I'm paraphrasing Jane Friedman here, when I say:
"Success takes a million tiny steps."
People always ask me what's the hardest part of being a college fiction writing teacher. Is it all the tedious marking? Having to read beginner attempts at writing in genres you don't want to read? The long hours teaching at night, at the podium?
I don't teach that way (at the podium.) I'm a desk-sitter. But it's none of that.
By far, the hardest part of being a writing instructor is telling my students about the industry. And in particular, that they aren't going to knock it out of the park with their first book - the one they are writing in my class.
It's hard, because they don't want to believe me. Always, they point to one or two authors who make it to the bestsellers list on their first book. "So and so did it - why won't I?"
What they don't know is that the book on the best-seller list - that author's "debut novel" - is most likely NOT the first book the author wrote. Industry stats tell us it will likely be their 4th book written. (3.6 is the average, for a traditionally published author.)
My own story works as an example. My first novel published, Rowena Through the Wall, was a bestseller (yay!) But it wasn't my first novel *written*. It was my third. And before that, I had 24 short stories published, which won me six awards. (Six awards, students. Before I even tried to get a novel published.)
Each one of those short stories, each of those awards, was a tiny step.
About that first novel: it was horrible. So horrible that if anyone finds it on an abandoned floppy disk and tries to read it, I will have to kill either them or me. It was a Canadian historical/western/romance/thriller with a spoiled, whiny heroine who was in danger of being killed. No shit. Even I wanted to kill her. The second book was also horrible, but less horrible. It was a romantic comedy with a "plucky heroine" (gag) and several implausible coincidences that made it into an unintentional farce.
By the time I was writing my third and fourth novels, I got smarter. Apparently, I could do farces. Why not deliberately set about to write a humorous book? And while you're at it, how about getting some professional feedback? Take a few steps to become a better writer?
I entered the Daphne DuMaurier Kiss of Death contest. Sent the required partial manuscript. Two out of four judges gave me near perfect scores, and one of them said:
"If this is finished, send it out immediately. If this isn't finished, stop everything you're doing right now and finish it. I can't imagine this wouldn't get published."
One more tiny step.
That book was The Goddaughter. It was published by Orca Books, and the series is now up to six books. (Six steps.) The series has won two awards. (Two more steps.)
I'm currently writing my 18th book. It comes out Fall 2019. Last summer, for the first time, I was asked to be a Guest of Honour at a crime fiction festival. It may, just may, be my definition of success.
If you include my comedy credits, I have over 150 fiction publications now, and ten awards.
160 tiny steps to success.
Conclusion: Don't give up if your first work isn't published. Take those tiny steps to become a better writer. Take a million.