Writers–Do You Have the Right Stuff?

When I first met Bob Mayer, I read his book, Who Dares Wins—The Green Beret Way to Conquer Fear and Succeed. In the book, Bob talks about the statistic of success…5%. Only 5% of people who say they desire to write a book will finish an entire manuscript. Of those who finish, roughly only 5% will ever publish. Of that 5%, only 5% will ever be successfully published to the point where they can make a good living as an author.

That is a statistic to really make one take pause. Did you know you have better odds of winning a seat in Congress than you do of becoming a best-selling author?

I found that terribly depressing. What is even worse is that this 5% number holds true in all other areas. Only 5% of obese people who lose weight actually keep it off. Only 5% in debt end up living life in the black. Only 5%…

Okay, you get the idea.

I remember being so horrified by this statistic when I first read it, and yet, I have watched it play out as true time and time and time again. And we could discuss the reasons behind this all day long, but today I want to narrow our focus to the world of writing. Ask yourself one question and be honest with your answer.

Do you really want to be a successful author?


Are you in love with the idea of being a successful author?

Please do not feel bad about your answer. I think all of us are in love with the idea of being the next James Rollins, Stephanie Meyer, or Sandra Brown. It is what fuels us to keep going, to write before dawn or long after the family has gone to sleep…

…or is it? Lately, I have been blogging on social media. I am in the process of editing my soon to be released book, We Are Not Alone—the Writer’s Guide to Social Media. This book will strip away all of your excuses, and give you a plan for success. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate that there are real reasons why writers are not using social media effectively. That was what propelled me to write the book in the first place. But let’s set that aside for a brief moment and look at the core issue—you.

Go back to my 2 questions. Do you really want to be a successful author? OR Are you in love with the idea of being a successful author?

Well, you might argue and say, “Hey, come on Kristen. That’s basically the same question.”

No. Not even close.

Ideas do not make us face our fears. Ideas do not make us admit we are wrong and that we need help. Ideas allow us to procrastinate into perpetuity with no plan of action. Ideas are, just that, ideas.

 Agent Rachelle Gardner recently posted a blog that really made me think. She asked, “What are you willing to give up in order to be successful?”

This is where the difference between the two questions becomes painfully clear. If I am in love with the idea of success, then I don’t have to make the hard choices (I have been guilty).

This is why we end up with that awful number…5%.

I think it is like so many other things. We want to have a beautiful body, but only if we don’t have to work out and can eat anything we want. We want to be debt-free so long as that doesn’t interfere with our eating out and our vacation plans. Well, after we get home from summer vacation on the Carnival Cruise, we’ll tighten our belts and eat sandwiches. And so often, the idea of being successfully published gradually overtakes a genuine ambition to be successful. We must guard against this.

So I will ask the same question as Ms. Gardner, “What are you willing to give up in order to be successful?” Maybe you should grab a piece of paper and jot down a list. Then tape it next to your computer.

Are you willing to give up your free time?

I hold a novel writers boot camp every Saturday for four hours. We rip apart your idea, help you create all the necessary arcs and sub-plots, story-board the whole novel, and by the time an attendee is finished, the novel is practically paint-by-numbers. At first, when I created this group, I was worried that it would grow too large to be effective. Yet, to date, that hasn’t been a problem. Why? Very few writers want to give up a Saturday morning to work on their novel.

I would say, about 5%.

Are you a 5%er? Do you have “the right stuff?”

Are you willing to write every day no matter what? Are you willing to put writing as a priority? Are you willing to get up an hour earlier or stay awake an hour later in order to make your daily goals? Are you willing to blog every single week no matter what? Are you willing to build and maintain a social media platform, regardless of how you feel about Facebook? Are you willing to dress in clothes from Target and do your own nails so that you can afford a faster computer? Are you willing to give up eating out and save money to attend the better conferences that will make you a stronger writer? Are you willing to hear honest opinions about your writing without being defensive? Are you willing to give up your Saturdays?

Those are the crucial questions that separate the wheat from the chaff.

If we want to be the best, we need to think like the best. Our life must be structured to support our goal, or it is, by default and definition, a hobby. A hobby is something we do when we feel like it. Hobbies can get put on the back burner with no consequences.

Olympic swimmers don’t go do laps at the pool when they feel like it. They structure their lives to support the big goal…bringing home the gold.

I had a tough time with this for a long time, but it came to a point where I had to make a choice. I am not a best-seller yet, but I am adopting habits that will get me there sooner. I give up my Saturdays to hold a novel writing workshop, even though it means I don’t get to sleep in–EVER. I read countless books and blogs to get better at my craft instead of going to the movies. I write a blog every week, even if it means giving up swimming on a Saturday because I had a couple of sick days and need to make up the time.

I still have a lot more room to grow. I have my list, and some family members aren’t going to be happy. I think they are more in love with the idea of me being a successful author than with me actually being successful.

But, I MUST get out of my comfort zone and put down boundaries (wish me luck). It isn’t easy, but I am willing to give up short-term comfort for long-term reward.

So, for those of you who know you have what it takes to be in the 5%, what are you willing to give up to get the gold? I’d like to hear about it.

Happy writing!

Until next time…


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  1. Excellent blog, and you got right to the heart of the matter: many people say they want to write a book, but don’t do it (and they have a million excuses as to why not.) Not everyone can be published, we all know that, or published well, but the truth is that writing is all about talent, hard work, and perseverance. And . . . a little luck. But mostly? It’s about sacrifice.

    I gave up television for three years in order to make the time to write. I wrote every night when the kids went to bed, from 9 pm to midnight, even knowing I had to get up at 6 am every morning to get the kids ready for school and day care and go to my full-time day job. Easy? No. Because there was no guarantee that I would ever be published. But I love writing. I love writing. I can’t stress that enough. Writing is such a part of me that I the few times in my life where I wasn’t writing, I was borderline depressed (even though I didn’t realize it until later.) I also wanted to be published, because I love writing and wanted to write for my career.

    It doesn’t get easier when you are published. In many ways it’s harder. Sure, I now get paid to write and I don’t have to go to the day job, but it’s still a tough business, and even though I love writing, when there is the business of writing involved it makes it hard. Then there’s improving on each book (or trying to); reader expectations; editor expectations; lists, reviews, social networking, blogging, and you realize that there’s not enough time in the day to do it all and, oh yeah, raise a family, sleep and breathe.

    That’s why my advice to writers is always to do what you want–what you’re comfortable with–in the social media world, but don’t go overboard. If you hate facebook, don’t have a facebook page (I personally love facebook.) If you hate blogging, don’t have a blog. It’ll suck your creative life dry unless you truly enjoy blogging. Because if you’re a writer, you need to write FIRST. Everything else comes after that.

  2. I’ve given up going to bed with my husband at night – he started going to bed earlier, and that’s when my best writing time is. I’m going to have to give up some of my TV time too, because my brain doesn’t work as well for editing late, and I need to really hit the editing/revisions hard. My prime time for editing is actually in the afternoon, but with working a day job I just can’t swing that right now. I’m lucky in that I can devote a good portion of my weekends to writing if I stay organized with the house/yard work.

    “Success” for me doesn’t mean the bestseller lists. I just want to be able to write full time, and hopefully give people an entertaining escape from real life for a couple hours. I’m pretty sure from beta readers’ comments that I can entertain people…so my focus is on how to make enough money to write full time at the moment. I may have to give up some less tangible things to achieve that, at least in the short term.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post! 🙂

    1. Yes, but even being published is still reaching for the elite, so don’t sell yourself short. It’s funny. Years ago when I ran writing groups, I used to believe in everyone because I am a quintessential optimist. Now? I can spot the people who are likely to be published. Most of it has to do with work-ethic.

    • wmccaig on June 6, 2010 at 3:16 am
    • Reply

    Well my book has been published for a couple of weeks now and it does seem that life just go much harder. The writing part was fun, editing a drag but was a short season, from what I hear, this marketing promotion phase is the real test of endurance and work ethic. Will I be one of the 5% to sell enough copies to interest the next publisher? I don’t have a clue. I do know I love to write so blogging is easy and fun for me. I like facebook, still trying to figure out the whole twitter thing but I think I will get the hang of that soon. I don’t watch much TV and I run a non-profit so I can flex my hours.

    The real sacrifice for me is going to be weekend speaking engagements. I love to speak but I hate giving up time with my family. I was invited to do a skype presentation about the book which I think is really great since I don’t have to leave my home. However, the primary audience for my book is churches which means lots of Sunday commitments. That is going to be a hard sacrifice for me but I think my passion for the book will help me overcome my resistance. I have also been taking my daughters with me to speaking events and then taking them out to lunch which makes it a bit easier to justify.

    Can’t wait to get your book Kristen. I am feeling overwhelmed with all the things on my “to do” list and am hoping you can help me determine which of the thousands of marketing ideas are really worth investing time in. I think social networking is a good fit for me since I prefer not to be out of the house more than I have to.

    1. Actually the method I teach in my book will give you a presence on all three major platforms, but do so in a way that is effective. People think they have to compromise FB or Twitter if they also use MySpace. Well, the way most people approach social media is grossly inefficient, so they do have to compromise. My way? Not so. I have developed a method that will help you dominate the domains, but have time left over to write more books and actually have a life :D. As far as the speaking engagements? I feel you on that one. After my book comes out I will be developing all-day and half-day workshops to help writers build their platforms from the ground up in a matter of hours. I am, like you, excited because of the opportunity to serve others, but it is a huge sacrifice.

      Best of luck and I hope my book helps you promote and still have time left over for family and writing more wonderful books.

    • Bob Mayer on June 6, 2010 at 2:32 pm
    • Reply

    I love the movie The Right Stuff and it’s interesting that you use that term. I’d never recommend to anyone to try to make a living writing, yet I’ve been doing it for 20 years. In the movie, my favorite scene is when the craft sinks and the pilots are watching it on TV and one says the astronaut screwed the pooch– and that a monkey could do it. And Chuck Yeager corrects him– says do you think a monkey knows he’s sitting on a rocket of explosive and that the astronaut did all right.
    Writers are sitting on a rocket of explosive and know it. But we still do it.

    • Steve on June 7, 2010 at 5:24 am
    • Reply

    I totally draw the line at doing my own nails!



  3. Great post Kristen. I rarely watch TV, get up early every weekend–as early at 4am to get a jump on my writing. Sleep less. Balancing writing time is still tough when you have to promote too. I make lists to try and stay organized. To Do Lists are one thing. But we need to make Stop Doing Lists too.

  4. There are times when I’ve not had the motivation to post, look at my personal projects/goals…but I always regroup because that flame in me tells me “you cannot give up. You cannot stop. You HAVE to do this.”

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