The other day I was talking about an article about Hugh Howey, and Jim Self mentioned how nice Howey's humility was. And it was nice, because Howey freely cops to not really having anything to do with Wool taking off--it just did, so he did his best to encourage it. It actually kind of annoys him because he put much more effort into promoting his other books, and the one novella he didn't promote got all the love.

The reason that was so nice to read is that there's a lot of advice out there, and sometimes you wind up dealing with people who feel their success means that they know what's best for everybody. And many writers really want that--they want someone with all the answers, who can look at their book and give them some simple plan that will magically guarantee bestsellerdom.

With someone like John Locke, it goes even further, and you get sold a book with a simple plan that will magically guarantee bestsellerdom (although he left out some bits). Or maybe the person wants to sell you some services to enact this simple plan that will magically guarantee bestsellerdom. Or maybe they want you to buy those services from their cousin (who is certainly not kicking back a piece of the action).

And you'd be a fool not to pay for that, right? I mean, after all, this person sold a bazillion copies, and who are you? It's a simple plan, and it magically guarantees bestsellerdom--what's not to like?

I would point out two things:

Thing #1: It has, alas, never been uncommon in the world of publishing for people to realize that there are a lot of folks out there who dream of becoming a bestseling writer, and that all those people sure do have a lot of money floating around in their pockets. The fact that a person may have a legitimate and lucrative business (as an agent, a publisher, or yes, even as a bestselling writer) doesn't mean that they're necessarily inclined to let all that lovely money go.

Thing #2: Nobody can ever EVER EVER predict what books will become bestsellers! NOBODY!!! NOBODY can MAKE a book into a bestseller--EVER. The streets of publishing are littered with the corpses of executives who thought that they could. If God himself appeared in the sky in his fiery glory and said to me, "Mary Sisson, I can guarantee that your next book will be a bestseller," I would laugh and laugh, and then feel really bad that so many people believed in this guy for so long. Overpromising is the mark of a scammer.

The "I sold all these books!" card is actually not all that rare these days. It's really wonderful that so many people have been able to make self-publishing work for them, but if you dig down and try to find the "secret" to their success, you will find:

Some think you should offer free books, and some think you shouldn't.

Some think you should offer 99-cent books, and some think you shouldn't.

Some think you should advertise, and some think you shouldn't.

Some think you should use KDP Select, and some think you shouldn't.

Some think you should have your book available everywhere, and some think you shouldn't.

Some think you should be open to traditional-publishing deals, and some think you shouldn't.

Some think you should do giveaways and prizes, and some think you shouldn't.

Some think you should use social media, and some think you shouldn't.

Some think you should blog, and some think you shouldn't.

What do they have in common? All those people can point to their copious sales and say, "I'm an expert." It's the story of the blind men and the elephant.

Although it can be hard to remember this, it's actually a very good thing that there are several possible paths to success in self-publishing, instead of just one. It reminds me of the best advice I've ever seen regarding exercise: What is the very best, very healthiest exercise possible, the one that will get you the most fit? The exercise you actually do. If it works on paper and doesn't work for you, it doesn't work.

I mentioned before that I like Lindsay Buroker's approach. But I should also mention that I don't try to be her. Lindsay hires out just about everything. I hire out almost nothing! She likes to focus on her writing, and indeed her success is probably in no small part due to her copious output. I've already spent years experiencing the joys of writing seven fucking days a week, and it makes me happier to finally figure out why none of my mix tapes ever came out right.

With Buroker, 1. if it makes her want to hang herself, she doesn't do it, and 2. she's willing to try different things. I think those two elements are common to the vast majority of writers who have found success self-publishing. The willingness to explore, to find one's own path, to keep experimenting is really crucial.

It's also a lot harder to do than glomming onto someone's simple plan that will magically guarantee bestsellerdom. It's easy to be a child and get led by the hand. It's harder to be an adult.