My commitment to Indiereader is to focus more on the reading end of the new Golden Age of Literature than on the writing end, but in some areas the two are so intricately wrapped that you can’t split them, much like Siamese twins sharing vital organs.
Plus, anytime you talk about writing success, it inevitably sounds like bragging, no matter how humbly you present it. When so many are jobless, homeless, hungry, or devastated by disaster and war, it’s a little crass to go around talking about your Kindle rank.
But here is my secret question for success: are you going to do good with what you are given?
I pray not for success, not for wealth, not for book deals and high rankings and a #1 status. What I pray for is to use any goodness I get for a higher good. It’s that simple. “God, help me do good with goodness.”
When I am confident that I won’t turn into a jerk, harm others, belittle others, or use my money for immoral purposes, I open myself to accept success, because I can be entrusted with it. Part of God’s deal with the universe is if you do what you love with a pure heart, the universe will open up to make room for it. You see it over and over in so many successful endeavors, from businesses to relationships to creativity to ideological movements.
A friend of mine noted my new novel Liquid Fear had made a big run up the Kindle charts and asked how I did it. I gave a flippant “Spend 15 years learning craft and business skills, build a large group of friends and readers, buy ads, and write a good book—it’s easy,” and there is some truth to that. Some things simply can’t be rushed. But I’d been doing all of that hard work for years, and success didn’t arrive until I was ready.
(Note: Success to me is clearly defined as earning enough to continue writing full time. I’ve had the awards, agents, book deals, big reviews, and all that, but it didn’t add up to my dream. God’s deal with me is clear: “Keep doing what you’re doing and you get to keep doing what you’re doing.”)
Perhaps that is too simple, and bulleted lists are more fun anyway, so with the above principle as your foundation, here are seven steps that may help you succeed so you can in turn help others succeed. Not just in writing, but in living.
1. Complete your apprenticeship. The general rule of thumb is you need to write a million words before you are a “real writer.” John Locke said he started two years ago, so maybe that doesn’t matter as much anymore, but the point is to make your craft the most important asset of your creative business.
2. Learn your business. Note the word “your.” If you are self-publishing, you are not in the publishing industry, and any minute spent beyond casual examination of the publishing industry is time wasted. And note your business is not the same as Amanda Hocking’s, J.A. Konrath’s, and John Locke’s—again, worth a casual examination, but if you gather at anyone’s feet and try to duplicate their success, that makes you a follower, not an entrepreneur. If you don’t know your business, you should start now while you’re finishing up Point Number 1.
3. Establish real goals. Despite my spiritual foundation for my writing, which flows from my fountain of life, I visualize goals for product development (target dates for finishing books) and tangible actualization of the goal. For example, my family is visualizing #27 for Liquid Fear. That’s a fun ranking we’d like that’s not too greedy and something we could do some good with, and it’s clear and simple. We like the factors of 3 and 9, and it’s the square root of three. See how fun that is? Better than #29 and even #26. I don’t mean set “real goals” as in realistic, because what does reality have to do with creating something out of nothing and then asking people to trade money and time for your ephemeral shared experience? If I wanted to be realistic, I’d have set a goal of #300,000.
4. Once you have a goal, work toward it. If I choose for Liquid Fear to be #27 on the Kindle list, I don’t sit back and go, “Here, God, I uploaded, now it’s your job.” Instead, I work with focus toward #27, with the help of friends, targeting people who might enjoy the book, reaching out to all the wonderful and passionate book bloggers out there. Every step of the goal is colored with the intention of doing good and being kind—and that’s not easy for me, because I am sarcastic by nature, but sarcasm arises from fear. Fear obviously has no place in success or in helping spread goodness.
5. Separate your book from your ego. In a perfect world, we would all have been wise enough to use a pen name from the very start. Unfortunately, authors tend to heavily invest their identities in their book simply because it has their name on it and came from their efforts and experiences. However, your book is not you. If sales aren’t great, that doesn’t mean you are a bad person or even a bad writer. The universe just might not be ready yet, or you might not be ready. Sure, there’s something to be said for “branding,” because readers like familiarity, but if all you are is your sales rank, you may have a major crack in the foundation upon which this list is based, so it probably can’t help you. (If someone doesn’t like your book, it’s wonderful. Accept it. The customer is always right, and be glad someone took the time to notice and care. Don’t take it personally. It’s just words on paper or on a screen. As long as you are serving the greatest good for all concerned, you are bulletproof.)
6. Share your success. It’s taken a while, but I’ve come to understand that I don’t write bestselling books. What I do is write books driven by the mystery of my experience and perception, again trusting the fountain of my life. Because I am sharing—even when the results or reaction might be unpleasant—I am open to receiving, and when a book does well and meets its goal, I accept that other people made it happen: people who bought the book, told their friends, sent out Tweets, and generously spread the news through their various networks. That means the universe made a place for it.
7. Say “thank you.” How rare is it that someone says “Thank you?” Except in jest, I never directly tell anyone “Buy Liquid Fear.” Anywhere. I say, “This cool book is available.” I could spend a week just thanking the people who sent tweets or posted on Facebook or wrote reviews or hosted me on their blogs. Sometimes I am unable to thank everyone personally, but I deliver an ongoing collective thanks to the universe through my commitment to uphold what I have been entrusted with.
I’d like to think I’d be the same if I hit 10 books in the Top 100 at the same time. I haven’t set that goal, but I could see it happening if I were spiritually fit. My friend and collaborator J.R. Rain has similar principals, and it’s no coincidence that we bump each other on the bestseller lists from time to time. My wife says I am more at ease now. I don’t sit around worrying about books slipping in rank or income dropping or the indie revolution ending before I’ve made my millions. That’s Fear Thinking and not what I am about, though I have to fight my smallish inner nature if I want grow beyond that.
Do you know what success would look like to me? My neighbor has a small plot of land that’s part of a larger property for sale. It has a hole dug out for a basement. I’d like to buy that so I can build a greenhouse and raise seed corn that is not genetically modified. A bunch of e-book sales would do that. I think being “The boy who saved corn” would be a lot cooler than being in the Kindle Top 100 and would be good for the world. Doing good with goodness. I think I can make that a goal, and thinking can make it so. If the universe wants it.
Until next time, be good.
Scott Nicholson is author of the new mystery thriller Liquid Fear—available for 99 cents at Amazon, BN.com, and Smashwords—as well as the bestsellers The Red Church, Disintegration, Speed Dating with the Dead, and 20 other books. He resides at hauntedcomputer.com.