‘Overnight Success’?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

The misconceptions about writers that are perpetuated in the media can be annoying. One previously-mentioned example of this is the writer in a TV show who will bang out a first draft on their Apple Mac (usually in a matter of weeks) and pass it to the editor/agent without having to rewrite a single world. And then the novel appears in print within a couple of months. You’d think scriptwriters would know a bit more about the way publishing works, wouldn’t you?

Another example is the concept of an ‘overnight success’. I very much doubt there’s any such thing as an ‘overnight success’, and this applies to artist and musicians as equally as it does to writers. The reality is you work for years on your writing, music or art. You rack up countless rejections, and nobody knows or cares who you are. Then you might have a degree of success. If you’re a writer you get a couple of books published. You work hard at the promotion, while still working on the writing, but still nobody knows or cares who you are.

Then twenty years and half a dozen books down the line, you may get a book published that does reasonably well. People who like that book start looking for others and discover your back-catalogue. Word gradually spreads and other people start buying and liking your books. And then suddenly the media start describing you as an ‘overnight success’. Not so. You’re the same writer you were a year ago, or five years ago, or maybe even ten years ago. The only difference is more people know who you are now.

I have a couple of friends in the music industry. They’re both doing reasonably well there currently, but only after a good many years of hard work, of not knowing where the next gig was coming from and struggling to pay the bills.

Occasionally a first novel is published that does so astoundingly well the author becomes extremely well known in a short period of time. But such cases are the exception rather than the rule. Unfortunately, like those writers that sell so well they make vast quantities of money (JK Rowling, perhaps – and even she wasn’t an overnight success), they perpetuate the myth that all writers are rich and famous.

There were a few people who said to me, once they found out about my first publishing contract, “I guess you’ll be quitting work now”. I just didn’t have the time or the energy to explain why that won’t be happening any time soon.

So, now I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll get back to juggling the writing, promoting and editing around the day job. Maybe in 20 years’ time I’ll have a dozen or so published novels under my belt. Who knows, maybe even I might one day be be described as an ‘overnight success’.

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2 comments so far

  1. Anne Lyle on

    Don’t they say it takes ten years to become an overnight success? 🙂

    I was talking to my husband about this at the weekend, and saying how my dizzyingly fast transition from anxious wannabe to contracted author is actually built on the back of years of honing my craft and networking with people in the business.

    It does still hit you like a ton of gold bricks when it happens, though!

  2. Savannah Chase on

    It takes a lot of hard work to become a success..Nothing is ever easy…You work your butt off and after a while the day comes when it all pays off…If you love what you are doing you will keep at it no matter what…


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