I committed to a writing career on my 40th birthday–May 27, 1999. I figured that, given the average lifespan of 80 or so years, I was about halfway done with my life, and if I was going to be a professional writer I had better be about it. Do the math. That was 19 years ago.
If you believe that just because someone is capable of the daunting task of writing an entire book they will be able to make a living from it, allow me to offer you a different scenario. To be sure, there are those that hit overnight, but you can tick them off on your fingers (or perhaps your fingers and toes–I’ve never actually researched the phenomenon). For most writers, it is years of writing and editing, workshops and critiques, queries and rejections to get as far as “send us a synopsis and your first three chapters.” This has been my experience as well.
Does that mean give up and go read someone else’s book? It most certainly does not. Your stories are precisely that–“your” stories. There is no one else to tell them because they are locked up in your head. As soon as they are conceived, your characters are real and alive, and only you can bring them out into the real world so they can fulfill their roles in the great scheme of things. What real roles can imaginary characters have? Great, important, vibrant roles. They can touch. They can inspire. They can teach. Therein lies my motivation, my obsession, and the overwhelming push toward success that prevents me from throwing in the towel and taking cooking classes instead. My characters need me or they will never exist.
With that incentive, I have persisted for the last 19 years, and, though I have not yet become one of the richest women in the world, I realize now that I have achieved rather impressive success. In fact many of the other writers I know, published or not, are also very successful.
This has been my journey:
1.Two years after I started writing, I finished Soul Lost. I successfully began and finished a book. During the process, I had difficulty justifying the time I spent because I wasn’t a “real writer.” A good friend who was also a writer assured me that I was writing in a very committed fashion toward a concrete goal, and so I very definitely qualified as a real writer.
2. On the advice of other writers whom I respect, I did thorough edits, and so finished the first editing project on my first book, just like a real writer should.
3. I sent out queries and received lots of rejections. This put me in very good company. JK Rowling got rejected. John Grisham got rejected. Now Beth Warstadt had been rejected too.
4. I began my second book, People of the Green Hills. Who knew it would take me 10 years to get to the end of that one? Writing a second book, however, meant I wouldn’t be a one hit wonder.
5. A friend suggested that I seek out the Georgia Romance Writers because she had been told they were very supportive of writers in all different stages of their careers. I went, discovered that I was not the only one obsessed with writing but laboring in obscurity, and so I joined in 2010 and never looked back. This also required that I join the parent group of Romance Writers of America putting me in the company of my writing idol, Diana Gabaldon.
6. Sometime after I joined, I got up the nerve to apply for PRO membership. That means you are a professional writer who is unpublished. That was it. If there had been any doubt before, I had proof that I was a professional writer.
7. In 2013 I self-published Soul Lost. Now I had a book on amazon.com, a book that people could purchase.
7. I began my third book, now known as Megan’s Christmas Knight, as a NaNoWriMo project. I finished it during the next year.
8. In 2015, I got a contract for Megan’s Christmas Knight from Gilded Dragonfly Books. I had a launch and everything! 🙂 Sales were disappointing, but I was a contracted author.
9. I wrote my fourth book, Maisie’s List, in a little over a year (I’m getting faster).
10. In the spring of 2018, Wild Rose Press offered me a contract for Maisie’s List.
11. Yesterday I applied for PAN membership in RWA on the recommendation of the president of the GRW chapter president. That is the Professional Author’s Network.
This brings us to today. I am in the midst of deep edits for WRP for Maisie’s List and working on its spin-off, Suzanne’s Secrets. My new obsession is marketing, and my son’s fiancée is helping me develop a plan for social media. She has also offered to help me contact bookstores seeking placement in their “local authors” sections.
Suddenly today I realized–I am a successful author. I may not have made lots of money–yet–but I have more than enough writing projects to represent a full-time job, and there is professional attention to and investment in my work. How about that?
This post is going a long way to a short point. My journey has been long, and it has not been easy. Yours does not have to be as circuitous as mine. You may achieve your goals in two years or twenty. The point is, take that first step and stay on the path. I don’t have any exceptional abilities other than dogged determination. When I have a goal, I latch on like a dog on a rope, and I will not let go. You can do that too.
Set your goals, go forth, and make them happen. Don’t give up no matter how long it takes. You can do this.