Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Secrets to Success (And Oh Yeah, A 2nd Print Run, Baby!)

Hey - New Englanders: mark your calendars: I will be reading and signing this weekend, Saturday, October 25th, at the Barnes and Noble in Manchester, NH on South Willow St. at 4pm. I hope to see some of you there!

Also, more good news! Time of My Life went into its second printing yesterday! Yay! If you haven't bought it, I hope that you'll consider buying it now!

I was asked this week, on one of my writer's boards, to share the secrets of my success. The question made me both laugh and cringe, and it feels really narcissistic to even indulge myself into thinking that I'm someone who should have secrets to her success, much less share them, but once I started thinking about it, I thought, eh, maybe I do have some tips that might be helpful or inspirational to blog readers, and so, here are a few ways that I think I helped boost my career. Take them for what you will, knowing that there are many, many writers out there who are more successful than I am, and that I in no way am placing myself into their vaulted category.

So anyway, here are some tips:

1) I'm not afraid of failure. For me, it's not that failure isn't an option. Of course it's an option, but it's not a reason not to do something. I push myself my very, very hardest, and I truly and fully believe that I will succeed at virtually everything I do, but I also know that if I don't, it's not the end of the world. Failure really isn't that scary to me, but I think for some writers that fear of failure can be paralyzing. But you know what? So what if your ms doesn't sell? Mine didn't. Eat cookies, move on. (As I've been known to say.) Use it as a lesson for improvement.

2) I'm open, very open, to constructive criticism. This sort of goes along with #1. I think a lot of writers tie their egos to their work, but what really happens is their egos bog them down like boulders. I got criticism earlier in my career (hell, I still get it, let's be honest), and rather than raise a wall of defensiveness, I took an honest look at what these people were saying about my writing and I tried my very best to implement the advice, when sound. I often say here that improvement in your writing is a limitless ceiling, but many times, the only way to improve is to take a hard look at your weaknesses. Even if your mother tells you that your ms is perfect, it's most likely not, so stop thinking that it is.

3) I dream big. I don't know if this makes me particularly unique. I'm guessing that most writers hope to write big books and have their novels turned into movies and all of that good stuff. But regardless, I dream big, but I don't just dream: as I alluded to in #1, I fully, fully believe that I am capable of making this stuff happen. I honestly give this credit to my parents: I have been over-confident since I was a kid; it's just full-blown innate assuredness (is that even a word?) that if I want to get something done, I have the skills and capacity to do so. So I use everything in my control to make it happen. If it doesn't, it's not going to be for my lack of trying. (Think of that Chumba Wumba song: "I get knocked down, then I get up again, you're never gonna knock me out." Well, I love that song. It is my motto to a tee.)

4) I surround myself with very, very, very good people. I keep getting congratulatory emails and phone calls, but really, I think a lot of the kudos goes to the team (ugh, yes, I said that I have a team, forgive me) that has worked to make this book a success. I have been with my agent since the beginning (well, after my first agent gave up on me - see #1 about failure), and she wasn't the most established and she wasn't the biggest and she wasn't the a-numero-uno. But I believed in her, and she believed in me, and together, we've ascended the ranks. I trusted that she was smart and capable and talented and my ally, and she has proven to be all of these things, and without her, I would not be here. Ditto the team at Random House: people congratulate me on The Today Show, and I say, "Congratulate my publicist because she did it, not me!" And it's true: from the person who designed the incredible cover to my publicist to my incredible editor who suggested some tweaks in my first draft that made this book so, so, so much was a collaborative effort. And an intentional one as well. My agent and I knew that we wanted to work with these folks before we shopped the book around, so we found a way to make it happen, even if it meant, for example, that I pulled out from an auction and took less money.

5) I had some good luck. Let's be honest here. There are plenty of incredibly talented writers out there who haven't yet been discovered. My timing has worked out. If my best friend hadn't called me on the day I was gestating a time-travel idea and hadn't started talking about her what-ifs and if I hadn't then gone for a run on that incredible summer day, who knows? I worked very, very hard, but I also got lucky. I'm smart enough to know that too.

Anyone else want to chime in on their own secrets to success? I'd love to hear them!


Therese said...

I don't have "secrets" to add; rather, I just want to echo your points because my outlook and attitudes are very much the same.

Now, if only my second novel, when it comes out in March, will meet the same fate as yours! :)

My sincerest congratulations--I have a feeling we may be seeing your name on this weekend's NYT List!

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Success, in and of itself, is subjective. I'm a success in terms of writing because I started writing -- after a 15 year hiatus -- almost 3 years ago and have come a long way, been published and become a much better writer for all of my mistakes and the lessons I learned with writer groups and friends.

The key to any level of success is an inner determination, a belief in oneself and of course -- that sometimes elusive LUCK.

Any plans to visit Chicago for a reading and signing, Allison?

Trish Ryan said...

Great list! The one thing that comes to mind to add is to cheer on other writers' successes. You've been great at this, Allison, recognizing the value of writers supporting each other. The success of your book means it's possible to succeed in this business, so it's good news for all of us.

Congrats, my friend :)

Unknown said...

At the risk of being the crazy, over personal comment lady, I do have say I think your personality is a big part of your success. You are nice and accommodating and responsive and honest. I couldn't believe how amazing you were when I cold emailed after Department of Lost and Found. Not only is it good karma, but people want to go the extra mile for you and be part of your project.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Therese - Thank you! I'm not getting my hopes up for the NYT - that seems soooo out there - but I'm happy that the book is resonating. That's all you can ask for.

Amy - good point. That's why I felt weird posting this in the first place. Success is so, so subjective, and I have to say, I felt pretty successful years ago when I had bylines in mags, so yes, I think it's all just what you're striving for.

Trish - funny, I was thinking of adding in another point about being supportive of other authors. I don't think this is a reason I'm successful, necessarily, but I do think that there's something to the theory that if you cheer on someone else's success, they'll cheer on yours. As you know, I've always thought that success begets more success, and I'm always happy to see my friends rise to the top.

Jac- LOL, you are hilarious. That's why I love you!

Barrie said...

I like all of your tips. And I have sort of one to add. I say sort of because you somewhat touched on it. But...I think it's important to work really hard. There's this expression: "The harder you work, the luckier you get." And I believe it.

Larramie said...

Besides reminding me of THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD, you're loyal, honest and giving. Which explains why so many of us, Allison, are thrilled for all your success and happiness.

Btw, a 2nd printing coming two weeks after delighted I have a first edition.

Sarah said...

This is such a wonderful post, Allison--so inspiring! I agree with you on every point. Thanks for the encouragement to us all. And, congrats on all the exciting things happening in your world. I love reading about it all. xo, Sarah

Therese said...

You're right, that IS all you can ask for. Still, I'm eager on your behalf.

Can I tempt you to hope at least for the extended list?

Seriously, it's just heartening to see that there's still room for new authors to get a foothold.

Bonita Rose said...

You so inspire me.. come check my blog later.. I'm blogging about ya.. we must be on the same wavelength today.. hugs, bonnierose

Kristan said...

Love this! I'm really happy for you (even though I don't know you) and I (of course) see myself in your post. I'm afraid of failing, sure, but at the same time, I almost don't even think I can if I really try. I am the only person that could possibly stop myself. So I'll keep working, gather a team, and hope for a bit of luck!

Thanks, and congrats!

Cindy said...

Passion for what you do- grateful for the little things- ambition to reach further...

I think you are on the money with everything!


Anonymous said...

Finding your words very interesting. While spending a few mornings wandering around checking out the various blogs while sipping my fair trade coffee - it would appear we certainly have sparked an interest and volume of folks to get start making a difference

Anonymous said...

I try not to worry about "how" to do something (this is where people stall out, and I have often), but to focus on "doing" instead.