The higher you get in a profession, the harder it is to get to the next rung. So, if the “success” in a profession can be tracked from 1%-100%, with 100% being the most absurdly successful person in your industry, then it’s much easier to get from 80%-90%, than it is to get from 90-91%, and every percentage increase gets harder still.
That’s why it can take a year or less to get to 85%, and then 10 years to get to 95%, and you might never get there, because at the top are the biggest pros, the most successful people, and they are all incentivized to keep themselves in, and thus keep you out.
That’s why publicity doesn’t really work when you’re at the bottom but DOES work when you’re near the top, because you already have some name recognition, and publicity gets you more exposure, as do press releases and other things that don’t move the needle at all when you’re just getting started. People toward the top, or at the top, are willing to spend lots of money to maintain their rank and get to a higher rank because they know that each rung on the ladder is smaller and more crowded than the previous one, and can account for thousands, or even millions, more in earnings a year.
When you’re playing with the big dogs, you need bigger guns, because everybody is already using the smaller ones.
That’s why the expression “what got you here won’t get you there”.
It’s also when you have to ask yourself “am I willing to do what it takes to get there?”
The answer might be no, and that’s okay, too.
I’ll be honest. Earlier this year I had to take a hard look at myself and say that I’m never going to become as successful a writer as I want to be.
Because I refuse to play the game of publishing. I refuse to kiss a publisher’s ring and wait for them to anoint me. I refuse to accept their terrible terms when they DO give me contracts, and I will not stay silent about their predatory practices.
Because of that, a publisher will likely NEVER hire me, at least not one with enough standing to push my work to the level that I aspire to, where I am a household name like Neil Gaiman, studied in schools and seen as one of the greatest writers of a generation.
I cannot and will not ever be that person, and it left me gutted for weeks, honestly. However, when I recovered I realized that I could still be a successful writer with a devoted following of readers who makes a good living, and that’s more than other people could do with their lives.
I took solace in that, because I understood what it would take to become Neil Gaiman, and realized that I wasn’t willing to play the game to get there because it tasted bitter in my mouth every time I tried. Even if in the end I would be where I wanted to be, the journey there wasn’t worth it to me.
I won’t say I’m happy with the decision, but I will say I’m at peace with it, and I’ve stopped fighting against it. I spent a lot of time wondering why I wasn’t rising up above my current station, at it was simply because I wasn’t willing to do the things necessary to get to the next level, at least not by the current rules of the game.
Even in the world of self-publishing, there is a ceiling to how high I can soar, because I write in an off genre that has a natural cap on readers, and I don’t write to market, so while I can be successful, I will never be a seven-figure author because of the constraints I have put on myself, and I had to become okay with that as well because I’m only willing to move to the market so much without compromising my work. The smart money is in writing to market and doing everything the hot trends are doing, but I can’t write those books, which means I have to be okay with only being able to rise so high before I cap myself.
On top of that, because I have political and social views that I refuse to tamp down, I again lower the potential ceiling of my success. Again, this is something I have had to weigh and understand how it affects my career. Who knows how much that will actually affect things, but when you’re talking about the top edge of success, even shaving 1-2% off is a huge drop, and if it’s 10-20% that is devastating.
However, you have to make your own choices. Those were mine, and you will have to make your own, based upon your own values and interests, along with your own career goals.
You can’t use the same tactics and expect to keep rising forever, because there is a natural barrier where everybody is already using those tactics, and it’s only NEW tactics which will allow you to rise higher. There are plenty of things I can do to become a more successful author, but I won’t ever be the author I always wanted to be because I refuse to use the tactics necessary to do so, and that’s okay.
It’s okay if you make that decision, too.
I write cool things, filled with monsters, humor, action, adventure, and generally awesomeness. Then, I sell those things to humans. I am pretty good at it.