Employee blog: Waiting 20 years to pursue a dream
Even though American Family employee Pat Zietlow Miller knew she wanted to be an author, she waited 20 years to go after her dream. That made achieving it even sweeter.
I’ve wanted to write picture books for as long as I can remember.
When I was in grade school, I’d flip through the card catalog – that’s one of these for those of you too young to remember – and see where my card would go.
When I was in high school, I’d secretly read picture books when I was supposed to be researching something boring.
And then, when I was 19, I attempted to write a picture book – a rhyming text called I WISH I HAD A LION. I sent it to one publisher, got a rejection and didn’t do anything else to achieve my dream for the next 20 years.
That sounds depressing, but I did other things instead. I graduated from college, got married, worked as a newspaper reporter, wrangled kids, earned a master’s degree and was hired by American Family Insurance.
But during those 20 years, I never stopped thinking about picture books. That probably should have told me something. But it took until I turned 39 for me to have an epiphany. And when it happened, it was like an actual light went on over my head.
This is what I realized: No New York City editor was ever going to call me out of the blue and say, “Hey, Pat! I heard you wanted to write a picture book!”
So unless I wanted to spend my golden years wondering “What if …” I needed to get busy.
I worked full-time at AmFam, so writing during the day was out. I had two small kids, so writing once I got home didn’t work. That left when my daughters were asleep. I stopped watching TV and spent those hours reading other people’s books and writing my own.
I was not instantly successful. My first efforts were – how to put this delicately? – terrible.
But I didn’t stop. I read more. I wrote more. I took more classes. I wanted to become a children’s book expert. And, despite continued rejections from New York editors, I sent more stories out.
I got just enough positive feedback to keep me going. Occasionally, there’d be a hand-written note on a rejection saying something like: “Cute, but not for us.”
During the next four years, I received 126 rejections. Which was a bummer. But those “no”s forced me to improve.
Then, a real, live, New York editor called. She wanted to buy one of my books. SOP
HIE’S SQUASH came out in 2013 and won some nifty awards.
I kept reading and writing. I found a literary agent. She helped me sell
13 more picture books. Seven are available now, and the rest are coming in the next few ye
And while card catalogs no longer exist, my name is on Amazon and goodreads, and my
books are in libraries and stores across the country as well as in France, China, Korea, Japan, The Netherlan
and Turkey. I’ve gone on book tours. Given speeches to aspiring writers. Gotten fan mail from kids and parents.
And, I’m still happily at AmFam. (Children’s books don’t really generate pay-all-your-bills income unless you’re J.K. Rowling or John Green. And I’m not.)
I’m glad I listened to that voice inside my head saying: “You can do this. You should try.” If I hadn’t, I would have missed some cool stuff. And I want even more cool stuff to happen, so I’m going to keep trying.
If I’m an example for anything, it’s that you should do whatever you’ve always said you wanted to do someday. Even if you’ve waited 20 years to start. Even if you’ve started before and given up.
It’s like American Family’s slogan says: “Your dream is out there. Go get it.”
I’m proof it’s possible.