Since he’s been talking about the contract and the books lately, he often hears from people who congratulate him on “his quick success” and “his rapid rise to acclaim.” Robert Stanek is, of course, a critically and commercially acclaimed author of more than 150 books. He also is one of the world’s leading authorities in the subjects he writes about. But his success wasn't over night or rapid by any means.
Robert Stanek has been a writer for over 30 years and only 20 as a published professional. He earned his stripes in this crazy business when he wrote for many years for the simple pleasure of writing itself. Even though he finished his first full-length novel in 1986 and won his first writing award in 1991, it wasn’t until 1994 that he signed his first contract. It wasn’t until 1995 that his first book was published. It wasn’t until 1996 that he was able to write full-time.
His full-time work as a writer is as a technology journalist and nonfiction writer. In those early days, Robert Stanek wrote articles for leading publications like PC Magazine and Dr. Dobbs. He also wrote books for leading publishers like Macmillan, Pearson, McGraw Hill, Microsoft, and O’Reilly Media. That was, of course, success, and he did in fact rise quickly, becoming a recognized world leader in his field in only a few short years.
Success, however, can be short lived. In publishing, a writer’s last success doesn’t necessarily pave the road to the future. A writer’s future is determined by his or her next book and often also by factors the writer cannot control. The world changes every day. Trends and tastes shift. Yesterday’s media darling can be tomorrow’s nobody.
Robert Stanek has lived the change firsthand. Between 1995 and 1998, he signed more than a dozen contracts, wrote books as fast as he could write them for readers who couldn’t get his books fast enough. He was on fire. He thought the ride would never end, until it did.
The market changed. Trends and tastes shifted. The hot topics of the day were flooded with a smorgasbord of offerings. There weren’t just 10 or 20 books on that hot topic, there were a hundred. Eventually, this oversaturation cannibalized sales of all similar books. Thus, even as his success and career were hitting new highs, Robert Stanek was left scrambling.
But unlike many of his contemporaries at the time, he saw the light of that oncoming freight train. He knew his options. He knew what he had to do.
He could continue to write books in an oversaturated market, try to live with sales that were a tiny fraction of what they had been, or he could look to new opportunities. He chose plan b—the new opportunities. He risked everything, left his old publishers who weren’t interested in his new ideas, and went out looking for publishers who were interested in his new ideas.
The change meant Robert Stanek had to rejoin the working world. He took a job with a tech company in Seattle and joined the ranks of the marathon commuters, driving 140 miles round trip every working day. He continued writing in the evenings and on weekends. He continued to pitch his new ideas to new publishers.
Days and weeks passed. Months too. By the sixth month, he and his wife were seriously considering options and wishing they’d sold the family home and moved to Seattle months ago.
But he didn’t give up. Instead, Robert Stanek polished his ideas yet again and sent them out via his agent to a new publisher who he heard was looking to do something different. He just hoped that the “something different” they wanted would be his radical idea for a new series of books.
The wait to hear back from the publisher was agony because at this point it was make or break. If he heard back from the publisher and it wasn’t good news, his writing career likely was over. If he heard back from the publisher and it was good news, there was hope, but no certainty.
Thankfully, he heard back from his agent within a few days and the news was good. The publisher wanted to meet with him. The publisher wanted to discuss his ideas.
During the meeting, it was clear that the publisher liked his ideas but he’d need to provide sample chapters, expand the series details, have more face-to-face meetings, and generally do more to convince them. The hard part that followed required a leap of faith. He couldn’t do all that was required of him, in the time that was required of him, and keep working full-time elsewhere. He had to quit the day job and proceed, or keep the day job and let the dream die.
Robert Stanek chose the dream. He gave notice, worked his last two weeks while he continued developing the materials needed. A few weeks in, he learned the publisher had one idea for the series and he had another. Worse, the concepts were radically different.
He thought for sure disaster was ahead. Thankfully, the publisher did eventually sign him to a two-book contract. A contract to do things their way—and not his way.
However, the sample chapters he’d written over the past weeks were for his series concept and not theirs, so he kept writing the books his way. For this publisher, it was something unheard of for any writer to go outside the standard or to deviate from fixed standards. But his editors loved the final chapters he submitted, and he completed the work in its entirety ahead of schedule—so many weeks ahead of schedule they didn't quite know what to do, and this also was something else that was unheard of.
In fact, he was so far ahead of schedule, that the book’s publication dates were moved back several months. Those several months proved critical, as they allowed the publisher to showcase the books at a major industry event when the publisher otherwise would not have been able to. And the books done his way were smash hits at the event.
The rest as they say is history. Those contracts were followed by two other contracts from other publishers that he’d contacted previously. Suddenly, Robert Stanek was back in the publishing business.
That little series he started? That series would eventually go on to become one of the biggest blockbuster series for the publisher, with over 2 million book sales—and counting.
Those first books he wrote in that series? They set the foundation for the entire series and became critically-acclaimed, award-winning bestsellers.
Not too shabby for ideas nobody wanted and no one but he believed in. Sometimes in life you must take that leap of faith. Sometimes you must believe in yourself when no one else does. Sometimes you must follow the wrong path to find the right one.
If you haven’t read Robert Stanek’s books, I hope you’ll do so. Many of his fiction books are set in the fantasy world of Ruin Mist (http://www.ruinmistmovie.com/). As a former linguist and intelligence specialist who has lived in many countries, he’s tried to bring these cultures to the fantastic world he created, and many of the people, places and things in Ruin Mist reflect the ancient peoples and societies of our world. His Ruin Mist books were #1 bestsellers in Amazon’s Audible store for 14 consecutive weeks in 2005. The Ruin Mist books include:
Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches #1, 2, 3, 4
In the Service of Dragons #1, 2, 3, 4
Guardians of the Dragon Realms #1, 2
Dragons of the Hundred Worlds #1, 2
A Daughter of Kings #1, 2, 3, 4
The Pieces of the Puzzle
The Cards in the Deck.
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