Why You Should Pick Your Priorities

…and Stick With Them.

Farnam Street have a post in their archives, “Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change” that is worth a slow read through.

Seeking out novelty and noticing change was a survival instinct that doesn’t serve us in modern times, because everything is new and novel and different. As indie writers, we are deluged daily with multiple “must do’s” and examples of authors succeeding by doing things we haven’t even thought of, which triggers FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and often sends us scrabbling down rabbit holes that are nothing more than useless time sinks.

Especially this year, 2023, every indie I know is watching their average sales dip radically, despite everything they can do to keep the revenue coming in. When you see sales plunge, it is instinctive to reach for something fresh and new to pump them back up. A new marketing campaign, a new advertising venue. A new distribution model. Something, anything, that will goose sales. You might find yourself launching Kickstarter campaigns, setting up a Patreon account now they’ve revamped, researching direct sales, learning AMS advertising ins and outs… The list of potential distractions is vast.

At the extreme end of this knee-jerk response are authors who abandon whole series, or whole genres and grasp at the latest and greatest category of fiction that will haul their cookies out of the fire. And they launch into a fevered year of writing, hoping that this change will make a difference.

Even if you’ve managed to head off the panic from sliding sales, or if you’re one of the lucky ones whose sales are doing just fine, you may still fall victim to “new”. There’s always something new out there. Subscription models, fiction apps, writing trends, cover trends, promotion tactics. If you’re doing well, it’s likely because you’re good at innovating and adapting to optimize your business. Noticing anything new is a habit, but not everything new should be responded to.

It’s sometimes difficult to avoid this grasping at the new, because it is instinctive. A survival thing.

Instead, the modern skill we need is discernment…choosing the more important from among the overwhelm. That requires picking your priorities and sticking with them long enough for the strategies to pay off. Often, in our trade, that means hanging in there for a year or more to measure the full effectiveness of your scheme.

Panic-induced pivots and changes of direction wipe out any tactical advantage you might have been building with your previous plans, and reset you back to ground zero.

Instead of grasping at the newest and latest whatever, concentrate instead on the basics; writing good fiction, packaging it professionally, acquiring readers and keeping them close, and growing them into True Fans.

It takes a degree of will power to ignore distractions and shiny new ideas and stick with the foundational activities that serve you best in the long term. Yet, most especially now that the indie publishing industry has matured, this is the best survival skill you can weild.

A long time ago, I wrote a two-part post about priorities and overwhelm for indie authors, that I updated last year. It underscores this post, and the need to grasp at novel ideas, and change for the sake of change. Part One of “How To Deal with Overwhelm – 2022 Edition” discusses the need to pick your priorities with care. It’s very easy to focus on the crisis-induced tasks, and much more difficult to wrest back time to work on the critical, but not urgent, tasks that serve you in the long term.

Another approach to this idea of choosing your priorities and sticking with them is Jeff Olson’s book, The Slight Edge. I’ve spoken about it before, and as I’ve just finished re-reading it a couple of days ago, I’m mentioning it again here, as the concept of the Slight Edge is even more relevant for indies, now. Olson urges you to work daily on the small, easy tasks that over time, compound into amazing results.

But, he cautions, working on the wrong tasks also compounds over time, delivering disasters and a mediocre life and career. Although he doesn’t specifically state so, Olson’s “right” tasks are, for us indies, those tasks that fall into Stephen Covey’s “Important, but Not Urgent” quadrant.

Pick your priorities, and stick with them. Sounds simple, but often, you’ll be working against natural instinct to do so.

Yet it is a sure way out of the overwhelm and into calmer waters.

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