This episode was originally published here
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For the next few weeks, we will be releasing some “best of” episodes while I spend time with our new baby Thomas Gregory Umstattd, III.
This episode originally aired in 2018.
We live in a world that is cursed. Because of our sin, God cursed the soil to have thorns and weeds. That curse is pervasive and continues to this day. If you want to have success in farming, you have to put in the work to remove the weeds. If you want to see success in publishing, you must be willing to put in the work too.
Our enemy to success is entitlement. Entitlement is expecting crops to grow without work, and it is a killer of author careers.
Important note: This is the outline for the episode, not a transcript. I encourage you to listen to the audio version.
What entitlement looks like:
My idea is so unique my book deserves to get published and sell like crazy. A good idea is not enough to make up for average writing or ineffective marketing.
My writing is so good, my book deserves to thrive. Good writing alone is not enough for success.
My marketing is good so my book deserves to thrive. Good marketing helps a bad book fail faster.
My last book was a bestseller so my next book deserves to be a bestseller. Past success makes future success easier, not guaranteed.
My book is a bestseller, so it deserves to win awards. The committees that give awards and the communities who buy books are not the same. You must thrill them separately.
My book won awards so it deserves to be a bestseller. Most readers don’t care about awards, just like most movie watchers don’t care about the Golden Globes.
God called me to write, so my book deserves to thrive. Just because God gave the children of Israel the land of Canaan, doesn’t mean they still didn’t need to work to take possession of the land.
There is a big difference between God giving you the power to slay giants and Him slaying the giants for you.
I was successful in my past career so I deserve to thrive in this one. Starting a writing career is no different than starting any other career. Michael Jordan’s success in basketball did not make him a star baseball player.
The solution to entitlement: hustle.
Hustle Factor #1: Learning
A teachable spirit is critical for success. It is also a hallmark of truly great writers.
I remember giving a talk on persuasion at Mount Hermon. It was the end of the week and it was an optional session and there were not many authors in the room. But do you know who was in the room on the front row? Someone who at the time was one of the most famous people in Christian Publishing.
The great ones never stop improving.
The two areas in which you need to never stop learning are:
Eventually, you will get to the point where you run out of traditional learning sources. It is hard for me to find books or courses on marketing that aren’t teaching what I already know, for instance. But that doesn’t mean my learning ends. It means I have to find new ways to learn.
This means watching what people are doing and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. It also means looking outside of my industry to see what people are doing in other places to promote their work.
This happens with craft as well. Masters like Steven King learn not by taking classes on writing (although he may still do that from time to time) but by reading lots and lots of books. They also keep getting coaching from their editors. Tiger Woods still has a golf coach. Serena Williams still has a tennis coach.
If you want to keep writing books, you need to keep reading books:
- on the craft of writing
- in your genre
- outside your genre
Basically, you need to read a lot of books.
You never grow out of needing a coach.
Hustle Factor #2: Doing
Writing requires hard work. If you expect your second book to take less work than your first book, don’t be surprised if it sees less success too.
Sometimes, after several books, authors start to take shortcuts in their writing process or in their marketing. These shortcuts can undermine the success of their future books.
Marketing also takes hard work. You owe it to your book to do the work to get it out to the world.
This doesn’t mean you should do everything or waste a lot of time on social media. (Facebook stopped working for authors in early 2018, not that it worked great before that).
A lot of authors are willing to do marketing work, but are not willing to study marketing to see what works. Don’t be that kind of author.
This is why I host the Novel Marketing Podcast. Every week we talk about what works and what doesn’t.
Hustle Factor #3: Reviewing
According to the book Talent is Overrated (affiliate link), it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a master of something. So what is the difference between practice and deliberate practice?
- Clear goal (I want to be able to write 5000 words a day or fewer than ten editor corrections per page)
- Measurement (How many words did I write yesterday, how many corrections did I get on my last chapter?)
- Mentorship (An editor, agent or coach. It is hard to read the label when you are standing inside the bottle)
Hustle Factor #4: Resting
It may sound counter-intuitive, but the key to hustle is rest.
Resting sharpens the mind, giving you a maximum return on energy. Without rest, we can turn into writing zombies doing nothing but the bare minimum and most urgent tasks. If your writing feels like whacking away at a tree with a dull ax, you may need more rest.
Rest is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately with a newborn in a bassinet in my bedroom.
There are three kinds of rest in the Bible:
- Daily Rest. Sleeping at night.
- Weekly Rest (Sabbath)
- Sabbatical Rest (1 year in seven do no farming Leviticus 25:4)
I have an author friend who is about to take a year off from writing. This author has been incredibly successful but needs time to recharge the writing batteries. I anticipate this will lead to unprecedented success later on.
For athletes, the kind of rest they get is as important as the kind of workouts they do.
Sponsor: Thomas Umstattd’s Mastermind Groups
Do you want help and encouragement in your writing career? I have started two mastermind groups, for published and prepublished authors. Space is limited so if the group you want to join has filled up already, there is a waiting list.
These groups meet monthly with me via video call where each mastermind checks in, shares their progress, challenges, and goals. Each mastermind also gets a chance to pick my brain and get encouragement from the other masterminds. You can learn more here.
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