I’m not really a gardener. My husband is, though. He takes delight in nurturing seeds and seedlings until they turn into salad ingredients. He weeds and frets, tries to protect them from hail, bugs, deer, rabbits, skunks, and raccoons. He fails and curses, or succeeds and congratulates himself on his urban farmer skillz.
I just eat the salad.
But I do plant writing seeds.
In the Stone Age—back in 1991 or so—when my kids were little, I quit my corporate job. I stayed home with them but needed an income so I provided daycare for other kids in my home. During two hours of naptime every day, to save my sanity, I went upstairs and wrote personal essays. In my mind, I was the next Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry. Reality? Maybe not so much.
But I planted many, many of those essay seeds and finally felt confident enough to send one off to a regional magazine. In return, they sent me a $50 check. It was so much more than money. It was tangible proof that my seeds were sprouting. I bless that editor every day for her vote of confidence.
So I planted some more.
In 1999 or so, my son and I were on the hunt for some historical fiction for boys. It was a meager selection, all of which he’d read. As we were leaving the library, he said, “Why don’t you write one, Mom?”
Hm. An entire book? How might one go about that? Soon after, I stumbled on a one-day conference organized by the Colorado Independent Publishers Association. I met people, I learned, I schmoozed. More seeds.
In 2001 my first book, historical fiction for middle readers, was self-published, back when that was a dirty word and so, so difficult. I made some rookie mistakes like point-of-view shifts and tense shifts (even though I paid for editing … pfft). Plus the world conspired against me and changed the distribution rules I had counted on. Nevertheless, I persisted and hand-sold 5,000 copies of that glorious mess. I also received a letter from a young fan telling me he didn’t like to read until he read my book.
5,001 new sprouts.
Soon after, I discovered writer’s conferences. We are lucky in Colorado that we have three remarkable organizations that put on marvelous, transformative multi-day conferences. We have the Northern CO Writers in Ft Collins, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers in Denver, and Pikes Peak Writers in Colorado Springs.
I started attending, soaking up knowledge and friendship from the local writing community. Seeds. I began volunteering at the conferences. More seeds.
And then, like a Miracle [Gro], I was asked to be on the faculty. They might as well have asked if I’d like to be a Broadway star, an ice cream taster, and Pippi Longstocking rolled into one. It was one of the proudest, most exciting moments in my life. I could now reach backward and help pull someone along the publishing path, just like those ahead of me had been pulling and encouraging me for all these years.
During this time I wrote and published seven books — low-calorie cookbooks, a guide based on a workshop I used to do to teach parents how to help their reluctant readers, a book diary, and two cozy mysteries. And I was asked not only to be again on the faculty for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, but also to emcee the lunches and dinners over the weekend.
My little garden was in full-bloom.
So I expanded it a bit and started attending national fan conventions, like Left Coast Crime. Instead of catering to writers, now readers were the focus. I was involved in a “speed dating” type of activity where a ballroom filled with readers anxiously wanted to hear from the authors moving table-to-table every couple of minutes. I was invited to talk about my first mystery at the New Author Breakfast. More seeds. Heady stuff, even for a sturdy sunflower such as myself.
After years of tossing around seeds — meeting people, learning, teaching — at one of the Left Coast Crime banquets, I sat to the left of a fabulous author, for no other reason than she seemed fun and I wanted to meet her. We became friends. On her right sat an editor, her editor. I’d met this editor previously and we had about a gazillion friends in common, so we became friends in real life—IRL—like the kids say.
Soon after this, I had a book rejected that I thought was going to be a slam-dunk. As I was reeling from this defeat, another generous and persistent writer pal told me to submit it to the editor from the banquet, who had been her editor as well. But when I checked the publisher’s website, I did not fit the criteria for submissions because I didn’t have an agent, nor was the manuscript requested from a pitch. My author pal waved off my concern, told her editor friend she should read it, and the next thing I knew I had a 3-book contract.
Remember all those people ahead of me on the publishing path? They told me now was the time to get an agent and suggested some names to me. When I started investigating them, guess who was a client of the agent I liked the best? Yep, the author I sat next to at the banquet. Again, before I really wrapped my head around what was happening, she gave me guidance and encouragement. The next day, I had a literary agent.
None of this would have happened if I hadn’t sprinkled my writerly seeds over the last—gulp—30 years.
Some of those seeds were meticulously cultivated and planted exactly where I wanted them. Some I tossed by the hopeful handful. Some fell out of my pocket while I wasn’t paying attention.
But they all landed, sprouted, thrived. A delicious salad of opportunity.
May your seeds provide the same nourishment, both personally and professionally.