The race to get published can be pure hell, but as someone who's spent more than twelve years and twenty books in the trenches, I can tell you it's a leisurely Sunday stroll compared to the Herculean effort of staying published--and staying sane and healthy while doing so. Of the scores of romance writers I started out with (the Class of '99, we called ourselves), very few remain. Some have dropped out, disillusioned. Others flew high for a time, then crashed down and became embittered. Still others succumbed to insurmountable health or financial problems.
But before I depress you, let me say that there were in fact survivors, just as there are those who have been writing for decades and dozens (sometimes even hundreds) of books longer and are still out there kicking tail and taking names. So what are the distinguishing qualities that enable some to keep working through the ups and downs common to every career? What lessons can those of us who aspire to be marathoners take from their stories? I'll begin by sharing those traits I've noticed, and it's my hope that other writers who've been published for more than ten years will add to the conversation with their own observations.
The long-haul writer...
1. Does not equate publishing success with self-worth. How can we, when we've seen how fickle the business can be? A writer who's this year's hot property can find herself untouchable next year. Another whose career had seemingly circled the drain years before can suddenly emerge triumphant, then soar to dizzying heights. (This is also a great reason to treat everyone with respect and kindness instead of only sucking up to those you think can do you some good!)
2. Finds the balance between chasing trends and selling out...or starving. Trends come and go too swiftly to be predicted, and too fiercely to be ignored. If one speaks to you, it's fine to create your own take on it--as long as you're bringing something new to the subgenre. But faking an enthusiasm never works well in the long run. The readers always know.
3. Cultivates nurturing friendships with people she genuinely cares about and supports. The key word here is "genuinely." If you're *just* networking, you stand the risk of being perceived as a user. And nobody helps out a user, but they share all sorts of great stuff with their friends.
4. Remains professional. The long-hauler carefully considers her schedule before making commitments and then keeps them. If unforeseen circumstances put on the big squeeze, she deals with the problem promptly and honestly. She avoids public snarkage and gossip, erring on the side of kindness, and treats her business relationships with respect.
5. Never stops striving to do better. The truly committed writer never feels as if she's arrived. She reads constantly and keeps studying the craft, experimenting with techniques, and listening to the likes and dislikes of the fans with whom she seeks to connect. She understands that phoning it it is the quickest route to burn-out.
6. Honors her own pace and process rather than trying to be "the next *insert name of publishing phenom.*" Each writer works at a unique pace, in a unique way. The marathon writer gets this, and realizes it's not a race to see who can write the most books in the shortest time period, or even the most popular or successful. It's an individual journey, where the writer strives to create a deep and meaningful connection with her readers, to the very best of her ability. Besides that, comparing yourself to others will just drive you crazy.
7. Understands that change is the only constant. Trends, business models, even people change, pulling the rug out from underneath you at the most inconvenient times. The survivors are the ones who go all Darwin on the problem, adapting and evolving rather than getting endlessly mired in the LaBrea tar pits of Woe Is Me (although a little whining to your friends and a lot of chocolate are to be expected in the moment.)
So what qualities do you feel are most important for the career writer? What lessons can those of us who hope to either join the business or stay in it learn from our genre's veterans? I hope you'll share your own experiences or your questions and comments below.