10 Things That Make Successful Authors be Successful

091014-A-3239S-009“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

“There’s a big gap between a wanna-be and a be.”

I went through a number of military schools where they would announce on the first day: “Look to your left. Look to your right. One of you won’t be here by the end.” I never, ever, thought that person would be me. While Beast Barracks, the Special Forces Q-Course, SERE, Danish Combat Swim, Ranger, International Mountain Climbing, Winter Warfare, Alien Probing, etc. are all hard, the most difficult in terms of graduation rate (16%) was actually Jumpmaster school because the criteria was a 100% on every test, since a 1% error in jumpmastering could kill someone.

Making my living writing for the past 25 years, I have to say the success rate makes even jumpmaster school look easy. Far less than 1% of those who finish a manuscript move on to a long term career as a writer. I would submit it’s probably closer to 1 out of 10,000. And many of those who start a manuscript never finish it anyway.

I’ve watched many published writers come and go over the years; taught tens of thousands of writers; presented thousands of workshops and been with the business through traditional publishing, indie publishing, hybrid publishing, and encounters with aliens. Here are 10 things I’ve seen in common for success:

  1. Successful authors are stupid. In reality, wanting to be an author is kind of dumb. Not a good career choice. I ascribe to the Terry Gilliam view of success in creativity: “Talent is less important in film-making than patience. If you really want your films to say something that you hope is unique, then patience and stamina, thick skin, and a kind of stupidity, a mule-like stupidity, is what you really need.”
  2. Successful authors face their fears and work through them with courage. Yes, that writer giving that keynote looks so self-assured and confident, but we are are all the same. We all feel the fear of failure, the fear of criticism, the fear of not being good enough. You can’t get rid of it. You brave your way through it.
  3. Successful authors live with risk daily. And nightly. There are no guarantees in this business. No writer’s health plan. Retirement plan. We live on our wits and skills and talent and hard work.
  4. The minute a successful author thinks they have it made, they are no longer successful. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. We never have it made. Always stay ahead of the curve.
  5. Successful authors are always willing to learn and adapt and change. Especially in today’s rapidly changing market place. There’s a large section of authors trying to hold on to the old way of doing things. They can try, but it’s wasted energy and will harm them in the long run. Adapt or die.
  6. Successful authors got lucky. The nice ones know they got lucky and are always appreciative. There are some who think they are geniuses, etc. They may well be, but to succeed in this business, a little bit of luck is needed. Sometimes a lot. But you have to seize luck, not just watch it go by.
  7. Luck comes to those who work really, really, hard.
  8. Successful authors give back to the community. Most, anyway. Every profession has its share of dicks.
  9. Successful authors study the craft and the business. My work is story. My hobby is story. I spend most of my free time studying story, whether it’s in book, TV, movie or life.
  10. Successful authors WRITE.
  11. Yes, because Spinal Tap says turn it to ELEVEN and to loop back to Monty Python in point 1: The reality, with the changes in the publishing world, the only person who can stop a writer these days is themselves. And far too many do that. SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS NEVER QUIT!11 large_spinal_tap_blu-ray2x


PS:  It Doesn’t Just Happen Bonus iBooks Giveaway!

I want to thank everyone who participated in the last giveaway of It Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure. I appreciate the support and honest feedback/reviews. I’ve been really excited about this series and glad to see it finding its readership.

As a special bonus for iBooks readers, we’d like to give away 10 ebooks of both It Doesn’t Just Happen books I and II to those of you who use iBooks over other platforms. We will give you a special discount code to use at iBooks to download the book to your preferred device. All you need to do is email us at bobandjen @ coolgus dot com or reply to this email. Please remember this is for iBooks only. The contest will include anyone who signs up to my newsletter. You can do so below.

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Remember, It Doesn’t Just Happen!

Nothing but good times!

Bob Mayer



How To Avoid Catastrophe? 1: Have a Preparation Mindset; 2: Focus

(excerpt from It Doesn’t Just Happen:  The Gift of Failure)


Have A Preparation Mindset

The key is to accept that shit doesn’t just happen. As you now know, most catastrophes are the result of cascade events. The origins of future catastrophes lie in our past and in our present.

When my A-Team traveled, my engineers would always be looking at things they saw with a different perspective than most people. When they saw a bridge, they were mentally calculating how to blow it up. When they saw a stream, they were thinking how to dam it and provide a water supply to villagers. My weapons men would look at terrain for fields of fire for direct and targeting points for indirect fire weapons. To be a survivor, you have to look at your environment in terms of what you can use and what can be a threat, which requires you to assume a different mindset for a while.

The best way to prevent a catastrophe is to plan for it. If engineers at NASA had not planned for the unlikely ‘lifeboat’ possibility, the crew of Apollo 13 would have never made it back.



Pay attention, both to immediate events and surroundings, and the past. We generally think in one of two different ways: a big picture thinker or a detail thinker.

Both types are needed. Understand yourself and those in your organization.

A big picture thinker can see patterns. This person can put the pieces together in order to see trends that could lead to catastrophe.

A big picture thinker would see the flow of history regarding bubbles and have known the housing bubble was inevitable.

Unfortunately, a big picture thinker might miss the key details that make up those trends.

challengerA big picture thinker might have passed over that single sentence in the book about the Hastings Cutoff and focused on the fact the California Trail was the way people had successfully been journeying to California.

Binoculars locked up on a huge ship like the Titanic is a pretty small detail at the time, but in retrospect, that single event looms large.

And a detail thinker might miss how each piece is part of a larger tapestry.

For the New London Schoolhouse, some people certainly noted the ill students, but might not have been able to connect that with leaking gas.

For both types, they have to focus hard on the area they are lacking.

I’m a big picture thinker. So I’ve had to work very hard to focus on details. I’ve had to learn not to get upset when a detail is pointed out to me that I haven’t noticed. In fact, I’ve had to learn to focus on what I call an anger indicator. I always advise people that when they get angry, it’s usually because they’re hearing or seeing or experiencing a truth they don’t want to.

When I get angry, I always try to focus on what exactly it is that is making me upset and in doing so I can often uncover key truths. The more an organization fights something, the more likely that something is going to be part of a cascade event.

More on this in Who Dares Wins: Special Operations Strategies for Success.

Shit Doesn’t Just Happen I and II available at all platforms via this landing page.

#Nanowrimo: The Common Traits of the Successful Writer

It’s not normal to sit alone and write 100,000 words.  So let’s get that out of the way.  You aren’t normal.  You aren’t in the bell curve and you aren’t necessarily on the good side of the curve.  You’re cursed.  You write because you have to.  You will have to go the therapy.  Sorry.  That’s the reality of being a writer. It’s that simple.

Nanowrimo coverIf you desire to write a novel because you want to have a bestseller and make a bundle of money, my advice for you is to play the lottery; it will take much less time and your odds will be about the same, if not better, and I can guarantee that the work involved will be much less.  The publishing business makes little sense and it’s changing faster than ever before.  However, I do believe that the more you know, the greater your chances of success.  The vast majority of writers are flailing away at the craft and the business blindly.  Armed with knowledge, you greatly increase your ability to rise above the rest.  (Three books in one: The Nanowrimo Survival Kit)

You write for you.  You write because you have a story in you that has to come out.  This is the core of the art of writing.  Pearl Buck said:

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:  a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.  To him a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.  Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create– so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him.  He must create, must pour out his creation.  By some strange, unknown, inward urgency, he is not really alive unless he is creating.”

I believe that passion, which fuels long-term perseverance to be the single most important factor I also believe that too much discussion on the topic of creativity can actually stifle the drive in some people.  They start thinking that they have to do and think exactly like everyone else in order to succeed and that is not true.  That is why I say that there are no absolutes, no hard and fast rules in writing.  Follow your path.

I have listened to many writers speak, read many books on writing, and while much of what they say is the same, there is often something that is very different.  Usually that different thing is part of their creative expression, the way they approach their writing.  However, on a core level, I think most creative people operate in a similar manner.

I see people who do #nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) where they try to write a certain number of words each day, every day and I have two views of that:  it’s good they are getting words down.  But are they the type of writer who works that way?  I know writers who don’t write every day, but work in creative bursts.  They might not write for a week, then knock out 20,000 words in three days.  #nanowrimo doesn’t work for them.  Stephen King says he write 10 pages a day.  That’s great for him.  Does it work for you?

Additionally, that is what he says Does he actually do it?  Probably, but maybe not.  He’s the only one who knows the truth.  Most writers feel a subliminal degree of guilt over getting paid to sit at home and create stories.  So sometimes we says things to make it more apparent that we ‘work’.  Because it’s hard to explain how hard it is to simply be sitting still, doing nothing, while we develop blinding headaches trying to work our way through our plot while remaining true to our characters.  So we use things like word count and page count instead, even if they aren’t true.

Thumb_Nail_Novel_WriterWhen I discuss how to write a novel in The Novel Writers Toolkit, I talk a lot about the craft of novel writing.  The art is woven into the craft with deeper insights and when you take craft and twist it by breaking rules.  But the first rule of rule breaking is to know the rule.  Thus we must learn craft before we look to art.

Craft is the intellectual aspect of writing.  The art is the emotional aspect.  A great writer engages both the reader’s thoughts and emotions, thus being both a good craftsmen and a good artist.

One of the paradoxes of writing, and something to keep in mind when listening to people talk about writing:  They present techniques, ideas and formats that are the “accepted” way of doing things; yet the “accepted” way makes you the same as everyone else who can read a writing book and follow instructions, and your work has to stand out from everyone else’s.  So how do you do that?  How do you do things the “right” way yet be different?

Everything is a template; do not allow anything to stifle your creativity.  Remember the paradox.  The best analogy I can come up with is that if you were a painter I am telling you about the paint and the canvas and lighting and perspective, but ultimately you are the one who has to decide what you are going to paint and how to paint it.

Another thing is to understand the techniques and methods, and then use your brilliance to figure out a way to change the technique or method to overcome problems and roadblocks.  To be original– an artist– with something that’s already been done.  Also to mix techniques and methods in innovative ways.

The Basics

  1. Write a lot.
  2. Before writing a lot, be a voracious reader.
  3. I also am a big fan of watching a lot of movies and TV specials and series.  There are writers who dismiss the television, but there are great writers putting out excellent product in that medium.  And we all can learn from any artistic medium.  Watching a different medium can also allow you to see new ways of looking at your writing.
  4. Learn the proper way to do business things in the world of publishing such as having a strategic plan for your career, which is covered under my Write It Forward program and book.

How do you approach writing?  Do you do a daily word count like Nanowrimo or do you write in bursts?  Do you think watching TV is good or bad for you as a writer?

The Donner Party: Social Disintegration

Donner Snow“I wish I could cry, but I cannot. If I could forget the tragedy, perhaps I would know how to cry again.” Mary Graves. Survivor, the ‘Donner Party’

When people hear the ‘Donner Party’, the first thing they think of is cannibalism. That was part of the final event, a result of a number of preventable cascades. By the time this group resorted to that extreme, they had made enough mistakes that we’re not going to spend much time on that aspect. In another book in this series, we’ll cover another event where cannibalism played a role, Flight 571, the Andes Plane Crash, but that was a very different scenario. To me, the most important aspect of the Donner Party catastrophe were the homicides and the way the group fell apart because it is an ominous portend of what happens during catastrophes that needs to be taken into account.

The Donner Party is key because it’s a study of group dynamics or rather, how group dynamics don’t work. Few of us understand how quickly the veneer of civilization can be torn away from people. Soldiers who’ve served in combat zones can attest to this phenomenon, especially among civilians who aren’t trained like the military. In zones such as Bosnia, the Middle East, and other places, the barbarity into which apparently ‘ordinary’ people can quickly descend is frightening, and that is the lesson to understanding the catastrophe that was the Donner Party, because something similar can happen rather easily in future disasters. Turn the power off for a week in a large locale with no relief in sight and the results will be terrifying.

The Facts   In Spring 1846, a group of emigrants departed west for California. Rather than take the usual route, they decided to take a ‘shorter’ new route, the Hastings Cutoff. The delays from taking that route caused them to reach the last obstacle, the Sierra Nevada Mountains so late in the season that they became trapped by heavy snowfall, and were forced to spend the winter. Starving and freezing, some of the group resorted to cannibalism. Eventually, about half the party was rescued in the Spring of 1847.


15 April: The core of the party sets out from Springfield, Ohio.

12 May: The party sets out from Independence, Missouri, the start point of western emigration.

18 June: William Russell gives up command of the party, trading in his wagon for mules to travel faster, along with Edwin Bryant and some others.

27 June: The party arrives at Fort Laramie. They are urged not to take the Hastings Cutoff.

17 July: Passing Independence Rock, the party receives a letter from Hastings saying he will meet them at Fort Bridger and guide them.

18 July: The party crosses the Continental Divide.

19 July: At the Little Sandy River the party splits and the Donner Party heads toward Fort Bridger while the rest stay on the known California Trail.

31 July: The party leaves Fort Bridger to take the Hastings Cutoff. They cross the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, with many delays.

30 August: The party sets off across the Great Salt Lake Desert, experiencing more delays

26 September: The party finally rejoins the California Trail at the Humboldt River.

7 October: An elderly man is abandoned by the convoy, left on the side of the trail to die.

13 October: One man decides to cache his wagon; the two men who stay behind to help him, come back without him saying he was killed by Indians. He was murdered by one of them.

25 October: A small relief party arrives from California with seven mules of provisions; accompanied by two Native American guides.

November: The party cannot make it over Truckee Pass and camp for the winter.

15 December: The first member of the party dies from malnutrition.

16 December: The strongest members of the party set out on snowshoes to make it through the pass to Sutters Fort (the Forlorn Hope).

ShitDoesntJustHappenFinal(1)21 December: The snowshoers have made it over the pass but are battling deep snow. One member sits down, smokes his pipe, and tells them to go on. He dies.

24 December: The snowshoers can go no further. They draw lots to decide who to kill and eat. But can’t kill the loser. Members begin to die.

26 December: They resort to cannibalism.

30 December: The snowshoers run out of human meat. It’s suggested they kill the two Native Americans who were part of the resupply party. Warned, the two run off.


9 January: The snowshoers come upon the two weakened and exhausted Native Americans who’d tried to escape. Shoot the two and then eat them.

17 January: The snowshoers are taken in by a Native American village. For the rest of the party on the other side of the mountains, it’s uncertain when they resorted to cannibalism of those who died from malnutrition and/or the cold.

19 February: The First Relief makes it over the mountains.

29 April: The last surviving member of the Donner Party arrives at Sutter’s Fort.

Available at all platforms via this landing page.


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