Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking at the Capitan Public Library in Capitan, New Mexico. The audience consisted of the library book club and writers' group. It was one of the largest groups I've ever addressed and one of the most fun!
It makes a difference when one is addressing a group of writers. For one thing, I didn't have to worry about sounding crazy or foolish when I talked about the problems a writer encounters--writer's block, editing woes, insecurity about showing our work. It was refreshing to be able to mention, say, the panic that ensues when one is in the shower or at work (work that doesn't require a desk and writing utensils) and a fabulous bit of dialogue pops into your mind or that tricky plot twist suddenly becomes untangled and you need a pen and piece of paper to get it down immediately... and everyone smiles and nods. They know. They've experienced it.
It always intimidates me a little when I do speak to a group of writers. As a published author, they expect me to know all the ins and outs of writing and publishing. It's humbling to admit that I don't have all the answers. The only true answer I can give when they ask, "How did you get a publishing contract?" is, "I got lucky."
That's not to dismiss or downplay the amount of hard work I put into learning to master the craft of writing, coming up with the ideas, writing and re-writing the books, and the number of rejections I received. If being able to get published by a traditional publisher were a sure thing simply because one put in the hours and the work, self-publishing would not have gained such a huge acceptance. Sometimes the answer lies in simple luck. There are probably hundreds of writers out there with more talent and better ideas and even stronger work ethics than I have. Why I am published and they are not is a great mystery to me.
But then, to me, it's always about the writing. I would write even without a contract--indeed, that's what I did for over twenty years. Being a published author, seeing my stories in print, was always a huge dream, but the reality of being able to put words down and make my characters come alive was something I could accomplish without a publisher. I certainly didn't (and don't) do it for the money; there's a reason I have a full-time job decorating cakes. Success, for me, is measured by the satisfaction of doing what I love and finding a readership, however small, is a greater success for me than making the New York Times bestseller list.
Being published is the icing on the cake, but I'm glad I learned to like cake without icing.