Thoughts From the 2018 Thrillerfest

I had quite a whirlwind week in New York City while attending Thrillerfest. It was my first time back in four years and I didn’t realize how much I missed it.  I would like to use this week’s blog to share impressions and information gathered from listening to established writers, publishing house CEOs, agents, and information experts.

Thrillerfest

The stone head is the normal decoration inside the Grand Hyatt, but combined with the Thrillerfest logo, it made a striking visual statement.

One catchphrase that seemed to crop up a lot was “great plot can overcome bad writing, but great writing can’t overcome a bad plot.” I like to think this idea of “plot is king” refers to a few books that have become hits despite mediocre writing. Publishers are hungry for great, original plots. One of the impressions I got was that they are more willing to work with newbie authors to shape up the writing in order to publish a great story.

Information from Established Authors

Along with these lines, a panel of authors that included Brian Andrews, Steve Berry, Mark Dawson, Robert Dugoni, Bob Mayer, Jenny Milchman, and Jeffrey Wilson all answered questions on traditional publishing. The first question commented on “what was the point where you knew you had ‘made it’ as a writer?” The answers mostly focused on not having to put on a suit or working by the pool, but the one that struck a cord with me was “the answer is a moving target.”

I agree with that. My goals and ideas for success have changed since Independence Day Plague was published in 2009. They will change again with the next book’s publication because becoming a career author involves climbing a ladder rung by rung and not just sprinting towards some end goal.

Steve Berry in particular remarked on the three points to success in publishing: platform, product, and promotion. He related a story where he was quizzed by a more famous author (at the time) about his sales numbers for different books in different markets. He couldn’t answer any of the man’s questions and was chewed out for it. What he learned from that was the mantra, “know the business, know the numbers.” We are in a self-promoting business and we shouldn’t leave our success or failure with anyone else.

One piece of Advice Each

Finally, each of the authors was asked for one piece of advice that they would offer to a new writer. I’ve summarized them below. I would love to attribute them to specific people but I couldn’t hear them that well. If any of my readers also attended and can tell me who said what, please let me know.

Don’t give up, and revise and resubmit. Be ready to throw away  a manuscript and start all over again because you are learning about and improving your craft every time you write a manuscript. However, also be prepared to listen to expert advice and fix mistakes as well before submitting to the next editor or agent.

Learn along as you write and (different author) go learn the craft. Good novel writing is a skill that you must develop. The way you learn is through books, seminars, other writers, and conferences and constantly write. Critically review your work to make it the best it can be.

Don’t try to write like Steven King. Write like yourself and find your own voice. Your writing will be stronger that way.

Network all that you can. Writers support writers with information, help with research, and sometimes collaborate on projects. Although I don’t remember if this was said or not, I would add here to be an active part of organizations like the Indiana Writers’ Consortium, other local writers’ groups, and even national organizations like International Thriller Writers (or whatever your genre’s organization) simply for the support and sharing of information.

Break the rules. One author said know the rules and more importantly, know when to break them.

Write what you love but not necessarily what you know. An example of this is that you may know all about something like finance or courtroom procedures but you don’t love it. Instead, you love modern art or raising unusual chickens. The passion that you feel about your subject will come through in your writing.

Keep writing. We all know people who say they can write but somehow never finish a manuscript or others that give up because they can’t handle rejections. Getting published is hard. The success usually goes to those are doggedly determined to win that book contract or connection with an agent. Find the time and place that works for you and keep hammering at the keyboards.

More information to come. In the meantime, happy writing!

Success in Writing

Writing a book or short stories is a lonely business. Sure, we have our groups and beta readers, but the act itself takes place in quiet rooms away from distractions. Creating the story usually isn’t from a discussion or a team effort. It comes more from a small, quirky idea that loops round and round in our heads, growing with every lap until we sit down to let it out.

Few non-writing people understand this process. To them, it doesn’t look difficult. “Research? What research? Just make stuff up. No one will care.” Who cares if the writer gets interrupted? “Don’t worry, that idea will come back to you.” Nope. It died, disappearing into the fog of nothingness like all other ignored ideas.

Ducks and turtle

Books are like children. We create them, raise them and then set them free in the world.

When I finished my first draft of Independence Day Plague (first book), others around me expected to buy it within weeks. They didn’t understand the months of critical reading and editing or the time, often years, needed land an editor or agent. They don’t know that the production is never that easy. So, we writers have only a few milestones in this process that definitely deserve celebration.

One of these rare moments happened to me last week. I finished the first draft of Riding the Comet, an asteroid-based novel about a teenage girl trying to make her own life choices in a male-dominated mining colony. Typing those last perfect lines felt delightful. The elation of having completed the novel lasted all day long.

Why?

Because it meant I was a true author. I had undergone six months and 330 pages of text. The story absolutely itched, clawed and tore its way out of me. Sometimes it flowed like ice water down a mountain stream. Other times I felt lost in all the technical information and ready to give up.

Many people say they “could write a book if I wanted to,” but they don’t. They’re fooling themselves because they don’t have the discipline. Others might write snippets and ideas but never complete them. A true author finishes the manuscript no matter what. They then polish it up to perfection because it’s a vocation or calling, not a job they must do. The joy of finishing a manuscript elevates that person above all the naysayers, hobbyists, and dabblers. It allows them to enter the rarified air of authorship.

That alone is a reason to celebrate.

Happy writing!