Writing can be an incredibly challenging career choice.
Beyond having all my friends and family laugh at me, I faced many challenges when I started writing for a living.
I had to deal with difficult people, changes in the publishing industry, procrastination, writer’s block, bad habits, and all my insecurities (What if I’m not good enough? What will people think of me? And who the heck am I to write a book?).
It wasn’t easy. There were days that I just wanted to give up my ambition of earning a full-time author income.
But I kept at it and eventually, I learned what was holding me back.
No one has reached the top of Mount Everest in a single step. You have to determine what things you’re doing that could be stopping you from achieving your financial dreams—and then you need to change them.
The truth is, most of us hold ourselves back from success.
The only real roadblocks to your success come from within yourself.
These are the 5 biggest obstacles to success as a writer in my experience…
One of the biggest obstacles to the success of an author is what I would like to call “ego.” Now, I’m not talking about Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic personality theory. Ego, for me, is simply the way you look at yourself in relationship to the world. It’s really about having unyielding expectations, insistent attachments, and overpowering emotions.
Having expectations is not a bad thing. It’s almost synonymous with setting a goal, and I’m an advocate of having a vision. What I’m really talking about is something else: forgetting today because of your expectations for tomorrow. I’ve encountered authors who are so focused on what they expect the future to be that they forget they need to act to make their dreams become reality.
Some authors say, “I expect to earn $10,000 in passive income as an author and I’ll achieve it in six months.” I actually had the same goal and I find nothing wrong with that. But it’s all about perspective, too. Essentially, some authors plan this out, like, “In the first month, I’ll get $5,000; in the second month, I’ll make $7,500, and so on.” If they get $2,500 the first month, they get depressed and forget to appreciate the fact that they got $2,500 in their first month—which is actually great! So what these people are really saying is, “If I don’t get this amount of money at this time, it’s not okay. I’m not okay.”
That’s the biggest problem with expectations. You become so focused on making money from books that you forget to reflect on what actions you’re taking to make your dreams a reality. Your expectations distract you from the present moment and take away all your focus and attention.
Every day, you need to wake up with one thing in mind. It’s not your expectations of how much you’ll earn by writing. It’s about what you can do right now to guarantee that the future you expect will become a reality. So if you have expectations like these, I encourage you to let go of them. Instead of constantly reminding yourself of what your goal is, get in the habit of asking: “What can I do today to move toward my goal?” You need to remember that what actually matters are the actions you take daily to achieve your goal and the progress you make toward your financial dream.
My goal was to have $10,000 in author earnings. The first month, I earned $12,570 in royalties. It wasn’t what I expected, but I sure was thrilled that I didn’t get what I expected! In the end, what I wanted to happen didn’t exactly happen the way I wanted it to happen—and it was great. But looking back, this was a success not because I earned more, but because I was able to turn my boat into the direction I wanted. $10,000 was just a number that I aimed for and it wasn’t what I was thinking about every day. Where I really put my focus was on the action steps that I took to make sure that my life was progressing in the right direction.
Regardless of whether you achieve a certain financial number in your life or not, or become a best-selling author, or whatever expectations you have, I invite you to let go of those expectations and focus on what you can do today to move in the right direction. That, to me, is a sign of success.
Attachments aren’t one size fits all. You can be attached to the way things should be, to expectations, or you can be attached to your reactions, your emotions. There are all kinds of things you can be attached to.
An author might say, “The book cover should be exactly like this.” But there’s another truth behind that statement. What that author is actually saying is that “The book cover should be exactly like this because I’m attached to my opinion.”
If you’re a first-time author with no design experience and no background in marketing, you can’t really expect that your opinion of how the book cover should look like is “correct.” You have limited information, and in the real world, you need more than an opinion to thrive in your business. There are probably a lot of people who have more informed opinions who could help you design a better book cover.
Be open to new ideas, new opinions, and new ways of doing things.
These new ideas may also be wrong. You run that risk when you have an open mind—but you also run the same risk if you’re closed-minded, because you may end up believing things that aren’t true or are outdated. If you’ve been using the same strategy for book covers for awhile and you’re not getting the attention you hope for or you don’t see a single positive comment about your covers, it’s time to let go of that strategy. Because if you want to be successful, you can’t keep doing the same things over and over again expecting different results. The world is constantly changing, and if you keep holding onto your attachments, you’re pretty much guaranteeing that that your opinion won’t line up with reality. This is when you start making bad decisions, because you aren’t making choices based on the way the world actually works, but based on your beliefs, which may not be 100% accurate.
Make sure that your emotions don’t get in the way of making good decisions. Emotions are a wonderful tool if you are emotionally educated, if you listen to yourself, and if you study yourself. But if you make decisions based purely on emotions, it could lead you astray.
Always treat your team with kindness and integrity. Alienating other people will stop you on your path to success. Don’t let a bad day get in the way maintaining a good relationship with your team members. Your publisher, ghostwriters, marketers, PR people, agents, family members, customers, and every person you interact with are all part of your team.
Imagine if you lash out at your editor because you were hurt by an edit—do you think he’ll work with you again? Or if, for some reason, he agreed to try again, do you think he’ll still give you 100% of his energy and effort? When you get a one-star review with a comment, “You’re the worst writer ever, these are all the mistakes you’ve made…” and you respond aggressively, what would happen? Do you think that’ll encourage other people to buy your book?
It’s okay to feel like you want to snap at that awful reviewer or to put that editor in his place, but you really have to think about the adverse effects it might have in the future if you do. I recommend you step back and take the time to get over your emotions; meditate on what you’re feeling and then release your emotions. After that, go back to the review or the edit and read through it again. Validate it and see what grain of truth you can find—there’s always something there that you can learn from and use to generate new ideas. Instead of feeling angry about it, use your experience to gauge how the world actually is, how readers actually think, and decide how to take action based on that. You can integrate that new idea to change how you write your next book or how you market your work—it can make a lot of difference in your writing career. You might have gotten one infuriating review and one appalling edit, but you also got a nugget of wisdom.
So remember, a lot of times, the best lessons in life are not wrapped up in a nice little bow. Before you start yelling at someone because of a little mistake or some frustrating comment, think about how it’s going to impact your business and your life in the long run.
2. Lack of Motivation
The second barrier to success is lack of motivation. I doubt there’s a single person in this world who’s never felt the urge to procrastinate. We are all familiar with that dragging feeling, the deep desire to just put everything off. But have you ever felt like it was easy to succeed, that it was easy to get the work done and nothing can stop you? That’s motivation and that’s how you want to feel.
There are two types of motivation: external motivation and internal motivation.
Fame, money, looking good, and gaining prestige from having best-selling novels are some examples of external motivation. I know a lot of people like money, or want to be an authority, to be known as successful author, and to sell books. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things. But studies show that people who have lots of external motivation but no internal motivation tend to fail. They become detached from their internal motivators and tend to stop doing the actual work needed to get the external results they want. They tend to give up prematurely on the tasks at hand and put their focus entirely on external motivators. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy of always wanting but never getting.
Now, internal motivation is on a different level. It’s like an emotional energy that radiates from being able to contribute, from the pride you take in your work, the joy you actually get from doing work, and being able to make a difference. It’s about having fun and following your passion. These are all things you can feel. It’s like when you write a book and you get into that flow state and feel bliss. That’s the key to success. Because you feel perpetual joy from the work itself and not writing for money, you can focus on continuing to write and to market your books on a consistent basis.
Instead of saying “My goal is to earn $10,000,” I advise you to start your day by saying, “My goal is to write 1,000 words” or “My goal is to do [x] and put in this amount of effort.” That’s how you become successful.
I want you to grab a notebook and a pen. Write these questions:
- What are my internal motivators and what are my external motivators?
- What’s really motivating you in the present moment?
- What is going to motivate you a year from now or five years from now?
Answer these truthfully and re-evaluate what’s really driving you. Is your motivation going to last long-term?
I know authors who are incredibly passionate about writing. They just keep on writing and publishing books even if they don’t get paid a dime. They love what they do. Sharing ideas, sharing stories, and sharing ideas thrills them and they are just so grateful that they can spend their lives writing. And you know what the funny thing is? They are usually the best-selling authors who earn $10,000 or $50,000 a month in royalties. They are so internally motivated that they get the external results naturally.
3. Bad Habits
Habit is the root of all success—but it’s also the root of all failure. You are in the position you’re in right now because of your habits. So if you keep doing what you’re doing, then guess what? Your future will look exactly like it does today. If you want different results in life, you have to take different actions and you have to do so consistently.
Develop Good Habits
“Daily consistent activity, above all else, is the key to success.” If you want to achieve your financial dreams as an author, you need to have good habits.
Writing is your number-one skill as an author and so you need to have good writing habits. If you leave your writing to chance or if you just wait for an inspiration to hit you before you write, you’re going to end up not writing for a long period of time. Schedule writing in your calendar. Schedule the time each day, set up a location where you are going to write every day, determine what writing process you want to get better at, and, of course, show up! A lot of folks encounter writer’s block because they don’t have effective writing habits or a process to organize their thoughts.
Health is another element of your success. That’s obvious, right? Yes. A lot of people will say, “I already know that,” but they still miss out on it because they don’t apply what they know.
There are two types of knowledge in life. There’s a knowledge that you know in your mind and then there’s applied knowledge. Who cares if you know how to eat healthy or you know the current trends in exercising—if you’re not doing them, then they’re not worth anything to you. There’s a huge difference between ideas in your head and actually applying those ideas to your life. So knowledge is not power—applied knowledge is.
There are some cases where people have brain fog because of poor nutrition and not exercising. Their body is unhealthy and so their brain is literally sick. They can’t focus, they can’t concentrate, they can’t even get any work done. When you start to take care of your health, you gain more energy, and because you have more energy, you can ultimately improve your writer income.
Good Emotional Habits
Another good habit I recommend you develop is good emotional habits. We have talked about ego and emotions and how they can get in the way of your success. Personally, I’ve found that I can improve my emotional habits by journaling.
Journaling is such an amazing tool, and if you’ve been a writer for a long time, you’ll know that writing itself is incredibly healing emotionally. Now, some of you might dismiss this idea on the presumption that journaling is about writing positive things and things that you’re grateful for. But it’s not all about that. What I write in my journal is the negative stuff that I want to get out of my mind. If I’m upset about something, about work or a project that didn’t go well or an argument that I had, I write that down in my journal. Sometimes, I write it down on a piece of paper and throw it away. Every single time I write in my journal, I feel a huge release, like I just let go of all the negative emotions that are weighing me down.
Another way to develop good emotional habits is through personal development. Taking courses and seminars on relationships and communication and things like that will help you improve your emotional life. Emotion is such a huge aspect of being human, and if you can’t control your emotions really well, you’re going to find that it’s tough to have good relationships and to have long-term success as an author. Money, fame, and prestige don’t give you the security of success. One emotional blowout can take all that away overnight. So it’s crucial to manage your emotions even before you get to success.
Another good habit to develop is learning. Every single day, learn something new. What I recommend when learning is to do two things: First, learn something that you are curious about. If you like science or physics or you want to be an astronaut, by all means, study books on that. I guarantee you that over time, those ideas will percolate into your writing and help you become a better writer.
The second thing is to study books that will contribute to your success. Make a list of what skills you have right now and where you can improve, then ask yourself what skills you can add on. If you’re a fantastic writer but have no idea about marketing, then by learning about marketing, you can dramatically increase your standing as an author and eventually increase your writer income.
Be honest with yourself and rate your skills from 1–10. Genuinely assess your writing skills, marketing skills, editorial skills, and so on to see where your learning opportunities lie. Focus on the skills that you’re lacking and study them. I’ve found that the best way to make progress in your life is through studying things you can implement right away. So if you’re trying to sell books and you’re getting critical feedback about your writing, don’t read books about marketing to earn passive income streams from selling books. Study how to become a better writer, because that’s what you need at the present moment.
Breaking Bad Habits
It’s not enough to develop good habits; you have to remove the bad habits, too. Eliminate your bad habits to make room for the good habits in your life.
I was addicted to video games for many, many years. I spent so much time on video games that I didn’t have time to write, take care of my business, or manage my relationships. I didn’t even have time to take care of my health. I got to the point where I was stuck in my addiction and my life was miserable. And to be truthful, I couldn’t have gotten rid of my video game addiction on my own. I needed the help of my family, my partner, my counselors, and my mentors.
I talk to people who tell me that they only have 30 minutes a day to write. First of all, you can’t be successful as an author if you only give it 30 minutes a day. Secondly, that’s not entirely true. You have 24 hours each day, and if you spend a good amount of time sleeping, you’ll still be left with 16 hours. So look at where you’re spending those remaining 16 hours and give an honest assessment. Are you spending time to develop your author skills?
Social media and watching TV, I think, are two of the most common habits these days—and the most dangerous. It might seem inconsequential, but if you add up all the minutes you spend on checking Facebook or all the hours you watch TV, you’ll see the big picture. It’s basically sucking up your time, energy, and the results that you may get in life. That’s what happens when you have a bad habit and that’s why you have to eliminate those bad habits.
4. Lack of Teamwork
The biggest mistake you can make is to think, “I can do it all by myself.”
The world we live in today is so interconnected, there’s no way you can do it all on your own. If you think about it, in order to simply eat, you’ll probably need hundreds of people working behind the scenes. There are the people who grew the food, the people who shipped the food to the grocery, who put it up on the shelf, who put the systems in place for the store, and so on. So my point is, you can’t do everything on your own. The world doesn’t work that way. Everything we do in life needs other people, and that’s why we need teamwork.
Finding the Right Team
“No one does it alone; success is a team sport.”
I know it may sound cliché, but it’s actually true. Your goal should be to be the leader of your team—you’re the captain. As a leader, your job is to make sure your team has synergy. Don’t go pointing fingers saying, “You’re not a good enough publisher” or “You’re not a good enough editor.” Focus on your own mistakes and constantly improve on your own results.
Still, if you find real bad people working with you, then you have to get them off your team. Here are some tips on how you find the right team.
Be an A Player
Be the best writer that you can be. If you’re not an A player right now, that’s okay, but you’ve got to have A player habits. You’d better be studying and learning every day. You’d better be taking feedback and criticisms like an A player. The thing is, if you are not an A player yourself, it’s going to be hard to look for other A players to be part of your team.
People gravitate to those who are on the same wavelength as them. If you’re committed to your own success, you’re going to find people who are committed to their own success and those are the people you want to collaborate with.
Work with A Players
When hiring people for your team, you want to make sure you are hiring A players. When you’re a brand-new author, you might not know how to spot the best—that’s okay. You’ll learn along the way, but a red flag would be if someone doesn’t do the simple things that he or she is supposed to do. If you get someone who doesn’t respond to emails, then you probably don’t want him on your team.
Constantly Study and Teach
Pointing out mistakes is not teaching. It’s simply criticism intended to put down your team. You need to be constantly studying and teaching them to help improve your own results and your team’s output. If you see something that your editor or your cover designer can improve, don’t blame them. Say something like, “Hey, I learned about this, have you ever thought about it?” People want to be surrounded by great leaders, and by constantly refining your skills and your team’s skills, you will achieve success.
Lead by Example
If you’re expecting your editor to go way beyond the call of duty to help you far beyond what a reasonable person would do, it’s not likely to happen. But if you lead them in their work and show them that you want to make this the best book possible, then they may just go the extra mile on their own (remember what we said before about intrinsic motivation!).
Don’t just give them a revision of your book—do an extra five or ten revisions of your book. Because when you prove that you are committed to your own success, people are going to give you a break. People want to help you if you help yourself first.
Prove to other people not just with your words, but with your actions that you are serious about making writing a career and that you’re willing to put in the effort—that you are someone worth working with. Prove to them that you’re accepting of their input and that you’re not going to shy away from fixing typos, studying at the source, or learning sentence structure and usage and all the things you can do to become a better writer.
The only constant in life is change. The publishing landscape is completely different from what it was ten years ago. Digital book sales are skyrocketing and print book sales are down by $10 billion globally. Industries are changing so fast right now that if you’re not flexible, your chances of success is miniscule.
If you’re stuck with your old beliefs and old attachments, then you are not adapting to what’s working right now, and all the decisions you make about how to publish and market your books are going to be based on outdated information. It’s going to be tough to be successful that way.
What you need to do is to grow, and you can grow by following these four simple tips:
As circumstances change, you must change what you do.
I had the privilege when growing up in Indiana to see oak trees. When we have tornadoes, those sturdy trees snap and fall to the ground. But I’ve also lived in Hawaii. In Hawaii, we have bamboo trees, and when hurricanes arrive, you will see those bamboo trees swaying calmly with the wind. Sometimes a bamboo will touch the ground on one side and sway all the way back to touch the ground on the other side and still never break. Bamboo just keeps bending and adapting to the wind. And that’s how you want to be—you want to be adapting to life.
I know some people who would say, “If Amazon give a better break for new authors, then everything will be better.” If you focus on complaining about how the universe works or griping about how it should work, then you probably won’t be very successful. Amazon is doing what it needs to be doing for itself and you can’t change that. That’s outside of your circle of influence.
A true hallmark of a successful person is that they can adapt to whatever is thrown at them. So stop wasting your time and energy on changing the world. Focus on what you can do based on how the universe actually works right now.
Life Is an Experiment
People ask me all the time, “How can I guarantee that I get this many sales from my book?” or “What’s the best marketing strategy for X?” And really, I don’t know—I have no idea about the future.
When someone asks me “What’s the best way to market a book?” I don’t have a blanket strategy for them.
First of all, I’d need to know what you are talking about, because marketing a romance novel versus marketing a poetry book versus marketing a children’s book can be similar in many ways, but they’re also very, very different. The readers are completely different. Where you go to find those readers and how to get your message in front of those readers will be completely different. Treat marketing as an experiment.
When we launch a book at TCK Publishing, we first try the things we’ve already done before with good results, but we also try new things. We’ve got all these systems and all these marketing strategies for finding reviewers and getting bloggers to blog about the books and so on. They worked before and so we try them, but we don’t know if it’s going to work this time.
We are constantly experimenting with different publishing strategies. We are constantly experimenting with different pricing. You don’t know how things are going to change in the future; you don’t know what’s going to work for a particular book at a particular time. So you have to be constantly trying new things.
Learn from Your Mistakes
If you try a strategy and it doesn’t work, see what you can learn from it and be honest with yourself. Ask yourself, “Did the strategy not work because it’s wrong or because it was applied wrong?”
I hear a lot of authors say, “Amazon ads don’t work, “Facebook doesn’t work,” “email marketing doesn’t work,” or “marketing in forums doesn’t work.”
First, stop complaining—it won’t get you what you really want, which is to be successful.
And second, those strategies didn’t work for you, but they worked for a lot of authors who ended up earning millions. So before saying those strategies don’t work, analyze the root cause of the problem first. Was it really because email marketing doesn’t work or was it because you’re sending your emails to the wrong readers?
Diagnose the source of failure and learn from it.
If someone else in your market is getting rich using a particular marketing strategy, there’s absolutely no reason why that strategy couldn’t work for you if you do things in the right way.
Do More of What’s Working
When you find something that works, make sure you do more of that.
If you’re blogging and you start getting a lot of traffic on your blog and getting more comments and more people are buying from your blog, then keep doing more of that.
The mistake a lot of people make is that they do everything at once. If they find their blog succeeding, they start using YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, and everything else they can find online. So they lose their focus on the one thing that’s really working for them. If you’ve already found something that’s working for you, focus 80% of your energy on that and spend 20% on all those new things.
If you’re writing novels or selling fiction books, we know that what works for you is writing. We know that every time you add a new book to your title, to your catalogue, you increase your earnings for all your titles. Because you attract new readers, the tendency is that they’ll purchase your other books, so we know that works for all fiction writers. Put 80% of your energy in writing.
Try What’s Working Right Now in the Market
In 2017, there are a couple of things that are really successful right now.
The first is writing to market. Writing to market is a strategy of learning who your readers are and giving them what they want. The best way to do this is to publish a book. Publishing a book lets you start getting reviews from your market. This will get you real-world feedback from real people who are going to pay for your books. This isn’t feedback from family members or author groups who never want to criticize you. This feedback is coming from people who actually paid to read your book. These reviews are going to help you understand your readers and what they want. I’ve found that a lot of folks might write one or two books (or even finish their series) and then review all the feedback they got. They study the patterns and differences in the market and take that as a great learning opportunity to discover what they readers really want.
If your first book is about romance fantasy and you discover that your readers particularly love the fantasy element of your story but hate the romance, that’s worth looking into. Start thinking about unique book ideas about fantasy and then market your new book under the urban fantasy genre.
Testing things out, trying what works, getting feedback from real buyers, and using that information you learned to write to a specific market or specific genre is how writing to market works. If you see something popular right now, make some small tweaks in the way you wrote your last book to spin it for that slightly different genre or message. That can make the difference between selling 100 books a month and selling 10,000 books a month.
Another thing that’s successful right now is email marketing and building a website. You need people signing up for your email list so you can set up marketing campaigns. You can pretty easily build a website with opt-in forms that will help you find people online.
Want to learn more about overcoming roadblocks to success? Watch our free training video!
Prepping for Success
Of course, even if you have a clear vision and you can articulate what your future will look like, you’ll still encounter obstacles.
Now that you know the five barriers to achieving your financial dreams, you can work on preempting what might stand in your way and being more competitive as an author. Change the way you handle yourself, the way you deal with people, the way you drive yourself, your routines, the way you collaborate with people, and the way you cope with changes. Evolve along with the rest of the world and you will surely be on your way to earning full-time author income.
What barrier is preventing you from achieving financial success?
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