I usually don’t blog, but so much has happened in the past quarter, and even just the past month, that I felt compelled to blog. Finally, I can see the fruits of my labor starting to sprout forth, and it no doubt correlates to the recent life changes as I’ve planned to change my passion for writing from hobby to full-time career (in time). This blog post is going to focus on five things you can do to elevate your career. And while this blog post specifically focuses on my author business, there are takeaways that you can apply in your own life as well.
1) Adopt the Right Mindset
First and foremost, I think the most important part of elevating any career is mindset. If you treat something like a hobby, that is all that it is ever going to be. Writers who wait for inspiration to come to them are waiters, not writers. If you’re going to be successful in anything, it is crucial that you put in the work to become successful. Nonfiction Author, Malcolm Gladwell, calls this idea the “10,000 Rule.” Another author, Steven Pressfield calls this idea “Turning Pro.” A body builder named Greg Doucette calls this idea “Going Harder Than Last Time.” The foundation to any of these ideas, though, is that you put in the work required to see the results.
Too much in society today do we see people wanting the “easy way out.” They want a pill to lose weight instead of dieting. They go to the gym to socialize instead of sweat. They feel some sort of entitlement. Why? I do not know. But it irritates the heck out of me when I see other English teachers in China complaining about office hours. It is your career, is it not? You are being paid to work, are you not? And that means putting in the time. What world do people think they live in where they can get paid for doing nothing? Unless if you are living off pension benefits like my mother and father who have already put in their 35+ years of work, you should get used to putting in the work, going to the office, sitting your butt in that chair and typing.
Now to help with this idea of putting in the work, you should figure out what your bare minimum is. What do you need to accomplish in a day to make it feel like a success in your eyes? I cannot give you that answer. It’s something you’ll have to find for yourself, but you should start small and build. Give yourself manageable goals so that you can easily succeed and then continue to improve as weeks go by.
For example, I always strive to edit or write 1000-2000 words a day. I do this because of what is called the “compounding effect.” Little things, done continuously, over a long period will create a big result. That is why investors always suggest you begin a financial plan early on in life, so that money compounds interest upon itself. (see image below.)
And that is also why I recommend setting a minimalist goal for yourself in the beginning of any shift in mindset. If you’re a writer, perhaps that is to write 500 words a day. For me that is a task I can accomplish easily within 30 minutes. Do you have thirty minutes? An hour? If you want to Turn Pro, or Go Harder Than Last Time, you do. And when you make time to accomplish that goal over the course of a year you will have 180000 words. Another way of putting it: you’ll have a novel.
2) Start Networking Seriously
Now that you’ve adopted the appropriate mindset, you will need support to elevate your career in whatever industry you’re in. We need support because it helps keep us accountable, and it also helps prevent burnout. It helps build creativity by having another person to bounce ideas from or to weight lift with in order to prevent injury. In essence, networking is like building a buddy system, and what we can accomplish through synergy is much more effective than anything someone can accomplish by him or herself.
This past quarter I have been doing lots of networking. I met a fellow fantasy author in Shanghai who is super talented, and someone who I have great respect for and hope to be as successful someday. His name is Alec Hutson, and he is the author of The Raveling series, which is a great fantasy book series I recommend. Check out his website here. Since meeting him, though, I have bounced countless ideas off of him and he’s been very helpful in giving me suggestions for podcasts to listen to, cover help, and just ideas about marketing successfully in general. Furthermore, I recently attended a Writer’s Workshop in Shanghai where I gave a presentation about crafting better dialogue. You can find the video below. I didn’t have to present at this conference, but I did because I wanted to adopt that mindset that I am an author and my advice is valuable.
In attending this event, I met other writers around the area who I connected with. One of them even introduced me to an amazing graphic designer who I have hired out to do all the book covers in my series.
3) Brand Yourself
This brings me to my third point about elevating your career: branding. Who are you? Who do you want to be known as? This is something I struggled with continuously, and something that, again, I’ve only come to realize within the past twelve months. If you want to find out more about who I am, visit my about page. You’ll see a video there.
In general, though, I want to be an author who inspires others. Cliché right? I know. But, what if I said, I want to be an author who inspires others to find themselves through adversity? A little more specific, right? And, as I thought about how to specify my author brand, I took a look at the main theme in my series, The Guardian of the Core. That main theme is overcoming adversity and finding out who we are in the process of doing that. The first novel, after all, is called The Trials of the Core. In essence, it means the adversity we face within ourselves, because we are our own limitations. To brand this idea of adversity into my newsletters I started including a segment called The Trials we Face. Each month I feature a different person’s story that they want to share regarding a specific trial that they overcame and what they learned from that moment of adversity and what piece of advice they can give to others who may be going through the same thing. If you want to be included in these series of newsletters, sign up here.
Another part of branding goes into being consistent with that message. If you’ve ever watched Greg Doucette’s videos on YouTube, he is known as the angry Iago fitness influencer. Not only does he sound like the parrot from Aladdin, but he also yells… a lot. But it’s entertaining. Any successful book series will have that series branded successfully, and this is one of the things that I wish I could have told my younger self earlier on in my career. To explain what I mean by that, I’ll let you look at the progression of my covers for the same exact novel that I now just recently got right.
The first cover was done in 2013. I had the original concept for it then, and I wanted to feature the wax seal that is prominent throughout the course of the book. It is a nice-looking cover but there are some flaws with it. First, what is the title? If you’re like most people, you will have said “Guardian of the Core” because it is the largest piece of font. The actual title, though, is The Trials of the Core. The previous title is the name of the series. Next, my name is rather hard to see. And while the colors pop, the wax seal doesn’t look to be as embossed as it could be.
Fast forward a few years and I decided to try out a “character” cover instead of an “object” cover. I paid someone on Fiverr to put the three main characters, along with the Guardian, on the front cover and in the most dangerous of the Trials they face, a death race through a volcanic field and up a volcano. Now, what is the problem with this cover? Well, the title is finally apparent which is good. My name is visible. But the characters seem just like copy and pasted images. They don’t feel alive to me. Also, because I have now shown the characters, it ruins any perception of the character in the mind of the reader.
Finally, I met my current graphic designer who is amazing. I wanted to revisit my first idea but rebrand it, so I had her take the first cover and fix all the issues that I had with it. What do you notice? Well, I hope you notice the title is actually the title it should be now. There is no second guessing. We know that it is “book 1” of the series Guardian of the Core. Finally, the wax seal actually looks embossed. It doesn’t look perfect—there are cracks in it—and this makes it feel more real. Also, there are lines going diagonally from it, showing that this is the back of the crimson envelope that each of the characters receives throughout the course of the novel. In essence, I am asking you, the readers, to open up the book and experience the Trials along with the contestants and that is why the prologue opens the way it does with a letter addressed to the contestants. Moreover, this cover has a little edge to it, doesn’t it? The font is much sharper, showing there will be some adversity.
This is what I mean by successful branding. In any career that you do, you will need to establish yourself in your field and brand yourself.
4) Have a Plan / Stay Consistent
The fourth thing I think that is necessary for us to elevate our careers is this idea of a plan. Do you have one? Moreover, is that plan composed of short-term goals or long-term goals? If you are going to be successful, there should be a mixture of both.
In January this year I made a quarterly plan. This is the first time I have ever done such a thing in my eight years as an author and let me tell you that is has made quite a bit of difference. This, mixed with shifting our mindset to becoming a professional and putting in the work, this is where the results will be made. If you don’t have a plan, then while you may be putting in the work, you may not get the results. Look at it this way. Let’s say your goal is to get abs, right? So you go to the gym every day to work out, or you increase your workout frequency in some way in order to get those results. However, you fail to change your diet. By not having a diet plan to supplement that work ethic, you are going to drastically reduce those results. Abs, after all, are made in the kitchen.
Same for my writing. My goal for 2021 is to be mostly a set-up year for 2022. I want to absorb all the knowledge and information that I can so that I can really start to bang out my series and subsequent series after it come year 2022 and further down the line. In five years, I am hoping to have a sustainable author career where I could choose to do it full time if I wanted to. To make that dream a reality, though, I need books to sell. Products. As you can see from the image below, I made a timeline for myself for the current year.
As you can see, it is nothing too crazy. I could still probably work on it more, but for me, at least it’s a start. It’s a timeline. Within the plan I included deadlines to finish revisions on certain books and when to get feedback on those revisions and then how long to take a look at the edits again. When formulating this plan I had a goal of publishing two books this year, and I can tell you that I am currently on the right trajectory for doing that. That is because I have a plan.
When you think about advancing your career or your passion, think about a plan. If you’re a dancer, for example, perhaps your plan is to learn a new move each month during the first week, and then the subsequent weeks you are going to master that move so that you can weave it into other moves the following months. Then what matters is your ability to stay consistently focused to achieve that goal.
5) Know Your Priorities
Finally, I cannot conclude talking about elevating one’s career without mentioning the idea of prioritizing. In reality, this also falls within the idea of mindset, but it’s more specific than that. Mindset is showing up to the job, putting in the work, and investing the time, money, and effort to produce the required result. Priorities, on the other hand, are what you are called first to do. If you have the right mindset, then the area which you are trying to grow will receive more priorities than your other areas.
For example, bodybuilders who want to focus on their legs more may train legs twice a week. Me, I want to focus on my back more, so I make sure that I give my back more exercises than my arms, which are already very well developed.
Priorities also means saying no to certain things. If you are trying to lose weight, you should probably avoid drinking your calories or going to buffets.
My priorities in my life right now are a mix of spiritual, physical, educational, and professional. I want to obtain a closer relationship with God, so I put him first every single day by reading a little in the Bible. I know my physical health should also not suffer, because if it does it will hamper all of my other areas, so I make sure to do a 10-20 minute ab routine first thing in the morning before breakfast and then 4-5 days of intense exercise later on during the day. My professional career is important to me. As I said before, I want to become a writer, so I make sure that I get my 1000-2000 words typed in the morning anywhere between 8-12 p.m. That is because I am more productive in the morning; others aren’t. Find what works best for you and experiment with different times until you figure out what your peak hours are. Then, make it a consistent habit, make it a plan to achieve your goals during this allotted window. Having successfully completed my word count for the day, I can focus on my educational career—my master’s program. This usually means doing homework or watching an online video lecture anywhere between 1–4 p.m. I do this during breaks where I do not have to teach.
By knowing your priorities, you will understand which things beg your attention and the other things you can ignore. For example, I used to think I needed to blog weekly. I never succeeded. That is because I didn’t like it. And, as I researched more authors in my field like Alec, I found out they don’t blog. This went against everything I had ever known, but it is quite simple: priorities.
Part of that long-term goal is to have more books published, so I make sure I prioritize writing my next novel rather than writing my next blog post. That is why I only post once every few months. Why many authors post once every few months unless if they have other contributors to their blog.
By having these five things in place, I guarantee you that you will see elevated results in whatever you put your mind to. It would be impossible not to, assuming, again, that you follow these five guidelines and incorporate them into your life in a way that is sustainable. Don’t crash diet and lose a bunch of weight just to gain it all back again. That isn’t healthy. Don’t write so much that you burn out. Don’t exercise so hard that you have an injury. Go Harder Than Last Time, yes, but make sure, at the end of the day, you are smart about it. Rest and recovery days are just as important as the days we are putting in the effort.
With that being said, are you elevating your career? Which of these five areas do you need to work on the most? Leave comments below!