Tuesday, June 2, 2009


When I was a teenager I discovered a book store in my hometown called EAT-A-BOOK.
It was located in a wonderful old house. New books and various gift items filled the lower level, but I always headed upstairs, to where each room was dedicated to a different genre of used books.

I still remember where the mystery novels were located—in a cramped, shelf-lined room in the northwest corner. While I’d love to boast that I learned to love fiction from the great American literary masters, that phase would actually come later.

Instead, I cut my literary teeth reading works by the fathers of the American crime novel—Hammett, Chandler, and Cain—as well as some of their successors—John D. MacDonald, Cornell Woolrich, Dorothy B. Hughes, Ross MacDonald, and many others.

I became a huge fan of the lesser known pulp novelists of the 50s and 60s, especially the thoroughly enjoyable Shell Scott novels by Richard Prather (for those of you who have read Killing Red—yes, the nightclub is named after him).

I read Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels over a summer vacation, stayed up way too late reading the old Alfred Hitchcock short story collections. All this for just 10 to 25 cents per book.

And I started thinking that maybe, someday, I might see my name on the spine of a book. Though, of course, I had no clue what it took to write a novel, let alone get one published.

By the time I became a student at the University of Iowa, my interest and focus had shifted to film—but not entirely. I wrote several days each week, though I did so without any thoughts of publication. Then I took a class that was taught by the great thriller author David Morrell, and once again I started thinking—maybe, someday.

I wrote short stories, got a few of them published, started writing for a newspaper. And a few years ago decided that if I was ever going to see my name on the spine of a book, the time was now. By then I understood that I had to learn more about the business of publishing, that it wasn’t enough to know the craft of writing.

I immersed myself in that world, met as many crime writers as I could, picked their brains whenever possible, found them to be an extraordinarily generous group. After a while, maybe, dropped out of the equation—leaving someday as the only option. But the more I learned about the business, the more I realized how difficult it was to break into, and how long the odds were. I wonder whether I would have permanently tabled my hopes of becoming a published author way back when, if as a teenager, I had known what I know now.

Today is June 2, 2009, and Killing Red, my first novel, is officially out and available at bookstores everywhere. As I write this, I’m looking at my name on the book’s spine. And while much of my thoughts are about moving forward, about my next book, and the promotion of this first one, I also find myself looking back, and thinking about all those times when I stood in a bookstore or squatted down to see what was hiding on the bottom shelf and I imagined someday finding my own book there (and moving it to eye level and turning it face out, of course).

And I realize now, there’s no one way to get here. The things I did, decisions I made, worked for me. This was my journey to becoming a published author. The more writers I’ve met, the more evident it has become that each of us has their own story. But if there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s that no matter how long it took, how distracted we became with the rest of our lives, or how difficult the path, we never gave up.

Anyone who seriously sets a goal of someday having strangers pay money to read their stories, buy their music, see their films, or hang their art on a wall faces a ridiculously difficult task. The first thing you must do is believe in yourself, sometimes irrationally so. There will be obstacles and naysayers, and if you don’t believe you can get there, no one else will, either. If you refuse to give up, continue working at your craft, and learn as much as you can about the business side of what you love to do, then maybe can become someday, and someday might become…Today.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Whenever authors are portrayed in films or on TV it seems like they’re always up against an impossible deadline. Well, in real life, there is some of that. Dates have to be met and material must be delivered to your publisher so that the people in various departments working on your book will be able to do what they do best.

Publishers have their time frames, set by the Editorial, Production, Sales, and Marketing departments, all geared to produce the best book they can and provide it with the greatest opportunity to succeed. Those deadlines are measured in months, weeks, and sometimes days.

But that’s the exciting part.

Mostly, an author with a book deal spends a lot of time waiting. But actually, this process begins much earlier, well before the galleys for your book arrive with a ten day deadline for corrections.

If you're a writer who has queried agents, you already know about the downtime. You send out
query letters, a week passes, then two, then a month. If an agent asks for a partial or the entire manuscript the process begins anew and weeks can turn into months.

But don’t assume the waiting will end when you get an agent, or even a book deal. Your agent will take your book out on submission. That could take two weeks, two months, or longer. If an editor buys your book it will take a month, or two, or more, to get the legal paperwork together.

After the ink on your contract dries, your editor will send you notes for manuscript revision. A few weeks or sometimes more will pass before these editorial notes arrive. Editors are among the busiest people in the publishing business. They work long hours, they work on weekends, as they juggle a number of books at the same time.

Once you’ve made your changes and the revised manuscript has been accepted, it goes to a line editor, who will carefully read it for typos, inconsistencies, etc. A couple of months will go by before the line edited manuscript arrives at your door.

If you add it all up, that’s a lot of downtime for the author. The process takes as long as it takes, and there is really nothing much that you can do to speed it up. But what you shouldn’t do is kick back and wait. Or, even worse, worry about it…and wait.

So what should you do? The simple answer—write. Don’t wait to hear back from agents before starting your next novel. Sure, you’ve finished a book, and there’s a sense accomplishment. That’s understandable, you should celebrate and reward yourself…then get your butt back in the chair and start the next one.

If you can’t jump into another book-length project right away, then start writing short stories. No, they don’t pay much, sometimes short stories don’t pay at all, but they provide other benefits. Short stories are a great way to get your name out there, while building a writing resume. Besides, when you do get that book deal, you’ll find it’s much easier to sell your short fiction, so it won’t hurt to have a stockpile of stories.

Start a blog, or catch up with one that you’ve ignored for weeks…or maybe months, heaven forbid. Contact a magazine, online site, or newspaper about doing some freelance work.

Just keep writing. Let the publishing world do its thing, and you do yours. That goes for querying agents, working with a publisher, or submitting short stories.

Don’t lose time waiting for the next thing to happen.