I was listening to a brief audio presentation sponsored by my publisher, Wheatmark, that featured social marketing guru Bernie Borges. Borges is CEO of Find and Convert and has written Marketing 2.0, which is basically a book designed to sharpen marketing strategies in the world increasingly dominated by social networking. At one point during the interview, the host asked him if he had any “shortcuts” to making the use of facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, and other interactive internet tools effective. The answer? An emphatic “no.” It took eights years, he observed, before one of the most influential bloggers today had his first 100 subscribers.
The analogy reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers where he profiled some of the most successful people in the world. One of the concepts he discusses is a general rule of thumb where a person needs to investment 10,000 hours in an activity or pursuit before they get to the point they can excel. (Among the examples he notes are the Beatles and Bill Gates.)
In short, rarely is there a true “overnight success.” Most successful people, including authors, toil away for years, honing their craft, before they achieve notable success.
In children’s writing, many could easily think J.K. Rowling is the counterfactual: She “shot” to superstardam with her first book: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or “Philosopher’s Stone” in the U.K.). But this is more myth than reality.
We tend to forget that Ms. Rowling labored long and hard over her story and manuscript, even spending time as a single mother on welfare, before she could even shop it around. She conceived the story in 1990 and didn’t get representation by an agent until 1995. The book appeared in the U.K. in 1996, and it wasn’t until 1997 that she earned $100,000 form an auction for the U.S. publishing rights. The first book was rejected by 12 publishers before a small English press (Bloomsbury) to the risk and published it giving Ms. Rowling an advance equal to about $3,000. Their first print run was just 1,000 copies.
But the journey to overnight success wasn’t complete until her book took the U.S. by storm after the first book appeared in October 1998. Perhaps even more importantly, each of her subsequent volumes in the series has improved in writing and style. I have no doubt that the 10,000 hour rule applies to Rowling’s overnight success.
On the more earthly level of excellent writers who finally are (justifiably) earning an independent living as authors, Katrina Kittle’s experience provides both insight and encouragement. Her debut novel Traveling Light (first appearing in 2000) remains one of my all time favorite books, and it was commercially successful. Her second novel, Two Truths and a Lie, was published in 2001. Great start…but only a start.
Despite critical acclaim and modest commercial success, Katrina’s writing career really didn’t begin to take a financially sustainable turn until her third book, the penetrating and important The Kindness of Strangers found both critical and commercial success in 2007. The paperback printing allowed her to give up her “day job” and concentrate on her fourth wonderful novel, The Blessings of the Animals (2010), which appears to have given her the kind of platform we all want to continue our writing as a full time endeavor. Years from Katrina’s first book to the one that gave her a financially sustainable writing career? Nine. And that’s a pretty quick overnight success.
So, as A Warrior’s Soul, my second teen novel, is readied to be unleashed upon the reading public, I need to bridle my enthusiasm for my own work and realize that this is really just the beginning of my fiction writing journey. The best is yet to come as each book gives me critical experience in writing stories and characters and my marketing slowly builds my author’s platform. I have faith that, after 20 years of hard work, diligence and perseverance, I will indeed become an overnight success.