I’ve always been a writer. There aren’t many absolutes in my life, but this much I’ve always known. I’m pretty sure I was a writer before I ever knew what the word meant. I feel like it’s in my DNA.

After graduating with a journalism degree, I worked as a television news writer and producer, first at the CBS affiliate in San Diego, and then at a station up in Los Angeles. For a time, I enjoyed it, then gradually, my writing started to feel mechanical, my creativity drained. By the time I finally got laid off, it felt more like an act of divine intervention than misfortune.

I spent the next several years trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I still wanted to be a writer—I just didn’t know what I wanted to write. I also knew it was time to take the leap and follow my dream. I started my first novel, a forensic paranormal thriller titled While the Savage Sleeps, and page-by-page felt my passion for the written word springing back to life.  

Then, life threw me a curve.

I remember sitting in the doctor’s office. I remember hearing the word malignant. I remember discussing treatment options—but all I could think about was, is this it? Suddenly, my priorities had shifted. It was no longer a matter of what to do with the rest of my life—it was how long the rest of my life would actually be.

In the weeks that followed, I did what I’d always done when things got rough: I wrote. I kept writing, and I didn’t stop. I wrote from my hospital bed after they removed part of my kidney, and I wrote in the weeks that followed.

I just kept writing.

What I hadn’t realized was that I was writing my way through recovery. Those words would later be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book, and I knew they were the most important I’d ever write—not only because they gave me hope, but because they would give others hope as well.

Soon after, I went back to work on the book, fully aware that my first novel could very well be my last. The thought scared me, but it didn’t stop me—in fact, now my resolve to be published was stronger than ever. 

But as I’d soon find out, my battle had only begun, because the road ahead was paved with pitfalls—that bitter truth revealed itself after I spent a year facing one rejection after another from just about every agent in New York and beyond. I can’t say how many there actually were, because I stopped counting at 100. Most never even bothered reading the pages I’d sent, and the ones who did implied my book would never sell. It was heartbreaking, and it was discouraging, but I refused to give up. I couldn’t. I’d already struggled through so much to write this novel. I wasn’t going to stop now.

By June of 2010, it seemed pretty clear I was spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. Out of desperation, and as a last-ditch effort, Kaufman Cover 2I decided to upload my book to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Platform. By then, I figured I had nothing left to lose. I’d let the people who really mattered—the readers—decide whether my work was worthy, and whatever that decision was, I’d live with it. At least I’d know I’d given myself a fair shot.

I got my answer. By September, While the Savage Sleeps began moving up the best-seller list, eventually reaching number one and passing up two of Stephen King’s current releases at the time. I was surprised, and I was thrilled. My perseverance had paid off.

Three surgeries later, after my health finally began to improve, I found my stride, and I kept writing. In December of 2011, I released my second novel, The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted: A Psychological Thriller. The book moved into the upper tier of Amazon’s Top 100, becoming their seventh highest selling novel out of more than a million available nationwide. It was also a best-seller in the U.K. and Germany. Within three months, my sales had pushed well into the six-figure mark, and before long, movie studios, literary agents, and publishers began contacting me. It was quite a change, going from being ignored to suddenly being in demand, but it felt wonderful, and I wasn’t bitter at all; in fact, I was thrilled. This wasn’t about saying, “I showed you”—it was about finally being able to say, “I showed me.” 

I eventually partnered with Scott Miller, vice president of Trident Media Group in New York, as my agent. At that point, we had many options, but I ended up signing a dual publishing deal with Thomas & Mercer and 47North.

And I’ve learned what has probably become one of my most valuable lessons in life: Opinions vary—they may add shape, but they will never define me, and they will never stop me.

Andrew E. Kaufman lives in Southern California, along with his Labrador retrievers, two horses, and a very bossy Jack Russell terrier who thinks she owns the place. His newest novel, Darkness and Shadows, is due out this year through Thomas & Mercer Publishing.