There are millions of them already and more appear every day. The internet seethes with Inspirational Blogs About Writing. Seems that every writer, wannabe writer, self-published writer and writer’s cat is writing a blog right now, telling you how to write more/faster/betterer and win contracts and influence readers and make millions like they have/are going to … soon … once their affirmations come true.
So I’m not going to add to this global crisis. I’m not going to share the secrets of my success, or tell to how to ‘build better characters’ or ‘grab reader’s attention’ or ‘constantly annoy all your friend on Facebook with yet another post starting “Woo-hoo! Big News! My book has just sold another x copies!”.’
Nope. I’m going to tell you a story that I hope will offer you a different kind of insight.
There is this writer I know. She started small, as most of us do. After years of trying, and after writing a half-dozen books that never got accepted, ‘T’ scored her first contract. It was with an international company that mainly marketed educational books directly into schools, but they also did a line in children’s fiction. T’s little book went out there and sold 4 or 5 thousand copies and earned a few shining reviews. Inspired, she persevered, but it took another 8 years before she got another one through the gate: another small children’s book with an optimistic publisher.
It was selling well and they were discussing the idea of extending it into series when suddenly that publisher folded. But T believed in herself, she persevered, and two years later she got a teenage slice-of-life story accepted by a NZ boutique publisher. Good reviews, better sales, and a leg into a new door that led to a second successful book! T kept believing in herself and started submiting more and more of her ‘back-list’, to a wider range of publishers, re-writing and polishing all the time, and soon won an acceptance with a major international children’s publisher. This meant huge sales in Australasia, and the chance to do a series. The 2nd book in that series was short-listed in the national awards.
Although she didn’t win, it boosted her into the top-ten. Sales surged, and there was no problem with getting the third one out. Meanwhile she switched from comedy to science fiction and her new friends published everything she could produce! Seven sci-fi books later, and another near-miss at winning a Book of the Year Award, she finally reached the big-time: An advance contract to write the TV series of her next book, on the strength of just a few pages of script – a new writing format that she had never tried before.
The resultant book went on to enjoy sales of over 50,000 in NZ, Australia, Canada and the UK, even setting new records! It had taken her almost thirty years, but T had made the big-time!
Now here’s the twist: That story is entirely true in all the details, and entirely false at the macro-level. I’ve created fiction out of fact. If it were true it would indeed be inspiring, but the fiction is this: I reversed the timeline.
The other fiction is: I reversed the gender. The writer (who I know very well) *began* with the TV/Book contract, had all of those successes, almost won Book of the Year twice, then watched his career slowly go down the toilet.
Yet he got better and better. He changed genres. He diversified. He submitted widely. He kept trying, and believing in himself. And his career still died.
You see there is no magic thing happening here. ‘Believing in the dream’ is bollocks. There is a massive factor of plain old luck in this game. Pure luck got me started (and I had native talent).
But it’s not even about talent. I’ve seen the most mediocre stuff get published – largely because the writer had a blazing ego and a spouse with a good job and said writer just kept on knocking on doors and pushing the product, paid piles to promote it, and bothered the media at every turn.
So here’s my to-do list for becoming a successful children’s writer:
Be white and middle-class, with good English. Be a teacher. Marry someone with a highly-paying, reliable job. DO NOT HAVE ANY CHILDREN! Get the pulse of the times and write books expressing every current fad that’s going. Work all your social networks to find pathways to anyone in the publishing industry or education. Schmooze them. Shove your stuff at them. Self-publish, or offer to fund the venture, especially the promotional side of it. Big-note yourself at every turn. Bombard the media with your successes, every twist and turn of it. Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good press release. Pay professionals to proof your books and create the covers. Believe in your yourself and never doubt your own self-importance.
There ya go: advice from an experienced, oft-published writer with a thirty-year career (who never did get his TV series). Whatever you do – DON’T do it my way.
And another thing: if I were to add up all the money I’ve made as a writer, including grant money and appearance fees, it would be less than someone could make working in a cardboard box factory. But at least it’s been a lot more interesting!