Overnight success takes years of work, just like bamboo takes years before it sprouts. Whether self publishing or seeking a deal, patience is a cornerstone for success as an author.
Imagine you’re a farmer planting seeds in fertile soil. You take tender loving care of these seedlings, constantly weeding, watering and fertilizing your starts. And then you wait for the first signs of life. And you wait… for five years.
Yes, that’s right. Half a decade. Welcome to the life of the bamboo farmer. Even with perfect care and maintenance, you won’t see any progress. You won’t even be sure if they’re still alive down there.
It occurs to me that self publishing can be a lot like growing bamboo. Over the last few weeks I’ve gotten a number of letters from authors who are…well, to sum it up in one word: discouraged. They’ve watered the “seeds” of their literary career in the same way. They have:
- Self Published their book – in some cases multiple books.
- Sought out and hired professional editing for their manuscript.
- Hired a professional cover artist to design a great cover.
- Completed many of the BookPromo tasks we give to all BB author including promotion on GoodReads, gaining free book reviews and more.
And yet, like the patient bamboo farmer, these authors are not seeing signs of life in their literary efforts. They’re writing to me, asking for advice and ideas to help them get started. My response? I tell them about the “overnight success” of the bamboo farmer.
As the story goes, an inexperienced, would-be bamboo farmer is confronted with a difficult choice: He’s so tired of waiting for the plant to sprout, and he is growing discouraged. If he digs up the plants to check on them – well, he’ll kill the seedlings.
Meanwhile the experienced, successful bamboo farmer continues to care for her seeds. Day in, day out, even when she’s discouraged. Even when she suspects it’s futile.
Then, after five years of labor and faith in something she can’t see, she’s rewarded with the miraculous “overnight” growth. Some species of the plant can grow a staggering three feet in a 24-hour period and ultimately reach over 100 feet in height!
But did all that growth really happen overnight?
To anyone besides the farmer, it’s quite easy to say “yes,” as the apparent growth seemed to happen in just a few short days. But none of that growth could have happened without the farmer’s faith and consistent action, day after day, to nurture something that was still developing — even though she couldn’t see it.
It’s easy for authors to get frustrated when something isn’t happening immediately, or at the pace that you’d like it to happen. Reading of the “overnight success” of self pubbed authors like E. L. James or John Locke only adds to the angst.
When we get frustrated, and we don’t see the results we want, it’s easy to give up. Like abandoned bamboo seeds, our writing dreams can die in the ground before they ever have a chance to sprout. We think to ourselves…
“What’s the difference? My books aren’t selling. I wasn’t making progress anyway.”
But you would be wrong. It’s at this stage of your writing career that you may need to redefine what qualifies as “progress.” Despite a lack of sales – or even notice – every writer who has contacted me has experienced:
- Improvement as a writer. It’s inevitable that the second book is better than the first. The third book is better still. As you improve and perfect your craft, the results will follow.
- Increased knowledge of the self publishing world. The hard knocks they’ve experienced have often provided valuable experience to build on. Reading all of the great self publishing blogs out there – including our own BookBaby Blog – are helping to teach writers about the self publishing business.
- New connections and friendships. I’m happy to note that the author community is a very giving bunch. There are dozens of forums where authors can exchange tips and ideas. Even famous authors at the top of the food chain such as Hugh Howey and J A Konrath are happy to share their thoughts, opinions and even sales results.
This part of growth as a self published author constitutes part of the constant improvement that can form the path to your end goal. It might mean you won’t be able to see every step towards the end of your journey. The successful self published authors will have this mindset and dogged determination to help you keep moving forward.
If you quit doing the little, incremental improvements that add up to a big difference, you’ll have nothing to look back on after five years. If there’s one thing to be learned from bamboo, it’s that patience + persistence (with the right things) = growth.
Remembering this on a daily basis will make it easier to push through, even when things get tough. One day, without warning, your efforts will spout and that “overnight success” will suddenly be yours.
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