Can a GENIUS thrive in today’s self-publishing world?



By genius, I don’t mean as measured by an IQ or any other kind of test.

I mean qualitatively, someone with an exceptional natural ability.

(Look up the word in a thorough dictionary and you might be surprised at some of the definitions of this word. I received a little vocabulary lesson.)

There are many different ways that one could be a genius writer.

  • There is one kind of genius who masters a particular writing style, and there are many different kinds of writing.
  • Then there is a genius storyteller.
  • There are geniuses when it comes to characterization.
  • Or the genius could be about content knowledge and the genius writer could be someone who is sharing that knowledge.
  • Or it may be a teacher who is a genius in terms of communication skills and instruction.
  • How about a genius in the visual arts who is creating an illustrated book?

My point is that there are many different ways that we could interpret what it means to be a genius writer. So let’s not restrict ourselves to any particular one.


I’d like to believe that a writing genius of any kind could and would thrive in today’s self-publishing world.

But I see pros and cons. And I imagine different kinds of writing geniuses, some of whom may be able to adapt better.

Obviously, any writing genius has a strength which serves as an obvious advantage. Whatever the writing genius excels at—be it writing, storytelling, content knowledge, communication, etc.—being exceptional at this is an obvious advantage.

But everybody, even those who excel at most of the things they try, has weaknesses. Everybody has something that could use improvement. In today’s publishing world, every little flaw gets exposed. But having an exceptional feature to offset the weaknesses still works to one’s advantage.

Many geniuses have quirks of some kind. The genius who strongly resists socializing has a disadvantage when it comes to marketing. The genius who can’t handle rejection well has a huge hurdle to cross when it comes to customer reviews. The genius who ignores something that may be important to readers, wishing only to focus on what he or she feels is important, may struggle to find an audience (but not necessarily—though this mentality could also extend into a complete neglect of marketing).

My feeling is that, in order to thrive in today’s self-publishing world, the writing genius needs to (A) recognize his or her weaknesses and be willing to improve them and (B) recognize his or her quirkiness and be willing work around it.

Then there is the issue of confidence versus humility. It’s easy for a genius to become accustomed to being right and therefore develop much confidence, which is one of the keys to success both in writing and marketing, but over-confidence can be quite detrimental.

Another issue lies in the communication skills. Suppose the genius has a huge vocabulary, a varied arsenal of language skills, and/or higher-level reasoning skills. The writer may be overmatched for writing toward a popular audience. This particular writer either needs to find a niche who appreciates the language and reasoning challenges, or work to deliver the language and reasoning at the right level for the intended audience. This can be a challenge.

Higher-level reasoning can be a major asset though, as it allows a storyteller to develop a complex plot that readers won’t easily predict.

Many geniuses do have a knack for a few keys to success. The following strengths may easily make up for other challenges.

  • Independence/leadership: It takes either independence or leadership (perhaps both) to successfully self-publish, and many geniuses excel at working independently. The leadership can help when one realizes that even a genius can’t do everything well, and self-publishing just has too many aspects to do it all perfectly. Here we return to the need to recognize one’s weaknesses.
  • Creativity: A creative genius can use this to produce masterful content (though novelty sometimes isn’t accepted), and creativity in marketing can sometimes help marketing stand out (it can also make the marketing more fun, better motivating you to market).
  • Motivation: When a writing genius chooses to write for his or her own reasons, he or she can exhibit amazing self-motivated diligence. This helps to focus on the project from the conception of the idea through all the stages of publishing and even into the marketing.

What do you think? Would a writing genius thrive in today’s market?

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Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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17 comments on “Can a GENIUS thrive in today’s self-publishing world?

  1. Interesting topic. I think a writing genius can thrive, but the self-publishing world might have a bigger advantage to the marketing genius. You can be one of the best writers out there in terms of natural talent, but you won’t get very far if you can’t promote. In the past, you would have agents to peddle your story to publishers and the publishers to do a bunch of the marketing. That allowed the writing genius to stick to their strengths and get some bolstering around the social aspect that you mentioned could be lacking.

    From personal experience, self-publishing feels like it’s one part writing and two parts social interaction. It’s hard to find that balance too because you typically need to work on other projects and there are only so many hours of the day. A writing genius might have an advantage here because they’d be more prone to let the social media aspect pause while they go to the part of the business that they enjoy.

  2. Good points, especially the one about recognizing your weaknesses – those are the places you can spend what money you are planning on spending, and get the best return on your investment.

    Genius is likely to at least TRY all aspects – which makes relationships with other artists and marketers based on respect (I can’t do X very well, no matter how I try – you do X – I hire you to do X for me because I respect your ability).

    The problem with marketing genii is telling the ones who talk big from the ones who know what they’re doing and will deliver. Because they practice by marketing themselves as guides and gurus, it is hard for the uninitiated to evaluate their basic competence. And lots of money can go down the hole represented by a smooth-talking marketing fake genius. I’d ask to see examples of the work.

  3. Prior to the implementation of digital self-publishing the genius was (largely) dependent on established publishing houses printing their work. Many great writers doubtless got passed over due to fears, by the publishers of trying something new. However, with self-publishing writing geniuses can put their work out there, at little or no cost and, hopefully be recognised as talented by readers. Of course there are so many self-published works that being recognised as a genius is easier siad than done. Self-publishing does, none the less present opportunities to the writing genius not previously available.

  4. I agree with Charles. Marketers have a big advantage. Most of the very good writers I know are not good marketers. I know when I started writing I thought if the story was good it would sell itself… Not true.Your points are well made, Chris.

    • Short-term, an excellent marketer appears to have a big advantage in the world of publishing. But that’s not necessarily the case long-term. I think it’s easier for the willing writer to improve in marketing than it is for the excellent marketer to improve in writing. (But one with a knack for marketing whose writing is already pretty good, well that’s an obvious advantage no matter what; but so is an excellent writer whose marketing is already pretty good.) Some books sell great right off the bat due to great marketing, but die out quickly because the content had room for improvement; some books get off to a slow start, but eventually catch on because the content is so good. But you’re right, there are some very well-written books that don’t go anywhere (ever) without the right marketing. Another issue is that some of those top writers don’t get themselves motivated to market (it’s easy for artists to fall into this category); it takes a different perspective, like coming to appreciate the art of marketing, or realizing the need to share one’s passion, to break out of it.

  5. Once again I completely agree with you, Chris. Learning how to market should be in every writers toolbox. It’s part of the job. I also agree about quality of writing standing the test of time. I’ve known a few writers that market books that I’d be ashamed to put my name on. I’ve even tried to communicate to a very few to express my feelings on how they are hurting the indie group at large by perpetuating the thought that independent writers write junk. Sadly, not one ever felt responsible enough to correct the mistakes made. They were satisfied with making the quick cash.

    Thanks for having this great discussion in the comments. And I am really enjoying your How To Self-Publish book. Setting up using Microsoft WORD has needed a good update and I’m finding your book very helpful– along with the other tips.

    • The first few self-published books I read, I had made the ‘mistake’ of contacting the author to suggest a few corrections. I learned that not everyone appreciates this. Not everyone likes to be corrected (especially when it’s not solicited; even if the comment is just a suggestion, not a correction), and sometimes, perhaps, there may be a feeling of inferiority in being corrected (or rather that the other person is acting superior). Of course, I only had the naive intention of being slightly helpful 🙂

      Thank you for checking out my book and taking time to leave a comment on it. I hope you continue to find it helpful. 🙂

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