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?


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.”


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!

Chris Goff on Blogger
Chris Goff
A member of RMFW since 1988, Chris Goff is an award-winning author of six novels based on environmental themes and two international thrillers. Her most recent book, RED SKY, (Crooked Lane Books, June 2017) is set in Ukraine and Asia, where Agent Raisa Jordan tests the boundaries of diplomacy as she races to prevent the start of a new Cold War. Catherine Coulter had this to say: "Breathtaking suspense, do not miss Red Sky." Goff's series debut, DARK WATERS, was dubbed “a sure bet for fans of international thrillers" by Booklist, and nominated for the 2016 Colorado Book Award and Anthony Award for Best Crime Fiction Audiobook. For more about Chris, visit her webpage and blog.

10 thoughts on “True Confessions of a Midlist Writer

  1. Ha, Chris. I could have writtent that blog. I kept nodding and thinking, “Me, too.” Except, for me, it’s 5 books, not 8. Just yesterday I firmly told myself, “Five books. It’s possible, maybe, perhaps, it’s not a fluke.”

  2. Early in my writing career, I attended a workshop in Glenwood Springs. In fact, it’s where I first met Carol Caverly. One of the main presenters was Lawrence Block. It was during his affirmations phase, where he’d become a believer that to be a writer you had to believe you were a writer. One of our daily exercises was to sit and affirm, “I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer,” giving each statement a different inflection. The goal was to become more convincing with each utterance. It felt awkward then, but what strikes me now is that even the great Lawrence Block, who has now been writing for over 60 years and who has written who knows how many books and short stories, felt the need to assure himself and convince himself that he was a writer. I’m going with the idea that insecurity breeds brilliance. “I am no fluke, I am no fluke, I am no fluke.”

  3. Outstanding blog, Chris, you are a gifted writer. You are a gifted writer. You are a gifted writer! That’s my toast to you today! The affirmation is excellent. I found mine through Deepak Chopra: “Be like the river.” This resonates for me. I can’t recall and quote Deepak for the reasons behind it, but, in my interpretation, the river doesn’t question itself. It doesn’t ponder each riparian change. It never tries to be anything else, so it’s never distracted or hesitant. It flows. Like the words. 🙂

  4. Janet Lane, I don’t know you, but i love what you’re saying here. Chris and Shannon, I have several of your books in my to-read pile. I’ve read one of your books Shannon and loved how you created environments I could live in. Here’s my complaint: my stack of books to read keeps growing, but I struggle to find more than a few hours each night to read because I’m desperate to get out my second book. Ha! You can imagine how I struggle with your four fears, Chris. Good post.

    • Thanks, Chris and Char. And Char, stay in the chair, and you’ll get there! May the Muse be with you!

  5. Char, I can relate to the stack of books to be read. I have a pile of my own. Glad you’re making time to work on your second book. It’s easy to fill the hours with other activities–at least I find it so. Keep us posted on your progress.

  6. Awesome post, Chris! I feel the same way so it’s so nice to know I’m in good company. For me, I’ve struggled for years to find my way and I’m hoping I’ve finally discovered the right path for me and my writing. What’s funny is that I’ve come full circle and returned to the type of book that got me writing in the first place. Only took me twenty years to get to this point. Ha! I’m not sure we ever truly stop learning and growing as writers. There are so many challenges to overcome.

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