The Author Burnout Coach
Episode 14: How to Guarantee Success
Hello writers and welcome to The Author Burnout Coach. Together, we will dismantle the burnout culture in book publishing and reclaim our love of stories. I am your host, Isabel Sterling, and this is episode 14.
Y’all, I just got back from Austin, TX, where I attended the 2022 Life Coach School Mastermind, and I have never been more inspired in my life. I already had a lot of amazing coaching tools from certification, but this conference took everything so much deeper. I’m ready to get way outside my comfort zone so I can evolve into the best coach the book industry has ever seen.
I’ll be spending the next few weeks and months integrating everything I learned–both into my coaching business AND into my writing practice–and I’ll be sharing a lot of that process with you…starting with this episode.
But first! I want you to know about a masterclass I’m hosting in 2 days (Thursday, April 21st at 7pm eastern). It’s called “Create Better Characters with Coaching.” I’ll be teaching attendees the basics of the self-coaching model (a bit deeper than I did in episode 11) and then showing you how to use that tool in your fiction. It’s fantastic for when you’re stuck on where to go next yet want to keep the character driving the story.
But my favorite way to use the Model with characters is solving a common problem in critiques. When readers say “your MC is acting out of character” or “the sacrifice at the end didn’t make sense.” Or “the finale wasn’t earned.” The Model can help you figure out what’s missing so those moments DO make sense and feel as resonant as you hope.
Go to www.isabelsterling.com/live-masterclass to register. The link is also in the podcast description.
Okay, now, one with our regularly scheduled programming.
Today, I’m going to teach you how to guarantee your success. Yes, even in traditional publishing, an industry that includes SO MANY COMPONENTS that are out of our control. The secret to making your success inevitable is a concept I learned during my coach training called “Massive Action.”
To start with a basic definition, Massive Action is the commitment to taking active steps toward a goal until you reach that goal.
Achieving a goal almost never happens the way we expect it will, and that’s not a problem. It’s commonly said in business that the only way to know how to achieve a certain financial goal is to try a bunch of shit, fail a ton, and then when you get there, you can look back and so “Aha! That’s how I did it.”
The same can be said in our wacky world of publishing.
For those of us who have traditionally published, there are always nuances to how we landed our first book deal that we could never have predicted the very first time we picked up a pen (or opened a file on our computer or phone) to write a novel.
Back in 2012, when I wrote my first novel, I had no idea it would take my four novels to get an agent, and I certainly couldn’t have guessed I’d connect with that agent through a twitter pitch contest for diverse authors (#DVpit, created by Beth Phelan), since–at the time–I didn’t even know I was queer.
I also couldn’t have guessed that my first agent would leave agenting less than a year later, leaving me to query again.
There were times along the way when I was so certain that I’d written the best book of my life that would most definitely get an agent…only to get a bunch of requests and no offers.
And I certainly didn’t know my road to being a full-time author would include a pandemic, becoming a foster mom, and getting certified as a life coach. In 2012, I didn’t even know what a life coach was. Hell, I didn’t know it was a real job until 2019, when my mom introduced me to a podcast she was loving.
Yet here I am, a certified life coach–freshly home from a huge conference–and full-time author.
And despite all the uncertainty and unexpected life events along the way, I guaranteed this result for myself (being a traditionally published, full-time author) through massive action.
I said at the top that massive action is simply taking steps toward a goal until you reach the goal, and that is true. It’s simple, but it isn’t easy. Massive action requires a level of stubborn belief. It requires you to get really good at failure. And it requires you to be okay with being uncomfortable.
And, the real key–since we want to make success inevitable WITHOUT burnout–is learning how to be kind to yourself through every single failure.
I’m going to walk you through 2 examples to illustrate how this works, one for a goal I’ve achieved, and one for a goal I’m working on.
Let’s start with getting published, since that’s a goal I imagine all of you are either working toward or have already achieved.
After I finished my first novel, I knew deep in my bones that I had found the thing I was meant to do. It was more fun than anything I’d ever done before, and it lit up my soul in a way that’s hard to describe.
I decided at some point during the revision of that novel that I was going to be a published author. I decided that I’d be able to walk into Barnes & Noble and find my book sitting on the shelf in the YA section.
So I got to work. I learned about the industry. I revised my novel, got feedback, revised some more. Eventually I queried the novel and started brainstorming something new. During the query process, I got 1 partial request, and I remember losing my MIND over how amazing that felt. To be a step closer to my dream than I’d ever been before.
Ultimately, that single request ended in rejection. But by then, I didn’t care. I had a new project that I loved even more and kept writing.
Book 2 got a lot more requests and no offers.
I wasn’t giving up though. I was going to be published. I wrote a third book. It got an absurd request rate, somewhere around 40-50% I think, and though there were some close calls, there weren’t any offers.
This failure hurt more than the ones before. I had been SO SURE that that story was the best I’d ever be. I thought if that couldn’t get an agent, nothing would. I didn’t stay there long, though. I dusted myself off and wrote a fourth book.
This one got an agent. We went on sub. I started a 5th book. My agent left her agency and I had to query that 5th book. I signed with a new agent who still believed in book #4 and sent it on a second round.
Which worked out great timing-wise, because my soon-to-be editor had recently switched publishing houses and bought my book. Yay! If she’d read it before she switched houses, my book would have been orphaned, which would have been a bummer because I loved working with her on my first three books.
If no one had bought my book, I would have written another. And another. And another. Until I got published.
That is massive action. Continuing to take step after step, continuing to fail over and over and learn from each failure, until you reach your goal.
Now, sometimes I get some pushback here because you can’t guarantee that any one book will be The One. And that is true. But. Only YOU can decide when you’re done trying.
A quick 2-part caveat here before I continue.
First, there is zero shame in deciding that a goal you set is no longer important to you. Maybe you decide that indie publishing fits your goals and values more than trad and shift your goal. Or maybe you fall in love with a new career or creative pursuit and decided publishing is no longer important.
If you choose to let go of a goal and stop taking massive action to achieve it, that is okay. You aren’t any less worthy or talented for choosing to take a different path. Sometimes our desires change, and that’s totally fine. There was a point in my life where I wanted to compose music for Disney music. I let that go to focus instead on other goals. I’m good with that decision.
And my second caveat is to acknowledge that the time and effort it takes to achieve a goal–how long you have to stay in massive action–can vary a ton based on many factors, including systemic obstacles of racism, poverty, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and more. Some of us have a longer path than others.
One of the presenters during mastermind, Brig Johnson, put it so well when she used the metaphor of going to the grocery store. When we drive to the store, we don’t have a meltdown when we hit a red light. We don’t time ourselves and then brag to everyone in the aisles that we got to the store in 10 minutes and 13 seconds. And we don’t panic if we move houses and it now takes 20 minutes to get to the store.
The same is true with our publishing goals. We don’t need to panic when all the agents we query reject our manuscript. We simply write the next one. We don’t need to quit just because our first book isn’t a NYT bestseller. We write the next one. We don’t need to compare our journey to anyone else’s, because we all live a different distance from the store.
Now, let’s look at a second example of massive action, this time for a goal I haven’t yet achieved. I will be a NYT bestselling author. I’ve decided that that’s something I want to achieve, even though we all know that list is curated and not a true reflection of just sales numbers. I want it, and I’m committed to getting it.
Before I tell you what I am doing to achieve that goal, let me tell you what I’m NOT doing.
I am NOT waiting to celebrate until that point.
I am NOT waiting until then to love my writing career.
I am NOT putting down any of my currently published books because they didn’t hit any bestseller lists.
I LOVE the books I’ve written. I love my career. I love my readers. I’m not going to shit on any of that. I’m also not going to expect hitting a bestseller list to make my life perfect.
It’s just a really fun goal to aim for.
So, what am I doing? I’m taking massive action and staying open to the reality that I don’t know HOW I’ll achieve that goal.
I’m going to keep writing stories that I love. For now, I’m really in love with YA, but I may write adult at some point. Hell, I may even write a non-fiction book about writer burnout. Who knows!
What I do know is that I’ll keep going until I achieve that goal. No matter what. And then once that’s done, I’ll set something new to chase after.
And I’m not chasing goals because I think there’s anything wrong with where I am now. I set goals because it gives me a way to push myself to grow and evolve.
So, here’s the formula for YOU to guarantee your own bookish success.
Step 1 - Set your goal. Be specific. Is it to get trad published? To indie publish and sell a certain number of copies in your first year? To hit a best seller list? To get a starred review? To win an award for your work?
Step 2 - Brainstorm a list of things you think you might need to do in order to achieve that goal. Writing new books until one of them gets published? Leveling up your writing skills through workshops or retreats? Investing in a writing class? Write down everything.
Step 3 - Commit to massive action. This doesn’t mean a number of actions or an amount of time. Decide that you’re willing to keep going no matter what. Decide ahead of time what you’ll tell yourself when the rejections pour in that will allow you to keep going anyway.
And that’s it. You just repeat step 3 over and over and over until you achieve your goal.
The massive action you’ll take includes things like getting up early to write, working on your craft, etc. and it ALSO includes continually paying attention to HOW you talk to yourself. No beating yourself up or being an asshole to yourself when you hit a red light. A red light doesn’t mean you won’t make it to the grocery store.
A book that fails to sell on sub doesn’t mean your dream is dead.
It just might take longer than you think. And you don’t have to wait until you get to the finish line to enjoy the journey.
And speaking of enjoying the journey…if that’s something you struggle with, I’m here to help. As a coach, I can help you reconnect with why you loved writing in the first place and help you design a career that’s burnout proof, no matter how big your goals are.
Enrollment for my 4-month coaching program is open now. I hope you’ll join me. www.IsabelSterling.com for more details.
Until next time, friends…Happy writing!