Monday, March 30, 2015

How to become an overnight success!

cute cat humor
Fame is but 70,000 words away

Recently I talked with an aspiring writer who felt unsure about her first novel. She asked how I started. Specifically, she wanted to know if I tried nonfiction, short pieces, or just jumped directly into a novel. She wanted to know if I had help. Did I take classes, use a writing coach, or read books about the craft of writing. The questions came in a torrent. My response, a single syllable.


I always wanted to be a novelist. In fact, I started college as an English major. I could tell a good story, but my grammar and spelling embarrassed me so often, I switched to economics. I never again thought about writing until I had a brilliant idea for a novel. That idea started me on an extended foray into abject disillusionment and rejection. After shoe boxes full of rejections, an agent took the time to tell me that my book was crap, although he did give me credit for an intriguing storyline. The bottom of his short note read, “Writing is a profession, leave it to people who know what they’re doing.”

No more writing for years.

Then an interesting event took place. A professional journal approached me for an article about a technology success I had managed as CIO for a major corporation. That’s when I discovered editors. My piece laid out our technical project as a story about overcoming challenges, but my spelling and grammarafter all these yearsstill needed help. The editor not only fixed my flaws, but showed me every change she had made. I went through each and every one trying to learn how to do a better job next time. There were seven more “next times,” and each journal article improved until I felt I was getting the hang of writing.

Next, I started writing magazine articles. These were still nonfiction, technical pieces, but I branched away from computers to write about other subjects. But not for long. In a fit of optimism, I put together a proposal for a nonfiction book about managing computer professionals.

There’s an old saying in publishing that nonfiction depends on credentials and fiction depends on platform. Like a lot of clich├ęs, this one has some truth to it. Because of my title as CTO of a Fortune 50 company, my book acquired an agent and publisher lickety-split. This endeavor became The Digital Organization, published by Wiley &Sons. The entire experience was a nightmare. Now, I discovered a new kind of editornot one who fixed my transgressions, but one with the power to dictate content. The process was glacial. Not a good attribute for a book about the speed-of-light computer industry. I vowed never again to invest so much time on a book with a shelf-life measured in nano-seconds.

After a few failed nonfiction proposals, I wanted to try my hand at fiction again. I started by reading books that promised to teach the craft of novel writing. Definitely a mixed bag. After I got five chapters of my novel as close to perfect as possible, I hired a writing coach from Gotham Writers' Workshop. I discovered I had underestimated perfect. Despite a manuscript spattered with red ink, the coach was highly encouraging. She believed my book had serious potential and gave me numerous tips on how to get it to a professional level. Upon finishing Tempest at Dawn, I easily acquired an agent with McIntosh & Otis. I was going to be famous.

Not so much. The agent shopped the book around and received enough positive feedback to keep the effort up for a couple of years, but in the end, everyone decided to “pass” on my novel about the Constitutional Convention. In the meantime, I wrote a western titled The Shopkeeper, and a series was born.

I have now written nine novels, two nonfiction books, and ghostwritten books for celebrities. All of them have done respectable, but it was the Steve Dancy character who caught readers’ attention. The enthusiasm for the series surprised me, especially among women readers. I thought Westerns were dead. Instead, I discovered an eager audience for traditional heroes who dispatch bad men. 

And the best part: Westerns have a looong shelf life. Just ask Louis L’Amour. 

Honest stories filled with dishonest characters.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for telling your writing story. Very interesting.