Why authors fail (I think)   Recently updated!


Few authors are able to write full time and most of us consider our career a failure. Why is that and what can we do about it?

I wrote in my personal blog that I was going to spend this year looking at what authors and writers do that fail. After all, there is always something to learn from this failures of ourselves and others. So far, this is what I have found.

Failure due to poorly defined success

What does success look like to you? Many writers seem to think this is a huge income, a ten book deal, and a queue of producers begging for the film rights. In other words, we want to bling without the substance.

Authors that got the big book deal, the nice film contract, or the big pay day all have something in common. Something that many who shoot for these things lack – focus.

I don’t mean focus to write a lot. I mean a focus on writing what matters to them.

Andy Weir loves space and science. He took the time to write the best book he could in that setting. Not only that but he enjoyed himself while he was doing it. When he was finished he had something that spoke to others that love what he loves. Also a book deal and a movie.

Without a clear definition of personal success, how can you know what you are aiming for?

Failure due to ego

In my research, I have found many examples of writers that were filled with hubris. They knew they were good and no amount of solid advice and editorial input could persuade them to revise their tatty texts.

Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Bible, New English Translation (Proverbs 16:18)

Pride can have no place in the life of an author reaching for success. If people tell you there is something wrong with your text – they might be on to something. Revise that text some more. Edit, and edit again.

If you really cannot see it then hire an editor or join a writers group – one that will give you the unvarnished truth.

Failure due to lack of skills

Frequently this seems to go hand in hand with ego – but not all writers have anywhere near the developed writing skill they think they do. Even the very best writers are still learning.

In my research, I was directed to many self published works that were painfully bad. In many cases, the author honestly believed that they were the next big thing. They just could not understand why they had only sold a handful of copies.

In almost all cases, these awful books did not lack for interesting ideas, unusual settings, and twisty plots. They were just far too early in the creation process to have been put out there.

There is nothing wrong with lacking in skills. There is everything wrong with not doing something about it.

Failure due to not persisting

Just as the ego of the talentless kept them persisting long past the point that they should have taken the hint and revised, other authors gave up just before success.

This one hits close to home for me. I know that I struggle to cross the finish line with my own work. On my hard drive, I have a catalogue of short stories in a fit state to be sent out and yet, the new ideas pull me away from the business of sending out my work. New ideas are exciting and that story is “finished” – but it is not finished until I submit it.

I fail due to not persisting in putting my work on the desk of people that can say yes to it. That is something I will have to work on.

The moral of this lesson is do not give up. Keep plugging away at whatever your passion is. You will either learn something and be better for it or get a yes and make a sale.

Here is a list of nine authors that would have failed had they given up.

Failure due to trying to outsell the Bible

This is not so different from the unfocused success failure. Some authors define success only in terms of getting onto bestseller lists.

The truth about bestseller lists is that they are largely a huge scam. Worse, a lot of predatory companies exist, that will take your money and get you the sales. Instead of earning from all those sales, you will have spent far more than you got.

There is plenty of advice out there to show you with painful example after painful example how bestseller lists do nothing for authors.

What does work though is curating a core group of loyal fans who love what you write and cry out for more. That’s the fire you need to feed.

Failure need not be the end

Failure is the path to success but only if you do not stop at failure. In my research for this post, I identified areas that I need to work on. I will be unlikely to increase my own level success unless I do.

Failure is, in itself, nota bad thing. Failure shows that you are doing something. If you are doing something, you have a chance at success. However, we can increase our chances by identifying what makes us fail and fixing it. In that way, failure is no different to a first draft – it just needs more editing.


About Matthew Brown

Matthew is a writer and Geek from Kent (UK). He is the founder and current chair of Thanet Creative as well as head geek for Author Buzz. His ambitions include appearing on TableTop with Wil Wheaton and seeing a film or TV series based on something he wrote.

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