3 Boring Elements of Success

Jane at AWP 2011

Jane moderating AWP 2011 transmedia panel

I don’t think my age is a secret, but just to be clear: I’m 34.

Sometimes when I speak at conferences, people say they expected someone older. I’ve been hearing this since 2002.

I think there are a variety of reasons for this—not least among them that many decision makers in publishing are younger than what you’d expect—but I did attain a significant position by the age of 30.

How did that happen?

It’s not talent or smarts.

No, the conclusion I’ve come to is that it has been about these 3 things:

1. Being extraordinarily focused and stable in my career direction
I stayed in one place for a long time (F+W Media, 12 years). I outlasted a lot of other people and gained more responsibility as the years passed. I focused on developing my skills in a very specific area, and I didn’t waste energy on anything but that one, single passion: publishing (or: writing/editing).

 2. Being dedicated and consistent. This is nearly the same as No. 1, but relates to what I pushed out to the world, or my external-facing career. When I started a blog, it wasn’t immediately successful. But I stuck with it, and I improved my skills. Same with speaking at events, same with Facebook, same with Twitter, same with other stuff that isn’t yet fruitful.

Not every effort can be a winning one, but most ventures require patience for them to pay off. Given that we live in an environment of instant gratification, people who can see things through are often the ones who get a return on their time and energy.

3. Being aware of trends & industry
I’ve always loved reading news and opinions about the publishing industry. I seek out stories about who’s succeeding, or who’s pushing the envelope. When you read trend stories year after year after year, even if you can’t articulate it, you’re learning something fundamental about how the industry operates, and where it’s going. You’re soaking up the DNA of the industry, the texture and context of every decision, success and failure.


What I’m Still Missing
I have a mile-long list of things I’ve wanted to do, but haven’t. Why? Here are the 2 biggest weaknesses I battle.

1. Discipline
I am the most undisciplined accomplished person you will ever meet. I procrastinate, I waste amazing amounts of time (e.g., watching 8 episodes of Battlestar Galactica in one night), I am rarely strategic with projects since I wait until last minute.

2. Time to really think about breaking the rules
My blog is called There Are No Rules, yet I find myself short on time—due to No. 1!—which means I will rush without having time to truly think about how I can do something innovative. For me, meaningful, groundbreaking work takes solitude, quiet time (to write/sketch), focused reading across diverse fields, experimentation. It requires time to fail (planned time to fail).

All that said: I make it a point to enjoy myself. So I seek gentle self-coercion tactics to be more disciplined, so I can plan more carefully, so I can fail in time to be more effective and innovative.

Posted in Life Philosophy, Work-Life.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Hope PerlmanWhy Do We Think Talent Ought to Be Rewarded? | Books in the NewsJoanna StrongBjhouleMichelle D. Keyes Recent comment authors

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Greg Ioannou
Greg Ioannou

Ha! I just assumed that you were older than you looked.

Maureen Rank
Maureen Rank

Jane, I’ve coached for Fortune 500 execs, and you should know you’ve just given yourself excellent insight and advice — and saved yourself hundreds of dollars by “insourcing” this! Good work.

Becky Levine
Becky Levine

Jane, I read this earlier & then, after a conversation I had with my husband, I had to come back and comment. I was talking about how I wouldn’t mind having just a little bit of Jane Addams’ get-all-this-done ability. His comment was that she was extremely focused. And I said I didn’t think so–not in the sense of going away for seven hours & working on one thing. I think she could carry a baby around on her hip and handle about 16 other things at the same time, BIG things. I think she was someone who somehow managed… Read more »

Richard Gilbert

From your wisdom in this blog, which I recently discovered and am really enjoying, I thought you were a lot older, too.

Great post. And it’s so great to get different snippets from friends and bloggers about what AWP this year was like. I have not been in a couple, myself.

Jill Kemerer

Your top three list has me nodding. It’s all about working hard and working smart, isn’t it? Perfection, though, is not in the cards!


[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jill Kemerer, Daisy Hickman. Daisy Hickman said: RT @jillkemerer: It's all about working smart RT @JaneFriedman Three Boring Elements of Success http://bit.ly/hSiSbP […]


I’m really glad to hear you, too, struggle with procrastination, etc., because I was beginning to wonder if you were some sort of demon!

Shari Lopatin

Jane, This is an incredibly uplifting blog post for me. Why? I’m 28. I’ve been published (as a journalist) in local magazines, as well as national magazines. I started my career as a newspaper reporter and won two Associated Press awards by the time I was 25. I now work as the main health writer for a large company based out of Arizona and helped develop its social media marketing strategy. BUT, I’m just starting the journey of making myself my own writer, my own “brand.” I’m working on a novel and trying to write and publish some short stories… Read more »


Thanks for writing about the publishing world. It is a ever changing industry that is a mystery to me. I decided to take your advice and just keep reading and learning.

Michelle D. Keyes
Michelle D. Keyes

It’s so nice to hear about someone my age, who has had some success. In my twenties I firmly believed that I would be in my fifties before I would ever be published or be able to actually call myself a writer. Thankfully, at 31, I have my official first CV and writing clips. It’s nice to know perseverance, dedication, and good-old-fashioned hard work still pay off when you hear so many people talk about how difficult the publishing industry is. Thanks for the dose of hope!


Jane, I can relate to this post! I have been writing for many years, but never bothered to do anything constructive with my poems and stories. Within the last two years, I have finally pushed myself into being proactive, and have had two poems published, and today I received a reply from a proofreader who had just finished with one of my children’s picture books. She and her eight-year-old daughter loved it!

Joanna Strong
Joanna Strong

Boring or not, these traits are the stuff that dreams ultimately depend on. Thank you for sharing a piece of your journey with such transparency and offering the rest of us insight into what worked for you and why it might (or not) work for us too. I share the challenge of being undisciplined, and suspect that many creatives do, but have accepted the reality that it is that very trait that allows me to get lost in my WIP for 8 hour blitzes as easily as I watch 8 episodes of “Gilmore Girls” in one sitting!

Why Do We Think Talent Ought to Be Rewarded? | Books in the News

[…] For related thoughts on this issue, read my post 3 Boring Elements for Success. […]

Hope Perlman

Jane, I would love to talk to you in more depth about success/failure. If you have time, please take a look at my blog on the topic – I’m a mom, writer, teacher, and now, researcher.

BTW, I am older than you…