A FEW LESSONS LEARNED 1024 585 Reader Views

After five published novels and twelve national awards and two bestsellers, what have I learned about this writing thing?

The Journey Begins: Publishing Successes and Acclaims

This past fall the Wild Rose Press released CRUEL LESSONS, my fifth novel published in a little over a decade. During that time, I’ve had the good fortune to see two of my books, BLOOD ON THE CHESAPEAKE and CRIMSON AT CAPE MAY become #1 and #2 bestsellers on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’ve been humbled and thrilled by the hundreds of five stars reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and BookBub my novels have received. And I’ve been blown away by the twelve (and counting) national awards the titles have earned from sites like ReadersFavorite (Thriller of the Year), Literary Titan (Gold Award) Chanticleer (Best Book) and Reader Views (Mystery of the Year). 

Now, after a decade at this, what do I know now that I didn’t five or ten years ago? The answer is a lot…but I think a few hard earned lessons might be worth sharing.

The Writing Process: More Challenging Than Expected

This whole writing thing turned out to be a great deal more difficult than I anticipated.  In my book talks, I tell audiences, even though I’ve faced classrooms of angry and unruly teenagers and managed a staff of over 300 teachers, nothing I’d done in my previous career was as challenging as getting a story from my head to a book that others would enjoy and actually buy. (Now I’m not talking about the down-and dirty practice that some writers take to throwing thoughts on paper and then using the independent publishing route to send the product out into the world.)

To envision a story, draft it so it makes sense, revise and edit the manuscript (with professional help) a great many times, so it is the very best was a grueling process. Next, taking that manuscript and submitting it to the scrutiny of literary experts—be these literary agents or small press representatives—is a humbling and nerve-racking experience. Then, I discovered after I found a professional venue for my story, now a full-fledge novel, this was only the beginning. I had to do even more work to promote and market the book than I did to actually write it and get it published.

Had I known all this years ago, I might have taken a step back, sucked in a huge proverbial breath, before I jumped in with both feet. I still would have jumped, though I would’ve been better prepared.

The Power of Community: Learning from Other Writers

I learned I don’t have to go it alone. The stereotypical image of the lone writer slaving away over his (or her) computer is not really an accurate portrayal of how it works. Though the writing starts that way—me, my ideas and the computer—this is only the first step. For much of the last decade, I have been fortunate to be an active member of one writers’ group or another. Participating in these groups has given me an insight into how other writers think and practice, often different from my own experience. But most important, working with these fellow writers and having them openly critique my work has dramatically improved my writing. Other writers, regardless of their preferred genre, see things in my pages that I missed or never thought of in the first place. The completed chapters with the help of a writers’ group are dramatically better, of higher quality and more readable, because I learned from their input.

Had I known this at the get go, I would have sought out good writers’ groups from the very first day I started writing my fiction. This would have made my learning curve not nearly as steep. In fact, this is my first suggestion to emerging writers asking for advice.

The Battle for Readers in a Crowded Market

I had no idea of how overwhelming the competition for readers is and how crowded the field had become—and this is true whether the genre is mystery, thriller, romance, paranormal or any other. I was stunned to learn that last year when my latest novel hit the market, over four million other titles were released. In fact, on the very date CRUEL LESSONS went up on Amazon, there were 11,000 other books released just that day. For the prospective reader, it looks like a tsunami of titles flooding at them. Trying to get a reader to notice mine becomes a daunting challenge and frankly can be overwhelming at times.

Had I been aware of this intense competition five or ten years ago, I would have been better prepared to deal with the reality and commit the work and time it takes to get prospective readers to even be aware of my work. And I would have been more realistic about the limitations the market places on my promotional efforts, on possible sales and the likely return on my hard work.

Concluding Reflections

Knowing all this (and much more), would I still take the plunge into the literary pool?

The answer is a decided YES.

The simple reason why I endure such abuse and march against these fierce headwinds is because of my readers, at least those I’m able to captivate. Like the woman who hailed me at a recent writing conference and approached my book display with a scowl. She snarled, “I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”

I didn’t remember the woman. “I’m sorry. What did I do?”

She said, “You cost me a whole night’s sleep. I bought your book here yesterday and opened it when I turned in. I got so sucked in to the story, I couldn’t stop reading…all night.”

I smiled and said, “I’m sorry…and thanks.”

I wasn’t a bit sorry.

About the Author

Dr. Randy Overbeck is an award-winning educator, author and speaker. As an educator, he served children for more than three decades and has turned that experience into captivating fiction, authoring the bestselling series, the Haunted Shores Mysteries, winner of nine national awards. This past fall, the Wild Rose Press released his newest work, an atmospheric amateur sleuth mystery, CRUEL LESSONS, which has captured two national awards already. He hosts the popular podcast, “Great Stories about Great Storytellers,” which reveals the unusual and sometimes strange backstories of famous authors, directors and poets. He is also a speaker in much demand, sharing his multi-media presentations, “Things Still Go Bump in the Night,” “A Few Favorite Haunts,” and “Everything You Wanted to Know About Publishing” with audiences all over the US. As a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Dr. Overbeck is an active member of the literary community, contributing to a writers’ critique group, serving as a mentor to emerging writers and participating in writing conferences such as Killer Nashville and the Midwest Writers Workshop.

More info about his novels, programs and podcast can be found at his website www.authorrandyoverbeck.com .

email: randyoverbeck@authorrandyoverbeck.com
phone: 513-633-2838


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  • Meryl Brown Tobin

    Congrats on your success as a writer, Randy. Thank you for a helpful article, especially for beginning and developing writers. Like you, I had to learn a lot of things through trial and error and from going through experiences. The figures for the number of books published in one day and one year you quote are mindbloggling. Best wishes with your books, Meryl Brown Tobin, romantic suspense author.

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