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Redefining Success

In 2013 – wow, four years ago! – my traditional publisher and I parted ways, and the career I thought I was going to have took an unexpected turn. My contract for an Underbelly Chronicles paranormal trilogy was cancelled after two books. My publisher loved my work, but with over a year elapsing between book releases, it was tough to build momentum, and sales didn’t meet expectations. 

Two strikes and I was out – of traditional publishing, at any rate. With the third book in hand, I dove into indie author-dom, because who doesn’t publish a completed book? Sales and reviews were favorable. The book was nominated for a couple of big awards. 

Awesome, right?

Nope. Sure, publishing that book was a salve to my stinging ego, but in retrospect, it was a short-sighted decision. What I really wanted, long term, was to continue writing the series – and to make that worth my while, I needed to regain the publishing rights for those first two books.

The problem? My traditional contract’s rights reversion clause was sales-based. Once sales dropped below a certain threshold, and stayed under that threshold for two concurrent royalty cycles – one year – rights would revert. Releasing my indie book lengthened that process, because the new work drove sales to my traditionally published backlist. 

It was a paradox.

After much thought, I made a painful decision: to stop publishing, and stop promoting, until rights to the first two books reverted back to me.

Yes, you read that correctly. I benched myself to accelerate this process.

Strange? Yes. Powerful? YES – because once those rights reverted, I’d have complete control of the entire series forevermore. I could publish, price, bundle, and promote as I saw fit. 

To make a long story short…mission accomplished! Rights to the first two Underbelly Chronicles books reverted late last year, and I re-launched the entire series a couple of months ago. (Currently available exclusively at Amazon, and going wide in August.) My time in the introvert cave has been glorious – I’ve spent the last few years writing, doing some freelance editing, learning to format my own books, and teaching – but now it’s time for the author to emerge from hibernation again. In October, I’ll publish my first new book in four years.

This causes me no end of angst, because even on good day, so-called conventional publishing wisdom and I have a glancing acquaintance at best. Publish multiple books per year? Nope, not me. #1k1hr? Puh-leeze, I’ve never written 1000 words in a day, much less in an hour. I don’t write to word count, period. Recommendations about profanity, or getting political on social media? My Twitter feed is a case study in BRANDING: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.

I swear a lot. I don’t get “book boyfriends” or the concept of The Muse, and I find most motivational quotes to be entirely too soft and fluffy. I value and appreciate my readers, but as The Most Massive Introvert On the Planet™, I’m probably the last author you’d ever find wearing a tiara or hosting a tea party. 

I edit my own work. 

Yeah, I said it.

Seriously, how many sacred Romancelandia cows can one woman slaughter in two hundred words or less? 

In most areas of my life, I march to the beat of my own drummer, and clearly my writing life is no exception. I’m a misfit. Most days I’m okay with that, but book release time never fails to make me take a look around, assess what the current state of practice seems to be, and think: AUTHORING: YOU’RE DOING THAT WRONG, TOO. 

As I prepare to release my next book, I’ve evaluated conventional publishing wisdom anew, and have come to a strange and powerful conclusion: I don’t publish frequently enough for conventional publishing wisdom to apply.

I will probably never be traditionally, conventionally successful. I find great freedom in this realization, because it means I get to define success for myself.

No matter how solid your confidence, believe me, this is easier said than done – especially when you see your friends and contemporaries not only passing you by, but flat-out lapping you. That’s where your village comes in. Support from your besties, your critique partner(s), your chapter mates, your blogmates, and your (very) patient readers is key. This being 2017, so is advice from complete strangers on the internet. 😉 

To that end, wise online soul Evan Carmichael has created a YouTube series about success and entrepreneurship called “Top 10 Rules for Success,” featuring interviews and clips from people spanning all possible occupational spectra. In Sept. 2016, he posted one featuring my spirit animal, Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl.

Though he’s a musician rather than an author, I think Dave speaks wisely about art, confidence, and finding joy in the doing.     

Dave Grohl’s Top 10 Rules for Success

  1.   You have to be great.
  2.   Figure it out.
  3.   Chase your dreams.
  4.   Don’t lose your personality.
  5.   Experiment.
  6.   Do your own thing.
  7.   Find balance.
  8.   Just do it.
  9.   Cherish your voice.
  10.   Love what you do.

Google up the rest of Evan’s series when you have a chance – it’s inspiring stuff.  (Dave’s “Top 10” content is 20:00 or so, and NSFW due to language. There’s some fun bonus footage at the end of the video.) 

After watching the video, I feel a renewed freedom to work at my own pace, to take an alternate route. To drive 30 m.p.h. on a scenic, winding road instead of taking the interstate. To disregard what everyone else is doing and build my career one day, one page, one book at a time – and feel joy in the doing.  

Hey, if “Do your own thing” is good enough for Dave, it’s good enough for me. 😉 

At this point in your writing career, how do you define success? Do any of Dave’s “Top 10 Rules” resonate? 

If you’re feeling brave: which piece(s) of conventional wisdom have YOU told to take a hike?

–Tammy, the Ruby Contrarian

Tamara Hogan is the award-winning author of The Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series. An English major by education and a software developer/process engineer by trade, she recently stopped telecommuting to Silicon Valley to teach, edit, and write full-time. Tamara loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her husband and two naughty cats.

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