When you’re standing back, watching a fellow author rise to the top and breaking through that seemingly unbreakable glass wall between struggle and success, it’s easy to think it all just happened over night.
Then we met Rebecca Skloot… our keynote speaker at this last year’s first-ever She Writes Press Writing Retreat.
She opened our eyes to the very planned “11-year overnight success.” Her book has 5,000 reviews, is a #1 New York Times bestseller, and has been featured everywhere from Entertainment Weekly to O Magazine.
She wasn’t an overnight sensation though. She is a hard working writer like every writer we’ve worked with over the years. So we asked some other authors we know who have seen big successes to share their breakthrough moments.
If you’re interested in learning more about Rebecca Skloot’s breakthrough success and how you can replicate her tactics, look out for Rebecca’s course on She Writes University.
Caroline Leavitt, author of Cruel Beautiful World
“I always tell writers to never, ever give up, and here is why:
My first novel, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, was a sensation and a huge success. My next seven novels were abject failures. Few reviews, no sales whatsoever. No one knew who I was and when asked what I did, I always said, ‘I’m a novelist?’ with a question mark.
I had to change publishers five times.
Then my ninth novel, Pictures of You, was rejected on contract by my then publisher. I was sure I would never be published again because who would want someone with eight failed novels and no sales? But I didn’t give up and that ‘not special’ novel was soon picked up by Algonquin Books and it went into six printings and became a New York Times bestseller its first month out! I finally, finally felt like a novelist. No more question mark!
So Never. Ever. Ever. Give. Up.”
Mary Kubica, author of Don’t You Cry
“I wrote a book about 12 years ago that I truly hoped, with all my heart, would be published. I had a big-time agent, a great title, and (what I thought was) a great story. Publishers, at first, were buzzing, but to my disappointment, the book … did not sell. I was so disappointed and spent a solid year doubting whether I could truly make it as an author.
When I tried to revise the book, I realized, to my surprise, that I … hated it! I, finally, decided to sit down and write a book that came from my heart. I decided not to care about what types of books were selling in the marketplace, what anyone might think, and instead, write a story I truly loved–a story for me! And that’s what I did–plain, and simple, I wrote a story that I loved!
That new book, The Violets Of March, propelled me to find my wonderful literary agent, a contract with Penguin for multiple books, and a career I’m so grateful for. (It’s still my favorite book, by the way, even if it does contain a lot of first-time novelist errors, ha.)
Today, more than 10 years later, I have written nine novels, sold millions of books in more than 30 countries and have become a New York Times bestseller. My new novel in the US, Always, will be published by Ballantine/Random House (the first in a new three-book contract), and I couldn’t be more thrilled, or grateful, that everything worked out as it should–and that I didn’t sell that first book. I’ve come to learn that sometimes things happen as they should, and sometimes disappointment is opportunity in disguise.”
Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, co-authors of So Close
“It’s funny to us, because the moment when it hit us that The Nanny Diaries might be successful came after a few benchmarks where outsiders could probably see the trajectory the book was headed on, but it hadn’t sunk in for us yet.
By our pub date in March of 2002, we had already been flown to London by Penguin to promote the UK release and had sold the film rights to Miramax. Julia Roberts had already recorded the audio book. We had started the day being interviewed by Katie Couric in the 7:00a.m. hour of The Today Show, but all any of that made us was nervous. We were mentally back in economy flying the plane, willing everything to go well.
But that afternoon we had a short break after our print interviews to get ready for our evening reading and signing and we stopped into a Barnes & Noble on Third Avenue to ask if they were carrying the book. We didn’t see it on any of the tables so we asked an employee if they had any copies.
‘No!’ he replied, very harried and frustrated, ‘Ok? We are getting more in tomorrow, but we are all sold out!’
‘Sold out?’ we asked. ‘How many did you have?’
‘Forty,’ he replied, ‘And we sold them all today.’
We literally pulled our hands out and started counting on our fingers. That was more than our families and local friends put together—SOME of those people had to be strangers! We threw our arms around each other, crying with joy and disbelief.”
Sara Shepard, author of The Amateurs
“Pretty Little Liars became a show in early 2010, but it wasn’t until a year later that the results really took effect. Don’t get me wrong—PLL had its loyal followers when it was just a book series: readers filmed YouTube videos reenacting critical scenes from the book and brought handmade PLL t-shirts to book signings.
But my whoa, this is out of hand moment was when Miss Piggy from The Muppets did spoof promos for the show in November 2011. I adore The Muppets, so it was mind-blowing that Piggy, who was my favorite, was doing the Shh face and talking about texts from ‘someone called A.’
My little book series was suddenly part of pop culture. Even so, I tried not to get a big head about it. I celebrated PLL’s popularity, but I tried—as well as I could—to keep things in perspective and continue to work hard and think ahead. Trends change—it’s all fleeting. But hey, it’s a fun wave to ride!
Oh, and another big moment was when people started naming their babies Aria. Never thought that would happen.”