The Shortcut Only Works When You’re The First to Find It

A thing I’ve been thinking about this week.

It’s tempting to say there are no shortcuts to becoming a published writer. The default published writers tend to give is simple: write a lot, keep improving your craft, submit a lot, keep going. This is how many of us got our start, and its how many of us keep our careers going, year after year.

It’s tempting to say there are no shortcuts, but it isn’t exactly true. Every now and then people do find a work-around to the old ways of getting published. They wrote a novel and published it to their blog, only to have it picked up by a publisher. They launched their backlist as ebooks after years of being rejected, and suddenly they had a massive career.

There are people who fanfic on Wattpad that got picked up, or they cultivated a project on social media, or they podcasted their story, or they did an early iteration of crowd-funding. There are dozens of stories about people who found their way around traditional publishing’s gatekeepers, and those stories tend to get repeated in every news article or review that springs up around their work.

None of these things are necessarily shortcuts, as they still require work and effort. They just took a different path to publishing, because publishing likes it when authors show up who can write, possess and audience, and come with a ready-made marketing hook. These people get talked about because their path into traditional publishing were exceptions to the rule. They are news because they remarkable, usually because they’re the early adopters who took a chance just to see what would happen.

The first person to capture an audience by blogging their novel was doing something unique; the hundredth person to do it will find that the shortcut was only faster because it was so rarely used. The thousandth person is basically throwing a penny into a wishing well and hoping it pays off. We’ve seen this trick before, and unless you’re doing it better, it’s not going to be the same.

Even if you possess the same level of skill and talent, it’s almost impossible to recreate that success by taking the same path the trailblazer followed. The more a path gets used, the greater the diminishing returns for the work put in.

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