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From Writer Dreams to Published Reality: How Author Pat Spencer Used Setbacks to Fuel Success

Updated: 1 day ago


Photo of Dr. Pat Spencer
Doctor Pat Spencer

As a child, Doctor Pat Spencer dreamed of being a writer, but when a career counselor shared the discouraging information that, "the average writer makes $7,000 a year," she decided to switch gears and became a cosmetologist instead. Despite carving out a successful career in cosmetology and eventually earning her Ph.D., Pat never relinquished her childhood aspiration.

 

Here we explore the remarkable journey of Dr. Pat Spencer, the creative behind Golden Boxty in the Frypan, a stirring coming-of-age historical novel hailed by The BookLife Prize as "heartrending and absorbing." Pat’s story is one of resilience and tenacity in the face of endless challenges on her journey to become a fiction writer. Read on to receive not only inspiration from her journey, but actionable tips on how you can use her resilience techniques wherever you are on your own writing path.


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Write from Where You Are

 

Pat was “the kid in school who got so excited when the teacher assigned a research paper.” After absorbing the information shared by her career counselor, Pat found herself beyond discouraged. She says,

I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I live in California. So, I'm thinking that means I have to supplement my income with food stamps because nobody can live very well on seven thousand dollars a year.

 

Ultimately, Pat decided to attend cosmetology school, finding unexpected enjoyment in the craft. This newfound passion led her to pursue cosmetology in college, this time with a focus on teaching. However, despite the love for her work, she still had a strong desire to write. Instead of allowing her circumstances to crush that dream, she decided to combine her two passions.

 

She says, “I very quickly realized that I could teach cosmetology, and I write. I could combine both those things that I really enjoyed doing. And I found a small niche for myself. I wrote for a national beauty school journal and a column called “Dear Pat” for a tabletop magazine called Inland Empire Magazine. Since I was a cosmetologist, my column focused on fashion and beauty tips.” That wasn’t all. She adds, “Then I had the opportunity to write my column weekly for the Riverside Press-Enterprise in the Inland Empire.”

 

Her bent for writing was undeniable, and nonfiction came naturally. She even wrote a cosmetology handbook which was published by Cengage. Pat says, “I literally sold everything I wrote.”

 

No matter where you are in your author journey, whether already published or not, you’ve likely run across something (that pesky form rejection) or someone (maybe even a “friend”) that made you feel you should give up altogether. Instead of accepting that feeling as fact, try another angle instead. Start where you are. Do you volunteer with a non-profit? See if you can start a newsletter for them. Do you have expertise in a particular arena or trade? Consider pitching articles to local newspapers or trade magazines. Like Pat, let setbacks be inspiration for you to try a new avenue within writing.

 


Ask the Writing Community

 

When she finally retired, Pat decided to take on her life-long dream of writing a novel. Based on her publishing of nonfiction, she thought it was going to be easy. Turns out, it wasn’t. She says, “What a wet towel in the face. Fiction is, first of all, a very crowded arena. There are so many of us out there doing our very best to write a good novel or a good memoir (which most agents handle the same as fiction in the query process). And it's very difficult.”

 

She prepared and sent out query letters, about a hundred, and got everything from “flattering declines” to silence. Instead of letting rejection get her down, Pat decided to find other authors who could share their insights. She joined a critique group and asked their advice.

They said you can publish it yourself; and I thought, ‘Wow, how do I do that?’ And so they coached me through the process.

Pat did every step, even enlisting her accountant husband to do the cover for her. She says, “the book [was] beautiful.

 

If, like Pat, you hit a roadblock that you simply don’t know how to get around, consider getting outside feedback. This could take the form of joining a critique group or writing club, calling or emailing a writer friend, or even paying for a professional’s advice. Whatever the format, don’t go it alone.

 


Be Willing to Pivot

 

After Pat self-published her first book, she hit yet another roadblock. Her husband, who had created the first cover, had not quite—enjoyed the process. She says, “When we finished, he said, ‘I don't want to do that again.’” She more than understood because it had been a difficult process for both of them. However, instead of giving up, she pivoted.

 

Throughout this time, Pat had continued to write, and was working on, not one, but two new books, one of which was meant to be a trilogy. She says, “So I thought, ‘What do I do now? I didn't have good luck with agents. My husband doesn't want to do this anymore, and I can't blame him. It was very hard.’”

 

Pat started to do a little research, and low and behold, she found the magic of small to medium presses traditional publishing houses that didn’t require an agent. She says,

I was surprised how many small presses are out there. I thought maybe I'd find one or two… I found about a dozen really good fits for each of those books.

 

So, Pat brushed up her query letter and began pitching. The first thing she noticed was that she wasn’t getting standard rejection letters. She says, “Even from those who the line is, ‘It's not a good fit for us right now, I got encouraging responses. It wasn't just the ‘Click. Thank you for sending. We can't take it right now.’ I got nice responses about the writing and the plot. Even though the last sentence of some publishers was, ‘It isn't a good fit for us right now,’ I also received lots of requests for full [manuscripts].”

 

And did Pat finally get published? You bet. She says, “I was very encouraged and ultimately was offered a contract for Golden Boxty in the Frypan with Pen It Publications.”

 

Like Pat, we authors encounter many hurdles on our publishing journey. If you're feeling stuck, remember there are numerous paths to success. While self-publishing is a popular choice, it's not the only one. Consider exploring small presses, which can offer more personalized attention. Collaborating on writing projects or contributing to anthologies can open new doors as well. If one path doesn't lead to success, try another. Your setback might just be a stepping stone to your next big breakthrough.



Conclusion


While Pat’s story is unique, it demonstrates the absolute necessity of resilience, community, and adaptation for all authors. At any point in the process, it would have been easy for Pat to simply give up, but she didn’t.

 

Her book, Golden Boxty in the Frypan is now not only published, but has received praise from organizations like BookLife Prize and earned #​5 ranking among thousands of entries in the All Author Book Cover Competition. She also has a contract with a new publisher for the trilogy she began working on during this process, as well as recently publishing a short, how-to manual for writers entitled A Baker's Dozen For Writers: 13 Tips for Great Storytelling—all due to her persistence and resilience.

 

She says, “And so that was my journey. It was interesting because it was a smooth journey as a nonfiction writer, and then it became a very bumpy road.”

 

If you’ve been in the publishing fray and feel like giving up, just remember, like Pat, if you stick with it, that bumpy road might just lead you somewhere amazing. Stay strong.

 


 

Have you transformed a setback into a writing opportunity? We'd love to hear how! Share your story in the comments or tag us on Facebook with your inspirational tale.



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