Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Overnight Success

I started writing when I was in my twenties. At the time I had four young children, a full-time job at McDonald's, and about two thousand paperbacks stashed on the bookshelves that lined my front hallway. There were several wonderful second hand bookstores in Houston and I utilized them all. I was a collector.

I owned every Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, Elizabeth Lowell and Linda Howard--oh, so many others. I rarely could afford to buy a book new, but I did buy the very first Nora Roberts, a slim Silouette, in Target. I wrote to the authors I admired. Most took the time from their busy schedules to reply with handwritten letters. Imagine!

I couldn't afford the submission process back then, not the postage, nor the actual paper. Typewriter ribbons were expensive enough. I mostly wrote my stories out in longhand and when I finally had them like I wanted, then I typed them out page by page. I still have a few sheets of those early efforts. 

Then computers came along. They weren't powerful enough to have an actual hard drive capable of holding a story so everything was saved on cassettes (yep, exactly like a music cassette). And then there were the 5 1/2 inch floppy disks that were actually "floppy". 

Eventually, dot matrix printers came on the market, but the publishers still required actual typed pages for their submissions. Paper was more expensive. Postage was out of sight. And my home life changed drastically as we moved from Houston to upstate New York. 

There were no more second hand bookstores. And even if there had been, money was far too tight to afford them. I re-read the books I had, poring over the story lines, studying them as closely as though they'd been textbooks. Our Christmas money was picked from my pocket that first year so I found a job working at Waldenbooks warehouse, packing books. 

They had a wonderful program there...they allowed the employees to "borrow" any book in the place for three weeks. I was one of only two employees who took advantage of the program. But aside from that, I also saw a different side of publishing from the inside. And it wasn't all pretty.

I'll never forget the night I arrived at work and was assigned two pallets of brand new Nora Roberts books. The job? Rip off the front covers. New books. That was how returns were handled back then. I was so sick at heart.

Life moved on. The warehouse closed and operations were moved to Tennessee. Laid off, I went back to school and eventually found another job. Going to school and working full time kept me too busy to do much writing, but I did squeeze in a couple creative writing courses. Once again, the writing bug grabbed me. One of my short stories caught the attention of my professor--a hardbitten man who was impressed with nothing. He took me aside after class one evening and asked who was publishing my work. That was the first time I actually believed I had a chance.

The house hunk was transferred again so we moved from New York to Baltimore. Suddenly, I had no job, no extra family members, no obligations. My son begged me to go in my room and write. After all, it was something I'd always wanted to do. In my late fifties, retired and at loose ends, I sat down to write. 

Publishing had changed quite a bit. There were numerous e-publishers who accepted submission via e-mail. No postage or fancy paper was required. I sent off my first book--not really expecting much--and was shocked when I was offered a contract. And over the next three or four years I had moderate success.

It's highly unlikely I'll ever be a household name. Why? Because of one simple thing. Backlist. Think back to what I said at the beginning of this post. When I first read the books of Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, Elizabeth Lowell, Linda Howard, I was in my twenties. Now I'm sixty-two. 

While I was slogging through life, they were producing books. Their backlists are staggering. For every writer out there who is just beginning--that's the secret. Write. Write. Write. These ladies (and oh, so many more) weren't overnight successes. They were persistent. And they wrote. That's the secret.


1 comment:

  1. LOL:) I have notebooks of the first drafts of books #2-5, plus the typewritten draft of Love Finds A Way in my filing cabinet, as well as manila folders stuffed with stories I wrote from the 6th grade to college term papers.

    I also found a 5" floppy disk today...and remember dot matrix.

    And you're a household name in THIS house, lady:)