Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Difference Between Blind Ambition and Educated Confidence

Ambition: 1 b: desire to achieve a particular end.
Confidence: 1 a: a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or reliance of one's circumstances.

Whether you're a traditionalist or an indie, it's a great time to be a writer (so what's with that dark scary forest pic, Lit Coach? Hang on). No doubt about it. More and more, writers are taking the reins of their career and guiding themselves toward self-made success. After thoughtful planning and execution, they're e and self-pubbing with great results; traditionally and indie published are reaching out to their readers in ways that continue to amaze and delight me. They've turned something that most artists abhor, the act of selling, into connecting - and through those connections, the sales follow.

Sounds so easy! Most of us have read the articles about how J.A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking have made thousands (millions?) off their books. Konrath found the e-route via Amazon more lucrative than traditional publishing and Hocking decided to let one of the Big Six publishers take the reins after she successfully became a self-made millionaire through e-pubbing her own books.

I love these success stories, but...

Again, I repeat, writers have more options today and that is a very good thing. However. It takes years of writing, editing, reading and connecting to make this dream come alive. It does not happen overnight. You will not be able to pay next month's rent on the e-book you self-pubbed this month (Konrath and Hocking will tell you as much). I'm joining the other agents and publishing experts who've shined the light of reality on this hot-topic discussion because it still bears repeating.

When I was an agent I was approached by a lovely writer with a fun idea for a niche market nonfiction book. Loved her writing style and voice. She was highly professional and had a mind for marketing, so I knew connecting her with any number of editors would not be an issue - I was confident of the whole package...well, mostly. The only problem was, she had no platform. She spoke with authority, sure, and her passion for the project was contagious, but nobody knew who she was. Even so, I couldn't stop thinking about her book. I knew I could sell it if she had a little more road under her. Rather than pass on the project because of the platform issue, I signed her.

And then we hatched a plan.

She needed to become visible as an "expert" in her field. So, I suggested she start an interactive website (this was about 7 or 8 years ago). The website became a place where she would share her daily advice on her subject matter and share the stories (and pictures) of others (her potential book-buying audience). She began a Q&A column and a book club, further connecting with her online community. She was consistent and organized in her approach. It worked. I still remember her enthusiastic email letting me know she had readers in Ireland and the UK. Her message spread from there. She started freelancing articles to the magazines and websites her audience read. Eventually one of the major morning news programs contacted her for her expertise. Other organizations invited her to "be the expert" on their websites and on their boards, etc. All the while, we honed her book proposal and continued to work the plan. After about 18 months of hard work and patience, it was time to send out the proposal. I was confident the time was right - we worked the plan. I submitted and we made a deal. Eighteen more months later, her book was released and it continues to be a strong backlist seller to this day.

The point? Ambition is good, that's the energy that gets our butts off the couch, but you need a plan to direct that energy otherwise you'll be frantically running through a thick, dark forest without a flashlight...and all that blind ambition ain't gonna come in handy when you've invested your time, energy and money into a project that has not been fully fleshed out. If you're a nonfiction writer, a solid platform is a must BEFORE you create your book proposal. If you're a fiction or a nonfiction writer, create a business plan - you are a small business owner. What realistic steps will you need to take to eventually earn money from your craft? The plan is your map, flashlight and compass through this forest.

Share the plan with people you trust, ideally, business-minded people and ask for their feedback. Be open to their suggestions. Publishing is a business and you've got to work the plan to succeed. If you do, you will spend less time running through dark, scary forests, you will have less time for fear and anxiety, you will be focused, confident and you just might sell your book. I really hope you do.

Action: Take some time to create a solid publishing plan. Be realistic about the time you'll need to create success. In my author's case, it took nearly two years to build her platform. If you're new to writing or if you've yet to successfully publish, plan to spend those two years getting to know the business, getting to know your audience and finding ways to get your name out there through freelancing, blog contributions, interviews, you-tube videos, social media, etc. Continue to work the plan (and most of all, your craft!) until you have a solid product and an invested audience.

Have a fruitful week, writers. Work the plan.

Want to get started building your author platform or creating your publishing business plan? Email me:


  1. Erin, I love the new website design--font, colors, everything!

    I also really, really like this post. Coming up with a platform plan or a business plan as a writer is not easy, and I wonder if writers by their very nature resist this kind of planning. I know I do, but when I take the time to sketch out where I want to go and how I can get there, amazing things happen.

  2. Thanks, Lisa!

    I think a lot of writers resist this part of the process because a) it's just not as much fun as the creative stuff (which is why a lot of writers don't plan their novels or do heavy-duty character sketches before they begin writing); b) they don't feel they need to, they think it's ok to wing it and see what happens; c) they feel it's not their job to make a business out of their work - that's the publisher's job (so wrong) or d) they feel they have enough know-how, have a half-baked plan and figure that's good enough; or e) pick and choose from the above.

    Bottom line, writers - most everything about the craft and business of publishing your book should be as carefully planned and executed as possible. That way, you can be CONFIDENT you are putting your best work and effort out there. Educate yourself about the process, then rock and roll it! Will you still make mistakes? Sure, we all do...but you'll make them while you're moving forward not in circles. ( :

  3. Wow, you were a super nice, committed agent. I'm glad it worked out well for you both.

    I'm currently working on my publishing plan right now. Submitting as much as I can--some things are actually winning contests and getting published--and started my blog last month. Hopefully this allegedly super important online-presence and platform building helps me out as a writer :]

  4. Erin, you've hit another homerun here! Plan! Plan! Plan! You can't say it enough. When I started writing, oh, dear, over three years ago, now, the word wasn't even in my vocabulary. Not in my career path and not even in my writing. I was a 'fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants' girl and my progress definitely reflected that.

    However, I'm happy to say that thanks to the unbelievable network of friends I've been lucky enough to make, I now look at everything as a plan. Plans with goals and deadlines. (Aren't you proud, dear coach of mine?)

    As always, re-blogging and posting this. ;)

  5. @ The Waiting Room - congratulations! If you're always putting your best work out there and just keeping that cycle alive, you're bound to be successful. Write, edit, edit, edit, proof, submit, repeat! ( :

    And, I dare say, I was a nice agent, but this author had something that made me want to develop the project beyond the normal agent bounds...she was extremely professional and a self-starter...all I had to do was provide guidance and direction and she followed through. My job was easy.

    @ Jill - girl, I am SO proud of you! I'm glad you've found your path through your plan. Awesome! And thanks, as always, for re-posting.


Leave your thoughts! Feel free to share with us your success stories or tips.