It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Posted by Vivi Andrews Aug 8 2012, 12:01 am in perseverance
A few months back, a writing friend was trying to make a difficult decision regarding her career – the kind of no-easy-answer decision aspiring authors make every day in pursuit of the dream (who to submit to, to agent or not to agent, indie/traditional… the choices are dizzying and every day there seem to be more of them). In an attempt to help her decide, I asked her what her ultimate goal was – to just get published so she can be over that psychological hurdle? To share her work with readers? To be rich and famous and marry Jason Segel? (Okay, that’s my goal…) Her goal? To be Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
That seemed like a pretty kickass goal to me, so to get tips on how to become Susan Elizabeth Phillips, I went to the source. Her website. (The woman can tell a story and her bio is fabulous reading.) She says that she began to write with a friend “completely by accident” while she was a SAHM in 1976. The very first book they wrote was published under a pseudonym in 1983. (Instant success! Right? But let’s read on…) Transitioning to writing on her own she did another historical (under her own name this time) and then wrote Glitter Baby (1987), at which point she “had a real career going” but she doesn’t say “readers finally knew who [she] was” until It Had to Be You (1994), Heaven, Texas (1995) and Kiss An Angel (1996), AND she didn’t hit The Lists of Awesome Sales Velocity until Nobody’s Baby But Mine (1997, USA Today) and Dream a Little Dream (1998, NYT). So… 1976 to 1998. Overnight success?
The moral of the story? Not even SEP was SEP overnight. (Though, okay, yes, she was always Susan Elizabeth Phillips because that was her NAME, but you know what I mean.)
Now don’t be discouraged! This does not mean if you start writing your first word today that it will be twenty-odd years before you hit the NYT list (if it exists in 20 years… we might all be too busy battling zombies to notice which books are the top sellers for each week). Instant success is awesome and IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU. But if it doesn’t, remember that taking time to find your audience puts you in the same camp as Mark Twain and Walt Whitman.
We can have a distorted view of how instantly successful authors are because by the time we hear about most of them, they are Big News. But even the Greats don’t find their audiences instantly. They are iconic to us now, but they struggled and built their careers slowly, just like many of us will.
If your first book is a best seller, we will all cheer for you (though we will be green with jealousy as we cheer wildly), but if your first book is a slow starter, or publishers don’t know where you fit in the market, or your option book gets un-optioned, or you are sick of getting “good” rejections, or your royalty check is barely enough to buy groceries – just remember, that doesn’t make you any less awesome than Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Persevere. Keep running the race. It’s a marathon; don’t be disappointed if you aren’t in first place after the first hundred meters.
**I have the Olympics on the brain. Hence all the talk of hurdles and sprints and marathons.**
Do you have a story of perseverance that inspires you to push on? Who is your favorite author and how long had they been toiling by the time you discovered their awesomeness?