You know, all this almost didn’t happen. And by “this” I mean eleven books in two fantasy series, four books (soon to be five) in my Ace Lone Wolf series, tens of thousands of books sold, and millions of pages read. The whole making-a-living-as-a-writer thing. It came this close to never happening.
But it did, and so much of it because of one person. That’s what I want to write about today. I want to say publicly how much I appreciate what she did for me.
Let me back up a bit.
By the late 2000’s I was beat down. I had two decades of rejections under my belt. I’d been rejected by magazines and story contests. I’d been rejected by every major publisher multiple times, and a lot of the small ones too. I’d been rejected by just about everybody who called themselves an agent. And that was when they even bothered to reply to my queries. Many of them simply ignored me.
You get rejected for long enough, and there comes a time when you can’t help but think “Maybe I just suck at this. Maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a writer.”
That’s where I was by the end of the 2000’s. I couldn’t take it anymore. All those mornings getting up early while everyone in the family was asleep so I could write. All those nights pecking away at the keyboard while others got to watch TV. What was the point of it all? I was never going to get anywhere.
So I hung it up. Twenty-five years of writing and I had nothing to show for it but a half dozen manuscripts no one wanted to read.
I quit writing. Completely.
This worried family members who knew how important writing is to me. “You’re not really quitting, are you?” they’d ask. Yeah, I was really quitting.
I didn’t write for about two years. I put it all away and focused on my job (I was teaching high school English at the time) and my wife and sons. It actually felt kind of good. At least I didn’t have any new gut punches coming in the mail. (And the rejections were always gut punches. No matter how much I tried to keep from getting my hopes up, I always did. And it always hurt.)
2011 rolled around. I’d read about this thing called Kindle ebooks. I figured, what the heck? It doesn’t cost anything. At least I’ll get to see my book published somewhere before I die.
I made a cover on my computer and uploaded Wreckers Gate. Then I forgot about it.
But a funny thing happened one day. Paul, a teacher I worked with, came into my classroom before school and said, “My wife read your book. She told me to tell you that you’re wasting your time if you’re doing anything other than writing novels.”
That floored me. Totally floored me. I’d met Stormy, Paul’s wife, only once, a few years ago at a school function and all we did was say hi. I didn’t know her at all.
Let me step aside to say something here. When you’re a writer trying to get noticed—or someone in any of the arts, really—you show most of your work to family and friends. Because they’re the only ones who will take a look at it. Generally, those people tell you how great your work is. But you can never really trust them, you know? Maybe they just don’t want to hurt your feelings. Or maybe they’re too biased. (This doesn’t apply with the art work my sons brought home when they were in elementary school. I mean those were real masterpieces.)
But here was someone I didn’t know, who had no reason to try and make me feel better. Heck, I didn’t even remember telling Paul about my book.
This had a massive impact on me. Finally, independent, unbiased confirmation that I didn’t suck! Hallelujah!
The old fire came back. I had a good chunk of book 2 written, and I started in on it right away. It was wonderful. There was one person out there who genuinely wanted to read my story. One person. That was all I really needed.
I wrote and wrote. I finished book two and started on three. I realized that there were lots of things I could do to make book one better, so I went back and rewrote like 60% of it. By then I had a few other readers clamoring for the story.
I got out of teaching, which was really wearing me out. I wanted to take a stab at being a full-time writer, but I still didn’t really believe, so instead I went to grad school for social work. While I was in school, I finished books four and five.
I finished my degree, but I couldn’t find any job that felt right. I did part time stuff and continued to write. I also started looking into the ins and outs of being an indie writer. (I’m telling you, that was super intimidating. I’d go onto the message boards and be so lost that I’d run away for a month and hide. That’s a whole other story right there.)
Finally, I went to my wife and asked her if she’d support me in the crazy idea of being an indie writer. (You know, right after we just spent a crapload of money putting me through grad school.) For some reason, instead of throwing a frying pan at my head, she agreed. I still have no idea why.
Anyway, one thing led to another. I lost money the first year, made a few thousand the second, and then last year the dam broke. I sold better than 40,000 books. I had another 26 million page reads in Kindle Unlimited (based on average book length, that’s another 40k books.)
It’s all been quite a massive turnaround from the days when I practically had to beg people to read a chapter or two. I have no idea what the future will bring. I’m about to start a new fantasy series. Maybe people will hate it. Maybe all this goes away.
But what can’t be taken away is that at least for one year the dream came true. For one year I was an actual, honest-to-goodness author.
Because one person stepped up at the key time and gave me belief in myself again.
Thank you, Stormy. I am eternally grateful.
(Thank you too, Paul. You’ve been a huge supporter as well.)