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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, because I wanted to keep writing this series. 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.

31 responses to “Redefining Success”

  1. What an inspiring post and a great subject.

    At times, it might seem to others that I’m in my own little world and have no clue, but guess what? I’m happy there. I’m doing what brings me joy at a pace that is comfortable to me.

    I climbed out of that rabbit hole where I thought I had to write two books a year to make it in the publishing world. That isn’t me and thinking I could do it just caused me to become more anxious. I hated going online, because I was the odd duck waddling and didn’t sprint at all. I didn’t sprint. I didn’t do this or that. I didn’t.

    I found my grove in the Ruby chatroom during the Winter Writing Fest this past January. That grove is getting up every morning Monday through Friday and writing at my speed. I about eight others are still writing together four months after WWF ended. Some days I get 200 words, others I write 1K, and on occasion I’ll hit 1500 or more. But it is my speed and I feel wonderful about the stories I’m producing.
    If you feel good about your work, so will your readers. And making people happy is one of my lifetime goals.

    As far as defining my success in dollars. If I make enough money to pay my expenses which includes my cell and internet service, and have enough left over to take a class or two, a vacation or go to a conference I’m happy.

    Congrats on doing it your way, Tammy. I wish luck with your new release.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Autumn, I think “Do your own thing” is something I struggle with more frequently than I’d like because it’s my village – members of my Romancelandia support system – who I most frequently compare myself to, and against whom I inevitably come up short. And THAT causes me to withdraw even further into the introvert cave. I’ve gotten to the point where I can recognize when this is happening, and I can tell myself to “Suck it up, Buttercup” a lot more quickly. 😉

      I’m glad you’re finding productivity, and joy, in the Chat Room!

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  2. Elizabeth Langston says:

    I’ve been trying to motivate myself to promote more this year–to thoughtfully plan out goals and pursue them with intention.

    I went to a RWA chapter meetings a few months ago, and the speaker said that an indie writer needs to have 6+ books in a series before I can take off as an indie writer. I’ve just found another dude who says you need to produce at least 4 books a year to be successful.

    I’m lucky to produce two. So I guess conventional wisdom is telling me to be content where I am. I love your post title: Redefining Success… I need to love about what I’m capable of

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Oh dear. *laugh*

      It just goes to show us that everyone has an opinion. It might even be the right one…for THEM.

      I think the most valuable thing my rather odd publishing journey has taught me so far is to evaluate everything for myself, through the lens of, “Do I really need to do this? If so, why?” My actions are all I can control in this crazy business. 😉

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  3. Vivi Andrews says:

    First off, I am so excited to hear a new Underbelly book is coming soon! You know I’m a fangirl.

    I think my perception of success is still (sadly) tied to financial stability. I’d like to feel more proud of the journey, but I have a hard time forgetting the desired destination. I totally agree that we all have to find our own pace and our own definition of success, but I guess in this way I’m just basic. 🙂

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Basic? No way, baby. 😉

      I hear ya on the financial stability thing. As we’ve talked about here at the blog before, money is one of the factors driving the practice of releasing multiple books per year, because by doing so, a writer has a better chance of making a living wage doing this.

      I am fortunate in that I worked in a fairly lucrative industry for a quarter of a century, and saved like a demon before tapping out. Savings are definitely funding this Second Act of mine, that’s for sure, but I’d love to get to a point where that isn’t the case.

      I so much appreciate your words about the Underbelly Chronicles. Book 4, ENTHRALL ME, features straight-laced Vampire Second Wyland, and free-wheeling investigative journalist Tia Quinn.

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  4. What a lovely, wise post, Tammie.

    I, too, had to redefine my vision of success when I went indie, but I tried really hard to follow ‘the rules.’ Get rights back—check. Publish with others to expand reader base—check. Publish multiple times a year—check. And it was soul crushing.

    In doing so my confidence in the WRITING—in the one thing that is entirely mine to control—kept slipping lower.

    Now, I am still trying to write to a slightly tighter schedule, but I am more mindful that ever that it is the WORDS that matter most. I have to love what I’m writing to make any success worthwhile.

    You are wise to stick to your words, and write from your beat-of-your-own-drummer heart. <3

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> I am more mindful that ever that it is the WORDS that matter most. I have to love what I’m writing to make any success worthwhile.

      EE, you found a way to distill my very long post into two succinct sentences. 😉

      This month, we’re celebrating the accomplishments of the Golden Heart Class of 2017, the Rebelles, and I have to admit to some apprehension about this post, about how it might be received. The Rubies were in their exact same shoes eight years ago – some of us querying, some of us sold, and all of us so danged excited about the journey were taking together.

      Almost a decade has passed, and our journeys have been as varied as our personalities. Contracts come, contracts go. Expectations are met, and not. But through it all, we remain. 😉

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  5. WOW! Thanks so much for this post and the info about Evan’s YouTube series. I’ll definitely be checking out those videos.

    Dave’s Top 10– inspiring! For me right now, Finding Balance is a big issue I’m grappling with. Determined to meet publisher deadlines, learn about marketing/publicity (my debut novel HIS PERFECT PARTNER releases with Kensington’s Zebra Shout line at the end of September), stay on top of things at my day job, refill the emotional well with family & friends time, exercise…sleep isn’t happening much lately.

    I remind myself that the writing “stress” is something I’ve worked toward and wanted for a long time now. That it’s a matter of being disciplined yet not being too hard on myself.

    It’s so true that what works for others might not work for you. So, I’m figuring out my process as a published author with a day job. I’m a work in progress. But, I’m trying really hard to focus on the positives, learn from mistakes or mis-steps, and be proud of what I’ve accomplished.

    It’s not always easy. That “imposter syndrome” can be brutal– writing Book 2 in my series took much longer than it should have, but I prevailed, YAY! 🙂

    Having a writing tribe to turn to for advice, support and the occasional kick in the pants is a blessing. Amen for RWA and the friends/mentors I’ve made.

    Thanks for the reminder that my way isn’t necessarily the wrong way, it just might be a little different. As long as I’m meeting my commitments and being true to myself, it’s all good. 🙂

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    • Just listening the the YouTube video of Dave Grohl and watched the bonus portion at the end. I don’t want to give anything away, but I gotta say, the man shows the epitome of giving his all for his fans! Inspiring!!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Priscilla, finding balance is a big one, isn’t it? And the tipping point will be different for each of us depending on family commitments, job demands, and health challenges.

      I’ve been chronically ill since I was a teenager, and one of the unexpected silver linings of this experience is that self-care is baked into my DNA. I learned how to say “no”, quickly and firmly, very early in my adulthood. I highly recommend it. 😉

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  6. Heather D McCollum says:

    Wonderful post, Tamara!
    You go, girlfriend!

    I find that the times when I get down about my choice of careers (writing) is when I’m dealing with the business/promo side of things. Then I have to look away from publishing wish-lists and promo opportunities to focus on the writing art again. That is where I find my joy, and joy is essential for the creation of art. If we get weighed down by expectations, we will never have the strength to lift the pen.

    It’s fabulous that you’ve found your unconventional stride. So many writers decide to quit if they can’t or won’t stick with the industry “must-dos”. I love that you’ve embraced your own to do list and are still writing and loving it!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Heather, you know what was a huge factor for me concerning confidence and non-conformity? Turning 50. I now understand why my grandmothers, and then my mom, just seemed to…come into their own at that age. I now know first-hand that they simply didn’t care nearly as much anymore about what others thought of them. It takes up a lot of energy that can be allocated to other things.

      For my 50th birthday, I bought myself a sterling silver bracelet that says “Zero F*cks Given.” Sure, there are still plenty of things I give f*cks about, but they’re now more consciously chosen, if that makes sense. 😉

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  7. Jen Gilroy says:

    Such a thoughtful, wise and inspiring post. Thank you for sharing your journey, Tamara.

    A motto I turn back to again and again in my life is “To thine own self be true.” To that and, after reading you post, I could amend it to say “To thine own definition of success be true.”

    So much food for thought in your words and wishing you much success…as you define it…in this next step in your career.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Thanks, Jen! I honestly didn’t know whether others would find this post inspiring or not, since the first paragraph mentions a cancelled contract!

      But one of my goals with this post is to expose some of our new readers, particularly the Rebelles, to some business realities we don’t hear about very frequently: that contracts can be, and are, cancelled for reasons not explicitly stated in the contract. It’s very useful to evaluate contract clauses through the lens of dissolving your relationship with your publisher.

      Everyone: Look at the language of your rights reversion and non-compete clauses very, very carefully. Scope them as narrowly and as specifically as possible. You never know what kind of curve balls the future might throw at you, and if one comes – or if you decide it’s time to move on – you want maximum flexibility.

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  8. Darynda Jones says:

    What an incredible post, Tammy!

    I’m going back now to watch the video, because DAVE!!! Love love love that man.

    I am trying to learn that invaluable lesson the turtle tried to teach me in elementary school: Slow and steady wins the race. I am horrible about taking three months to outline a book and then having to write it in 7 days. My last two books have taught me I can no longer do that. Period. I don’t know if it’s age or wisdom (I’m going with wisdom) but I just can’t write that fast any more. I write and rewrite every sentence. I question every action: was it properly motivated? Does it move the story forward? Etc. Etc.

    I take so many writing classes and read so many books on writing that I think I’m finally internalizing the stuff and attempting to apply it to my work. Thus it’s taking me longer to write a ms. lIke a lot longer.

    But I’ve come to the realization that it’s not quantity but quality. And it’s only taken me 8 years! 🙂

    I adore this post. Thanks, Tammy!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> I don’t know if it’s age or wisdom (I’m going with wisdom)

      Darynda, I think with age COMES wisdom, so…both! Own it!

      We have a lot of illness in my family, and I almost died when I was a teenager. I’ll take every damn year, and gladly. 😉

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  9. I’m only a baby writer, but I’m already reconsidering paths and definitions of what being a successful author looks like.

    I thought it was an agent and Big 5. But now I see all these smart, talented women who I respect working with small presses, and doing fabulous jobs as indie publishers. I definitely count you and Autumn among those women.

    Congratulations on your relaunch and on the upcoming new release.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Janet, I can’t lie – finding an agent and selling to a traditional publisher gave me a huge confidence boost. I had an awesome editor and I learned SO MUCH about the business, and the process of producing a book. The first time I saw my books on the shelf at Barnes and Noble was such a thrill.

      When the Rubies were named GH finalists in 2009, RWA still didn’t quite know what to do with/about indie authors. When you think about it, the GH is still rather a funnel to traditional publishing, not that there’s anything wrong with that. That said, I’m glad today’s authors have other options in the event trad pub isn’t a great fit.

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  10. Kate Parker says:

    Amazing how life focuses our writing careers. Like you, Tammy, I got dropped by my traditional publisher part way thru the arc I’d planned for my series. My contract was narrow enough I was able to finish that series and I’m now on the third book in a new series as an indie author, which I love.

    I’m a caregiver which narrows my ability to travel to attend conferences and dictates what hours I can write. But I’m free to create and to write what I would like to read, and my imagination has expanded with the years.

    Every year we live frees us and teaches us. I’m sure the Rebelles will learn that just as the Rubies have. And I think your blog post was very uplifting, Tammy.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Talk about life throwing curve balls, Kate – caregiving is NOT for sissies. I’m so glad you’re making time to not only write, but to write what you’d like to read – because I find your books absolutely extraordinary, and unlike anything else that’s out there.

      I thought about you when Dave talked about doing our own thing. 😉

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  11. Such an uplifting post. My favorite authors put out a book a year. It works for them so that’s the blueprint I’m following, lol. Congrats on your new release…going back now to be inspired by Dave. Thanks!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> My favorite authors put out a book a year.

      This pace is my stretch goal, which is not yet achievable. 😉 Right now, it probably takes me a year to write a book, and then it takes more time after that to edit and compose it. I could outsource these tasks, but I DON’T WANT TO.

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  12. Addison Fox says:

    Tammy

    What a fantastic post! SO SO SO relevant to me and, based on the comments I’m reading, clearly I’m not the only one!

    The past year has kicked my ass to kingdom come and back. I’ve been truly fortunate – it’s not been due to illness, death or sadness – but a job change and move that, while welcome, has DESTROYED any sense of routine or normalcy I’ve been used to or built up to over time with my writing.

    I’m slowly crawling out of the hole, but it’s been painful. I’m also deeply fortunate that my editors have been understanding with me – far more than I deserve. But it’s also been an eye-opening journey. I always worried that it would be something catastrophic that would possibly derail the writing. Yet here was a deliberate – and welcome – choice that has put a strain on my writing work I just never expected.

    I figure there’s probably a post in here somewhere and will consider it when I have a bit more perspective, but #2 and #10 on the Dave list really spoke to me. “Figure it out” and “Love what you do.”

    I’m fortunate to love what I do. I’m also thankful to – finally – feel like I’m back to figuring things out.

    Addison

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Addison, I wish I could buy you a big ol’ drink.

      I think a lot of writers are creatures of habit – I know I am – and any change in routine can clobber our productivity. It’s such a paradox when the change in routine is catalyzed by something utterly positive and welcome in our lives. I’m glad you’re finding your way out of the hole – and I’m looking forward to that (future) post.

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  13. Liz Talley says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I love this post so much!

    I love the Figure it out advice because it doesn’t cut slack. Now that doesn’t mean you have to do that all at once or to someone else’s standards, right? Just that you figure it out…for you.

    It’s been a tough couple of years for me. Every time I feel like I’m primed to break through to a new level, I find myself bouncing backwards, having to figure out a different way. I’m late to every ball and thus I feel very overlooked (even if I’m wearing a pretty dress).

    Sometimes you just must accept your decisions and live with them. Nothing wrong with that.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> Every time I feel like I’m primed to break through to a new level, I find myself bouncing backwards

      Liz, I hear ya. One of the things I figured out while I was waiting out my rights reversion timeline is that, by selling my one and only manuscript in a three-book deal, I started my CAREER bouncing backwards. I didn’t know it at the time I sold, but I couldn’t write quickly enough to ‘succeed’ by traditional publishing’s metrics. I just hopped on the GH train, and…sold. It seemed the thing to do – and yeah, it felt good to know that a publisher thought my story was worthy.

      I appreciate that my publisher and editor took a chance on me. We produced a couple of great books together, and I learned so much, but given my writing pace, it wasn’t a great long-term fit for either of us. And during that time, indie publishing became a more viable option.

      I still feel like I’m playing catch-up, but I’ve embraced my inner control freak. It’s all up to me. I’ll figure it out. 😉

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  14. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Trying to post again:)

    I’ve always been a fish out of water and an introvert, at least until I become comfortable in my own skin around folks.

    When I graduated from high school, which by the way was when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I had to write and give a speech at commencement. SPEECH…introvert…ack! But I did it. I used a quote belonging to Henry Van Dyke: “Individuality is the salt of common life. You may have to live in a crowd, but you do not have to live like it, nor subsist on its food.” I also used the first sentence of the quote as its title. In that same speech, I referenced Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance using the quote “Imitation is suicide.”

    I’ve told both of these quotes to “take a hike” from time to time but always seem to come full circle eventually. Maybe they represent my “true North”. I am guessing the reason I told them to “take a hike” is that there are times when I/we am/are forced to conform and do until I/we find a way around that.

    Which of David’s Rules resonate with me?
    #2 Figure it out
    #4 Don’t lose your personality
    #6 Do your own thing
    #8 Just do it (my mother has a letter holder that says this)

    I also want to echo what Autumn said about the Ruby chatroom. We’re there, several of us most every M-F, writing, cheering for each other, helping in the “dry spots” & laughing. These women are literally my “pen pals”! And, again, to echo Autumn, some days are more words that others but as she says, “One word in front of the other.”

    Enjoyed your insightful post Best of luck on book #4 of the Underbelly Chronicles

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Thanks for your well-wishes, Cynthia! After not publishing for so long, I’m anxious to nudge this book out into the world.

      I also spoke at my high school graduation, way back in the Paleolithic. 😉 I’m fine speaking in front of large groups, but I sure need to find a place to decompress afterward. I’ve discovered a bathroom stall will do in a pinch.

      Growing comfortable in one’s own skin is rather glorious, isn’t it?

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