Get Inspired By These Author Success Stories

by Charlotte Ahlin
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There's nothing easy about being an author. Essentially, anyone who manages to get their book published without already being a reality TV star or celebrity hair stylist is an amazing genius. But some authors started out in poverty, buried in rejection slips, and still managed to go on to write bestsellers. They worked multiple jobs, faced multiple failures, and (in a few cases) escaped literal war zones to be able to share their stories with the world. Here are a few authors who have inspiring stories of success.

We all have an image of the starving artist, writing in coffee shops and lounging around in their quaint attic bedroom. Reality is rarely so romantic, though. Sure, some of these writers wrote in coffee shops, but a lot more of them wrote in trailers, or wrote late at night after working at the potato chip factory. They wrote while supporting children, or while processing trauma. They were told again and again that they would never amount to anything. And yet, all of these writers managed to publish bestselling, life-changing books.

So the next time you want to give up on a project, or go live in the forest because everything just seems too hard, draw inspiration from these authors' stories:


J.K. Rowling

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We all know J.K. Rowling's story already, but that doesn't make it any less inspiring. She was as "poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless." She was a single mother with no job, living on welfare and struggling with clinical depression. Still, Rowling would take her infant daughter to coffee shops and write, and in 1995, she finished the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone... which was immediately rejected by twelve publishers. Bloomsbury finally accepted the book, but warned her not to quit her day job, since it probably wouldn't make much money.

The rest is history.


Octavia E. Butler

Octavia E. Butler worked as a telemarketer, a dishwasher, and a potato chip inspector, among other temporary jobs, to make ends meet. She would wake up at two or three in morning to write. Despite her dyslexia and several years of nothing but rejection, Butler refused to give up on writing, scribbling down mantras of success to inspire herself. Her hard work paid off when she sold her first story to author Harlan Ellison, who encouraged her to attend a science fiction writing workshop. Butler went on to become one of the most successful and groundbreaking sci-fi authors of all time.


Stephen King

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Before becoming a ridiculously prolific writer, Stephen King was a janitor, gas pump attendant, and worker at an industrial laundry. King's first novel, Carrie, was rejected by thirty publishers, and King was so discouraged that he threw the manuscript away. Lucky for him, his wife, Tabitha, retrieved the book and urged him to keep working on it (even though they lived in a trailer had two small children to support). Carrie was eventually published, starting King on a long and incredibly successful writing career.


Maya Angelou

If you've ever read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, then you already know that Maya Angelou's early life was far from ideal. She was abused as a child, briefly homeless, and gave birth to her son at age seventeen. She was then a sex worker for a brief period as a young adult, and struggled to raise her young son while still growing up herself. The tide began to turn when Angelou found work as a singer and dancer, and then eventually shifted her focus to writing and activism, publishing seven acclaimed memoirs and several books of poetry, essays, and prose.


Ishmael Beah

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Author and activist Ishmael Beah is best known for his memoir, A Long Way Gone. At age twelve, Beah was forced to become a child solider in Sierra Leone, fighting for almost three years until he was rescued by UNICEF. After a difficult transition back to normal life, Beah was forced to flee increasing violence in his new home town. He made his way to New York, continued his education, and eventually started to write down memories of his time in the war. A Long Way Gone became a huge success, and Beah is still writing and advocating for human rights.


Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros describes herself as an introverted child: “Because we moved so much, and always in neighborhoods that appeared like France after World War II — empty lots and burned-out-buildings — I retreated inside myself.” She was the only girl among her seven siblings, and she experienced extreme misogyny and poverty while growing up, constantly moving between Mexico City and Chicago. Her volatile upbringing inspired her to write The House on Mango Street, though, among other books and short stories. Cisneros has won numerous awards for her writing, including the McArthur Fellowship Grant of $225,000.


Helen Keller

Helen Keller's story of success has been told so often it's become a cliche. But still, Keller went from having virtually no language whatsoever as a child to authoring twelve books. An illness in her infancy left her deaf and blind, and it wasn't until she was seven that she was taught to communicate at all. She learned quickly, though, and published her first autobiography at age twenty-two, going on to become an internationally known author, lecturer, and political activist.


Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens' childhood was... Dickensian, for lack of a better word. One of eight children, he was forced to leave school and work ten hour days in a boot-blacking warehouse at age twelve. Even when Dickens' grandmother died and left his family some money to live on, his own mother did not want him to leave the factory. When Dickens was a young man, he decided to be an actor, but missed his first audition due to a cold. So he settled on writing instead, and quickly went from Dickensian waif to one the biggest literary celebrities in the world with his addictive, serialized novels.