Showing posts with label success. Show all posts
Showing posts with label success. Show all posts

28 July 2018

A Million Tiny Steps


by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

I'm paraphrasing Jane Friedman here, when I say:
"Success takes a million tiny steps."


People 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.

By far, 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 my class.

It's hard, 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?"

What they 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 novel published.) 

Each one of those short stories, each of those awards, was a tiny step.

About that 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. 

By the 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?

I 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:
"If 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.)

I'm 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. 

Conclusion:  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?





11 July 2017

Criminal success: Success and/or Challenges You've Faced in Writing Crime



Kris Nelscott: I’m amazed at how easy it is to find information that I shouldn't be able to find. In my Smokey Dalton series, the books are set in the late 1960s. One book, The War At Home, deals with bomb-making. I found, in a memoir by a former member of the Weathermen, the recipe for their bombs. I used a part of it, but left out several ingredients on purpose. My NY copy editor added them back in. No, nope. No. I'm not going to give anyone a roadmap into bomb-making. Or other crimes, for that matter.

Rebecca Cantrell: I love meeting readers, although I once had a reader come up to me and say: "Your mystery is so good! I bet you could even write a real book!"

Annie Reed: The challenges for me pretty much all stem from having to step inside the head of a truly bad person in order to write from their point of view. Basically putting myself inside the head of a psychopath to write from that person's perspective.  Oogy stuff. The successes come from writing something that forces me to write outside my normal comfort zone.

O’Neil de Noux: The greatest challenge was learning my craft. No one can teach you how to write. You can learn the basics, the ‘how to’, but you have to do it yourself to get it done.
Successes are few. Sales have never been big. A little recognition in the media at the start of my career was nice. The awards are certainly nice. Being recognized by my peers. My writing has been awarded a SHAMUS Award, a DERRINGER Award, the UNITED KINGDOM SHORT STORY PRIZE. Two of my mystery stories have appeared in the BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES and my novel JOHN RAVEN BEAU was named Police Book of the Year by police-writers.com.

Dean Wesley Smith: I suppose that at first I thought it would be too complex for me to figure out. Turns out, for me and how my mind works with puzzles, they are the easiest books to write.

Melissa YiMy definition of success keeps changing.

First, I desperately wanted a professional publication, because it meant that I was a “real writer” in my mind. I was good enough that someone wanted to pay me for my words.

Then I was anxious to sell repeatedly, for more money, in more magazines. 

My next skill leap was jumping from short stories to novels. I had to talk myself into it by saying, “Look, novels are just connected short stories … “

So then the next rung was selling my novels and making some money.

In 2010, my collection of light-hearted medical essays, The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World and Other True Tales From the Emergency Room, hit the Amazon bestseller lists. For the first time in my life, I was reaching lots of readers, and money hit so quickly that I ended up with a bunch of cheques in British pounds that I didn’t even have a bank account to accommodate.

Now I was ringing the money bell, certainly not to the tune of six figures a month, the way some writers seemed to, but way beyond anything I’d accomplished before or since. But it didn’t make me as happy as I thought it would. My fiction wasn’t getting the same audience, and I got a lot of blowback in the form of hate mail and vigorous one-star reviews. So I made up a new definition of success: Writing connects me with people, places, and things that excite me.

You can see my evolving definition of success here, which is sort of a writing bucket list. When I look back at it, I realize that in 2010, writing was giving me money, but no fun. Once the critics came out with their knives, I froze up a bit at writing non-fiction. 

Since then, I’ve made a point of having fun. Or at least trying new things. Probably the most bizarre thing I did was a two-day Ido Portal handstand workshop when I’ve got minimal upper body strength and rarely hang out upside down. But I also went to Los Angeles twice as a finalist for the Roswell Award, and I headed down to New York and Boston for the Jewish Noir book tour. All awesome.

However, now that I’ve had some fun and can no longer crack Amazon’s algorithms, I’d like to make a living with my writing. Or, as I put it on my bucket list, I want to be able to say, I could quit my day job and write full-time, whether or not I choose to do this.

 Click here if you want a link to all platforms.And for success, I’m thrilled to report that Canada’s national book show, CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter, chose Human Remains as one of the great summer must-reads of 2017!

(If you’d like to join the Human Remains party, the e-book's only $3.99 on all platforms. You can download it for free on Kobo with the code HRemains. This code only works on Kobo, not Amazon, and will only last until July 31st.)

Looking at my fellow writers' opinions, I see that a lot of my writing goals and dreams are very external. I don’t have a lot of control over which editors publish my work, how much money flows to me every year, or how my books are reviewed. 

I should set some writing goals that I can control, like how many words I write per week, or how many stories I submit to magazines, or craft goals, like improving my setting.

What about you? How do you define writing success and/or challenges?

24 June 2017

How I Became an Overnight Success in 26 years


by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Three years ago, I wrote a crazy little book that won two crime writing awards. (Okay, not three years ago. It won the Derringer and Arthur Ellis three years ago, which means I wrote it two years before that. Trad publishing takes time…but I digress.)

That year, I also won a national short story contest, with prize money of $3000. The year after, I was shortlisted along with Margaret Atwood, for another fiction award. (That was the year pigs learned to fly in Canada.)

The Toronto Sun called to interview me. They titled the article, “Queen of Comedy.”

“You’re famous!” said an interviewer. “How does it feel to become an overnight success?”

“That was one long night,” I said. “It lasted 26 years.”

This blog post was inspired by Anne R. Allen

Not long ago, Anne had a post on her Top 100 blog: 10 Reason Why You Shouldn’t Publish that 1st Novel

(It’s terrific. Check it out.)

But that got me thinking about my own “overnight success.”

Here’s the thing. I started writing fiction for money in 1987. (Nineteen Eighty-Seven!! Big shoulders and big hair. Wasn’t that two years before the Berlin Wall came down?)

I won my first award (Canadian Living Magazine) in 1989. By the time my first novel hit bookshelves, I already had 24 short stories published, and had won six awards.

Plus The Goddaughter’s Revenge – the book that won the Derringer and Arthur – wasn’t my first novel published. It was my fifth.

My Point:

I’ll drill down even more. It wasn’t even my fifth novel written. It was my seventh. The first two will never see the light of day. One has gone on to floppy disk heaven. Although if God reads it up there, he may send it to hell.

I would never want ANYONE to read my first two novels. Writing them taught me how to write. I got rid of bad habits with those books. I learned about the necessity of motivation. The annoyance of head-hopping. And the importance of having a protagonist that people can like and care about.

Yes, my first novel had a TSTL heroine who was naive, demanding, and constantly had to be rescued. (For those who don’t know, TSTL stands for Too Stupid To Live. Which may occur when the author is too stupid to write.) Even I got sick of my protagonist. Why would anyone else want to make her acquaintance?

In my first two novels, I learned about plot bunnies. Plot bunnies are those extraneous side trips your book takes away from the main plot. Each book should have an overall plot goal, and ALL subplots should meander back to support that one plot goal in the end. My first book had everything but aliens in it. All sorts of bunnies that needed to be corralled and removed.

Speaking of bunnies, I’m wandering. So back to the point:

IN 2015, some people saw me as an overnight success. I was getting international recognition and bestseller status. One of my books hit the Amazon Top 100 (all books) at number 47, between Tom Clancy and Nora Roberts.

But that overnight success took 26 years. I had one long apprenticeship.

I tell my students to keep in mind that being an author is a journey. No one is born knowing how to write a great novel. You get better as you write more. You get better as you read more. You get better as you learn from others.

Being an author is a commitment. You aren’t just writing ‘one book.’ You are going to be a writer for the rest of your life. Commit to it. Find the genre you love. Write lots.

And you too can be an overnight success in 26 years.

(The Goddaughter. She’s a much more likeable protagonist, even if she is a bit naughty.)


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