There’s a lot of talk about how an overnight success actually takes five years to achieve. I’m not a big success, but I want to tell the story of how I got where I am now in the hopes that it’ll help some people. Maybe you’re just starting out and you need some reassurance that you’re doing great. 🙂
I’ll start with the end, because it makes sense to me that you know where I’m at now before you go any further.
I have one short story published in a lit mag.
I turned down one traditional publishing contract.
I’ve published lots of books.
I have enough steady income to pay one of my bills – but I was paying nearly all of my bills (I walked away just before I made that final $80) from my fiction last year.
If you’d like to hear how I got from the very first novel, to here, where I’m launching three books in July with plans of being full-time (permanently this time) next year, read on.
I was a bookworm as a kid, but I had no plans to be a writer. I didn’t have the focus for it, I wrote very detailed single-paragraph scenes, and short goofy stories in IM, that was it. It didn’t even cross my mind that I might be able to write a whole novel until I was 22.
Fast forward a little bit and I’ve written my first novel, 120k in 6 weeks, and dear gods is it awful! I didn’t know that at the time though. I was hooked, and I was also starting to look into traditional publishing. At that time KDP wasn’t a thing.
From there I wrote a lot of flash fictions and short stories, I was learning. I joined a couple of writing communities and this is where things really started to change. That’s when I was pulled into a group of incredibly talented poets who took me under their wing and taught me poetry. That made a huge difference to my writing, I learnt about rhythm, the weight of each word, and musicality. That was when I wrote my next full novel, which was also absolutely awful, but! It was a vast improvement on book 1.
It was after that that I sent a short story off to a lit mag, I didn’t have much hope as it was a risky story, it was very dark. I completely forgot I’d even submitted it until one day I got an email saying it’d been accepted! I was over the moon, they were so kind and complimentary. It gave me some outside validation.
Not long after that KDP became a thing and I discovered Smashwords. I started down the erotica and erotic romance route, to be blunt I did it to help me get over my dark past. I did pretty well, I had steady sales and I was offered a traditional publishing contract. I decided I actually didn’t want to write those genres any more, they’d done what I needed them to do, so I walked away.
I wrote a few more novels and hundreds of short stories and poems. I was learning. I could see the improvements from month to month. I spent a few years continuing to write, and learn. I started learning all about marketing, the publishing industry, cover design, blurb writing, the ins and outs of Amazon (as much as they allow you to learn). And my genre, my craft. I read and read, blog posts, bestsellers, indie books, I read everything even vaguely related to what I wanted to do (succeed at self-publishing urban fantasy), and I learnt.
Finally, after a lot of reading, and hair-pulling, I had a series I felt was good enough to publish. I threw myself into it, but, I wrote it for me. I was arrogant enough to believe I could buck the trends and still be the success I wanted, while ignoring market trends – while ignoring what readers want.
The first book launched pretty well, it sat next to Anne Rice for a while and topped out in the top 10,000 on Amazon. The second book didn’t do as well, but I was exhausted and disenchanted by then. It still reached the top 30,000. That’s skipping a step though.
Between self-publishing book-written-for-me, and the sequel, I was pushed into a hard place financially. A lot of stuff went wrong at once, unexpected medical bills etc etc. So we needed money fast. I knew the market reasonably well by then, I knew that paranormal romance serials were hot and I could write them quickly. So I did. An episode or two a day, I did the covers myself. They were bringing in four-figures within six weeks. It was fantastic. It demonstrated that I did know what I was doing, I had learnt, but I really don’t enjoy writing PR, so I had to walk away, for my health’s sake.
Once that had been wrapped up, I published the sequel to the-book-written-for-me. That did ok, I threw some promotion at it and saw how they performed for me. I knew how they did for other people, but I wanted to see how they did for me. I learnt more. I saw how covers and blurbs did out in the wild, it was fantastic.
That brings us to today. There have been books written between then and now, there has been so, so, much reading done between then and now. I was reading a book a day for some four or five months. All of them related to what I want to do, most of them bestsellers because I want to know what readers want.
Today, those books that I wrote for me are still bringing in a steady flow of money, enough to pay a bill. I haven’t acknowledged their existence in six months, I definitely haven’t promoted them. They’re sitting selling themselves. That’s a nice feeling. That shows me that the covers, blurb, keywords, and look-inside are working, that people are finding them and reading them. That reminds me that I am doing something right here.
My journey has been twisting and included quite a few dead-ends. That’s ok though, because I learnt from those mistakes and dead-ends. Keep learning, keep trying, and you’ll make progress. It might come in a different form to what you wanted, but learn from it, use it.
What does this mean for you?
You’re of course free to take away what you wish from this 🙂 To me, the important things from are
A. Understand your own goals. Do you want to write for yourself? If so, fantastic! Do that. If you’re writing as a career, if you want to be financially successful, you need to keep in mind what the reader wants from the book. They’re our priority.
B. There is so, so, much to learn. Don’t feel overwhelmed, give yourself time, talk to people, and read! Read everything! There are lots of blogs out there devoted to giving you information, there are of course also the books in your genres. Learn from them, never stop learning. I have a minimum of an hour set aside to reading about current market trends, promotional information, Amazon news etc a day.
Hopefully come August some people will look at me with those three Infernal Hunt books ranking well on Amazon, me doing a happy dance with a loony grin on my face, and think to themselves “Pssh another over night success.” You can smile and nod to yourself because you know better. You know that you can do the same thing, you’re still learning and working, but you too can be right there, happy dancing 😀
Finally, I want to give thanks to you guys. The hard work wouldn’t mean a damn if I didn’t have you guys cheering me on and picking me up during the dark times. It wouldn’t mean anything without your kind comments and pygmy goat gifs. Thank you. You’re all amazing and I hope that I can help you succeed.