How to Become a Bestselling Author: Lesson 2
Today we’re going to talk about the one rule that you can follow TODAY that will completely transform your writing career: Publish often.
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Welcome back to our series on how to become a bestselling author. In the last lesson, I told you how I struggled for years trying to figure out how to accomplish my dreams of becoming a writer.
Today we’re going to talk about the one rule that you can follow TODAY that will completely transform your writing career.
When I first wanted to become a writer, I always imagined my very first book would be a novel, actually it would be a masterpiece, a huge hit, a bestseller that would launch me to success. Did you know The Hobbit was J.R.R. Tolkien’s first book? Or that Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s? Or that Fight Club was Chuck Palahniuk’s first book? Or that the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was JK Rowling’s very first book?
As a 16 year old, aspiring author, I thought all the best authors’ first books are huge successes. And so I believed that if you want to be a great author, your debut book needs to be a masterpiece.
And that’s what I was going to do.
But when I finally published a book, it didn’t really happen like that.
By that time, it was 2012. And I was already a professional writer. I had been been publishing articles for national magazines, blog posts for some of the biggest websites in the world. My website The Write Practice was getting tens of thousands of readers a month. And I had even… and this is a bit of a secret… I had even ghostwritten a few books. That’s right. The first books I wrote, and that were published, they weren’t actually my books. They didn’t even have my name on them. And they certainly weren’t the first things I had published.
And then my wife got pregnant with our first child. There’s nothing like having a baby to focus you. So in three months, I wrote and published a book. My first book with my name on it, anyway.
There it is next to Jeanette Wells and Ray Bradbury and Michael Lewis on the Amazon bestsellers list. Here it is next to Brene Brown.
And here’s the thing. I loved this book, but it wasn’t the masterpiece I had always imagined I’d published first. It also wasn’t a huge hit like I thought it would be. But it did help me support my family. It did become a bestseller. I did start to build relationships with readers. I’m so grateful for this book, and for the experience publishing it. Will it be the best thing I ever publish? No, that wasn’t the point of this book.
Most of all, I learned so much about the writing process and the publishing process, and those lessons? They changed my career.
The rule we’re talking about today is “Publish often.”
Because the first thing you publish isn’t going to be a masterpiece. That belief I had at 16, that to be a great author, your debut book needs to be a masterpiece, that’s a myth. And if you follow it you’re going to be very disappointed.
And maybe that’s not true for you, You might be a genius or very lucky, and if that happens to you, I’ll be thrilled. I hope you send me a note when you’ve made it to the top.
But for most of us, it takes practice. You have to practice writing badly before you can write a masterpiece. You have to practice publishing things that don’t sell well before you can publish things that become bestsellers.
You have to write often and you have to publish often. This is true for all of my friends who are bestselling, professional authors. Every single one of them. None of them were overnight successes.
I was talking to one bestselling Thriller writer, someone you’d probably recognize, and I asked him, “How long did it take you to find your voice.”
Four or five books, he told me. Do you know what that means? That means there are books of his that are out in the world, that were published, that weren’t very good.
And if you’re going to make writing your career, that’s probably going to be true for you, too!
How do you do this, though? How do you publish often?
This is why I love short stories.
Because a book? It takes hundreds even thousands of hours to write a book.
You can write a short story in a week. And you can publish one it two weeks.
That’s why short stories have traditionally been the training ground for writers. Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, Mark Twain? They all started out writing short stories, not novels. That’s how they learned the craft. That’s how they learned how to publish.
You don’t have to wait until you finish a novel to start publishing.
Because here’s what this rule really means: Publishing doesn’t have to be elaborate. Publishing can look like printing out something you’ve written and giving it to a friend. Publishing can also look like uploading a short piece to Amazon and printing a few copies to give to your family. It doesn’t have to be a huge launch. It doesn’t have to be a bestseller.
I told you in the last lesson that a writing career is built one relationship at a time, one reader at a time. Don’t fall into the trap I did, thinking that the first time you publish you’re going to be a huge success.
My hope for you is that when you go to publish your masterpiece, which will probably be your fifth or sixth book, you already have thousands of readers who have been following you for years because they’ve read things that you’ve published often and you’ve built relationships one reader at a time.
This isn’t a get rich quick scheme. This is a timeless, proven way to accomplish your dreams, and better yet, it’s something you can do TODAY.
So that’s my challenge to you: go find something you’ve written, and publish it. Print it out and give it to a friend. Or upload it to amazon. This is your chance to learn the publishing process. This is your chance to build relationships with readers one at a time.
And if you don’t have something you’ve published, go get writing. There’s a list of short story ideas linked in the description below.
Don’t forget: The final rule in this series is coming up, and I’m so excited to talk with you about it because this one rule makes everything else work. You’re going to love it. I’ll see you in the next lesson soon.