More people want careers in writing than actually have them. Many are trying to bridge the gap between wanting and having. There is no magic formula (though if you can manage to catch lightning in a bottle, it couldn’t hurt), but there are things that will help you on the way there:
Overnight success is an oxymoron. I’m 2 years in on my 5-10 year plan for becoming an overnight success. Few professions offer less instant gratification than writing. A poker player wins or loses a hand in a minute or less. A day laborer gets handed cash at the end of a day’s work. A shop foreman gets his check weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. A farmer has to wait until harvest to sell his crop. A writer might not see anything more than a pittance until years later. Even after months of writing, editing, rewriting, waiting for editing, re-rewriting, and publishing, there can still be an interminable ramp up to notoriety, where no one buys a thing you’ve written.
It’s an easy thing to give up on. Especially when you self-publish, you’re seeing outlays of cash for editing, covers, and promotion, but little to no return. If you go the traditional route, you don’t have the financial baggage, but add another layer of waiting for acceptance from an editor at one of the publishing houses.
Be patient. Use the word ‘yet’ a lot.
“Have you sold many books?”
“Not too many … yet.”
This might sound like it overlaps with patience, and to some extent, maybe it does. But patience is, by its very nature, a passive state—-the avoidance of panic and worry while events unfold. Persistence is the active counterpart. You can’t write, then stop and wait to see how it went. You can’t promote, then stop because it didn’t get the results you hoped for. There are going to be disappointments along the way. You need to push through those. Don’t let a bad review, or a down sales week stop you in your tracks. Don’t set your writing project aside, promising yourself you’ll get back to it later. The more you write, the easier writing gets.
No one ever reached their destination by stopping.
Prolifacy (or Profilicness; take your pick)
Your wrote a book. You felt great. It didn’t sell. You felt awful.
Maybe you have illusions of becoming the next Harper Lee, writing one great novel and dusting your hands off, career achieved. Get over that one. If you want to be a career writer, you’re going to need books, not book. As an unknown author, writing a single book puts you in an esteemed company of approximately 2.2 million books published worldwide (2013 data). Granted, some number of those are repeats by the same author, but your one book is a lonesome creature amid those teeming shelves of its contemporaries. Unless you have some other reason to attract a following, that one book doesn’t tell people you are anything more than a hobbyist. What if they like your book? Will they ever be able to read more? This is something that concerns people. They don’t want to get invested in something–heaven forbid it’s part of a series–that may die on the vine if the writer gets bored or slips or decides it wasn’t worth the effort for the reward.
Every book you write is another opportunity for someone to notice you, become a fan, and buy everything you’ve ever written and ever will write. Gather enough of these true fans and you’ll have yourself the making of a sustainable career.
Think of your favorite author. No, think of your favorite five. Now, look up how many books they’ve written. The number is unlikely to be small.