Turning your passion into a profession isn’t always easy – it can sometimes be a long road.
A passion for old things
I’ve always had an interest in old things – from furniture to clothing and kitchenware. I find it difficult to walk past an Old Wares shop without popping in for a look. I’m not into highly polished antiques, I prefer those pieces which show the notches and wear that indicate they’ve been used over the years. I like to wonder about the people who’ve used the item, how they used it and whether it made their lives easier.
About 20 years ago, I ran my own Old Wares shop for 5 years. It started out as a gift shop, with the intent of using the furniture and old items as props. However, the old items were so popular, we moved into selling them and phased out the gift items, except for a few select lines such as teddy bears, which were very popular.
Those of you who’ve worked in retail will know that some days are busy and other days are quiet. Rainy days were the worst. I needed to do some marketing … and I needed something constructive to keep me busy during the quiet times. That’s where my passion for writing came in…
Combining my passions
At the time, secondhand dealers had to have a license to buy and sell goods. As part of that license, we were required to record the name and address of the person buying any secondhand item. As a result, I accumulated quite a mailing list – aha! Having produced newsletters and marketing materials in my previous corporate life, I saw the opportunity to market to my customers. I produced an informative newsletter, made copies and posted them out via snail mail. This was the old days – no free email mailouts then!
I received a great response. Many customers came back into the shop to buy more items for their collection, and quite a few of them let me know that they were keeping my newsletters as a reference guide. I was pleasantly surprised! Then I thought, hmmm… maybe there’s a book in this!
One of the major hurdles in producing the newsletter was finding information on early 20th century items. There was no Google to help me find information, it had to be researched in books (this WAS the dark ages!!). At the time, an antique was an item made prior to 1900 – there were reference books on them, but not much had been written about later items. I saw a gap in the market.
I started researching all I could about old furniture. I spent every spare day visiting the State Library in Brisbane, then moved onto the State Library in Sydney. I became obsessed with finding every available piece of information on early 20th century furniture.
A book is born
I had soon drafted some chapters for a book. I didn’t want to write the whole thing and leave it in a drawer, so I wrote the first 3-4 chapters, sketched an outline, identified the target market and sent off a cover letter to 3 publishers I had selected from “Australian Writer’s Marketplace”. Two of the publishers rejected it immediately, but Bay Books wrote back saying they had passed the inquiry on to their parent company, Harper Collins (I would never have approached them myself).
A few weeks later, I received a phone call from one of the publishers, gulp! She asked me whether I could send the rest of the book down for her to read! I said it just needed a bit of polishing, and asked how long before I needed to send it. She gave me 6 weeks to get the full draft to her. This was before I had children, so I worked night and day to convert my notes and scraps of information into sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. It was printed on an old dot-matrix printer and saved on floppy disks!! 🙂
Several months later, the same publisher called to offer me a contract to publish the book – I nearly dropped the phone! “My Grandmother had one of those” was on its way to being published! Of course, the contract was heavily in favour of the publishing house, but I was told it was a “take it or leave it” offer. I took it.
About a year later, my book was published. We held a book launch at a local store, I did a series of radio interviews, had dozens of reviews published throughout Australia and even recorded a segment for Burke’s Backyard – the first of the new breed of lifestyle programs. It was my 15 minutes of fame! Hahaha… It still gives me a buzz to see my book available in the catalogue for the National Library of Australia!
The majority of the books printed by Harper Collins were sold, with small royalty payments being made over and above the modest advance I’d been paid. Unless you’re the likes of JK Rowling, Tim Winton or Matthew Reilly, you’re unlikely to get rich on your first book. Write because you enjoy writing and you’re passionate about your subject.
My passion is now my profession
One thing that did come out of having my book published was that it reignited my passion for writing. I continued to write in the following years, but with children coming along, my time was not my own.
In the hope of working from home, I registered a business name – The Professional Writer – and got some business cards printed. I worked part-time as a marketing consultant for several small businesses, while I enjoyed freelancing from home as well. Over the years, my freelance business significantly increased and I am now proud to say I make a living from my writing.
It’s funny how my passion for old things led to a renewed passion for writing… and now writing is my profession. It took a while and I may have taken the long road, but I’m now lucky enough to make a living doing something I love. Maybe it’s time to write another book … 🙂
Do you have a passion? Would you like to turn it into a profession?
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