The fog of memory has swallowed the exact date and conference, but at some point in the mid-2000s, when I was working in-house for a small press, I attended a conference luncheon where I met Kelsey Browning. At that time, Kelsey was a new-ish writer, not yet published but scoring some wins on the contest circuit. One thing led to another, and I ended up performing an email introduction between Kelsey, Adrienne Giordano, and Tracey Devlyn, who were all at about the same stage of career development. These three authors formed a collaborative work group that has created much success and stood solid over time.
Now, many years later, as Romance University winds down for a hiatus, I find myself contemplating the long arc of publishing careers. My career has changed – no longer working in house, taking only a few select private editing clients, and becoming a hybrid author. The original RU trio of Kelsey, Adrienne, and Tracey are thriving as multi-published authors now, and a new, dedicated team of writers has been capably managing RU. We’ve all experienced change against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving publishing industry. It’s been a wild ride.
With this long view in mind, and with no evidence of a slowdown in the evolution of the publishing industry, I thought I would share some insights on how to manage a blossoming career in a changing climate.
Writers are isolated out of necessity, but becoming part of the larger community of writers can create opportunities for both learning and earning. For example, when Kelsey, Adrienne, and Tracey wanted to learn more about the craft and business, they formed Romance University. When they knew they were ready to start building more financial success, they started the Steel Ridge series of romance novels. These collaborations have yielded excellent results both for the trio and for their fellow writers and fans.
One of my favorite aspects of Romance University is something that was never visible to its readership. Once or twice a year, the trio would hole up together in a hotel or house and work nonstop for several days. I was lucky enough to be part of this gathering a few times, and it was magic. In just three or so days, we could plot novels in detail and make career decisions with the accumulated wisdom and experience of everyone in that room. None of this would have happened if we hadn’t all been willing to make time for it. It’s not always easy to carve out time, whether a few minutes or a few days, but if something is important, we make time for it.
Motivate Internally and Externally
One remarkable thing about the original RU trio is the way they’ve kept motivation high through all the changes, both good and bad, of the past decade or so. It’s not that each one of them has always been perfectly, 100% driven at every moment, but that they are able to manage the ebb and flow of motivation. Individually, each of them functions at a very high level and accomplishes significant amounts of work over time. And as a group, they are able to provide each other nurturing, support, and an occasional kick in the pants when needed. Those two types of motivation, internal and external, dovetail so that each is successful in both individual and group projects.
Twenty years ago, e-books barely existed and publishing was operating on the same distribution model that had been in place since the Great Depression. A few years later, small presses and e-books were enriching authors all over the globe, and the old distribution model operated in tandem with web-based sales. Now, with Borders and countless small presses gone, authors are the CEOs of their own careers with self-publishing and traditional publishing options providing different pathways to readers. Authors have had to adapt to a tremendous amount of change in a very short time. It can be frustrating to have to keep learning new techniques and tactics as the old methods stop working, but remaining fluid to these changes means that a career will remain viable over time.
Take the Long View
I’m sure we’ve all heard the jokes about how many years it takes to become an overnight sensation. That’s the thing about being an author, though. We can work in obscurity for years, and then in an instant, lightning can strike. Or we can just as easily work in obscurity for years, building a fan base one reader at a time until quite suddenly we realize we’re doing okay, after all. No matter the trajectory, for the overwhelming number of us, that career success will come after years, not after weeks. That’s okay. It takes as long as it takes. Assume that you’re always five books away from the lightning strike, and just keep going. You’ll get there in the end.
It’s a real pleasure to revisit RU for this final guest column. Thank you to the RU crew and reader for everything. So much has changed for all of us over the past few years, but this is unchanging: I wish nothing but success for each of you.
Join us on Thursday for Jenn Stark!
Bio: Theresa Stevens is the Publisher of STAR Guides Publishing, a nonfiction publishing company with the mission to help writers write better books. After earning degrees in creative writing and law, she worked as a literary attorney agent for a boutique firm in Indianapolis where she represented a range of fiction and nonfiction authors. After a nine-year hiatus from the publishing industry to practice law, Theresa worked as chief executive editor for a highly acclaimed small romance press, and her articles on writing and editing have appeared in numerous publications for writers. Visit her blog at http://edittorrent.blogspot.com/ where she and her co-blogger share their knowledge and hardly ever argue about punctuation.