Rome wasn’t built in a day (A.K.A. It takes years to build a writing career)

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Room by Emma Donoghue

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

What do these books have in common? They’re an author’s breakout book in the international mainstream media, but guess what–it wasn’t their debut.

Every breakout book has a story behind it and a labour of love from all people involved. It takes years to build a writing career. Years of developing the craft, years of working with critique partners, agents, and editors. It’s easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself as a new writer thinking that every word on the page has to be perfect. But you know what–it’s all a step in the right direction. It’s all a step towards a long career in writing. Each word, chapter, and novel is a step in the path of your writing dreams. And when you start to stress that things aren’t going your way and the literary gods haven’t smiled upon you yet, just know that most authors work for years and years before publication, recognition and success come along.

Agents and editors support great writers, knowing their time will come. Agents sign authors for the long haul. We’re looking years ahead and investing in authors knowing that we might not sell their first book, or even their second. We know that we sign up an author for their visible talent and the talent we think we can grow and nurture. We aren’t going to drop you the second you feel insecurity, or if your first book doesn’t get picked up. Publishing is a relationship business and there would be no agents without authors. Agents and authors are a team that has to be on the same page at all times. So if you’re feeling down, talk to your agent about it.

You aren’t a failure if your first novel doesn’t sell. Failure is when you let critics get to you and you let their opinion of your work make you stop writing.

Editors keep buying books by authors they love. They’ll support you in house and fight for your marketing until one day your stock starts to rise and then they’ll say “they knew it all along”, they knew this author was going to breakout.

When the going gets tough and it looks like another novel might have to be put in the drawer you need:

  • Patience
  • Belief in your talent
  • To work on your craft
  • An understanding the industry
  • A good literary support system
  • An agent that you trust and respect (and vice versa)
  • To get working on your next project as soon as you can

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” W. Somerset Maugham 


Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

13 thoughts on “Rome wasn’t built in a day (A.K.A. It takes years to build a writing career)

  1. Is it possible to like this more than once? No? Well I’ll wait here until WordPress comes up with something…

    In all seriousness, you make some great points. Your list is spot on. A writer’s goal shouldn’t be to simply land an agent. That’s only part of the equation. Become the best writer(and person) you can and trust that if you do, everything else will work out. At least that’s how I approach things. Excellent post as always.


  2. Thanks so much for this, Carly! It was definitely something I needed to hear, especially today.
    It’s so easy to get bogged down by not getting an agent or finding a publishing house to take your first (or second) novel, but you’re right, these things take time and patience. Giving up is easy, but continuing on is what’s hard.
    Thanks again for sharing :)


  3. We all have to be reminded of that…often. You really want someone who believes in what you do and your mission for your writing. I needed that this morning as I continue my journey to find a place where my books will grow and be placed in the hands of the littles they are meant to be. Thanks.


  4. I am in love with Maugham’s quote. And it was a fitting end to your encouraging post. Art is so very personal and subjective. What is symphonic prose to one, is distracting noise to another. I continue to believe my orchestra is out there somewhere and my audience will come.


  5. This is such a great post, Carly… I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to it and re-reading in the future. Yours is one of my favorite blogs–always full of sharp, no-nonsense advice. What a great resource. Thank you!


What do you think? I love hearing from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: