This is for all of those writers out there who wonder if it will ever happen…
I was one of those kids who knew she wanted to be a writer from the time she was ten.
No, I hadn’t read a particular author I wanted to emulate (though I was a HUGE Laura Ingalls Wilder fan) or been groomed by a particular teacher. Truth be told, the desire grew from nothing more than a rainy day. Unable to go outside, my friend appeared at the kitchen table with big sheets of plain white paper, a box full of crayons, and a ruler.
“Wanna make storybooks?” she asked.
And that was it. I was off and running
My first literary creation centered around a small brown polar bear (don’t ask) who decided to give an elderly wolf a chance despite unpleasant rumors. I had a title page, an about-the-author section, and a dedication. The bottom half of each page was where I wrote the words, the top half was where I drew the pictures.
I was so proud of my efforts I went on to write another story, O’Casey’s Wish. This time my main character was a gnome who desperately wanted to create a real town for his fellow gnomes (I had a mole-way in place of a subway–cute, huh?). I researched the kind of things these smurf-like creatures were rumored to eat and got angry at myself when the pictures didn’t come out just right.
I still have both those storybooks today. They sit in a file in my office alongside countless manuscripts, royalty statements, conference information, and story ideas. And, every once in a while, I’ll pull them out and take a peek.
All through the remainder of grammar school and high school, my only career goal–born on that rainy day–was to be a writer.
College brought the need to establish a major so I pursued journalism. It was a way to get paid (albeit poorly) for doing what I loved most. I wrote news stories, crime articles, profiles, features, and photo captions. I threw myself into learning every facet of small-town journalism I possibly could. And, at the risk of sounding full of myself, I became quite good at what I did.
But all the while I knew fiction was what I really wanted to write. Fast forward about six years and two children…and I finally got to work.
Ironically enough, by the time I finally got to my dream, it had changed. I no longer had a desire to write for children. Instead, mysteries had claimed my full attention.
I worked on my first manuscript over the next four years—mostly in thirty minute spurts here and there (spurts that came with a crawling baby at my feet). Once I got it where I wanted it to be, I turned my attention to the notion of trying to get it published. I garnered a few rejections from agents and revised when someone was kind enough to make a comment. But after two or three agent tries, I decided to submit to a small independent press.
An initial rejection was followed by a flurry of revisions and a second submission. Weeks turned into months before word finally came. My book had been picked up.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew a small press book was not going to move mountains. Not even close. But I knew the kind of drive I possessed and I knew it would be a stepping stone (while the kids were babies) to bigger things if I played it right.
And I did.
Some of my success came from playing it right (conducting myself like a professional at conferences—not always the case with a small press writer), listening rather than talking at said events, and continually trying to better my writing. Some of my success came from a solid story—one that caught the attention of a much larger publisher who decided to re-release that first book for their direct-to-consumer book club. The fact that it sold out inside five months didn’t hurt either.
The second book in the series launched with the same small press and was also picked up for book club release.
The third book was my last for the small press. I’d told the stories I wanted to tell for those characters and I was ready to focus my attention on what I really wanted. Sure, it was a gamble to stop writing something that had a home (two homes, in fact), but it was a chance I was ready to take. I wanted to swim in the big pond.
If I’d continued on the same path, my fourth book would have released this month.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I veered off, knowing it was just one leg of a journey I started thirty years ago. And it paid off. Thanks to a deal with Berkley Prime Crime, I’m officially swimming in the big pond (or will be when the first book releases sometime in 2009). Granted, I’m a teeny tiny fish in a very big pond…but I made it in.
Would I recommend the route I took to every unpublished writer out there? No. A lot of dominoes had to fall at just the right time for my path to work. But it worked. For me.
What I would recommend, though, is this…
Read. A lot.
Write. Every day.
Learn. At every turn.
And never, ever give up.
Questions? Thoughts? Fire away. If I can’t answer them, perhaps some of our more seasoned big pond writers (and loyal GG readers) can. And remember–we all started off as unpublished, too. So don’t be shy.