Sometimes it’s hard for us authors to believe we are really, truly…well, authors. What an honor and thrill that the words we tap onto our keyboards magically–or not so magically–become books that other people may read. We Chicks still pinch ourselves sometimes, but here are the moments we realized, Hey, this is real!
I think I’ve always felt like an author–maybe ever since I signed my name to the construction-paper cover of a story I’d written in second grade. We were told to pick a pseudonym–mine was Amy Maxwell. (Amy for the youngest Miss March in Little Women, and Maxwell snagged from…the ever-present coffee can in our pantry.) Our town held a lot of kid author/artist contests, with “publication” and “exhibitions” (we won’t talk about my oil painting efforts, lol, but it was fun). Later, through my jobs in publishing, I ended up writing a lot of books for hire, under pseudonyms again (mostly not of my choice). But the first time I really considered myself a legit, grown-up author was when a nice woman at our tiny hardware store, noticing the name on my credit card, asked if I was the same Lisa Q. Mathews who wrote mysteries set in FL with a detective named Dorothy.
The moment I felt like a real author was the moment the box of my first book, Plantation Shudders, arrived. I remember box cutting that box open and staring at the books inside in awe. I’m a published playwright. I have written who knows how many magazine articles for national publications. And my writing credit is slapped on the same “who knows how many” episodes of television shows. But I don’t think anything will ever beat that first time I held a copy of that first book in my hands.
I had seen my byline on newspaper stories for more than 20 years (and always enjoyed seeing my name in print). But I think it got real for me that I was a legit author when I had to sign on the dotted line. I cried happy tears when I signed the contract with my literary agency. After sending queries to so many agents — and getting so many rejections — it was a rush to have it in writing that I finally had a literary agent! A few months later I signed a three-book deal with a publisher for the Liv & Di series. The acquisitions editor had only read the manuscript for the first book, but was trusting me, a newbie author, to write TWO MORE books! And realizing I was contractually obligated to come through was exciting — and a little scary.
My feelings of authenticity as an author came in stages. First, it was simply finishing the draft of my first book. And then the BIG one: the phone call from the agent saying she wanted to represent me. But of course it still needed a publisher, so THAT call was yet another step in the ladder. But like Ellen, perhaps the true feeling of being a real, legit MYSTERY AUTHOR didn’t arrive until that first box of books did as well: Opening them up to see my name on twenty copies of Dying for a Taste? Priceless.
I remember the moment that I realized that people other than family or friends were reading my books. An acquaintance texted me a picture of PROTOCOL on the “hot titles” table of our library. At the time I hadn’t had contact with the library (other than checking out books for my kids), so my first thought was, “How did they get my book?” followed by, “Why is it on that table? That’s for books people read.” Then it dawned on me that people who don’t come to Thanksgiving dinner are flipping through pages I wrote. Of course I ran down to the library to prove to myself that my book was there (and to take the requisite photo). That’s when I felt like a legit author. (I also checked out a bunch of books and got a fancy coffee. All in all, a great day.)
Two things spring to mind for me. I quit my job and stayed home with my kids when they were young, while also providing home daycare for other kids. At naptime I’d go up to my desk and spend an hour or two writing personal essay a la Erma Bombeck to save my sanity. Once, I got a bee in my bonnet and sent one off to a magazine. Lo and behold, they turned around and sent me a check for $50! That was the first time I felt like I was a real writer. The second time was when a kid—I started out in the publishing biz writing for middle readers—sent me a letter telling me “I didn’t like to read until I read your book.” That made me realize the power my words could have on people. Very heady stuff!
I first dipped my toes in the waters of publishing by writing short stories. It was exciting to see my story get printed in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine in 2013. A little later, the staff selected it as one of the best stories of the year and placed it in a special anthology, which was even more thrilling. The other big milestones that validated me as an author was my book launch for my debut—you know you’ve made it when an old high school classmate shows up unannounced. I also delighted in seeing my novel on the shelf of a local bookstore for the first time.
Authors, when did you first feel like a legit author? And Readers, when did you first realize that you’d be a bookworm for life?
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