It’s Never One Thing

Somewhat of a follow-up to last week’s post on the future being a complex mix of everything rather than one magic solution, today we will focus on authors and what it takes to make a successful writing career.

Like everything else in life, it is never one thing. Success is always a result of a variety of things that came together to make it work.

The same is true for something considered less-than-successful. It’s always a combination of things that contributed to a disappointing result.

Last year, I wrote about an author’s focus in their work, dealing specifically with what you write about. “One Thing.” The “one-thing” approach to writing is different than our topic today.

Think of all the things in life where people feel “if only” one thing changed, everything else would fall into line.


Everyone had access to excellent and affordable housing


Get vaccinations

No vaccinations

No GMO foods

…and so on.

Authors fall into the “magic solution” trap as well. Any time they start a sentence with “If only” in reference to some element of their book, they are thinking if one thing changed, everything else would improve or instantly transform a disappointment into a success.

A better cover, different interior, a different title, a better editing job, more and better marketing from the publisher, better SEO, and so on.

Maybe the above list was exactly what was needed to be successful. But notice how I listed six things? It is never one thing that makes or breaks anything. It’s a combination of everything.

Oh, and by the way, the quality of writing has something to do with it as well, but there are some wonderfully written books that do not sell and some less-than-perfect books that sell very well, so even the issue of writing quality proves that it is never one thing.

It might be a combination of dozens of factors that cause a book to succeed or not, but the most important factor is not something you can control.

Readers liked it.

They are a slippery group. Like wet bars of soap. We never know what they want or need, because they never know what they want or need. They know it when they see it but can’t describe it ahead of time, so don’t think research is the key to success.

No author researched their way to a best seller. Research looks for the “causal” factor that creates the tipping point. What is frustrating about the “magic cause” is in reality, it just happens. It can’t be planned, bottled and repeated.

Years ago, a Christian book exploded in sales. The propelling factor (magic cause) was a famous Christian singer who held up the book at a concert.

It couldn’t be planned or repeated. And it wasn’t.

When Oprah Winfrey was in her prime, publishers fell all over themselves trying to get an official endorsement. Over a sixteen-year period, over three million books were published in the U.S. and Oprah picked 72 for her endorsement. Doesn’t seem to be a reasonable marketing strategy to me.

All this speaks to the fact that book publishing is an art form and not a science. Scientific pursuits uncover factors that can be controlled and repeated.

Publishing is not completely immune to a scientific approach, but very smart publishing people who do everything right still fail to achieve perfect success because of the issue I mentioned about the reader. Often, they are happy with a 50% success rate.

The reader either liked something or they didn’t. It’s enough to drive you crazy.

If only we could publish books and not have our plans for success hinged on the whim of a reader.

Over the years I’ve heard any number of people joke their business would be a lot of fun if it weren’t for customers. Everyone laughs, but also know how messy it can be, even for a successful business.

So go ahead. Try to figure out the magic formula or the magic pill to publishing success, realizing the greatest factor in that success is not under your control.


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