According to Publishers Weekly, the top 50 million books sold in the U.S. in 2009 were all written by the same 26 people. How does that happen? Think about it.
- Readers know their names.
You can test this one. Are you famous? Absolutely no facility with the written word, no writing experience, not a writer, never going to be a writer? Is learning to write, in fact, way down at the bottom of your To-Do list, somewhere near learning to groom poodles? But a whole lot of people want your autograph?
Write a book. It will be published, it will be bought, it will make lots and lots and lots of money. Congratulations! You just proved the one fundamental, overriding principle of publishing.
- They are professional salespeople.
On the other hand, are you the opposite of famous? Does nobody know your name, not even your neighbor? Do you go to great lengths to be anonymous, to hide, to fade into the woodwork? Is Wallflower your favorite nickname? (This is me.) But you have a special genius with the written word that is not—as with so many of us—in our fond imaginations, but simply an inarguable fact? (I know. Dream on! But we need this for the sake of the argument.) And, as is true of any genius, you honestly deserve to make your living off this extraordinary talent?
Write a book. Self-publish it. Do not market it. Do not tell anyone you wrote it. Do not sell it through any channels but individual personal request.
Let me know how that goes for you.
- They have been publishing for decades.
On the third hand, are you not famous but trying? Do you have a work in progress? Did you start it this year? Do you have no previous experience as a writer, but a real affinity for people like Dan Brown, who appears to be interested in the same things you’re interested in and roughly as good at writing about them as you are? Do you get your faith in yourself as a writer from belonging to online critique groups and writing circles and forums where thousands of strangers trade untrained amateur feedback on each other’s manuscripts? Do you happen to know you’re better than almost all of those guys? Are you certain that publishing fame is just around the corner for you, if only some agent and/or publisher would realize your WIP is plenty good enough to stand up next to most of the shlock published these days?
Write a first draft. Do not squander your hard-earned cash getting help with it. (Remember what they say: money always flows toward the writer.) Spend a long time sending hundreds of queries and being rejected. Become disgusted with the fame-obsessed publishing industry and self-publish. See above.
- They would be just as successful at producing any other mass-market product.
On the fourth hand, are you not famous or even hoping to become famous but simply in love with the writing process? Do you love being a writer—the practice of wrestling with this craft, studying what professionals are willing to teach you, reading the greats and analyzing their approaches and techniques, applying what you learn to your own work? Have you already dedicated decades of your life to this craft with little or no monetary reward? Are you baffled by the quality of what’s being published these days but too in love with the craft to waste time worrying about it? Is writing part of your personal identity? Do you have drawers in your house overflowing with manuscripts no one has ever read because it means more to you to write than it does to be read?
Congratulations, my friend. You don’t need instructions on what to do.