May 2020: The Inflection Point

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May 2020 didn’t see the release of a new novel, but did find me releasing a new non-fiction product (The 30 Day Sprint). People really enjoyed this and got a lot out of it, which was great. Naturally, I almost didn’t release it.

And, a couple years ago, I wouldn’t have.

The main reason this year has gone well in my business and other years have been a struggle: I listen to the doubts less.

Oh yes, I hear them. It’s impossible not to. There are a million and one reasons not to do something. And, naturally, some things are better left undone. However, when it comes to putting things out into the world, it seems that the risk of backsliding and killing good ideas is greatest the closer one is to the inflection point.

That is the little point in the compounding process where your business is about to go bananas and all.  You can see it on the graph that graces this site, the books, and courses, and provides the underpinning of much of my strategic philosophy:

You see, right before this little point, you still haven’t made much progress.

You’ve spent a lot of time.

You’ve laid a lot of the groundwork. But tangible results are lacking.

Even as you’re ascending up the curve, progress often appears meager (at the start) when compared to expectations.

But there seems to be a deep subconscious sense within a human being’s soul that things are about to change. To be sure, a few people’s careers ignite and they simply go near-vertical overnight. They skip the phase of doubting and hesitance that comes with crawling their way up the inflection point, day-by-day. There’s no time to second-guess yourself when you have rocket fuel strapped to your back, after all.

For the rest of us, this change happens fast – often measured in months, whereas the preceding period can be measured in years or even well over a decade. But it is not instantaneous. Which makes us stuck in a precarious sort of daily limbo, acutely aware of both the old and new. Thus, the inflection point is the most dangerous part of the journey for two simple reasons: one, it can feel as if we’ve made it, when really we have barely tasted what it is we seek. And two, homeostasis often comes whispering in your ear that, perhaps, you should stay put.

Slow down.

Stay awhile.

Perfect things. Don’t release that book. Oh, that’s not ready.

You have plenty of time. The water’s warm here, after all…

And then, as momentum slows, then finally dries up, you realize that you’ve self-sabotaged and that you are, once again, the person you were at the beginning. All because your body and mind played a subversive trick on you. Under the guise of perfection or caution, what they really delivered was a secret, primal wish:  staying the same. One of the great paradoxes of the human body and mind is that they are extremely adaptable, but reticent to allocate resources to change unless things are dire.

Mediocre? Good but not great? Great, but not as great as it can be? These are all treacherous places to be, career-wise. Because they all feel safe. Your body will tell you that things are fine. And it will resist forward movement in various clever ways, with what appear to be well-reasoned rationalizations.

But that foothold of “safety” is actually the tiniest of slivers lining a sheer ten-thousand foot cliff. We just can’t see it because the cliff is our career, and this is a metaphor. It takes time and skill to translate our evolutionary fire alarms into the 21st century information economy.

Because at the inflection point, rather than telling you to let off the gas pedal, your instincts should be screaming keep climbing. You haven’t made it anywhere close to the summit. Once you recognize this, you can use your evolutionary wiring to give you the right signals.

Which is a skill, unfortunately, almost always gained through the wisdom of experience.

PAST INFLECTION POINTS

It can be difficult to recognize opportunity when one does not know which guises it appears in. The inflection point, of course, is the ultimate opportunity: wherein simply by continuing to pour fuel on the fire, you can massively accelerate your career growth. This could be a series that takes off; an ad platform that’s suddenly amenable to your genre; or the culmination of years of slow and steady improvements. Naturally, things are not quite that simple when one reaches the inflection point; challenges arise, and fuel is not as simple as throwing money in the air over a large swath of land upon which it has been declared x marks the spot.

But if one has built to that point upon a foundation of skill, those same skills will bring them further and further up the curve.

Inflection points evaporate into thin air, then, because of two primary reasons: lack of recognition and lack of skill.

I have hit the inflection point three times in my almost eight year career. The first two are below (the third, of course, being as a type these words):

  1. Summer 2016: I launched my urban fantasy pen name and had two books out within five weeks. Had I simply released a book a month, this series would have almost assuredly cracked the 5-figure monthly mark. At the time, however, I didn’t have the skills to keep going, nor the ability to appreciate that this was an uncommon event that demanded my full attention, rather than half-measures. I took an interlude, published a book under my moribund sci-fi pen name, and promptly killed momentum. [skill]
  2. February 2018: I launched a new series in January and hit the USA Today Bestseller list in February with a different series box set. Momentum was building, but I spent this month obsessing over the losses on the first book in the series. I had expected it to do far better, and instead of simply getting the second book done and out the door in a month (or even two), I pushed back and eventually cancelled the pre-order (while freaking out over pre-order numbers that were, in retrospect, pretty decent). After more delays, the second book arrived 3.5 months after the first book came out. This was to little fanfare, and the series limped off to die in a corner. [recognition]

You’ll see, then, that these come in roughly two year intervals. Maybe once a year if you’re moving quickly. So they’re not rare, per se, just uncommon, in that they often require a certain amount of groundwork and investment to hit critical mass. Thus, wasting them repeatedly can easily turn one’s career into a rather unfortunate and winding epic rivaling The Odyssey.

The first inflection point, although it occurred earlier in my career, was a problem of skill. This can be a problem of writing skill or marketing skill (hitting it out of the park by luck, then not knowing how to seize the reins of the galloping steed). More often, however, it’s a mindset skill issue. I recognized that things were going well; the numbers were clear as such. Instead, I didn’t have the ability to focus and double down on what was working, nor an appreciation for the ephemeral nature of certain moments.

What I did not understand then was this: a few months of hard work, perhaps with teeth gritted, can open up years or decades of freedom. It is worth pushing yourself beyond what you’re capable of when you have been dealt the right hand. These are the moments you go all-in – or push yourself to the edge of your ability (and perhaps beyond). Too often, this is where people turtle, and say “I can’t write this fast” or “I don’t want to write this” or “I’m not [this excuse].”

And then they invest their time and go to extremes during moments that don’t matter. That have very little upside.

Which is a recipe for burnout.

Everyone has bursts of activity in them. Culativing the ability to turn these on when things matter, and each hour of work you do might be worth ten or a hundred normal hours, is critical. And while it’s perhaps overdramatic to claim that a concentrated flurry of activity at the right moment can make your career, it can propel it several years forward.

To be honest, none of us have so many years that we can just afford to waste them on what amounts to spitting in the face of serendipity. So while this is somewhat a problem of skill, it is mostly one of developing the ability to avoid self-sabotage (in all its various disguises).

The second inflection point was simply a matter of recognition. I didn’t have enough experience to understand that, while the numbers looked unfortunate in the immediacy of the moment, given a couple months and some consistency, they were poised to explode. All I had to do was finish the book on time. This was the difference between these books vaporizing thousands of dollars and making it.

There is not much one can do in such instances; you don’t know what you don’t know, after all. But there is a fix for such situations: you ship the product. That is the only way to find out what you’re sitting on, after all.

THIS INFLECTION POINT

None of this is to lament what happened in the past. Your career is the sum of many choices. And it is entirely possible that these failures will save me far greater ones years down the line. In that way, they serve as an inexpensive lesson. And hopefully sharing my own trajectory leaves you better equipped to recognize and appreciate uncommon opportunities than I was at those points in my career.

The only difference this time, in fact, is simple: I recognized, early in the year (during the ads course launch), that I was hitting the inflection point. And every time I’ve wanted to stop, I didn’t do it. Because procrastinating a day or a week or not doing something seems okay in these moments.

A lot of times, it doesn’t actually matter that much. Yeah, you gotta get things done…but they can kind of flow on their own schedule.

But it’s not okay during the inflection point.

Because every little opportunity and leverage point you squander here costs you big. And waste enough of them, and it’ll cost you another two years. And in between, you’ll have to do 100x the work for 1/100th of the result.

That’s madness.

Which means…things get shipped.

That means hitting send on the weekly newsletter.

That means all the excuses don’t necessarily go out the window. They’re always in the background. But ultimately, they just don’t matter.

Because the inflection point is really a moment of truth. Where the road forks before and you have the opportunity to pursue the next level. That’s what lies at the end of the inflection point. Yes, there’s monetary reward and sales and page reads and everything else. But beyond even that, and perhaps the real reason we pursue any of these things in the first place, lies the life we seek. And the person we want to become.

MAY KPIs

  • TOTAL WORDS: 17,097 fiction words
  • URBAN FANTASY ORGANIC SUBSCRIBERS: 1,948 > 1,985 (+37) (+202 on year)
  • NON-FICTION ORGANIC SUBSCRIBERS: 1,861 > 1,993 (+132) (+663 on year)
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