Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Does the Race Really Go to the Swiftest?

In a world where the race goes to the swiftest, do you ever feel as if you're lagging behind? Struggling just to stay in the pack, never mind moving into the lead? Do you feel as if you're peddling as fast as you can and getting nowhere? Don't worry. You are not alone.

With all the advice out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed. It always has been, but now, with all the social media and the quick exchange of information from hundreds of thousands of people (dare I say millions) all at once, all the time, it's both better that it's ever been before and, somehow, worse.

Back a billion years ago, right after I sold my first book and became eligible to join the Published Author Network (PAN) of Romance Writers of America (RWA), I received a booklet containing advice about what to do after my first sale. The problem was, the booklet didn't arrive until just a few weeks before my first book was set to hit the shelves, and most of the advice was stuff I should have done weeks and months before. I remember staring at that booklet and feeling completely conflicted. I was exhilarated because I qualified to have the thing in the first place and but I also felt overwhelmed and a bit hopeless because it seemed to me that the advice had arrived too late to do me any good.

Yesterday, as I scrolled through the thousands of posts, tweets, and pictures and tweets, I found myself feeling much the same thing. I was exhilarated because, after years of living with an undiagnosed illness and the utter debilitating fatigue that came with it, I'm finally starting to feel well enough to make an effort to get my career back on track. But I'm also overwhelmed by the sheer volume of advice that's out there and feeling a little hopeless because in my weaker moments, it feels like too little, too late.

Part of my current issue, is that the publishing world has changed so much from when I first signed up for the race. Back then, it was all about getting your work in front of an agent and/or editor and what the Big 6 publishing houses wanted. Now, with the advent of independent publishing, there's so much more to learn it's mind-boggling.

That's okay. Really it is. Because while I have thoroughly enjoyed a 20+ year career working with a couple of the Big 6 publishing houses, and will continue as long as it's mutually beneficial, I'm also really excited by the freedom that going independent offers to authors. But going independent means that there are five or six other full-time jobs I need to take on to produce and promote my books in addition to the writing itself, which we all know is a more-than-full-time job.

And much of the "advice" available today doesn't come across as advice at all. It's demanding. It's delivered in the form of orders and rules. It's black-and-white, no questions asked dictates: 10 Things You Must Never Do or 25 Things You Must Do Immediately! because current wisdom says we must be bold, authoritative, and confident and we must never show weakness. (Oh what I wouldn't give for a touch of honest vulnerability!)

Much of this bold, authoritative, confident advice is worth listening to and considering, and even trying. But some of it doesn't make any sense at all (at least not to me). Some of it is counter-intuitive (why should it matter to my tweeting schedule how many people are following me on Twitter? Isn't the real factor that affects how many times my tweet will appear in their feed based on how many people they follow?) And a lot of it is conflicting: Don't use social media to promote your book is immediately followed by Always use social media to promote your book.

So maybe in this overloaded, overwhelming world some of the old rules should still apply:
  • Be open. 
  • By all means, listen. 
  • Consider. 
  • Especially if you're not exactly where you want to be in your career, be willing to try new things.
  • Then keep what works 
  • And discard the rest. 
  • And write the best book you can
Ultimately, I'm not convinced that the race goes to the swiftest. I think the race really goes to s/he who doesn't give up. 

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