I'm paraphrasing Jane Friedman here, when I say:"Success takes a million tiny steps."
always ask me what's the hardest part of being a college fiction writing
teacher. Is it all the marking? Having to read student works in genres you wouldn't choose to read? The long hours
teaching at night, at the podium?
I don't teach that way (at the podium.) I'm a desk-sitter. But it's none of that.
the hardest part of being a writing instructor is telling my students
about the industry. And in particular, that they aren't going to knock
it out of the park with their first book - the one they are writing in
because they don't want to believe me. Always, they point to one or
two authors who make it to the bestsellers list on their first book.
"So and so did it - why won't I?"
don't know is that the book on the best-seller list - that author's
"debut novel" - is most likely NOT the first book the author wrote.
Industry stats tell us it will likely be their 4th book written. (3.6
is the average, for a traditionally published author.)
My own story works as an example. My first novel published, Rowena Through the Wall,
was a bestseller (yay!) But it wasn't my first novel *written*. It
was my third. And before that, I had 24 short stories published, which
won me six awards. (Six awards, students. Before I even tried to get a
Each one of those short stories, each of those awards, was a tiny step.
first novel: it was horrible. So horrible that if anyone finds it on
an abandoned floppy disk and tries to read it, I will have to kill
either them or me. It was a Canadian
historical/western/romance/thriller with a spoiled, whiny heroine who
was in danger of being killed. No shit. Even I wanted to kill her. The
second book was also horrible, but less horrible. It was a romantic
comedy with a "plucky heroine" (gag) and several implausible
coincidences that made it into an unintentional farce.
time I was writing my third and fourth novels, I got smarter.
Apparently, I could do farces. Why not deliberately set about to write a
humorous book? And while you're at it, how about getting some
professional feedback? Take a few steps to become a better writer?
entered the Daphne DuMaurier Kiss of Death contest. Sent the required
partial manuscript. Two out of four judges gave me near perfect scores,
and one of them said:
this is finished, send it out immediately. If this isn't finished, stop
everything you're doing right now and finish it. I can't imagine this
wouldn't get published."
One more tiny step.
That book was The Goddaughter.
It was published by Orca Books, and the series is now up to six books.
(Six steps.) The series has won three awards, and is a finalist for a fourth, this year. (Four more steps.)
currently writing my 18th book. It comes out Fall 2019. Last summer,
for the first time, I was asked to be a Guest of Honour at a crime
fiction festival. It may, just may, be my definition of success.
If you include my comedy credits, I have over 150 fiction publications now, and ten awards.
160 tiny steps to success.
Don't give up if your first work isn't published. Take those tiny
steps to become a better writer. Take a million.
How about you? In what way has your writing career taken a million tiny steps?