I'm going to let you in on a little secret about writing success. And it's a GOOD secret. For realsies. So keep it to yourself. Only tell your Mommy or your Daddy or some adult you trust. Also that one girl/guy/person of questionable gender you've been trying to impress with your knowledgey goodness. Ready? Here it is:
No one knows a thing about how to achieve success in the world of writing. At least, not from any quantifiable (read: money, fame, awards, supermodels of male/female/questionable gender throwing themselves at you*) standpoint.
This from a guy who makes a chunk of change in this world. I have sold screenplays that became movies, written bestsellers, and am one of Amazon’s top-selling horror writers. And I’m admitting that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
But wait, there’s more….
There are a lot of people who are willing to give advice, lots of people who will tell you how to "make it big" – some from the legitimate goodness of their hearts, others because if they can fill your eyes with those green dollar signs and your ears with that "Ka-CHING" sound like in the cartoons it's easier for them to turn your pockets inside out and rifle through them without you noticing.
But no matter what they say, no matter what the people claim, there is no way to "know" what works in writing. And there's a simple reason for that: it's just too complex a subject, and every expert (talking about the legit ones here, not the pocket-rifling scallawags) just has too limited a viewpoint. It's like discussing the quantum field mechanics of a specific atom caught in a tornado and then trying to use that information to extrapolate whether or not the twister is going to take out Farmer Dale's barn or Farmer John's chicken coop**. No matter how good your quantum data is, moving from super-micro (itty-bitty) to super-macro (uber-giganto) is just too hard a leap. Even Einstein and Stephen Hawking have trouble reconciling them, so you really think the average writer – who crumbles to near-tears when confronted with tax forms, and who thinks "tie required" is a sign of apocalyptic distress – is going to be able to make that jump?
This is why, when you get five successful writers in a room and ask them about the way they got to where they are, you will get five different stories.
Bummer, huh. You might as well just spit into the wind and hope that it doesn't come back into your face but instead turns into gold via the power of magical fairy farts and unicorn dreams, right?
Well, not exactly.
See, the reality is that writing your way to fame and fortune (and a lack of supermodels) is NOT a science. If it were, there would be a B.S. degree offered in "The Science of Creative Writing For Fun and Profitology" at MIT and other non-liberal arts schools. The pay would be higher. It would also be mind-numbingly boring, and people would kill themselves when they realized they had signed up for a paint-by-numbers lifestyle that is anathematic to the kind of people generally attracted to writing – people who are as likely to try bungee jumping "for research purposes" as they are to do something responsible like use that money for rent or food or toilet paper***.
So writing is truly an art. It can't be totally quantified, boiled down to 1s and 0s, ons and offs that will always work (or not) at our whim.
BUT (and here's my big but, always rearing its big but-head****) though you can't quantify everything about the ins and outs of "successful writing," you CAN look at successful PRINICIPLES.
Wait, lemme 'splain. No, is too complicated. Lemme summarize.
Did you know that there is no one "right" way to lose weight? Some people react well to simple dieting, others to exercise, still others need gastic bypass or other major procedures to beat the belly bulge.
A similarly small number will alway in perfect physical shape no matter what they shove in their face-holes. And I believe all religious and ethical schools of thought agree that it is okay to hate these people.
But as varied as dieting methods are, whether you're a P90X person or a Weight Watchers zealot, these things are generally helpful to know: eat a little less than you used to. Portion control is helpful. Avoid processed sugars. Exercise. Eat lots of grains and veggies, cut back on complex carbs.
Those seem to be things that hold true for most people. MOST. Some folks don't even follow THOSE rules. But in general they hold true.
In writing, it's the same. Some people will find success in one way, others find it in other ways. But there are ways you can maximize your chances.
Write. Doy. This one should be obvious, but apparently it ain't. I was flabbergasted to see a "study" that looked at how much "aspiring writers" made on average. It was zero dollars/year. Again: doy. Because "aspiring" is a politically correct, my-Mommy-thinks-I'm-a-special-flower way of saying "not." The simple fact is that if writing success is a crap shoot or a lottery, then every time you write a story or a book or a [insert your market here], you buy one more ticket, roll one more roll of the die.
Market. You may be the best writer. Like, EVAR. But if you put your work in a drawer, no one will ever hear about it, no one will ever care. Most people don't go through your drawers, so the chances of your work making you loads of dough are slim. Sure, a couple years ago you might have had a shot of ME going through your drawers, but thanks to a strategically-placed nanny cam and a stiffly-worded restraining order I'm not allowed to do that anymore. So your work has to be taken out and shown around by YOU.
Network. This is part of marketing, but also its own thing. Go to cons and writing symposia, try to get to local writers groups and meet other writers, agents, editors. You'll meet a lot of interesting people. Some will be time-wasters, a lot won't help you. But some will. And you'll meet some genuinely interesting people who will become both friends and supporters. Muy importante.
Educate yourself. So many people think writing – and editing, and layout, and cover design, and everything else that goes into a book if you're an indie author – is something you just "do." Bullcrap.
That needs repeating.
BULL. FRICKIN'. CRAP.
Writing is something you just "do" if you're writing to your mommy. Mommies love everything. It's one of their best skills. But if you want to write for others, you gotta LEARN how to do this. Every successsful writer I know (and I know more than a few) has spent thousands of hours educating themselves – reading books, reading books about writing books, writing practice books that they know will probably stink – before "making it." You want to be a professional, you take the time to LEARN YOUR PROFESSION. Period.
There's more. Lots more. But this will get you started. No one knows anything. But there are things you can do to get you started, to put you on a path that is most likely to take you to your goal.
Now get to walkin'.
*This never happens regardless. We're writers and so are born to lonely misery. That's why you never see some scruffy dude in cut-off cargo pants typing in the corner of the beach volleyball court in beer commercials.
** The answer is both. Because I'M writing this, and I like to destroy things. MWA-HAHAHAHA.
*** Homeless, skinny, stinky. This is why we don't get supermodels. Sheesh!
**** See what I did there? I crack myself up!
Michaelbrent Collings is a #1 bestselling novelist and produced screenwriter. His most recent novel, CRIME SEEN, is a paranormal thriller, http://www.amazon.com/Crime-Seen-Michaelbrent-Collings-ebook/dp/B00HVGGB0Y/ref=twoen-20.
He hopes someday to develop superpowers, and maybe get a cool robot arm.
Michaelbrent has a wife and several kids, all of whom are much better looking than he is (though he admits that's a low bar to set), and much MUCH cooler than he is (also a low bar).
Michaelbrent has more writing advice at his website, michaelbrentcollings.com also has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/MichaelbrentCollings and can be followed on Twitter through his username @mbcollings. Follow him for awesome news, updates, and advance notice of sales. You will also be kept safe when the Glorious Revolution begins!