When it comes to writing or any creative endeavour that you are serious about i.e. not a hobbyist, but that you actually want to make a paying career from (again not fame & fortune, if you crave that you’re in the wrong game – go join a Big Brother house or Britain’s Got (f**k all) Talent), we are so often faced with failure.

So often I feel like the Balrog on the bridge in Khazad-dûm, trying to gain access to a path closed to me, a world full of closing (or slamming) doors.

Just need to add the appropriate sentence ending:

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this slush pile.”

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this competition’s shortlist (or even longlist).”

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this agent’s/publisher’s criteria.”

even “YOU SHALL NOT PASS – this selective writing group.” etc., etc.

Trying to make a living out of any creative field in a marketplace so utterly saturated with other writers and artists, is tantamount to wading through tar to reach that Avalon-like island on the horizon. It takes a hell of a lot of hard work, some random luck, some ‘who you know’ and a decent product that you’re trying to sell.

Unfinished pencil study of James Norton by Sphie E Tallis

Of course writing and art are completely subjective, what one person considers to be masterful, another perceives as being rubbish. But I still think some basic principles apply – the mechanics of writing a good sentence or drawing a good picture, of forming those images whether in the mind or on canvas.

Sadly, the path to success is littered with amazingly talented people who never quite got to grips with marketing, social media, ‘branding’ or simply had the bad luck not to reach that agent or publisher at the right time who might recognise their genius.

Pencil portrait of James Norton.

Pencil portrait of actor, James Norton by Sophie E Tallis

Annoyingly, the path to success is also littered with those who seemingly had only a tenth of the talent needed, but who were either fabulously well-connected (all areas of working life will always have an element of nepotism, the famous name, the ‘who you know’ element etc.), or were either bloody lucky in their timing when approaching said agent/publisher, or were so fantastic at the marketing/branding side that they had tremendous success before people realised the tripe they were actually peddling.

In writing terms, the author E.L. James comes to mind, whose actual writing (aside from the dubious pro-abuser content) is simply dreadful. In terms of the art world, for me, Tracey Emin is also the perfect example of brilliant self publicity/PR with minimal talent required. As a former history of art and fine art student & artist myself, I am not anti-modern art at all, just people like Emin. Damien Hirst may not be to everyone’s taste, but like Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Saville, Rachel Whiteread etc., they had a huge underlying skill level. I actually saw Hirst’s early work before he made it big as part of the 1990’s Brit-Art explosion and the guy is actually very talented. Although I cannot pretend to like a lot of his work, the guy CAN at least draw, his draftsmanship skills are very good, he just chooses to explore abstract and conceptual art. For me, as a drawer and artist, that is my benchmark for art, as it is for writing, that the person needs to have good basic skills in their chosen art-form. Emin cannot and never could draw proficiently, even the most basic forms, her drawing ability is quite frankly poor, and no, the irony that she was employed a few years ago as the Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy of Art is not lost on me. 😦

Pencil portrait of actor, Trevor Eve

Pencil portrait of actor, Trevor Eve by Sophie E Tallis

But back to writing. At the heart of the matter, the writer/author needs to have skill at stringing words together, at spinning a yarn, telling a compelling story, writing memorable characters etc., etc.

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” goes the voice in our heads as we contemplate sending work off to the latest narrowing submission window, chasing any opportunity that passes no matter how fleeting – like too many bees chasing the one elusive queen, or in fantasy speak – butter spread over too much bread. We’re all chasing the same thing, the same elusive target – to be published, to have an agent, to make a living from what we love to create.

For me, so far this year, the successes I have seen have definitely been in my art rather than my writing. As dearly as I would love more people to read my work and review it and yes, love it, I am still yet another small voice amongst the din, I know this (I will be doing a separate post on ‘branding’ with some tips I’ve picked up and stolen!). But, my illustration work has, rather surprisingly, started to take off and accrue a real momentum of its own!

Pencil portrait of Stephen Fry

Rough pencil study of Stephen Fry by Sophie E Tallis

Some of that is due to content, to being prolific. As a writer I have always been glacially slow, I’d like to think it’s quality over quantity, but in truth I wish I found writing as easy as drawing. I struggle with illness, concentration and mental exhaustion to get the words down, it seems to use a part of the brain that simply is not needed when I’m busily drawing. I don’t have to try to thread complicated plotlines together and continue a narrative over a long period of time when I’m drawing. Art allows you to switch off the brain and just use your eyes, instincts and fingers to form the image you want. Because of this, I have been able to create new artwork every day as part of my daily 365 day Artmaniac Challenge, whereas sadly I seldom manage to write every day no matter how hard I try. 😦

So, success definitely is due at least in part, to being prolific, having more content out there for people to look at, assess, discuss etc. Something I fear I may never achieve with my writing. 😦

Another element which I have seen first hand, is the ‘luck & who you know’ factor I was talking about. In my case it was a simple snowball effect. The lovely Juliet E McKenna heard in fantasy circles and shared contacts that I was an illustrator and specialised in fantasy maps. So she contacted me and I ended up doing a fantasy map for her and her wonderful ‘Secret Histories of the River Kingdom’.


Then, because of that and again ‘word of mouth’, the equally lovely Anna Smith-Spark asked me to do a fantasy map for her debut novel, ‘The Court of Broken Knives’, to be published in June 2017 by HarperCollins. That in turn led her editors at HarperCollins to look at the map I did and my other illustration work, which then led to the Head of Fiction Art at HarperCollins contacting me directly to say how much everyone at HC loved my work and to offer me a contract to be an official HarperCollins illustrator (supplier)! *SQUEAL* 😀

The contract came through two weeks ago and yes, I signed it straight away! 😀

Since then I have had almost daily requests from various people to do commissioned artwork for them, including from a New York literary group who want me to do the main image for their magazine and website. It’s insane, I don’t even advertise and am now having to say, “No, sorry, I can’t take anymore commissions on at the moment!”


HarperCollins were also lovely enough to tell me that I had been MASSIVELY undercharging people and advised for me to raise my rates. I did, a little, but not as much as they were suggesting otherwise that would stop any Indie Authors from being able to afford me and I know how damn hard it is for indie and self-published authors anyway, so I’m certainly not going to price myself out of their reach. 🙂

So, yes, creating more content and having that ‘word of mouth’ and lucky break does play a massive role in creating success. Now, if only I could apply that and get the same reactions to my written work! 😀

If you’re having the same struggles or successes, do let me know! 😉 xxx

Pencil portrait of Rayleigh Ritchie

Pencil portrait of actor Rayleigh Ritchie by Sophie E Tallis


20 thoughts on “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!!

  1. Kay Kauffman says:

    Wonderful news, Sophie! I’m so massively excited for you! 😉

  2. marigold555 says:

    Congratulations! 😄

  3. Kira Morgana says:

    Reblogged this on The World of The Teigr Princess and commented:
    It’s funny how one thing leads to another…

  4. hierath says:

    So proud of you, Sophie! Onwards and upwards!

    • Thank you sweetie, I know I’m so crapily slow at writing, but I’m so glad the art thing is taking off. Lol, well I always enjoy bigging Grimbold wherever I go! The way I look at it is if any of us get some good news, it can only help Grimboldee’s. #sharethelove 😉 xxxx

  5. Pleased for you, Really pleased. I remember badgering, in a nice way, an author, Jackie Copleton, at a reading in my local library, to come clean and admit that luck was a massive element in her success. I’m not sure she bit, right enough. I don’t know anything about art, sadly, but I like your drawings and I’ve often thought Tracey Emin to be a self-publicized impostor, which I don’t mind. We are all guilty of that hubris, but she seems so humourless.

    • Totally agree mate. Always thought she was utterly useless, even when I was at art college. Yes of course quality should rise above the rest, but that simply does not always happen, in fact so often the talented are left by the wayside. I know some incredible writers and artists and I just cannot believe why they aren’t massive. In my case, yes HarperCollins loved my work, but without that spark of luck (pardon the pun) of having lovely author Anna Smith-Spark wanting me to do her map, HC would never have seen my work let alone offered me a job as one of their official illustrators! So yes, annoyingly, random luck is definitely a factor in most success stories. Lol, looking at fantasy writers like Christopher Paolini, would he have made it if his mother hadn’t already been in the publishing business so she could put his manuscript for Eragon on the top of agent’s and publisher’s slush piles? I think not. 😀

  6. MariHoward says:

    Hi Sophie, Nice success for you, how exciting! And a very true and relevant blogpost. Yep, I have some lovely reviews – but actual sales are low …but then,I sold a book today, so who’s counting, a book sale! I really admire your Dragons by the way …!

    • Thank you Mari, lol, I have a thing for dragons! Yes, It is damn difficult out there and sales for most of us are low, simply because, unless you’re with the big 5 publishing houses, you won’t have a massive marketing budget (or any), and you certainly won’t be included in most bookstore chains, let alone getting a primary sales spot. That’s the irony. Go into any bookshop and they usually have the same titles by the same people on their most noticeable display spots because they are proven bestsellers, yet, because they are proven bestsellers they don’t actually need that top notch display space, far better to have an unknown title or indie author to give them that chance. But sadly, money talks, so even huge bookshops chains simply won’t take chances. I’d love to have higher sales than I do, and in the past I did the whole booksigning thing which did drum up healthy sales at the time, but then Waterstones changed their practices and indie and small press authors were shut out – yet another door of opportunity closing. So yes, unless you are a master at online selling and marketing, which I am not, sales tend to be low. :/

  7. I’m so happy for you, Sophie. You are so incredibly talented and you absolutely deserve for your art to be recognized. Well done!!!

    • Oh wow, gosh. Thank you Tricia, but you know the same applies to you too honey, I have all your books on kindle and at least three in paperback, you have such a lovely style of writing that I never get jolted at an awkward phrase or lose interest. I just wish I could read as fast as I used to. My TBR pile is embarrassing! 😀 xxx

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