I spent a fair amount of time during the month of August watching the Olympics and found a lot of lessons in those competitions that could be applied to writing.
The athletes who compete at the Olympic Games are the best in the business, but they didn’t get there by accident. Those men and women worked their tails off to get there. They trained, practiced, watched their diets, kept in peak physical shape, every day for many years to get to the top rank of competitors in their sports.
Authors need to write, write, write as well. You don’t get better at it by sitting around reading books about writing but never doing it yourself. Yes, the books are like coaches who can make you better if you listen to their advice and put it into practice. But without that practice you don’t improve.
You have to compete and test yourself against others to discover how good you are and what you need to work on. As authors we are always competing for the attention of agents, editors, and readers. It can be useful to run your manuscripts by friends, critique partners, and beta readers first to get an idea of what you need to work on. Entering contents can help you assess where your skills stand in relation to other authors.
But one thing the Olympics made clear and you also learn as you spend more time in the publishing industry: there’s a lot of luck involved in making it to the top.
It helps to be born with the right genes. I was never destined to be an Olympic athlete. I did gymnastics in high school and college, even competed in a few regional meets. I never won, though I placed once or twice. I was more than willing to put in the practice time but I wasn’t born with enough natural talent to go any farther than that. It took me months (and a lot of bruises) to learn to do a twist on a handspring and it was clear my body was at its effective limits with that.
As a writer there are a lot of things you can learn – punctuation, proper grammar, story structure are all basic skills every writer needs. But the talent needs to be there too and that means deep insight into character, a feel for the right details to convey the story, and an understanding of the nuances or word usage and meanings. Those are things that can’t really be taught.
Which brings me to the luck part. Just as every Olympian has to master all the little nuances that go into a winning performance, every author has to master their craft on the basic level. You have to hone what talent you have and strive to get better all the time. But once you’ve reached a high level, there’s still the luck factor.
Gymnast Ali Raisman did some magnificent gymnastic routines in her events. She scored higher on several routines than every gymnast from every other country competing. Many years that would have been good enough to win everything in sight. But she happened to have a teammate who is a phenomenon unlike anything the gymnastics world has seen. Simone Biles isn’t just fabulous, she’s one of the all-time greats and, with the exception of one flawed balance beam routine, she won everything. Raisman kept coming in second to her. Ali has been nothing but graceful about it, but you know it must eat at her.
Writers experience the same thing. After a certain, level getting an agent or getting a publishing contract is a case of hitting the right person with the right thing at the right time. A lot of others are trying to do the same thing, so the odds aren’t good. You can improve them by writing the most fantastic story possible, and sending out as many proposal as you can, but that won’t insulate you against rejection.
In fact, I have hundreds of rejections in my files, from the standard form ones to many nice ones. One proposal I sent out got two rejections on the same day and both said the same thing. “Good story but no marketing hook.”
I once sent a proposal to an editor I’d worked with before. She liked the story idea. A lot. But she couldn’t buy it because they’d just acquired something very similar the month before. I self-published my most recent mystery novel, Wired for Murder, because the publisher who’d brought out the first book in the series, Five Star/Cengage, decided to cut their mystery line. I’ve had one other publisher fold entirely. It’s a tough business. If you want to be in it, work as hard as you can at the craft and then hope you’re the one who gets that lucky break. And keep in mind that you can improve your odds by keeping lots of proposals and books in circulation.
Karen McCullough is the author of a dozen published novels and novellas in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres as well. She has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy, and has also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Daphne, Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, six grandchildren (plus one on the way) and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.
Blurb for Wired for Murder: Most of the time, Heather McNeil loves her job as assistant to the director of the Washington DC Market Show Center. Because she’s a good listener and even better at solving problems, her boss assigns her to handle a lot of the day to day issues that arise during the shows, exhibits, and conferences being held there. When Heather becomes an unwilling audience to murder during the Business Technology Expo and later finds the body, she’s willing to let the police take care of it. But she soon learns more than she wanted to know about the victim and all the people who really didn’t like him very much.
· Amazon print: https://www.amazon.com/Wired-Murder-Market-Center-Mysteries/dp/153502027X/
· Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/649290
· Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wired-for-murder-karen-mccullough/1124077937?ean=9781535020275
· iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/wired-for-murder/id1133875090?mt=11
· Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/wired-for-murder-1