Sunday, November 24, 2013

On Talent and Failure

We watch a lot of Food Network shows in our house. Many of them are cooking competition shows, where the contestants are eliminated one-by-one.

One of the comments I often hear on the shows is something like: "I was born to to this. I can't fail."

Of course there can only be one winner on these shows, and being eliminated doesn't necessarily equate with a lack of talent. Many of the contestants are already successful chefs before they appear on the shows.

How does this relate to writing?

There are tons of talented writers, but being talented (or feeling that writing is your calling) doesn't guarantee success. At least not immediate success. It's easy to get discouraged when other writers are selling thousands of books and you aren't. Talent abounds. Some talented writers will sell scores of books. Other talented writers will languish in obscurity.

Why are those with "good" sales numbers successful? I don't think anyone knows the answer for sure. But I'm willing to bet there are some traits common to successful writers.

1. Talent counts (but it's not everything). Being able to write clear, clean prose and having a mastery of grammar and spelling are important. Being able to tell a story well is crucial. You must be able to write at a professional level.

2. Persistence. Sitting down multiple days a week (if not everyday) and writing. Repeating this over a number of years. Not just talking about writing or reading about writing, but actually writing.

3. Having multiple titles for sale. Off the top of my head, among some of the writers in the horror genre I would consider successful (e.g. Brian Keene, Jonathan Maberry, Scott Nicholson) all of them have 10 or more titles available for sale. The more you write and have on the market, the greater your chances of selling more copies. This takes time and patience.

Talent doesn't guarantee success, but if you learn your craft and show up at the keyboard on a regular basis, you can increase the odds in your favor. You can't control the market or how many books you sell, but you can make sure you plant yourself behind the keyboard and work to become a better writer.

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