On the Illusion of Overnight Successes

This is my very first blog post so I feel like there must be some fanfare. Welcome! Internet presences keep people healthy and alive in the 21st century so here I am and here we all are:

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Now that we’re all warm and fuzzy from Gatsby’s smile, why are we gathered here today on Chloe’s blood-coloured website? (At first the background was a nice bubblegum pink but then I thought hmmm… that’s not very on-brand, so I changed it to the colour of dried blood. That is my brand now. I am the writer with the website the colour of dried blood. I am also the writer who gets on a tangent at the start of her first blog post. This isn’t boding well for the rest of my blogging career.)

Anyway.

I’ll be the first to admit I essentially made an overnight appearance on Twitter and the writing community. I’m a bit of a Lurker™ , in which I am constantly online and constantly refreshing my feed, but never Liking or Retweeting or interacting. If I found your post funny, I would snort to myself and scroll on, because I am a chiCKEN who is AFRAID of hUMAN inteRACTION. I’m trying to be better at Liking the posts I genuinely like. Me hitting the Like button is the virtual equivalent of me staring at the people I’m following and heavy-breathing in hopes that they will feel the appreciation I’m sending at them through the screen. I’m also on another tangent. Oh my god. Anyway.

I made an overnight appearance on Publishing Twitter when my agent announcement went live. Before that, I would probably tweet once a month about how I would die for Richard Campbell Gansey the Third (I would) and I would religiously heart all of Kiersten White’s posts (I would also die for The Conqueror’s Saga but my first love is the Paranormalcy series). This is partly because I am a Lurker™ and partly because I only found out about Publishing Twitter when I started querying. I hadn’t been following the haps with Publishing Twitter for very long at all before I signed with my agent—an exact month later to when I sent off my first query. (Funnily enough, my agent now is the one I sent my very first query to!)

Relative to most people’s querying processes (and I speak based on the blog posts I’ve read in my days traipsing through Google – if you have a post titled “How I got my agent!” there is an 95% chance I have read it… that’s how deep I was in the Google search results) my querying process was fast, and so if you scroll my Twitter, it might look like an overnight success. The querying process is incredibly anxiety-inducing and I was incredibly lucky to only spend a month in it. Such little time in the trenches! Unfair!

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I lay down on my hill to say this: every person who looks like an overnight success and gets accused of such is not an overnight success. In writing, I really think there’s no such thing.

My YA Romeo-and-Juliet in 1920s Shanghai was the first novel I queried and the one I was signed with, but it was ninth novel I wrote. Before that, there were two paranormals, one dystopian, three contemporary mysteries, and two high fantasies, all of which I pumped out while I was supposed to be writing school essays or doing homework or tending to some other responsibility I was ignoring. I never even considered querying them (and thank goodness I didn’t) though that wasn’t because I was smart or anything – it was because I was dumb and thought New Zealand didn’t have a publishing industry (it does, it’s just small) and I thought New Zealanders couldn’t get published by American publishing houses (they can and they have been.)

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My sudden dive bomb into the publishing world was a lot of luck, given how subjective the whole process is, but I’ve been around for more than the few months my internet presence would portray. I do know what I’m doing – at least as much as one can know what they’re doing in the writerly world, that is. I guess I should say I know what I’m doing just as much as a 34-year old might know what they’re doing. Really. Young writers get the most flack for being considered overnight successes: the number one accusation hurled at us is that we haven’t had the writing experience to be at a level good enough for publishing. We sprout out of nowhere, green as a bean and ready to take on the world. I’m 19, which means I don’t really know how taxes work and I can’t cook and I can’t drive and when I do my laundry sometimes I accidentally leave bright blue post-it notes in my pockets and end up turning my yellow skirt into one with green polka dots (now this post is just me dragging myself) but I also started seriously writing when I was 12, finishing my first novel at 13. That’s seven years to grow as a writer, and if authors who begin writing as adults are adequately skilled after seven years of practice, then teenagers are too. It is not as if I picked up a pen and one month later, I was magically signed and waiting to be pushed onto the world. Romeo-and-Juliet in 1920s Shanghai was a project seven years in the making, biding its time until my skill was at a level for it to be written.

My high school principal showed us this picture once in an assembly. I distinctly remember groaning under my breath and tuning out the rest of his inspirational speech, but the joke is on me now, because I found the image again on the internet a year later and thought it to be the most accurate thing.

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Anybody who looks like an overnight success on Twitter or on the internet or in real life is in fact sitting on a whole load of work they’ve done to get to the point where they are. We’re all sometimes guilty of thinking so-and-so completely lucked out and didn’t do as much work as we did to get to where they are (and if you aren’t, you are a saint that I don’t deserve), but some things just aren’t publicised (even in a month, one can get slapped with so many rejections they start to feel physical whiplash) and some types of work are impossible to publicise (I wish I could quantify the amount of time I’ve spent daydreaming).

I should end this post by concluding that, yes, this entire ramble is just me publicising myself so no one considers me an overnight success. I’m occasionally guilty of falling into the mindset that everyone has it easier than me. With every success post I see, I wonder how long it took them to get to that point. But it’s all relative, so I should really stop that. To find success, we all have to put in the work that our project personally needs. Some people spend seven years in the querying trenches with the very first project of their heart and they find success after polishing and polishing and polishing. Some people, like me, write a whole heap of different projects for seven years and only then, with what they finally think is ~~~the one~~~ do they jump into the querying trenches. Both methods require a lot of work and both methods encompass a lot of struggling. Quick successes are an illusion – unless you’re magic, I guess?

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So uh, this is the end of my blog post. I’m not sure how to sign off. If anyone is actually reading this, I’d love to hear your journey in the comments! In the meanwhile, I’m going to brainstorm what else I can talk about on this little corner of the internet I call my blood-coloured blog.

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