Sara Foster began her career as a book editor, before becoming a bestselling author with her two psychological suspense novels, Come Back to Me and Beneath the Shadows. In her spare time she writes for www.holidaygoddess.com, and her interests include travel, photography and conservation. She was born in the UK, but currently lives in Western Australia with her husband and young daughter.
What is your life motto? I have two: ‘Look within.’ ‘If you can dream it, you can do it.’
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? In one sense, I have always pursued writing, as I have loved storytelling for as long as I can remember. However, for many years it was a private passion, until I realised back in the early 2000s that I wanted to write as my day job. I kept working as a book editor for the next eight years while I worked on my novels, which allowed me the opportunity to explore both the craft and the commercial side of writing. There have been many personal successes along the way – finishing each book, finding an agent, and certainly when I signed my first two-book publishing deal with Random House. However, I feel I still have a lot of work to do before I consider myself successful.
How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? I couldn’t count the hours. My whole life has been interwoven with writing, and if I’m not actually writing, I’m invariably thinking about it – or reading other people’s writing.
Describe how difficult the business really is? It can be very difficult. Finishing a book that you’re happy with is an enormous step; never mind finding a publisher and then building an audience. It’s a long-term project – however, at every stage I have always tried to keep focusing on my goals rather than how difficult it is, to avoid setting up obstacles for myself.
What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? It took me a while to realise that bashfulness doesn’t sell books. I was slow to understand that if I want to make a living as a writer then I have to open myself up a bit. That can be hard, but in other ways it is also very rewarding. In the past I’ve also taken things too much to heart, and learning how to let go has been a very valuable lesson too (one I’m still learning from time to time!).
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Believe in yourself. I have come to realise that in the moments I achieve that, I am free.
In your mind, is formal training essential? Training can be extremely valuable, although I think it’s a shame if training overrides writing from the heart. The best training I’ve had as a writer is from reading books: being invited inside other people’s imaginations is the closest you can get to inhabiting someone else’s skin for a while.
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? Having a mentor in this industry is a wonderful thing, but they are not always easy to find. In Australia the ASA have some great mentorship programmes, while going on formal writing courses will bring you into contact with wonderful writers. However, if you can’t gain access to a mentor then I’d recommend using your favourite writers as your mentors by absorbing yourself in their books.
What are some steps emerging talent can take to start/further their career? If you are serious about publishing a book, learn all you can about publishing as well as writing. Use every resource available to you. Attend writers’ talks and festivals and listen to people discussing their work and the industry. Ask questions. Figure out what you would like your path to be, don’t get distracted by anyone else’s.
What kept you going when you felt like giving up? Support from my family and friends, and the heartfelt words of inspirational writers. Poetry really speaks to me at difficult points in life. I don’t think I’ve ever really wanted to give up, but I have certainly felt incredibly, sometimes terrifyingly overwhelmed at times. Stepping back and allowing myself some breathing space also helps me regain perspective.
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? There are exceptional cases, but most of the time I think you can make your own luck. For many of the writers I know, that means being in it for the long-haul and knocking on a lot of different doors, growing your audience one reader at a time. The more you do that, the more likely you are to be rewarded with good fortune.