I recently gave a keynote address to the attendees of Killer Nashville titled “Be Careful What You Wish For.” It was a warning given to me many moons ago by my good friend and writing mentor, Kate Flora.
It was Kate’s belief that I was headed for success in the novel writing business, but with that prognostication she attached a word or two of caution about the publishing world. She included all the obvious things: contracts, deadlines, slumping sales figures, writer’s block. But she included the not so obvious as well. Things like: having a thick skin, resilience, strong work ethic, and what will you do if one day your publisher decides to discontinue your series?
Well, it finally happened. In February 2020 my fourth Byron novel was released. Sales were brisk, reviews positive, and the few launch events we managed to schedule were well-attended. Within Plain Sight even garnered a few literary awards. But then everything changed. We all remember what happened in March of that year. In fact, I was in San Diego attending my first ever Left Coast Crime Conference when the global pandemic brought everything to a full stop. Shut off the lights, roll up the carpet, and bolt the door. Exit Byron stage left. Nope, I’m not whining. Not one bit. I know that we all suffered, and many far worse. I’m simply trying to illustrate the point that like so many other things in life, when it comes to the world of publishing, we the authors have very little control.
KEEP ON WRITING
I’m lucky to have a fabulous support network, and a fabulous agent in the form of Paula Munier. Paula talked me through this crisis and told me to keep plugging away. “Write a standalone thriller,” she said. And I tried. I really did. In fact, I have some fabulous starts to a handful of novels. One in particular that actually reached thirty-six thousand words, or about a third of the way to a finished novel.
But something was still missing. The shutdown meant zero in person events. No face-to-face interaction with fans, fellow scribes, librarians, or bookstores. I had nothing to keep me motivated or focused. Worse still, my entire cast of characters from the Byron series stood across the room on the opposite side of my writing space silent and glum, staring back at me as if to say, “Why aren’t you writing about us?”
Finally, I told Paula I had to finish the manuscript for Byron #5, tentatively titled Under the Gun. Whether it ever sold to another publisher or not, it was simply something I needed to do. And so, I went back to working on it. And the writing went well. It was familiar territory. I was happy to be back in the Byron saddle with Diane Joyner, Mike Nugent, Melissa Stevens, and the rest of my favorite band of fictional crime fighters.
WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS, OPEN THE DOOR
And then, as fate would have it, opportunity knocked. Not once, but twice. The first came in the form of me being given the chance to coauthor a brand-new mystery/adventure series with friend and bestselling novelist LynDee Walker. Long story short, LynDee and I signed a four-book deal with Severn River Publishing last August and The Turner and Mosley Files were born. How is the collaboration going? It’s going great! LynDee is a seasoned novel writer with two successful mystery series under her belt, and a fabulous collaborator. My wife says we’re two peas in a pod. She may be right.
The second opportunity came this summer when I was asked by Severn River Publishing to submit a proposal for a brand-new police procedural series. I spent a few days developing an idea for another Maine-centric procedural series, this time with a state police homicide detective as the protagonist. I made some changes at Paula’s suggestion, then she submitted the proposal. Bottom line, Severn River Publishing loved it. Last week I signed another four-book contract for the Detective Justice series which will debut in 2025.
THE RESILIENCE FACTOR
Now can you understand why resilience is such an important trait to possess. None of us knows what waits around the literary corner. What fate, good, or bad, awaits. All we can do is keep plunking that butt in the seat and sidling up to the keyboard each and every day. Keep doing that thing we all love to do and let the business of writing take care of itself. No one ever said being a successful author would be easy. Far from it. But I promise you this, if you’re resilient, and you love writing and reading novels, and you’re willing to put in the time and effort to constantly improve, good things await you.
Bruce Robert Coffin is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. A retired detective sergeant, Bruce is the author of the Detective Byron Mysteries, co-author of the Turner and Mosley Files with LynDee Walker, and author of the forthcoming Detective Justice Mysteries. Winner of Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion Awards for Best Procedural, and Best Investigator, and the Maine Literary Award for Best Crime Fiction Novel, Bruce was also a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel. His Anthony Award nominated short fiction has been published in a dozen anthologies, including Best American Mystery Stories, 2016.