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I had some time to reflect on what’s happened to me this year as a writer (a whole lot!). Here are the top 10 things I’ve learned in 2018 (in no particular order). I hope these are helpful to you as you continue on your path, making plans and avoiding others’ mistakes.
- Quality is better than quantity. Writers are in it for the long haul. Focus on producing good work that will last (see Ryan Holiday’s Perennial Seller). That might mean that people aren’t immediately excited about it. But don’t let that keep you from writing.
- You need community. No matter who you are, you need to find your tribe (see Seth Godin’s book by that title), which includes (1) those whom you network with and (2) those whom you want to serve with your writing. This will take time. Be patient. I’ve benefited from the podcasts by Jeff Goins (The Portfolio Life) and Jeff Medders (Homerow) (and I hope to get to Chase Replogle’s Pastor Writer soon). These are people who are thinking about the same issues I’m thinking about, serving the types of people I want to serve. I’m still at the beginning stages in this process.
- Keep studying and honing your craft. I’ve just ordered Stephen King’s On Writing and N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl (both recommendations on a long list that’s come from Medders’ podcast). The former speaks about the craft of writing; the latter writes with passion and beauty about God’s world. Keep reading the writing you love so that you can continue to write things that others will love to read.
- Realize that income from writing may be slow-coming (or even non-existent) for a while. I’ve had 4 books published by smaller traditional publishers (P&R and Wipf & Stock), all this year. You know how much money I’ve made so far? Drum roll . . . . . $11.60. Of course, it’s early in the process. I’ve heard that it usually takes a new book 1-2 years just to get noticed. I’m not sure how well my books will sell in the years ahead. But even if they end up selling well, it will take a while for me to see any returns on the investment of time and money. I’ve also learned that I need to read up, for the future, on how to do a successful book launch. I didn’t have the chance to do that this year. And I’m probably going to pay for that.
- Fight discouragement. It’s very easy to be discouraged in today’s publishing atmosphere. There are around 800,00 to 1,000,000 new books published each year in the US alone! One of my publishers said that the average book sells less the 100 copies, and if you average the numbers across the board from a major book mover, each title would only sell about 2 copies! Negatively, there’s a lot of noise out there. Positively, there’s a lot of great voices too, people who have things worth listening to, but we’re all limited. Not everyone can read everything when you want them to. The worst response you can have as a writer in this setting is to stop writing. The world still needs your voice. You are a unique image bearer of God. You’re precious to him, and he wants you to speak up if you have something to say that honors him and helps others. Don’t be discouraged. Be excited—excited that God is calling you into a community of great writers!
- Check your motives. All. The. Time. It’s embarrassingly easy to become egotistical as a writer. Remember why you’re writing. If you’re a Christian, you should be writing to glorify God and draw people to the truth of his word. You’re not in it for the money (God help you if you are). You’re not in it for the social media following, or the praise and adoration of readers. You’re in it to serve God and others. You’re in it to give, not to receive. But the temptation to receive is always looming in the background.
- Start thinking about a strategy for publishing (especially if you want to write books). Not everyone wants to profit from writing books. That’s perfectly fine. I would write for the rest of my life without seeing any money from it, because writing is my calling and passion. However, I do want to help support my family as much as I can, and that means I need to think about how I’m going to publish my books. There are advantages and drawbacks to traditional publishing, self-publishing, and to which publisher you end up choosing if you go the traditional publishing route. You should know from the outset that Amazon’s KDP platform offers authors 35% to 70% in royalties, which is far more than you’ll ever get from most publishers. But that also means that you’ll be in charge of marketing your book and getting it out there. There may also be other reasons to go with traditional publishers, for example, if you want to broaden your readership and gain credibility. Whatever you end up doing, be intentional. Measure the success and make adjustments.
- Be intentional and informed about how you use social media. With three little kids, a wife who’s trying to fit a full-time online career into a few hours, and a full-time job that I’m committed to, I can’t engage in every avenue of social media. I’m taking one step at a time, currently just using Twitter (and occasionally Instagram). Use the social media at your disposal not for rampant self-promotion (though you need to do a bit of that), but to build relationships with your tribe (see # 2 above). Currently, I set a time limit for my social media use each day: 30 minutes. Once I hit that, I’m done. I have to focus on other things. Don’t get sucked into the whirlwind. Use the media to connect with people. People.
- Remember that there are hierarchies to your identity. You can’t let your identity as a writer absorb all of your other identities: Christian, father, husband, son, friend, etc. Yes, you’re a writer (and Jeff Goins has been very encouraging to me here), but that’s not all you are. Don’t make writing an idol. It will start to destroy other parts of your life.
- Enjoy it! If writing is your calling, don’t just see it as work. See it as play. Have fun with it! Toy around with words, with assonance and consonance, with metaphor, with concrete imagery. Play. And have fun. Writing is an amazing gift from God. Don’t boil it down to something less mysterious, less awe-inspiring, less beautiful.
Well, there you are. Of course, we’re always picking up new things as writers, so I’m sure I’ll be doing a similar list for 2019. I pray that this is some encouragement to you as we start a new year together.