The Business Rusch: Playing To Win

Business Rusch free nonfiction Freelancer's Survival Guide On Writing


The Business Rusch: Playing To Win

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

I keep teasing my husband, saying he should write a how-to book called Think and Grow Thin. Seriously. Because that’s how this man loses weight. He lost 40 pounds this year on the Think and Grow Thin method. He sets his mind to losing weight, and voila! he does it. Of course, there’s some effort involved. He says the book should be titled Eat Less and Exercise More.  But that’s not as sexy as Think and Grow Thin.

Besides, my title is an accurate reflection of what he does. He thinks about every bite he puts in his mouth and then he loses weight. Because he’s focused on it.

That title could probably be modified for anything: Think and Grow Rich (Didn’t Napoleon Hill already write that?); Think and Grow Confidence; Think and Grow a Pair. Seriously. Because you can do anything you put your mind to.  At least, that’s how I was raised.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post called “Unexpected Gold in Self-Help Books.” I’d been looking at self-help books written for women and took out the word “woman” and inserted the word “writer” you might have an accurate portrait of most writers today. Then last week, I talked about the way that modern writers were trained in the old world of traditional publishing, and how that training influenced the way they approached their business.

Jim Franz in the comments mentioned that psychology has moved beyond finding what caused the behavior to figuring out what causes a person to continue that behavior in the present. If you’re participating in some kind of harmful behavior, what are you getting out of it? Are you getting anything at all? Or is it inertia? Maybe there is a root psychological cause, but better to dig out the problem in the present than deal with whatever caused it in the past. The past is immutable. The present is not.

So with that in mind, I separated out my list from two weeks ago into a whole new series of lists, with subheadings like:

    • Money
    • Fear
    • Playing To Win
    • Being Powerful (Not a Victim)
    • Believing the Worst
    • Prince Charming to The Rescue!
    • Defending the Writer
    • Volunteering to Get Screwed


Then I put the pertinent items from my long list into the subheadings, figuring there would be some crossover. There is, but not as much as I expected. So I’ll deal with the subheadings and their various lists in the next few weeks.

This week, I’ll deal with the one I find the most fascinating: Playing To Win. Because most writers I know—hell, most people I know—do not play to win. The difference between people who are truly successful and people who are not is that winning attitude. I know you’ve heard this a million times, but it’s true.

I’m not talking about the winner-take-all attitude that we sometimes get taught in gym classes and that movies like Wall Street are about.  I’m talking about the attitude you bring with you to any situation.  No coach in college football—where the stakes are high, and money comes into the program based on a good record—tells the team as they’re headed onto the field, “See if the other team will let you get one touchdown. One touchdown, and maybe a few extra yards. That’s good enough. Just one touchdown.”

The coach does his best to get the team to win.  Some coaches cheat to do it. Some destroy their players to do it. And some teach their players how to play effectively with the eye on the prize—a win at the end of four quarters, with no injuries and no cheating and a lot of hard work.

Imagine me as the coach who wants to teach you how to play effectively. The first thing you have to do is learn how to win.

Sounds silly, no? But it’s not. And the whole idea for this topic initially came from a self-help book written by Mika Brzezinski called Knowing Your Value. Mostly, the book has recycled ideas from other self-help books (which is why it’s not in my recommended reading list). But the fascinating thing to me about this book is the reason that Brzezinski wrote it in the first place.

This internationally famous woman, daughter of a former National Security Advisor, longtime broadcaster with years of success in her own right, realized she was underpaid and undervalued at her job. It took years of fighting to get a salary on par with the other men in her office, and she actually had to make a case for herself, a case that none of the  men had to make.

I find this fascinating because I always assume that someone famous, someone who works as hard as Brzezinski does, has already learned her value. The fact that she hadn’t, that she had to claw her way up from an unequal position that she believes was partly caused by her own attitudes (and, after reading the book, I agree), is an open window into a private world. This kind of behavior happens all the time to people who are obviously successful and those who are not.  It leads to unhappiness, burnout, and midlife crisises. In some ways, failing to understand your own value is like a football team going onto the field hoping for and being satisfied with a single touchdown.

People who don’t know their own value can’t play to win.

So here’s the list of pertinent items from two weeks ago that belong in the Playing To Win category:

  • Writers don’t play to win
  • Writers strive for survival, not wealth
  • Writers don’t have financial goals
  • Writers don’t know their worth
  • Writers don’t get rich because they don’t envision themselves rich
  • Writers refuse to learn when and where they have power
  • Writers lack a sense of entitlement
  • Writers listen to naysayers
  • Writers rarely speak up for themselves
  • Writers give up too easily
  • Writers fail to negotiate
  • Prince Charming will ride to the rescue. (In a writer’s world, Prince Charming is an agent.)
  • Inheriting wealth is an investment strategy (or in writing world, counting on a bestseller is not an investment strategy).
  • Learn to say no.
  • Risk is not a synonym for loss
  • There are no secrets
  • Learning takes time and dedication


Of course, the first item on the list gives the list its name.  We’ll let that one just float out there for the time being.

But these items fit together:

  • Writers strive for survival, not wealth
  • Writers don’t have financial goals
  • Writers don’t know their worth
  • Writers don’t get rich because they don’t envision themselves rich
  • Writers refuse to learn when and where they have power
  • Writers lack a sense of entitlement

These items fall in the Think and Grow Thin category. Writers never think of themselves as powerful. And they are, particularly now, in this new world of publishing. Writers hold all of the cards, but they refuse to recognize it.

Refusing to recognize that fact makes sense if you go back to last week’s essay and you realize that throughout all of their careers, writers have fought to simply have a career. So now that the world has changed underneath us, we don’t recognize where we stand.

Without writers, there are no publishing companies, no game companies, no comic book companies, no movie companies, no record labels. Without us, most of the entertainment industry will collapse.

In some of those other related fields, writers have taken the power that they have and used it collectively. In television, the head writer (often the creator of the show) has more power than anyone, including the star of the show. And that, my friends, is how it should work.

Because without the writer’s vision and voice, there is no product.

Think I’m kidding? Look at it from a reader’s perspective—and please, no cheating here. Think about your favorite author of all time.  Then tell me who publishes her work.  Tell me who published her first novel.

Then tell me who first published Little Women. Or A Christmas Carol. Or Hamlet. (Scholars, pick something outside of your expertise.) Now, tell me who wrote Little Women, A Christmas Carol, and Hamlet. See how easy that is?

The publisher gets the book distributed to the readers. Or did, once upon a time.

That time has changed. Now all of us can download books on our e-reader or via our computer direct from the writer himself if we’re so inclined, and if that writer has enough foresight to have the book available. The distribution networks have changed and now the writer can access those networks easily.

Mark Twain published his own work. So did Edgar Rice Burroughs. In fact, the only reason we’re familiar with Tarzan today is because Burroughs self-published.

For  years, publishers told writers that we were interchangeable. If one writer is difficult, the publishers would say, they’d find a different writer to take her place. Which was just straight hypocrisy, and any writer should have seen it. Because if J.K. Rowling became “difficult,” publishers would have jumped through hoops to satisfy her. They wouldn’t have told her that any writer who could craft a story about a boy wizard in a magical school would do, because any writer would not do.

It was Rowling’s storytelling, her voice, and her vision that made her unique. It’s the same with all of us. Not all of us sell at Rowling’s level, but if we’re published writers, we have fans and followings who know the difference between Richard Kadrey’s urban fantasy novels and Jim Butcher’s urban fantasy novels. And the difference isn’t just in the details, it’s in the way the stories get told, which is all about the writer and not about the genre at all.

In the past, writers stepped onto the field and hoped for a touchdown. They got satisfied with a single good play, with maybe making it to the 50-yard line. For the most part, writers believed the crap fed to them by those who made a fortune off them and gave the writers a pittance. Writers stopped playing to win, if winning ever really crossed their minds.

Now, when a writer approaches her work, she needs to do it with the attitude that she will do the best she can possible do in all areas of her career. Not just write the best stories.  She must also do the best in her business dealings for herself and her family.

She must—without cheating or injuring someone else—play to win. That means this behavior must stop:

  • Writers listen to naysayers
  • Writers rarely speak up for themselves
  • Writers give up too easily
  • Writers fail to negotiate


The writer needs to believe in herself first and foremost, believe she’s even worthy of being on the field. Because no team on any field—from middle school to high school to college and beyond — belongs on that field if the team doesn’t think it can win. Whether it wins or not is immaterial. What matters is believing that a win is possible.

So if you believe you can win, then you must have confidence, you must defend yourself if need be, you must try and try again, and you must push forward.

The first step in a negotiation in the new world of publishing is to have confidence.  Confidence is reflected in this question: Do you even want to be in that negotiation in the first place?

I often get e-mail from indie-published writers who recently have been approached by agents. And always, the indie-published writer includes this sentence, “Last year (or two years ago or three years ago), I would have been thrilled to hear that an agent wants to represent my work. But  now I’m wondering what an agent can really do for me that I can’t do myself.”

Exactly. That’s the right question. What can the agent do for you that you can’t do yourself?

I just asked the same question of a publisher of mine. He blinked, then gave me a sheepish smile, and said, “Can you afford the cover artist?” We both agree that the covers are spectacular, and honestly, I might be able to afford the artist. So my answer to his cover artist question was a shrug. But when it came to marketing, distribution, and all the things that traditional publishers used to do better than writers, the answer to my question was a resounding no.

We parted ways after a few back and forths. But the truth of the matter is that had that conversation not been mandated by the option clause in my contract, I wouldn’t have had the conversation at all. Because I knew that this particular traditional publisher wasn’t doing anything on my books that I couldn’t do—and do better (except maybe pay that spectacular cover artist his fee up front).

Do you want to be in the negotiation at all? Should you be? Will it help your career, make your writing better, get your work to the most readers over time? Because that’s the other thing writers forget now. Playing to win isn’t about the short term.

Playing to win in publishing is about what will happen a decade from now, when it used to be about what will happen in the next six months. Quite a change in thinking, and one writers need to make.

Which brings me to another point about playing to win. Because the traditional publishing game was rigged in favor of the short-term gain over the long-term build, writers got into what I call magical thinking. If I have the right agent, I’ll succeed. If my publisher puts the right amount of advertising dollars behind my book, I’ll succeed. If I go on a book tour, I’ll succeed.

But remember that William Goldman’s axiom about Hollywood also applies to publishing: No one knows anything.  And what that means is this: none of the magic above will guarantee success.  Which means that these two items—

  • Prince Charming will ride to the rescue. (In a writer’s world, Prince Charming is an agent.)
  • Inheriting wealth is an investment strategy (or in writing world, counting on a bestseller is not an investment strategy).


—constitute magical thinking. Wipe those thoughts from your brain and realize that success in the new world of publishing comes from years of hard work and planning, learning craft, learning business, and learning how to approach your career with the idea that you will do well.

Once you make that leap, these last four items become a kind of touchstone, a bit of a to-do list:

  • Learn to say no.
  • Risk is not a synonym for loss
  • There are no secrets
  • Learning takes time and dedication


I said no to my traditional publisher, because to do anything else would harm my career. (And honestly, from the perspective of someone who spent 30+ years in traditional publishing, that sentence still boggles my mind.)

But I also believe in taking calculated risks. I’ve written about how to take risks before, and I suggest if you don’t understand by what I mean by calculated risk that you look at this post in my Freelancer’s Survival Guide on risk.

Realize too that the information to help you succeed is out there. Just because someone else is successful doesn’t mean that she knows a secret handshake that no one ever taught you. The difference is this: She’s learned how to be a successful business person, and you’re just starting on that journey.

If you don’t know how to do something, ask. I know that sounds really basic, but it’s that easy (and that hard). Sometimes the answers are in a blog like this one. Sometimes they’re in books. Sometimes they’re standing in front of you in the form of a person whose career you would like to emulate.

When I give talks, I always open the last part to questions, and sometimes no one asks a thing.  I get told that I’ve covered all the bases, but I know I haven’t. Sometimes people are afraid to ask or embarrassed by their own ignorance or worried what others will think of them. And we’ll deal with that in a later post.

But I say at the beginning of my question sessions that there are no stupid questions, and I mean it. If you don’t know something, then ask. Seem stupid for a minute or two. You’ll get your answer that way, and you’ll have a greater chance for success.

Finally, remember learning does take time and dedication, just like it says above. I’m still learning. If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few years, you’ve seen the trajectory of my learning, as I realized things I needed to know for the new world of publishing or as I gradually understood that what I had learned for the old world of publishing doesn’t apply at all in this world.

Playing to win is not about crushing an opponent. If you’ll notice, I never really mentioned an opponent at all. Because that’s where the sports metaphor breaks down. In a football game, one team wins and another loses. In writing and publishing, if one person succeeds, that person’s success does not force another person to fail. In writing and publishing, unlike a football game, the rising tide truly does lift all boats.

The key here is attitude. Think like a winner and you will succeed. It’s a variation on Dean’s Think and Grow Thin method. He thinks about each bite he puts in his mouth and that enables him to lose weight. If you think about your writing career from the perspective of success rather than constant failure, then you will succeed over time.

Does Dean manage to eat right every day? Nope. But when he doesn’t, he knows it and gets back on the right track a day or so later. Likewise, you won’t succeed at writing and business every single day. You will fail. But no one wins without losing. Failures teach you how to be a success. In fact, the biggest successes always have a slew of failures behind them. Failing is how we learn. (Again, I dealt with this in the Freelancer’s Guide.)

So change your attitude. Go at everything in your writing career from the perspective of doing your best. Make sure you do your best work. Make sure you negotiate the best deal. Make sure you do the best you can for your family and friends.

And if you do that, you will be playing to win.

The success of this blog has surprised me. Once I committed to it, I decided to the best work I possibly could. I also decided that I would do this as a reader-funded project, which has worked so far. So, if you have gotten anything out of the blog, please click on the donation button. And thank you!

“The Business Rusch: Playing To Win” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.



49 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Playing To Win

  1. The “just one touchdown” can be a useful tool in the face of discouragement. “Okay, guys, I know we’ve been getting creamed. Can you get me one touchdown? Just one touchdown.” (And then, when they get that one touchdown.) “Great. Excellent. You can do it. Now, can you get me one more? Just one more.” And so on.

    Back when I was growing up I was raised LDS (these day’s I’m more of an “Asatru leaning Agnostic–don’t as unless you really want to know. ;)). There was a Mormon athlete that was well known in LDS circles for overcoming some pretty serious problem. I forget whether it was something like losing a limb or a serious (expected to be terminal) illness or what but the thing I remember is that he was a cross country runner and was known as a “heart” runner. He’d be last in a race and look at the guy who was second to last and say “I can pass him. Just one guy. I can pass him.” And then when he did that he’d look at the next guy and say, and do, the same.

    So sometimes thinking about just one step is a helpful tool.

    1. Yeah, David, it’s a tool if that you know that’s what it is. A tool for winning a game. But if you think that single touchdown is the win, like so many writers believe, then you have failed.

  2. Kristine,
    I’ve been lurking, reading your Business Rusch for months, nodding my head. This post forced me to comment.

    Do you remember back when you were a teen – when you started looking to what came after HS graduation? That paradigm shift, when you realized that you had power, and you didn’t have to ask your parents for direction at every turn? Yes, it was wonderful. But I also remember the fear – you mean I’m TOTALLY responsible for what happens to me? Made me want to crawl back into the womb. This is how most writers feel. Amost afraid to be excited about thier new choices, because they did look at agents/editors as fairy Godmothers who would navigate them through the scary grown-up world of publishing.

    I don’t blame them – it IS scary. But I believe what fosters this is the whole “artist” mindset. Okay, we’re all artists when we create. It’s your baby you take from infancy to launching into the world.

    But then the shift should take place. Once you type “the end” it’s now a product – in the marketplace. If writers were just able to make that shift, the right decisions may not be easy, but at least they’d be able to analyze their options without the emotion clouding everything.

    1. Excellent point, Laura. I think you’re right on. And unfortunately, publishing is a business (and traditional publishing is a deliberately opaque one), so the trust goes to people who, unlike parents, don’t have your best interest at heart.

  3. Thanks for this and all your previous and future words of wisdom, Kris. This one post in particular hit home, mostly due to the fact that I’ve been working very hard the last year to overcome many of these “challenges.” I am happy to report that two novel proofs from Createspace should be arriving Monday, my first nonfiction is already available and selling, the second nonfiction is in its final stages, and the short story elist is slowly growing! Been a challenging road as you well know, but finally, I’m seeing daylight at the end of a long winter’s night. It still kind of boggles my mind that I can now say: I believe in me!

  4. Thank you for this post! While I do at times falter and let myself be overwhelmed by the writer insecurities it is highly unnatural for me. I am new to the publishing game so these have not been instilled in me overtime. In my past careers and experiences I have succeeded by the very same method you describe above. Think success and the road to success becomes easier to see and accomplish. However, there is almost a feeling that as a writer you must feel these insecurities, that this is the reality, that it is different than anything else out there. It has had me confused and frustrated. Thank you for stating that I don’t have to wallow in insecurity. I don’t have to hope desperately for success but assume failure. It can be done, it can be done well. The quickest way to lose is to believe that you cannot win. But you set yourself up for success by believing it is possible. I have always practiced this and now I will never let that belief fall to the wayside again!

  5. Hey Kris —

    I keep coming back to these posts. They’ve really struck a deep chord in me. I see myself in a lot of this. I also see that it’s one of the things I’ve been struggling to change over the last few years, without realizing it or being able to articulate it.

    For me, as a consumer of these posts and information, I feel as though there’s so much for me to learn in terms of changing behavior. The one thing I keep coming back to is how to learn to differentiate the difference between magical thinking and playing-to-win thinking. The dream big I have down pat. It’s that next step, the attitude as well as the putting it into practice. So I don’t have any questions, just a comment that I’d like to see more digging into those differences in a future post.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. It’s been so very, very useful for me.

    Take care —


    1. Leah, I’m glad the posts are working for you. As for the difference between magical thinking and playing to win, I covered that in the Freelancer’s Guide, in a goals and dreams post. I’ll probably do more on that here, but this a quick answer to your question. And thanks for the comment!

  6. This is thought-provoking for me. Money is not a primary motivator in my religious tradition. Our guidelines for handling money begin with “earn all you can” (followed by “save all you can,” and then “give all you can”). So it’s not that we dislike money! However, these guidelines are secondary to such things as “do no harm,” “do good” and “stay in love with God.” Which leaves me asking what winning looks like. I take away from your post the need to be clear about what the Win is for me, and focus fiercely on that. What Win will consistently get me to the computer? Your list of behaviors hits home for me though, not because I’m uncertain about my value but for… some other reason. Hm. Thanks for the post.

    1. You’re welcome, Dave. I think defining winning for yourself is very, very important. And if you look to your guidelines for handling money, they don’t preclude having a lot of it. I think that would fall into “giving what you can.” You earn what you can, save what you can/need, and then give the rest away. Seems that it all fits just fine.

  7. Okay I looked back at your post and I think I found the one little tiny bit that is the thing that disturbs me. The rest, great. But this:

    * Writers strive for survival, not wealth
    * Writers don’t have financial goals
    * Writers don’t know their worth
    * Writers don’t get rich because they don’t envision themselves rich
    * Writers refuse to learn when and where they have power
    * Writers lack a sense of entitlement

    There’s nothing wrong with half of those.

    I agree with these:
    “Writers don’t have financial goals”
    “Writers don’t know their worth”
    “Writers refuse to learn when and where they have power”

    Those ARE elements which lead to the problems you talk about.

    The rest are a red herring. They’re not about how people deal with others, they’re about what people want out of life.

    1. Oh, believe me, Camille. I’ll be dealing with them. Note in the front of the post all the different categories I list as subheadings. Some will deal with those topics more in depth than this one does. Thanks for going over it.

  8. No, the self-help industry is not organized — honestly, I see most of them as a bunch of con men all using the same techniques (as conmen are wont to do). And a few others who aren’t con men, but are using the same techniques because that’s how all self-help books are. (And then there are those who are really helpful and in ernest.)

    I really do agree with the vast majority of what you say (here and in other posts), and I often send people here to learn. It’s only that one element of these couple of posts, and maybe it’s just the loaded terminology.

  9. Kris wrote: “But I do believe that the fees for art will go down.”

    Who’s to say that wasn’t already happening? There are a lot of great artists coming out of Eastern Europe and Asia that couldn’t get anyone in the States to see their work pre-internet, and they’ll take commissions for less. The difference, at least for covers, is now the artist and writer have to find each other instead of a middleman trying to decide whose work fits best together.

  10. I think you misunderstood:

    You’re talking about a very specific situation – passive, self-destructive behavior by writers in the publishing business — but you’re using very broad language, which implies you’re talking about a broader approach to life.

    Not everybody wants to get rich. That doesn’t mean they’re weak or that they let people run over them. And that doesn’t mean they’re bad business people who don’t have a very detailed business and investment plan. Some of us are at the exact opposite end of the spectrum from who you think you’re talking to.

    I’m just saying don’t lump the Anarchists in with the House Slaves. Just because the self-help industry has lumped all those attitudes together doesn’t mean they are actually related. (IMHO, the self-help industry is a corrupt and manipulative bunch of #%$@, who intentionally cloud the issue to keep their sheep in line.)

    I agree with the vast majority of your point; yes, writers need to understand that they are the ones driving the truck here. They need to take charge, and be responsible for their own well-being. Know what you want and go after it for real.

    1. Camille, I never believe that my posts are so general they apply to everyone. I put things out there, and let people take what they will from them. I’m quite aware that each reader is different. I’m kinda wondering why this one bothered you so much, but honestly, that’s none of my business. This is all just my opinion, after all, and you’re free to agree or disagree with most or all of it. And as for your comments on the self-help industry, um, wow. I don’t think they’re that organized. Really, I don’t.

      But we agree on the important point: writers are the ones in charge and we need to remember that, and act accordingly.

  11. Perhaps it’s a semantic difference, but I’m not big on belief. I am, however, big on determination. Believing that things will work out is all well and good, but I’ve been around enough con artists and fantasy vendors to think that stoking belief is just as likely to be exhausting and demoralizing as it is to be effective.

    Bending the universe to your will, on the other hand, takes a certain kind of perversity–a willingness to bash your head against a few walls until you figure out where the kinks are, then use those kinks to either climb over the wall or tear it down. Bloody-mindedness is a HUGE advantage when you’re chasing a long game win. And the truth is, even in the long game it’s not always possible to get the win you’re after–however, I’ve found that if you wind up missing the goal after playing a long game really damn well, you never really lose. The by-products of the game are priceless–they’re the strategic tools and emotional maturity that make it possible to win the next game, or to start the same game over and kick some serious ass.

    In other words, I don’t really believe I’m going to win, but that’s okay. I’m going to win anyway, or the universe is going to suffer some severe dents in the process of obstructing me.

    For what it’s worth… 🙂

    1. Dan, I feel that you can’t repeatedly bang your head against that proverbial wall if some part of you thinks you’ll never succeed. That’s all this post is saying.

  12. One thing I learned about the difference between men and women’s paycheck amounts is that not only do women often choose to do less lucrative, but more flexible, work and careers–and for less hours (as well as those in less demand)– they also tend to get paid less because *they don’t negotiate for more*. They often take what is offered, instead of, as is par for the course for males, asking for more money, or more perks, sometimes just to see how high the employer or buyer will go. Often, rather than being paid less for equal work, women just simply *fail to ask more* for their work and time, or discount the work they’ve done and not bring up the overtime, the extra effort, and so on that they could use to negotiate for promotions, perks, and raises.

    Women are also socialized to play cooperatively with others, rather than having winners and losers (unlike men), with the focus on avoiding hurt feelings (because women are cooperatively competitive), and that gets them into a world of hurt in a world run male-style, with a focus on winning and losing and hierarchy.

    The part that hurts women, and writers, the most, is the mistaken belief that winning is a zero sum game. In that mindset, your winning means someone else losing, and can negatively impact relationships (which are important to women). The fact that business, and economics, is usually NOT a zero sum game (just as writers are not in competition with each other) escapes a lot of people. (The other major belief that hurts women and writers is the mistaken belief that commerce and profit-seeking is dirty/bad/incompatible with higher creativity. Funny how that doesn’t hold back the patent-holders and inventors of more practical but equally ingenious, and dare I say, more indispensable items in our lives, from Post-Its to medicines, materials and more!)

    For example, when people got into the Harry Potter books, they read more overall because they enjoyed the experience, and looked for “like that, but different”. Rather than JK Rowling “winning” and some other, lesser writers “losing”, this lifted the tide for all writers (especially fantasy and YA) as the reader and customer pool increased. Same for TWILIGHT, and so on.

    Not a zero-sum game. Not in competition with each other, so no feelings ought to be hurt–because reader tastes are individual, and now more than ever, readers have more choice to find authors who satisfy their tastes better than before, when publishers and others decided what would be available for them to read and buy. Business, not friendships or kinships, which means that writers should negotiate for the best deals for themselves and value their work, and not “sacrifice” for some mythical team.

    Too, a lot of people are not raised to enjoy making money, or to be comfortable with being entrepreneurs or business owners. They’re trained and conditioned to earn a check as an employee, not to HIRE employees, and often have the employee mindset of seeking supposed security by working for someone else instead of working for themselves, and instead of learning how to be a better entrepreneur or business owner, they instead cling to their old paradigms and re-install the hierarchy they are comfortable with: namely, that of being an employee, a worker for a boss, rather than their own boss.

    Once you change the negative associations you might have had with “playing to win” and “making money” (especially “making money from your creative work”), then winning, or making money, is not something that is negative, or destructive, or whatever connotations one associates with it, and had thus to be avoided. It’s what you do to maximize the reward from your work, and a way to work towards independence and security, and be valued for your time and effort. And most of the time, even if you don’t win, or get everything you asked for, like shooting for the stars and landing on the moon, you still get further than you would have if you had settled for less and never asked for anything at all.

    Sorry to rant on in your comments area, Kris, but boy, do I feel strongly about this! 🙂

  13. Kris,

    I thank you for your insight. I’m not going to donate at this time, but I did buy your book, and Amazon just notified me it will be shipping early.

    I look forward to reviewing on their site.

  14. Some of this line of thinking bothers me:

    Sure people who don’t know their own worth and don’t know how to say “no” also happen to not care about getting rich or have a sense of entitlement.

    But just because you don’t care to get rich or have a sense of entitlement doesn’t mean you have ego problems. It also doesn’t mean you don’t have a financial plan, or really know money, or know how to take care of yourself.

    Just like making a sacrifice to help someone else doesn’t make you a sucker. (Making a sacrifice to help someone who doesn’t need your help so they will think you’re a nice person makes you a sucker. There’s a difference.)

    Your “Think and Grow a Pair” is spot on though. The point is being conscious and taking responsibility for your own actions.

    Play to win is only half of the equation — “Don’t play not-to-lose, play to win,” is the whole saying I learned. It’s the playing not-to-lose that really kills you.

    1. I’m afraid we must differ, Camille. If we talk about business, then you need to believe you will be successful. You might not like the term “entitlement” and I admit, it’s can be loaded, but you must act as if you have confidence. And I never said making a sacrifice makes you a sucker. But you have to understand that in the business world, just because you sacrificed doesn’t mean you’ll get credit for that sacrifice.

      For some of us, money is simply a way to do better work. Not because we’re paid more, but because we’re not taking too much time just trying to cover the monthly bills. And often that attitude–scraping along because it’s somehow noble–hurts a creative career a lot more than planning to make money off your creativity. In fact, those who scrape along often take projects (and deals) that harm them in the future for short-term money in the present.

      But we do agree on playing to win is only half of the equation. As I’ve said for weeks, this is a series, and not all points will get covered from week to week. Others have brought up other topics (fear, for example) which will get explored in other posts. So yes, you’re right: this one is incomplete.

  15. This is a great post, Kris, really important words that folks need to hear. I remember when we had our meeting at the Master Class and my reaction to your comments regarding my writing. I have taken those words to heart and carry them around, repeating them when I feel down, and using them to reinforce my successes.

    I also pay more attention to what I’m being offered and, in one case, passed on a deal because I didn’t like the terms and they wouldn’t budge. I felt awful up front, but better now. There are always more offers.

    On questions, I think I process information later, and my questions often come later, long after everyone has gone home. So, I am one of the deer in the headlight folks in a workshop, desperately trying to put things together to see what I don’t get.

    Thanks for sharing this thinking and saying the things that need to be said out loud, where people can see them and read them and think about how to apply them in their own lives and careers.


  16. “Think and grow thin” is exactly how I managed to lose about 40 pounds in three or four months, but there’s another part to it: “stay hungry”. Not in the literal sense (unless you’re really trying to lose weight), but figuratively — never settle.

    Many years ago I got involved with a multi-level marketing outfit and spent some time hanging out with some very successful people. There was a saying, “if the dream is big enough, the facts don’t count”. If there’s something you want badly enough, if you’re hungry enough, you’ll find a way to do whatever it takes to get there. That could be getting way outside your comfort zone and striking up conversations with strangers, or spending five and six nights a week going out to give sales pitches (and getting “no” most of the time), or staying up until 2AM learning from someone more successful than you. But we were always encouraged to go “dream building” — go look at, feel, experience, test-drive, whatever it was that you wanted to get with the money you could make. Money itself isn’t the motivator, it’s what you can do with it. (This was part of our sales approach too — spend the first part of “the plan” just dream building with the prospect. If they couldn’t imagine something that would motivate them — not necessary material, could be a level of freedom — the rest was a waste of time.)

    There were a number of reasons I didn’t stick with it, despite some success, but I learned some good lessons, many of which apply in this business too. I’d kind of forgotten them with some of the crap in my personal life lately (short version: divorce) but your post helped remind me. Time to do a bit of dream building and post some pictures up over my writing desk to help me keep my eye on the prize. Thanks Kris.

    1. Sorry to hear about the divorce, Alastair. It’s never fun, even when it’s best. I do love your phrase “dream building.” Excellent way to put it. Because that’s what we’re doing.

  17. But of course there’s *The Secret* that we published writers are all sworn to remain silent about. Kris shouldn’t have alluded to it by even denying it. Shhh. Mum’s the word …

  18. Hi Kris,

    I am a young writer and have been trying to break into publishing for three years. I had a little success, got some short stories published, and went to a major workshop. Then everything changed (for the better, it seems) and I published one of my novels electronically. I am still hesitating to put my magnum opus on Kindle (the opening of a long series) but–as ridiculous as this sounds–I’m worried the tide will turn, publishers will be the only option, and they’ll see my sales numbers, laugh, and I’ll be pariah. I guess I’m overcome with fear. What would you say to that?

    1. I’d say publish it, Andrew. What can it hurt? If the book does really well, traditional publishers will come to you asking for a piece of it. If they don’t, then you still have the book in front of readers who are the ones who matter, anyway. So it’s a win-win situation. Good luck with it all.

  19. In deep-seated psychological issues, it actually is better to dig out the root of a problem, so it can’t trip one up again. What is left in the subconscious will continue to affect the conscious, just as the root of a weed will keep that weed popping up again and again. (Seriously. Been there, done that. Can’t build anything lasting when the weed keeps breaking your foundations. Can’t lose weight when the hypothyroidism is unmedicated, either.)

    On the other hand, for mere habits? Those can be changed without much addressing how a now-bad habit got started, ayup. A passing nod to when the habit was easier, or safer, or even more successful (!) and one can move on and build different habits.

    Though sometimes the trickiest questions to ask, regarding one’s new habits-to-be, are the ones that you don’t know you need to ask.

    Probably the first one is, “Is this habit a path to the goal, or has it become the goal itself?”

  20. I play to win.

    And yet this mentality creeps in from time to time.

    For example, I’m just starting to succeed as an indie writer, but I see other people with higher sales and I wonder, should I lower my prices in order to increase sales, even though my per-book revenue will decrease? (I didn’t. I just stopped trying to compare too much.) I contemplated a deal with a non-profit group to distribute my picture book to 2000 local children, but their contract was dreadful, so I politely declined. But I thought about it longer than I probably should have. Etc.

    Yesterday, I attended a meeting, and someone mentioned that another emergency doctor had worked until 1 a.m. (at least 4 additional hours after a 12-hour shift) but had only billed until 11 p.m., presumably to save the group and the government her billing hours. That’s very “nice” of her, but I don’t do this. If I went to school for 25 years and kill myself working a 16-hour shift, I want to get paid for that, thank you. I don’t see a lot of the male doctors short-shifting themselves, but it’s not uncommon for the women.

    On the other hand, I really respect people who are kind and generous. I find them far more interesting that people with fat bank accounts and empty hearts. I just want to balance that with making a good living. Since I split myself between writing, children, and (soon back to) medicine, that means I need to get paid well for each task, without kneecapping myself.

    Thanks, as always.

    1. Nothing wrong with worrying, Melissa. I think that’s how we figure out where our boundaries are. (Sounds like you made the right choices all around, imho.) As someone said to one of my previous posts, kind and generous is best when you take care of yourself first (that thing about putting on your oxygen mask before helping the person next to you with theirs). We just lost our most kind and generous friend at the young age of 63 because he never took care of himself. If he had, he would have been around for another twenty years or so and been able to be kind to a lot of people who never had the opportunity to meet him.

  21. Honestly, this “playing to win” thing is… Well, thinking about it’s making me realize that I some of what I do is odd.

    I always expect to lose, while hoping to win.

    Except I’m approaching self-publishing with the expectation that I’ll be a “winner” within 5 years, as long as I keep putting out material. (I’m hoping for sooner, but—yep, not expecting it.)

    I have that “expect to lose” mentality because it prevents emotional roller coasting. (I have a hormone disorder, so that’s something I have to actively work to prevent.)

    But now that I’m thinking about it, that “expect to lose” thing is coloring my actions too much. It’s even influencing my website design and forum signatures.

    Thanks for that smack upside the head.

    1. You’re welcome, Carradee. I was raised to “Plan for the worst; hope for the best,” but that doesn’t help when you’re trying to succeed at something. The sports metaphor works better here–strive to win and accept that losing is part of the game. There’s always another day. Glad the post helped you.

  22. Thanks for another wonderful post.

    I always feel bad that I have no questions — but I think it’s because I don’t know what I need to ask. You may not have covered everything in a particular blog post or on a panel, but I don’t know enough to know what I still need to know.

    As for magical thinking — I still dream of a bestseller, or having a series that would get me an amazing advance from a publisher. I could really use the advance money, especially while I’m working at building up my own inventory for sale. I know it’s not likely, and wouldn’t be immediate in any case, so I keep on with what I can do on my own, but that doesn’t stop me from daydreaming.

    Today, though, I’m putting another story up on Smashwords, PubIt, and Kindle. Then I’ve got a short story to finish writing and submit, and a novel to work on (that a small press is interested in). Because daydreams of being rich don’t mean a thing if I don’t put in the work to get me there.

  23. Last month my fiancé and I were at a party and the moment I walked into the (very snazzy) house I turned and said to him: “In ten years, I’m going to buy this place.” Later that month I told him that I’d also buy him a small house in the Costa Brava. He laughed because that kind of positive thinking isn’t common here in Spain. But he knows that I’m 100% serious in my belief.

    I won’t be destroyed if neither comes to pass, but I am well aware that my writing is worth the money that it will take to buy those two properties and if I don’t think that way then I’ll never earn it.

    As a former professional organizer and coach I worked with countless people who refused to believe in their ability to change, to work hard and to succeed. In doing so, I discovered my own strength and despite having taken a 5 year detour away from my writing to walk the owning-a-small-business path, my future writing career will benefit a thousand-fold.

    Excellent post, Kris – this series should be required reading for all writers!

    (One question though, just to play devil’s advocate for a moment – how would people who have an overinflated vision of their writing fit into this series? People who don’t have the basic language/author skills down who think the book they’ve written *should* outsell King, Rowling and Patterson together? The self-doubters need a reality check that you’re delivering with a bang, but what about the people on the other end of the spectrum?)

    1. Thanks, Alex. I’ve always thought that way too. 🙂 I love dreaming big. It makes life a lot more fun–and it helps in my work. As for someone who is convinced their book should sell as well as Rowling’s (or insert fav bestseller here) and the book doesn’t sell that well, then that person will either figure out why and work to fix that or they’ll quit. That side of things takes care of itself, usually. And it’s hard to separate out yet another dream from overconfidence. So while I worry about those folks (and have written about that in the Freelancer’s Guide as well), I don’t worry as much. 🙂

  24. Hmm. You know, you bring up an interesting consequence of self-publishing I hadn’t thought of and should have as an artist who also writes: who’s going to be able to afford those fancy book cover paintings now? I remember when I was first doing research on surviving as a freelance author, the payment for a Really Good Painter for a book cover was something in the $14-20K range. As an artist, that was a good thing to aim for: it meant if I got myself properly settled and started handing in one or two of those a year I was golden. And honestly, fine art on that scale takes a lot of time and work, and I thought (and still do think) it’s worth that much.

    But now, who’s going to pay those artists that much? How are they going to get by? I suppose if I were relying on art to make a living, I’d be rescaling: much quicker work that I can charge a lot less for. But then all those beautiful giant gorgeous time-consuming paintings will become a lot rarer, and haven’t they always been some of the stuff of genre’s rich history?

    Something to think about.

    1. I’ve been worrying about the artists for a while, MCA. I hope a few post here to say how they’re coping, because I think it will make a difference. However, a lot of new artists are getting a chance who wouldn’t have one before. But I do believe that the fees for art will go down (and that’s never good for any kind of artist.)

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