spam, will mark them as such–and may remember your name (but not in a good way).
If you don’t like someone, or don’t get along, ignore them and move on. Discretion–and silence–are the classier part of valor.
BEHAVE, TODAY, LIKE THE CLASSY PROFESSIONAL AUTHOR YOU WANT TO BECOME.
While I’m not a fan of “name it and claim it” ideologies, there’s no reason to wait to “become” a professional author (or a classy person). Successful authors are industry-savvy, willing and able to protect their rights, and present themselves in a certain way in public.
There’s no reason to wait for literary success to find you before you start to behave like a classy professional author. Do it now.
— Educate yourself about the publishing industry. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to recognize opportunities, act upon them, and not get taken advantage of in the process.
— Make friends with writers, authors, and readers, make an effort to help them when you can. Note: don’t to this because you expect them to help you in return. Do it because it’s what classy people do. The more you genuinely care about other people, and treat them right, the better and more professional you become.
— Set realistic goals, and work toward them. “Become a NYT Bestselling Author by Thursday” might not be a possible goal for you, but how about “finish my novel by the end of the year, including plenty of proper editing” or “put in the effort to learn how the publishing industry works, an hour a week.” Find reachable goals within your control, and put them into place.
No one can control the “lucky” elements of publishing success–and admittedly, there are a few–but if you focus on the parts that are within your control, you’ll be less worried, less depressed, and more likely to be prepared–and professional–when the lightning strikes for you.