Are you really somewhere totally different than you thought you would be? It helps to look back at your past to understand your present situation. You probably didn’t know what was possible back then, but you planted a seed that grew leaves in different directions toward the very flower you are today.

Megan Close Zavala is a book coach who’s always loved books. She never knew she’d end up in the publishing industry, but a series of coincidences helped her find her sweet spot, helping writers get their gifts and big ideas published. Whether you’re an aspiring writer or trying to figure out what from your past can inform your future career, listen to this insightful podcast which gives you a look into a circuitous and purposeful career path.

Knowledge is power; the more you learn the easier it will be to figure out what your path is going to be.”—Megan Close Zavala

It’s always great to meet a fellow bookworm. While many believe and say people are reading less, I keep meeting more and more people who love to read. This gives me hope. Besides hands-on experience, books have been my most impactful teachers. I can’t imagine how life would be without them. Books offer more depth than movies, and you can pause them whenever you like. You can re-read sections, fill pages with post-it notes, and learn through stories. Plus, books smell great. They smell like knowledge: a little dusty, but rich.

Megan had no idea she’d end up in publishing. She loved books and reading and writing. She tried a few things and was given an opportunity (she went to India for a year after being laid-off from her job) to figure out how to follow her passion while still making a living and, more importantly, find fulfillment by helping others.

What did you love doing as a kid? Like Megan, my nose was always buried in books and I would watch the same films over and over again (I’m obsessed with scenic films like “Eat, Pray, Love” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), soaking in story, words, and visual inspiration. Who knew I’d end up doing writing in marketing and advertising? Like Megan, I didn’t know there were so many different career choices for writers and readers.

College is an expensive place to search for a career

In countries like Denmark and Sweden, education is free. Here? Thousands and thousands of dollars are spent getting mediocre education that won’t necessarily lead to anything but massive debt and a job at Starbucks. We don’t have the same luxury to explore different fields of study. It’s smarter to know where you want to go first. Education should be about more than landing a career, but when it takes 10+ years to pay for it, you should be able to come out with a degree that can help pay off your student loans. And actually, you don’t have a choice. Even if you declare bankruptcy, you still have to pay your student loans.

So while not ideal, it seems important to approach higher education strategically. Maybe you don’t even need college to enter the field you’re interested in. Practical experience might be more valuable. Or, take some time to try a few different things and when you land on something you can imagine yourself doing for a while, then pursue that shiny degree.

A few tips from Megan to help you figure out whether a certain career is right for you:

  • Reach out to industry resources, like executives at companies you’re interested in. Schedule informational interviews and research what it’s like to work in that industry and what qualifications you need.
  • Seek out mentorships. From my experience, this can be tough but look around you to see who’s doing something you think you’d like to do someday. You might know a family friend or colleague who would be willing to show you the ropes.
  • If you’re in college, look for internship and mentorship opportunities. Try things.

You want to get published? Do this first

Publishing your first book isn’t as easy as writing a manuscript and handing it to a publisher. Megan’s helped many authors figure out what they need to do before their book gets accepted (or rejected, which is most likely). The most important thing is to show a publisher that you already have an active audience.

A platform shows publishers that you already have a following of people that engage with your content. They love your work and would buy your book, which removes some risk. No one wants to go through the huge effort and cost of printing and marketing books that won’t sell. Publishing is business, after all. Publishers are looking for rising stars they can do multiple book deals with.

Four things Megan says writers often need help with and how you can jump-start the publishing process:

  1. Build confidence. Not easy, but important. If you have something important to say, you need to believe in your message or no one else will.
  2. Research your genre and market. What other books are out there that are similar to yours? What can you say that’s different? Get a library card and read what others are saying.
  3. Serve your audience. Figure out what you’re good at and where your audience engages with you the most. It might be Twitter or it might be longform blog posts. Leverage your skills and serve up content your audience is looking for.
  4. Learn how the publishing industry works and what you need to do to be in the best position to deliver a book that will sell.

Luckily, there are people like Megan out there that can help. Check out her work online and follow her on Twitter to learn more about the publishing industry and what you need to do to get your big ideas out into the world.