The Truth About Overnight Success (and What You Need to Do About It)


Image of hand laying bricks

Some people just get lucky.

They appear out of nowhere and rise fast. Their blogs shoot onto awards lists. They get mentioned by the A-listers. They land book deals.

Why can’t you have the same overnight success?

Because it doesn’t really exist.

Here’s what you don’t see

Every single blogger who seems to have hit the A-list from nowhere has worked for it.

A few weeks ago, I put together a post interviewing six writing and blogging experts. One of the questions I asked was whether their current blog was their first.

In almost all cases, it wasn’t.

In fact, one of the people I asked was my personal gold standard for “overnight” success: the lovely Jeff Goins.

To me, it seemed like Jeff came out of nowhere with his blog Jeff Goins, Writer. My writing blog’s been going longer than his, but his has way more attention. (He deserves it, too.)

But this is what he told me:

[Jeff Goins, Writer] was something like my ninth blog. I had at least eight terrible blogs before I started this halfway-good one. Apparently, I had to learn every way to NOT do it to find out the one way blogging could work for me.

And why did Jeff look like an overnight success to me?

Because I had no idea how hard he’d worked to get there. (If you think about it, it’s obvious: his eight “terrible” blogs didn’t get enough traction to reach me.)

Here’s what this means for you

First, you need to give up waiting for a lucky break.

That’s not how it works.

And that’s good news. It means the power is back in your hands.

Building a successful blog — and a successful business — isn’t just about working hard, though. It’s also about doing the right things.

(You could work long into the night reading tons of great advice on content marketing, but if you only publish one post a month and fail to promote it, you’re not going to get far.)

So, look at what those “overnight successes” are doing, and compare it to what you’re doing. There’s a good chance you’ll find a few clues about where best to focus your time and energy.

Maybe they are …

  • Using different traffic-generation tactics — like running webinars instead of writing guest posts.
  • Showing up more consistently than you, posting on a regular schedule, and answering comments quickly.
  • Putting more thought into design: their content isn’t necessarily any better written than yours, but their blog looks great and is easy to use.
  • Charging more than you. (Tip: raise your prices before you’re at the point of turning clients away.)
  • Always on top of the latest stories … when you’re struggling to catch up weeks later.
  • Smarter than you. They weren’t born that way: they worked for it. Need a bit of help getting there? Read 7 Ways to Get Smart(er).

Here’s what you need to do next

Today, choose five top blogs in your industry to learn from.

Spend some time really digging into each. Ask yourself:

  • How often do they post?
  • What topics do they cover?
  • Do they have video posts? Or a podcast?
  • When they launch or promote products, what techniques do they use?
  • Does their blog have useful features that yours lacks?
  • Who have they partnered with?

You might also want to search for any interviews with the blogger, as these can often be illuminating.

For each of the five blogs, write down three good things that they’re doing differently from you.

That’ll give you fifteen ideas — and you’re almost certain to find at least a handful of those that you can put into practice right away.

There are no overnight successes. Look at fast-rising bloggers in your niche for inspiration … but remember their success isn’t just a lucky fluke.

You can scale those heights too.

Did you come up with a really great new idea from your survey of five great blogs in your niche? Let us know your “Aha!” moments in the comments.

About the Author: Ali Luke runs Writers’ Huddle, a membership site for writers that’s packed with great content -- and that has lovely, supportive members. If you’re a blogger, novelist, short-story writer, freelancer (or a bit of everything) then get all the details and read what members have said here.

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Comments

  1. Definitely 100% agree.

    The idea that most successful people get “lucky breaks” is really and truly a myth, in any industry. Long hard hours of groundwork lay the foundation for future success, like a launching pad for your rocket ship!

    I think I’m still at the point where I need to put a bit of thought into the design of my blog, and make sure to link in to current stories.

    • hey Daryl

      I’d say design is as important as content, as it’s all about readership. If you get visitors to stick, you increase your page views, which increases your click-through and indirectly, your revenue…

      • I’m (reluctantly ;-)) with John here — as a writer, of course I feel that words rule supreme, but the way a blog looks is a huge factor in how reputable and professional you seem to customers.

  2. I bumped into a friend at the store who had hit it big, and we laughed about how he was now considered an over-night success.

    He responded, “yeah, after seven years of working without making a dime!”

    • Exactly! It’s very easy to look in from the outside and just see the success — without realising just how much work paved the way for it.

  3. What’s the phrase—the harder I work the luckier I seem to get? Those who get “lucky” more often than not have put in a ton of behind the scenes work that you and I will never really know about. Every time you fail you have the opportunity to learn from it, as corny as that may sound, and figure out what went wrong so you don’t do it again.

    • It might be a little corny, Nick, but it’s true. I’ve had plenty of failures in my time … but without them, I’d never have built a business at all.

  4. It’s so strange that people believe in overnight success. Of course we don’t notice someone until they have made it. I like Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that it take 10,000 hours to master anything. I wish I could accomplish that overnight!

  5. Hi Ali,

    I totally agree with you. I recently started out a new blog ( about 3-4 weeks ago), got it hosted on synthesis with sixteen nine pro theme from Genesis.

    I launched this blog with a different concept and strategy as opposed to all my earlier failed blogs/website. For the records, I was once on hubpages, xomba, wizzley…started my own ditailz ( now dead) e.t.c.

    Successful bloggers are not just new, they are successful because they’ve once failed, learnt and are working really hard not to repeat past mistakes.

    • Dare, thanks for sharing your story! I had similar experiences to you — I had two blogs that I abandoned before really getting going. It’s a heck of a lot easier to launch a blog when you know what *not* to do!

  6. Totally agree here – “luck” in business is more about working your butt off to be in the right places at the right times and realising that opportunities come thick and fast when you create them yourself.

    Great tips, Ali!

    • Thanks, Gemma! You’re right — we need to create our own opportunities rather than sitting back to wait for them to magically appear.

  7. It’s funny – I get asked by people ALL the time how I got famous, and how long it took my blog to become popular, and how can THEY replicate the same.

    They can’t. For one, I changed my gender. Kinda. Sorta. (And if you don’t know that story, you can read it right here on Copyblogger: http://www.copyblogger.com/james-chartrand-underpants/)

    For two, while I was one of the lucky overnight success stories, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t work to be where I am today. I’m still working hard, and will still work hard for years to come.

    Okay, not that many years. A Tahiti island early retirement is definitely in the plans.

    Point being: overnight success doesn’t really exist. Hard work is always required, as is good planning, strategist and having an excellent business as a foundation. Which is what more people should focus on.

    Thanks for reminding them, Ali. Well said.

    • Thanks James! Trust me, that means a lot coming from you. :-)

      And for anyone who’s not read James story, go read it. That has to be one of my favourite Copyblogger posts ever. I remember the jaw-dropping shock I felt when I read it back in 2009…

      I can understand why newer bloggers see James’s success and want to emulate it (heck, I’d like to! ;-)) — but I think a lot of people aren’t prepared for just how much work that is.

  8. Ali – love your writing! Checked out Writers Huddle and that is probably the best sales page I’ve read this year. Tells me everything I need to know without being pushy. Brilliant stuff! -B

  9. Hi Ali!

    Love it ;) Most of us eff up on our way to successful blogging. I had a god-awful design/theme until 2 weeks ago. Years and years of struggling to design, my friend walks in and overhauls my blog.

    Amazing, the power of persistence, and failing, and failing so much that you simply ask for help, then you can attract more success. In truth I had a big readership but this theme upgrade put me more on the radar.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

    • Design really makes a difference (I’m budgeting right now for an overhaul of my own blog, Aliventures — it’s perfectly OK but I’d like to step it up a level).

      Hope your new-look blog gets all the attention it deserves! :-)

  10. A great reminder that overnight success is imaginary – a fact that is so easy to forget when we’re in the weeds. Thanks for the tips!

  11. I love referring back to a concept called sprezzatura – that’s the art of practiced spontaneity. Think about those people who have actually been practicing guitar in secret, so when their girlfriend / boyfriend asks them to play a little, they’re able to sound like a dream. I think that we still believe in overnight successes because there are many people who have achieved success who want to make it look that way — or they don’t believe that the work they did was important.

    • Thanks for teaching me a new word (and what a great word!), Emily. :-)

      And good point that some people are clever enough to make it look that way… it’s a neat trick if you can pull it off!

  12. Applies to almost all occupations and professions. Only took me 27 years of trying cases to… (fill in the blank :-)

    • Absolutely, Mitch. Though I think in the blogging world, the effect might be amplified a bit by things being (a) very visible and (b) often pretty fast-moving.

  13. Although it’s more writing/publishing related than blogging, one of my favorite “overnight” success stories is Hugh Howey. His excellent book WOOL appeared to be an overnight success. Of course, Hugh had published several other stories before WOOL, and had been writing for years.

  14. I’ve always thought that these past seven + years wouldn’t be for nothing … that all my lessons learned would one day build themselves into something extremely fruitful and beyond my wildest dreams.

    Well, now I’m launching something new and different; but the one notable difference that hasn’t been mentioned here is my level of self belief. When we scrape ourselves off the floor over and over and just keep giving something else a go we get stronger. Our sense of self becomes stronger. Our self belief and desire to succeed grows too. And our fear of failure begins to disappear. Because that’s happened enough times and yet here we are, still working toward something wonderful. It has to happen one day, right???

    Thank you for this; as always the timing is perfect ;)

    • What an excellent point, Kat, and one I’m sorry to have missed out of the post. Thanks for adding it in the comments!

      With anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. The first time I submitted a short story to a competition, it was really really tough to write it and scary to send it. The twentieth time, it was no biggie. I failed a lot, of course, but I had a couple of small prizes too and would never have got those without all the failures.

  15. Great post Ali!

    It’s true that we don’t see the hard work that goes into making your blog or company a success. We see the end result. ;)

    The following resonated with me — Spend some time really digging into each. Ask yourself:

    How often do they post?
    What topics do they cover?
    Do they have video posts? Or a podcast?
    When they launch or promote products, what techniques do they use?
    Does their blog have useful features that yours lacks?
    Who have they partnered with?

    A day ago, I listened to a podcast from Danny Iny http://www.firepolemarketing.com and Kris Gilbertson about creating a podcast. I liked how Kris said she was a better speaker than a writer. Of course, you could always hire a freelancer to write your blog posts. But video posts and podcasts are other options.

    My idea for a podcast is based on the marketing and PR book I contributed to. I’d like to keep my podcasts 20 minutes and under. I think some podcasts are too long and often skip through ones that are longer than 20 minutes for one reason or another. I also want to work on my tone of voice so I avoid being monotone.

    • That’s on my to-listen list, Amandah — Danny gives so much good advice.

      I’m definitely a better writer than speaker, though I’m slowly becoming more comfortable with audio and video. I think these are great forms for people who find writing a chore or a struggle, though.

      Keeping to 20 minutes or under sounds like a great plan. I’m an impatient podcast listener, and I skip a lot of stuff I’d probably enjoy because I simply don’t have an hour to sit still and listen!

  16. So true! The brilliance you see on display is the end result of days if not months (or years) of hard work.

  17. Great post Luke! It has taken me 3 years to finally feel comfortable and, most importantly, make people comfortable with me as a trusted source online… Success here is not difficult, it is just a little time and effort…. Thanks!

    • You’re right, David, it’s not difficult … but it does take time and consistent effort (I think a lot of people would rather believe there’s a magic overnight success button ;-)).

  18. Thanks for the link to the 6 writing and blogging experts article.

  19. Steven King’s Carrie was rejected several times before published.

    JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers for Harry Potter novel.

    You need to be persistent to make it stick.

  20. I agree with you,there are no overnight success.It doesn’t exist. If you really want to reach your goal,you have to learn how to do it the right way. And this article offers a lot of information that we need to know in becoming a successful blogger.

  21. Article is amazing. It gives me relief that I am not alone in the world who is not so successful in blogging. Slow and steady wins the race :D

  22. That’s fantastic advice, cheers Ali! I’ve had one failed blog and another one which seems to be going along the same lines, so it’s nice to learn that actually, if I put more effort in, I might actually get somewhere!

    • Thanks Gayle — and do persevere! It does take time, and I was surprised to learn just how many successful bloggers had a failure or two behind them. (It was kind of a relief to know I wasn’t the only one!)

  23. Thanks for sharing these tips, Ali. I totally can relate to seeing success from a certain perspective and then realizing what it really takes to achieve it.

    • Thanks Jeff! I really appreciate you speaking up about the work that went behind your success. :-) (Your ProBlogger guest post in August was an eye-opener for me.)

  24. I myself suffering from same faith, I have put almost two years into Feedbook (feedbook.org) but it never really worked out (a RSS reader website). I developed cools apps too for windows and windows phone..but they all end up as open source projects.

    Learning from my mistakes; I launch TangleOn (http://www.tangleon.com), combining user posts with feed sources and empowering community to drive the content. It seems to be picking up phase. I hope this is THAT one way to the success..

  25. Just recently wrote the first post for my new blog on this very subject, inspired by a student in one of my classes who said that Pat Flynn was just lucky.

    The one thing I know to be true is that success at any endeavor requires consistent effort over a (usually) long period of time and, often, more than a few reinventions along the way.