Write as many different types of work as you can, as quickly as you can.
Every writer I know has a precious, precious project–distilled from the bosom of the gods and dripped into their dreams at night in a steady flow of intoxicating visions or something. For me, that project was, and continues to be, The Gearheart.
I started writing it in high school in 1999. Then again in 2002. Then again in 2006, when I actually finished a novel. I love the setting and the characters, and I’d happily write new Gearheart books all day if given the chance. Certainly, the podcast listeners would be pleased with that outcome.
But that’s not how publishing works.
They don’t care that your book is the book you’ve always wanted to write.
Thing is, the markets change from month to month, year to year, and the target you have isn’t necessarily what they want. You can self-pub, and there’s always a group to be served there, but self-pubs still have to labor under the same need for productization as the rest of us.
Like I would imagine no one will buy your over-awesomed novel about zombies, Sriracha and bacon. I’m sorry, but the market has had enough for now. Maybe check back with it in five years or so.
That’s the thing about very successful authors, no matter the stripe. Their works appear at a time when people hunger for them. Maybe you were at the head of the Sriracha Bacon Zombie trend, and that’s great for you. However, by the time you can react to a trend, it’s too late.
I’ve seen some self-pub authors aim at a genre center-mass, and serve a niche admirably. I want to congratulate them and make it clear that I have no idea how self-pubbers work their incredible black magic.
I’m in continuous awe of anyone who can eke out a full-time living as a writer, much less one with no infrastructure backing them up. You guys are heroes.
This post isn’t for people who have hit their marks. It’s for people who feel like their work isn’t selling, in spite of their passion.
You don’t know what the public wants.
Well, I mean, unless it’s your job to know. I guess I could see some media buyer saying I’m full of shit… and that’s fair.
But if you’re a normal loser like me, a mere mortal in a sea of mere mortals, you don’t know what’s going to make a hit book. Maybe you wrote a good book. Maybe you even wrote a great book. That’s awesome! That’s your job, so good going, friend-o! All your books should be great books.
But that doesn’t mean you hit at the right time.
The public might not want your work. You might be too similar to something else that’s WAAAAAAY more popular. You might write some incredible tragedy, only to have a real-life national tragedy eclipse you and render your book tasteless. You cannot fight these things, nor can you predict them.
But you can fail fast.
In Lean Software Development, the big picture says, “Think big, act small, fail fast; learn rapidly.” How does this apply to you?
You are going to fail as a novelist. You’re going to write beautiful, unsellable works that forever inhabit your hard drives like hidden coves filled with magical fucking fish. And yes, I am complaining, but I also want to give you advice.
Move on–when it doesn’t sell, or when it does. Who cares? Keep moving. Broaden your horizons. Write outside your comfort zone. Diversify in every possible way. Did you just write a space opera? Write a weird family drama. Did you write some Mil SF? Stop. We don’t need any more.
(Just kidding! I don’t care what you write.)
Here’s the deal, though: Don’t be like me. After I completed The Gearheart in 2008, I kept trying to sell some version of it until 2013. Don’t spend almost six years on the same idea, hoping that the next revision will make it fly. That’s like buying the same raffle ticket over and over again.
You might win, but you’re putting in an investment without raising your chances.