Please welcome Terry Martin with a look at three successful authors who made it big.
Do you dream of writing a novel? Have you ever wondered how the biggest selling authors got their breaks and what they might have done in common to succeed? Maybe you’ve sent your novel to a publisher, where it was rejected, and you’re now wondering if all your efforts have been for nought?
This article is about how three of the most famous contemporary authors made it big and what unites them in their rise to the top.
Famed for the Harry Potter series (aff link), J.K. Rowling is the U.K’s all-time highest-grossing author. She began writing fantasies at the age of six. In 1982 she failed her entrance exams for Oxford and instead studied classics and French at the University of Exeter. She was on unemployment pay in 1990 when her train from Manchester to London was delayed for four hours, allowing her time to dream up the four-eyed wizard. She sent the first three chapters to an agent in 1995 and was rejected by no fewer than twelve publishers before being accepted by Bloomsbury with a £15,000 ($23,000) advance. She was, however, advised to get a day job, as she had ”little chance of making money from children’s books,” according to editor Barry Cunningham.
Lesson learned: Don’t give up! In the face of rejection, pick yourself up and try again and again until you get there.
Having been an avid reader of horror comics from an early age, the young King sold his first books to friends while still at school. He studied English at the University of Maine, where he held a number of jobs to fund his studies as well as writing short fiction professionally.
After he graduated, he was told by various women that he couldn’t write female characters, so he wrote Carrie (aff link) to prove them all wrong. Frustrated at his lack of progress, he threw away an early draft, which was then retrieved from the bin by his wife. Eventually, and since King was already a prolific author of short horror fiction, Carrie was accepted by Doubleday, and his first full-length novel was published.
Lesson learned: Just because someone says you can’t write in a certain style doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!
Famed for modern legal thrillers, Grisham follows the writer’s adage of write what you know. After he graduated from law school in 1981, he practiced law in Mississippi for nearly a decade.
One day at court, Grisham heard the testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim. After he mused over what would have happened if her father had murdered her attackers, he was inspired to write A Time to Kill (aff link). While he was still practicing law, he got up early every day for three years to work on his novel, only for it to get rejected by many publishers upon its completion in 1987. Eventually, however, it was bought by Wynwood Press, which published it in June 1988.
Grisham immediately began work on his next novel and sold the film rights to Paramount for $600,000. He became a sought-after brand, and his book rights were bought by Doubleday.
Lesson Learned: Write what you know and who knows what you will achieve!
Editor’s note: find out what’s like to be mentored by John Grisham.
The conclusion? One thing they obviously all have in common is a love of reading and writing from a young age, and a good educational background. Only J.K. Rowling was new to professional writing when she found her success; the others were established writers before getting their big break, and even Rowling was rejected, so her success didn’t happen overnight. Don’t expect to become famous from day one, but work hard and you may just get there.
Do you have any ideas about how to become a successful author? Can you share any other stories about how famous authors made it big?
About the Author: Terry Martin is a student of creative and media writing at Derby University and an aspiring novelist. Having studied this subject as part of his degree, he is well versed on what it takes to be a successful author. He writes for GKBC.