It’s cliché, but I’ve always wanted to be an author. I tried to find another, better paying career path – I did, really – but nothing held my attention like writing. My eclectic employment situations over the past ten years holds the truth of that. I bounced from retail to foreclosure to secretary to data entry to property assessment to web training development. The only consistency over the years is that at every job I wrote on my lunch and breaks. Daily.
Persistence. It’s another tired but true cliché that stubborn, consistent persistence is how you break into the publishing industry. That, and a little bit of luck. My wife will the be first to tell you I am stubborn af*. And I’ll be the second.
Since graduating college, I’ve averaged writing a book every 1.5 years. Of course, some of those were rewrites – and re-rewrites – of old stories. And after a few years, I started querying. At first, it was more just to see what would happen. I made all of the beginner’s mistakes and received only form rejections.
Then I had a mini mid-life crisis. I was years out of college with nothing to show for it. It was not too late to go back to school, it was not too late to find a Real Career Path(TM)**. But if I did, if I committed to extra education and a Job That Mattered, I wouldn’t have the time or the mental energy leftover to write. I had to decide.
It was a surprisingly hard choice. I love writing, but every successive year that I had nothing to show for all the hours I put into it I felt like more of a failure. Where would I be if it never went anywhere? What would I tell people when they asked me what I did? Who was I to think that out of the thousands, millions of aspiring authors, I could be one of the few made it?
But then again, if I didn’t try, if I didn’t throw everything I had at it – I would never know.
I chose to put writing at the center of my life and treat it like a profession – because it was. I made plans and set deadlines and from there devised daily word count goals to meet those deadlines. I frequently sailed right past my personal deadlines, of course, but I was rarely more than a month off.
I set up a system of writing, rewriting, editing, beta-ing, and querying, each stage with its own expected timeframe and deadline. I returned to the metaphorical drawing board for querying, researched the heck out of it, read Query Shark’s entire archive (twice [thrice]) and revamped my approach.
My queries improved and I got a few personal rejections. I kept writing. I kept querying. And then I took everything I had learned, wrote TIC, and queried again. After two months and many rejections, quite literally one week after I had decided to let TIC go and write something new, I received an offer of representation from my now Awesome Possum agent.
I’m writing all this not to say, hey lookit what I got, but hey lookit what I did. The cliché is tired because it’s true: persistence is key***. It’s important. So is trying new things and continually (constantly) learning. Write. Rewrite. Query. And then look critically at what you wrote and move on to the next project. No word or sentence or paragraph or novel written is ever wasted, because you are constantly learning from what you’ve done.
Some writers sell their first book. Most don’t. I sold my third****. Others sell their fifth or eighth or nth. Keep going. Practice. Read. Write. Repeat.
* AF = as foretold, or at least that’s what the Kids These Days(TM) tell me.
** I.E. Microbiology, like my wife, or accounting – which I might have (definitely) considered.
*** Necessary caveat is necessary: the privilege & luck of having the time to write is equally important.
**** Third distinct and separate novel that I wrote as an adult and consider Whole and Complete.