Whenever I’m asked to impart writing advice, I panic. What advice could I possibly give that would help anyone? Every writer is unique, we all have our own journey, and while sometimes our paths intersect, writing is truly a solitary profession.
We learn, however, through failure. A child can’t walk without falling down. Most of us didn’t hop on a bike and ride a mile without wobbling. And few of us wrote the Great American Novel for our debut.
I’ve always believed that you have to write what you love. That belief was challenged when my career nearly crashed and burned in 2010.
I published 12 romantic thrillers from 2006–2009, three books a year. Each book sold better than the last, I hit the NYT list out of the gate, my books spent 3–5 weeks on the USAT bestseller list, and enjoyed higher advances and higher print runs and higher bestseller placement with each book.
Around book #11 I began to struggle. Part of the struggle was the topic (human trafficking) and part was because writing had become a chore. Tight deadlines coupled with writing similar books along with the pressure that comes from being a moderately successful author — as well as a wife and mother. The weight that all it takes is one bad book and my career is over and my family homeless.
Paranormal romances and urban fantasies were on the rise, and I had an idea from long before I ever sold my first book: a supernatural thriller series based on the idea of the Seven Deadly Sins as incarnate demons released from hell by a dark magic coven. I pitched the idea to my publisher. They thought it would be great because paranormal books were on the rise and romantic suspense was taking a nose-dive (in part because of the downward spiral in the economy in late ’08 and ’09.)
Everyone was optimistic about this series, in particular, me: I was writing something different. Just as dark and suspenseful as my romantic thrillers, but I could build a whole new world with my own rules and create characters who weren’t “perfect” or only marginally flawed. Writing ORIGINAL SIN and CARNAL SIN freed my imagination from shackles that I had put on myself. I was so proud of the final product I thought they would sell huge and I’d write an epic seven-book series. I had my largest print run ever for ORIGINAL SIN.
ORIGINAL SIN tanked huge. 80% returns. My readers didn’t move from my romantic crime thrillers to my supernatural thriller, at least not in the numbers we needed. And, because I wasn’t writing paranormal romance, those readers didn’t come over en masse. It was too late to pull CARNAL SIN, which was the only book I had published that didn’t hit any bestseller list.
My publisher canceled the series. I could complain about what they did and didn’t do, but ultimately the reality was my readers didn’t follow my new direction, and I couldn’t find a new audience.
They would have canceled me, I’m pretty certain, except that I had a three-book contract to start my Lucy Kincaid series. If they canceled that contract, I would have been able to keep the signing money—a small silver lining at a dismal point of my career.
But they said I could write, so I began.
I thought I’d lost my will to write. That the failure of a series I was excited about—a series I loved writing—would ultimately kill my career.
I didn’t know if I could find the joy.
I dived into writing the Lucy Kincaid series and shut out my doubt demons as best I could. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought. While writing the Seven Deadly Sins, I had rediscovered my love of writing. Though the supernatural thrillers nearly killed my career—and I don’t say that lightly—they gave me back what I’d lost writing 12 books super fast. Joy.
I love writing the Lucy Kincaid series, now going on its 13th book (BREAKING POINT, February 2018). But more important, I love writing itself which is why I could create a new series (Maxine Revere mysteries) and write stand-alones and novellas and short stories. While Lucy and Max aren’t romantic thrillers, they are the crime thrillers my readers have come to expect from me. I have entire new worlds to explore—as long as they don’t have witches or demons.
I wrote what I loved in the Seven Deadly Sins series and it nearly killed my career, but it also saved it. I fell in love again with writing and learned that no matter what cliffs I may tumble off in the future, I will find a way back up the mountain—no matter how long it takes—out of love of the story.
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Allison Brennan believes life is too short to be bored, so she had five children and writes three books a year. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison is now a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than three dozen thrillers and numerous short stories. Reviewers have called her “a master of suspense” and RT Book Reviews said her books are “mesmerizing” and “complex.” She’s been nominated for multiple awards, including the Thriller, RWA’s Best Romantic Suspense (five times), and twice won the Daphne du Maurier award. She currently writes two series—the Lucy Kincaid/Sean Rogan thrillers and the Maxine Revere cold case mysteries.