On the slow pursuit of Overnight Success

Photo on 7-13-16 at 4.28 PM #3

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post over on Tumblr about success.

I’d just walked into a bookshop in Edinburgh, hoping, as many author do, to spot my own work tucked away somewhere on the shelf. When I found not one, but two major displays–a table stand and a wall runner–I stood very still, trying to make a memory, and then, realizing I couldn’t be counted on, I snapped a photo instead. The photo doesn’t do the feelings justice.

These days I see my name paired more and more with the words “overnight success”, and I’ve heard that the average overnight success takes 10 years. It’s taken me 9, so if that means I’m ahead of the curve, so be it.

I started writing when I was a kid, poetry mostly, didn’t try my hand at anything longer than a short story until I was in college. I wrote my first novel as a sophomore, an acid trip through the underworld that will never be published, but it got close enough for me to get my first true tastes of failure. A literary agent, a year on sub to publishers, five separate acquisitions meetings. Five times getting all the way to the door and then being told it wasn’t good enough to go through.

I was a college senior when I decided to try again.

It would have been easy to walk away–failure isn’t fun, and I was pretty good at other things that wouldn’t take so much flesh, but I couldn’t bear the thought I was a fluke. Pride and all that. Plus I had this idea swimming through my head. Two sing-song lines about a village and a witch and a secret in the wind.

It was called THE NEAR WITCH, and the summer after I graduated, it sold to Disney.

It didn’t get much press aside from the fact it was a debut (the industry loves to tout debuts, as though lack of experience is the natural precursor to massive success). The book was in a select number of stores for a very short time, 1-2 copies max, and disappeared by the end of its first season. Out of print at 18 months.

I wrote a sequel, THE DARK REMAINS, but the publisher decided after it was written that they’d rather have something else, so back into the drawer it went.

Instead I wrote THE ARCHIVED, about a library of the dead. That one got a bit more traction, and a loyal cultish following, but by the time its sequel, THE UNBOUND, hit shelves, I’d been informed that the publisher wouldn’t be finishining the trilogy. It had earned out, but still under-performed by some invisible, unknowable measurement. (The hardcover of THE ARCHIVED was just taken out of print.)

At 25, I was scarred, terrified that my career was over, because I’d given something everything I had, and it wasn’t enough, and I didn’t understand how or why or what I was supposed to do next, and part of me wished I’d walked away back when that first book didn’t sell, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. And my anger, my frustration, my stubborn resolve was louder than my fear, so I sat down and wrote something else.

It was a book for me. A book to restore my joy, to remind me why I did this masochistic thing. And it was a secret, a sheltering of the creative process so that that no publisher could take away what the writing of it gave me.

That book was called VICIOUS.

It was a strange supervillain origin story and it took me to a new publisher, Tor, that took a chance on me. And that, over the next four years, would restore my faith in myself and my industry. The book itself was a risk, a niche, but I had an editor who championed me and a team who believed in my work and nearly 3 years after release, that book is still selling strong.

Also in the midst of the dear and chaos and loss of that first series, I signed a work-for-hire contract for an early Middle Grade at Scholastic. The book were designed for Scholastic Clubs and Fairs titles and sold more than 600,000 copies, and STILL got turned down by Barnes and Noble. I never got to see those on shelf.

My eighth book, A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, was probably the one that launched my ship, the one that first garnered me that title of “Overnight Success”, though it would be refurbished with each subsequent release. ADSOM was the first title to get great store placement, amazing reviews, and it’s still selling strong–the hardcover is now in its 9th printing, the paperback in its 6th, and every signing I do is filled with fans of Kell and Lila, Holland and Rhy, and it’s an amazing to have a readership that cares as much about these books as I do. I recently sold TV rights, and was signed on to write the pilot episode.

My ninth book was part of a multi-author platform at Scholastic. I hope I didn’t tank that series. It feels like I might have, or maybe it was just winding down, as series do, but I’m really damn proud of that book.

My tenth book, A GATHERING OF SHADOWS, the sequel to A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, was my first book to ever hit the New York Times list. It was the first time I got to go on a national book tour, and see hundreds and hundreds of readers, some who were new, and some who’d been with me since the beginning.

THIS SAVAGE SONG was my 11th book. It was my first YA since THE UNBOUND, a strange, dark, existential novel about what it means to be monstrous, what it means to be human.

And this past week, it debuted at #1 on the New York Times list.


This is not a post meant to brag.

Success is a thing so largely out of our control.

Overnight Success is almost always a myth.

Half of this industry is luck, and half is the refusal to quit.



74 thoughts on “On the slow pursuit of Overnight Success

  1. parthomon says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. xtina morris says:

    Well deserved success!

  3. Congrats on breaking through! Time and time again I read about how success is awarded to those who don’t quit. Posts like this keep me going. Thanks! Enjoy the success. You’ve earned it.

  4. Amanda says:

    Thanks for sharing and not giving up!!!

  5. Jennifer F. Santucci says:

    Reblogged this on Jennifer F. Santucci and commented:
    Such a wonderful author who writes fantastic books! Thank you Victoria Schwab for not giving up!

  6. Kristan says:

    I’m tearing up with joy and emotion at your journey, your fortune, your persistence, your passion, and your generosity in sharing it all. Thank you, and congrats! ❤

  7. Natalee says:

    Love! For your words and for sharing them. From another writer, thank you!

  8. Thank you for working so hard to get you’re work out there. Reading your books was an inspiration for me before I even began reading your blog. Congratulations!

  9. ForkInPage says:

    It takes guts to write all this out, I’m glad you did.
    Only if I had a penny for every time I wanted to write but didn’t believe in myself enough.

  10. Cookie says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this post–it, do doubt, gives hope to a lot of aspiring young authors out there. You’ve been my favourite author since I’ve read The Archived, its sequel, and Vicious. You deserve this. Thank you for sharing your stories and I’m always hoping to see more of them in the future.

  11. G. R. McNeese says:

    Thank you for sharing your successes and failures. I think it’s important for anyone, not just writers, to see that not everyone is an overnight success. It takes some talent, some luck, and a lot of hard work. I’m not at that point to where I can even begin writing long works, but reading your story gives me hope. It makes me want to work the hardest I’ve ever had and then some. Thank you for sharing your story.

  12. Gillian Foster says:

    Huge congratulations are in order! If ever anyone deserved a NYT #1 book it would have to be you. Thank you for sharing with your writing community such a detailed history. I certainly have benefited from reading it, as, I’m sure, has everyone else. All the best to you! Wishing you a long string of #1 bestsellers!

  13. hermionefowl says:

    This is incredibly inspiring!

  14. Amen on that last line, sister.

  15. Stephanie says:

    I was so excited for you when I saw the news on Twitter. You have such a beautiful, lyrical writing style and your Archived series remains one of my all-time favorites (still crossing my fingers for book three…one day).

  16. Thanks for this! I’m knee-deep in AGOS for the first time right now and loving it.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    I actually got chills reading this. I was there from THE ARCHIVED, and I still try and make as many people read that series as I can (as well as the rest of your books). I came to THE NEAR WITCH after THE ARCHIVED, and still loved it. Now that I know there’a a sequel I WANT it. But I get the whole publishing game works sometimes and other times a dark magic steps in and changes the future. I loved this little monster book as much as I have loved everything else you’ve written, and I can’t think of any one author that is more deserving of this. So many congratulations, and here’s to more books and more magic and probably some more stabbing and monsters, just to keep things fun. Thank you for every single one of your books. They’re all treasures.

  18. Wren says:

    This is such an amazing post. It’s very inspiring. Not every writer gets it on the first try. But if you try and try again, you will succeed. An important lesson for every writer everywhere.

  19. Thank you for sharing. For me it’s good to see that just because your first try doesn’t succed (by industry standards) or is even published does NOT mean you don’t have what it takes. I have a ton of drive until someone knocks me down and then it takes a lot of time for me to get up – if ever. So sharing this really made an impression on me, thank you.

  20. boompawolf says:

    Congrats on your success.

  21. Shanti says:

    Somehow–weirdly–this almost made me cry. I just got the Near Witch from the library. I just finished a Gathering of Shadows. I have loved the first two archived books. I really want to read this savage song. You deserve this success (and saying that, I’m sure that there are other people who aren’t successful and deserve it as well) and I long to read more of your writing ❤

  22. Such motivational post for peoples like us who are dreaming for this crazy life of an author.
    A heads up to where we are headed. Thanks for motivating me yet again. (really needed it for the past couple of days, since I am on the verge of killing my protags mother and for some reason it’s taking a lot of energy out of me -_- )

  23. […] I started writing this post yesterday and actually read a fantastic piece by heroine-author V.E Schwab about publishing and masochism which you should go read. […]

  24. […] were new messages I will probably ignore in the Twitter group, and then in the next second I saw Victoria Schwab’s post on being an “overnight success.” And I naturally I got a couple paragraphs in and huffed and puffed when I saw that she got an agent […]

  25. Congratulations!!! I am so very happy you didn’t quit 🙂 And thank you for sharing your journey with us. I am on one of those at the moment, and it is good to be reminded that “writers who make it” have known the ups and downs of writing, too.

  26. Ellen Rairdon says:

    My friend and I came to your author talk in the Ft. Collins, CO. You came into the meeting room to tells us your wonderful news about making the NY Times Best Sellers list. Your excitement was wonderful to see and hear. AND hearing about your Masters was fun too.

  27. exillior says:

    You’re amazing. As a reader, I absolutely love your books and your characters (I am a Kell girl through and through); and as a writer (the kind that has yet to complete a novel and therefore is still at kindergarten steps) I absolutely love the obvious skill and hard work that has gone into each book. I can’t wait to see you speak in Edinburgh.

  28. Thank you for sharing and enouraging other undiscovered authors to keep writing. Overnight suceess is a myth and a very intimidating label.

  29. Brenda Maier says:

    What a great reminder for us all, Victoria. Congratulations!

  30. K. L. Hallam says:

    Your post is awesome and gives a realistic perspective with much hope. Thank you.

  31. Stuart McEwan says:

    10 years is the industry standard for overnight success? I am glad your works are getting recognition but I think we as writers/readers/so forth need to reevaluate what the word ‘overnight’ means.

    Best wishes to you.

  32. Hubie Fix says:

    That’s cool! Congratulations!

  33. […] wrote recently that her “overnight success” was nine years and 11 books in the making. “Half of this industry is luck, and half is the refusal to quit,” she wrote. And that’s very, very […]

  34. […] On The Slow Pursuit Of Overnight Success […]

  35. […] Blog Post: ON THE SLOW PURSUIT OF OVERNIGHT SUCCESS by Victoria Schwab […]

  36. […] Victoria (V.E.) Schwab writes about the slow pursuit of overnight success. […]

  37. This Savage Song was an amazing book. I loved it so much. Congratulations 🙂

  38. Andrew says:

    I believe that you went to grad school, focusing on Ye Olde Literature of Monsters.

    So your advice to the kids out there who seek to emulate you might be:
    “Work hard and stay in school.”

  39. […] Victoria (V.E.) Schwab on the slow pursuit of overnight success. […]

  40. […] On The Slow Pursuit Of Overnight Success by Victoria Schwab […]

  41. […] 5. Nothing happens overnight. Here is Victoria Schwab sharing her story of becoming an overnight success…after writing for nine years: On the slow pursuit of Overnight Success. […]

  42. Thank you so much for this post. It is so inspiring and it truly gives me the push and the ability to try my best regardless of everything that can inhibit success. Thank you so much.

  43. […] via On the slow pursuit of Overnight Success — Victoria (V.E.) Schwab […]

  44. Gal Hanukaev says:

    Very inspiring! I loved how you didn’t quit! Those 9 years would have gone by anyway – way to go! 🙂

  45. First off, Congratulations on your Success! Writing one book is difficult, writing eleven is an excellent achievement! It is funny how the term “overnight success” is used. Has anyone ever become successful from one night of work? I highly doubt such a being has ever existed. Behind each success is a lifetime of learning, studying, preparing, experiencing, and even failing, before success is met. Perseverance is what you have, which is now allowing you to enjoy the spotlight of being an “overnight success”. Your post encourages me to keep at my writing. While I may be the only one learning from, and enjoying what I have written, one day I too may enjoy success in terms of having a readership.

  46. Jane says:

    I’ve been a fan since I read the Near Witch to my kiddos. I loved the Archive series and want to beg you to consider indie publishing the third book. While you’re at it, indie publish THE DARK REMAINS, as I’m sure it’s fantastic, too.

  47. […] were new messages I will probably ignore in the Twitter group, and then in the next second I saw Victoria Schwab’s post on being an “overnight success.” And I naturally I got a couple paragraphs in and huffed and puffed when I saw that she got an agent […]

  48. […] were new messages I will probably ignore in the Twitter group, and then in the next second I saw Victoria Schwab’s post on being an “overnight success.” And I naturally I got a couple paragraphs in and huffed and puffed when I saw that she got an agent […]

  49. […] did they write that didn’t work and how did they overcome that? Victoria Schwab has a fantastic post about this. It’s the same for art. How do artists make a living today and how can I learn from […]

  50. […] But that’s very much the exception, not the rule. Building a readership takes time. V.E. Schwab posted recently that she was an overnight success nine years in the making. Remember, George R.R. Martin published […]

  51. […] authors V. E. Schwab wrote a wonderful article on her journey of writing and pulling her novels: On the Slow Pursuit of Overnight Success. It was really inspiring and motivating. Sometimes I struggle with writing and wonder if I will ever […]

  52. You’re an inspiration to writers everywhere! Thank you for sharing your story. I will remember this every time I consider giving up the pursuit of my literary dreams. X

  53. You’re an inspiration to writers everywhere! Thank you for sharing your story. I will remember this every time I consider giving up the pursuit of my dreams. X

  54. […] of myself. And on top of that, I find her writing about writing – such as her article “On the Slow Pursuit of Overnight Success” – to be inspiring and thoughtful. I hope to see her in person at some point at an […]

  55. Reblogged this on Ruth Nestvold – Indie Adventures and commented:
    Reblogging this, since even though it has nothing to do with publishing, it’s very close to the message I often try to get across: WORK! 🙂

  56. […] all of the gumption I could and started again. (Fuel for getting going again included this post by VE Schwab). This time, I outlined the plot and tracked my daily progress. […]

  57. Kathy says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey, and for pushing back against the overnight success myth. I’m so glad that you let anger, frustration, and stubborn resolve be louder than your fear, because your creativity helps to make the world a better place.

  58. laialkblogs says:

    This is is so amazing and inspiring. ❤ For all things in life I try tell people that the most important thing keeping you from success is giving up or attempting to half-ass your way up due to insecurities, procrastination, lousy time management or whatever. I’m not saying you should write 3K words a day every day, I’m saying you should decide what you want to do and stick to it.

  59. I’m about to cry over here. That was both inspiring and touching. I don’t know you, but I feel so proud of you and your accomplishment. I guess, from one writer to another, I’m just happy you showed all those who didn’t take a chance or champion you in the beginning. Congratulations, you have certainly earned this. 💖💖💖

  60. […] draft is fucking hard. She is entirely open about the myth of ‘overnight success’ (see here). Time and time again she stresses that if you cannot cope with rejection, writing is not the […]

  61. bridgette says:

    The hardest thing about reading this post was learning that the Archived “trilogy” would not continue. I just finished Unbound and loved it so much. I’m a playwright and don’t have quite the same style of deadline that you do and also people don’t generally ask for sequels. It feels pretty selfish to boo hoo about the fact that you won’t write about those characters again – considering that you have eleventeenumpty books that you are currently writing, but I’m going to. Boo Hoo.

  62. […] is a great article from one of my favourite authors, Victoria (V.E.) […]

  63. […] King did it!” is dismissive of your own current situation and the modern state of publishing. Overnight success is often an illusion. Do research. Don’t beat yourself up for not being King or Rowling. You […]

  64. […] overnight success is so rare. Most successful authors have to WORK for it. Read the blog post here because, if you’re an author like me, I do think you may get a little tickle out of […]

  65. Lexi B says:

    This sucks

  66. DelK says:

    Dear V.E. Schwab,
    I will say this one thing here. Are you freaking telling me that Vicious, my fave book, my book that compasses all my desires for rivalries, evil, battle and the entire thrill of it, was some kind of do-or-die book? A book that could very well not exist if you decided to give up then and there instead of writing it for yourself?

    Heck, that’s what makes it all better. I am super glad that you did not give up, super glad that you made Vicious (total fave book, wish they had more of that going on) and it’s series (Can’t wait for Victorious honestly, Victor and Eli… their story…) and also This Savage Song and it’s sequel, Our Dark Duet (the first two works that I have ever read from you and instantly fell in love that I read it a bunch of times, and cried a bunch of times).

    Honestly, I love your work and the revelation about Vicious blew my mind, along with the fact that the book did not come from expectations from your publisher/editor or even yourself but from just going back to the joys and origins of writing, of why you write and I find that meaningful, along with the fact that writing just for the sake of writing. This honestly inspires me as an aspiring writer (who is not really going anywhere much but writing for fun) and gives a ton of your books new meaning. I hope you continue what you are doing, and enjoy it in the process

    P.S. Like I said, I can’t wait for Victorious. Like, until it is officially announced with a date on when it’s going to be on stores, I have yet to believe it. It feels like teasing me and god… I want to have every feeling reading that just like I did for Vicious and Vengeful. Victor… Eli… everyone in Villains… ahhh! Seriously thank you very much, and the fact that you continued to the point we can see more of your inspiring works.

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