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
* * * * * *
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.