Can’t vs Don’t
Over the last month or so I’ve been seeing tons of writers talk about how they can’t do this or that aspect of publishing. All I have been doing is shaking my head and mostly turning away.
I kind of equate this to saying I wanted to be a professional fiction writer when I started in 1974, but I couldn’t mail a manuscript to an editor. Pretty much a terminal problem for a career when I started off.
So let me start off with giving you one thing you absolutely can’t do (in my opinion.) You can’t do your own copyediting. We writers just can’t see our own mistakes.
But past that one exception, there is nothing any person who really wants to be a writer and build a career in this new world can’t learn how to do.
But… But… But…
Before I get a ton of excuses, reasons, and other stuff like that, hold your anger and your critical voice and let me go on for a moment. Please?
First off, I need to explain what I see developing for a writer in this new world of publishing.
With discoverability difficult, with no real way to even manufacture or promote yourself into a bestseller anymore, the writer of today going forward is going to have to build a career slowly. And build it on quality storytelling and productivity.
In other words, the writing world has returned to what it used to be. When I came in, the standard was that if you were prolific and could keep learning and getting better and were persistent, you could start making a small living in ten years or so.
Now, with the indie road to sudden riches gone, writers must learn numbers of things to survive in this new world and start making a living with their writing.
— A writer must be prolific. Long gone are the one-book-a-year writers making decent money (past the crop of older traditional bestsellers still going.)
— A writer must be a good small-business person. Long gone are the days when you could have an agent take care of you.
— A writer must learn sales language and be able to understand sales. Long gone are the days when a sales department did all the work for you.
— A writer must learn how to do all their own production. Long gone are the days when you mailed off a manuscript and it came back a finished book a year later.
So now a writer must be a writer, publisher, production person, and a sales person, all balanced and wrapped together in tight, but separate spaces.
That’s the reality I see going forward for writers.
Can’t Do That…
So as I hear writer after writer utter the words…”I can’t…” I realize that they just cut their already tough chances of making a living with their writing down.
The word “Can’t” is a negative word, mostly based out of fear of the unknown. It seldom has an reality past great rationalization of the person uttering the word.
So what are some of the many, many things I hear writers saying they can’t do? Here are the main ones.
— I can’t indie publish. (Add in all the fear reasons.)
— I can’t do my own covers.
— I can’t upload my books.
— I can’t put my books on anything but KU on Amazon. (You will not believe the rationalizations and short-term thinking with this one.)
— I can’t do a paperback edition.
— I can’t promote to and get my books into bookstores.
— I can’t write more than one book a year.
— I can’t learn business. (The reasons for this are the most funny ones.)
— I can’t write a short story (or novel… take your pick.)
— I can’t promote myself or my work. (Usually followed by, “I just don’t feel right about it.”)
And on and on. You might want to have your friends and family start writing down every time you say you can’t do something. Saying you can’t do something is a stunningly effective self-fulfilling way to keep you from doing something.
Unless anyone following this is more blind than I am, you can do all of the above with a belief system and some learning.
In other words, you DON’T do them because you believe you CAN’T. Just a belief system that you will defend like a religion when pressed.
Why is this Important?
For a few years, I believed that every writer needed to do everything but copyedit in this new world. Then for a while I went away from that and thought that hiring help might be a good idea.
Now I am back to believing that if a writer wants to succeed in this new world, AT FIRST they need to learn how to do everything.
Why have I gone back to that stance? Pretty simple and clear.
— Unless you know how to do a cover and have studied how to do them and studied covers in your genre, if you hire one done, you won’t know if it’s good or bad. I have seen so many really bad covers on indie books that the writer was proud to have paid hundreds of bucks to get.
— Unless you have learned business, you won’t know when someone is taking advantage of you. And trust me, you will get taken.
— 15 minutes per day writing 250 words is a 90,000 word novel a year. If you can’t manage more than 15 minutes a day writing, you shouldn’t be thinking of making your living with your writing.
— You can just keep believing the hype if you want about how only the magic dust of traditional publishers can get books into the bookstores, but you can do it as well if you are willing to learn how.
— Doing a paperback edition is simply learning how to lay out a book in InDesign. Lots of free or cheap tutorials out there on how to do that.
— Doing your own covers takes time and study, and you might need to get InDesign every month, or use PowerPoint. And study covers and take some tutorials out there on the web on how to do them.
You need to know how to do all of that before you can safely hire help. And then know that the work the help is doing is up to your standards.
So you can keep saying “I can’t do that. But I can hire it done.”
And I will look at you knowing you have just crippled your chance of success. Not counting that in the early days of any business, spending that kind of money is just a bad business decision.
But if you say, “I did my first twenty book covers and got them out before I hired help.” I will know you are on the right track.
(By the way, I did the first 200 books plus of WMG Publishing before we hired our first bit of help.)
So Can’t vs Don’t
A better way of stating this bluntly:
I want to be a professional fiction writer but I don’t want to spend the time and energy to learn how to do it in this new world.
The writers who are starting now who learn how to do everything themselves to start off with (before hiring help) will be the writers with the best odds of still publishing and making a living ten and twenty years from now.
Check in with your own excuses and give them a hard look.
Just might be what kicks you to the next level in this business.
And don’t forget to have fun. If you CAN’T have fun making stuff up and getting people to give you money for doing that, you are really, really in the wrong place.
So stated positively… Have fun.
Have fun with the writing.
Have fun with the learning.
Have fun with the production.
Have fun with the business.