It's funny, really, when I tell people I'm an honest-to-goodness published writer. Their reactions are almost identical. The look of initial disbelief, followed by the tentative congratulatory smile. Then they usually say something which seems uncomfortable for them, like “Oh” or “That’s nice”. Then first thing they inevitably follow with is "How did you manage it?"
I'll tell them that my way is not the usual way. Publishers generally don't buy your book six days after you submit it. You're lucky if it's in the six month range. I got really, really lucky.
There are a lot of variables which helped along the way though. Fearlessness was one of my biggest assets early on. The utter, incomprehensible lack of fear when it came to submitting novels, query letters, and talking to publishers really helped. It's not that I lack fear in general, but I don't fear any form of rejection. Tell me no? Fine, I'm going to come back later with a better proposal. Don't think it's for you? That's cool, there are literally hundreds of publishers out there who are looking for my genre. Or better still, I'll tweak the proposal letter to fit your requirements. Like most people, I don't take being told no well. However, I deal with it much better than the average person. I figured out that I'm either extremely persistent, or the literary equivalent of a stalker. Since I seem to be lacking in restraining orders, I'm going to go with persistent.
Sarah Hoyt told me once, a long time ago, that she wished she hadn't waited for so long to submit her work. It struck me as ridiculous, since her books are brilliant. But it made me realize that the fearless thing came in handy. I sold my first novel (no ghost writing) at 27. I like to think that the fearless handicap helped. I also am firmly convinced that most people no longer fear anything once they hit a certain age, which can explain the age gap between when a writer first starts their craft and the time they actually become published. Just a theory I have...
Another plus in my favor was that I made friends with other authors. I resisted (mostly) the urge to ask them to "read my book" and tell me what I've done wrong. Instead I've read their various works, studied their styling and pacing, and developed my own voice with their help. Sarah helped initially, unwittingly guiding my baby steps into the realm of urban fantasy. Dr. Monkey showed me how humor can be injected into the worst of situations and not seem out of place in the most serious of science fiction books. These authors, along with others, became a sort of "guiding light" for me. I still read their books, though I'm more comfortable with my voice than I was four years ago. But they helped, and I learned what I liked and what I didn't like.
But in the end, the number one thing that allowed me to become published was listening. I listened to advice I received from various authors, listened to them when they warned me from doing things that could end up making me look bad. Listened to editors tell me what I'm doing wrong in my work and how to fix it, despite my utter conviction that I knew everything already.
So tell me... how rocky or smooth has your own path been? What pitfalls have you run into, or better still, created for yourself?