Warren Buffett’s Rules For Success as a Writer

I see this list all of the time in Jimmy Johns that has Warren Buffett’s Rules for Success on it. I always thought it would be fun to modify the list for writers, and in fact, I thought I had done it here but can find no such post anywhere in the archives. So here we go. This is mostly geared for those pursuing traditional publishing success but I would imagine it’s just as helpful for indie publishing as well.

1. Reinvest Your Profits

Long gone are the days when publishers paid for everything. Particulalry in the early phases of a career you’re going to need to kick in some of your own cash to get the ball rolling. This is why I think advances are such an important benefit of traditional publishing.

2. Be Willing to Be Different

Duh. Don’t be the Next Whoever, be the first You.

3. Never Suck Your Thumb

Buffett labels unneccisarily waiting for stuff to happen as thump sucking. Publishing in an infamously slow industry so there is a lot of waiting involved. To be sucessful you need to use that waiting time productively. If you’re waiting to hear back on one book on submission, you better be working on another. If you’ve already got the deal and you’re waiting for the first book to come out, keep writing stuff to get your name out there. Write short stories, write novellas, self-publish that cool 50k word novel that was awesome but nto quite right for traditional publishing.

4. Spell Out the Deal Before You Start

Agents are very helpful for this sort of thing. But even without an agent, there is so much information out there about how to do publishing right that nobody should be stupid about being professional.

5. Watch Small Expenses

This goes back to number one sort of. As far as marketing and promotion go, we never know exactly what is going to work so pay close attention. Experiment and be willing to abandon plans that don’t seem to be panning out. This also goes for the life outside of writign. I’ve found myself being a much better writer when I’m not worrying about my finances. If you have a good day job and sound finances, then you’re not as beholden to the whims of publishing and you can write what you want to write, not what you think you have to write.

6. Limit What You Borrow

Sure this can be applied to number 5, but also don’t copy other people’s work. It’s cheating.  

7. Be Persistent

There’s a lot of rejection in this business. Some of it legitimate, some of it frustratingly inexplicable. Be honest with yourself about your chances and do what needs tobe done to make yourself better. Read a lot and write a lot.

8. Know When to Quit

If you can ever quit writing, do it. This business isn’t for everyone. I wish more people would quit. Sometimes I wish I could be one of them.

9. Assess the Risks

Traditional publishing puts very little risk on the writer. As such, it provides a more modest return on investment. Self-publishing puts almost all of the risk on the writer and provides for a higher rate on return. Know where you are in life and what you can afford to risk. The best case is to have a balanced portfolio of low risk and high risk projects.

10. Know What Success Really Means

It’s not going to be the same for everyone. You’re never going to be as sucessful as that author you dream about because you don’t know exactly what their success entails. Some people will die happy if they have just a few readers for the stories they post on their blog. Some people will never be on a bestseller list but will make a comfortable living working their asses off and hustling. Know what you want and remember that when things get crazy.