Being a writer has captured the imagination of many of us, and a variety of surveys have shown figures varying from just over half up to 80 percent of people wanting to write a book someday. But very few of them ever try, and fewer still will succeed. So, why do most writers fail?
Most writers fail due to a combination of factors, but mainly being too lazy to try, lacking persistence, too little planning, not being focused and unrealistic expectations. Writing takes more effort than most people think. It takes a lot more than just sitting down to pen a few sentences.
Let’s look at some of the main issues that would-be writers encounter so you can make sure you are not the next to be added to the pile.
What is Failure? What is Success?
Let’s start by defining what it is to fail and succeed as a writer. The definition of failure and success varies by writer and what stage they are at in their learning or publishing process.
A new writer may have difficulty trying to come up with a good story line that feels original. If they cannot find a story that captures their imagination, they may fail at this early hurdle.
You may feel you have failed even after finishing writing a book due to getting multiple rejections or possibly feeling that you failed by getting low sales for a published book.
Failure comes in many forms.
Success is defined in just as many ways as a failure. Success to a new writer may be getting a publishing offer or selling their first book. Maybe getting positive reviews and sales, having fans, writing a second book or becoming famous.
The list of possible definitions of success goes on and on. What is success for you may be a failure for someone else.
Failure Issues You Can Control
Let’s discuss a few of the most important issues you have control over.
Commitment and Confidence
Many who do try to write a book soon become clear that the process is challenging work, and they need to be committed to doing it and keep going, even when they are struggling.
If they do not have confidence in what they are writing, it can be tough to keep up the long and sometimes headache-inducing effort it takes to complete a book.
It is no good starting off with excitement and being reluctant to put the work in.
You need to go into this with the expectation that you will have confidence issues at some point. When you are having a hard time producing anything good, you need to be prepared to commit to continuing anyway with the understanding that it will get better eventually.
Too Little Effort
Persistence is a significant factor in success. Closely related to the issues above, persistence to the process can sometimes be lacking for new and inexperienced writers. Understanding that it is a process of not just writing but also learning a craft can be missed by many.
Most writers can show you many books they have started writing or even wholly finished that are now sitting on a shelf, never read by anyone else.
You need to put in a lot of effort, especially in the early stages, to become a good writer. Without persistence and a long-term effort, you really have no chance of success with your writing.
Many writers give up too quickly, especially when they hit a block or have real trouble with their writing and cannot see how to move forward.
Lack of Learning
Even the newest writers likely understand that they need to learn how to write a book but often do not go beyond the fundamental basics.
The problem for many is that they only seem to think they need to know about the basics of grammar and punctuation, how to create a story outline, how long a book needs to be, and a few other items to get a book published.
There is so much more to writing a good book than that. A real writer takes time to learn all the different skills like narrative techniques, character development, plot construction, etc.
It is very easy to get stuck on the basics and think you know everything, which usually means there is no way to advance your writing skill or learn new techniques.
You need to make sure that you are always aiming to improve your skills and knowledge about the art of creating engaging books.
And that is the key. It is an art that is always different and always has more to show you.
Are You Really the Next Hemingway?
Let’s reign is that aim a little, shall we? There is nothing wrong with being confident. It can help a lot in a business that involves many failures and rejections, but you need to be humble enough to understand that you are just another beginner at writing, and your success will come with time and hard work.
Many people have the feeling that they can turn their passion for writing into a job where they will make loads of money with little effort. To get there, you need to be realistic and not assume you will be the next entry on the bestseller list first try.
A plan consisting of:
- 1) Write a bestseller
- 2) Retire
- 3) errm…hang on, don’t tell me
is not a very helpful guide for success.
There is nothing wrong with aiming high. It can keep us going in difficult times, of course, but having more realistic short- and long-term goals will help you actually achieve them.
Set targets you can reach, then keep setting another and another to push yourself forward. 500 words a day sounds better than 75000 words as your first aim on the list. You are more likely to get closer to your Hemingway plan this way.
Ok, maybe not, but you are far more likely to have a finished manuscript.
Expecting Overnight Success
This is another that comes in various forms. For example, expecting to immediately be able to craft a story that can successfully carry a whole book. Write an entire book on your first attempt. Expecting your first completed manuscript to be good enough for publication and, of course, expecting your first published book to be a bestseller.
Make sure to be realistic and not expect immediate success with any of these. If you’re not realistic, you are likely to do more harm than good when you fail. Unfortunately, it is inevitable at some point in this challenging business, so you may find your commitment and effort levels difficult to sustain unless you are realistic and prepared to handle it. Do not let these setbacks stop you from pushing toward long-term goals.
No Marketing Effort (or Skills)
Once you reach the point that you have successfully got your book published, the unfortunate truth is that you will have to do most of the marketing.
This is not typically fully understood by many new authors who believe that the publisher will have a team of people taking care of this while they write the next book.
With the way the modern publishing industry works and the fact that most books sell only a few hundred copies, publishers simply do not have the resources to commit to considerable marketing efforts for most books.
Many books will fail simply because the author does not put in any or only a little marketing effort, or more likely does not have the skills required.
You need to make sure you educate yourself and have at least basic marketing knowledge and skills about how books are sold today. There are plenty of online resources you can use to learn from the mistakes and successes of others.
Make sure you take advantage of these as much as possible. It will increase your chances of succeeding over the many others who will not bother.
Issues Out of Your Control
There are, of course, several issues that are entirely out of your control.
Major Publishers Take Fewer New Authors
Only a handful of major publishers still take on authors in the traditional publishing system of contracting and paying in advance for the rights to publish a book. Unfortunately, due to the intense market conditions, most of them take far fewer new authors than they used to do.
This means that there is a lot more competition while at the same time there are a lot more people writing and trying to become published.
Although there is little you can do about this, you can at least increase your chances by trying to get an agent who will have a better skill set. This enables them to get your book at least in front of a publisher to be considered, which is very unlikely if you just submit it directly.
The best way around this issue that most authors use nowadays is to go down the self-publishing route.
Even if you try to find an agent and a traditional publisher, you should also investigate self-publishing. This is more likely to be successful if you really believe your book is worth reading.
Lack of Proper Indie Support
If you do try self-publishing, you will find that you are going it alone for almost all aspects. Due to the history of some companies taking advantage of the hopes and dreams of want to be authors, even trustworthy organizations and companies that cover self-publishing are, at times, hesitant to either provide or recommend services.
This can mean that you as an individual are left to figure out via searching lots of websites and discussion forums just what companies and services are trustworthy and which should be avoided.
Ensure to follow and read forums where you can generally get feedback from fellow writers on what companies provide good service and who you should avoid.
This one is really a problem and a benefit. There is a tremendous amount of competition from self-publishing platforms that came into existence with the help of the Internet. Many newer online-only electronic platforms such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords all provide quick and easy outlets for anybody to publish themselves.
This massive increase in the competition from the Internet means traditional publishers have seriously reduced interest in newer writers and marketing resources for them, as we discussed above. Obviously, you have no control over that aspect, so you have to turn this into an advantage for you instead.
The best advice is to contact and work towards publishing with the self-publishing platforms such as Kindle Direct Publishing from Amazon, while you are also pursuing the traditional grounds.
So ignore the fact that there are plenty of ways you can fail as a writer, accept that many of them are under your control, at least to some extent. Make sure you do what you can to control those and thus reduce your barriers to success as much as possible.
Determination and resilience will get you through. Good luck!