What Distinguishes the Most Successful Authors…from You?

By on May 15th, 2013

Today, guest blogger Karen Rowe—author, editor and ghostwriter—shares 4 key differences between the top 1% of authors and those who struggle to complete their books or make a living at writing.

According to the book The Millionaire Next Door approximately 3 percent of households in the United States have a net worth in excess of $1,000,000. And that net worth is accompanied by a minimum annual income just over $135,000 per year, with an average income of $260,000. Their income alone would place them in the top 3 percent of all American households.

Similarly, authors like J.K. Rowling, Dean Koontz and Stephen King represent less than 1% of the author population, and have book sales in excess of $300 Million.

So what’s the difference between top authors and those who struggle to make a living at it…or even to get their book completed?

DIFFERENCE #1: They set clear, definable goals

The big difference is that the 3 percent group prepared written goals with specific plans for reaching those goals. Not very many people are willing to do that.  

The best way to become a successful author is to start by creating some goals for your book. Ideally you want to create a list, five or ten goals at the very least, that you wish to achieve by publishing your book.

You also want to create goals surrounding your marketing: How many bloggers do you want to reach? How many events do you want to do? Who are you going to connect with to help you promote your book, etc.

A gentle reminder: Setting a goal for the number of books you want to sell should be at the bottom of your list, right before ‘Get Rich and Famous.’ See my earlier article, ‘7 Biggest Lies Writers Tell Themselves About Their Books’ for more on this.)

You won’t get sales without exposure.  The standard in marketing is that people need seven impressions of your book, message, or product before they will consider buying. Your goals should be aligned with that focus: getting as many impressions or pieces of exposure as you can. It’s not a matter of ‘What one thing will I do to get 100 people to buy my book’, but ‘What 100 things can I do to get one person to buy my book?’ Get enough exposure and book sales will follow.

DIFFERENCE #2: They stay focused

Focus is what separates the successful author from the one who flounders and does not complete or ever publish a book.

Authors are creative and as such, we have no shortage of ideas, we love to start new projects … Squirrel! … jot down ideas on scraps of paper … and then what? Move on to another bright, shiny object. I have dozens – if not hundreds—of half-started blog posts or book ideas which I’m only just now starting to do something with. But many authors suck at systems, schedules, time management, discipline, and most of us are lousy at self-promotion.  So we get distracted, and have a hard time with follow-through and completion. If you have to work with someone to stay focused it could be the best money you spend, ever.

Which brings me to the following point…

DIFFERENCE #3: They know what they’re good at, and what they’re not 

Successful authors build a strong team to help them with what’s not working.

This has been a tough one for me. I am a starter, a big picture thinker. What I’m NOT is a detail-oriented person or a “finisher.” This is not good or bad; it’s simply what is so. This means I’m a really great at conceptualizing. I can carry the vision for my clients’ books, help them get clear about what they want and create a plan. I’m also a strong substantive, or content, editor – the part where I get to sink my teeth into the ideas, the flow, the overall message and tone for the book and offer critical feedback.

Time and experience have taught me that I need a team of people around me who are detail-oriented finishers for the rest. You know these people: they are the organizers, it comes naturally to them, and they love it. These are my proofreaders and copyeditors, my executive assistants and my director of operations.  I surrounded myself with these people because I know the success of my project creative projects depends upon having them on my team.

You need people around you who are good at what they do and who know what they’re doing because they have value and expertise that you don’t. Respect their work and respect their time. Work to their strengths—and to yours.

DIFFERENCE #4: They welcome and encourage feedback

Authors who are willing to listen and learn and get valuable input to make their work better are often more successful than authors who refuse to listen to the advice of professionals who have been in the industry forever.

Authors can frequently become emotionally attached to their work, their cover art or an idea that may be standing in the way of their own success. Surround yourself with people who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth. They might tell you something you don’t want to hear, but this will help you more than any ego-stroking in the world. The market will tell you in no uncertain terms whether or not your work is good. You might as well hear it while there is still time to improve it.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Can these tips guarantee you’ll be the next Stephen King?

Of course not! But applying these tips will get you further ahead. Set goals, stay focused, work to your strengths, work with people who can do what you’re NOT good at and ditch the ego trip so you can get good, solid feedback about your work. These are BASIC principles of working within the book business.

And remember—writing and publishing books IS a business. Creating and using a solid business model for your writing profession will put you light years ahead of 99% of the authors of the estimated 300,000 books published every year. But that’s a subject for another article.

I hope you found these tips to be useful. I welcome your feedback below.

Note from Lynn Serafinn: Karen Rowe and I will be co-presenting a webinar called ‘9 Months to Birth Your Book’ on Thursday August 8th 2013. Be sure to subscribe to the Spirit Authors blog to hear more about it in the coming weeks.

A two-time published author, Karen is the owner of Front Rowe Seat, a training company for writers and business owners. She is an expert in non-fiction and can help you position yourself as a Leading Authority in your niche. Karen develops professionally written and designed books, done-for-you in 90 days. She has ghostwritten books for some of the most fascinating people in the world but, as a ghostwriter, she can’t tell you who any of them are! The key to a successful ghostwriter is absolute discretion. What she CAN tell you is that her clients include an actor, and a gold-medal Olympian and some of the top self-help leaders in the industry. Read more of Karen’s content-rich blog posts at


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LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She was recently named one of the Top 100 marketing authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was selected as a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. Her eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Through her company Spirit Authors, her marketing campaigns have  produced a long list of bestselling self-help and mind-body-spirit authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, a budding social enterprise whose aim is to help grow a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs who want to serve both people and planet through innovative, ethical, independent enterprise.

@LynnSerafinn @SpiritAuthors @7GracesMarketng @GardenOfTheSoul


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Categories : News, Writing & Editing


  1. Very informative. I can certainly respect what you do to help authors realize the dream (for their book).

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