The long road to success

By the time most authors (or actors, or others) enter the public’s consciousness at a scale wide enough to be broadly known, they’ve usually become pretty successful. Their book(s) are selling well, they’ve often made the bestseller lists, they’re included on awards lists and best-of lists. We see them only in the context that they are now, and it’s so easy to forget there was a ‘then’ that came before.

On Friday bestselling author Rick Riordan re-posted an old blog post he wrote up at the beginning of his success, in 2007. He talks about how in the late 90s, when his earliest books came out, he would hold signings or events and no one would show. He mentions that even his breakout novel The Lightning Thief took a while to gain traction, spreading slowly by word of mouth.

We all probably know the rags-to-riches story of JK Rowling, writing her first Harry Potter book while supporting herself and her daughter on welfare. Cassandra Clare mentions in this post (itself a really good, important post that’s a topic for another time) that when she was first writing “I was broke, and could not afford sheets”. Stephen King and his wife once lived in a trailer without a telephone because they couldn’t afford the monthly cost. We see the hugely successful bestselling authors now, but once upon a time they were struggling writers, too.

Sometimes even the published have a long uphill climb. Before The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins had published five books in a different series. Before The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan had put out seven others in another series. Scott Westerfeld had eight titles come out before Uglies (and a number more between it and Leviathan). Laini Taylor, Maggie Stiefvater, James Dashner, and many other authors all had books come out prior to the ones we now think of first for each name. One of my favourite authors of adult books, Susanna Kearsley, recently had a title hit the bestseller lists – eight years after it was first published; she’s had six books come out since then.

Very few successes are truly overnight. It may enter the public consciousness overnight, or some lucky break might suddenly skyrocket sales/income, but there’s a lot of long work that gets put in before any of that can happen. Often years, with no immediate return. As this post says, that’s the dirty little secret of overnight success.

I find these stories the most inspiring of anything, I think. They say to me that hard work, patience and perseverance is rewarded. To see other authors start from where I am now and build a successful career from it, that gives me optimism and encouragement.

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4 responses to “The long road to success

  1. And I admire you for having the courage (and supportive husband) to quit your job & pursue the dream of writing full time! One thing I’ve got over you: Twining’s tea. ;)
    Also, have you heard about some of awful jobs Stephen King had? I read his On Writing & he talked about how gross cleaning the soiled laundry from hotels could be.

    • Thanks, Sarah! It’s not so much that I quit as that I’ve worked freelance and only taken as much work as I’ve needed in order to support myself, which means living a bit frugally but also means I have more time to pursue my dreams.

      I did read On Writing, a couple years ago – had forgotten some of his descriptions of what he and his wife went through those early years!

  2. Another way I’ve heard of putting it is: success looks different for everyone. It’s a good way to fight that jealous thinking that can poison us, as well as inspire, as you say.

    • Absolutely true, Chris! That little voice of jealousy can be so insidious. It’s hard not to look at what someone else has, that we aspire to but don’t yet have, and feel resentment or jealousy, totally forgetting that it took them x years, and we could very well be in the same place x years from now, too.

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