July 11, 2011
Best-selling author shares tips for career success
I recently interviewed Andrea Cagan, ghostwriter of Wendy Walker's recent book "Producer: Lessons Shared from 30 Years in Television" (the topic of last week's column, "Career lessons from Larry King's senior executive producer"). Andrea's career history was not only fascinating, but also packed with lessons we all could benefit from. Among them:
Persistence pays off
"As a child, I wrote pretty bad poetry constantly," says Andrea, now the author of many best-selling books. At 16, she focused on being a professional ballet dancer for four years, touring the world with the Harkness Ballet company. After that, she did a little acting and starred in TV commercials, but her heart was in writing.
Andrea decided to travel to the Philippines to study healing. After her third trip there, she wrote about her experiences. She sent her manuscript to publishers for three years and kept getting rejected. Andrea recalls picking it up and throwing in the closet, crying and saying, "It's over!"
A month passed before she opened the closet and started trying again. One day, she bumped into someone who took a strong interest in the subject -- which led to her book "Awakening the Healer Within" being published by Simon & Schuster.
"Before getting published, I couldn't even get an agent," Andrea says. After that, however, agents appeared. Her experience is equivalent to sending countless resumes and not hearing back. Persistence, a positive attitude and meeting the right people can make the difference.
Believe in yourself
After that, Andrea helped spiritual author Marianne Williamson write and publish "A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of 'A Course in Miracles,' " which quickly became a best seller. Marianne's agent, the late Al Lowman, introduced Andrea to many other celebrity clients; her next book was a Diana Ross biography. Each project led to others -- an example of key relationships turning into referrals.
Yet becoming a celebrity ghostwriter wasn't easy. Andrea would say yes to projects and immediately feel terrified, she says; she was afraid her subjects would find out that she didn't know what she was doing, and she didn't feel that she belonged in their world. She quickly learned to take risks and to trust herself.
"Being at the right place at the right time, knowing the right people and saying yes when I wasn't sure I could pull it off" was key to her success, Andrea says. That, in addition to doing a great job, helps to develop your personal brand.
Build successful habits
Success is a journey, not a one-time event. Andrea has worked on many successful projects, so I asked her what routines have helped her.
"I wake up every morning between 5:30 and 6 a.m. without an alarm clock," she says. She meditates daily for an hour in the morning and takes yoga lessons three times a week. Andrea writes for four to six hours each day, a practice she truly believes in. She says she never writes past 4 p.m., as it takes her three times longer to accomplish the same task in the evening.
Establishing successful habits -- and knowing your boundaries -- can go a long way toward helping you make your next career move and positioning you on the path to lifetime achievement.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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