5 Mistakes That Stalled My Writing Career
by Jessica E. Thomas | September 21, 2020
I’ve been at this writing career for over twenty years.
Specifically, I’ve been in online fiction writing circles since 2008. I was online just in time to watch print on demand publishing, indie publishing, and ebook publishing take off.
Back then, I wanted a full-time writing career within ten years. I didn’t realize my goal, but thousands of indie authors have.
Am I kicking myself? Yeah.
WHAT DID I DO WRONG?
The main reason I didn’t meet my writing career goal is a noble one. I had two kids. Babies certainly throw a wrench in plans, but that’s okay.
Even so, if I’d played my cards right, I could have a second income stream from writing by now. Unfortunately, I don’t, and there are a few reasons why.
I SECOND-GUESSED MYSELF
I started writing women’s fiction in the late ‘90s. When my first novel stalled, I questioned my choice of genre. Instead of pushing through the draft, I ruminated about the fiction market.
Because some guy on some Christian radio station said Christian speculative fiction was a hot and growing market, I decided to ditch women’s fiction and try my hand at science fiction.
Unbeknownst to me, Christian publishers are afraid of Christian speculative fiction. A grassroots indie Christian speculative fiction market exists, but the audience isn’t large enough to support a fulltime writing career.
In short, I spent years writing a Christian science fiction novel that was dead on arrival. It’s a good novel, and I learned a lot while writing it. But in hindsight, I stalled my career by second-guessing myself instead of trusting my instincts.
I DREAMED TOO BIG
Early in my career I romanticized the act of writing and, likewise, the potential payout. I figured if I slaved over my first novel, I’d find an agent, who would find a publisher, who would catapult my novel to the New York Times Best Sellers list. The money would start rolling in, and I’d be set for life.
Sounds reasonable, right? (Ummm.)
The above scenario happens on rare occasion, but it’s as common as winning the lottery. In truth, winning a financially viable publishing contract these days is exceedingly rare.
The publishing industry has changed. Change isn’t intrinsically bad, it’s just different.
If you’re a glass half full person, you view change as an opportunity. But if you’re like me, you spend an inordinate amount of time moping about it.
The truth is, I caused my own discouragement. Because my dreams were unrealistic, I doomed myself for failure.
I SAW THE GLASS HALF EMPTY
Around 2009, I got a bite from an agent who shopped my Christian science fiction novel to a publisher. The publisher declined and the agent admitted there wasn’t a market for my book among Christian publishers, so we parted ways.
Around this time, ebooks were taking off and print on demand became a viable option. Enter the world of indie publishing.
I, like so many other authors, decided to go indie, and eventually self-published my novel, This Quiet Tyranny, under my own imprint. Shortly thereafter, I published my second novel, Running Backward.
While the opportunity to self-publish excited me initially, I soon realized how difficult it was. I did everything myself: editing, proofreading, back cover copy, print and ebook layout, marketing copy.
By the time the books were published, I was worn out. Too worn out to put much effort into selling the books, hence I saw very few sales.
I ceased viewing indie publishing as an opportunity, and instead saw it as a chore. Indie publishing success became a pipe dream, available only to those willing to pimp themselves out to a hungry, greedy, and undiscerning audience.
Instead of learning how to streamline my process, or think of ways to outsource, I basically, well….felt sorry for myself. (And had babies.)
I COMPARED MYSELF TO OTHERS
In my discouragement, I spent a lot of time comparing myself to others. I felt jealous and envious of other writers’ successes.
Since I was burned out on writing and publishing, I sought solace in YouTube. I jumped into video production with both feet, dreaming of the day when I amassed hundreds, nay thousands of subscribers. (Again, unrealistic expectations.)
I published my first video and heard nothing but crickets. I published my third, my fourth, my fortieth. Where were all the subscribers I’d dreamed of? I was gaining one, maybe two subscribers a week.
I did the math. Fifty-two weeks per year times two subscribers per week, and well…amassing thousands of subscribers was starting to feel like a pipe dream.
Worse, I began comparing myself to other YouTubers. How were they getting so many subscribers? They’d been on YouTube for two months, had five videos, and they already had 800 subscribers? How could this be?
All this comparison made me feel like a loser.
And, honestly, I still feel like a loser, but I’ve learned this: everyone’s creative journey is different. When I compare myself to others, I lose sight of my personal goals.
When I try to adjust my creative output to align with what seems popular, my work loses authenticity. It becomes a copy, which makes it even less likely to stand out among the competition.
I DIDN’T WRITE
This one is obvious. But I’m dense sometimes.
While there is no single path to success in indie publishing, it’s well established that if you want to achieve financial success, you must commit to a genre, write books in a series, and publish often. The only way to achieve these goals is to stick to a consistent writing schedule.
I have rebelled against this advice. Why? Because it seemed like too much work. Instead of writing, I’ve distracted myself with other, seemingly easier creative pursuits that have added no value to my writing career.
There are no magic bullets. Writers must write. Consistently.
So often, I’ve fallen into the “woe is me” doldrums instead of just sitting in the chair and writing. I’ve been impatient. I’ve lacked focus. I’ve been unrealistic. But I haven’t been consistently dedicated. It’s hard to admit, but it’s the truth.
If you’ve fallen into one or all of these five traps, don’t despair. If you’re still breathing, it’s not too late to pursue your goals. The writing life is a journey, not a destination. All those side-tracks create endurance and teach us lessons that will eventually fortify our stories.
This journey has humbled me. I’ve learned I’m here to serve others, not myself. I’ve learned I’m not special, but if I work hard I can add my signature to this world through the stories I create.
I’ve learned what challenging, yet realistic goals look like. And I’ve developed the maturity to consistently work toward those goals.
- Trust your instincts. Don’t try to figure out what the market wants. Write what you want to write.
- Be practical. Don’t expect success to come from anything but consistent hard work.
- Embrace opportunity. The publishing world has never been more exciting. Be humble. Be thankful.
- Do not compare yourself to others. Your path to success will be unique.
- Write. Always. Write.
Jessica E. Thomas graduated summa cum laude with Academic Honors in Writing from Ball State University, receiving a Bachelor of Science in English and a Minor in Creative Writing. She began her professional career in marketing at a large Indianapolis law firm. Since transitioning to Information Technology in 2001, she has worked in the pharmaceutical, student loan, and finance industries as a computer programmer, systems analyst, Web developer, and technical writer. She has authored two novels, three novellas, a poetry collection, a short story collection, and a children’s book.