Ten years ago today ... - Sarah Woodbury

Ten years ago today …

Ten years ago, on April 1, 2006, I wrote the first word of my first book.

Six PendragonsSometimes it’s easy to pinpoint those moments in your life where everything changes.  When you look across the room and say to yourself, I’m going to marry him.  Or stare down at those two pink lines on the pregnancy test, when you’re only twenty-two and been married for a month and a half and are living on only $800 a month because you’re both still in school and my God how is this going to work?

And sometimes it’s a bit harder to remember.

Until I was eleven, my parents tell me they thought I was going to be a ‘hippy’.  I wandered through the trees, swamp, and fields of our 2 ½ acre lot, making up poetry and songs and singing them to myself.  I’m not sure what happened by the time I’d turned twelve, whether family pressures or the realities of school changed me, but it was like I put all that creativity and whimsicalness into a box on a high shelf in my mind.  By the time I was in my late-teens, I routinely told people: ‘I haven’t a creative bone in my body.’  It makes me sad to think of all those years where I thought the creative side of me didn’t exist.

When I was in my twenties and a full-time mother of two, my husband and I took our family to a picnic with his graduate school department.  I was pleased at how friendly and accepting everyone seemed.

And then one of the other graduate students turned to me out of the blue and said, ‘do you really think you can jump back into a job after staying home with your kids for five or ten years?’

I remember staring at him, not knowing what to say.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about it, but that it didn’t matter—it couldn’t matter—because I had this job to do and the consequences of staying home with my kids were something I’d just have to face when the time came.

Fast forward ten years and it was clear that this friend had been right in his incredulity.  I was earning $15/hr. as a contract anthropologist, trying to supplement our income while at the same time holding down the fort at home.  I remember the day it became clear that this wasn’t working.  I was simultaneously folding laundry, cooking dinner, and slogging through a report I didn’t want to write, trying to get it all in before the baby (number four, by now) woke up.  I put my head down, right there on the dryer, and cried.

It was time to seek another path.  Time to follow my heart and do what I’d wanted to do for a long time, but hadn’t had the courage, or the belief in myself to make it happen.

At the age of thirty-seven, I started my first novel, just to see if I could.  I wrote it in six weeks and it was bad in a way that all first books are bad.  It was about elves and magic stones and will never see the light of day.  But it taught me, I can do this!

Even though I still think of myself as staid, my extended family apparently has already decided that those years where I showed little creativity were just a phase.  Not long ago, my husband told me of several conversations he had, either with cousins or aunts or ones he just overheard, in which it became clear they thought I was so alternative and creative—so far off the map—that I didn’t even remember there was a map.

My husband told me, ‘give it five years,’ and in the five years that followed, I experienced rejection along my newfound path.  A lot of it.  Over seventy agents, and then dozens and dozens of editors (once I found an agent), read my books and passed them over.  Again and again.

But what my husband meant, which he told me later, though it wasn’t what I heard when he said it, was that he hadn’t said, ‘give it five years and see if you’re making any money’, but rather ‘give it five years and see if you still love it’.

It had been 4 1/2 years in September of 2010 when my agent gave me The Last Pendragon back and said he couldn’t sell it after a year and a half of trying. Throwing caution to the winds, I uploaded it to Barnes and Noble for free … and gave away 10,000 copies in 3 months. At the end of December, I received an email from a reader who told me that she liked the book but that she would have paid for it–and to please not give away my books anymore.

I still give them away, but that was the push I needed and on December 28, 2010, I uploaded The Last Pendragon to Amazon. In the subsequent weeks I added Footsteps in Time and Prince of Time, other books I hadn’t been able to sell … and sold 22 books the whole month: three to me; three to my mom; three to my writing partner. You get the picture.

But in February, 52 books sold. In March, I sold 282, and on March 19, 2011, I published Daughter of Time and my life changed. It sold over 1000 copies in April, and my writing career became a career instead of a hobby.

And as it turned out, my first paycheck from Amazon came on March 31, 2011, five years after I first put fingers to keyboard. And as it turned out, while the money allows me to feed my family, I really do still love writing.

My years as a published author now equal my years as an unpublished one, and ten years ago, even if I’d dreamt of being a published author, where I am now would have been beyond my wildest imagination. To have sold nearly half a million books, to be supporting my family as an indie author, was at the time an impossible dream. The Kindle didn’t yet exist! Through writing, I’ve found a community of other writers, support and friendship from people I hadn’t known existed a few years ago.

And best of all, thousands of readers have found my books. In the end, it is you, my readers, who make my job the best in the world.

Thank you for reading and enjoying my books. Here’s to the next ten years …

16 Replies to “Ten years ago today …”

  1. I have been reading your Gareth and Gwen series for years now.They just seem to get better and better. I read a lot of series and these books are some of my favorites. I just finished The Worthy Soldier and loved it.Can’t wait for the next one. Wow! To think you may never had these published!I love reading,but could never be a writer. No imagination or talent.However,I love good stories with likeable characters as well as good mysteries. You have both in this series which seems to be a rarity.Thank heavens you did not give up on your writing!

    1. Oh, I’m so glad! Thank you for writing me!
      (and if you had a moment to leave a review for the book, I’d be so grateful! You could just cut and paste what you said here to me 🙂 )

  2. What a great story. I too would love to write full-time eventually. I am in a similar genre to you (my first novel, The Heart of Darkness, is a romance/mystery set in medieval England). I’ve seen your Gareth and Gwen books high in the category ranks and wondered what your secret was. Like you, I’m an indie author. Sales have been quite good considering I was an unknown author. But I’m always looking to grow them. I’m not selling thousands of books like you are. Perhaps you could do a blog post on your top marketing tips for historical fiction authors? I’d love to give The Heart of Darkness a boost before book 2 in the series comes out later in the year.

    1. I am giving a talk on this in June at the Historical Novel Society conference in Portland. When I work it up, I’ll post it!

  3. I first read and fell in love with your medieval mysteries involving Garth and Gwen. I was so disappointed to have read (rather devoured) all of the books in the series so quickly. To my delight I found your After Climeri series – and again I hungrily read these. I love this series so much, I’m re-reading it and finding the second time around to be even more entertaining because I catch more of the subtleties I missed the first time around. I love how you develop your characters and make their interactions so visual, it’s like watching everything as a movie in my head. I cannot thank you enough for such engaging and even breathtaking stories. As others have said, I also agree your perseverance as a writer has been a blessing to all your readers. Please, please continue spinning out more books with the characters you have brought to life. They are my family now and when I read the last book, I grieve for the loss of them.

  4. wonderful post. I absolutely love the After Cilmeri series and have recommended it to many. Please keep writing! And thank you for sharing your knowledge, research and imagination!

  5. Having a supportive and caring husband and a family who obviously loved and understood you must have helped so much in the years that you faced so much rejection. I am so glad you persevered – I too love your books and lose myself in them. I am in Australia and have been lucky enough to travel Britain and Europe. To be able to walk in the footsteps of characters I feel I know from your books, to be able to picture the places you mention, not just in my imagination, but in reality, has given me so much pleasure. Thank you! ?

  6. Sarah, your story gives every budding writer hope. I am so glad you stuck with it. Your perseverance has affected others, as well. Namely…me. Editing for you has opened a whole new world for me and I now have 2 more authors I work with and have started research for my own book. Thank you and congratulations!

  7. This was so great to read! So inspirational for me, a stay at home mom of two and soon-to-be three, who loves to write. I’m just finishing my masters and ready to get serious about my goals. Anyway thanks for posting!

  8. I can’t believe that publishing houses rejected your books! I am a voracious reader and own all your published books as well as the Audible versions when available.

  9. Your post brought a moment of chagrin when I realized how remiss I have been in not sharing how very much I enjoy your After Cilmeri Series. I have read this series a number of times and always get completely wrapped up in the story each time. When you post the publish date for the next After Cilmeri Series ebook, I start re-reading the series so that I can go straight to the next book when available. Your gift for bringing each character’s narrative of events to life has made the series fun to read. And, surprisingly, the way the time travel happens seems so plausible. This is one series that I hope continues for a very long time! I’m so very glad you persevered in your efforts to publish, as your writings are among the highlights of my entire reading experience. Wishing you the very best as you move forward.

  10. Dear Sarah,
    I just want to say thank you to you for not giving up, and to your familiy for their support. And thanks to Kindle, of course, because otherwise I might not have found your books 🙂

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