A few years back, I attended a seminar on the most common errors people make in attempting outdoor adventures, aka “How Fools Get into Trouble in the Wilderness.” The lecture was enlightening and memorable, and over time, I’ve discovered that the same basic observations apply to the world of publishing (and probably to life in general). Here are the top three errors:
Error #1: Not Understanding the Goal
The outdoor adventure – Okay, so your hike leader tells you the destination. But do you know where you’re headed? Do you know how far it is, how tough the trek will be, and how long the journey is likely to take? Every participant should have a basic knowledge of what they have signed up for.
The publishing life – Do you know what your goal is? A traditional contract, self-publication by the end of the year, a printed memoire just for your family, or selling 10,000 copies in the first month of publication? Do you know what you have to do to reach that goal? Do you have a reasonable expectation of the timeline? So many writers think all they have to do is write, and their finished work will be an instant bestseller. Like the hikers lost in a snowstorm in the middle of nowhere, those writers are likely to find themselves floundering long before the goal is even in sight.
Error #2: Not Adapting to Changing Conditions
The outdoor adventure – Your goal is a day hike to a high mountain lake. But when you are halfway up, you notice threatening clouds rolling in. Or you’re out snowshoeing and observe a few cornices break away from the mountain crests. Do you continue on your way to your goal, or do you wait for a better day? This is the point at which many would-be adventurers are so determined to achieve their goal that they end up in lightning storms and avalanches. Pay attention to your surroundings. Be willing to change your plans as conditions change.
The publishing life – Amazon and other online booksellers have opened up the publishing business to the world, but aspects of that business change frequently. Maybe the old format you previously used for an ebook is no longer accepted, or sales outlets have moved in totally different directions, or marketing schemes are no longer reaching their intended audiences. Unfortunately, you can’t just publish a book and then assume it will thrive without further attention. If you want to survive in the book business, you (and your publisher) need to continually adapt.
Error #3: Placing Too Much Faith in a Leader
The outdoor adventure –What if your adventure leader is a thrill seeker willing to risk his life scaling a dangerous cliff or fording a rushing river? Do you know what sort of leader this person is? Do you know about his/her past experience and current knowledge? Don’t ever trust only one source for advice. Don’t submit to peer pressure just because you’re in a group. Be realistic about what you are willing to risk to achieve a goal.
The publishing life – There are many publishing “experts” on the internet offering and selling advice, and some have great information to impart. But it’s never wise to place your faith in following only one. You need to explore to find out if multiple experts agree on the same advice, and, even more important, if the expert is being honest about her/his knowledge. For example, there are many authors out there who would tell you that their marketing advice applies to all genres, but when you study their sales figures, you may discover they are making all their money from selling their seminars and how-to books on marketing, not from selling books in any other genre.
I’ve gone awry many times in my publishing career. I placed too much faith in a traditional publisher who purchased my first 3 mysteries. I simply assumed they would market the books although they had never promised that. I have believed that experts knew how to market mysteries, when all they really knew how to market was themselves. I’ve just published my 14th suspense novel, Cascade, which deals with avalanches and wolverines, and these days I like to think I’m both a smarter outdoor adventurer and a reasonably savvy author.