Six Things I’ve Done Wrong In My Writing Career—and Did I Fix Them?

25 years, over 70 books, and I still screw things up. Here are six things I’ve done “wrong” according to most accepted practices for a successful writing career and a note on whether I’ve corrected each, will correct each one, or screw it, it’s just the way I am.

  1. Not networked enough.

This is a people business, just like any other. Early in my career I really believed I could just sit at home, write books, and everything would go fine. Not. I should have made more of an effort to get to know agents, editors, publishers and especially other writers. Fixed? This is something I’ve worked hard to correct, especially since forming Cool Gus. I try to make it to Seattle once a year to meet with Amazon; in New York to meet with Barnes & Noble. Been to Toronto to sit down with Kobo. Go to BEA to meet industry people. Go to various writers conferences to meet writers. Perhaps the one thing I could do more of is attend science fiction events, since I have had several bestselling series in the genre, but I also have seen too many scifi authors get caught up in the con thing to the detriment of their writing. A balance has to be struck.

  1. Not taken charge of my career.

I thought my agent was in charge of my career for a long time. Wrong. An agent can help shape your career, but it’s up to the writer to determine goals and actions. I received a lot of good advice from agents over the years, but didn’t focus enough on implementing a business plan that I originated. Fixed? Once more, since forming Cool Gus, I’ve had to take complete responsibility for my career. There are two sides to this. On one hand it’s a lot of work, but on the other hand it’s tremendously liberating. I determine what I’m writing, how long I take, when I publish, what I publish, etc. etc. I think a trad author (having been one for 20 years and 42 books) really has little idea how great it is to be indie. Yes, you lose a lot of the support of agent/publisher, but the freedom is worth it. As well as the much higher profit margin. I think a lot of authors are seeing sales go down—the best way to offset that is to make more per sale.

  1. Not stuck to one genre and focused on one series.

I’ve had bestsellers in science fiction, thriller and romance. Not a formula for success. I recommend to authors that if they want commercial success, they pick a specific niche and become known for it. Which means do what I didn’t do. I’ve got books that don’t even technically fall into a genre. I’ve partially fixed this by focusing on just Time Patrol books recently and also layering that concept of top of my existing Atlantis, Nightstalker and Cellar books, using characters from those.

  1. Not accepted others and gotten in feuds.

This is connected to not networking. In fact it’s the opposite. My wife says I’m a contrarian and I tend to disagree with her on that. Enough said. I think it’s a guy thing. I have noticed that most of those speaking out in publishing and ranting are male. The women are quietly working and making the big bucks. Fixed? I work hard on this every day. I don’t post comments on blogs like I used to. My own blog rarely gets into the business of publishing these days– I’ve discussed pretty much everything and its in the archives here. I’ve decided trying to talk about publishing is like eating soup with a fork because, as we say at Cool Gus, there are many roads to Oz and Oz means different things to each person.  I work hard to respect everyone’s path, even if I don’t agree with it.  I simply don’t have to take that particular path.

  1. Not enjoyed the gifts of a writing career.

Seriously, it’s a great job. I forget that I don’t have to commute, technically don’t answer to a boss (other than the reader!). That my work of 25 years all earns me income now. In essence, becoming an indie author and the ability to sell to readers through various platforms has completely changed the business model for authors. What would have been 50 out of print books gathering dust on my shelves, now earns me a very nice revenue. It’s not backlist if you haven’t read it! I get to work at home, with my two yellow labs snoring underneath my desk. Get up and go for a bike ride whenever I feel like it.  Can’t beat it. Fixed? I try to be grateful every day that I can work at a job I love.

  1. Not taking enough time off from writing.

The flip side of being my own boss, is that I’m not a very good boss at times. I work all the time. I always feel under pressure to deliver. Under deadlines that I impose on myself. It is rather stressful. Fixed? Nope, but I’m aware of it. I actually penciled in three days of ‘vacation’ near the end of October, right after a conference. I already know I won’t take those three days off because I have a manuscript due at the end of October. Unless, I work really, really hard and have it done before that conference. Sigh. Catch-22. What mistakes have you made in your writing career, and what have you done to fix them?  Or do you not care about fixing them?

72 Comments

  1. Bob. I like the way you take charge and admit errors from time to time. We all make them, but we don’t all make the changes necessary to correct problems. I enjoy your books and the wisdom you put forth on your blog. Great success to you!

  2. “…and I tend to disagree with her on that.” Ha! I love your blog.
    I’m working on some of these myself. Settling on genre is hard. Networking when you’re an introvert is hard.
    Thanks for posting.

  3. I’m still learning, lol. I love the conversational, down-to-earth mood of your blog. You always dispense wisdom and I appreciate it. My biggest mistake so far? Not realizing how much I still had to learn. You never stop, it just keeps on and it’s a good thing, it makes us a better writer.

  4. So glad you kept the title as is

  5. I like the way you lead by example and show options, allowing others the opportunity to make choices for themselves. It’s empowering at both ends. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. It is quite priceless.

  6. Nothing but good times….

  7. Bob…Thanks for sharing your wisdom. As usual, you are spot on.

  8. My big mistake? Listening to other writers too much. They mean well, but their career is not mine, and I’ve lost some friendships because of it.

    Fixed? Sort of. I’ve learned to trust my own judgment about what readers like. I’m still working on the nodding my head and smiling, instead of arguing, when someone gives me advice I have no intention of following.

    • I know one writer who rewrote a wonderful, sensitive Civil War era romance because another writer (an engineer) told her it was too “flowery” . . . basically, he killed her novel. But, because he was “smart” she took his advice all the way, including changing the viewpoint . . .

  9. Love this. I’m always wondering what I can do better, what I should have done, what I should do.

    I was in a training you gave in St. Louis and so much of what you said resonated. One thing I’ve held close was your statement you should always be one spec book ahead of what you’re contracted to write.

    Thanks for being honest with your struggles and successes.

  10. Reblogged this on Lynn Cahoon and commented:
    So Bob Mayer is the bomb. Read one of his books on writing and I think you’ll agree. Loved this take on his failures and fixes…

  11. Hi Bob,

    I sometimes doubt my skill as a writer and at times I will even dismiss it when I am paid a compliment about my work, even when it comes from my editor. I don’t know if its a fear of appearing arrogant or a simple lack of belief in oneself since I haven’t written professionally for as long as some other writers. I’m working on that precarious balance of acknowledging one’s writing strengths while continuing to remain open to learning and improving every day.

    Great post!

    Take care,

    Donna L Martin
    http://www.donnalmartin.com

  12. A personal reveal is the only true way to offer advice. Excellent write up.

  13. My biggest fail–and I’m working on it–is being on social media too much. Second biggest mistake is not taking any down-time (yep, same as you, there’s always something to do). Neither is fixed, yet, but I’m getting better about it.

    At my house, it’s a big ol’ German shepherd at my feet, and two cats on either side of the monitor. I luv my life!

  14. A few mistakes in my writing career: early on letting other, more experienced writers sway me from my gut feeling on aspects of my career and actions I took toward it. I fixed that over time, cultivating my own sense of self and the direction of my writing career.

    Another mistake has been not using social media consistently or always effectively. I’m still working on the consistently part, but I’ve addressed the effectively part by finally taking the plunge and learning how to and building my own blog/website at the end of this summer. The finished blog/website suits my style, and even though I only have a handful of followers right now (5 days into it being public), I know it will be effective for me in the long run and will certainly help me to be more consistent. Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

    • Thanks! That helps me have more confidence in my own path I feel strongly about!

      …if I may, have you read Kristen Lamb’s book, Rise of the Machines? She is a social media and writing guru for authors. Thought it might help. 🙂

      • Thanks for the tip! I guest-blogged with Kristen once through Cool Gus when I was re-releasing one of my back list medieval romances, and I know she has a lot available for social media navigation and understanding. I will check out this specific title.

  15. My biggest mistake: letting others make decisions about my career that I knew were off, but I let them because they were the “professionals.” Well intentioned and very nice, but nobody knows my work like I do and nobody has my career at heart more than me.

    So, perhaps then, that could be boiled down to having a lack of confidence in what I knew I knew….and what I knew I didn’t know:)

    Now, it’s a long road back, but at least I’m at the helm. And I’m having a blast.

  16. Thanks for the post! This is helpful for someone on the path of developing her writing career via self-publishing.

    And I am one of those authors who varies genres! Just wrote a 5-book YA fantasy series and now writing a serious adult contemporary work about suicide. So different, but all so fun!

  17. I think the major mistake in my writing life was with the first book I had published, which was a children’s one. It was subsidy published, and I know now that I didn’t learn enough about writing then because there is so much tell in it rather than show. The best thing I did was to turn down the offer for the second book in the trilogy I had planned. Both of those books I am going to work on next year and indie epublish. Other mistakes was not to take much notice of feedback I got for romance novels I had submitted to a writing scheme. I perused them then put them away. Those novels will also be worked on and probably epublished.

  18. The Mean Nurse RN BSN

    September 4, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    I recognize myself in a couple of these. Thanks so much for sharing!

  19. I’ll never get past 1 & 4. 6 will be a piece of cake though!

  20. “My wife says I’m a contrarian and I tend to disagree with her on that.” He he he.

  21. Bob, I have just started my blogging career as I am very fond of putting my thoughts into words. I am just 2 weeks old in this sea of writing / blogging. I am very impressed with your subject. Infact my recent blog was about Failure – A misunderstood world! I would like to learn from you and would be very grateful if you could guide me. I am planning to write a book too. I have completed 2 chapters till now but lack guidance in my writing skills. I would be thankful if you could help me in anyway.

  22. I’m still trying to find my bearings as a writer and I’m still very new to blogging, so this was a great read! Your style of writing is lovely.

  23. Thanks for sharing this…churns my thought process too!

  24. My mistakes: being overly self-conscious, and striving for perfection. This seriously refrains me from posting and sharing. Thanks for a great post, write on!

  25. I want to be a successful writer some day so I enjoyed reading this 😀
    I don’t think I could dedicate myself to one genre though… Hopefully that’s not always a bad thing(!)

  26. Thanks Bob, I think lots of us have similar experiences to yours no matter which business we work in. Particularly around leaving career progression in hands of others. Take charge kids!

  27. Very helpful. Thank you for this. Immediately went and signed up to a few useful communities. Would you happen to know which associations or writing communities and most helpful in the UK?

  28. Finding a single genre to write in is difficult and limiting. I am quite new to blogging and professional writing but i think the most important thing is to have a couple of genres you can be able to relate easily and be at your uttermost creativeness.

  29. Love this article!! I am a new blogger and would love to one day publish a book! Have had some ideas, but nothing I have started on yet. Holding myself back. It was hard for me to put myself out there with blogging, so I am sure I will muster up the courage to get started on a book soon. This whole writers world is just so new to me yet!! Great post!

    –Mercedes Jo

  30. Thank you so much for this! I was in a rut but now you’ve given me a little bit of a push to keep going.

  31. Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences and learnings…you have taught me a few things.In India its teacher’s day…wish you a Happy Teacher’s Day!!

  32. Inspiration, thank you bro. You gotta new follow

  33. I would say the biggest mistake I have made in my writing career is stalling. I have spent the past almost 8 years teaching writing, research, business communications, literature, critical thinking, and English Language Learning while thinking I could write and publish at the same time. Well, let’s just say I’ve written and published academically, professionally, and journalistically; but all I have to show for my creative works are tons of written story lines, manuscript drafts, poems, short stories, and a pile of story ideas and character sketches. I am now no longer teaching so I can focus on writing full-time; however, I’m trying to do too many things at once. I’m freelancing to make money, but what I really want to do is finish my creative works and get published. Sigh. I feel like I live at my computer these days. Reading your list had me thinking of what my own list would look like. I imagine it looking like I’m feeling: one big chaotic mess. At the age of 39, I feel like I’m losing time! Maybe if I can sift through the chaos and list my problems out like this, I’ll figure it out. Any tips you can offer? Great post!

  34. On a commercial level it is probably right, that it is better to stick to one genre and become known to it. But I need to say that I am much more impressed by authors who are able to write things that are fundamentally different and still be brilliant.
    So you have my respect for that. Enjoy writing 🙂

  35. Great advice for a newbie! I am very introverted, and I’m finding networking and self promotion to be two of my biggest challenges. This was a great reminder that I need to step out of my safety zone and do it.

  36. Thanks for the pointers. I am an aspiring writer starting a book. I will most likely use these pointers.

  37. You had me at “…screw it, it’s just the way I am.”

    You have reached the point all writers work toward–your work is solid, you have a following, and you are strong in your independence. I celebrate with you!

  38. Reblogged this on jeremyhappensforareason and commented:
    Great advice to pick up on if you’re just starting or well into your hobby or inspiration driven goal.

  39. Internet connection crashed. When I got back on-line this is the page that came up without my telling the computer where to go. Is my computer sending me a message?

  40. Here, at the base of the mountain–one I intend on traversing—your advice is well received. It fills me with wonder, actually. There are all the nebulous, intangible things that get the writer off the ground, talent and dedication principal among them; and then there is the writer that actually takes off and begins to face this side of things real-time–this pragmatic side of a writing career. To these writers I imagine your blog is quite useful.

    Na zdravie.

  41. Great post, hope you manage to fix or accept more of these issues as time goes on!

  42. Thanks for the great article Bob, I’m sure I’ve committed all six mistakes, might have even invented one or two new ones.

  43. Thanks for sharing. I have a lot to learn.
    The important lesson is accepting mistakes and taking steps to correct them if you can.

  44. This is a great insight and it’s really appreciated. As a young writer, and one that doesn’t necessarily foresee myself taking on the impressive volume you have, it’s great to have a small glance into the lifestyle, even if it can’t quite do the experience justice.

  45. Reblogged this on A.J. Sendall and commented:
    Interesting thoughts on the writing career from a seasoned and successful author

  46. Excellent post, Bob. Gave me a lot to think about.

  47. “My wife tells me I’m a contrarian but I tend to disagree with her on that.” LOL. It’s extremely challenging to network when all you really want to do is write. Or, if you’re the type of person who expresses themselves via the written word successfully but not so much verbally…networking can be draining!

  48. I liked the you tube video for your book – it’s looks intriguing…I’ll check it out. I’m also a new published author and your blog “Six things…” is very good advice.

  49. Is it considered a blogging society error to mention your book? I think at some point you have to promote a little. So far, no one likes me, so I was wondering about the etiquette.

  50. I am a budding writer and value your advice immensely. Thanks. My instinct is to go indie. I have my own biz as well as writing and I too never stop working . Need to fix it.

  51. I could use your advice. I need some writing advice. I would like to have some advice on starting out.

  52. Reblogged this on ALEXANDER MOREA.

  53. Absolutely wonderful points, each and every one. I giggled a little when you talked about men being ranters. If men are ranters, then women are hunters–especially if there is a perceived ‘witch” in the forest. And as you know, I’m in the romance genre! More love, people…less rallying to tie someone to a stake and burn them. Drop the pitchforks and get the fingers moving on the keyboard again! Speaking of Gus, please give him a big ol’ smack for me. Mwah.

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