True Confessions of a Midlist Writer

Okay, so, you know how everyone asks you "where do you get your ideas?" And you know how most writers say they have more ideas than they have time to write?

Not!

At least not me. Sure, I have things I know I want to write, but I also have:

#1 – Fear of Commitment

How do I know my idea is good? What seems to be a sure fire sell these days are young adult novels. Or crime novels with vampires, a cat and culinary recipes. Or maybe I missed that boat and I should be thinking psychological horror novels. I know, I know, you should never write to trends. But writing is hard work, and I don’t want to spend nine month writing a book that isn’t marketable.

#2 – Fear of Execution

Once I have an idea that I think is good, how do I execute? Do I focus on my plot? Important when writing a crime novel. Do I focus more on characters? Important when writing any novel. What happens when plot and character diverge rather than come together? And what happens when I get a third of the way into the book and discover it’s crap?

Mary Higgins Clark once told me that she often writes the first 100 pages of a book before she finds her story, and then she throws those pages away and starts over. Wise woman! There’s little I hate more than reading a book only to come upon a point in the story where the writer has tried to fix a gaping hole by manipulating the plot or characters. Trust me, if you’ve had to contrive a solution to fix a discrepancy, your readers noticed.

#3 – Fear of Narcissistic Tendencies

Okay, okay, I'll admit it—I think I’m a good writer. I hope other people think so, too. Let's face it, who doesn't want people to like their work. But I know how snarky I can be at times, and I've been on the receiving end, too. Maybe some of you don't fear reviews and critiques, but I do!

After my editor sent me a seven page revision letter for DARK WATERS, I lamented to Lee Child. He responded by saying we all get them, and finished by telling me to suck it up and just do what the editor asked. “Then, if the book tanks, you can blame him.”

Critics run rampant in today’s technological world. Writers are bombarded by reality bytes through any number of social media venues. We've empowered the Amazon critics by ensuring their opinions matter. Heaven forbid your average rating drops below 4 stars, or that you don’t get at least 50 reviews. That’s the minimum threshold for snagging a BookBub promotion with your second novel, and marketing is critical.

#4 – Fear of Putting it Out There

The bottom line, sending out your work is painful. With the exception of the one or two of us, those whose work is picked up by the first agent or editor they send it to, most of us will face some rejection. I’ve had my share. I remember Robert Crais once telling a room full of writers at Pikes Peak Writers Conference that he submitted his work something like 119 times before someone bit.

NOTE: critique is a good place to test the waters—a baby pool before throwing yourself off the deep end. At least, when you’re talking about my critique group. The key is making sure it's populated with writers who want to see you succeed, but will also demand that you give them your best. Don’t argue , don’t make every change, but listen. More often than not something will resonate, and just because you don’t want to hear it doesn’t mean you should ignore the message.

I just read my review for RED SKY in Publishers Weekly. It was a good review. On the other hand, Kirkus was snarky. But by far, the worst critique I ever received was an Amazon review for my very first Birdwatcher’s Mystery, A Rant of Ravens. The book was nominated for a WILLA Award for Best Paperback Original, kindly reviewed in PW and Romantic Times, and sold internationally. But what do I remember most? The only review I can quote word-for-word after all these years? It's the one offered up by someone named Anonymous (likely a full blown ornithologist), who gave me 1 star and told readers, “You’d be better off buying birdseed.”

Yet...

In spite of it all, I write. RED SKY is my eighth novel. I'm not very prolific, especially when compared to someone like Nora Roberts or some of my fellow RMFW writers. Still, it's respectable. My books have been nominated for lots of awards, none of which I’ve won. I’m RMFW’s Susan Lucci. Over and over my colleagues have come home with the honors, and more power to them. I wish it were me, but, overall, I’m happy to have been in the mix. I truly believe that every success is a success for all of us. Every new thriller or mystery published expands the genre. Every new writer breathes life into our profession.

So, as I wrestle to come up with that new idea, that story that only I can tell, as I grumble that maybe it’s time to quit and rail against my chosen profession, I will acknowledge—writing is part of my makeup. It’s embedded in my DNA.

Thanks, everyone, for having my back!