I didn’t even consider becoming a writer until 1999 after my father passed away suddenly. Funny how death can make us take a hard look at life, right? Anyway, I recall feeling soooo overwhelmed. I mean my odds of even getting published were about as good as winning the lottery. And the odds of becoming a best-selling author? Well, mathematically speaking, I had a slightly greater chance of being mauled by a black bear and polar bear on the same day.
It was all I could do not to give up before I began.
But, after over 14 years doing this “writer thing,” I have a new perspective. Often it feels like we are the victims of fate, at the mercy of the universe, when actually it is pretty shocking how much of our own destiny we control. The good news is that if we can get in a habit of making good choices, it is staggering how certain habits can tip the odds of success in our favor.
Time to take a REAL look at our odds of success. Just so you know, this is highly unscientific, but I still think it will paint a pretty accurate picture. I will show you a bit of my own journey. And, to be blunt, this DOES NOT ONLY APPLY TO WRITERS.
Did you know most entrepreneurs fail at least three times before getting traction? Most new businesses don’t make it a year. They are fortunate to survive THREE years and if they can hit The Golden Six? Smoother from there. But WHY?
The 5% Rule
It has been statistically demonstrated that only 5% of any population is capable of sustained change.
I remember when I was a rather young writer and NYTBSA Bob Mayer introduced me to this idea. I was AGHAST! No, writers just needed nurturing, cuddling, and help. Trust me, it pains me to say he was/is right.
***But Bob is generally right and that is often why it ticks me off to admit this.***
I worked for years with self-professed writers who refused to learn, listen or even work. They had the skin of a grape and wanted to make it in an often undervalued profession that is NO place for the idle or thin-skinned.
Thus, with that in mind…
When we start out wanting to write, we are up against presumably millions of other people who want the same dream. We very literally have better odds of being elected to Congress than hitting the NY Times best-selling list. But I think that statement is biased and doesn’t take into account the choices we make.
As I just said, in the beginning, we are up against presumably millions of others who desire to write. Yes, millions. It is estimated that over ¾ of Americans say that they would one day like to write a book. And that is only ONE continent. Much of Europe, Australia and New Zealand are burgeoning markets in the new digital paradigm.
That’s a LOT of people. Ah, but how many do? How many decide to look beyond that day job? How many dare to take that next step?
So only 5% of the millions of people who desire to write will ever even take the notion seriously. This brings us to the hundreds of thousands. But of the hundreds of thousands, how many who start writing a book will actually FINISH a book? How many will be able to take their dream seriously enough to lay boundaries for friends and family and hold themselves to a self-imposed deadline?
Of that 5%, how many will join a critique group—A GOOD ONE—and learn instead of sulking?
Okay, well now we are down to the tens of thousands. Looking a bit better. But, finishing a book isn’t all that is required. We have to be able to write a book that is publishable and meets industry/reader standards. When I first started writing, I thought that everyone who attended a writing critique group would be published. I mean they were saying they wanted to be best-selling authors.
But did they?
Or, were they more in love with the idea of being a best-selling author than actually doing whatever it took to succeed? I would love to say that I was a doer and not a talker, but I don’t want to get hit by lightning. There were a number of years that I grew very comfortable with being in a writing group as a writer…but not necessarily a professional writer.
I was still querying the same book that had been rejected time and time and time again. I wrote when I felt inspired and didn’t approach my craft like a professional. I was, at best, a hobbyist and, at worst, hopelessly delusional.
I didn’t need craft books *snort* I spoke English, so I knew how to write. Geesh! *rolls eyes*
I was a member of two writing groups, and had grown very fond of this “writer life.” We hung out at I-Hop and drank lots of coffee. We’d all chat about what we’d do with our millions once we were bigger than Dan Brown. We talked about new ideas for books that never seemed to get written. Or if we ever did sit to write one of these ideas, we would get about 30,000 words in and then hit a wall.
Hmmm…and I thought that idea had so much promise.
Yet, after four years hearing the same talk from the same people shopping the same novels, I had a rude awakening. Maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. Maybe being a copy writer and technical writer and editor didn’t automatically make me a novel-writing genius. Maybe I needed to take this dream of being a best-selling writer a tad more seriously and not rely on bluster, BS and glitter. Maybe I needed to read craft books and scrape up enough money to go to a conference.
So, of the tens of thousands of writers who write a novel, how many read craft books and get serious enough to take classes, listen to thoughtful critique, and attend conferences?
You guys are good….5%
And of those who attend a conference (and want to traditionally publish), who are asked to send in page requests, how many follow through?
How many will land an agent right away?
And of all of those authors rejected, how many writers, determined to impress, are willing to GUT their novel and wage wholesale slaughter on entire villages of Little Darlings? How many are willing to put that first novel in a drawer, learn from the experience and move forward with a new book…which they FINISH?
And of the writers who land an agent or are brave enough to go indie or self-publish, how many of them get dead-serious about building a large social media platform?
Again? Probably 5%.
And of those writers who are published and doing social media, how many of them are effectively branding their names so their name alone will become a bankable asset (versus taking the easy way and spamming everyone in sight)?
Of those who self-publish, how many will keep writing more books and better books until they hit a tipping point for success? (versus
beating marketing one book to death)
Of writers who self-publish, how many will invest in professional editing and cover art?
Thus, when we really put this dream under some scrutiny, it is shocking to see all the different legs we control.
Taking the Decision Seriously
Writing the Book
Editing the Book
Finishing the Book
Learning the Craft
Developing RHINO SKIN
Not Giving Up in the Face of Rejection
Writing More Books
Yes, Writing Even MORE Books
Doing Everything in Our Power to Lay a Foundation for a Successful Career
I am not saying that finishing a book is easy. None of this is easy.
This job is a lot of hard work and sacrifice, which is exactly why most people will never be genuine competition. When we start out and see all the millions of other writers I think we are in danger of giving up or getting overwhelmed. Actually, if we focus on the decisions we control, our odds improve drastically.
This job is like one giant funnel. Toss in a few million people with a dream and only a handful will shake out at the end. Is it because fortune smiled on them? A few, yes. But, for most, the harder they worked, the “luckier” they got. They stuck it out and made the tough choices.
In the Sahara there is a particularly long stretch of desert that is completely flat. There are no distinguishing landmarks and it is very easy to get lost. To combat the problem, the French Foreign Legion placed large black oil drums every mile so that travelers could find their way across this massive expanse of wasteland one oil drum at a time.
Want to be a successful author?
Take it one oil drum at a time.
What are some oil drums you now see ahead? Does your journey to author success seem easier now? What makes you feel overwhelmed? What inspires you?
And some HOLIDAY fun with KRISTEN LAMB!
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.
Great post! It really is hard, and the idea of being a writer is certainly easier to stomach than the reality. I’m not a self-motivated person, so it’s been a real struggle for me. Following the path you’ve outlined here (taking the indie publishing route after considering the ideas in your book and others) has helped me get my career off to a fantastic start.
And thanks for the continued reminders about using our social media presence for good instead of spam. Building relationships is so much more rewarding than producing white noise is! 🙂
I’m at the *repeat* stage now, and can’t thank you enough for this blog, for Rise of the Machines, for everything you do for new guys like me.
Well said, Kristen. Slow and steady wins the race in this game of writing. You need to be smart enough to know that you don’t know everything and listen to those who know more. True success isn’t just being on the best seller list. As one of the five percent, who took a realistic approach to my second career as a writer, I know I’m a success by merely getting a book published–no easy feat!! And with any luck, some day I’ll hit that bestseller list! Great post!
True success isn’t just being on the best seller list. As one of the five percent, who took a realistic approach to my second career as a writer, I know I’m a success by merely getting a book published–no easy feat!!
Thank you. This is so true. And good luck with your writing career!
If you are a careless zoo-keeper the the chances of getting mauled by a black bear and a polar bear on the same day could be quite high. 🙂
A sobering post indeed. I would have thought that in the current climate, the chances of being a successful indie author might actually be less than 1%. But then, it also depends what each individual’s definition of success is 😀
I have been told I am a successful author by the fact that I’ve published good books which are getting good reviews. Two of these have won or been finalists in several awards. But I don’t feel like a success yet. My definition of really making it as an indie author would be to give up the day job. From what we’ve been seeing in the industry in the last few months with many financially successful indies affected by a drop in sales as a result of either KU or traditional publishers showing a trend of heavy discounting and adopting indie-style sales and marketing tactics, I can see the reality of becoming a full-time author happening at a much later date or not happening at all. I had hoped to gain traction with sales at around book 4 or 5 but I now anticipate that this may not happen until book 8 or 10. I think the authors who are going to be financially successful are the ones who are producing well presented books with fantastic content at a very regular pace. I believe speed of production is going to determine visibility in the increasingly competitive environment we’re seeing, which is why one of the areas I’ve been focusing on in the last few months has been increasing my word count productivity. That and reading more books and doing courses on the writing craft and the business side of writing.
Re:professional covers and editing, I believe I’m seeing more of that these days and I hope the figure is now edging over 5% 😀
And then there’s the 10,000 hours thing: writing, writing, and more writing! 😉
Reblogged this on Vampire Syndrome Blog and commented:
Published authors are “one in a million”, even if it’s more like “one in a hundred thousand” in literal terms of the population…
Success is a ladder you have to climb one step at a time! 🙂
Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.
Synchronicity. Yesterday I did a short story about writing and emailed it last minute to the writer’s digest competition, which I only discovered the night before. I began to look up competitions because I thought I got to get serious about this. And your article was at the top of the blog reader list.
Crawl, walk, run is the universal path.The trick is to stay on it and progress.
Thank you, thank you. This post definitely gives me the boost and kick in the pants I needed. Pefect timing.
I love the concepts of getting into the habit of making good choices leading through the funnel of success. Thanks, Kristen.
I got inspired and then laughed my ass off, all in the span of five minutes. Your video? Fantastic. Toddling off now to tweet it. 🙂
I entirely agree with you about the need for determination, and trying and trying and trying again. Is there any other way at any other thing. I am a fan of Kristen Lamp ( no poem intended ) but I always find her Vlogs a bit scary !
Reblogged this on My Passion's Pen and commented:
I love the honesty of this post.
Yesterday I drafted an essay about my problems with following through. This post has saved me from putting my shortcomings on display. About four years ago, I vowed to change. It’s been great. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, but there are inevitable setbacks. That’s when I summon that five-percenter in me and push through the fear and anxiety and tiredness and traffic and whatever else jumps in my way. It’s grueling. It’s painful. It’s fortifying. It’s skill building. It’s life changing. It’s so rewarding.
You always know just the right thing to say to make a desperate situation seem do-able and at the same time impossible. And for that, for your HONESTY in the face of a group of people who generally don’t like hearing the truth (i.e. human beings struggling to make their dreams come true) is why everything you say is so invaluable. I might not ever be part of the 1%, but that 5%…easy, peasy. 🙂
I enjoy your blogs and videos. Love your honest open opinions and congratulations on all your hard earned successes. None of it is easy as you say. I’ve been at it for ten years and lots of tears and head-banging. I began with magazine articles and am now trying my hand at a book.(The first one is in the tomb) I believe we have been at some of same conferences together. Anyway, wishing you the best on your future endeavors. Mel
Hurray for the five-percenters!
Thank you Kristen for your wise words and unscientific measurements. 🙂
As a writer, so often I feel like I’m in a beauty pageant–which is pretty much the last place I want to be at this point in my life. But I like to write (most of the time) and love creating fun characters so I’m in it for the long haul and will keep at it one barrel at a time!
Loved this! Just what I needed to hear this morning. I’m sharing on my facebook page.
Thanks so much for this post…was perfect timing as I send out my query letters on my first novel. I’m up to the stage, “not giving up in the face of rejection.” 5% makes sense to me. Have a great day.
You are absolutely correct. Most people never get past the “I would love to write a book” phase, and fewer finish one. I’m lucky in that I finished my first erotic romance, immediately started another one, and had the first two acceptances from my publisher, Siren/Bookstrand within three weeks of submission. Since then I have written twenty-five books, all published or under contract. AH HA! One of the lucky ones you say. No, it’s a lot of work, getting up at five am and sitting down at the computer, pushing past the occasional block and getting the job done. Am I a millionaire yet? No. Sometimes I think I’d be happy to be earning minimum wage based on the number of hours worked. Do I love what I do? Absolutely again! I have so many stories in my head, I never know which one is going to pop out next. I love my characters like children, and I’m having a ball with this. The extra money is nice but I’m lucky not to have to depend on it to eat or pay bills. I think the Amazon platform for self-publishing is damaging the industry. Now, anyone who will stick with it to “The End” can publish a book. Many are not well written, edited or formatted, and I think that hurts us all. There is so much more competition than there used to be, and the slices of the pie are getting thinner and thinner. Still I would encourage anyone who seriously wants to be and author TO WRITE. That’s the key. DO IT. Don’t just say you want to do it. –
Skye Michaels, Author of Erotic Romance with a Dark Edge. https://www.facebook.com/skyemichaelsbooks
Check, check, check, okay, done it, doing it, gutting, writing, reading, writing, editing, learning, writing…
At what point is it “giving up” (becoming the 95%) to self-publish? I find this fork in the road very confusing. I’ve self-published a collection of stories and have been getting modest sales and wonderful reviews, but still querying my other novel while working on two others.
Which percent am I in if I self-publish the query rejected novel (after repeated rewrites, guts, darling kills and re-query with many request for fulls). Am I in the 5% or the 95%.
How do you know?
You need to understand, that a reject doesn’t mean your story sucks, it means, it’s not for us, meaning we don’t sell this genre or I’m not too excited over this book. It might not be the book itself, but the query letter. Once I perfected the query letter, I snagged a publisher. It took me 14 years to sell my first novel. So I would say, only Self Publish b/c it’s the way you WANT to go, not HAVE to go. If you feel in your gut that TP is the way for you, then keep at it. Someone WILL snag you. You just haven’t found the ‘right’ publisher. I’m with a very small publisher that I adore. Why? b/c they give me so much freedom and believe in me. I’m so glad I am with them and will stay with them until they kick me out. Or until the meteorite hits the planet.
Thanks for your kind words. Do you have an agent as well? I’ve been going the agent route and leaned a lot from the query process. I’ve had lots of almosts, but not landed one yet. I’m doing another round of edits based on some recent feedback from agents.
Since I’ve self-published the short story collection I understand the process and work involved to self-publish, (professional editing, professional cover, blogs, signings, events, give-aways. Why does self-publishing feel like part of the 95% ?
How does your small press work? I was approached by two small presses, but they both wanted an investment at the onset. I said no to both. I also had an agent from one of the bigger houses offer to rep the digital version, but that didn’t make sense to me either.
Thanks for sharing your success and path 🙂
Have been through two agents and not really looking for another at the moment. NEVER sign with anyone who wants you to fork up cash. EVER. Best of luck!
Thanks. It seems like a lot of “small” or Indie Presses do this. Thanks for the confirmation 🙂
Thanks a million for the much needed 5% talk. I completed my first novel during NaNoWriMo last year then edited, cut and rewrote after an encouraging critique by an editor from a New York publishing house at an SBCWI conference. Boy was I going to make it big! After quite a few rejections and much craft studying, I have a clear understanding that I need to rewrite THE WHOLE BOOK – aaarrrrggggg. But even though I am 58 years old and just getting started, I refuse to be one of the 95 percenters. Onward and upward!!!
Lynettemirie, I started in 2011, for that year’s NaNo, at 56. I’m looking onward and upward. Hang in there, you can do it.
Thank you much for the encouragement. I took a peek at your website and will be going in for a deeper look after I’m off work – right now I’m misbehaving!
The thing that I’ve found the most frustrating is the noise. The Internet is where everyone is. If you are a YA author, your entire audience is on the web somewhere, but getting their attention is very hard. It’s like standing in a stadium and trying to be heard further than 3 seats around you. You can do it if you become obnoxious, but then you’re the obnoxious person and no one likes you. This is the problem I’ve been brainstorming with indie author friends recently. Working smarter to attract attention without wasting marketing dollars and without being obnoxious. That’s the 2015 goal…that and getting more work in the wild.
I love this post, btw. The percentages always help put things in perspective. 🙂
I agree Wendy. I love this comment! I too know exactly what you mean. I’ve done everything recommended, but still feel lost some times. Your comment really hit home with me! Thanks!
My new plan is to do the opposite of what I’ve been doing. Last year, I gave away as many books as I sold and that accomplished very little except make a few individual people happy. I can’t put a number on how many of those free books were read, but the conversion to word-of-mouth was zero.
Next year, my strategy is more long game. Low on marketing, high on indulging my inner-geek, and keep my focus on the next book.
That’s interesting. I belong to Austin Romance Writer’s of America and at one of our meetings one of our most successful self-published writers suggested just that (giving away as many as you can afford to). Hmmmmmm. I’ve given away about a sixth of what I’ve sold, but reviews have been good and that’s helpful.
Well, go inner geek! I hope you find a path that works. I think it must be unique to each person’s genre, book and person 🙂
Best of luck with the new strategy!
I know this will sound cliched, but it’s true. If you build it, they will come. i’m a YA writer, my book is for YA 16 and up. So far, I’m getting folks interested in the book and it won’t be out until next summer. Don’t worry about people hearing you. If it’s a great book, then they WILL hear you. Just let them know what you have and why they would want to read it. Start with friends on FB and twitter. Find a writer’s group and let them critique it. A great book can sell itself once the a few people know it’s there. Look for online reviewers who would be willing to review your book and then publish their comments. Review other folks’ books and post your reviews. hang out on writers’ boards, help others, that’s what really helped me.
Great advice Kim! Thank you! I’ve been building for a while and get 50-100 hits a day on the website, but it doesn’t seem to be translating to as many sales as I though it would. I’ll keep trying. I know that MORE books is a biggy, too and I’m working on that 🙂
Hey, I can get behind THOSE statistics! In 2014 I published three books–two short novels and a novella–and I’m looking at three more in 2015. I’m trying to hit three different genres with three different series, seeing what sells. So far, the most interest I’ve received is in my sweet werewolf romance novellas. (Sweet werewolf romance! Who’d have thought there’s a market for THAT?)
LOL, Kessie – You never know what’s going to hit. Whodathunk MM books written by a straight Grammy would be selling well? It’s fun. If it ain’t fun, don’t do it!
Great, informative article; and certainly entertaining, as all your posts are.
I take exception with your premise that ‘thin skinned’ is an attribute to be left behind by an author. I am an old dude who started writing four years ago; but I have spent a long life in the business world, very much thin skinned. It has allowed me to listen and observe with incredible insight. I am sensitive to body movements, level of speech, how words are spoken, what words are spoken.
I had to develop a place to hold my ‘thin skin’ in place; so, I keep it in a small imaginary satchel at my side. It is only allowed out when I need to put it to work. If I am attacked I first induce silence, then humor, next wit. My thin skin is happily tucked away for when I need it.
OK. That galvanized me and skin now thicker to prevent corrosion. Here I sit having printed out my books and thinking where do I go from here? Thought I had a movie deal coming, thought an agent was getting back ASAP – did win Folkestone Short story competition last month – but has any of the world turned up in my In Box? Not yet. It was a good year, but could be rrrh a lot greater! Denisexx
Reblogged this on denise and commented:
This post from Kristen Lamb has regalvanized me to get back into my writing. Hooray for the five%ers!
It’s all about taking yourself seriously. I remember when you first did this blog post. It was really encouraging.
This is TERRIFIC. Thank you so much – it was exactly what I needed to read today.
Reblogged this on Musings by Mandy and commented:
Great advice for aspiring writers and current authors alike!
Thank you for this insightful piece and for the great contest! I just published my first book with Three World’s Press and work as an editor at two presses. I can relate so much to what you have said.
Fantastic post! These are the things I tell myself when I feel discouraged. I just look at the time I can carve out of my “real life” and then prioritize what is necessary for success. I think changing your thinking from “hobby” to “career” is essential and then doing everything you can to make that career happen. Thanks for sharing this post with us.
Thank you for this post, Kristen! It is a long and tiring road through the desert, this writing jig is. I think those who stick along and sometimes succeed do it mostly from cheer stubbornness.
Great stuff. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. I hope you have a fantastic holiday. 🙂
Thank you for a fantastic post Kristen. Your commentary on what it takes to be successful as a writer could be applied to almost any aspect of life. This is deeply insightful and useful. Again, thank you.
Reblogged this on Sophia's Story and commented:
Excellent insight into the world of writing and publishing. Sobering and encouraging all at once. For anyone hoping to publish one day, this is a worthy read.
This was particularly timely for me — Thank you Kristen!
Like several other commenters, this has been particularly timely. I’ve been getting bummed out by how long it’s taking to make any sales. So thanks. I’ll keep taking classes, keep writing, keep saving the odd dollar to go to a conference some day. Oh, yeah, and keep writing.
Your post comes just in time to pull me out of my humbug mode.I will use this information to re charge my energy!
Thanks again Kristen
Fun blog. Thanks for sharing. Sigh. Hard to hear about the conferences. Hard to do when you have little ones.
Actually, my company regularly holds WANACon which is a conference from HOME and ALL recorded. We have attendees from all over the world and BIG NYTBSA speakers and BIG indie speakers and even editors and agents. I came up with the idea for people who don’t have the ability to travel and be away. Keep in touch. We will have one on the next few months.
Yes, this is what I’ve seen. It has actually always been similar. The methods are just different now with the indie publishing boom. I remember back when I started out in journalism, someone told me that out of every 10,000 young people who want to be an international correspondent, one makes it. I thought, “Great. All I need is one spot.” Oh, the awesome idiocy of youth. I did that. I wasn’t a famous correspondent, but I made a living doing it until that profession went the way of blacksmiths. Now, with writing fiction I find the odds are fairly similar. The only real problem is that I’m older and more cynical. I think I’d be fine if I could just summon up that attitude again.
Thank you for another candid post. Writing is not for the faint of heart.
You mentioned getting 30,000 words into a book and then hitting a wall. Is that a common spot for that to happen because I may or may not have one or two of those that have been abandoned at just that spot. Since I’m trying not to get ahead of myself by assuming I already know gobs of writing craft that I’m still learning, what usually causes me to orphan my projects is that suddenly they didn’t seem like they have enough plot to carry an entire book. After I read your article this morning, I went back and skimmed one I hadn’t looked at in nearly a year and it’s really not that bad.
How do you know if you are having a bout of insecurity and giving up or if you are deciding not to waste time on a story that isn’t very good? Maybe that is the wrong question. Should the question be “Did you tell the story you set out to tell?” Hmm. By that measure, I did not because it’s only half done. So, back to the original question, is 30k words some sort of magic mile marker of doom for writing books that we should be looking out for? Thanks. 🙂
I have found the 30,000 word mark is the magic spot for a wall, especially if the structure (antagonist) and CORE story problem is weak. That’s why I started writing so many blogs about the antagonist and doing consulting. I have found if I can help a writer FIX that? The rest of the book is a matter of butt in seat.
Ahhh, this is extremely helpful. That definitely applies to one of them. I’ll have to chew on the other one, but I bet that’s right on that one too. Hehe. Something is percolating for #2 though. That might return to WIP. Thank you!
great post, Kristen! Good encouragement for everyone who aspires to write professionally
Thank for you for this post. While the idea of being published doesn’t seem any more realistic to me, it definitely seems like it’s more in my control than I thought – and that I can work to make it more realistic!
Yep, you’re right. I’m still hanging in there. I have many, many stories yet to tell. And that’s what keeps me going. (Well, that, and actually enjoying telling a story through writing.)
Wonderfully insightful. I reblogged.
Absolutely love the comparison to the drums in the desert. And your advice is spot on.
Uncanny that you’d write this just when I’m asking myself a lot of these questions and yes, some nerves were touched. Just what I needed to face what I call the dragon of social media and PR. I love how you write, by the way. Thanks so much for your insights.
Great post. I quit on my writing when my husband had two strokes last year. Taking care of him has been more than a full time job. He is starting to get a bit better now so I am looking to begin again.
How does one find a “Good” critique group? I belonged to one a few years ago and they all seemed bent on destroying each other with nit picking. No talk of plot, characters, craft or other things that were helpful. I live out in the boonies in the CA Gold Country between Auburn and Placerville. Anyone know of a group in the area?
Thanks Kristen for hitting us over the head with things that should be obvious, but aren’t.
Most of my critique groups are all online. Sometimes having a strong Facebook group is the best kind of critique group there is. Heck, I even found the best professional editor I could find through one of my online crit groups. If you’re lacking in freetime, the online groups can be amazing. =D
Basically, if you search for your genre on Facebook or other such groups, you should be able to find something that works. =D Good luck!
Lenore, start your own group. I’m sure there are hundreds of writers out there who feel the same way. I started my writers’ group through my church and we’ve been going strong for around 6 years now. I’ve seen folks come and go and I love all my writers. One of my writers was even Skyping in for a while. So go for it. You can either start in your own church or a bookstore. You’d be surprised how many folks out there are wanting what you want.
I’m also looking for a good critique group that doesn’t nit pick and play mind-twisting games with each other. Every group I’ve ever been in, in the art world seems to have a need to destroy each other and drum up drama. I really don’t need any more drama in my life. It certainly doesn’t help that I live rurally, may have to try the online route.
Another awesome blog! Perseverance is the key word for becoming a published author. As you said the competition is 5% more or less, but 5% of the whole is a lot! Your encouragement means a lot. Thanks again. http://dianamccollum.weebly.com/
It’s a pretty comforting thought that I’ve already funneled myself into that 5% even if I’m not yet published. XD I LIKE putting effort into my books. I LIKE building my author platform (and it’s GROWING lately) and I LIKE working on craft and making friends and critiquing other authors. Heck, I like it when people critique me!
Writing is hard work but it’s also a TON of fun. =D
I started writing in 1999. I sold my first book in 2014. That’s a long time. You can make it if you work hard, learn hard, pray a lot, work harder, give up a lot of stuff. Learn more, work hard and never give up.
I’ve also learned to change my personal goals. I just love writing and teaching others to write. I really don’t care if I’m on the NY Times best sellers or selling books on Amazon.com. It’s the love of the craft that hooks me, not the $$$. Once you get your priorities straight, everything else falls into place.
Thanks Mama WANA. So happy I found you in my early days of platform building and writing. Building my tweeter base and I’m over the 2,000 mark. And guess how many times I tweet about my books? 5%. I am to busy talking about wine and travel with my new friends around the world. Is this my brand? Yep, writing romantic vacation novellas based on places I’ve actually traveled motivates me for the long hall. This is what I love and I know if I keep traveling and writing, someday Destination Love Stories will pay all the bills but more importantly right now, it feeds my soul. Thanks for all your love and support. BTW – your suggestion that I read Larry Brooks’ Story Structure has saved my a**. HUGS!
Great post! I can’t tell you how many people, when I tell people that I am writing a book, they tell me they’re writing a book also or would like to write one, but when I mention a writing/critique group for encouragement and support, their response is “not right now,” or something along those lines. It comes down to perseverance and commitment.
Definitely laughing with you and thanking you for the encouragement! Also enjoying seeing each of those 5% signs come up … finished my first and had it sent out into the world by a small publisher, half-way through my second, but I’m really needing to improve my social media/marketing skills (I’ve been counting too much on my computer savvy husband and sons for help in that department). Also, of course, forever honing my writing skills. I love to read great authors and, hopefully, funnel some of their talents into my spongy brain, but I took to heart your advice on reading craft books. If there are any in particular you’d recommend, I hope you’ll share on an upcoming post. Thanks again and happy writing to you!
Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.
Great post. I’m on board. Would like to learn more about developing RHINO skin.
I love stats. Our paths sound remarkably similar. But I suspect it’s a common story. I started around the same time. It took me 14 years to complete 4 novels. This year, I completed 4 more. You know you’ll achieve your goal when the stats no longer concern you. I know I’ll be successful because I plan on it. And then I get to work. Thanks for your always inspiring and correctly punctuated posts.
I think too many people – me included, most likely – start out thinking they can get away with being wonderful for an hour every other day at the most. No hard work and commitment is needed too.
A brilliant blog post Kristen and a reminder to take it one oil drum at a time to travel across the desert.
Thank you for this post. This is exactly how I’ve been looking at things. I believe the key is hard work, determination, perseverance, and the ability to adapt and learn. These are quality traits we need in all areas of life to get where we want to go, so I don’t see how writers are immune. I think luck has a small part in the process, however as humans we can create our own luck. If you never do the hard work you won’t ever get to the point of luck shining upon you.
Hi Kristen, it’s hard to estimate the real stats, but I like most of the books I read which I download based on book description, I rarely bother about reviews, unless the book is expensive. However, I rarely LOVE books. I hardly encountered any bad books yet. This means we have around 10^5 of authors currently producing decent stuff on Amazon and with good cover art. I guess the only factor nowadays ensuring the success of a writer is word-of-mouth. Just write something truly amazing :)))
Thanks for posting this. I needed the encouragement!
This was incredibly encouraging. Real. HELPFUL. Aspiring is wonderful, but its the doing that makes the caffeine headaches and uncertainty all worth it. I’m about some rhino skin, for sure.
I love this!! I’m not sure if the numbers add up (5% might be generous considering most pro mags publish about 1% or less in some cases, of course we’re talking novels here so I could be wrong) but that’s not going to stop me from telling all my writer buddies!!! Really, though. Great post!
Kristen, this is the inspiring message I needed right now. Thanks for taking the overwhelming odds against success as a writer and whittling it down to determination and grit. I understand there’s still no guarantees, but determination is something I have some measure of control over. Your message makes room for hope. That’s the best fuel for determination I can thing of. This post is a great demonstration of why you are succeeding where multitudes have failed.
When I first started reading this, I was a little concerned: 5% doesn’t seem like a great statistic, does it?
It actually helped a lot. Thanks. It’s encouraging to know that I’m in control of the 5% statistic.
Thank you for this. A hard reality is always the best reality. I’d like think I’m amongst the 5% who put it all on the line and “do” more than “talk”, however I’m still in the publishing phase and making hard choices with my manuscript I hope will excite readers and satisfy my publisher since it’s my first time publishing. Anyone who claims becoming an author is easy probably isn’t one.
It’s a life commitment. It means exactly what you have written here. Every step you take, it is one step further than most of your competition. This article sums it up perfectly. Thanks!
In the last 10 years I have worked through the first several levels. Today I am somewhere between Networking and Follow Through, with my first novel set to release in May by a small-house publisher. The best way for me to explain what I have learned is that the more I read about the craft, the more I know I don’t know! I am getting the “good story” part down, but feel the need to truly understand the tools of writing, English grammar/style, and professional editing. I was a sight reader at the age of 4 and never learned the “rules”. I could tell you a sentence was wrong, but I couldn’t define why. I am excited to journey into the world of professional writing and editing to master all facets of the craft and help others learn it as well. Thank you for this, as it encourages me to know I am on the right track!
Good to know that it is achievable.
It’s different to think these things to yourself than to actually read them and realize just how true they are. Thanks for a great post!
I’m idle, and I sulk, but I’m trying hard to overcome my faults. Great advice.
What a great post! It gives me hope. There are many junctures in the process where quitting would be understandable, if not expected. Fortunately for me, I’m extremely stubborn. 🙂
What amazing advice! I think you’ve made me wonder how much work and effort I put into this, and you’ve made me want to be more focused on my writing! Thanks so much!
Reblogged this on Skye Callahan and commented:
Awesome post! We’re in control of much more of our fate than we think.
Needed to read this today. Thanks for posting it!
you do know that grape skins make killer booze, right?
sorry, couldn’t resist…
But seriously, well-said as usual. Grow a thick skin, kids, or find something else to do!
Love this post. This is a great story describing the hard work it takes to be a successful author. Great job.
Reblogged this on Kentucky Mountain Girl News.
I was doing pretty well there until I got to the social media part. I have these fantastic books and this WONDERFUL ninja/ teacher/mentor/role model, but somehow blogging just terrifies me. I’m sure I have nothing to say or that I’ll say the wrong thing, or aliens will eat me, or…
Feel free to kick my a$$. Time to get real, finish my current WIP, and blog like my career depends on it. Cause it does.
Going to kick own rear and take own advice.Thanks, Kristen!
Just read my book. Takes the hives out of social media. I loathe spam and traditional marketing and my way is FUN. Or read my blogs. I dig a book sale any day but helping writers more important to me.
Great post Kristen. Often we make out own destiny, you have giving us the perfect logical solution to getting published. With a bit of skill, a ton of luck and even more determination I’m heading into 2015 with my new 5% plan of success. Thanks for the inspiration!!!
Thank you for this great post. Have been in the pit of despair lately and am now able to see that 5% glow at the end of the tunnel…
Reblogged this on Melinda Marie Alexander and commented:
If your thinking about writing a book or getting published, you should definitely read this post by Kristen Lamb! It’s very encouraging and the video was great too! Thanks Kristen!
Thanks for the reminder. It’s hard when you’re doing everything right and your books still aren’t very visible, but I’m a goat so I guess I’ll stick with it. 2012 I published my first novel, so though it feels like an age, I guess it is still early days.
What you consider success can change too. My initial idea of success was writing a book that people who knew about writing would think was good. Now that I have an AIA Seal of Excellence for my latest book, as evaluated by what are probably the toughest and most highly qualified reviewers around, I’d say I achieved that success. Now I need the other kind of success – lots of sales. Getting that is harder for me than writing the book, and a whole other area of knowledge that I have to learn.
great checklist for those regular reality checks 🙂
Kristen, I self published my first book, Dear James, through Createspace last August. I learned so much through that journey. The editors I worked with taught me so much. (I need serious help with punctuation.) It took me about 9 months to write, and then I edited for the next 3 years! And still it wasn’t ready!! I worked with Createspace editors for 9 months before I was satisfied. It was worth the wait. I got a great review from Kirkus!! But now for the hardest part–selling!! Unlike you I am NOT a salesperson!! Any tips, hints, keys, or maps that point me towards sales??
I enjoy your blog!!
Great post! This is the advice all new authors need to hear. I’m glad I’m not the only writer who went through this.
Reblogged this on One Writer's Journey by Chris Owens and commented:
Becoming a published author is a long process, the longer you endure, the better odds you have.
That 5% explains why I can’t stick to an eating plan.
I had someone who put my life into the “what if” category. “Well, what if you lose your spouse? What if you have kids? What if you don’t make it?”
I had to sit down and say “okay, what if? “. For me it’s “what if I do succeed?”. If I don’t succeed my life will continue, sure. But if I do, it won’t be just a dream anymore.
So maybe it won’t be easy. But since when is anything worth doing easy? Everything is an adventure! We just have to jump!
As an Indie this resonated with me greatly. I am gonna keep plugging away till I find the next oil drum….
Thanks for that.
I’m usually long winded when commenting, but simply put, THANK YOU. PERFECT TIMING.
Truly great advice and lots to take in. Thank you for sharing.
Reblogged this on My Spiritual Awakening From Within and commented:
Great advice for all writers.
Love this post, Kristen. Thank you.
Yup. Same for us author/illustrators. What you said. And what Jane Yolen said, “butt in chair.” Thanks for your refreshing honesty- something most folks don’t want to hear. And please- tell those folks to stop asking me “how many kid’s books can you write in one day?” 😉
Reblogged this on The 960 Writers and commented:
Harsh truths from Kristen Lamb.
Unless we are willing to learn, adapt and do the hard work, we will not make it as writers. We all know that in a way but it was good to hear it once more.
Loved this post. Thank you! I may be one of many, but if I keep learning and keep trying then my odds get much better!
I really needed this today, thanks Kristen. I may have to hire you to kick me in the butt daily.
Great post!! Thanks for sharing:-)
Wonderful post. Will be bookmarking it!
I did think about being a writer but didn’t get SERIOUS about it until my Dad passed away suddenly in 2012. Thank you so much for this. Lovely post.
This is exactly the kind of holiday cheer I needed right now! I’m starting a new revision and I’ll keep this in mind when I get overwhelmed.
Okay, Kristen, you are one of my mentors. Keep teaching me baby!
this is more of a question on writing, and at the risk of sounding like a complete idiot…here goes.When writing a story, what is proper for sentences, indent each paragraph? Or is block style considered ok? Also, spacing between paragraphs how much? One more…what is the best font size and style?
I loved this post and i just want to say thank you (and wish I could hug you!). Just what I needed to hear and today was a perfect day for it 🙂
You commented. Counts as a digital hug 😀
Very insightful, Kristen. Thank You for keeping the odds in perspective for us!
Kristen you got my attention and I appreciate your honesty. I definitely need mor rhino skin to deal with rejection!
That 5% rule is found in almost any endeavour where the #1 factor is the person sitting in the chair. And the big secret is that self-discipline & persistence is like a muscle – it gets stronger as it works out. Absolutely perfect article on this issue.
(mumbles under breath – get back to writing, girl!)… Thanks!
Fabulous post. As I have turned to writing after 35 years of teaching, I am finding the more I write, I see improvement. So have to keep working at it. Thanks for the video as well.
After a rejection today this was the tonic I needed! Thank you!
Looks like the 5% are all here. Great!
Count me in as a five percenter growing rhino skin plowing through a desert looking for an oil drum.
Reblogged this on Imperfect Writer: My Journey to Finding Myself.
Yes you’re right! We have control over our chances of getting what we want, as long as we keep our focus (or as you like to put it: one oil drum at a time). Excellent post!
Thank you so much for this. I needed the lift of being able to see what I had accomplished on your long list — and I needed the push of seeing what I am still battling to deal with.
Man, I really needed to read this! This quote–“When we start out and see all the millions of other writers I think we are in danger of giving up or getting overwhelmed. Actually, if we focus on the decisions we control, our odds improve drastically”– resonated with me because a lot of times, despite having help and resources and a community, it feels like I’m just shouting into the void. Maybe void isn’t the right word — it feels like I’m screaming at the top of my lungs at an extremely crowded public pool. And nobody can hear me because we’re all screaming. Screaming about our WRITING.
But this article helps me believe again that what I’m doing, what we’re ALL doing, isn’t for naught. I have my foundation laid and what I need is patience, perseverance, and even more hard work. I started this journey under a year ago, and a part of me still wants ‘insta-results’.
But patience, man. Patience and hard work.
Thanks for sharing.
Excellent post. I’ve seen really good authors throw in the towel when the going got tough, and it was an eye-opening moment. Even those writers who are really talented need to be willing to slog through the hard times to emerge out the other end of the funnel.
This is SOOO good, Kristen! Thanks for the encouragement. I am continuing on despite setbacks of all kinds. A Blessed Christmas to you!
Yes!! I had a fight with my local writer’s group when we decided to put together an anthology (due out next month) because no one wanted to pay my PROFESSIONAL cover artist to do our cover (and believe me, she was willing to give us a very generous discount!), plus when we discussed marketing strategy, I was the only one willing to seriously market it. Why write a book if you ‘know’ only a handful of people will buy it? *shaking my head*
Kind of explains why I’m the only one who’s getting a regular royalty check….and there are five other published authors in this group. I think only two others really take it seriously.
Reblogged this on CL Pauwels at Large and commented:
Will you be one of the 5% in 2015? I’m working on it!
This is completely awesome. Seriously, I love you for this, as I sit down to write my seventh book. xoxo
Gaa! Where was the giant LIKE button?! Good information and thank you, so much, for sharing! I’m learning each and every day but have been able to look back and say, “Hey! Look how bad I was!” to “Gee, look how much I’ve learned!” Continuing to climb that mountain of craft and experience…and all I can say is…good thing for protein bars, coffee, and stubborn genes…otherwise I’d have given up a while ago. 🙂
I really needed this! Thank you for a decidedly pragmatic, quantifiable and ultimately empowering way to kick our asses and boost us at the same time.
Very good advice. I won’t put myself in the bestseller category–yet (haha, obligatory, I know)–but it won’t be for lack of trying. You have to finish what you start, keep doing it, and strive for perfection. A pipe dream? Yes, maybe it is, but it’s dream worth striving for. And my novels prove it (Catnip, Twisted, the LIndsay/Jo trilogy). Thank you for this excellent article!
Uhm… nice post. I have 3 books – the first traditionally published, the last self published – but i still haven’t made it to the ‘best selling’ part… “But, finishing a book isn’t all that is required. We have to be able to write a book that is publishable and meets industry/reader standards.” – that’s the catch… and building a platform is the other catch, especially if you’re writing nonfiction.
Kristen, I am so glad I took the time to read this article. I am sticking a post it to my desk with 5% written on it to remind me. Your words have loosened a tight knot in my fear cape. Thank you.
This is one of the best articles I have seen! Thanks for sharing! I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say. I’m a writer in final revisions on a novel I’ve been working on for six years. I’ve been a writer for many more but it wasn’t until I started really learning the craft of fiction and networking with other serious writers that I realized just how hard authors work and that many give up along the way. I think it takes talent and determination and the willingness to keep learning to make it. And a handful of luck helps too but mostly never giving up. I’m so glad you stuck with it because your books are wonderful.
As I read through, I thought, ‘I am in the 5%’. I neared the bottom of the article and thought, ‘oops – I better re-think some of my reasons for not moving forward’.
Thank you for sharing and giving me a new plan of attack.
Be blessed this Christmas and in the New Year.
Kristen, I think I’ve fallen in love with your brain, thank you so much for this video (and the accompanying article). I’ve got a book out this year with a trad publisher (two if I haven’t clowned it up) and I’ll be honest, until recently I had my head so far up my fundament that I couldn’t understand publishers’ criticisms.
Luckily, I found a small publisher who was also an editor, and was willing to work with my stuff. I saw how good it could be and never looked back!
Or, at least I did after sulking for four months, re-reading the edited piece, deciding that I was a talentless writer and couldn’t ever succeed for myself, reading a few books on craft, and then going crawling back to the editor (who cut his teeth as a newspaper man in the North of England) to ask how he made my stuff so good.
Swallowing that pride and realising mistakes don’t make you a bad person is the hardest part . Also, I think there’s a pernicious misconception that good craft can’t be taught, and that anyone who reads about craft is a destined to be mediocre, which is b*ll*cks, since Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files, does pretty well for himself and outright champions a writing course as the only reason he ever got published.
Either way, thank you and please continue being awesome
Loved the video and the 5% is inspiring. I’ll reblog tonight. Thanks, Kristen.
Reblogged this on timetowritenow.
Thank you. I love stats. I define my ability to achieve by those little circles on either side of the line. I’ve calculated my own percentage has gone from 8% to 5% because I work hard, I keep writing, I don’t give up.
Sounds a lot like Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.”
Kristen, thank you. For making it seem doable, for shining a light on the path, and for pointing out the obstacles and the guideposts.
When you put it mathematically, I’m pretty darn lucky! Thanks for breaking this down so people can feel, as Jim Carey said in Dumb and Dumber, “You mean I’ve got a chance!”
Thank you for the post.
Reblogged this on Lead Writer.
Great post Kristen,
Thanks for stumbling and bumbling with your first mistakes and getting up and moving forward. I blasted out a book in record time. I beat the five percent with that effort but it sure isn’t a Hemingway by any means. I need to rewrite it. Now life gets in the way and keeps trying to shove me back into the 95 percent group.
I need to get back to the 5 percent; learn the craft; learn to excel; and keep going. Thanks fellow writers. Your inspire!
An encouraging post and it has facts to prove it. Life/writing/getting published isn’t as hard as it seems. It’s ten percent talent and ninety percent hard work.
It certainly LOOKs easy enough. REAL authors are on bookshelves. We follow their blogs. We aspire to their lifestyle. And yet there’s so much more to it than simply hammering out two or three pages a day. And yet so many writers keep hoping despite the odds. Good post!
Reblogged this on Strongabogados's Blog.
Great post — those of us in the desert moving from one oil drum to the next need some encouragement. 🙂
This really puts things in perspective. I appreciate you taking the time to break it down. I hope I can step it up a few more oil drums. Have a great holiday!
I think we could call this the highway of the 5% with lots of stop signs where 95% stop and do not continue to the next stop sign.
I’ve been on this 5% highway since I wrote my first book length manuscript in 1968, and haven’t stopped yet.
Great stuff. Thank you for your honesty. It is tough but you can do it.
Great post and so true! Loved the vid – thanks. I’ve linked to you on my first blog post of my new site!
Another post that had me going like one of those nodding dogs. So, so true. This is not an instant career. Sure some people achieve instant fame but take Children’s authors Michael Murpurgo or Julia Donaldson. The Gruffalo was published when I was still at school in the 1980s. She’s branded as an ‘overnight’ success. All I can say is, that was a sodding long ‘night’.
Love that image, taking it one black oil drum at a time. There are times when I feel like my writing career is standing still and then I look how far I’ve come and realise that even if I move the speed of glaciers. Even if I eat a lot of snail and tortoise dust, I’m still moving slowly towards my goal which is just to be a middle list author and earn enough money to be able to buy my husband a birthday or Christmas present without having to borrow the money off him first!
Sorry missed out the punch line which is that I’d rather do it slowly and do it ‘right’ than be unrealistic about my expectations or go all out marketing one book with no others to back it up.
Very insightful. I’m a new author that is trying to build a following for my new book. Please take a look at my blog and follow/like if your interested.
This is a great post! Thank you and Merry Christmas!
I really enjoyed this post. I related to so much and felt both convicted and encouraged. Nicely done.
Really enjoyed this article as an elaboration of the finer points of my own mantra: never give up! Thanks for posting it.
Reblogged this on Chris Huey – INFINITE THOUGHTS and commented:
Great article, grabbing a copy of the book now! This is just what I needed to read after that first dreaded 1 star review posting. Yup!
Great post Kristen! Excellent advice. Posted on my site http://terrigeorge.co.uk/being-a-successful-author-one-oil-drum-at-a-time/
I’m happy to say while reading your list I still find myself in the 5%. What a great way to start the New Year! Onward and upward!
Thanks for sharing this perspective. I’ve published lots of books, but feel in a writing/publishing slump right now, so needed the reminder to keep on keeping on with what I can control.
What do you mean ‘crap doesn’t sell’? Thanks for the sound advice!
Hi Kristen, I love this post. I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on publishing a personal development book. I have written a guide and started a blog with a getting shit done while your young theme. all written from research and personal experience. I would love to know if you feel there is any specific to this genre of writing that I can do in addition to the list in this post. I am determined to be in that 5% with you. Louise
great article. im chasing the barrels!
Great article! I’ll be holding onto the idea of ‘the harder we work, the luckier we get’ as I march through 2015, one oil drum at a time. Thanks, Kristen. So thrilled to have found your blog!
Excellent post, Kristen. 🙂 (Though I would have gained more insight from it had I read more than 5%….. just kidding!)
Comprehensive, positive & informative, thank you.
Reblogged this on Writing and other stuff and commented:
Loved this post. 🙂
I have the guts and the stories . I do not fear failure , I fear not doing what my soul tells me I will do now . I will write and put my mind out there . I get the 5%. I am a very odd duck , I get the job done . This may be another lesson . So be it . No wood in the fireplace , no fire.
I have come across your website by luck or by the fact it grasped my attention on Google. Your down to earth brutal truth assured me the possibility of success, even if it is only 5%, as it is a matter of actually writing, completing and facing the music of criticism with a thick skin and a stroke of some luck. I guess if I try to write for pleasure and for a reason rather than profits, then the odds of expectations are lower and delightful when they happen.
Where are you getting these statistics? I’m not sure if you’re trying to illustrate a point, but the math doesn’t necessarily work out. You can only get through about 6 iterations of multiplying the previous result by 5% until you end up with a fragment of a person. After that, you still have 4 iterations to go.
This is a broad illustration (as I mentioned in the post). The math only works that particular way (ending up a fraction of a person) if we assume every writer with a book idea starts in the same place and then follows every single one of the steps I listed.
For instance, not every writer will go to a conference and will head straight to query. Of those who only query, usually 5% will continue until they get an agent. Some won’t ever query and will write a book they immediately self-publish. Of those who self-publish straight away, roughly 5% will continue to do so long enough and get good enough that they’ll be successfully selling books.
The overall number is always in flux and not every writer goes through every iteration or starts the journey in the same spot. The 5% rule, regardless still holds true by and large. The point is that we can become overwhelmed when we see all the ‘competition’ yet there isn’t as much ‘competition’ as our minds imagine. If we focus on what we control and keep going, the competition falls away.
As an example, I see all kinds of posts about how blogging is a total waste of time (usually written on a blog for extra irony). The ‘experts’ said the same thing when I started blogging. And yes, when I started there were a TON of ‘writer blogs.’ Eleven years later, though, only a couple of us remain.
A lot of succeeding in anything is a head game. When we ignore what we can’t control and focus on what we DO control, odds improve exponentially.