Everyone in author world has his or her own definition of success. Some define it as making six figures in royalties. Many want to be published by a big 5 publisher. Others want to be number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Still others are content selling a few copies of their book to family and friends. Whether seeking recognition in publishing, longing for feedback from readers, or craving the joy that comes with creative expression, most authors have at least attempted to define success.
Writing is my passion. Someone reading what I write is my dream. Success came when I finally made more money in royalties than I earned in accounting. If I am a professional writer, I can stop being a professional accountant. That’s how I define success: having the freedom to quit the day job, indulge my passion, and pursue my dream. Royalties mean books are being sold. That means someone out there is reading. Maybe that’s not your definition, but it’s the definition that is meaningful to me.
It’s been a twelve-year journey. I started this blog years ago with the title “Journey to Publication.” I changed the title to “Suspense, She Writes” when Still Moments Publishing released my first short story in 2012. At first, I labeled myself as a romance writer because Still Moments was a romance publisher. After a few years and a few releases, I realized that the title of this blog had always been a more accurate description of what I write. I love writing suspense.
In 2014, I released my first paranormal romantic suspense novel and found my niche. After ten years of writing and publishing, I finally knew who I was as a writer. I had found the elusive voice that writers talk about—that quality of one’s writing that defines them as a writer.
Occasionally, an aspiring writer will ask me for advice on how to succeed in publishing. I try to give the best advice I can. The truth is I have no idea why my books began to sell. I have a few theories, but I can only guess. All I know for sure is that in January 2015 the first book in the Haunted Hearts series started selling, and it’s still selling. I’m grateful. It was my dream to be a professional writer. The success of the Haunted Hearts series has fulfilled my dream.
However, I am not at that place in my writing life, at least not psychologically, where I can boast about how I did it. I don’t feel comfortable giving how-to-succeed-in-this-business advice. When I do, I subconsciously, or maybe even consciously, wonder if I’m a fraud pretending like I know what I’m talking about when I really don’t. My success feels very much like being in the right place at the right time.
There is a subgenre of writing about writing, and some writers have been successful in publishing in that genre. I read their words, and I suspect those writing gurus are just as clueless about why they succeeded as I am. All of their advice is sound, but a writer could follow their advice and still remain unknown, unpublished, and unsuccessful. I'm sorry if that is discouraging, but it's the truth.
During these twelve years, there are a few things I’ve come to understand and I can state without feeling like I don’t know what I’m talking about.
1. Very few authors are overnight successes. Actually, there probably aren’t any overnight successes. Authors who came onto the publishing scene with a breakout novel honed their craft for years before they had a successful debut novel.
2. Fail proof marketing strategies do not exist. It’s all trial and error. Discovering what works is a process. Stubbornly sticking to a strategy that doesn’t produce results is a waste of time, money, and emotional energy.
3. Not all “authoritative” publishing advice is valid. It’s like parenting advice. Some of it is great. Some of it, not so much. A few basic pieces of advice are sound. The rest is opinion. It takes time and experience to be able to determine the difference between advice and opinion.
4. There are many paths to publishing success. Success has its own plotline and its own timeline, and it's different for every author.
5. It’s the story. That’s it. If you have a sellable story, it doesn’t matter how well it’s written. Some of the biggest bestsellers have tons of reviews posted on Amazon about poor writing. Despite all the "authoritative" advice about making your story as good as it can be no matter how long it takes to get it right so you can compete in the marketplace, if the story doesn’t interest readers it’s not going to sell, which means no one is going to read it. I'm not saying don't insist on delivering a quality book to the marketplace. I'm saying don't count on the quality giving the book an edge over other books with better plots.
6. Not everyone is going to love the story. Every book published is vulnerable to the one-star review. If the author hasn’t received a one-star yet, it’s coming. Wait for it. The negative review will punch the writer in the gut. Hard and without warning. It is survivable, and it doesn’t mean the writer is awful. One star reviews are not a sign the writer should stop writing. They are an indication that someone is paying attention.
7. The more I learn, the less I know. This kind of sounds backward, but I find it to be true. The more I read and understand about the art and craft of writing, the more I feel like I have so much more to learn. Every new concept I discover strengthens and enhances my writing. A good writer never stops learning how to write better.
I cringe when I think about the first full-length manuscript I finished. I know now what I didn’t know then. The book was lame and the writing was terrible. You’ll never read that book because I don’t think I can revise it enough to make it sellable. Like I wrote before, I want people to read what I write, and I'm not fond of one-star reviews.
Twelve years ago, I told my husband about an idea I had for a book. The idea turned into my book Purgatory. We were coming home from eating out for our wedding anniversary. He says he remembers the conversation, where we were at, and how excited I was about the story idea. He’s good at remembering details like that. That idea was not the first book I completed. I think maybe it was the second or third full-length manuscript I finished. I'm still writing, and I believe my writing continues to improve. Twelve years has given me a lot of practice.
I have one piece of advice for aspiring writers. Do not let rejection, an unclear or uncertain path, or negative feedback discourage you from pursuing your writing goals, no matter how complex or simple they are. No matter how personal they are. No matter how long it takes to achieve them. Being a professional writer is a process, not a destination. Looking back on it, I was a professional writer twelve years ago. I just didn't realize it.