Ten years ago today, THE PREY was released into the world by Ballantine Books. Last month, my 27th novel, NO GOOD DEED, was published by St. Martin’s Press.
It’s been a wild ride, with a lot of ups and downs, but I would never want to do anything else. I was born to be a writer. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It took awhile to get here … mostly because I thought I had to do something “else” before I could write books. I got married, had kids, had a 13 year career as a consultant in the California State Legislature, but through it all I also wrote.
Most people who know me know my publication story — I wrote five books in two years (by giving up television and writing every night after the kids went to bed) and sold THE PREY in March 2004 in a three book deal only three weeks after landing an agent. It took nearly two years before THE PREY hit the shelves, but that gave me enough time to write two more books while working full-time and being a wife and mom. THE PREY came out first in a back-to-back-to-back trilogy that landed on the NYT extended list. I’d already quit my job in a huge leap of faith that I would receive another contract, but it wasn’t until after the books came out and I was offered another contract that I could breathe easier about my decision. The last thing I had wanted to do was crawl back to my former boss begging for my old job back.
That was then, this is now. The industry has changed upside down and inside out, but I am still doing what I love. I’m contracted for three more books after POISONOUS comes out in April. The next two Lucy Kincaid/Sean Rogan books will be out in November 2016 (THE LOST GIRLS) and February 2017 (DON’T SAY A WORD) and THE EX-WIFE–Maxine Revere #4–will be out in May 2017. DON’T SAY A WORD will be my 30th full-length novel.
I’ve made some mistakes along the way, but today is not a day to dwell on missteps or detours. I feel blessed to be able to do what I love. I sometimes feel guilty that I love what I do, but just because I love it doesn’t mean it isn’t hard work. When you love your job you’re willing to work hard, and maybe you don’t think it’s as hard as it actually it is. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way:
IT DOESN’T GET ANY EASIER.
I was writing KILLING FEAR, my 7th book, and my friend and mentor Mariah Stewart had just has her 20th book come out. I emailed her and said something like, “Congratulations on your 20th book! I can’t wait until I get to that point where it gets easier, I’m so stressed over this book I’m writing.” She called me almost immediately and said something like, “Honey, it never gets easier. Some books will be easier to write than others, but you will always want to make your next book better than your last.”
THE PREY is a good book, but I’ve become a better writer and a better storyteller over the last ten years. I hope that I have. Because I never want to think, “This is the best I can do” or “This is good enough.” I don’t want to be “good enough.” I want to continue to write the best book I can write the moment I write it. I want to keep getting better.
WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE.
I firmly believe that you need to write what you love, because once you gain a readership, they’ll expect more from you. If you don’t love the genre, it’ll show. At the same time, sometimes what we love when we change the course of the ship isn’t what our readers will love. I loved my Seven Deadly Sins series. They flopped commercially. Some of my readers love them as much as I do, but writing these books nearly killed my career. I’d like to say I don’t regret it … but in some ways I do. This was a major hiccup in my career that took me awhile to recover from. Yet … at the same time … I’m glad I wrote the books because they were good stories and I loved writing something completely different. Writing something different rekindled my love of writing after writing 12 romantic suspense novels and feeling bored with the genre. It’s because I took this detour that I regained something I’d lost — the joy of storytelling.
The other importance of loving what you write is that this business has ups and downs. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you’ll never get through the down times. You’ll get discouraged, you’ll hate your job, you’ll become cynical and depressed. Then you’ll stop writing. If you love writing, that love will keep you going through the rough patches. Your passion for your genre, for your story and characters, will show in your work. That love of storytelling will help get you through points in your writing where you think everything is crap or the words won’t come or you don’t know what to write next. If you love it, you’ll work through the doubts and fears.
EVERY CAREER IS UNIQUE.
Professional jealousy exists and it can be an insidious monster that destroys friendships and creates enemies, despair and frustration. Love what you do and work to make your career the best for you. Don’t assume that someone had an “easier” time or they wrote “easier” books or that they didn’t “pay their dues.” You don’t know what went into building their career, the sacrifices they made or the time they put into it before they became an “overnight” success. There are no overnight successes. First books may sell big, but how long did it take to craft that first book? Be happy for success of fellow authors and commiserate when the road becomes bumpy. It can happen to anyone at anytime.
You are on your own journey. Your journey may intersect with others. There are infinite paths to travel. If you don’t like your path, it’s no one’s fault. Find another and don’t cast blame. Casting blame, even justifiably on your former publisher or agent or a retailer, can turn you into a cynical, angry person. Shit happens. It sucks. Move on and find a way to get over the hurdle, or quit. Every writer has their own path. It is not better or worse than yours. You may have some opinions about other careers, and you may be right, but every writer needs to make these decisions for their own career — and their own lives — themselves. And honestly? You don’t know what their individual situation is or the reasons that they made specific decisions, and you don’t really have the right to know. Just accept that they are making the best decision for themselves and focus on your own career.
Related to this is the “could have beens.” We all have things we wish we had done. Don’t. Don’t live your life in regrets. Either do it or move on. Life is too short to live in regret, be filled with envy, or cast blame on others. Accept your faults, work to improve the things you can improve, and stay on course.
SAVOR THE JOURNEY.
This advice can be hard to live by. Sometimes, when you face a difficult obstacle in your life or your career, you don’t see the good in anything. But truly, if you accept the first three points — that it doesn’t get any easier, that you love what you do, that you recognize that you and your career are unique — then you can enjoy your journey. There is no end. Being a career author means that you write every day (or nearly every day); it means that you will need to write at least one book a year, but usually more (especially if you’re a genre author); it means that you will fulfill one contract and sign another. The journey is the writing, the discovery, the truth in the lies of fiction, the hope and satisfaction that each story brings to you–the author–and hopefully to your readers. Every success, celebrate. Even the small successes. Every time you get a box of books, open the box and smell the binding. I cried in joy and excitement and fear when I received my first box of books — THE PREY. It was overwhelming. I don’t jump around and dance anymore, but I still get that surge in my heart when I receive a physical copy of my next book. I still get that stomach flip when I see my book on the shelves. I still type THE END when I finish my first draft because for me, finishing a book had always been difficult (I was attracted to the next new, shiny project before finishing what I was working on, before I committed to finishing.) Celebrate the small things. Finishing a book. A good review. A kind reader email that reminds you that you’ve connected with another human being. The small joys will sustain you on the journey, because the journey doesn’t end. You don’t tell yourself, “I’m going to write five books then quit.” Or, “I’m going to write one Great American Novel and retire and live off royalties for the rest of my life.” There is a difference between dreams and goals. It’s my dream to hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list … or #1 on any list … and it may happen, but it’s not the destination. It’s not a goal. Goals are things you can attain through your own actions. My goal is to write each book as well or better than the last book. I can achieve that, because it’s totally dependent on me. Dreams are wishes and out of your control, but as Vince Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if you chase perfection you can catch excellence.”
There is no final destination in publishing. For me, it’s all about the journey. And after ten years of publication, my greatest wish is that I have ten more years with 27 more books and can still savor the joy of storytelling.