There are countless ways in which authors harm their careers, sometimes ending them before they’ve hardly begun. Many of their actions are meant as shortcuts, attempts to propel them to success without the customary years of career building. Here are just a few:
- Self-Publishing While Waiting for a Traditional Publisher. The only ways to get a traditional publisher interested in publishing a previously self-published work are (1) if the book is a bestseller in volume, or (2) if you’ve sold previously unpublished manuscripts to a traditional publisher which became volume bestsellers so the publisher is now interested in your backlist. If you self-publish and your sales are tepid, there is no incentive for a traditional publisher to risk re-publishing it. Note the use of the phrase “volume bestsellers” –a book can become an amazon bestseller in an obscure category or an independent bookseller can declare your book a bestseller in their store. A volume bestseller means a large and impressive number of copies sold can be independently verified through third parties—usually wholesalers, distributors and a vast number of retailers.
- Buying Up Your Own Books. There are legitimate ways to buy your own books for resale. They involve purchasing author copies from a traditional publisher or through a printer (traditional or POD) if self-published. In both cases, the sold copies are not counted as consumer sales. If you purchase hundreds or thousands of your own books through retailers in an attempt to boost your sales figures, you will be found out. It’s inevitable. And when that happens, your credibility is blown and your career probably is, too.
- Falsifying Your Credentials. This is true in any profession. But while some are unmasked at a local or company level, authors’ inflated credentials are often revealed on the Internet. The higher profile the author has the more publicity the false credentials will receive. It’s better to own up to the fact that you don’t have the degree from an Ivy League University than to have it disclosed when you’ve finally clawed your way to the top. And rags to riches stories sell better anyway.
- Pretending to be Someone You’re Not. Pen names are acceptable, but publishers must know who you really are for contractual and financial reasons. But developing an entirely false persona that is carried out in cyberspace is not the same thing as a pen name. I once knew a female author that self-published under a male name and then proceeded to tell the world how “his” spouse was hospitalized in an effort to explain why all “his” physical commitments were impossible. The hospitalization took on a life of its own, resulting in money raised and prayer circles formed, when the spouse never existed to begin with. The result? Charges of fraud.
- Thinking You’re So Special You’ll Catapult to the Top. There are exceptions. However, for the vast majority of authors the road to the top winds through the lower and middle echelons first. Think of it in terms of joining the military. You won’t be hired as a four-star general; you’ll either start as a private or a junior officer. In either case, you’ll work your way up against increasingly tough competition. But with writing, most newbie authors believe their first and only book will bypass all those years of career building, effortlessly catapulting them onto the New York Times bestseller list. Yes, it happens but it certainly isn’t frequent and it should never be expected. Anticipate paying your dues and consider it your path toward upward mobility.
- Bragging It Took 20 Years to Write It. Today’s most successful authors must churn out books in ever-increasing speed; even writing one or two books per year is now considered slow progress. Unless your book wins a Pulitzer and sits alongside timeless classics, bragging about taking two decades to write it only tells potential publishers—and readers—that you’re likely to be the author of a solitary book.
- Giving Up Once It’s Published. I’ve known many authors that spent years attempting to land a traditional publishing contract and then gave up after six weeks of promotion. In one instance, the author expected to sell 30,000 copies in a three-week local publicity campaign and then expected the book to take off on its own internationally. Once the book is published, the real work begins—the job of constant, consistent and long-term marketing. Even with a large, traditional publisher, the author is expected to actively promote his or her titles. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The finish line isn’t even in view when you first begin.
- Thinking You Don’t Need to Know the Industry. Ask any writer if they’d prefer to write or learn the publishing industry and the vast majority will most likely respond that all they want to do is write. But the truth is if your book is published, you will be a cog in the publishing industry empire. And to be successful, you need to know how it works. Keeping yourself in the dark won’t benefit you or your books.
- Thinking Success is Measured Only in Dollars. There are many ways to measure success, including the lives a book impacts and/or critical acclaim. Many classic authors did not achieve fame or fortune while they were alive and yet their books live on because they touch emotions in the hearts, minds or souls of the reader. One glance at a bookshelf and it’s easy to see that books live far longer than people. Aim to impact others’ lives and the money is secondary—if at all.
- Thinking Your Book Does Not Need Professional Editing. I only know of one author—a consistent NYT bestselling author—that has it in her contract that her writing will not be edited. The truth is her writing would be even more spectacular if it was. And for the rest of us, professional editing is part of the process. This is customary among the largest traditional publishers but often overlooked or performed poorly with smaller publishers and self-published authors. If it’s worth publishing, it is worth editing.
These are just ten ways in which authors shoot themselves in the foot. Can you think of any others? What have you done to move your career along the ladder to success?