I have sort of hinted at this in the past, but successful writers have much more than simply an ability to tell a great story that results in sales. This is an attitude. This is a sense of knowing who they are in the world and what it takes to succeed. And yet, when we start talking about success in this business, we spend far too much time on the tangible elements instead of those intangibles.
Think of it this way. Why do we look around at successful people around us and think that all of the good luck seems to always flow their way? We all do this. It is a level of jealousy because they have something that we think we don't have (or maybe we don't). But here is the catch. We attribute their success to "things" they do, or "things" they have. We never look to the person as an individual.
There are two major types of verbs. There are action verbs, verbs that we can see something happening such as to run, to walk, to eat, perchance to dream. But then there are what we call "state of being verbs". The name itself is very Zen-like, or as I like to call it Yoda-like. These verbs show a state of existence. Verbs like is, are, was, were, am are not actions but something that a person, place or thing just has. For example, when someone ...is happy, we don't see them "happying down the
I bring this up because to be successful in the business of publishing, or pretty much any other business, these people "think" like a writer, they "act" like a writer and they see the world as a writer. Yes, they are "doing" all of those things that we talk about what successful writers do - great marketing, plot development, character development, and so forth - but in reality it is much more.
I think of so many authors who have come through Greyhaus Literary Agency in the past, or those who I have met at conferences that really did (no let me change that) do have the talent to be successful in this business. The problem is they don't think like writers.
So, if I had to sum it up to a couple of traits that I see in successful writers it would be these 5. Now I should say, in no way are these the only 5, but I do think you will see where these are going to.
- Dedication to the craft These writers have a sense of thinking about writing as a growing and leaving organism. They are dedicated to seeing it grow into something strong and great. When they sit down to a story, they aren't thinking of it in terms of all the elements we learn about in those craft sessions at conferences. They think of these stories as "unfolding" before their eyes. They are telling stories of "real" people. These characters exist in three dimensions in their minds and they tell their story in the way that their story needs to be told. Along the same lines, they aren't thinking of the story as simply a means to a paycheck or a means to that contract, or a means to getting that next agent or editor. Those things just come from the hard work they have put into the story.
- An unwillingness to say no Let me make something clear here. These people are not going to just jump on board with every project, or say yes to everyone who wants something. When we say an unwillingness to say no, we are talking about that "bull dog" instinct. When a challenge comes up they "know" they can and they will get over it. But this unwillingness to say no also involves not quitting. They don't just disappear when the going gets tough. I know I have talked to a lot of other agents who share the same experiences. We have signed authors who have a talent. They hit a rough spot in the road, and, instead of actually working through it, they simply disappear. They said, "no they can't do it."
- A sense of humility This one goes along with the prior thought. Although these writers are unwilling to say no, they also have a sense of who they are in this business. Successful writers are not divas. They know who they are and where they fit in this world. Many would say they are saying they aren't as good as someone else, and this is wrong. It is simply an awareness that they know what they have and they know what someone else has.
- A sense of drive We're back to Yoda on this one. "Do or do not. There is no try." Successful writers know who they are, they know where they are going to, and they know what it will take to succeed. So they do it. They put in the long hours when they need to. They ask for help when they need to. They push to the point they think they can't go any further, because they need to .
- A lack of excuse making We talk about this one all of the time, and, in reality, it circles back to just what we started with. Success comes from the inside. This also means that many complications and roadblocks also come from the inside and not from something external. Successful writers don't blame their poor sales on others, or their poor review on others. Sure these things happen, but they move on. They don't create, what they call reasons, for why their story didn't get finished, or why their editor dropped them. They move on.