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So You Want to Write A Book...

I often hear "I'd love to write a book..." when people learn I'm an author. What they may not know (or understand) is how difficult it is. Oh, sure, it's just like writing letter. Um, NO. A college essay. Guess again. Short story then - couldn't I pound that baby out in a day or two? Riiiiiiight. Go ahead, see how far you get. I'm cheering you on! Really. Because it's an accomplishment anyone ought to be proud of attempting.

Here's a reality check, though. The short story I wrote for a western romance anthology took me two months. Yup. Only about 11,500 words. Piece of cake! Not really. It's MUCH harder to write shorter than an 80,000 word novel. Oh, yes - that's EIGHTY THOUSAND. Although one of my Christmas novellas only took me a week, but that's rare. For some reason, the plot (in my head) sort of wrote itself, and every author has one instance up their sleeve. But not every story is like that. Most are like wrestling a greased pig in a mud puddle.

From Frank Leslie's Illustrated History of the Civil War

From Frank Leslie's Illustrated History of the Civil War

Those mysteries on the shelf? Three to nine months (yes, like a baby in the womb) of hard, nose-to-the-grindstone work. With engaging characters, a logical plot (with red herrings, suspects, etc. no less), a realistic setting, a satisfactory solution - meaning justice at the end for a mystery - and many include recipes or tips on brewing tea, coffee, sewing quilts, etc. That's extra work.

But everyone has to start somewhere. I'd been reading books with the thought of writing for years before I started, in a notebook, while waiting at the doctor's office. I think I wrote a page or two, and then decided to write on a typewriter - and switched to a computer for editing ease. I spent years "learning the craft" of what a story entails (forget formula - you may think romances, westerns, mysteries, thrillers all have one, but try to sell something like that). Starting is hard. Finishing that first manuscript was the hardest thing I ever did.

Oh, and then revision. Because sure, you can write, finish, and publish. Selling is another story.

So I wrote my second manuscript when the first one didn't sell. Revised the first, almost sold it to Harlequin, and wrote a third. And a fourth. And a fifth. Then a sixth - my first mystery - as my thesis for the MA Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University. Even THAT didn't sell, so I revised number 3 into a western mystery, sold it, won an award. Was I famous? Hardly.

I had to face following up an award-winning book, Double Crossing, with a sequel that was better than the first book. Double or Nothing won a Laramie. Nice. I followed up with several novellas, just to try my hand at writing shorter, adding The Key to Love, Santa Paws, Santa Claws, and Home for the Holidays, along with a few short stories in anthologies.

But I wasn't focused on awards or even the number of book covers I could accumulate on a website or my Amazon Author page. I wanted a real career, and that meant snagging a New York City Big 5 publisher. And all those years of hearing editors at conferences ("We're always looking for an unusual premise") finally paid off with a two-book contract from St. Martin's Press for my writing partner and I with D.E. Ireland's Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins series.

Are we famous yet? I hope we're getting there. Wouldn't It Be Deadly was nominated for a Best Historical Agatha Award earlier this year, among the best writers in the field - Victoria Thompson, Charles Todd, and Rhys Bowen. We both were so honored. My writing partner sold a cozy series of her own and I'm hoping for one as well. We'll both use other pseudonyms, too. The work continues. The mountain peak is still ahead.

So whether you're starting to write, in the middle of finishing a book or story, or on your way to snagging an agent or a publisher. don't stop. Don't get discouraged by the huge numbers of other authors. Dream. Celebrate each success, small or large. Persistence is the key.

Only you can determine the outcome.

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