Four areas are essential to your success in 2015, according to Randy Ingermanson. Consider his four factors below when making this year’s writing goals. Don’t set goals that only target areas where you’re already successful. Instead, ask yourself, “Am I strong–or at least growing–in each of these four areas?” They’re all necessary. If one area is weak or missing, make a change. Add it to your goal list for 2015.
Organization: The Success Equation
If you want to manage a successful writing career, then you need to know what makes a writer successful.
I’ve been thinking about this for more than 25 years, and here is my current best understanding of success.
Success is the product of four crucial factors, and we can write them very roughly as an equation:
Success = (Target audience size) x Quality x Discoverability x Production
Note that those are multiplication signs. If you fail in any one of them, then you are going to fail as a writer, because zero times anything is zero.
If you do moderately well in each one of them, then you should be pretty successful. If you are outstanding in each of them, then your name is James Patterson.
Let’s look at each of these factors:
Target Audience Size
Your Target Audience is the set of people whom you intend to be delighted by the kind of novel you’re writing.
Don’t waste time trying to identify your Target Audience by demographics—age, gender, social status, etc. For most novels, demographic information is useless.
What matters is psychographics—the emotional hot buttons that your novel is going to push. Your Target Audience is the set of people who like having those particular hot buttons pushed.
It really is as simple as that. The purpose of fiction is to give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience. (I invented this phrase for the very first talk I ever gave on fiction writing, back in the fall of 2000. I have never changed my mind about this. The Powerful Emotional Experience is the reason your reader reads. It needs to be the reason you write.)
Now the question is how many people are in your Target Audience? You can’t know this exactly, but you know perfectly well if you are pushing the emotional hot buttons of a large group or a small group.
Everybody seems to have a different definition of quality.
For example, if you Google around, you’ll discover that a number of reviewers believe that Dan Brown, the author of The DaVinci Code, is a low-quality writer.
Reviewers will tell you that Brown uses words poorly, has an agenda, and is a terrible researcher. And on and on.
So why is Dan Brown so successful?
Quality is in the eye of the beholder. And that, I think, is the key to understanding Brown’s success. If you’re a writer, your Target Audience’s definition of quality is the one that matters.
I define “quality” to mean “how well do you delight your Target Audience?”
It’s a simple fact that Dan Brown has a large Target Audience and his books delight them. He punches the set of emotive hot buttons that they want punched.
That is high quality writing. Readers don’t read mainly for beautiful writing. They don’t read mainly for an authorial agenda (although if they like the agenda, then it’s actually a plus.) They don’t read mainly for great research.
Readers read for a Powerful Emotional Experience. The more powerful it is, the higher the perceived quality of the writing.
For the record, I’m not in Dan Brown’s Target Audience. But it’s obvious that he’s making that audience happy. Dan is a high-quality writer. Ditto for James Patterson, who knows exactly what his readers want and delivers it.
Discoverability means how easy it is for your Target Audience to discover your work.
The number of books published in the whole history of the human race is about 130 million.
Your book is one of that 130 million. How easy are you to find?
There are many ways to increase your discoverability, and I can’t possibly cover them all here.
I’ll just make one key point. The best methods of discoverability are the ones that require the least resources from you. You have limited time, energy, and money.
If you spend all your time, energy, and money on methods that don’t make you very discoverable, then you’re going to fail.
Some authors complain that the deck is stacked against new writers. An established best-selling author could publish his laundry list and sell zillions of copies.
This is true because Discoverability is forever. Once you’ve been discovered by a potential reader, you can’t be undiscovered.
If a reader is in your Target Audience and you’ve given her a high Quality read, then you’re on her list for a long time. A lifetime, if you continue delivering the goods.
If a reader isn’t in your Target Audience or you give her low Quality, then you’re off her list, probably forever.
So Discoverability only matters once you’ve begun delivering Quality to a good-sized Target Audience. Bear this in mind when you try to plan your life.
Production is the number of books you write per year.
All other things being equal, the more books you write, the more success you’ll have.
Dan Brown writes a book every few years and each one is a sky-rocket.
James Patterson writes a book every few weeks and each one is a sky-rocket.
That’s why James is the #1 selling author in the world in this century. Production matters.
In recent years, I’ve seen a trend among indie authors to focus on Production. It’s good to be productive, and it’s something I’m trying to improve on, but in my opinion, this comes last, after you’ve clearly identified your Target Audience, got your Quality up to snuff, and found a way to make Discoverability happen.
Once those are all in your pocket, then you’ll be earning some money and you can cut back from the day job to focus on ramping up Production.
Mapping Your Future
Nobody can predict the future, and all plans are going to smash head-on into reality. Still, it’s better to plan than not plan.
In mapping out your future, remember that the main thing is to focus on the main thing. And there are four main things:
- Can you write for a larger Target Audience?
- Can you increase your Quality by finding a way to delight your Target Audience better?
- Can you increase your Discoverability at minimal cost in time, energy, and money?
- Can you increase your Production?
Those are the things I think about as I plan my writing career.