A major roadblock to success as an entertainer–and what is an author, but an entertainer of words?–is a sense of entitlement to the readers’ attention, money, and adulation.
What? I’m Not Entitled, Victor!
Most people are entitled in a variety of ways, but don’t realize it. They generally frame their feeling of entitlement in terms of “reality,” or “the way people are supposed to act.” The problem, of course, is that everyone has a different expectation for social exchange, and as a result, many of us end up feeling like we get the short end of the stick most, if not all of the time.
Step 1: No One Owes You Anything
People really don’t have to be nice to you (or to me), and they don’t have to look at your book, or review it, or pay for it. If you aren’t writing something that people go, “Wowza, must have that! It’s gonna give me what I really want!” about, you might not sell anything at all. And that doesn’t mean that the internet has destroyed books, or that your ideas are stupid, or that you should go get a better editor (unless you find a really, really fine editor who will coach your internal process and shape it on the page, in which case, hooray for you!); it means that you aren’t offering something people really want. So try something else.
Step 2: A Significant Portion Of Your Audience Is Entitled
So you know how we started out with me telling you that you’re probably entitled and you don’t realize it? Yeah, everybody else is too, and that needs to go into your expectations for how to write stories.
Step 3: People Steal
Ah, the sweet, naive days of my youth! Here are two stories to illustrate my point:
I wrote a book about aliens who tinker with [cool idea], and gave it to a beta reader, who read it, sort of hated/loved it, and immediately started brainstorming a book idea of their own about an alien race that [same cool idea].
Not yet having learned my lesson, I exchanged drafts with another author for feedback. I read his first, and gave him detailed and copious notes. I also fixed a couple of glaring issues in his story construction. He was excessively grateful for the help. He read my draft, and gave me a garbled, nonsensical pile of contradictory criticism (he literally made up details that weren’t in the draft, and then shouted at me for the imaginary issues). Immediately after this, he began work on a new book that lifted about six elements straight out of my draft that he had seemed to loathe so heartily.
Step 4: You Can’t Win
No one is ever in a million years going to give you the kind of recognition, as a writer, that you secretly long for. It’s never going to happen. You can give yourself that kind of attention, but no one outside of your head is going to nurture and build you up the way you need in order to grow.
Step 5: Evaluate Your Current Skills
Imagine, for a moment, that you are going to get on a plane this afternoon and go try out for the Olympic gymnastics team of whatever nation you call home. And you’re just you, as you are today. Do you have any prayer of competing with the lithe and muscular bodies that have been prepared from the days of their childhood? Are you strong, flexible, and knowledgeable enough to hold your own amongst such people?
Professional writing is as competitive and ruthlessly demanding as international gymnastics. Many, if not all, people who are not professional writers think that writing is really easy; that’s why so many people want to be writers. Get paid for not much work, people say to themselves. Get lucky, people think.
How flexible is your soul? How dynamic, powerful, and hardened is your mental process? Do you know how to navigate the toxic and occasionally back-stabby waters of open competition with people who cheat? There are people who take writing and marketing their work this seriously; those are the people you are up against if you want to make a go of professionalism as a writer.
Step 6: Come To Grips With Your Competition
Unless you’re currently selling things, you may want to look at your blind areas, the things about your process and material that you’re kinda-sorta ignoring because they make you feel squelchy and uncomfortable inside. Focus on those things for a while. Your competition has found ways to cope with their blind areas; you aren’t going to out-pace them until you also cope with the parts of writing that terrify you.
Step 7: Depersonalize The Writing Process
People are going to bond to your characters a whole lot more clearly than they’re going to bond to you; most readers, even if they say they love an author ever so much, care about story and characters. If you can disentangle your idea of self from the storytelling, you can learn to write with an easier, less stressful process.
Remember, Most Writers Don’t Finish Their Writing Projects!
When you keep in mind that, by finishing stories, articles, poems, and novels, you are already ahead of the pack of people who dream of writing, you can push onward in the journey of becoming a real idea-maker in the world of genre fiction. People who write, and finish what they write, have a good shot at building a body of work that communicates clear ideas, and the sharing of clear ideas is a big step towards gaining an audience. This is the foundational part, where you’re a writer. To become a professional writer, you start working yourself ruthlessly, on top of finishing your projects.
You’re reading Victor Poole. Kedar, the ancestral king of the East in this book, is inspired by a football coach I knew in my old high school. If Brazilian soccer players had heard of this book, they might tell you to read it, too.