—dreaming about writing not only the great American novel, but that very special book that launches you onto the New York Times Bestseller list and gives you the freedom to, yes, quit that day job and write. Full time. Preferably with a glass of expensive champagne and a well-done steak.
Don’t be ashamed. It’s okay to dream big. To want what Stephen King has. Success, an impressive publishing track record. Money. You’re not selling out.
Let’s face it, writing doesn’t always pay—at least not with cold hard cash. You type until your fingers bleed, suffer writerly doubt of mass proportions, drink until you find the courage to send your masterpiece off, and then fret until you receive yet another rejection. In the meantime, your spouse, your kids, your mother, your conscience, are questioning why you don’t get a “real job.”
But writing is your job, you think. So the trick, of course, is to figure out how to make that job pay.
Good news, writerly friends. Your book does not need to land on the New York Times Bestseller list for you to be a successful author. You don’t have to secure a contract with one of the Big 5 publishers. You don’t even need an agent to make your mark in the ever-changing publishing world.
What you actually need is creativity.
More great news, right? Creativity seeps out your pores, pumps through your veins. Creativity is your lifeblood!
Excellent. Now tap into that lifeblood and start thinking outside the box. Look for unique opportunities. Because the answer to your mac and cheese dilemma might be closer than you think. It was for me.
I started writing fiction at 16. My first book is a really, really bad romance about an innocent crush I had on a carnie. Yeah, gross. I shudder thinking about it. “Stan” worked the Gravitron, that ridiculous circular ride that acts like a tilt-a-whirl on steroids. Even today, I can’t go near one without throwing up a little in my mouth. My second novel is about a wizard-in-training, which in retrospect was about 15 years ahead of its time. Damn you, J.K. Rowling.
My mother nicknamed me “Alice” in high school (aka: her dreamer), and my father, begrudgingly, bought me one of those old-fashioned desks so many writers dream about. But even I, naïve “Alice,” soon recognized that writing books wasn’t going to pay the bills when I moved away from home. I needed a back-up plan.
I ventured into journalism, where I eventually covered everything from organized crime to pig farming, and became the editor of several diverse publications. My articles were published in national and international magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Soap Opera Weekly. No big bucks there—but I began collecting skills: writing to deadline, research, editing and dealing with controversy.
I went from journalism to communications, finding my stride in a myriad of agriculture-related projects with million-dollar budgets. I managed a team of professionals, worked with some of the most inspirational and creative people I have ever met—and banked anywhere from 60 to 80 hours a week. Stuck in the corporate wheel, I couldn’t carve out a single minute for fiction—after so many hours crafting press releases, briefings, proposals, website content, marketing text, the last place I wanted to be at the end of the night was in front of my computer. At the time, it didn’t seem to matter. I was making great money—I even bought a sports car. My professional toolbox was brimming with skills: crisis management, technical writing, advanced editing, public relations, human resources, working under pressure, teamwork, and the list goes on.
But I’d crept further and further from the dream of writing that #1 New York Times Bestselling novel.
Fortunately for me, my then boss was a smart man. My position came with a professional development fund, and from that, he sent me to my first Maui Writer’s Conference where I studied with Gary Braver, a bestselling medical thriller author. He changed my life. Now a mentor and friend, Gary was the first person to point my career back to my passion—writing.
I quit my job, got married. And hubs suggested I take a year off to focus on writing. What a supportive man, right? I developed a routine—I woke up early and sent him off to work, went for a run, showered and turned on my computer. I wrote for a few hours, ate lunch and watched TV for an hour, then back at it until dinner.
This lasted a whopping four weeks.
The third time I had to ask my husband for coffee money was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. I went back to work—part time, at first. But I’ve discovered that I’m an all-in kind of girl.
I shoved the writing dream to the back of my brain and re-entered the corporate chaos. A year later, I went back to Maui on my own dime and studied with the amazing thriller writer, Steve Berry. He kicked my ass—not just with his redline editing, but with his ambition, and his commitment. Not only was Steve a full-time writer, he was also a full-time lawyer. Married. Kids. Not to mention, involved in a myriad of side projects. Plus, he found time to golf.
How could I expect to be a successful writer if I was doing nothing for my craft other than reading Stephen King’s memoir and hanging out with big name authors in Hawaii?
Back in reality, I pondered my options, growing more depressed by the day. Until one day, something amazing happened.
I went for lunch with a former contact from my agricultural days and she told me about a dream project she had in mind—a kid’s picture book to share the amazing story of Canada’s first canola farmer. Though she wanted an educational slant, her primary concern was simply a good story. I convinced her to give me the job.
Today, I am under contract with the Alberta Canola Producers’ Commission to write 10 of these educational storybooks, each of which is in every elementary school library in Canada. Every week, I blog as the main character in the book, Chase Duffy, as well as maintain his Twitter and Facebook accounts. It’s the kind of marketing we all do for our personal projects, except I get paid for it.
In the next couple of years, the books will have accompanying videos, curriculum guides for teachers, and a phone app. Plus, I will have visited hundreds of schools reading the books, talking about reading and writing to young kids, and presenting the series at teacher’s conventions—all of which I am paid for from an approved, and impressive, budget.
In fact, by the end of the series, the Alberta Canola Producers’ Commission will have invested nearly $1 million on a character I created.
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Genre – Non-fiction
Rating – G
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