Life’s Peaks and Troughs by James North

James North_Author_DEEP_DECEPTIONHave you ever wondered why your ability to capitalize on the growing momentum of some important undertaking or effort waned and eventually evaded you, just as you were on the verge of monumental success? That undertaking might have involved positioning yourself for an opportunity to propel your career forward and upward, completion of a personal project or activity, or some other endeavor that had you bursting with satisfaction about the prospect of success. Sure you have, as have most, if not all of us at some point in our lives. But if this has happened to you many times you may begin to think, as an American cliché goes, it’s your destiny to always be “a day late and a dollar short.”

Each time it happens you feel as if the golden chalice that was just within reach and the swell carrying you toward it, like the one that evolves into the peak of the big wave the champion surfer catches, petered out and you ended up in the trough behind it. Do you hold on to those experiences? If so, collectively they can be soul destroying—particularly if you saw your competitors or rivals just ahead of you, riding the peak of the huge wave while you fell back and got left behind.

If you answered “yes” to each of the above questions, you are still “crying in your soup,” but you are not alone. I can tell you from experience that success, despite the nature of the goal(s) you set, is rarely experienced consistently. What I have learned is that nearly all efforts in life are, metaphorically speaking, like waiting for the next wave. The trick is to get into position—in the right place—to capitalize on the next wave’s momentum.

How many times have we all heard the cliché, “it’s all about timing”? Countless times I would venture to say. Beware! That cliché suggests leaving success up to fate. Sometimes we must take charge and make opportunities by creating the next wave or at least learn precisely when to catch the right one. If you read the extraordinary stories that forged the lives of highly successful artists and entrepreneurs like Yvon Chouinard (outdoor industry businessman/Patagonia), Mary Kay Ash (Mary Kay products), Lee Iacocca (automobile developer/executive), Sidney Poitier (Oscar-winning actor), Michael Dell (Founder of Dell Computers), Sam Walton (Walmart), Maya Angelou (award-winning author/poet), George Lucas (Oscar-nominated filmmaker) and others, you will quickly discover several important traits they all possessed: ingenuity, drive, tenacity and commitment.

So, it’s up to you. If the outcome you seek is one that is truly worthy of the attention of others and you believe they will want to be part of or benefit from it in some way or another, you’ve eliminated the first obstacle. Now it’s a matter of figuring out how to let them know about it. If you are simply waiting to ride the next wave, you must study wave activity and develop a strategy that puts you in the right place to take advantage of the next one’s momentum and get on it. But as you set out to create or catch the crest of the next big wave, keep one thing in mind: “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Here’s to your future successes!

The Pitfalls of Writing and Pursuing Success

James North-Blog Post PhotoOver the past several years I have come to realize that writing with the aim of getting a book published and into print is no longer a journey of patience and persistence but a march along a footpath laden with landmines. This experience by a growing number of aspiring authors was no doubt a major factor in the explosion of eBook publishing—an explosion noticeably buoyed by low- or no-cost marketing via social media. The eBook and social media platforms have given thousands of aspiring authors the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. They have also generated a wider variety of books and even new genres. In all probability, independent or indie authors/publishers, still seen as a growing alternative to traditional publishing, will continue to produce exciting and very good books. However, in order to become successful, indie authors/publishers must work very hard to get their books before thousands of potential readers, particularly if they want to earn and keep a larger percentage of royalties. And yes, for some authors there remains the hope of discovery by an influential literary agent and landing a lucrative deal with a major publishing house.

The arrival of the eBook was in effect a gauntlet thrown down by ePublishers and the indie author—a development that for a time shook the traditional publishing world to its very foundation. With fewer restrictions on opportunities, new genres and sub-genres appeared and will almost certainly continue to do so, breaking new ground and sowing seed which the traditional publishing world will harvest, without of course having to invest in or risk exploration/failure. Trends started by indie authors/publishers will continue to push the publishing envelope. Genres like Climate Fiction (CLI-FI) and Mythopoeia are but a few examples of growing trends. Because of ePublishing aspiring authors no longer sit waiting for rejection letters to be deposited in their mailboxes (in some cases email inboxes), raising the proverbial question, “Will my stories ever be read and accepted?” These authors are venturing out in increasing numbers, standing on their own two feet. Unfortunately, they are finding that success remains, inescapably, part of a filtration process. Whether it be pitching to a literary agent, a traditional publisher with/without a literary agent or pitching to potential readers who now have a more extensive menu of books from which to choose, breaking into the system is still fraught with challenges.

Nevertheless, for the “committed writer” in pursuit of success beyond seeing his/her book(s) on the pages of online bookstores, going it alone is nothing short of a paradox.  In other words, new and near unfettered opportunities for aspiring writers to join the ranks of “successful published authors” do not come without costs. The drive for success, frequently defined as rising sales numbers and book awards, garnered by the use of social media and paid marketing, can be time-consuming and expensive. Ironically, this drive presents what might be the penultimate if not the ultimate challenge—one that carries with it an equal, if not greater cost for the writer than time and money spent on branding and marketing. That challenge and often a source of frustration is the disruption of the creative process. While the optimal and often prescribed solution is “effective time management,” we all know that the uncontrollable challenges of everyday life can lay waste to the best of plans.

Adding to the bevy of pitfalls is the imperative of making your voice heard above an ever increasing number of social media users, many of whom are also writers, stealthily looking to tap into your followers and fans, while unwittingly creating what might be construed as a “mutual admiration society.” An ironic aspect of determining a writer’s potential for success is the use of eBook rankings by literary agents and publishers. This speaks volumes about the pragmatic, risk-averse tendencies of agents and publishers nowadays. Their philosophy/strategy is quite clear: “The cream will rise to the top.” While few if any writers expect to be catapulted upward and onward, I have discovered through my own toil that efforts to begin the climb toward the top are much more difficult than they appear, more difficult because an unfortunate result of that pursuit is a skewed relationship between marketing and productivity, with a larger percentage of time being devoted to the former, to the detriment of the latter.

While I too believe that marketing is important for branding and getting the word out about what I as a writer produce, I also believe that finding a balance between the two or achieving some ratio that will allow time to produce, with the aim of improving on each manuscript, is the way forward. Consequently, for me, success is staying true to what I write, developing my skills and growing readership a few dozen (well maybe a few hundred) readers at a time. Remember, individuals will always decide what they want to read, hence the importance and long-term viability of trend-setting by indie authors/publishers. Reaching potential readers, however, is increasingly becoming a much bigger challenge than indie authors/publishers may have expected. Therefore, in the end, how your success is defined is up to you, the writer. Where the future of publishing is concerned, these challenges and the characteristics of the publishing industry discussed above are why I believe the relationship between traditional publishers and indie authors/publishers will evolve from one that is antagonistic into one that is increasingly more symbiotic.

Clearly not all observers of the publishing industry share this view. In my discussions with fellow writers, quite a few have used my views on trend-setting, genre creation and rising stars in indie author/publishing to turn my assertion on its head. They argue instead that the relationship between traditional publishers and indie authors/publishers is becoming more parasitic, with large publishing houses reaping most of the benefits. I contend that the jury is still out on the issue; in the meantime, there are opportunities for growth on both sides, but the cost to authors will grow exponentially with the number of authors searching for success.