An excerpt from a work in progress: Writing Success Guaranteed: How to Deal Yourself Five Hearts to Win the Publishing Game. If you would like to be a beta reader, please write to Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Don’t get it right. Get it written.” – James Thurber
You a pantser or a plotter? Elmore Leonard wrote by the seat of his pants. He said: “I like to be surprised every day.” Are you a pantser who likes to discover what comes next as you write? Or a plotter who prefers outlines?
Ray Bradbury summed up writing in two verbs: “Throw up and clean up.” Bradbury encouraged writers to jump off a cliff and make their wings on the way down. You may find it easier to finish a draft, and then figure out what to do next.
Michelangelo believed that angels were inside the blocks of marble he attacked with hammer and chisel, waiting to be liberated. A book has two basic elements: an idea and the execution of it. Ideas are easy; execution is hard.
Your idea is a block of marble out of which that you are trying to create its ideal embodiment. You are in the service of your idea, your book, and your readers. So the challenge is to make the execution of your idea as strong as the idea itself.
Author Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote: “Perfection is attained not when there is nothing more you can add, but when there is nothing you can take away.” The distillation required to make bullion cubes out of chicken soup requires refining.
Writing is brain surgery. Every word is either bringing your ideas to life or killing it. So keep chipping away so your words seem inevitable and disappear into the thought. As James Baldwin advised: “Write so well that no one notices that your writing.” If you cut a word you need, it will bleed. Follow the ultimate rule in the essential Elements of Style: ”Make every word count.” Tools like Scrivener and grammarly can help you.
Most nonfiction is a series of facts that are relatively easy to outline. Hemingway said: “Prose is architecture, not interior design.” Rilke wrote: “Prose should be built like a cathedral.” When you set out to construct an enduring edifice of prose, you may find it easier to give yourself a foundation on which to build, then change it if you need to. John Grisham does 40-page outlines, Elizabeth George does 70-page outlines, Danielle Steel does 80-page outlines.
Five to Thrive
Less than one percent of actors make a living from acting. Less than one percent of writers make a living just from writing books. You need to be a content provider whose work builds synergy because it has continuity and consistency. Blog posts, articles, reviews, social media posts, talks, classes, podcasts, and videos will all help you build your visibility and brand.
Agent Don Maass believes that it takes five novels to build an audience. This also seems reasonable for nonfiction. The fastest way to succeed is to write books that sell each other. If readers love one of your books, they’ll read the others. So look at your career not as one book but a lifetime of books, each better and more profitable than the previous one.
If you find an idea that lends itself to a series or standalone books that you’re passionate about writing and promoting, you can use them to build your career and your brand. Publishers love series, but you can’t expect one to last a lifetime. If sales or your inspiration wanes, pivot and start a new series that will excite your fans.
Novelists are succeeding by producing four or even twelve books a year. But for lasting, sustainable success, write as much as you can without sacrificing quality. Balance maximizing your pleasure, income, visibility, and building your career and your brand. Make your work scalable from a paragraph to a manuscript and your promotion scalable from a one-line pitch to a one-hour talk.
About the author:
Mike Larsen is an author coach who loves helping writers achieve their goals by adding value to their readers’ lives. Mike cofounded Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents, which sold books to more than a hundred publishers and imprints. Books: How to Write a Book Proposal, now in its fifth edition, coauthored by Jody Rein; How to Get a Literary Agent; Guerrilla Marketing for Writers (coauthor). His next book: Writing Success Guaranteed: How to Deal Yourself Five Hearts to Win the Publishing Game, www.michaellarsenauthorcoaching.com.