So You Want My Job: Novelist (+ Book Giveaway)

by Brett & Kate McKay on May 16, 2013 · 175 comments

in Money & Career, So You Want My Job

DennisMahoneyAuthorPhoto

Once again we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.

A lot of men dream of being a writer. Many have even written up a manuscript, and truly believe they’ve crafted a great novel. But then what? How do you go from typing away in a room somewhere and eagerly clutching a finished manuscript in your hands, to actually getting it published? And even if it does get published, how do you get actual people to read it? Today novelist Dennis Mahoney offers his advice on making this much desired leap. Fresh from the process, Mahoney’s first published novel, Fellow Mortals was released this year by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux and garnered a New York Times book review. This is a thoroughly interesting and enjoyable interview, even if you don’t ever aim to write the Great American novel.

1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc.).

I was born in Troy, NY and stayed in the area through college. My wife and I moved around the East Coast after graduation, chasing jobs we never really liked, until we bought a house back in Troy after our son was born. I’m thirty-eight now and have been writing for two decades. My creative inclinations were strong early on, but they initially emerged through drawing and imaginative play. The Empire Strikes Back came out when I was six and changed my life. I remember wanting to be George Lucas and make something that amazing. I’d make “movies” by taking sequential photos of my action figures, or by drawing a cartoon, slideshow-style, on a big roll of paper I could pull through a fake TV made of a box with two slits cut in the side. So the storytelling impulse was there, even if I wasn’t yet writing. Books weren’t a major part of my life until my teens.

2. Why did you want to become a novelist? When did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I was on a self-improvement kick in junior year of high school—trying to find direction, hoping for a girlfriend—and since I wasn’t naturally athletic, reading and writing felt cool and almost countercultural. I’d been lazy, “not fulfilling my potential,” and had been demoted to a lower-level English class. Since I’d already read a lot of the material in the advanced class the previous year, I started reading other books instead. Getting through Stephen King’s The Stand felt like a real accomplishment. Reading Hemingway and Shakespeare by choice, and finding similarly bookish friends, gave me a huge boost of confidence. I felt I had cred staying up all night to finish a book. A lot of that was pretense, but the books themselves began to change my outlook, as books often do, and soon I was writing poetry and convincing myself it was marvelous stuff. I began to build my identity around being a writer.

3. Do you think writing is something that should come naturally through self-education and practice, or that it’s worthwhile to major in something writing-related in college and/or graduate school?

Self-education and practice are essential. A major can help but isn’t as necessary. I’m not putting down writing programs; I’m saying no writing program will help if most of your effort isn’t self-generated in the first place. I learned the most from books I wanted to read, rather than books that were assigned to me in class, but being an English major exposed me to works I wouldn’t have looked for, like-minded students, and wonderful professors. It was a lifestyle. I was a proud book nerd. And any successful career has to be a lifestyle, doesn’t it? A Major League baseball player thinks like a player off the field, staying focused, eating well. The game’s his life. I don’t consciously walk around thinking about writing all day, but it’s always with me. There have been times I’ve gone to the gym because getting in shape gives me energy, and I want more energy to write. So crazy as that sounds, I work out to be a better writer. I read to be a better writer. But getting back to writing programs: writing can be taught like any craft, but you need the natural inclination. If you’re faking the desire because you think being a novelist would be interesting, you’ll never truly care enough to be one. What began as pretense in my own life became real as I felt in love with writing.

4. So a man’s written a novel. Now what? How do you go about finding somebody to publish it? Do you send out the manuscript yourself, and where do you send it? Do you need to get an agent to shop it around? Basically, how does the process of getting a book deal work?

The traditional way to get a book deal is well-established and generally nightmarish. I went through the entire process with two previous novels before my third, Fellow Mortals, found a home. (Note: In retrospect, I can see why those first two novels were repeatedly rejected, and I’m glad there were agents who didn’t let me put them into the world. Gatekeepers are often a good thing.) Here goes: With non-fiction, you pitch an idea with a sample chapter and a detailed outline. With fiction, you need the finished book. So let’s say you’ve completed a novel, revised it repeatedly, shown it to honest readers and gotten feedback, revised again, and made it as perfect as you can. The major publishers almost never look at a book that isn’t presented by a reputable literary agent. You can find good agents a number of ways. Two of my favorites are checking the acknowledgments page of similar books—most authors thank their agents—and Agentquery.com. The latter allows you search for agents by specific criteria. You can find an agent who represents similar authors, so you don’t submit your horror novel to someone who reps romance novels, for example. The results of the search provide contact info, agency site links, and submission guidelines. Once you have some appropriate agents in mind, send a query. That’s a short letter introducing yourself, describing your book in a few compelling paragraphs (think jacket copy), and asking if they’d be interested in reading a sample. If all goes well, an agent will request pages. If she likes the sample pages, she’ll ask for the whole thing. If she loves the whole thing, she might offer to represent you. A good agent will have relationships with editors at publishing houses, and will submit to those she feels are the likeliest fit. There’s still no guarantee you’ll get a deal at this point, but if an editor loves the book, too, an offer will be made to buy and publish the book. You’ll get an advance on royalties, based on how much money the publisher expects to earn. Advances are usually low, but if you’ve gotten as far as a deal, count your blessings. You’ve made it farther than most, and if your book is a hit, you’ll get additional royalties once you’ve earned back your advance. 

5. What are publishers looking for in offering book deals? Do you have any tips for landing one?

Every publisher is different, and every editor is a combination of professional and, more importantly, subjective interest. I firmly believe that most agents and editors adore books. Very few editors are rolling in money. They’re in it because they love it. That doesn’t mean they don’t want their books to sell like crazy, but a lot of editors will fight for a book they believe in even if they think the potential readership is small. My publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, has a reputation for supporting authors based on merit more than obvious marketability. They take more chances, but are therefore increasingly selective. My editor actually passed on my novel twice. I got the deal because I did a good rewrite, she saw the book’s potential, and the two of us hit it off. My tip for getting a deal is simple: love writing, and don’t quit. Just keep writing better novels until one of those book-loving agents or editors is thrilled to find your manuscript sitting in their pile. You can’t control people’s reactions to your work, except by doing better work. A lot of writers spend too much time worrying about book deals when they ought to be writing a book.

6. What do you think about self-publishing? Is it a viable option these days? What are the pros and cons of self-publishing versus going the established publisher route?

I’m not terribly well-informed on this subject, but here’s my take. Self-publishing used to be a joke. Now, thanks to many excellent writers who went that route, it’s more respectable. But I think it’s even harder than taking the traditional route. Yes, anyone can self-publish, and earn higher royalties per copy, and skip the torturous query-rejection situation. But then your book is out there and you have to find ways to get noticed amid the millions of books on the market. You can hire a publicist, but there goes a lot of your extra money, and the self-publishing success stories are much, much rarer than some people believe. And even though the self-publishing stigma has diminished, it still exists to some degree. If you tell someone you self-published a novel, all they really know is that you wrote a book. If you tell someone a major house is publishing your novel, they know you wrote a book and it was good enough to rise out of the slush pile. It all depends on what you want. Will you be satisfied self-publishing? Are you willing to make it work with tons of self-promotion? Go for it. Will you be disappointed with anything less than a traditional deal? Work until you get one.

7. Tens of thousands of novels are published every year. How do you get your novel to rise above the fray and get noticed? Do you have any promotional tips? How did you score a review in the New York Times Book Review? How do they pick which books to review — is it just chance that they came across yours?

My publisher really goes to bat for the titles they publish. Sales reps travel store to store, trying to convince booksellers to carry upcoming books (this is true of all major publishers). I have an experienced publicist at FSG who contacts every major and minor paper, magazine, or web site that might be interested in covering the book. She sends them copies and follows up. That was how I got the Times review. (It didn’t hurt that FSG is a respected house; as a side note to the previous answer, the Times still won’t consider self-published books for review.) Word-of-mouth, which no one can control, remains one of the top—if not the top—ways of getting noticed. If readers like a book, they recommended it to friends and family. If word-of-mouth grows, the books takes off, and no single review or article can compare. I’ve also blogged and tweeted, but those approaches work best when you’re winning an audience with original material instead of just self-promoting. Facebook is useless; it’s mostly friends and family who, one hopes, will buy your book anyway. I wrote guest essays for a number of popular sites to get my name out. But again and again, the best promotion is having a good book, so the bulk of the novelist’s work is writing the actual novel.

8. Did you work another job while writing your novel? Are you writing full-time now? What percentage of novelists would you guess do it full-time?

I didn’t feel an inclination toward teaching, so I didn’t know what to do with my BA in English. I worked a bunch of temp jobs and eventually landed a job in NYC doing television research for The Hallmark Channel. I crunched Nielsen ratings. It was the least writerly job imaginable. In time I became a copywriter for an academic publishing house, but I became a stay-at-home father when our son was born, and now that I’ve gotten one novel published, I’m taking a whack at writing fiction full-time. This would not be possible without my extraordinarily supportive, breadwinning wife. I try to keep myself useful by handling the finances and attempting DIY projects.

9 The publishing landscape is rapidly changing. Scott Turow thinks the American author is suffering a “slow death.” But aren’t there new opportunities for authors emerging as well? What do you personally think are the challenges and opportunities for modern novelists?

I can’t believe any author can still write about the death of fiction, publishing, etc., with a straight face. It was a cliché to lament the death of literature decades ago. Not that people like Turow don’t have valid concerns, and ones worth expressing, but it so often sounds like Mayan prophecies and Y2K, and here we all are, still writing and reading. I honestly wonder: Was there ever a golden age when writers made loads of money and everybody read a book a week? eBooks are great, and I say that as a paper devotee. Self-publishing is great, and I say that as traditionally published author who’s trying to get noticed in an increasingly cluttered market. Opportunities always exist. Look right here: I managed to successfully pitch this feature before any other novelist, even though your site is super popular and you’ve already had job features on everything from butchers to luthiers. If my pitch here hadn’t worked out, I’d have tried elsewhere. The challenge of being a novelist is primarily writing a good novel, and getting better, and finding a way to love it. The secondary challenge is getting your finished work into the hands of overwhelmed readers, the best solution being to write a book people want to read and recommend. As for opportunities, look at the wonderful buffet of options: social media, web sites, big and little traditional publishers, self-publishing. Pick the routes that light you up. Ultimately, however, I try not dwell on the state of the industry or the popularity of fiction. It doesn’t help me write any better. I can’t control it any more than a meteor hitting Earth, so why let it distract me? 

10. What is the best part of your job?

The writing itself. It wasn’t always that way. Early on, I wanted to be published so intensely that I couldn’t wait to finish a manuscript, polish it up, and fire it off. The first time I submitted a novel to dozens of agents and failed to get it published, I was crushed and considered giving up. Depression has always been a danger for me, and rejection seriously fueled it. But I’ve discovered that I’m more likely to get depressed when I’m not writing. If I skip a few days, which is rare at this stage, I start to feel antsy and glum. Writing is good for me. It keeps me balanced, gives me purpose. I had a major breakthrough when I realized it could also be fun. I’d spent years falling for that tortured artist nonsense. This is a job I do five to seven days a week, every week, ideally for the rest of my life. I’d be an idiot if I thought of it as torture and didn’t find something better to do with my time. So now I write to satisfy myself, and I’m totally in control of that. No worries about promotion or the death of the modern fiction—it’s just me and my imaginary world.

11. What is the worst part of your job?

There remains a lingering fear that I’m not a good writer and don’t know what I’m doing. Part of writing is having an inner critic, looking for mistakes and potential improvements, but the critic shows up at irritating times, and sometimes lies, and often fails to notice the most glaring shortcomings. It’s hard to find a balance between freewheeling emotion and careful thought. But the nice thing about writing is that it’s done in private, and I have all the chances I need to make a manuscript work.

12. What is the work/family/life balance like for you?

Pretty balanced, but it’s always at risk of falling apart. I get preoccupied or stressed sometimes and have to dial back on my workload. I’m very, very lucky to have six hours a day when our son is in school. I do most of my writing then, at home with our dog Bones, and try to tidy the house and exercise a few times a week. In the afternoons I’m with our son, and then we’re all together once my wife gets home from work. I’m kind of a hermit. I’m OK with staying put most of the time. Our family schedule is busy but rarely insane, and my wife and I try to rein things in whenever our lives start to feel scattered.

13. What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

That it’s magic and not just making things up over several thousands of hours. Writers sometimes have an aura that you don’t see in other professions, maybe because the work is so private, and because so many writers, myself included, struggle to explain how exactly we go from a little idea to a 300-page book. But I feel the same about anyone who’s good at anything. I just saw a news report about a local high-school student who’s getting great a pole vaulting. That’s incomprehensible to me. He takes a long bendy stick and uses it to propel himself, nearly upside-down, into the air without breaking his neck. Give that guy the magic aura.

14. Any other advice, tips, commentary or anecdotes you’d like to share?

I was writing a long time, and putting in major effort for ten years, before I wrote something good enough to publish. I doubted myself constantly, and lost hope, and re-approached it, and found hope, and finally found a defiant sort of happiness in knowing I would keep on writing, even if I died an old man without a book deal. Now that I’ve had some success, I can say the struggle was entirely worth it, and that the daily work is more satisfying than ever. There’s a good anecdote about a young Edward Norton being told that he had no talent and ought to quit acting. This was said by a woman he respected. He walked away crushed but then decided she was wrong. If you act like that whenever someone, or something, insists you pack it in, you’re probably a writer who’s going to make it eventually. And I recently told an aspiring writer about a realization I had: when older writers are past their peak, and very young writers aren’t yet good enough, the writers in the middle have the best shot at breaking through. So if you’re getting down because you haven’t gotten published after many years of effort, remember there’s a large window of opportunity. It’s not like certain sports where you’re washed up at thirty. You might be Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain) at 47 or Norman McLean (A River Runs Through It) at 74. And really, try to leave publishing worries for after you’ve finished a novel. Then write another novel right away. Right away.

Fellow Mortals Giveaway

FELLOW-MORTALS-COVER-DESIGN

We’ve got two signed copies of Dennis’ novel, Fellow Mortals, to give away to two readers.

Fellow Mortals is described as a novel which “charts the fall of a man who has spent his life working to be decent and shows us a community trying desperately to hold itself together.” I read it myself, and while it’s different than my usual fare, I found it quite enjoyable. It’s an intimate portrayal of how relationships are mended (or not) in the aftermath of a tragedy. (It does contain some sexual content, if that’s not your bag).

To enter to win a copy of Fellow Mortals, just leave a comment sharing your thoughts on novel writing, the publishing industry, vocation in general, or even a SYWMJ idea you’d like to see that we haven’t covered yet.

All comments are moderated, so please be patient, and do not enter twice.

Two comments will be randomly drawn as the winners. Giveaway ends Thursday, May 23, at 5pm CT. Post will be updated with the winner within 72 hours after the giveaway ends.

 

101 Neil May 17, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Inspiring article. For the longest time now I’ve been trying to find the courage to begin writing. I’ve often talked myself out of it, claiming that I’m mediocre and no self respecting publisher will ever consider my book (If I ever finish it.) What Dennis said about making writing fun really struck me. As a child and into my teens, I used to enjoy my time alone under the covers with flashlight in hand. scribbling away stories of danger and adventure. Somewhere along the lines I lost the passion for it. I began looking at writing more as a chore than entertainment. Thank you, Dennis, for your encouragement.

102 Andrew Webster May 17, 2013 at 6:15 pm

As someone who has been an “aspiring screenwriter” for way too many years it seems, this article was a much needed pick me up. Over the last couple of months I’ve hit that same sense of writing until death, regardless of whether a script is ever bought or not… maybe its just around the corner, but if not, I really don’t care.

103 Brian May 17, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Novel writing was sort of a mystery to me. I wonder how authors organize their plot and character development, and whether they plan it ahead or kind of go on an adventure of their own as they write. Since I haven’t read a novel in years, having a book land on me will definitely give me an incentive to check it out.

104 Devon May 17, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Great article. Its always refreshing to hear all sides of the creative fields. Most of us have aspired to pursue a field in the arts but have no idea of how to even begin. The family/professional life relationship Q and A was a great inside to what being a fulltime working writer would be like.

105 Joseph Phillips May 17, 2013 at 8:05 pm

I have been an avid reader for all of my life, and have started numerous books. As I have matured, I have gotten further into each of the books that I start, and I hope to eventually get one published. It was quite fun to read this article.

106 Matt Whitney May 17, 2013 at 8:52 pm

I loved this article.I myself am an aspiring author and I enjoyed hearing from a man who is actually a published author and has put the time into becoming one.
His statement about writing the novel and then worrying about getting published was so good.

107 Eddie Witkowski May 17, 2013 at 10:39 pm

I’ve always wanted to write a book. I like the idea of writing fiction, but will more probably write a non-fiction educational piece. I would like to see a SYWMJ piece on being a Youth Pastor.

108 Evan R May 17, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Nice article. I’ve considered writing for a while and found it informative. Writers today have more options, but more competition, so it’s a mixed bag, I’d say.

I’d like to see a SYWMJ article on Farmers.

109 Joe Martin May 18, 2013 at 9:56 am

Nice article detailing the complexity of writing novels. I have been an avid reader all of my life and have always admired someone who can write something well enough to make it interesting and enjoyable to someone else.

110 Mirza May 18, 2013 at 11:07 am

I think everyone who enjoys reading has considered writing and I think the increase in availability of books and eBooks has lead to more people thinking they can make careers out of writing, and I love it. I’m one of these people, I reckon. What better way to live your life then sitting down in the privacy of your own home and losing yourself in your own stories and worlds. Heaven. Great article!

111 Cory May 18, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Great article, would like to know more about finding a publisher that even reads your manuscript, as well as if a paper manuscript or digital is preferred by publishers, but otherwise, awesome read, very informative.

112 Jason J Fedelem May 18, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I respect anyone who can write a book. I’ve tried a couple times and never get more than a few pages.

113 Randy W May 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I, myself have been working on a collection of short stories, so it was nice to see a novelist featured in the SYWMJ series. I read and enjoyed Mahoney’s thoughts on getting started, and staying started in the world of fiction writing.

114 Jeff Mazza May 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm

I have desired to be a writer for several years now. It has become a fantasy for me, almost an alternate reality as I picture myself signing the inside covers of books for interested fans. It seems almost impossible to do as I have gotten started several times. I hope my dream will eventually come true and that I will have the will power to make it happen. Thanks for sharing this story. Hope I win a copy!

115 Paul May 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Sounds great, maybe I’ll get a chance to read this book sometime! :) A job I’d like to see on this site is that of an independent film maker, as this is what I’m into. Like this post, one must be self-motivated, and be able to take on several tasks at once. Would be neat to see!

116 Andrew May 18, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I’m a writer myself, and I can identify with a lot in this article. Myself, I’m going to go the self-publishing route when it comes time to put my work out there. I know of people who have done really well with it.

Frankly you don’t go into writing to make a bunch of money. You do it because you like it, because you would be doing it anyway. I’ve finished a novel, but decided to switch genres. Now I’m a horror writer and really enjoying it. Just finished outlining a novel today, and going to start writing on it later.

Will I make a living doing so? Hopefully, but if not, at least it’s fun!

117 chris bab May 18, 2013 at 5:54 pm

the cover art on Fellow Mortals is quite striking!

118 Bob May 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Ive always wanted to be a novelist like Kerouac or maybe Hemingway.

119 Asher May 18, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Although my first aspiration is not to be a novelist, I still identify with much of this article. I think it is true that when a person finds enjoyment in their work, that is when their work has the best chance at being successful. Since they love their work, they put in the effort, but also expand themselves, and draw on different areas. As a songwriter, I always have to be pushing my boundaries, but for the purpose of self-improvement and love, rather than obligation and disdain. Those things will translate into the writing, be it novels, music, lyrics, poetry, blogs, etc.

Thank you for this article. I always enjoy reading the “So You Want My Job” series. Keep ‘em comin’.

120 Matt May 18, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Thanks for giving me another reason to keep trying. I’m not working right now, and have told people and myself I want to give writing a real try before going back to the regular work world. I’ll keep at it.

121 Louis May 18, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Dennis’s views on traditional publishing v. self-publishing sound like something he’s spent a lot of time pondering. I don’t think there’s much of a future in the old model but I’m glad it worked for him. I’d love to read his book and see what got him a publishing contract.

122 Robb May 19, 2013 at 12:21 am

I’m fascinated by anyone who can make it as a novelist especially in fiction. Where do they come up with their ideas? What inspires those ideas? How do they keep their ideas fresh? It’s another case of being one of the low percentage of people that never gives up on their dreams and never caves in to their “lizard brain” telling them their not good enough. That seems to be the common denominator in highly successful people that do what they want to do and not what someone else wants them to do. CONGRATS, Dennis for your persistence and may you have a long career doing what you love to do!

123 Alex May 19, 2013 at 12:48 am

This really helped me. I began a new writing project today and didn’t get too far before I let myself get discouraged. Reading this has inspired me to push through that and continue. Thank you

124 Daniel May 19, 2013 at 9:02 am

The struggles of identity and purpose that Dennis mentions are found in almost any vocation/career. Even deeper, questions of significance and worthiness are at the root. Am a good enough to do this? Will I be successful? Will all this sweat and toil ever pan out?

I suppose that’s the risk of life and of love. We invest in passions and people without ever fully be assured that it will work out. Yet, that is the “art of manliness” so to speak. Risking everything and working hard for a dream, while at the same time keeping your head above water and doing the daily chores of life.

Maybe in the end greatness is achieved by the process and faithfulness in living rather than the measurable success defined by outsiders.

Thanks Dennis, for investing yourself in a pursuit for twenty years, with joy and fervor, while at the same time being a family man. That is success.

125 Matt May 19, 2013 at 9:20 am

Really enjoyed the read, I’ve been putting putting off starting my own novel until I finish University. Only 12 days left, I’m really struggling to concentrate on this law revision instead of character development!

126 Connor M May 19, 2013 at 10:27 am

I’m still in college and aspire to be a writer. I’ve been published in the lit-mag here and I’ve been told to quit while I’m ahead. You have to look at them, at the doubters, your inner demons, all the others, squarely in the face and declare “No.” They are wrong. I *am* a writer. That’s the determination you need.

127 Chris May 19, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Dennis,
I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who initially dwelled to much on getting published instead of just writing (and re-writing) a good book. You’ve encouraged me to keep going. Even if nothing gets published, I’ll have the satisfaction of a completed good work. Best of luck to you.

128 Patrick May 19, 2013 at 6:05 pm

I’ve always loved this article series, keep it up!

129 James May 20, 2013 at 8:53 am

It seems the best advice from writers is to write and not worry about all the other crap involved with publishing. The unnecessary pressure seems to confuse why the novel is being written. I think I’ll finish my first novel, mainly because I love writing, then worry about publishing it.

130 Jeremiah D. May 20, 2013 at 9:44 am

I really enjoyed the article! I’m also always up for a good read.

131 Kaleb J May 20, 2013 at 9:49 am

I admire writers for their persistence. Writing a book is not something that gives instant gratification and because of this I imagine that it is extremely easy to become sidetracked or discouraged.

132 michael May 20, 2013 at 10:12 am

I’d be happy if I could just write in complete sentences.

133 Jason May 20, 2013 at 10:39 am

Reading this only adds fuel to my fire. I hope with enough hard work, dedication, and good fortune, I can be a SAHD and full-time writer as well. That man is truly “living the high life.”

134 Sasha Moon May 20, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Sounds like a sweet job.

135 Casey May 20, 2013 at 1:07 pm

SYWMJ: Mailman

136 michael May 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I love books and am eager to read this one. I’m sure it’s got some elements of working towards a goal and being uncertain about its outcome.

That’s where I am at in my life, and I’ve been trying for 2+ years to get into the career that I want. I’ve been hitting obstacles consistently, and people have even told me to give up because it isn’t “meant to be.”

Well, that’s not an option.

137 Ian Connel May 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm

I’m on the second draft of my first novel and I fully expect to get my butt kicked over and over again before it, or another work I complete, makes it anywhere. But thank goodness for the men and women who do and give us great stories. I hope to join their ranks. Good luck to everyone else here who hopes to write.

138 Ty May 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I’m busy on my third revision of what I hope will be my first published novel. I also write a blog for writers, and unlike Mr. Mahoney I do teach – which I love almost as much as I love writing. I am writing full time, making money through every writing means that I can: blogs, grants, fiction. At 44 years old I decided when I left the safe harbor of regular employment that I am not settling for anything but my dream from now on. I have been free of the daily grind for two years and am working hard (yes, 5-7 days per week) on all things writing: copyediting, teaching, ghost writing. This is my highest passion.

139 Steve May 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm

As a writer myself, I have to constantly remind myself not to get frustrated with the slow progress of my career. What I’ve heard most is that it takes ten years to be an overnight success, and that a creative career is an endurance challenge, not a race! These are words I have come to live by.

140 Chris May 20, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Seems like a very down to earth guy who loves what he does. Really liked that he acknowleged the importance of publishing gatekeepers, and the part about consistant effort as a driver, as opposed to magic. I’d love love to pick up the book.

141 Braxton May 20, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Great interview & article. I’ve always been fascinated with the SYWMJ interviews you guys do, but since I’m a writer as well, I found this one particularly fascinating and inspiring. There was a lot of great advice in here. Thank you, I enjoyed reading it.

142 Zachary May 20, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Loved the article. You should do a SYWMJ article over an insurance broker. You could interview me, I think we could make it work.

143 Bill May 20, 2013 at 8:50 pm

I think there are an incredible number of us out there that consider ourselves writers, whether we have been published or not. I have a novel that I have been working on for about ten years. Two people that I work with have each self published two books. I also know someone else who has several books published by a real publisher (I had a strange experience last year when I bought one of his books at Wal-Mart) The novelist is not dying, it is just that many, many of us are becoming new novelists.

144 Nick May 20, 2013 at 11:00 pm

What a great read. Many questions I had were answered here. I recently came to the realization that I wish to become a writer. I was always so confused of what to do with my life, that I eventually got depressed and found myself reading book after book. Then it hit me. This is what I love. Books. Sucess can only be found through hard work, or complete luck. I am not a lucky man, so I’m off to write. Thanks again for the great article.

145 Constantino May 20, 2013 at 11:22 pm

Oftentimes we think that writing and other artistic occupations are just a matter of passion and desire. But there is also a lot of hard-work, commitment and discipline involved. Loving books and reading a lot is not enough. Waiting for a muse to visit you during the night and shower you with magic inspiration will lead you nowhere. You just gotta sit down and patiently write, write and don’t stop until you are at least somewhat satisfied with what you’ve written. Then, a moment later, you’ll also probably realize that it is still not good enough. And so it’s time to write more as you keep polishing it.

146 Tanner Curry May 20, 2013 at 11:29 pm

I’m 18 year’s old, two day’s from graduation and I’ve always had a passion for writing. In lot’s of way’s i’m not good at it, I have bad spelling, and grammar. But I enjoy creating worlds that I can fall into, or thinking of way’s I can surprise myself. Whenever I find myself creating a story, I’ll sometimes surprise myself by typing the death of a charecter on the battlefield, deciding it’s a great work, and keep it. I don’t know much about publishing, but as soon as I saw this, I couldn’t help but click on it. Also, Brett, please add a few articles for kids my age, it’s a nerve breaking age for us, and I’d like to know a few ways to adapt to dating in the “real world”, compared to highschool dating.

147 Andy May 21, 2013 at 12:26 am

I’d like to say that I am an aspiring writer, Ever since I learned to speak I loved telling stories. When I learned to write I would write them down. I would receive awards in school for creative writing. For a long time I gave up writing and gave my focus to other things. And a few years ago I picked writing back up and started again. I can see myself facing a lot of the same struggles and doubts that Mahoney faces. This article was truly inspiring and something I have been wanting to read about.

I am twenty-three years old and I want to be a writer.

148 Artur Cipriani May 21, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Inspiring article. I’ live in Brazil, a place where it’s even more difficult to be a successful writer, in professional terms. But it’s clear, even more with this article, that it depends much more of my own struggle than simples business.

149 Todd May 21, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Thanks for the article. Like many others, I’ve always considered writing a book. This at least gives a little direction.

150 Brete May 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm

thank you for the good artice.
i like Mahoney’s perspective that writing can be it’s own reward. Put one word after the other and enjoy the process.

151 Iman May 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Thanks for the article. Lesson learned: first author’s debut is definitely not his/her first writing

I’d love to hear a SYWMJ on ivy league professors/lecturers.

152 Francesco May 21, 2013 at 6:19 pm

I admire writers. It takes a lot of skills and determination to write, rewrite, polish, and submit a book. Hat off.

153 Sid May 21, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Fascinating article. I love hearing the opinions of someone already in the industry. I went through a phase when I was far too young when I tried to get some poems published. This is what I wish I had read then!

154 Jimmy May 22, 2013 at 12:55 am

I’ve thought about writing a lot- but it’s never the regular novel road. I’ve been inspired too much by cheeky or majestic fantasy, and I really would like to meld the two into something fun.

155 Kyle May 22, 2013 at 3:35 am

This is a truly inspiring article. For those of us who have been considering the art of novel writing but have been nursing doubts, this is a much-needed look into the life of a writer. Who knows, maybe some of the people commenting here will be published writers when the dust is settled!

156 Kyle W. Weckerly May 22, 2013 at 5:22 am

I, myself, am an aspiring writer, and have always had story ideas that I think would make great stories. In fact, while in school and at whatever job I’ve had, I find myself still daydreaming. So writing is a way to let out those ideas and not lose my sanity. I do envision being a full-time writer who gets paid enough to live comfortably. Pipe-dream maybe? We’ll see, but that’s part of the driving force to keep writing so that I can spend all day letting out the ideas that will never leave me alone.

157 W. Wallo May 22, 2013 at 7:49 am

“At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night.” – H.P. Lovecraft

158 Renee Marchol May 22, 2013 at 8:19 am

Remember when aspiring novelists discouraged themselves by saying, “Well I’m not the next F. Scott Fitzgerald?” Now that the Baz Luhrman version of Gatsby is in theater, it’s time to write that novel and imitate no one.

159 Matt Salisbury May 22, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Great article! I envy this man’s breadwinner wife. While I lack the abilities of a novelist, I was lucky enough to sell one screenplay and option another. Neither is anywhere close to production. As I grind through a page-one rewrite of the latest I certainly relate to and appreciate Mr Mahoney’s thoughts about finding enjoyment in the midst of our words.

160 Nick May 22, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Thanks a lot for all of the info Mr. Mahoney! I’m at the end of my high school career now, and I want at some point to have writing be an integral part of my career. I was just wondering how do you feel during the editing process? Don’t you ever get bored of re-reading and dismantling your work?

161 Jared May 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm

I am a junior in high school and have the same book nerdian drive that this modern man of letters is speaking of. I devour books, I ration myself on them, I’ve made it my lifetime goal to read a hundred books a year unless I go blind, then I’ll get into audiobooks. I have written two first-person narrative novellas and am working on a weighty piece of experimental fiction now ala Faulkner, not to mention my personal diary of crazy poems and short stories that goes 120 miles per hour down the road and through 48 mental hospitals, to juxtapose Ginsberg. Essentially, reading and discipline seem to me to be the only methods of improving writing or even bearing the merit to call oneself a writer. If I ever feel like I’m running out of literary juice to spit forth onto the page, I stop whatever ‘m reading and go to truly great personal writers like Shakespeare, Dante, London. Hemingway, or Kerouac. If I can’t write a poem, my go to read is Leaves of Grass by Whitman, Shakespeare’s Sonnet, or, if I’m feeling especially dry, indulge in Rimbaud and Poe to venture into a macabre trip poetically. As for the discipline, I make it my goal to write something everyday, whether it be a journal entry on my worst day, a poem on a regular day, a passage for my novel on my better days, or a short story on my best days. I’d make that cheezy Aristotle quote about excellence is a habit, but, I’m sure you get the idea. Furthermore, as for self-publishing, remember, Whitman was self-published and he literally re-defined poetry on the gamble of his own financial security. I’ve learned: take risks! You are a genius all time! What you write is perfect just as it is and worry about editing later! You have the rest of your life to edit, polish, and publish! I’d rather write ten rough, pure novels than spend a decade perfecting one. Of course, I am slightly arrogant because I still dwell within the financial security of my own folks, but, if you aspire to be a writer, write, uninhibitedly, for yourself.

162 Larry Johnson May 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm

So nice to see this done for writers. So many misconceptions about what it’s like to be a writer, how you get the work, can you make a living etc.

163 Larry Anderson May 22, 2013 at 9:27 pm

SYWMJ: Professional Golfer
SYWMJ: Painting Artist

Excellent read, even for someone with no desire to be a novelist!

164 Sheldon May 22, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Thanks for this post. My hope is to write full time some day so these tips are really helpful. Right now I’m in the process of writing a non-fiction book and novel at the same time. I also have a few blog ideas on the go. What can I say? I love to write!

165 Alvino Flores May 23, 2013 at 12:28 am

I started two manuscripts I never finished. Both are original and unique. This article has inspired me to finish what I started. Thank you.

166 Josh May 23, 2013 at 1:08 am

I found this post to be most insightful. I have dabbled in creative writing as a hobby, but have recently begun to take more interest having a serious go at authorship. This post provided me with exactly the information I sought.

Furthermore, I took some magnificent pointers for life/career out of this interview. Thank You.

167 Cory Gould May 23, 2013 at 3:17 am

The hardest part is believing you are good enough. Every step of the way people tell themselves they aren’t. I have been sitting on about the first 100 pages of a book i would love to finish, but just never find the time to sit down and hammer out. I always write myself into corners and never think I can get out of them. This article is a fresh reminder that the “just go ahead and do it” attitude doesn’t always prevail, but its got a hell of a record against the alternative.

168 Jack Ragedi May 23, 2013 at 7:39 am

interesting read. Never though writing required this much sacrifice,time,passion,dedication and patience.This is cleary not for someone looking to make a quick buck. An enlightening article indeed.

I would like to know what it takes to be a successful sports agent

169 Josh May 23, 2013 at 8:12 am

My wife is an aspiring writer, and reading through this – particularly the struggles of being a writer – was almost exactly like having a conversation with her. The “inner critic” is a demon that everyone faces. I experienced it as a musician; my wife has experienced it as a writer. At the end of the day, you have to pursue your passion because YOU love it – not because you want everyone else to like it.

170 Tom May 23, 2013 at 8:36 am

As a student pursuing a BA in English, it is always supportive to hear success from individuals who have walked the same path that I find myself going down. Although I do have an inclination towards teaching, I also share a similar interest in writing, and deal with the nagging “inner critic” that seems to be the focus of most of my troubles.

Excellent article!

171 H2O May 23, 2013 at 8:37 am

I want to read this book!!!

172 Chris M. May 23, 2013 at 1:13 pm

I’ve often fantasized about writing the next great American novel, as do a lot of people. The problem is I lack confidence and am great at excuses. I lack time, I can’t feed my kids, what would i write…etc. Thank you for writing this article. It paints the picture of what I could expect if I just stop making excuses and pick up the pen.

173 Jason May 23, 2013 at 1:20 pm

This was a very inspirational read. I’ve always loved writing, but viewed it as something I would never excel with on a level to see my name in a bookstore.
I have decided to keep on writing no matter what. Even if I never get anything published, at least I will have enjoyed it.

174 Allan K May 23, 2013 at 2:50 pm

I’ve always wanted to write a novel, regardless of being published or not. Really insighful interview and information.

175 Kacey Heinlein May 23, 2013 at 4:51 pm

I’m a writer working on my third novel. As a full-time student with two jobs and a broken computer, I’ve struggled to make time and space for writing. Still, I’m three drafts in, and I just bought a new red pen. This interview reminded me of the importance of believing in the story I’m writing, which I do. Thanks.

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