October 24th, 2018

7 Steps to Publishing Success by an Accidental Writer

by Amy Shojai

I didn’t set out to be a writer. I’m where I am due to a perfect storm of pet-love, frustration, boredom, and lack of funds. *s* Oh, and luck, a whole lot of furry good luck.

THE ACCIDENTAL WRITER

My publishing career began when my husband and I moved to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. You never know where a “real” job will lead.

With few opportunities in the small town, I applied for a position with a veterinary hospital. The interview happened during a Chihuahua’s C-section, with the doctor handing me puppies to resuscitate while I answered his questions. I got the job, maybe because I didn’t faint!

I fell in love with veterinary medicine and became fascinated with cat and dog behavior and care. In my spare time, I read voraciously, and—like many readers—was inspired to write. I submitted personal experience stories as a vet tech to pet magazines and collected a boatload of rejections until an editor took pity on me, and explained what I’d done wrong.

She explained they didn't print articles with sad or tragic endings but preferred hopeful, relatable experiences from which readers could learn. After that I sold 8 stories in a row to her magazine. All I can say is, doG bless mentors!

#1 Tip. Be a mentor! They’re the heaven’s gift to starry-eyed hopefuls and can make dreams come true. Help others, because a rising tide lifts all boats—you’ll benefit as much as anyone.

I graduated to assignments that required interviewing veterinary experts from all over the world. Telephone-tag interviews (this was before email) took place during lunch hours and after work. And then it happened—a New York editor called me to write a book. Mee-wow!

A New York editor read my Cat Fancy magazine articles, and phoned to offer two book contracts. Those titles, published in 1992 by Bantam/Doubleday/Dell, launched my book publishing career.

My third book came after I lost a dog-writing contest, but the editor liked my writing, and asked me to write a kitten book for a Simon & Schuster imprint. And my fourth book publication happened when an editor read and liked my Dog World articles, and asked me to write 16 chapters in a massive Rodale Press pet care book. I quit my day job to write full time, and continued to produce 30-50 articles and columns a year while pursing more book contracts.

#2 Tip. Include bio-notes and contact information in everything you write. Make sure editors and agents can reach you (do you have easy to find CONTACT INFO on your blog?) You never know where that can lead.

LITERARY AGENT—OH BLISS, I’VE ARRIVED!

I broke all the rules to get my agent. She’d turned down my fiction before (drat!) but had expressed interest in my nonfiction background. When her name turned up as a speaker at a writers’ conference I planned to attend, I (gulp!) took a chance and faxed her my pitch.

My relationships with experts in the pet products industry granted me permission to use an impressive imprimatur on two proposed book projects. Within 30 seconds, she called me back, and I had an agent.

#3 Tip. Leverage your expertise & know when to break rules. What you do in your “real life” when incorporated in your writing work can potentially bring you closer to your personal brass ring goal. Look for opportunities and be bold—worst case, they say “no.”

PUBLISHING DIES—I’M SCREWED

After September 11, news became more serious (rightly so), with warm-and-fuzzy TV pet segments no longer welcome. People asked Dr. Google for cat and dog advice (much of it bad or dangerous), rather than reading books. I couldn’t sell anything new, and several of my titles went out of print.

I believed my book career was over, and took a job teaching high school choir. But that led to frustration, so I continued to write in my spare time before work, during lunch, and until midnight or on weekends. And I wrote the pet-centric thriller I’d always wanted to read.

#4 Tip. Creativity breeds creativity. What other creative avenues feed your muse? Writers paint word pictures, composers sing symphonies of sound, and actors bring it all to life. Nourish your creativity. If you can’t write all the time, find other creative ways to feed your muse.

A weight lifted once I gave notice prior to the end of the school year, although I had no writing prospects. This leap of faith paid off within three weeks of leaving school when a book offer came my way (The American Pit Bull Terrier). As soon as I delivered that manuscript, a colleague invited me to write online behavior content for cats.About.com, which also led to me creating the entire puppies.about.com site.

#5 Tip. Be flexible. Dreams come to those who see the reality within the sparkly vision.

Ebooks revitalized my publishing career. I left my agent (OH MY HEAVENS, HOW SCARY!). I listened to my audience and gave them what they wanted and needed. Today my royalty percentage earns far more than any New York deal ever had.

#6 Tip. Look for opportunities in the disappointments. If my books hadn’t gone out of print, I’d never have gotten back the rights, which enabled my re-birth as an Indie author.

Initially I partnered with a small independent press to release updated print versions of my back list books, as well as new nonfiction titles. Together we launched my fiction career with LOST AND FOUND (now perma-free), followed by three more pet-centric thrillers. Attending professional conferences helped me network with established thriller authors like James Rollins, J.T. Ellison, Jon Land and others who actually (SQUEE!) gave me cover quotes for my thrillers.

#7 Tip. Ask for help. Just as it makes YOU feel awesome to be a mentor, graciously accept such gifts from others. Connect with and build a support group of others who share your goals and experience.

In January 2017, I left the small press indie-publisher and updated and reissued all my books under my own imprint. That has allowed me to better plan marketing campaigns, schedule updates, and take control of pricing and income factors in my business.

PASSING IT FORWARD

Other than hiring an outside editor, I can’t afford to pay others for work I can do myself. Besides, nobody cares as much about the end product as I do. So I learn from publishing and marketing experts, just as I learned from veterinary and pet products experts over the years. Today, there are many paths to publishing, and no “right” or “wrong” way to get there. I hope these tips help you reach out and capture the shiny dream that’s close to your heart.

Readers of this blog are already well on the path to writing and publishing success, so congratulations! Follow your muse and grab that writer-ly brass ring. If I can reinvent myself, so can you.

What do you think is the key to writing success? Do you have any questions or tips? Please add them to the comments!

If you’d like to go further, I’ve an exciting new project to share.

This past summer I launched WRITE SCHTUFF COACHING to consolidate all the knowledge from my writing and publishing sessions at dozens of writer conferences and corporate clients. If you’re like many writers, you HATE LEAVING HOME, hate the time and the cost of travel and expense of professional conferences. This 9-course series addresses your writer-icity pain from the comfort of your own space with prescriptive how-to advice, whether you’re multi-published or writing your first book.

Check out the first coaching call for free – it’s available all the time, so you can watch at your leisure: Beat Writer’s Block, stay Motivated & Write the #$%^! Book

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About Amy

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award-winning author of 30+ nonfiction pet care titles and Thrillers with Bite! Find more about Amy at https://www.SHOJAI.com You can also ENTER for a chance to win a paw-tographed copy of DOG FACTS or CAT FACTS.

29 responses to “7 Steps to Publishing Success by an Accidental Writer”

  1. Laura Drake says:

    Thanks for the interesting post, Amy - wow, what a winding road you took to success! And it spotlights a great point that we tend to forget, when we're pushing our agendas....look around. Just because a path isn't what you thought it should be to begin with, doesn't mean it's not the right path!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      So true, Laura. I talk about this with young people entering the job force: even if you don't know exactly what path you want to take, walk down A path and you will eventually find THE path.

    • amyshojai says:

      Hi Laura, I can't agree more strongly. Door slamming makes my head (and heart) hurt, but there's always a brisk, refreshing breeze from an open window nearby. Finding the courage to take a peek out that window is the key.

  2. lrtrovi says:

    I love your writing journey story! I'm going to immediately check out "Lost and Found." I think your great attitude is what kept the opportunities coming your way. Do you ever write about horses? (my personal muse). Lastly, I love your advice to be a mentor. I've reached out to a few authors wanting to pick their brains a bit over coffee, but everyone is so busy. Any tips on finding a mentor?

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOST AND FOUND is great, Ltrovi. I don't think she does books on horses but then Amy always manages to surprise me so she might have some horse knowledge tucked into that busy brain of hers.

    • amyshojai says:

      Hi Introvi, I don't routinely include horses but ... the most recent thriller (4th in the series) does include a hero horse who braves a fire to assist one of the main characters to rescue another. The book is FIGHT OR FLIGHT, and came about when another publishing opportunity went "ker-flooey" and the KindleWorld program closed. *s* I simply took three novellas previously written for another writer's "world" and rewrote in my own world to incorporate my own characters. That's another instance of making lemonade.

      As for mentors -- there are some great groups on Facebook that support mentoring. Often when you are a fan of a particular author, and support them in their publishing journey, they get to know you and want to also help you succeed. You know what you love to read (and probably also write) so see if you can find one of these fan-groups. Offer to be a beta-reader for the author (read before publication to hunt for typos or point out stuff that makes no sense). Good luck!

  3. Annette Nauraine says:

    How sweet and encouraging. You have a great voice that comes right through and catches the readers attention. Thanks for the encouragement, of which, there is never too much! My goldendoodle, Beasley, thanks you too.

  4. jeribronson says:

    I can now see that if one door closes another one truly opens. You just have to be courageous to keep going.

  5. I love how editors came to you when you wrote what you knew from where you were. I didn't know there was such a thing as pet centric thrillers but now I can't wait to read yours!

  6. dholcomb1 says:

    I think one must find a group of like-minded writers. A group which which will lift one up, give honest critiques gently, in a way to foster better writing--not to bring it down. A group in which there is networking of sorts, perhaps trading off of tasks or a beta read. A group writers understanding one's genre.

    denise

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      What an idyllic group you are describing, Denise. Good on you for finding a group like that.

    • amyshojai says:

      Hi Denise. It takes work to find and create such a group, but it can be done. I was part of such a group for about 18 years, until members moved away, changed writing/life focus (kids, grandkids, jobs), and suchlike. It's magic when you find these lovely folks--a great gift. Within larger organizations, sometimes smaller "chapters" offer this kind of support, and today with the Internet, meetings and exchange of services doesn't depend on living in the same town.

  7. Julie Glover says:

    Read your multi-cat book when we had more than one cat (can't recall if it was 2, 3, or 4 then). You gave great advice that really helped. Loved hearing about your journey and how nimble you've been with changes in your career and publishing—very inspiring!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Awwwwww. Sweet kitties. I wish I wasn't allergic to cats. They are so damn awesome. And Amy knows cats. 🙂

      • amyshojai says:

        Hey Jenny, thanks so much for hosting me on your blog! Sorry for the delay, I'm head-down working on my next coaching call presentation. On the kitty allergy front, just a note -- my SIL was highly allergic to cats, until one showed up on her back porch one Thanksgiving during freezing weather. She couldn't bear to leave the kitty out in the cold, brought her inside--and was surprised she had no reaction. She'd "outgrown" the reaction (don't know if that happens very often). Anyway, I hope someday you can enjoy the company of a lovely cat-purrson.

    • amyshojai says:

      Hey Julie! So glad the book helped.

  8. littlemissw says:

    Wow, what a journey. Thanks for sharing it. I will definitely be checking out your course. Sounds like you've had the experiences to back it up.

  9. Rae Poynter says:

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring journey! Apart from the day job I'm also working as a freelance writer and can totally relate to calling/emailing interviewees on my lunch breaks. Stories like this give me motivation to keep working on my writing so it can one day be a full-time thing 🙂

  10. […] advice for writers on the publishing path, Amy Shojai sets out 7 steps to publishing success by an accidental writer, Richard Lowe takes on the topic of how to make a living as a professional self-published author, […]

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