I was a 19 year old college student living with my parents, sharing a bedroom with my teenage brother, and writing in a 4 X 6 foot closet that I had converted into “my office” because it was the only quiet place in the small one bedroom home. I pushed all my clothes into a corner, added a little table, and a small lamp that had to be plugged into an extension chord. But I had my own space to work!
I wanted to become a writer.
Of course, at the time, I was struggling with being broke and not knowing how to go about writing a book. But I was in the perfect place to learn. I was in college; so, I went to a counselor to get some direction. Much to my disappointment, she told me not to become an English major because I would be broke forever. “Writers rarely sell their books and are always broke,” she said. She told me to major in computer programming instead.
As the daughter of immigrant parents, I knew what it was like to be poor. Her words struck a chord. I didn’t want to be broke forever. So, even though I felt helpless and defeated, I gave up on the idea of becoming a writer.
I tried computer programming like the counselor suggested, but I was terrible at it. I felt stupid that I didn’t understand those programming languages. To relieve my stress and frustration, I kept writing when I had small moments to myself. But to be practical, I finished college and became a teacher.
Eventually, I got married and my husband watched me write and write and write in the evenings and during the summers when I was not teaching. He asked me once, “are you ever going to try to get those novels published?” I told him that I didn’t know how to do that. So, one day for my birthday, he gave me the best gift ever. He signed me up for three courses on publishing a book.
Something amazing happened! I learned that writing is a business. There is nothing magical about how a book makes it into a bookstore. But there are steps that a writer has to follow, and one of those steps is to learn about the publishing industry and what they want. Published authors are not special or gifted (well, some of them are), but they understand that writing is an art and book publishing is a business. Authors must produce a product that an audience wants, no different than someone selling bread or shoes or cars. I realized that with that knowledge, I could be not just a writer, but a published author.
From that day forward, I started writing and taking more courses and going to conferences until I began to feel like a knowledgeable, professional writer. I now had the confidence and the information to not only write my books, but to connect with the right people who might be interested publishing them. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d be holding my published book in my hands.
Of course, those of us in the publishing business know that it doesn’t quite work that way. I still had to deal with constant rejection from agents and editors. I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t have the right voice. I didn’t have the right story. I didn’t even have the right name. I had to adopt a pseudonym; I became Lara Rios. But . . . one day, I found a publisher who loved my writing and believed in my work as much as I did. I finally achieved my dream and become a published author.
For a couple of years, I was in heaven and I was sure that I would sail into a New York Times Best Seller slot and stay there forever. But the publisher who bought my first four books ended up closing the romance line I was writing for, and I became an orphaned author.
Again, I had to search for a new publisher, starting over as if I had never published a book. I remember talking with another writer at a conference, feeling pretty down at this point. And she told me that the only way one fails as a writer is if she gives up. Giving up sounded good to me, at least for a few days. Eventually, I found myself back at my computer doing what I was compelled to do — write.
Even though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, this challenge of having to begin again allowed me to reinvent myself and grow as a a writer and become better. It meant that I stopped seeing myself just as a romance author, and I realized I could write more complex books. In the end, I was able to write a book that went into a bidding war between two publishers and was eventually optioned by ABC Family to become a future TV series.
As this new enlightened author, I was able to write books that I believed in that had stories with messages that meant something to me and my readers, not books that fit into a set genre. Eventually, the second publishing house stopped buying my books and I moved on to a third publisher.
Through this journey, I have realized that the goal never should have been to become a published author. It should have been to write the stories that were in my heart, stories that in turn touched readers hearts. Every time I did that, I found true success. Often that means that my books will not find a publisher, and that’s okay. As writers we do have to be aware that writing is a business, but more importantly, writing is an art.