I talk a lot about differences in the writing process and the way every writer thinks differently and therefore has to work differently. All those differences apply to a lot more than the writing process, though, and it is just as destructive when folks don’t understand that.
Take the heady days following the publication of one’s novel. A sizeable number of writers seem to become obsessed with numbers for those first few week. They check their Amazon rankings and Bookscan numbers. They pester their editors for orders-shipped figures and their local booksellers for sales numbers. They do complicated mathematical extrapolations that they would never have considered even thinking about two weeks earlier.
The obsession doesn’t go away even after they’ve become relatively successful; they just start checking whether they’re number seven or eight on the bestseller lists (and trying to decide whether number seven on the New York Times bestseller list is better than number five on the Washington Post bestseller list), or comparing how long their new book stayed in the number X spot compared to their last one, or to some other writer’s.
There’s nothing really wrong with this (unless the writer is one of those who goes a little crazy trying to process all this data), but it’s not obligatory, either. I mean, once the book hits the shelves, there really isn’t much the writer can do to influence those numbers directly, but if they like looking at them, why not? The trouble comes when people who don’t really care about this stuff start feeling as if there’s something wrong with them because they feel no particular urge to look at their numbers every hour or so.
Similarly, there are different approaches to managing one’s career – and advocates of each sometimes get passionate about their preferences. For instance, there’s the take-the-money-and-run school of thought (which includes most of the agents I know) that advocates pushing for the largest advance one can possibly talk one’s editor into, on the theory that a) a known advance means a predictable (and to some extent controllable) income stream and b) a publisher who hands out a large advance is more likely to work hard at distributing and promoting the book than one who’s only given out four figures ahead of publication.
At the other end of the spectrum are the folks who advocate taking a tiny advance (ideally in exchange for a better royalty rate), on the theory that this spreads the writer’s income out over time (resulting in lower taxes) and avoids the problem faced by writers who got such huge advances on their last book that it couldn’t meet expectations, and now no one will make an offer on their new one.
Again, neither choice is generally wrong…and either choice may be wrong for a particular writer, given that particular writer’s financial circumstances and production rate.
In the same way, some writers choose to focus on trying to establish a series or on settling into a particular market niche, while others focus on spreading out into as many different areas as possible. Some writers advocate writing as much as possible, as fast as possible; others think that they get better results (for a selection of different values for “better results”) from working more slowly and carefully. Some take six months off from writing to publicize each book as it hits the shelves; others find their time is better spent working on their next title. Some change agents every five years or so; some stick with one for twenty years or more.
Not one of these choices is right in general, or wrong in general. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all method of writing, there is also no single best way of managing one’s writing career. It’s a good idea to check out what other people are doing, but you have to decide for yourself whether what they are doing is something that is likely to work for you, and whether you think it will work well enough that it’s worth trying for yourself.
And it is always, always your own responsibility to decide whether something is not working and when it’s time to change it…whether that’s something that’s not working in your writing style, or whether something in your career seems to need rethinking.