Don't Fear the Dip

30 July 2021 / by Laura Backes

Has this ever happened to you?


You have a terrific idea for a book. You labor over your manuscript for days. Finally, you're ready to show it to your critique group, and their feedback sounds something like this:


“I love your idea and your protagonist, but I don't think the plot has enough tension. Have you ever studied story structure? Understanding Three Act Structure would be a great tool for you right now.”




“Great idea and hook, but you're trying to shoehorn too much into a picture book. I think this idea is bigger and too complex for the picture book audience. Have you considered expanding it to a middle grade novel?”




“Your core idea is great, but I've seen this plot/character/message a lot. I think you need to brainstorm some more out-of-the-box ways to write this story.”


Regardless of the details, all the feedback means one thing—you've got to rebuild your book from the ground up.


Congratulations! You're in the Dip.

The Dip

In his small-but-mighty The Dip: The Little Book that Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick), Seth Godin explains that almost everything in life worth doing is controlled by the Dip. When you start a new activity (like writing a book), it's fun and interesting, and you get lots of positive reinforcement from the people around you (Good for you for finally writing your book! Yes, of course we can reschedule our lunch. I know that cuts into your writing time.) It's easy to stay engaged in this activity because you're rapidly learning the beginner skills and you see progress.


Then you hit the Dip, and things get real.

Graph of Quality over Time that goes up sharply and then plateaus short of the goal line

The Dip is that long stretch between widely-accessible beginner skills and mastery of the craft. It requires you to invest more time and effort for what initially feels like less reward. The Dip separates the wannabes from the done-its. It tests the passion and commitment of everyone engaged in the process, and draws a clear line in the sand. On Side 1, the hobbyists—those dabbling in the activity for fun, who really don't want to work that hard, and who don't care if they stay average. On Side 2—those committed to rising above the herd, to being the best they can be. Side 2 is far less crowded.


If you want to see your words in print, if you want your book to stand out from the thousands of titles already on bookstore shelves, if you want to reach your readers in a unique, meaningful way, you've got to push through the Dip.


At Writer's Secret Sauce, our Recipe for Going Pro is a 6-week course that teaches writers the habits, attitude and mindset of successful professional authors. Secret Sauce authors don't see the Dip as an unscalable wall; they see it as a hill to climb one step at a time. They also understand that once they start climbing in the right way, their success will build upon itself and the Dip will soon be behind them. The Dip does not derail Secret Sauce authors because they know it's coming, and they've got their climbing gear ready.

Graph of Quality over Time that goes up sharply and then plateaus short of the goal line

As Godin says, “The Dip is where success happens....The people who set out to make it through the Dip—the people who invest the time and the energy and the effort to power through the Dip—those are the ones who become the best in the world. They are breaking the system because instead of moving on to the next thing, instead of doing slightly above average and settling for what they've got, they embrace the challenge. For whatever reason, they refuse to abandon the quest and they push through the Dip all the way to the next level.”


A lot of people try to write a book. Only a few do the work necessary to successfully learn the craft, connect with their readers, treat their writing like a business and get their book out into the world. The Dip creates scarcity. If you're one of few, you have far more value than being one of many.

How Secret Sauce Authors Climb Out of the Dip

Whether they dream of being a part-time author writing for a niche market, or a career author living off their writing income, all Secret Sauce writers begin with a plan for each book. This plan helps them focus on the skills they need for this project, identify the audience they want to reach, and determine how they will define “success”. A plan shortens the Dip, because you're not learning everything about writing and publishing, you're learning what you need to know right now. If your next project requires a different skill set, you'll learn the necessary skills then, but they'll piggyback on the skills already in your toolbox. The interconnectivity of skills, especially in the areas of craft and marketing, accelerates the climb out of the Dip. 


Much of the Dip's power lies in its ability to sneak up and blindside you, just when you're feeling good about yourself. Writers with Secret Sauce embrace the concept of lifelong learning, so they expect the Dip to appear. They see the Dip not as a setback, but as an opportunity to learn. But they don't just grab every learning opportunity that comes along. Here, again, Secret Sauce writers have a plan. They know exactly where their skill gaps are, and they've researched the best experts to teach them how to fill those gaps. The goal is targeted, effective learning that will teach those skills in the shortest amount of time.


And finally, writers with Secret Sauce have one superpower that many of their peers lack: they know when to quit.

Quitting, Secret Sauce Style

Graph of Quality over Time that goes up, then plateaus, then rises sharply and exceeds the goal line

In The Dip, Godin explains that there's another curve to watch out for: the cul-de-sac. When you're stuck in a cul-de-sac, you go around and around without making any progress. Your situation doesn't get any worse, but it doesn't get any better either. Godin warns, “There's not a lot to say about the Cul-de-Sac except to realize that it exists, and to embrace the fact that when you find one, you need to get off it, fast. That's because a dead end is keeping you from doing something else. The opportunity cost of investing your life in something that's not going to get better is just too high.”


Examples of writers getting trapped in a cul-de-sac:

  • Continuing to submit a manuscript that has received 50 rejections because, “editors and agents don't know what they're missing.”
  • Creating Facebook and Twitter accounts because you know you need a social media presence, and then feeling guilty each day when you don't post anything, because, let's face it, you hate social media.
  • Spending two hours a day avoiding your computer because you really should build your author website, but you don't know how. And you don't want to hire anyone to do it for you, because you can't justify the expense until you sell your book. Which you're not revising, because you're avoiding your computer for two hours a day....

Just stop the madness and quit already. But quit with a strategy. There's a very good chance that not every manuscript you write will sell. That's just the reality of the business. Figure out why this one isn't working, and use that knowledge to create a new, better work. (And repeat after me, “Rejection is not failure, it's an opportunity to learn.”) If you hate Facebook or Twitter (or TikTok or Instagram or...), then don't do it. Problem solved. Find another way to communicate with your readers. In The Recipe for Going Pro we discuss how to find ways to reach your readers that feel fun and authentic to you.


And for heaven's sake, hire a high school kid to build your website. You're investing in yourself and your business. Your time is better spent doing what only you can do, which is writing your book. Once the burden of website creation is taken off your shoulders, you'll be free to finish your book and either submit it or start the self-publishing process. Every business has a creation phase where money goes out before it comes in. Think about the most effective way for you to spend that money, and how you can best leverage your time for future profits.


(And if outsourcing certain tasks creates a budget crunch for you, this is just another Dip to get through. Make a plan. Put aside a few dollars a week until you can hire that teen to build your website or lay out your blog content. Offer to proofread a friend's manuscript if they'll help you set up a blog tour for your new book. Sell that ugly china you inherited from your Aunt Louise on Craigslist. These are all legit ways to exit the cul-de-sac.)

Embrace the Dip

In short, if you find yourself in the Dip, it means you've moved beyond beginner status and are sticking your toe into expert territory. That's terrific! Model your climb after all the pros who have gone before you—have a plan, take your time, find the best route, and don't get stuck in dead ends. Most of all, embrace the Dip because you know what's waiting for you on the other side. Join your fellow Secret Sauce writers by declaring, “There you are. I've been expecting you. Let's get cooking.”


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