7 Steps to Accidental Writer Success
by Amy Shojai
As writers, we wear several hats. In my case, all the hats are furry ones and usually come with music.
I graduated from college with a theater and music/performance major and really never intended to become a writer. I planned to go into performance, but instead fell in love and married—and had to find a "real job." Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? How many of our “plans” get stymied by detours? In my case, it turned out to be a fortuitous one, because the job working at a veterinary clinic in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky changed my life and ultimately gave me a writing career.
I used to tell my mom all about the various fun, scary, heartbreaking and amazing experiences that happened with the cats and dogs at work. She told me I should write them down. I'd tried to write a mystery (it was truly awful!), but nonfiction hadn't been on my radar. So, I compiled my stories into an anthology and submitted to publishers.
I hadn't a clue what I was doing. This was before Email or the Internet with all correspondence by snail mail. I collected so many rejections that I could have wallpapered my house with them. Sound familiar? I nearly gave up—but then the librarian pointed me to a three-year-old copy of Writers Market. I found pet magazines and submitted chapters of my book as articles.
I collected even more rejections because I hadn't read any of these magazines. I hadn't done my homework. Finally the editor of Dog Fancy took pity, and wrote me back the BEST REJECTION LETTER EVER! It told me 1) I was a talented writer, (cue the happy tears), and 2) why the story was rejected. This generous editor gifted me with the answers to questions I’d neglected to research.
#1 Tip. Be a mentor! They’re the heaven’s gift to starry-eyed hopefuls and can make dreams come true.
The next submission about my own dog was closer, she said, but needed XYZ, and she gave me the opportunity to fix it. When I submitted the rewrites—it sold. Oh, y’all reading this know that thrill of a first sale.
Did I mention how much I admire and love mentors?
I sold eight articles in a row to that editor, and thereafter to other pet magazines. And then lightning struck in when a New York book publisher called me out of the blue to write a cat book. They’d read my magazine articles and tracked me down from the bio-note. Over the years I got two more book deals in the same way when editors read my articles and tracked me down to invite me to write for them. I even wrote one book after I lost a writing contest when the judge tapped me for a future book. And I sold 100 previously published print articles to one of the first online ventures when they asked, for a nice chunk of change years later.
#2 Tip. Include bio-notes and contact information in everything you write. You never know where that can lead.
I still wanted to publish fiction, though, and submitted to dozens of agents with little success. Between submissions, music and theater performance assuaged the writing drought. One agent finally replied “no thanks” to the fiction (drat!) but liked my nonfiction. Together we sold a dozen pet books.
#3 Tip. Be flexible. Dreams come to those who see the reality within the sparkly vision.
When the nonfiction book well dried up, I believed my career was over. I sulked. I pouted. I pounded a head-shaped dent in my office wall. When I finally got tired of the pity party I reinvented myself.
Theater and music fed my starved soul, so I co-wrote, produced and performed in KURVES, THE MUSICAL. The backlist nonfiction pet books were revised and re-issued in new formats.
#4 Tip. Look for opportunities in the disappointments. If my books hadn’t gone out of print, I’d never have gotten back the rights, which enabled my re-birth as an author.
#5 Tip. Creativity breeds creativity. What other creative avenues feed your muse? Writers paint word pictures, composers sing symphonies of sound, and actors bring it all to life. Nourish your creativity.
Suddenly, no nonfiction deadlines stood in the way of fiction, other than my “day job” writing www.puppies.About.com site. The book I’d always wanted to read I now had the time to write. So I wrote a unique “dog viewpoint” thriller with a cat hero character that my existing audience would embrace, and planned to self-publish LOST AND FOUND .
#6 Tip. Leverage your expertise. What you do in your “real life” when incorporated in your writing work can potentially bring you closer to your personal brass ring goal.
Because of the Internet, writers and authors no longer struggle alone and can reach out for help and support in many ways. That’s how I connected with the folks who helped publish my backlist nonfiction titles, and (oh thank you doG!) also agreed to publish my thriller. And that opened even more doors for me as a reinvented fiction author.
#7 Tip. Ask for help. Just as it makes YOU feel awesome to be a mentor, graciously accept such gifts from others. Connect with and build a support group of others who share your goals and experience.
It took me more than 20 years to “accidentally” hold my own fiction book, LOST AND FOUND in my hot lil' paws. And now I've got a firm grip on that shiny ring, I'm not letting go. I hope these 7 tips help you reach out and capture the dream that’s close to your heart.
Amy Shojai has been reinventing herself for years. She’s a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award-winning author of 26 best-selling pet books that cover furry babies to old-fogies, first aid to natural healing, and behavior/training to Chicken Soup-icity. She is the Puppies Guide at puppies.About.com, the cat behavior expert at cats.About.com, and hosts a weekly half hour Internet Pet Peeves radio show. Amy has been featured as an expert in hundreds of print venues including The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, and Family Circle, as well as national radio and television networks such as CNN, Animal Planet’s DOGS 101 and CATS 101. She’s been a consultant to the pet products industry and a host/program consultant for select “furry” TV projects. Amy brings her unique pet-centric viewpoint to public appearances, writer conferences keynotes/seminars and THRILLERS WITH BITE! You can find Amy blogging several times a week at her Bling, Bitches & Blood blog at www.AmyShojai.com.