I am astonished when I realize I’m no long considered a new writer, or possibly even a mid career writer. Having written and traditionally published 23 books since 2002, I might even be considered a dab hand in the business. If you also aspire to a long-term career as an author, I share five things I’ve learned over my journey. Maybe one or more of them will strike a chord with you….
1) It’s always the writing.
In the beginning, this was easier for me, because I had nothing else. The Internet was in its infancy, so the temptation to scroll madly for online advice was restricted to what I could find in the library. There was literally no social media to distract me.
I didn’t know any writers, so I couldn’t be overwhelmed by opinions. There were no online writers’ groups encouraging me to develop my platform before I even had something worth reading. There were no conferences filled with agents and editors, telling me what they were looking for, what they could sell. I wrote and wrote until I figured out by trial and error what I wanted to say.
I had no training in fiction, so I read books on the subject, and took whatever local classes I could fit in, regardless of the subject. I tried some children’s stories (learning along the way that I had a severe case of adverbitis); I floundered through some classes at the local library on editing, and attended a well-known writers conference, not far from my town, during which thoughtless feedback from a published writer left me without words for a year. (See #3 below.)
I attended a local writers’ group and found a small group of people whose feedback I thought was useful but also kind. We keep each other focused on writing.
2) Find your passion and move toward it.
Since 2002, I have published three mystery series. The first two, though connected to my interests in psychology and golf, did not sell enough to be renewed. In the third series, I was able to work in my passion for food and psychology and Key West well enough that the 13th book will be published next week (A Clue in the Crumbs).
Those specific passions aside, I love tracing the path of growth of the characters, which fits perfectly with a long series and my previous career as a clinical psychologist. I’m also passionate about trying something new in each book so that I am not foisting a retread of the same plot on potential readers. Luckily, quirky Key West has so many layers that it’s easy to find potential threads and motives for murder.
3) Find your people.
Writing is hard and lonely work. I am very lucky to have found like minds in the Jungle Red Writers blog, my writing group, and professional organizations like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. It’s been so important to find people with whom I can celebrate success without fear of envious retribution, but also with whom I can share my lowest moments.
4) Hire the best editor you can afford, even before you have an agent or a contract.
This is an investment in your long-term career. After I’d had two golf mysteries published by a traditional publisher, I took a writing pal’s advice and hired a developmental editor before I sent the third book in.
A couple of weeks later, I received 30 single spaced pages of feedback in my inbox. I had to go lie down before I could face reading it. Once I did read it, I found it to be an incredibly useful crash course on writing mystery fiction, tailored exactly to me. Since then, I have welcomed skilled editors and hired them at important transition moments.
5) Don’t be afraid to stretch your writing muscles.
I love reading contemporary women’s fiction along with mysteries and have always wanted to try to write one. The Ingredients of Happiness, published by Severn House on July 4, took 15 years to write and shape and polish. See #4 above. After several rejections, I hired an editor whom I knew well and trusted, made more revisions, and my agent sold it.
I suppose this is #6, though it’s woven through all of the others: Persistence is key!
Clinical psychologist LUCY BURDETTE aka Roberta Isleib is the author of 23 novels, including A Clue in the Crumbs (coming from Crooked Lane Books on 8/8) and The Ingredients of Happiness (Severn House, 7/4.) Both the twelfth book in her Key West series, A Dish to Die For, and the tenth, The Key Lime Crime, won the Florida Book Award’s bronze medal for popular fiction. Her first women’s fiction title, The Ingredients of Happiness and her first thriller, Unsafe Haven, have been published by Severn House. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She’s a past president of Sisters in Crime, and currently president of the Friends of the Key West Library. For more, see https://lucyburdette.com.