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Authenticity Builds a Satisfying Author Career


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photo adapted / Horia Varlan

Writers butt up against career envy every single time we open a social media app. Thing is, that career you covet would not make you as happy as you think—because, well, it’s someone else’s. We creatives like to own our successes, which suggests that the most satisfying author careers arise in the same way that the most satisfying writing does: from our own backstory motivations, perceptions, talents, and capabilities.

We authors are entrepreneurs, but it isn’t just a business we are building, it’s our one and only life. So why not create the ultimate expression—a life grown from our greatest strengths and passions?

Today, nine talented women show us how by sharing the strategies they used to build author careers as individual as the stories they share on the page. Look for the way words like passion, love, opportunity, and fun are entwined with their stories.

 

Crank out a book a year

Nothing says “successful business model” like publishing a good book every year. My own attempt to pull this off had me turning inside out until I came to terms with the realities of my own author career model. I love writing novels, but I need my teaching and developmental editing just as much, as these activities feed an equally essential side of me. I have to accept that those activities eat up huge chunks of time and brain space.

Yet Hank Phillippi Ryan (The First to Lie), who must be one of the busiest women on the planet, makes cranking out an award-winning novel a year look easy. Turns out, she has a mad advantage: before she wrote the thirteen thrillers that made her a USA Today bestseller, she’d already had a long career as a multiple Emmy Award-winning investigative TV journalist.

“Think of how many stories I’ve written—with a character you care about, a problem that needs to be solved, where the good guys win and the bad guys get what’s coming to them, and in the end, you change the world a bit,” says Hank. Her ability to entertain while making complicated subjects fascinating feeds the structure and rhythm of both investigative reporting and crime fiction.

The work of a book-a-year novelist suits her. “Many years as a street reporter made me a fast writer,” she says, adding that the nature of investigative reporting requires that she write before knowing how the piece will end. “So for all these years, I’ve been comfortable—as comfortable as a writer can ever be, at least—by collecting puzzle pieces along the way without quite knowing where they’ll fit. It’s sort of…emergent design. And I always make my deadlines. Every single one of those elements is from television.”

 

…or two a year…

New York Times bestselling author Shelley Freydont also owes her prolific output to attributes developed in a previous career: she was a professional dancer. Each day, whether she felt like it or not, she had to go to class and rehearsals.

“I’ve been able to translate this discipline into sitting down every day and writing,” Shelley says. “I’ve learned to tune out the frenetic energy of the world and the industry, even when I don’t feel like it…most of the time.”

The result is that Shelley publishes traditionally—twice a year—in more than one genre. Writing as Shelley Noble, her most recent novels, Lucky’s Beach (women’s fiction) and A Resolution at Midnight (historical mystery), both came out in 2020. (Roughly half of her more than 30 books were series mysteries written as Shelley Freydont.)

“Historical mysteries and women’s fiction may seem like an unlikely pairing, but because plot and character assume different proportions in each genre, and the pace follows different criteria, it keeps my imagination fresh and alert,” she says. “And it’s fun.”

…or three!

Kerry Schafer (The Dream Wars), who also writes as Kerry Anne King (A Borrowed Life), works in multiple genres as well. “All things Kerry” is both her website url and, it would seem, her way of being.

“This year I’m writing a new women’s fiction novel, completing a darkly humorous and quirky paranormal mystery, and trying my hand at a non-fiction book about overcoming anxiety, procrastination, and burnout in the writing life,” she says.

The nonfiction book will be a reflection of her work at Author Genie, where Kerry provides motivational and mindset classes and coaching around writing and publishing. “I also take care of tasks people don’t want to bother with, like newsletters and marketing. It’s all fun—I get to make use of my counseling psychology degree and my Master Kaizen Muse Creativity Coach training, and I get to help people.”

 

Cast the net wide

Falguni Kothari (The Object of Your Affections) says she wrote her first novel—a romcom—as a lark. “But I write mostly Own Voices stories, and at the time, New York publishing wasn’t ready for that.” On one of her bi-annual trips back to Mumbai, where she was born, she had better luck pitching to Indian publishers. “I had a contract with one of the leading publishers in India for It’s Your Move, Wordfreak within a few months.” That debut led to finding her Indian agent, who sold her second book to Harlequin India. Eventually, New York was ready, and now Falguni is a USA Today bestselling author.

“Why not cast the net wide?” is her philosophy, which is why she self-published her third novel, a mythic fantasy. “My agent in India didn’t want to represent fantasy, or the women’s fiction novel I wrote next, and strongly advised that I stick to one genre to build my audience.”

In hindsight, she believes this had been sound advice. “But I was new and cocky and I wanted to write the story that called to my soul and not what my agent or the publishing market dictated. To this day, that’s how I write. I need to feel passionate about the story I’m writing or the characters or the theme. And I’m okay with the fact that my career maybe a little more bumpy than that of other authors who seem to have a game plan.”

Bring your dreams to fruition

During her twenty years in publishing, Lisa Diane Kastner (Running Wild Novella Anthology, Ed.) has edited and written short stories, microfiction, essays, journalism articles, magazine articles, and novels. Her dual MFA and MBA degrees—as well as her rebellious, entrepreneurial spirit—speak to the way her career has evolved.

Lisa founded an independent publishing company, Running Wild Press, to address a void she’d identified in the industry. Its tagline reads: Stories that can’t be contained, neatly categorized or homogenized. Just like you.

“I believe that if you don’t ask then you don’t get. So why not try? If you try and it doesn’t work out, then learn from it and keep going.”

One thing is for sure: Lisa is not risk-averse.

“Some of my biggest successes and opportunities arose because someone brought forward an idea or opportunity I had never thought of and I figured, ‘Sure, why not?’ and took it from there.”

 

Nurture your social side

Considering that writing is a lone endeavor, New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Sheehan (The Tiger in the House) has built a remarkably social career. Of her decision to start a monthly open mic night in a dive bar, she says, “My idea of a fun night out is to hang out in a bar with other writers and people who love the written word, so I thought, why not make it happen?” She misses those pre-Covid days. “Writers love to be together and we love to hear each other’s fresh work. It’s wild and a ton of fun. And the floor is very sticky.”

She credits her previous work as the director of a college counseling center as the perfect psychological training ground for writing fiction. It also led to an unusual opportunity: to teach writing to incarcerated women.

“Some of them had not completed 8th grade, while some had been to college. But all of them found a deeper sense of self and a greater sense of value as their inner world was honored on the page. I had never been in such a sacred space, housed in such a punitive environment. I edited a chapbook of their writing as my thanks to them.”

Since making the leap from academia, she has sustained her full-time author career by leading international writing retreats in Jamaica, Mexico, Guatemala, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Czech Republic. “There is something magical about being transported to a totally new location, far from home, and giving over to your writing 100%.

 

Push beyond your comfort zone

Ten years ago, Donna Galanti (Unicorn Island), while happily producing adult thrillers alone in her writing cave, would never have predicted that public speaking to hundreds (pre-Covid, of course) would end up being such a valued addition to her career—as a children’s author. Since then, she’s pushed herself write for a variety of audiences, forced herself into the public speaking limelight, and boosted productivity to meet tight deadlines. Understanding that she’d need multiple revenue streams to sustain her financially while also nurturing her creativity, she’s built a robust author life that also includes writing work-for-hire children’s books, creating a series of online writing courses, judging fiction contests, and parlaying the social media skills she’s developed for author marketing into work for freelance clients.

“In doing this, I had to learn new technologies and processes,” Donna says. “I had to get out of my comfort zone … again. And I’ll keep doing it, not only to survive as an author—but thrive.”

 

Adapt and grow

“I certainly haven’t followed a conventional route into my writing career,” says historical fiction author Hazel Gaynor (When We Were Young & Brave). She’s now a New York Times bestselling author, but she didn’t become one overnight. She self-published her debut novel, went on to sign a two-book deal with William Morrow, publishing first in the USA and Canada, and then in the UK and Ireland, where she lives. Now, with eight novels out, she is published in twenty-four countries and translated into nineteen languages.

Writing her first novella, for an anthology edited by Writer Unboxed contributor Heather Webb, pushed her outside her comfort zone. “The imposter syndrome was very real,” she says. But those ten thousand words opened a whole branch of her career, as she and Heather have now co-authored several novels (Three Words for Goodbye drops in July). “We’ve learned a lot from each other’s writing style, and have also become early readers for each other’s solo projects, as well as becoming lifelong friends. Co-authoring wasn’t something I ever had on my list of writing goals, but the opportunity came, and I’m so pleased I took it.”

Hazel believes such adaptability is key to a successful career. “I’m always open to new ideas and projects, and am equally willing to let something go if I feel it isn’t the right time, or the right direction to go in.”

 

Rediscover the real you

Marie Lamba (A Day So Gray) describes her writing journey as a reclamation of self. “I started writing as my 10-year-old authentic self without any writing skills. Then I gained writing skills but lost my authentic self along the way as my manuscripts tried too hard to be this way or that. But then, when I did become much more like my 10-year-old authentic self again—unapologetically me—things clicked.”

This resulted in her debut young adult novel, What I Meant…, from Random House. “I began to write solidly within my own point of view and to create stories that most mattered to me—not to the marketplace. Now three novels and two picture books later, I have a much stronger grasp of who I am and I try to channel that into everything I write.”

The next time author envy delivers its sucker punch, try this: instead of asking why you can’t have what that other author has, ask, “How can my author life better reflect who I am, so that I’m happier?” Do that, and you’ll build a career that will both fuel you for the long haul and replenish that fuel along the way.

Marie Lamba built her career by getting in touch with her truest sense of self and expressing that in her writing—but would you be surprised to hear that she has also carried that philosophy into her work as a literary agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Agency? Cynics take note.

“I look for authenticity in manuscripts that come my way,” Marie says. “Not for things that fit the marketplace but could have been written by just anyone, but for stories that truly share some piece of the author. That’s magical.”

As you build your own author career, what magic are you drumming up? How are you keeping yourself happy? Tell us how different facets of your writing life feed the parts of you that need nurturing.

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About Kathryn Craft

Kathryn Craft (she/her) is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy. A freelance developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com since 2006, Kathryn also teaches in Drexel University’s MFA program and runs a year-long, small-group mentorship program, Your Novel Year. Learn more on Kathryn's website.

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