ten years ago, I took a creative writing class in college taught by the illustrious Dave Wolverton, better known to most of you by his epic fantasy pseudonym David Farland. I talk about this class a lot, because he’s the guy who came right out and told me the truth: it is completely possible to make a living as an author. It is possible; there are people who do it all the time. No one had ever told me that before. I took him at his word, set my goals high, and worked like a maniac, and ten years later I’m a full-time author.
The foundation to becoming a professional author, he told us, is simple: write a book. “No one is going to knock on your door and pay you to write a book,” he said, “but if you write enough books and knock on enough doors of your own, sooner or later someone will pay you for them.”
Dave has a cool email thingy that he sends out called “The Daily Kick in the Pants,” which is an incredible tool for aspiring authors, and I recommend it to everyone. Last week he sent out a brief flashback to that class I took, which I have reproduced here completely without permission. All 20 students in that class wanted to be authors, but only three of them actually wrote and finished a novel. Who were those three? Read on:
The first one was Branden Sanderson, who turned in as his first assignment the first chapter of a novel called Elantris. I gave him an A+ on the assignment and made a note: “Finish this book, and there is an excellent chance that I will give you a cover quote.” He did, and I did. When the book came out, we went on tour together each fall for several years. It was a blast. But he will most likely be a number 1 New York Times Bestseller this fall, and so the poor lad will have to try to make his way across the book-tour circuit alone.
To my knowledge, the second person in the class to finish a book was Stephenie Meyer. Her novel Twilight has of course gone ballistic. She sold 8 million copies in hardcover in the first quarter of this year, and hit #26 on the Forbes list of America’s top-paid entertainers in June.
The third person in the class to finish a book was Dan Wells. He sold the hardcover rights in the U.S. for an average advance, but more than doubled it in the U.K. The Germans loved it and paid him a small fortune—enough so that he has gone to writing full time even though his first novel, I Am Not a Serial Killer, hasn’t hit the shelves here in the U.S. yet. (Look for it when it does. I think that Dan is a brilliant writer who is going to have a huge career.)
(By the way, Dave was the guy who taught me the importance of foreign rights. Thanks again, Dave!)
Three students from one class went on to become professional authors, internationally published. Is that because he was lucky and got three people who would have been authors anyway? I don’t think so. Is that because he’s an incredible teacher? That’s getting closer, but it’s still not the whole story. The real reason three members of that class have gone on to get published is the simple fact that we wrote books. We put in the work and made it happen. The only difference between writers and everyone else is that writers write; it sounds silly, but it’s true. If you want to write a book, do it. If you want to get published, do it.
All you have to do is sit down and write.