I’m still very early in my writing “career.”
Three years ago I wrote my first “real” full-length novel and got an agent. Last year, we sold my second completed novel to a publisher, and this year, I wrapped up my third book, a sequel to that sale. By this time next year, that book, THE FAR EMPTY, will finally be on shelves.
Three complete books in about as many years (plus bits and pieces of other stuff, and the NANOWRIMO piece that kick-started the whole thing). That’s the entire arc of my writing career. Until that first book, I hadn’t seriously put “pen to paper” in over 20 years. All of this is prelude to the fact that I don’t really have any idea of what I’m doing, or what’s the best formula for turning a hobby into what I hope will be a long, successful career. I’m learning as I go, each and every day. But there are a few key things I’ve picked up so far.
And for fun this week, I've decided to provide a soundtrack!
Patience: Querying and getting an agent takes patience. Being out on submission takes patience, and even after getting a book deal, you better prepare to have your patience taxed almost to breaking point. I started THE FAR EMPTY in late fall of 2013, sold it a year later in 2014, and it will finally hit shelves in 2016. This “post-sale year” has been filled with revisions, copy editing, soliciting for endorsements/blurbs, and a whole host of other steps that I never imagined were necessary to turn my MS WORD .doc into a publishable book. This has been my experience with a traditional publisher (Penguin/Putnam), and I know other authors who’ve experienced faster clocks, but I think having pursuing sort of writing career requires a unique and Herculean level of patience and tenacity (more on this below).
With or Without You: Writing can be a lonely endeavor, but “being” a writer doesn’t have to be. It’s important to seek out other writers to share the craft, swap experiences, and provide support. I’ve been fortunate enough to make new writing friends since I started down this path, which is particularly important, because none of my friends or family share my passion for writing. They still don’t quite understand what it is I do when I lock myself away early in the mornings, or why I’m scribbling down notes to myself on napkins or the back of bill envelopes. Putnam has been great about introducing me to other imprint authors, and I’ve joined both the International Thriller Writers and the Mystery Writers of America, I contribute here at Pub Hub, and I go to a writing group that meets once a month here where I live. All of these people and organizations and blogs and mailing list are great resources, and they’ve all helped me with both perspective and my sanity as my book debut approaches.
Fight Song: Hand in hand with patience comes the tenacity part. Put simply, don’t give up. If this career, this calling, is important to you, make it a priority, make the time for it, and ferociously defend that time. None of its easy, right? Some days the words don’t come, some days that book that you and your agent and everyone else loves doesn’t get a publisher. And sometimes, a wonderful book is published and still struggles to find an audience. There are always more barriers and pitfalls and reasons to give up, but the only 100% guaranteed way not to succeed is to stop trying. Once I decided I was going to get serious about writing again, that simply wasn’t an option for me – I knew I was going to write no matter what, no matter whether anyone read the words or not. I'd like to think I became fearless - completely unafraid. I was going to write the books I wanted to read, and damn everything else.
As always, keep writing.
J. Todd Scott was born in rural Kentucky and attended college and law school in Virginia, where he set aside an early ambition to write to pursue a career as a federal agent. His assignments have taken him all over the U.S. and the world, but a badge and a gun never replaced his passion for books and writing. He now resides in the American Southwest, and when he's not hunting down very bad men, he's hard at work on his next book. His debut novel, Bad Land, will be published by Penguin - G.P. Puntam's Sons.