Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Creative people love talent. They love to have it, they love to see it, they love exploring it in their art. There’s a good reason; talent is amazing. It’s the rocket fuel of art. The problem is that as much as we all want to see the rocket go up, success depends on it being able to land.
As mystic as talent can seem it’s absolutely no guarantee of success, in fact the irritating truth is that it often isn’t even necessary. There is one quality that far outstrips talent in terms of finding success, and it’s much less glamorous.
Tenacity can succeed where talent doesn’t, quite simply because there is more of it. All talent, even that of the greatest artists, is finite. Tenacity tries every option, every day, forever. Absolute talent plus a complete lack of tenacity equals breathtaking work that’s seen by no-one. A complete lack of talent plus absolute tenacity equals something terrible that everybody will see.
Of course, the ideal is to have both qualities, to create something good that people are able to enjoy, but make no mistake: if you want to be successful then talent is helpful, but tenacity is a must.
It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If that’s so then tenacity is deciding on a result and trying everything possible to make it happen. That said, the two can look identical from a distance.
It’s easy to miss the point of tenacity; it is not simply repetition. If your query letter has been rejected by thirty publishers and you send that same letter to the thirty-first, you are just repeating yourself. When you take each rejection as a cue to re-examine your query letter, improve it, and send it on to the next possibility, then you’re tenacious.
So tenacity is vital for an author’s success, but what does being tenacious mean to authors in practical terms?
I’ve already mentioned one instance in which authors need to be tenacious: sending query letters to agents or publishers. The key to your tenacity not becoming insanity is to learn from your mistakes. Sending a query letter before reading articles and books about how to write a query letter is not tenacious, it’s foolhardy.
Many authors start off as foolhardy and learn to be tenacious instead. Both traits come from an underlying hunger for success, but only the latter is a realistic path to success.
Tenacity means trying one method to the point where it clearly won’t work, and then shifting to the next while maintaining the same amount of energy. In fact, tenacity is being able to do that ten times over.
To authors who want publication this means tailoring your query letters to the publisher or agent you’re contacting, and making sure that every query letter you send is created for its recipient. If those letters don’t work it means re-examining what you’ve sent: is it too long, too short, how does the plot description read, are there any errors?
If after years you still can’t land a publisher or agent it means looking at your work again, and seeing if it needs to be improved or changed.
If it can’t, it means approaching self-publishing with energy and professionalism, not as a fall back but as the new way to get where you want to be.
For authors who are published, it means you will never be finished building your readership.
Find things to do
Very few published authors are totally satisfied with the marketing their work receives. What a tenacious author knows, however, is that it’s within their own power to improve it.
Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are incredibly important for authors. They allow individuals to engage with each other, and have a heavy focus on sharing content. This is an ideal environment for authors, who are individuals with a lot of content to share.
Many authors unsatisfied with their works’ marketing don’t realize they could be online at any point in the day, talking with their fans on social media and attracting new ones. Simple things like following fans of an author whose work is similar to you will bring attention your way, and then it’s a case of earning the continuation of that attention.
Many authors are put off building a readership through social media because it can seem like a thankless task. A day of creating content, sharing links, and talking with fans may only lead to an imperceptible increase in readership, but for the tenacious author that’s enough. Day after day of imperceptible improvement quickly leads to an easily perceived improvement, then a significant one, then a tremendous one.
Again, a repetitious author may spend day after day talking and sharing with their readers, and may even make some headway. A tenacious author talks to their readers while organizing competitions and giveaways, tailoring their content to suit the audience and to get them to involve more people; competitions where entering means sharing content or liking something on social media are effective and easily organized.
The most important thing to appreciate about tenacity is that for most authors it’s not a natural trait. Tenacious people exist, but everyone else has to do a great deal of preparation and apply a great deal of willpower.
It’s easy to give up when your efforts have been met with failure or rejection, but the key to carrying on in a productive – rather than simply repetitive – way is to know your options. When you reach the end of a particular path you should already know what you’re going to do next. If you’re asking the question ‘what now?’ then the answer ‘give up’ will be difficult to ignore.
It’s a fact that many authors are published and even widely read simply because they never stopped pursuing their goals. Maybe it took them decades, but they got what they wanted. This shows that it’s possible, and even more than that it shows why those authors who have talent need to match it with tenacity. The probability of reaching a realistic goal vastly increases the more creatively, passionately, and consistently that goal is pursued.
Whether you’re an aspiring author who wants to be published, or a published author who wants to draw more attention to their work, your goals are almost certainly achievable. If there was only one piece of advice I could give authors it would be this: success usually lies just a little bit further down the road than you think it will.
To arm yourself with the know-how you’ll need, check out more of our articles, such as What Literary Agents Do (And Don’t Do) For Authors, The 3 Types Of Bravery Your Story Needs, and Why Beta Readers Are Vital To Your Success.