10,000 Hours

I'm blog hopping these days, reading and reading more, trying to sort out the way of the future.  I read a quote recently from J.A. Konrath's blog.  He was talking about what works in promoting ebooks and number five was this:

" Practice makes Perfect:  I'm currently reading a book that was recommended to me by my buddy Henry Perez, called Outliers: The Story of Success. It mentions the 10,000 Hour Rule. In short, no one becomes an expert at something without having invested 10,000 hours in it."  Outliers:  The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell

Of course, this stopped me as I calculated how many hours I've worked at this writing thing to see if I'd hit the 10,000 hour mark.  I figured I had because I've been writing for over twenty years, but there is nothing like math to do the convincing.  I'll wait while you do the same.  (Insert Jeopardy music here).

Several days later, Joe posted a guest post by Stephen Leather.  Here's another quote that stopped me:
"But there is one cold hard fact that I don’t seem to see anywhere on the blogs and forums devoted to ePublishing. You probably won’t like hearing it, especially if you are one of the new wave of “Indie” writers. But I’m going to say it anyway. Here goes. The vast majority of self-published eBooks are bad. Worse than bad. Awful. There, I’ve said it.

By “bad” I don’t just been badly formatted or lacking originality. I mean badly written. Bad punctuation. Clichéd descriptions. Clunky dialogue. And here’s the thing. When I hear “Indie” writers talking about their books, all they seem to talk about is how they go about marketing their work. How they blog, how they work their Facebook contacts, how they post on the forums. I never hear them talking about how they want to improve their craft. For most of the ones I come across it’s all about the selling. I get emails all the time from “Indie” writers asking me what the secret is to selling a lot of eBooks. I don’t get any asking how they can become better writers."

Of course, when I calculated my 10,000 hours, I only used my writing time.  How many hours did it take to produce this manuscript and that manuscript?  I failed to consider that educating myself to become a selling author included:  reading in my genre, writing and more writing and tossing those manuscripts in the drawer and writing more, belonging to a critique group and reviewing other people's work, learning to be professional in the face of criticism, workshops and more workshops, researching the market and understanding what's selling, learning to write a query and a synopsis, actually submitting and resubmitting, understanding the rejection letter, celebrating the sell, and understanding the edits/galley process.  All these things go together to build that 10,000 hour education and those hours make you an expert - give you an understanding of the opportunities out there to put your stories in front of readers.  (You notice I didn't include any author platform building?  I didn't consider that part of the 10,000 hour expert idea.)

Randy Ingermanson (if you don't get his newsletter - ummm, why?)  has always said that the best way to promote your work is to continue to improve your craft.  Craft meaning all the things listed above.  I believe that continuing to learn, to try new things, to read news books, take different workshops - even once you've hit that 10,000 hours - is critical.  I'm a great deal more selective now than I used to be, but once a month I research all the writer education sites to see if there is something that would benefit me.

Why would a writer do that after 10,000 hours has made you an expert?  Because continuing to hone your craft makes you a better storyteller and being a great storyteller attracts loyal readers - for years into the future, not just today.  I never want to get to the point where I take my readers for granted, where I rest on what I know, because in this business, there is always something to learn.  Do the hard work today, take the time to assess your 10,000 hour education and see how that could be expanded and improved.  Your readers will love you for it.

[Originally published on Happy Endings, May, 2011]

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