Throughout the course of a career, a writer reaches many milestones. These milestones have a certain order, more or less, and each time one is reached is a cause for celebration.
Today I reached one of those milestones, which got me thinking about the past ones, and the joy I've gotten from them. They include:
Writing my first novel. Few things in life offer the satisfaction of finally writing "The End" when finishing a book. I've written fourteen others since then, and it's still always a thrill for me.
Selling my first short story. The first time I was actually paid for my words, and saw my name in print, felt great. I still get a kick out of this when it happens.
Getting an agent. It's so hard to find an agent, especially a good one. I'm going on seven years now with mine, and I'm still lucky to have her.
Landing my first book deal. This is perhaps the biggest milestone of all. One day I was a normal guy. The next day I was a novelist. I've had subsequent book deals since then, but nothing will ever beat the first one.
Earning out my advance. As of today, my first three books (Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, and Rusty Nail) are officially in the black. My first contract was basketed; a joint accounting clause which stated I wouldn't earn a dime until all three novels earned out the entire advance. Well, now they have. I'm actually earning royalties. And it feels wonderful.
According to my sources, earning out an advance isn't easy. One out of six books published makes money, sometimes quite a bit. One out of six earns out, just breaking even. And four out of six never earn out.
My books are making money, and seem to be on the path to keep making money.
I'd love to attribute this milestone to my tireless efforts at promoting, or the stellar quality of my writing, but in truth it really comes down to luck. Sure, I tried to write good books, and I've certainly worked hard to promote them (as has my publisher.)
But there are also authors who work their butts off and don't earn out, and there are a lot of authors who are wildly successful without doing much promotion at all.
Right now, though, I'm not thinking about hard work or luck. I'm simply happy that, nearing the fourth anniversary of me signing my first three-book deal, I'm actually getting a check, and a decent one at that.
Hopefully, there are other milestones ahead. Besides new books, and new contracts, I'm hoping to one day crack the bestseller lists, sell a movie option, sell more foreign rights, and sell book club rights. And, if I ever reach those milestones, I'm sure more milestones will replace them.
In the meantime, drinks are on me. If you've never seen me before, I'm the guy sitting there with the big-ass grin on his face.