NEWS FLASH: There Are No Shortcuts to Success

By John Gilstrap

Everyone who does anything for a living owes it to himself to take advantage of learning opportunities.  Even after one has attained journeyman’s status, to rest on one’s laurels is to invite disaster.

Last week, I had the honor and pleasure of attending SleuthFest in Orlando, Florida.  I taught a class on pacing, and sat on three panels.  And I hung out at the bar, of course, because that’s where all business is conducted, irrespective of chosen discipline.  I met a lot of talented writers I’d never met—Heather Graham and Charlaine Harris among them—and hung out with old friends.  And, of course, there are our own Kathleen Pickering and Nancy Cohen, whom I finally met in person—Nancy in a meeting room, and Kathleen in the bar.  A lot in the bar.  I’m just sayin’ . . .

For me, the big learning moment—the a-ha moment—came during Charlaine’s luncheon keynote, and it reinforced something I’ve known and admired about Jeff Deaver for years (Jeff and Charlaine were guests of honor, along with Chris Grabenstein).  If I did my math correctly, the first book of Charlaine’s True Blood series—the one that launched her into the authorial stratosphere—was her twentieth book.  Give or take a couple of books, that was the same number of novels that Deaver had published before he became a household name with the Lincoln Rhyme series.  As Charlaine put it, she’d spent many years with $4,000 advances, pursuing what her husband had come to think of as a “well-subsidized hobby.”

I am currently pounding away at my tenth novel (fourteenth, if you count the ones that no one wanted).  I’m proud of them all, but the recent ones are so way better than the older ones.  And the ones that were never published?  Well, thank God they weren’t.

At SleuthFest, I learned (again) what I’ve long known to be the truth: writing is a business, and the only way to succeed—and success to me means hundreds of thousands of copies sold—is to keep writing and playing by the rules. Agents are more important than they’ve ever been, and brutal, professional editing is what makes the difference between passable and entertaining.

Even in these days of new media and instant gratification, the bottom line is the bottom line: There are no shortcuts to success.

All comments welcome . . .

16 thoughts on “NEWS FLASH: There Are No Shortcuts to Success

  1. Right on the money. I am sitting here right now pounding out the initial draft of my fifth novel while #4 is waiting in line with my editor. Through the combination of time, experience and stuff I’ve learned right here at TKZ I really do realize that there are, like you say, no shortcuts. As the next book comes out I intend, before going the self-pubbed route, to try at least a few dozen agent submissions and see what happens. Like your friend, I currently enjoying a fairly well subsidized hobby of writing, but that’s not where I want to be.

    Onward and Upward!

    still pimping my new book trailer for my old book 65 Below…gotta market somehow. Lemme know whatcha think.

  2. John, I downloaded a program called Success and placed a shortcut icon on my desktop. Now all I have to do is click on it. 🙂

    Don’t we all wish it were that easy. The reality is, well, just what you said in your post. Write a lot of books. Learn from each and make the next one better. Maybe after a few dozen, you’ll become an overnight success.

  3. John, thanks for the reminder of an immutable law that cannot be repeated too often or too frequently, no matter what endeavor to which it refers. Jeffrey is excellent to listen to on this topic, btw. He begins a book on a date certain, finishes on a date certain, and then sits down and does it all again. An example to us all.

    Joe, I just read your comment and choked coffee all over my keyboard. Hilarious! Uh…where can I find that app?

  4. Even though we KNOW there are no shortcuts, it seems we can never resist searching for one. We humans are so predictable. 😎

    Speaking of shortcuts–why is it that people can’t walk across an area landscaped with rocks without kicking the rocks all over the sidewalk? Inquiring minds want to know.

  5. Joe, can I get that app for my Android? Because even booting up my computer takes too much time away from being awesome.

    John, I remember asking you about your four trunkers and if they’d ever see the light of day. You told me that parts of them had when you’d scavenged out the good parts for your other books.


    PS: Can’t resist a little horn toot. I was named an Honorable mention in the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition in the humor category (judged by pro comedians and comedy writers). One winner and 4 honorables out of 366 entries. See, I’m listening to y’all!

  6. John–I was at Sleuthfest and attended your talk on pacing. It was well-organized and very informative.

    You’re 100% right. Writing is a business and should be treated as such. In a comment above, Joe Moore refers to a program called Success, now available for download! Actually, there could be such a program. You download it and up pops the sentence, “Write more books and write them better.”

  7. Well stated, Brother Gilstrap. If I understand you correctly, the keys to success are writing more and hanging out at the bar. Have I got that right?

  8. Basil, that’s the way to git ‘er done.

    Joe M., downloading that program crashed my machine. What am I doing wrong?

    Joe H., Jeff Deaver gave the speech you refer on the day before Charlaine gave hers. The similarity of their career arcs–in entirely different genres–was inspiring.

    Congratulations, Terri! And yes, even the bad writing of the past showed moments of hope!

    Thanks, Mike. Glad you enjoyed the class. It was a good crowd

  9. Charlaine Harris’s comment about her earlier $4,000 books was an aha-moment of Sleuthfest. As a non-New York Times Bestseller, it is easy to look at my royalty statements and be discouraged, but it is inspiring to hear it happens to a lot of writers…a lot of now-successful, selling-millions, writers.

    Sleuthfest was a fabulous conference to attend this year. Very informative and motivational.

    Victoria Allman
    author of: SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain

  10. Joe, I just tried to grab that app but typo’d the search and grabbed one called Suckses instead…banged my surgeried foot a few seconds later and burned my tongue on my coffee.

    Spelling still counts.

  11. Here, here, John. I’ll toast to that! (LOL!)

    You are so right about no shortcuts. Hard work, dedication to craft and never giving up all earn the keys to the kingdom.
    I just hope I don’t have to wait until #20 to reach the pubbed stratosphere. I started later than both Charlaine and Jeffrey!!

    But, hey, I’ll do what it takes.

    Great blog, John. And, GREAT to finally meet you at Sleuthfest. You are a very cool dude.

  12. Hey, do y’all take post requests?

    You’ve talked about becoming agented and querying. However, what happens once your novel or non-fic is sold to the publisher.

    What kind of deadlines are there? How firm are those deadlines? What role does your agent play after the publishing contract is signed? What sort of public face does your agent and publisher expect you to maintain from contract to release (is there a difference between fiction and non-fiction)? When do you see your advance?

    I’d love to see a post(s) on this topic.


  13. Funny, I listened to both those speeches and never made the connection. Thanks for pointing it out, John! Sorry I didn’t get to meet you at the bar at Sleuthfest.

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