Business Musings: Expect Success
I’ve been doing a series on licensing for writers, which is subtitled “Rethinking the Writing Business.” Normally, I would put this particular blog as Part 8 of the series, but I’m afraid that would prevent a number of people from reading the post. And I think all writers need to read this blog post, whether they’ve read the previous licensing posts or not.
Initially, I got the idea for this post last year, when I was reading Emilio Estefan’s book, The Rhythm of Success. (Please note I use Amazon links, not for any particular political reason, but because I’m lazy.) You might know of Emilio Estefan as a member of Miami Sound Machine or Gloria Estefan’s husband. But he’s an international businessman whose work crosses a number of industries, from the restaurant industry to the hotel industry to the music industry to the television industry. He moved to the U.S. with no money and is now worth at least $500 million. (That number has remained the same since 2015, which tells me that the sites that compile celebrity net worth can’t penetrate all of his businesses to see exactly how much he’s worth. I’m not even bothering with a link. Google it yourself.)
His entire book, written in 2010, focuses on his personal life with an eye toward the attitudes that made him successful.
Those attitudes were the key. No matter who tried to stop him, he barreled forward, making sure that he achieved whatever goal he set his mind to.
For his entire life, he has expected success. Because he works toward it.
Hearing that, most people think: Well, that’s because he’s Emilio Estefan, not realizing that he was not always a rich and powerful man who had connections. The front part of his book deals with all the choices he made when he didn’t have connections—when making those choices was risky and difficult and quite scary.
I’ve been thinking a lot about him and his book since we started down this path on the licensing business. I’ve been blogging about licensing for weeks now, and what surprises me the most is the response from readers.
Most of them, either privately or in the comments, will make a statement like this: Well, I’m not famous enough yet… or…I’m not successful enough yet…or…no one knows my books yet… whenever they’re confronted with the idea of licensing something.
Some have told me that they don’t even want to learn this entire new field until they’re ready.
Which is, frankly, insane. Because when you take the story you’ve created (not the manuscript, not the idea, the story. See my blog post on this), and put it into a form that consumers can access, you have licensed that story. The form might be a YouTube video. The form might be a radio play, reproduced on your own website. The form might be an ebook that you’ve uploaded to the various ebook retailers.
The point is, once you’ve chosen that form, and figured out how to make that form public, you have signed some kind of license.
So you need to learn licensing right now. Along with copyright. (And here it is, longtime blog readers, that exhortation I make every time I mention copyright: Buy the damn Copyright Handbook and learn it. I have a short post on what you need to know, but the post is woefully inadequate. Learn this stuff.)
You have a lot of choice about what you’re going to do with that story. It doesn’t have to be a book. At dinner tonight, Dean and I were discussing the various ways a product can be licensed first. It doesn’t have to be a book first. And I brought up projects that existed before the disruption in the publishing industry, things that went in a different direction.
We’re watching one right now: Veronica Mars, Season 4. I backed the Kickstarter years ago. I’m a big Veronica Mars fan, and now that it’s streaming on Hulu, we’re both watching.
I was aware that Rob Thomas, the creator of Veronica Mars, was, in an earlier incarnation, a young adult novelist. Before the TV shows. He moved to TV, and when he created Veronica Mars, he could have gone back to books. But he didn’t. He created it as a TV show, partly because he’d get more eyeballs that way, and partly because he had connections in TV.
He hadn’t been that successful as a YA author, so he found a different way to tell stories. Then he ended up billed as the co-author of two Veronica Mars novels after the movie. I doubt he wrote them, although he definitely had a hand in the storyline, because it’s canon.
You have choices. And you can choose to market your story to whatever possible licensee you want—at any stage of your career. You don’t have to be George R.R. Martin to license your work to HBO. Nor do you need to be J.K. Rowling to have a pretty t-shirt made of your most popular character (even if that character is only popular with five readers).
You just have to try. And stop making excuses.
I’ve heard a thousand excuses, even before we started doing licensing. The excuses are always about why writers won’t try something.
Oh, a writer will tell me, I can’t write into the dark like you do, because I’m not as good a writer.
(Gee, I rarely respond to them, if you keep rewriting yourself to death, you’ll never be as good a writer as I am.)
Oh, a writer will tell me, I need an agent to sell my work because I’m not as connected (or as business savvy or as famous) as you are. (Pick your excuse here, because there’s a lot of variations on that one.)
(Just an excuse not to learn business, I rarely respond to them. Another way to guarantee failure.)
Oh, a writer will tell me, I’m not going to be able to license anything now, because my work isn’t selling very well.
(Just an excuse not to try, I rarely respond to them. Another way to guarantee failure.)
Because, you see, those excuses piss me off. Can you tell? If Rob Thomas had made that excuse, he never would have created Veronica Mars. He wasn’t doing well as a young adult novelist. When he moved to TV, the first few seasons of Veronica Mars got terrible ratings and was only kept alive by fans. But the show keeps returning, because of the fans, and because he’s willing to try. Veronica Mars became the first fan-funded studio film via Kickstarter (there have been more since) with 90,000 fans raising $6 million in 2013.
As the excuses kept piling up, what kept going through my head was the entire point of Emilio Estefan’s book. In that book, he’s trying to get readers to believe in themselves enough to take big risks, as he did.
In the middle of a chapter titled “Expect Resistance and Prepare Yourself For It,” he writes that whenever you propose something new, be it a new song or a new kind of windshield wiper fluid, someone will try to discourage you or stand in your way. He writes,
Just so you don’t get easily discouraged or have the wrong kind of expectations, accept the fact that you will almost always encounter resistance of one kind or another. [The Rhythm of Success, Emilio Estefan, Celebra trade paper edition, 2011, p. 108]
Most people, when they encounter any kind of resistance, quit. That’s it. Writers, it seems to me, quit before they encounter resistance. Because writers have such large imaginations, they imagine the reasons for rejection and use those as an excuse not to even try.
Estefan deals with that in the book. He writes,
There are always going to be two forces at work: the internal and the external….The external forces are much harder to control, so let’s look first at you, the internal force. The place to begin is with self-assurance. Your belief in your great idea and your dreams has to be rock solid. [The Rhythm of Success, Emilio Estefan, Celebra trade paper edition, 2011, p. 108]
I quoted this when I was discussing the book last year, because this idea is so important. The only way you can have a career in a creative field is to believe in yourself—or to act like someone who believes in themselves. Don’t give up before you even try. Don’t wait until “the time is right,” because it will never be right. And don’t give up on something because no one expresses interest. Of course they’re not going to be interested in you. They know nothing about you, even if you’re “famous.” At that point, they don’t want something new from you. They want what you did before, only better. They’re not going to get that, and you shouldn’t try to give them that.
Estefan writes that his message is “don’t be negative or don’t allow others to be negative.”
The writers who’ve been telling me that they can’t do the licensing are being negative. Even the writers who say they’re excited about the licensing possibilities are saying they’re going to wait until their career is “ready” or until they “have the time” or until their “book takes off.” Well, that’s a forever wait.
Here’s one of the many things Estefan says about this:
Entrepreneurial people are game changers. We are people who feel an irrepressible need to develop new ideas. We need to create. We’re original. We’re innovative. Well, we’re swimming against the current when we start out, because so many times investors, or even just people we float our ideas by, think that the tried and true is the only way to go….The predictable often doesn’t work either, maybe for the obvious reason that it’s already on the market….If you treat being different as the positive force that it really is, then you can go places. [The Rhythm of Success, Emilio Estefan, Celebra trade paper edition, 2011, p. 109]
What this really boils down to is rejection. Writers expect rejection. We’re taught that it will happen. But business people get rejected too. It doesn’t matter how many times you get a “no” on an idea or a project that your proposing (be it a licensed product or something else). What matters is that one yes. Just one. That’s all you need.
But it might take years to get there.
Writers want it now. (Hell, everyone wants it now.) And they don’t want to work at it. For some reason, writers think writing one book is work. Writing one book is a beginning. Having a career is a series of failures or unrealized visions mixed with a handful of yes’s that end up becoming (from the outside) a string of successes.
The people whose names you know, the people who have long-term writing careers, the people who run a lot of businesses or succeed at something hard—those people are people who don’t take no for an answer.
More than that, they’re people who try new and innovative things.
So I’m spending the summer blogging about changing the writing business from a book-publishing business to a large licensing business. A lot of you are reading this series with great interest, but most of you see it as a down-the-road thing.
Only a handful of you are jumping in right now, with both feet, “ready” or not. To you all, I say kudos. You’re great and smart and are learning by doing. You’re taking risks.
You’re putting yourself in the position to succeed. And not just on a small scale. On a very large one.
The rest of you are giving up on yourselves and your work. I have to say this: giving up without trying is a hell of a lot easier than putting yourself out there.
You will fail because you have guaranteed failure because you’re not even trying.
You’re coming up with a lot of excuses, probably because the idea of taking a risk with something new, something without a prescribed path, scares the hell out of you.
I get that.
I also know that being scared is part of owning a business. There’s no guarantee of success. No guarantee of continued success. No guarantee that if you do A,B, and C, you’ll be as rich as Nora Roberts or as famous as Stephen King. So what?
Be your own writer. Be your own business owner. Be someone who tries, and eventually you will succeed.
Stop making excuses.
The only path to success is a path of risk-taking and failure. Instead of fearing that failure, learn from it. Try again. Try smarter. Eventually those risks will pay off. That failure will help you carve the path you need to walk. Failure will teach you how to be better and stronger, and prepare you for the difficulties of success.
Because there are a lot of difficult elements to success, things you can’t plan for until you’re there.
Most of you won’t get there, if your comments to me are any indication. Because you’re all searching for reasons not to try.
I’m going back to blogging about licensing specific stuff in the next post. If you’re having trouble seeing all the possibilities of licensing as something for your writing business, maybe you should print up this blog and reread it. Maybe you should pick up Estefan’s book and underline every paragraph toward the end of every chapter, where he explains the lessons he learned from his (usually negative) life experience. Maybe you should ask yourself why you’re so afraid to try.
Maybe you should ask yourself what terrifies you the most about the possibility of success.
Expect success. And then work for it. Each and every day.
At the WMG Publishing Online Lectures, we’ve started a series on the things that hold writers back. From craft through business, the lecture series covers just about every roadblock we could think of. You can see those at Teachable.com.
We are also doing a lot of work on licensing and revamping our own business. Dean is chronicling it in a course we call Licensing Transition: A Year-Long Journey From IP To License, which you can join on Teachable.com.
Speaking of licensing, we will also have a representative from the Global Licensing Group which puts on the licensing expos around the world at our Business Master Class in October. There are only a few slots left. We cap the class at 50.
I, of course, will continue to deal with licensing on this site and on my Patreon page. I’m more in-depth on Patreon, because I do smaller blogs along the way. I will occasionally pause to look at the news or to see if there’s something else I should be examining. Or to take a wider view as I did here.
If you feel like supporting the blog on an on-going basis, then please head to my Patreon page.
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“Business Musings: Expect Success,” copyright © 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog © Can Stock Photo / andrewgenn.