Profiles: A non-traditional path to success
7/30/2014 8:44:18 AM
By Mary Kate Koch
Annette Shaw has been writing all her life, but it was not until her three kids all got to high school that she was able to pursue her passion full time.
"I was a full-time mom, and I had to do something," Shaw said. "I couldn't just stay home, because I'm not a homemaker. So my husband said, ‘Why don't you write then?' and that's what I started doing."
Writing was never the issue for Shaw, who has always had different worlds and scenarios floating around in her head.
"I wrote a lot of fiction stories when I was a kid," Shaw said. "Writing has always been something that, if I put it down, it will haunt me. I have pages and pages of stories I have written over the years."
Shaw has completed an entire novel from these fantasies. Deciding to write not just one novel, but a four-book series was a major leap for Shaw, albeit one that has had remarkable success on the e-book market. After Amazon made Shaw's first book, "The China Pandemic," a deal of the day, the popularity of her writing rapidly grew.
"The first book really took off," Shaw said. "I was kind of scared about it at first."
Published November 2013, "The China Pandemic" is an Amazon best seller and even peaked at the No. 1 spot on the post-apocalyptic and dystopian genre list. The book is the first installment of the four-part "Graham's Resolution" series which follows Graham's struggle to survive after an avian bird flu pandemic ravaged the globe.
Like other female writers such as D.H. Lawrence and J.K. Rowling, Shaw uses a non-gendered pen name to publish her books. But going by "A.R. Shaw" was not her original idea.
"I didn't want to, but my husband convinced me," Shaw said. "My dad said that the book reads like a man wrote it, because I was in the military and know how to talk to guys even though I'm a girly girl. Now I'm glad that I did."
Shaw released the second book in the series, "The Cascade Preppers," on June 8. Preppers are individuals who actively plan and prepare for emergencies, such as a global pandemic or nuclear warfare. In fact, it is real-life preppers who are in part responsible for Shaw's unexpected success.
"I had no idea how huge the prepper community was," Shaw said. "They are everywhere. They don't leave reviews, but man did they read the book. I get emails all the time from them. They kind of latched onto it. So even though I'm not thrilled with the title of the second book literarily, I picked it because it appeals to them."
Despite her lifelong interest in writing and recent success, Shaw is no MFA darling. Rather, Shaw joined the Air Force right after high school and worked a slew of jobs, including as a radio operator and recruiter. Although she has taken a few literature classes at Spokane Community College and Gonzaga, Shaw never finished a four-year degree.
Instead, Shaw has gleaned her literary education from a voracious reading habit. She reads everything from literary classics to young adult fiction. Indeed, Shaw's list of influences reflects her varied reading interests.
"Everyone says Stephen King, but (I'm still going to say) Stephen King. I've read almost all of his books," Shaw said. "I'd also say Anna Quindlen. And I think Gary Paulson. I've read a lot of his books to my kids over the years. I read a lot of young adult books."
In addition to other authors, Shaw found writing inspiration in the sense of community she has experienced living in Liberty Lake for 13 years, particularly when deciding how the community would receive Graham.
"Living here certainly played into the story," Shaw said. "Because when it comes down to it, do you turn on your community or do you help your community?"
While Shaw was able to churn the first book out in only three months, the second book took her an additional two months to finish. This extended writing period was in part a consequence of the unexpected success the first book had.
"I had to learn the whole business after I published the first book, the dos and don'ts," Shaw said. "It was overwhelming."
Much of this new business Shaw needed to learn was how to deal with social media and reader correspondence. In order to combat the time-absorbing nature of these duties, Shaw has a daily routine in place to keep her on track.
"I get up around eight, get my husband and daughter out the door and then I do my thing," Shaw said. "My best buddy in the world is my yellow lab Oakley, and we hang out in the living room where I write. After I pick my daughter up at 2 p.m., I come back and answer all the correspondence I have. That is like a whole job in and of itself. It's a huge time-sucker, so I decided to wait to do it until after I'm done with my writing day."
It is this sense of independence, this freedom from any structure or restrictions that Shaw likes best about writing. As a self-published author, Shaw has even more room in her schedule.
"I never tried to publish my book the traditional route," Shaw said. "I don't think I could sign a contract and give away the rights to my work."
For a woman who has taken a non-traditional route to finding her writing career in the first place, this sentiment fits perfectly.
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Favorite book at the moment
"Still Life in Breadcrumbs" by Anna Quindlen
Life advice in five words or less
Never stop moving forward
Advice for aspiring writers
Don't be afraid to self-publish
Author (dead or alive) she most would like to meet
Would like to travel to
Most frequent request by readers
Don't kill Sheriff the dog