The Definition of a Successful Author

I was chatting with a fellow author this afternoon and she  told me something that was pretty cool. According to her brother in law, who’s a literary fiction author, the incredible sense of camaraderie and accessibility that’s become one of the hallmarks of the thriller writer community is somewhat of an oddity in the publishing world. He told her the literary fiction world is considerably more cutthroat, and that we should be grateful to be in our genre.

I don’t think this is because of our genre. I think the reason for the ongoing buddy comedy that is most of the author friendships I’ve observed and made here at the conference are only made possible because of the ITW (International Thriller Writers). The organization’s founders specifically built mentorship and service into the mission of the ITW. This has resulted in a vibrant, friendly, and empowering support network.

I’ve attended three ThrillerFest conferences so far, and every single one has been a well-oiled machine. I’ve never felt like there was any sort of separation, implied or overt, between the Big Name Authors and those of us who can count our book sales using a child’s abacus.

Last night, I was invited out to have dinner with some of the presenters from the conference and it was a blast. They were welcoming, gracious, and made me feel like one of the group even though I’d only met one of them before. The most important thing I took away from those conversations (which went on until very late last night) was that no one’s career rises in a straight line. You never know which project of yours will take off, which means you just need to keep moving forward and try not to look back too much.

This morning, I attended a panel discussion featuring authors whose book sales can be measured in the millions. The moderator asked, “What is the definition of a successful author?”

The overwhelming consensus is that a successful author is one who gets it done. Writes a book, gets it out, writes another, gets it out, writes another, etc. No one mentioned sales or reviews. It was all about the writing. Each book you write promotes the books you’ve written before, which means the best thing you can do to sell books is, duh. Write more.

It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Man, I love this conference. I’m going to be sad when it’s over. And then I’m going to sleep. You guys, I’m going to sleep so much.

A Quick ThrillerFest Update

Today was the first day of the conference for me, and as always I’m exhilarated, exhausted, encouraged, intimidated, hopeful, and despondent. The trick to surviving a conference where you’re breathing the same air as the people who brought Rambo and Jack Reacher to life is to realize you will never, ever sell as many books as they have. Once you accept that simple truth, a healthy amount of hopelessness sets in and you’ll be right where you need to be.

Let’s see, this morning I attended a class on autopsies, learned how to structure a thriller from one of my favorite legends in the field (the incomparable Gayle Lynds, who is articulate and pleasing to listen to), and learned more about the ATF than I ever thought I would.

It’s been a long day (my first session was at 8 AM, and I’m only now sitting down for a break at 6 PM) but I have one last event tonight before I can collapse in an introvert coma. Cocktails and networking, here I come! And then? There’s a pillow with my name on it.

Would You Look at the Size of this To-Do List?

Things have been quiet on the blog front lately because I’ve been living it up in southern California with my family. I limited myself to just checking in on emails sporadically because I knew July was coming soon and I’d need a break before things went into warp-speed.

What’s happening in July? you ask. Oh, just a  few things:

  • TAKE THE BAI ROAD is coming out July 5, 2017. (It’s actually available for pre-order already on Kobo! Click here to put cartels, conspiracy, and chaos into your summer reading rotation). Cue much promotion and marketing.
  • CLOSE TO THE BONES anthology is coming out July 15, 2017. The story I wrote for it, The Spy Who Came in From the East Coast, takes place after the events of TAKE THE BAI ROAD and deals with what happens when Bai goes home for the first time since he started working for the CIA. You’ll get to meet his family, learn what his actual name is, and see what happens when a spy tries to be a good son. The rest of the stories in this collection are a worthy addition to any beach reads list. Cue much promotion and marketing.
  • ThrillerFest in NYC, baby!!! I’m leaving July 10 for the East Coast, where I’ll be hanging out with friends, family, and fellow authors while I roam New York City and try not to faint from the heat and humidity.
  • BAI TREASON is in progress, and my goal is to finish revisions on it before the end of the summer (which really means I have to finish it in July, because August is crazy busy).

None of this mattered while I was on a beach watching my kids play in the waves, but now I’m home and WOULD YOU LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THIS TO-DO LIST?!

Would you do me a favor, oh faithful reader? Please buy my book and take it with you to a peaceful, shady location. Put your feet up, sip a cold beverage, and read my stories. It’ll make me really happy to know that somewhere, someone is relaxing with the stories I’ve put so much work into.

Wish me luck, friends. It’s been nice knowing you!

Whatever Happened to Erika Mitchell?

Wow. Almost three months between posts. I think that may just be my longest ever break from blogging. It feels weird.

So much has happened since April 20. I survived two weeks of solo parenting while Wes was away on business, my trusty laptop Optimus died right in the middle of writing something, I had surgery on my knee that morphed into something way more intense than I was planning on, I led a session for the PNWA (dream come true!), I saw the new Jurassic World movie, and I developed a deep, fervent hatred for the crutches that have been my more or less constant companions for the last seven weeks.

Where to even start?!

I miss my laptop. It’s really hard to be a blogger without a laptop. I stared at my phone many times, thinking I should really write something, but always talked myself out of it because iPhone screens are small and typing on one for any length of time is unpleasant and exceedingly avoidable.

As for surgery, I went in for meniscus tear removal and woke up to an overwhelming wall of pain that only went away after I smacked it down with a handful of pain pills. It turns out the cartilage on the bottom of my femur was scraped away to bare bone and my surgeon needed to drill some micro fractures there so I could grow new cartilage. It’s really quite upsetting to come out of surgery expecting to be off your feet for a few days only to find out you’ll be on crutches for at least six weeks.

As of tomorrow, I’m seven weeks post op and just today took my first un-assisted steps. My left leg has completely forgotten how to walk and, were it not for my ace physical therapists, I’m fairly certain I’d have a limp for the rest of my life. Lucky for me, my physical therapists are the bee’s knees AND the cat’s pajamas, which means my recovery has been smooth sailing so far.

Yes, I’ve fallen. A couple times. Stupid crutches. I tell you, though, crutches and Percocet do not mix. That’s a steep learning curve and it really hurts to fall off of it.

I’m getting there, though. My first steps went well and I have the feeling that I’ll be really solid on my feet by the time we leave for Cannon Beach next month. My goal is to walk on the beach. Pretty ambitious, huh?

For those of you who have noticed the long lapse between posts, I’m sorry. Recovery and running a family from the couch are somewhat time-consuming. I haven’t worked on anything writing-related (including promotion of the new book that just came out in April {oops}) since May and I miss it. I’m usually in New York City shmoozing with other thriller authors at ThrillerFest right about now and believe me, I’ve noticed that physical therapy and healing are not as fun as roaming Manhattan left to my own devices.

I’m on the right road, though, and am very nearly back to a life I recognize. In answer to the question in the title of this post, life is what happened to Erika Mitchell. The good news is, I survived it and live to write about another day. I’m back! I think. I hope.

How to Ace a Writer’s Conference

I’ve been a professional writer for three years now (I know, you’re thinking, “Three whole years? Please excuse me while I reign in my overwhelming awe.”). In those three years, I’ve had the pleasure of attending three major writer’s conferences along with countless other writing networking events. While not an expert, I’ve learned enough to volunteer a few suggestions for those of you who are planning to attend conferences of your own in the future.

So here they are: 9 Tips For Acing a Writer’s Conference:

  • Bring a full pack of minty gum with you, and chew a stick every time you eat or drink something. I cannot tell you how many times someone at a conference has leaned in close to tell me something and repelled me with coffee breath. Don’t let this be you! Be remembered for minty freshness, not halitosis!
  • Order business cards and bring them with you. Include the following information on your business cards: Name, genre, email, website, and any and all social media outlets you use. I go home from conferences with stacks of business cards and try to make new online friends with my recent acquaintances only to find I only have an email address to go on. Join Twitter, make writer friends there. Trust me, we’re everywhere on Twitter, and we’re pretty darn friendly!
  • Enjoy the company of fellow writers, but remember that this is still a quasi-professional affair. Even though we writers are a decidedly mixed bag of sartorial selections when it comes to writer’s conferences (I saw a guy in sweatpants at the conference in New York, sitting next to a guy in a nice suit), do put in an effort. At the very least, it’ll make you feel fancier which can only contribute to your seeming like an accomplished writer destined for great things.
  • Bring a notepad and a pen you don’t mind writing tons of notes with. You’ll kick yourself for not bringing writing materials with me because you better believe you’re going to hear something you simply must write down.
  • When you get home, send emails to all your newfound friends and encourage them to keep in touch. Writing is a lot more fun with friends, and what’s the point of going to a conference if you’re not going to keep the magic going once you get home?
  • Don’t approach everyone as a potential provider of something you want. Be polite, engage with other people as human beings, and enjoy!
  • Work on your pitch before you leave your house. If you think you’ll have time to write your pitch once you get there, you’ll find yourself feverishly scrawling notes between sessions, stressing out because your pitch isn’t done yet and you wish it was.
  • Once you have your pitch done, practice it on everyone. Get feedback, tweak it, and keep practicing it until you know it so well that you can say it without having to think about it too much. A little preparation goes a long way toward peace of mind at a writer’s conference.
  • If you go out for drinks after conference events, take aspirin before you go to bed. The number of hungover writers I chatted up at the ThrillerFest conference was higher than you’d think. If you’re going to party, do it smart. You still have to function in the morning.

That’s all the ones I can think of. Fellow writers and conference survivors, anything to add?