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What you need for a successful writing career

I’ve been thinking about the ingredients needed to pull off a writing career. By no means would I say I’m successful yet, so in some ways this is a bit of a wish list. But I’ve gotten further than I could reasonably expected. Here’s are the three things I think you need most.

 

Time and Energy

This is the most important one to me. For the first decade after I graduated college (and before I had kids) I wanted to write, but never had the energy after working a nine-hour day. Instead, I’d watch TV, leave unwashed dishes all over the place, and fall asleep without putting a single word on paper.

But after my kids got to a certain age, and I sold my business (and therefore had some free time on my hands) I could finally dedicate myself to the writing I’d wanted to do for a long time. It came so effortlessly at first, like the stories had been waiting and building for years, wanting me to type them up.

 

A critical reader

For me, it was my wife. She’s a professional writer, which absolutely helps, but isn’t necessary at all. In fact, the skill she has that I’ve leaned on the most is simple critical thinking. She’ll read a paragraph or a chapter and tell me it isn’t plausible, or is too complicated, or makes no sense whatsoever. That last one is probably the most common.

Yes, it’s wonderful to have the multiple editors that my publisher can deploy, but that’s only helpful after a writer has secured publication.


An interest in marketing

Marketing is usually the part of the job that most authors hate. It feels like sales. Hell, it is sales. It’s selling your book. But the reality we live in is that there are hundreds of thousands of books published every year and not a damn soul is going to read yours or mine or anyone’s if they don’t hear about it.

I have the advantage of having working in marketing (and even – forever ago – in book marketing), but I actually think that experience is not terribly valuable. The real need is a willingness to put yourself out there. Not necessarily screaming through a bullhorn on a rooftop, but maybe just getting out on social channels, a blog like this one, or even emailing your friends to get them to read your book and put up a review on amazon.

As I’ve written previously, I’m not very comfortable with telling my friends, much less writing to book buyers or magazine editors I don’t know. But there it is. You need that skill to get people to pick up your book for the first time.