Author Confessions - Taking Risks
What's the biggest risk you have taken with your writing career? Was it one that paid off? Joss Wood and A.C. Arthur confess all and have some advice for those of us who are wavering.
Five years back I took one of the biggest risks of my professional life… And it kind of exploded in my face.
When speaking at author events, I often tell writers they should only leave their jobs when their writing career is established, and they have a couple of books under their belt. I tell them this world, so full of amazing, supportive people, can also be fickle, and tumultuous and scary.
I believe that’s good, sensible advice. Because it’s a hell of a risk to throw in a well-paid job to write books, for goodness sake! Especially when you have a mortgage to repay, kids to feed and educate, car payments and a fondness for nice wine. No, it’s better to be sensible, to have all your ducks in a row, to make very sure you can financially sustain yourself before you jump into this new wonderful world.
At the end of 2013, I was working a full-time job, cranking out books for another line at Harlequin and I knew I could not keep up with the demands of two jobs. I also had two young children and I was burning out…something had to change.
But I like having a backup plan, or two or three. So, after getting reassurances from my editor I was going to be awarded another set of contracts with an increase in my advances, I gave my employer many months’ notice. I had the backlist, I had the promise of future contracts, I was going to become a full-time writer… Ha!
The day before I was due to leave my job, and the day after my replacement signed her letter of appointment, the line I wrote for was terminated. And suddenly, despite my oh-so-careful planning, I had neither a job, nor any writing contracts. *Panic*
After I stopped hyperventilating, I gave myself six months to get more contracts, to find an agent, to sell some projects. I did find an agent and six months later—to the day! — I received another two contracts from two different publishers.
A good friend reminds me, whenever I question the path I am on, that the Universe made damn sure I had to write, that I had to take the leap into becoming a full-time writer. Honestly, if I had heard that I lost my contracts before they appointed a new person in my position, there is no doubt that I would’ve stayed in a job I hated but Life, God, the Universe—whatever name you want to call it—pushed me into this wonderful world.
It forced me to trust myself and trust that writing is what I should do…
So, if you are contemplating a life change, I could tell you not to take the risk, to play it safe, to make sure all your ducks are in a row before you take the big leap. I could also tell you to throw it all in, to take a risk, to trust yourself and your ability to write the most amazing stories.
I’m not going to tell you to do either; I’m not arrogant enough to dictate what the right path is for you. And sorry, but I can’t promise you that LIFE will intervene for you like it did for me…
What I am suggesting is that you trust your gut. Is writing absolutely what you are meant to do? Do you have the self-discipline to sit down every day, no matter how inspired (or not) you feel and write? Do you have the resilience to deal with the rejection, the self-doubt, the occasional bad reviews? Do you have the drive and determination to make this work, no matter what is thrown at you? Is this absolutely, positively, no-shadow-of-a-doubt what you want to do?
If you are that brave, that determined, and that resilient, I salute you.
But If you aren’t that brave, that confident, that fearless, then I suggest you follow Oprah Winfrey’s wise words and “Do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do.”
Whatever you choose to do, it’s your path and your journey. And I wish you only success.
I never considered myself a risk taker—contemplative and cautious were more likely to describe me. But many years ago, as I was just beginning to figure out what type of writing career I desired, I had a couple of conversations with key people in my career—my agent and my soon-to-be editor. Those conversations kept circling back to “what do you want to write, AC?” and I kept not really coming up with an answer because I was nervous about whether or not I could.
By this time, I’d written for a few publishers, mostly contemporary books—my Donovans series found its home at Harlequin Kimani and was just taking off. So that was cool, I loved writing about a dynamic Dynasty-like African American family. But I really wanted to write another paranormal series. I’d written one paranormal-type book which by then was out of print, and then I’d done some novellas for Ellora’s Cave under the pseudonym Sapphire Blue.
I ran the idea for this new series past my agent and soon-to-be-editor and received a unanimous “do it!”, so I did. Temptation Rising, the first book in my Shadow Shifters series was published in March 2012. I loved everything about this book, from the cover to the last scene and I was so excited for it to release. But a funny thing happened while I was doing pre-release promotion—I received emails from readers who expressed their confusion about what these new books were and why I was switching genres. I explained it wasn’t a total switch, that I still planned to write contemporary romance, but that didn’t go over very well.
I was told “black people don’t read paranormal”, a statement I knew to be false because I’ve been black all my life and I love reading paranormal. Another comment was “you should have done this under another name, you’re going to lose readers.” I’ll admit the push-back made me nervous and more worried than I usually am when a new book is about to release. But there was also a part of me that was anxious to see this book out in the world, and to see what it could do and whose minds it could change.
Well, silly me, it didn’t change many minds and by books #4 and #5 in the series I knew it wasn’t going to make it. My editor said it was time to end the series and I did (or at least I tried to) with book #6. The sales weren’t good and I immediately recalled the comment I was going to lose readers. Sales also slipped with the Donovan series and I couldn’t help but think, “wow, they were right."
But here’s the thing, while I didn’t consider myself a risk taker at the time, I knew without a shadow of a doubt I wasn’t a quitter. I continued writing the Donovans, moving them to my publishing company. It took a couple of books but eventually the sales came back to where they’d been in the beginning. And I continued with the Shadow Shifter books because I still had stories to tell. Now, neither of these decisions have landed me on any of the bestseller lists which is fine—whatever is meant for me will come—but what continuing to write paranormal specifically has done, is provide me with an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer.
Creating new worlds and dropping all the complications and desires of a romance into the center of that world is not an easy task and I like to think I’m getting better at it. If I had to give a new author advice about whether they should write according to the market or write a particular type of book as long as the contracts keep coming, it would be do whatever you feel is best for you. Always be true to yourself and write the stories of your heart. But know that even though doing this may not mean big checks, awards or lists, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing something you love.
I’m going to continue writing paranormal using my real name and bask in all the love from the readers I have who enjoy those stories. I’m so excited that in November, Awaken the Dragon will be released. It’s the first book in a new paranormal series featuring dragon shifters, vampires, African goddesses and more from Carina Press. Do I know what will happen with this series? Nope. But I’m down for taking the chance.
You only get one life, so do what scares you and do it with every ounce of confidence you can muster!
What is the biggest risk you have taken with your writing career? Is there a decision you regretted or a gamble you're glad you made? Let us know in the comments or join the discussion on our social media using #Confessions