Thursday, February 17, 2011

Plateau Theory of Authorship

When I was getting started trying to write for publication, I realized that there were 'levels' of competency or levels of knowledge I needed in order to succeed.

For example, when I first started, I thought all I had to do was tell a story and that would make it a readable work. Then I learned about "show, don't tell" and that idea went out the door. Then I learned about character arcs, and plot points, and ... I soon realized that each level built on the last until I reached a level of Publication.

I think the same thing applies for published authors.
  • Whoa: these are people who are published but you ask yourself, "How? How did that book make it onto a shelf?" Maybe they were published with a smaller company with poor editing. Maybe they paid to have their work published (so-called 'vanity publishing'). But Whoa Authors are those that make you wince when you read their books.
  • Okay: These are people who produce good but not particularly memorable works. They may have a few typos, a few plot holes, but overall, it's a competently produced book.
  • Good: These are authors who have a modest fan base and who churn out good books on a somewhat regular basis. They have a market presence that's identifiable and they often have books that make one list or another.
  • Yeah!: These are authors who are an auto-buy for many fans. They seldom disappoint their readers and they turn out, on a regular basis, books that are eagerly anticipated. They can switch genres and loyal fans will follow them.
  • Wow: These are the authors who write the can't-put-it-down books. The books fly off the shelves and are buzzed about around the coffee pot. That may be due to the quality of the writing, the plot, or the marketing, but for whatever reason, the book is the Hit of the Season.
Not all authors are Wow authors. Some authors have one or two Wow books in a lifetime. Some have them a lot (James Patterson. Nora Roberts). Is that due to a better quality of book than a Yeah Author's book? I'm not convinced of that.  For many readers, familiarity is what sells -- they know exactly what they'll get when they pick up a Nora Roberts book, for example.

And it truly is all a matter of perception. To some people, Nicholas Sparks is a Wow writer. To others he's an Okay Author.

I tell people in my classes that you have to define success for yourself. For some people (the Whoa Author, perhaps), it's success enough to have a book published. For a Wow Author, it means making a sales list somewhere. And in today's changing publishing world, I think it's more true than ever:

Decide for yourself what success means. Don't allow it to be dictated by arbitrary lists (hey -- like the one above, maybe?) Know for yourself where to improve to achieve that success. And when you achieve it -- relax for a minute and enjoy the hell out of it.

You earned it.