4 Secrets of Self-Made Success from Best-Selling Author Jamie McGuire

It is uncommon enough for an author to produce five New York Times list-topping novels, but the fact that Jamie McGuire did so without a traditional publisher truly sets her in a league of her own. Her first book, Beautiful Disaster, became a New York Times best-seller in 2012 and was picked up by Atria Books the same year. Just one year later, it was an international best-seller, and the movie rights were auctioned by Warner Bros. In 2014, more than 1 million copies had been sold.

Most aspiring authors view those kinds of deals as the final destination, but not McGuire. Instead, she decided to leave Atria and go back out on her own—and the decision paid off, not just with multiple best-sellers, but also raving fans who love her books so much that they collect international editions to have a copy of every cover design available.

Sitting down with her at her ranch in Enid, Oklahoma, I found McGuire to be a combination of fierce love for her family, deep appreciation for her readers, and a fearless confidence that pushes her to pen five or six books a year.

Are you an aspiring author, or maybe a blogger or freelancer? Here’s what Jamie McGuire can teach you about self-made success:

1. Create something that gets people talking.

McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster was a shocking new breed of romance that was not young adult and, as she explains on her website, “Not your mother’s romance.”

Fans flew to the message boards, so much so that McGuire credits a reader as her big break. “It was because of a reader,” she explains. “I’ll never forget her. She mentioned my book in the Amazon romance forums and said, ‘Guys, you’ve got to read this book.’ I didn’t pay a cent to advertise it. Beautiful Disaster is really polarizing—they either really loved it or they really hated it. But either way, they were talking about it.”

2. Don’t worry about outside validation.

Most of us want that validation of being picked up by a network or publisher, but McGuire’s confidence is what allowed her to take risks with her writing and to publish her books her way. “I never thought, If I get a publishing deal, I’ll be a real author. I was already a real author in my mind. I was already making it on my own. I didn’t feel like I needed that as validation.”

3. Always keep focus on your audience.

McGuire’s attention is on her readers. “I just kept myself accessible to my fans on Facebook and talked to my readers, and they did the rest for me,” she says. “I have a franchise in Beautiful Disaster; readers want these books—and I want to get them in their hands.”

4. Work when you work best.

What most impressed me about McGuire is her work ethic. It takes a special strategy to raise three kids by day and produce five titles a year by night. Just like her publishing style, she does life her own way, too.

She designs her schedule around what success means to her and her family, explaining, “I wake up by the time the kids get out of school and we do our regular family evening. We eat dinner, discuss our days, get the kids bathed, in bed, and do homework or whatever. Then that’s when my workday begins. I start at about 10 or 11 at night, and then I write all night until it’s time to get the kids up for school. Then I go to bed and sleep until they get out of school—and start all over again.” This gives her hours of uninterrupted writing time as well as meaningful moments with her children.

Even if you were to argue that she became an overnight success with her first title, there’s no arguing that it takes hard work to stay successful. “I wrote six works between June and December last year, so I know I can do it,” she says. “[But] it’s what everybody else is doing, so you have to keep up. You can’t write one book a year anymore, not even bigger authors are doing that. If you want to keep up and stay in the mind of your readers, you need to write that often just to compete.”

Her advice? “Always to finish your book. You can’t learn, you can’t continue to grow unless you finish that first book. You have to finish that hurdle first…. If you’re a couple books in, just keep going—it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

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