Monday 22 May 2017

How I became an Overnight Success in 26 years (with nods to Anne R. Allen)

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Three years ago, I wrote a crazy little book that won two crime writing awards.  (Okay, not three years ago.  It won the Derringer and Arthur Ellis three years ago, which means I wrote it two years before that.  Trad publishing takes time…but I digress.)

That year, I also won a national short story contest, with prize money of $3000.  The year after, I was shortlisted along with Margaret Atwood, for another fiction award.

The Toronto Sun called to interview me.  They titled the article, “Queen of Comedy.”

“You’re famous!” said an interviewer.  “How does it feel to become an overnight success?”

“That was one long night,” I said.  “It lasted 26 years.”

This blog post was inspired by Anne R. Allen

Yesterday, Anne had a post on her Top 100 blog:  10 Reason Why You Shouldn’t Publish that 1st Novel

(It’s terrific.  Click on the link, to see why.)

But that got me thinking about my own “overnight success.”

Here’s the thing.  I started writing fiction for money in 1987. (Nineteen Eighty-Seven!!  Big shoulders and big hair.  Wasn’t that two years before the Berlin Wall came down?)

I won my first award (Canadian Living Magazine) in 1989.  By the time my first novel hit bookshelves, I already had 24 short stories published, and had won six awards.

Plus The Goddaughter’s Revenge – the book that won the Derringer and Arthur – wasn’t my first novel published.  It was my fifth.

My Point:

I’ll drill down even more.  It wasn’t even my fifth novel written.  It was my seventh.  The first two will never see the light of day.  One has gone on to floppy disk heaven.  Although if God reads it up there, he may send it to hell.

I would never want ANYONE to read my first two novels.  Writing them taught me how to write.  I got rid of bad habits with those books.  I learned about the necessity of motivation.  The annoyance of head-hopping.  And the importance of having a protagonist that people can like and care about.

Yes, my first novel had a TSTL heroine who was naive, demanding, and constantly had to be rescued.  (For those who don’t know, TSTL stands for Too Stupid To Live.  There.  You learned something from this blog post.)  Even I got sick of writing about her.  Why would anyone else want to make her acquaintance?

In my first two novels, I learned about plot bunnies.  Plot bunnies are those baffling side trips your book takes away from the main plot.  Each book should have an overall plot goal, and ALL subplots should meander back to support that one plot goal in the end.  My first book had everything but aliens in it.  All sorts of bunnies that needed to be corralled and removed.

Speaking of bunnies, I’m wandering.  So back to the point:

IN 2015, many people saw me as an overnight success.  I was getting international recognition and bestseller status.  One of my books hit the Amazon Top 100 chart at number 47, between Tom Clancy and Nora Roberts.*

But that overnight success took 26 years.  I had one long apprenticeship.

Keep in mind that being an author is a journey.  No one is born knowing how to write a great novel.  You get better as you write more.  You get better as you read more.  You get better as you learn from others.

Being an author is a commitment.  You aren’t just writing ‘one book.’  You are going to be a writer for the rest of your life. Commit to it.  Find the genre you love.  Write lots.

And you too can be an overnight success in 26 years. Right, Anne?

(*Rowena Through the Wall.  She’s a much more likeable protagonist.)


  1. In 1978, I lost my first novel in the women's washroom at Ryerson (then Polytechnic Institute now University). It was probably just as well.

    1. Grin - you've written a pile of novels since then, Alison! And that new one is a winner, for sure.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out, Melodie! I got my first agent in 1987 (who failed to sell my book) so my career has followed a similar path. It was 2013 when one of my books was in the Amazon humor top 10 between Douglas Adams and Janet Evanovich and I said, "I think my career might finally get going now...." Overnight success doesn't really happen in this business. :-)

    1. So true, Anne. I'm baffled by the aspiring writers who think it does. Each year, I have to disappoint some of my students when I say, "Sadly, the world is not waiting for your book. Write it anyways. And then write another."

  3. I love this article, Melodie. Not only mentioning the books we write which teach us to write, but also for the fact that the media will never be interested in a success story unless they can make it an overnighter!

    1. How true, Tara. There is no giddy excitement created around hard work over several years. That sounds too much grin

  4. Wonderful blog. Thanks to Anne R. Allen for leading me to you. Looking forward to reading more of your work.