It only takes one yes. In writing, and so many other fields, rejection abounds. Lots of agents didn’t want to represent me, but one did. Plenty of editors didn’t love my manuscript, but one did. It only takes one yes to set you on your path!
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristy Woodson Harvey.
A Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s school of journalism, Kristy Woodson Harvey is the USA TODAY bestselling author of eight novels, including Feels Like Falling, The Peachtree Bluff series, and Under the Southern Sky. Her writing has appeared in numerous online and print publications including Southern Living, Traditional Home, USA TODAY and Domino. The winner of the Lucy Bramlette Patterson Award for Excellence in Creative Writing and a finalist for the Southern Book Prize, Kristy is the co-creator and co-host of the weekly web show and podcast Friends & Fiction and she blogs daily with her mom Beth Woodson on Design Chic.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Growing up, I was always an avid reader and would often find myself making up little stories in the notebooks and journals. But I also loved sports and was very social and very lucky to have parents who were always happy to have a house full of my friends. In my latter high school years, I thought I wanted to be a doctor and was planning on majoring in biology in college, but when I got an internship at my local newspaper — and my own weekly column — I knew writing was something I wanted to explore more.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorites is: “Fortune favors the brave.” So many of us — myself included — are afraid to put ourselves out there, to fail, to try something new. So whenever I’m on the fence about starting a new project that feels scary, I repeat those words to myself.
How would your best friend describe you? I didn’t know so I asked her! This is what she said: “Always put together, ambitious, loyal and bubbly.” I am definitely not always put together, but I’ll take it! But I know for sure I’m very loyal — and ambitious!
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much?
I am doggedly determined, excellent at pivoting and I try to focus on my goals without holding onto them too tightly. Sometimes you have to take a step back to find what’s meant for you.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
I graduated from graduate school during the recession in 2008. My plan had been to lecture at a college or teach at a community college, but I couldn’t even find jobs in my area to apply for. While I was searching, someone asked me to interview for a sales job in the financial services industry. I couldn’t imagine. Math was the only think I wasn’t fairly passionate about. But I went through a long and rigorous series of interviews and realized that perhaps this was fit for me after all. I absolutely loved what I was doing — and I learned so much about business and finance in the process that has been completely pivotal for me in reinventing my life.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
I think when you’re a writer, you simply are a writer. There was nothing I could do about it. Even still, I had always said I liked telling real people’s stories and never imagined writing a book. On the weekends when I wasn’t working I started taking on a few freelance pieces here and there just to keep myself in the game. I also knew I had a book idea — but it took me months to even sit down and start writing. I felt like it was a huge waste of time. But the story just wouldn’t let me go.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
I had just finished a manuscript I was really proud of, and I signed with a literary agent very quickly, which I knew was uncommon. At the same time, I won the writing contest that ultimately landed me a contract at Penguin Random House for my first book deal. I believed then that this would become a real career path for me.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
I had been trained in journalism, but writing fiction is an entirely different animal. And, honestly, I didn’t think I could do it. I started off by reading books about craft, but I finally realized that I couldn’t create something I was happy with under the constraints of all those “rules.” Sometimes, I think when we’re starting something new, our ego is so terrified that it convinces us we don’t know what we’re doing. But that deep inner knowing is often there if we can just tap into it.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Amazingly! My first novel came out in 2015, and now my seventh novel, UNDER THE SOUTHERN SKY, releases April 20, 2021 from Simon & Schuster and I’m under contract for numbers eight and nine, releasing October 2021 and Spring 2022. I never ever would have imagined that I would be a USA TODAY bestselling author and have this amazing career doing what I love. I’m grateful every day!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
So many. My parents were always really supportive of whatever dreams I had, but, really, I think so much credit goes to my husband Will. It’s scary to take a leap into the unknown, to let go of a steady income and a book of business you’ve worked really hard to build to chase a dream. I remember telling him one time that statistically I had a better chance of being struck by lightning than getting a book deal. And he said, “They have to publish someone. It might as well be you.” His confidence never wavered, even when mine did.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
My life has changed in so many ways. Before the pandemic, I did almost 100 live speaking events in one year all over the country, and I have met the most fascinating, incredible people everywhere I have been. I feel like my world has gotten so much bigger in the best possible way. But the night before DEAR CAROLINA, my debut novel, released, I was so nervous about it coming out into the world. Unable to sleep, I got up and checked my email. I had a note from an early reviewer saying that reading the book had given her the courage to tell her children that she had had a baby as a teenager that she had given up for adoption. She said she felt free, like she could finally start living. And I remember thinking that if the book tanked and everyone hated it and my career ended, that one person’s life being changed was more than enough.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Oh my gosh, YES. Even now, with every book, I always struggle with periods where I doubt my abilities or how good the book is or a million other things. I have a big box under my bed where I keep wonderful letters from readers, and, when I’m having one of those moments, I pull them out and read a few!
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
So, this is one area where you could say I failed pretty mightily. I was so terrified of failure in this new endeavor that I didn’t even tell anyone but my husband and my parents that I was writing. Over the years, I have made amazing author friends and, during the pandemic, co-founded a weekly webshow and podcast called Friends & Fiction with fellow authors Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Patti Callahan Henry and Mary Alice Monroe. It has taken off in a way we never could have fathomed, and, even better, I have gained the most steadfast, true-blue support system that I could ever have imagined.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
It might sound dramatic, but, for a writer, sending that manuscript into the world for the first time is beyond terrifying. I had been working on this book, alone, by myself for a year, and it wasn’t real. It didn’t have to be real. But once I sent it out to literary agents, people were going to read it. People were going to criticize. I might have real, true proof that my dream was never going to come true. But, well, sending your work out into the world is obviously necessary, so I had to let it go.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. It only takes one yes. In writing, and so many other fields, rejection abounds. Lots of agents didn’t want to represent me, but one did. Plenty of editors didn’t love my manuscript, but one did. It only takes one yes to set you on your path!
2. Sometimes what you don’t know is your best asset. When it came to publishing publicity, I had no concept of how “things were done.” But I had a successful blog and website, so I knew at least a little about marketing. I asked my publisher for hundreds of advance copies of my books and then asked everyone I could think of with any sort of platform to help me spread the word. I asked my design blogger friends, I contacted hundreds of book influencers, reached out to local newspapers and magazines in towns where I was going on tour. Later, when I would mention this to other authors, they were astonished. Evidently, people sending out their own books wasn’t very common. That’s what we had staff publicists for. But, well, my way went a long way toward giving me a successful debut novel, so I don’t regret a moment! I don’t physically send the books out myself anymore, but I still do a ton of my own outreach. (And thanking!)
3. Find your “why.” I think it’s kind of cliché now, but, for me, figuring out why I do the things I do has been a game changer. The busier I get the more I have to make hard decisions about what to take on and what to let go of. Knowing why I’m doing what I’m doing always gives me a barometer by which to measure the choices I’m making.
4. You can’t do everything alone. Of course, at the beginning, sometimes you have to! Sure, I had a team at my publishing house, but I was so green and definitely not a top priority. And I couldn’t afford to hire publicists or managers or marketing directors or even an assistant. So it was me and only me. I still struggle with this, but I have learned that I can’t do absolutely everything and do it all well.
5. Don’t forget to look back every now and then to see how far you’ve come. Every now and then, I feel overwhelmed by how much further I have to go in terms of achieving my ultimate career goals. But looking back at where I started, at things that seemed impossible six years ago that are now commonplace, helps me to remember how far I’ve come.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Wow. What a question. A laundry list of ways to answer this question is flooding my mind because we have so much work to do. But I have always, always believed that reading connects us with people we’ll never be and gives us an insight into people we don’t know in a way that nothing else can. Readers are more empathetic, and reading is the single fastest way to lower stress levels. For me, literacy around the world is still one of the most important causes, not only from an educational standpoint, but also from the lens of societal change.
What do you want to be remembered for the most?
I hope that I’ve created work that makes people happy, that takes them out of the difficult parts of their lives and gives them respite. That is more than enough for me.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Design Blog: www.mydesignchic.com
Friends & Fiction: www.facebook.com/groups/friendsandfiction
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!