The Myth of Overnight Success

In Business of Writing, Craft, General, Interviews, Profiles on April 6, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Every so often, a potential client comes my way for editing services. Or, I should say, for “Overnight Success” services. This person has read several bestselling books and has great ideas for their own Next Big Thing. This person writes a manuscript, which is in and of itself hard work admittedly, and runs it by me with the expectation that I will say: “It’s perfect. Just tweak a few sentences, and then go on little writer, become rich and famous.”

This person, when told that they have the requisite amount of work that anyone who has written a first draft does, inevitably gets angry with me. They have “bought” the myth perpetuated so easily by celebrities who churn out books and the illusion that the NYT bestsellers like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code foster, that all you need is a good idea and success will naturally follow.

I know a lot of published authors whose experiences run from tiny, small press situations where they had a difficult time selling 100 copies, to blammo bestselling authors who were taken by surprise when something they lovingly gave their soul to write caught fire in the collective unconscious and hit it big.

In every case, I can promise you, not a single one of them had “overnight success.” Most of the published authors I know didn’t even publish the first book they wrote. Some not even their fifth or six. They spent years grinding out words, running them through the cutting process of writer’s group critique, revised until their eyes bled, and then put equally as much work into the process of selling a book.

Coming soon to Make a Scene are stories of what it took writers to get published. You won’t want to miss these! And feel free to share your stories in the comments.

  1. editing is a thankless job in many ways, but without editors – well, I’ve always said that writers who don’t get their work edited-it’s like signing up for all the hard courses, but not buying the class textbooks to help you make the most of your hard work.

    And I imagine it must get very frustrating for a good editor to be the recipient of a writer’s frustration. If someone who wants to write for a living is not willing to be patient and persistent, is not able to handle rejection with a thick skin, and cannot soldier on while ignoring all the media hype about authors who “make it big” (who, by the way, are less than one percent of all authors out there), well…all the good editing in the world won’t get them into what they want most. But for those of us who are willing to climb the climb, thanks for being out there, editing our work, helping us to make it shine.

    • Yes, Patricia, editing can be thankless. As I’m also a writer, with every line of critique I offer, my own soft heart bleeds a little, because I also know how hard it is to hear the critique, and to press on.

      But it’s part of the journey to be an “artist” isn’t it, to get feedback, to open ourselves up to vulnerability and dig deeper.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Wonderfully written. I think this is a reality, especially in a time of instant publication via the internet, that many writers need to be reminded of.

    • Thanks, Alegra, I think so. I’ve said that even in a new reality where technology makes self-publishing easy and accessible, I still want there to be gatekeepers. Quality has to be assisted and vetted (now, this is not to say that all self-publishing is bad!!)

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