With 2018 officially closed, I’ve analyzed what worked last year in my writing business – and what most decidedly failed. From that review, I’ve learned six writing lessons.

Although I could keep this information all to myself, I want to be transparent with you for two reasons:

First, no writer will ever truly “arrive” – there will always be new things to learn and writing that can be improved. I want you to realize that I’m writing alongside you, not above you.

Second, I’m hopeful that by sharing my insights, you will also benefit from the information. My goal has been and will continue to be to help writers succeed, not just in writing a book but in every area of their business. Make no doubt about it: If you’re writing a book that you want to sell to the public, you’re running a business.

6 Writing Lessons I Learned in 2018

#1 Always Market Your Work

Just because people say they will read/buy your book or hire you as a writer, doesn’t mean that they actually will.  After two years in a row of co-authoring autobiographies, I assumed that the positive conversations I’d been having with potential clients at the close of 2017 would turn into signed clients in early 2018 and that my existing clients would be referring my business left and right. So, I stopped actively marketing myself.

After laboring over a book proposal and driving two hours to personally present it, I was thrilled with how the meeting ended. “This proposal is perfect! I’m very impressed with what you have to offer,” the potential client stated. However, the following week I learned that after much deliberation, he decided to go with the writer who was fluent in his native language – a qualification that hadn’t been mentioned.

Another project would have been documenting the experiences of a European WWII survivor. If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, then you know that I love history, particularly anything related to WWII or the Civil War era. I was excited about the opportunity and spoke at length with the woman’s son, who was ready to sign the contract. However, when he mentioned it to his sister, she reminded him of the author who had written their grandfather’s story. Guess who got that contract?

Similar situations arose throughout the year. Was it humbling? Absolutely. But it served as a great lesson that I shouldn’t assume anything until a contract is signed or books are purchased. I must constantly market my work.

#2 Focus on Your Writing

We’ve all seen them: those incredibly successful writers who are superheroes of the craft. Not only do they write best-selling books, but they also travel on book tours, maintain a blog, build and sell courses, and more.

Over the past five years, I’ve tried to do it all, too. But I’ve failed miserably. Why? Because I had it backward. Most of the writing gurus focused first on their writing and then built a following around their books and blogs before advancing to the other opportunities.

Since I’ve worked in the indie book publishing industry for more than twenty years and have edited hundreds of books, I assumed people would want to learn from me. But what I only came to discover this year – particularly though one harsh email – is that writers want to learn from successful writers.

Even though I’ve written and self-published The One-Year Collection of Weekly Writing Prompts: Write Your Life Story, One Question at a Time and co-authored or ghostwritten numerous personal biographies, I’ve never attained best-selling status. I’ve never been featured as an expert writer on nationally syndicated television or radio programs, nor have I had bylines in major publications.

My goal this year, therefore, is to focus primarily on my writing and see where it takes me.

#3 Don’t Let Critical People Stop You from Writing

Sometimes the people closest to you are the greatest detractors from your work. We want their support and approval so when they say negative things about us and our writing, it can cause us to doubt ourselves and put down the pen.

It was only after much introspection about what I really wanted and needed to do with my writing that I began to believe in myself again. Knowing that I was using the gift God has given me and recognizing that I am truly helping others has enabled me to start writing again.

#4 Go Where Your Readers/Clients Are

Since I began my business, I assumed that the majority of my potential clients would be on Facebook and Twitter, with a few in LinkedIn. What I recently learned, however, is that my ideal biography clients rarely, if ever, use any of those online platforms.

In addition, even though a plethora of potential book coaching clients do use those social media sites, it’s doubtful that they see my posts and ads due to ever-changing algorithms and my miniscule advertising budget. And those who actually do discover my posts/ads for the first time are rarely willing to invest with me immediately because trust is missing; they don’t yet know me or the quality of my work.

Alternatively, I realized that the things that were helping me reaching my target market were my public speaking engagements and good old-fashioned, face-to-face networking.

Does this mean that I’m going to shut down my social media accounts and go completely old school? Not at all. Social media is great for live videos, participating in writing groups, and sharing what’s going on in my life. It enables my followers to get to know me a little bit better.

Balance is key, I think. This year, expect to see a few more live videos, along with more opportunities to meet me in person at presentations, community events, and hopefully a writing conference or two.

#5 Acquire Reliable Internet Access

At the beginning of year, I believed that I could successfully operate my business without Wi-Fi at home. The reasons behind not having Wi-Fi throughout the entirety of 2018 are complicated and not worth delving into here. Ever the optimist, however, I believed that I could nevertheless grow my business in an hour a day at public Wi-Fi spots such as coffee houses and libraries.

What I didn’t count on were productivity blockers such as interrupted Wi-Fi signals, loud coffee machines and toddler story hours, limited (or nonexistent) power outlets, and no privacy for video chats or live videos.

In addition, it was always at night or first thing in the morning that my ideas took shape for what I wanted to post and write about. Although I tried to write as much in advance at home before the next day’s one-hour opportunity of posting, I never got very far because I wasn’t able to fact check or conduct necessary research.

Although I didn’t necessarily lose business because I didn’t have Wi-Fi at home, I will say that my business stagnated. Without regularly posting to my blog and connecting with my followers and potential clients on social media and through email, I wasn’t able to help them or myself.

#6 Be Prepared for the Unexpected

In September, Hurricane Florence made landfall where I live. When my family decided to evacuate, I was suddenly faced with the decision of what to take and what to leave behind. I quickly packed up my laptop along with my monthly planner, current working notebooks, copies of my clients’ books, and business receipts for the year.

In addition, I took photos of my workspace and noted the models of my other equipment for insurance purposes. All of my remaining files and paperwork I placed into garbage bags and placed them inside middle drawers so they hopefully wouldn’t get soaked on top of my desk from a leaking roof or saturated on the floor in rising flood waters.

Thankfully, we returned to a mostly intact home. Although we experienced some water damage in two rooms of the house, we were blessed to have a home we could still live in as repairs were being done.

Even though you may not live in a hurricane zone, natural disasters can occur anywhere. At the very least, maintain frequent backups of your work on the cloud and on flash drives.

A Challenge to You

The aforementioned lessons are by no means an exhaustive list of all that I learned this year, but they are among the most important. As we usher in a new year, I challenge you to join me as I implement my plan of writing more.

In the comments, share what you learned as a writer in 2018 and your goals for the new year.

Want to become a more productive writer? Get my 10 Productive Writing Tips.