Still Standing. Lessons learned in 3 decades in the “arts”.

Ever see those “one-hit” wonder loops on Youtube? That show music videos of some individual or group from 20 years ago and you remember the song; but the singer? Hmm?

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IMDB — International Move Data Base — is an interesting place to dive into. Sort of 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon. What you begin to see is lots of actors/actresses who had one or two roles and then disappeared. Then you see someone whose face you recognize, but you can’t place the name, but they’ve been on show after show for decades, never starring but always there. Working.

Still Standing.

What’s the difference between a one hit wonder and Bruce Springsteen? Talent? Hard Work? Luck? New Jersey?

But more importantly, what’s the difference between someone who had a brief burst of success, then disappeared, and someone who has been a character actor for decades? Because there are a lot more character actors than superstars.

I wrote my first book in 1989. I’m still writing books for a living. I’ve seen a lot of stars come along and do great. But I’ve seen a lot more writers get a shot and disappear after their first book contract is over. In the indie world, I read the blogs and watched people posting great numbers during the golden age; now I don’t see those people on social media at all.

I’m still writing. 70 some-odd books. Still making a good living. I’ve had some luck. The biggest was timing with self-pubbing and eBooks coming along at exactly the right time for me. But I’d also written all those books and been traditionally published 45 times before that occurred and hit all the bestseller lists. Under four different pen names. I failed numerous times and reinvented myself. I did many things wrong. Still do. But here are a handful of things I think keep someone in the entertainment business STANDING after decades in the business:

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Work hard. Sounds simple, but I can’t have a book without writing it. You can’t have a screen credit without taking a role and performing. You can’t have a song without writing it. You can’t have a career unless you keep producing product. That’s called work. Those who try ‘gimmicks’ might have brief success but not in the long haul.

Perform. You can’t have fans if you don’t ‘perform’. For writers it’s not only writing more books, it’s responding immediately to your readers on social media. Making your readers the priority. For musicians it’s live performances. Whether it’s in a stadium as an opening act, or some dingy bar.

Change: Insanity is doing the same thing again, thinking you’ll get a different result. If something we do fails, we try something different. We are willing to say the three hardest words to come out of a man’s mouth: I was wrong. Then we figure out how to do it right.

Be positive and good to work with. I’m willing to bet a lot of those successful character actors/actresses are extraordinarily professional to work with. They don’t show up to the set drunk. Or late. They take direction. They’re positive. They’re good people to be around. They’re a plus on the set, not a black hole. Yeah, you read about the successful ‘jerks’ but how many of them, even if they’re big names, don’t eventually go down? And they also consider what they can do to help others — everything isn’t always about themselves.

Network. When someone with some influence has to make a choice who to ‘pick’ and it comes down to someone they can put a face to and someone who is just a name, they tend to go with the face. For a writer, going to conferences, making meetings, is key. This year is the first where I didn’t go to Seattle to meet Amazon reps or do a major book conference, but I’m already making plans for Thrillerfest next year and some other networking events. But even the minor events I did this year are paying fruit in terms of networking. I can get better at it and will. My rule of thumb is it takes around three years for a network contact to bear fruit; sometimes faster. So . . .

Be in it for the long haul. This will be the subject of another blog post, but you ever hear of a novelist retiring? Actor/actress? Rarely. We write because we have to.

You never have it made. The second any writer thinks they have it made, their career is over. I’ve seen this more times than I can count.

Be crazy. Artists are not in the bell curve and if you study them, most are not on the ‘good’ side of the curve. In all my time writing I never seriously considered I would fail even though the harsh reality is that very, very few people can make a living writing, especially this long. I knew I would have hard times, and I did. I had drk times when it appeared as if I would fail. But, I had the attitude I think makes all the difference in the world. That is . . .

I WILL MAKE IT WORK. A successful artist sees rejection as an opportunity to do something else. A successful artist laughs into the face of adversity. A successful artist spits into the wind — okay, maybe not that one. They use adversity as motivation. No matter what happens, a successful artist has one core mantra:


Originally published at on September 3, 2017.

West Point grad; Special Ops Vet; NY Times bestseller of over 80 books; for free books and over 200 free downloadable slideshows go to

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