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.

 

1 Matt May 16, 2013 at 1:55 pm

I really like the idea of being a writer. Maybe it’s the romantic in me. And I think I’m pretty good with words. But I’ve never been passionate about writing. I think high school and college English classes left kind of a sour taste in my mouth. Maybe if I did it for myself, and not for a class, I’d find I enjoy it a lot more. Maybe I’ll give that a shot.

2 Bruce Brown May 16, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Often wished I could write a novel I’m in awe of the ability to paint great visual scenes using only words.

3 Rory May 16, 2013 at 2:06 pm

As an avid reader(2-3 a week), I’m always down to read something new from someone I’ve never heard of. Free book, please!

SYWMJ suggestion-Professional Coffee Buyer!

4 Alan May 16, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Excellent interview, offering many insights into the world of being a novelist. Thank you and best wishes for continued success!

5 Derek H May 16, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I’d be interested in reading the book. I like this series of “So You Want My Job” articles. Thank you.

6 James May 16, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I lvoe these SYWMJ posts because every single one makes me consider a drastic career change, simply by the gusto these professionals demonstrate in explaining their love of their craft.

I’ve dabbled in journaling for a few years now, trying to record my own thoughts daily, but I’ve always wanted to embark on writing a full-length novel myself; I just can’t seem to get started. Perhaps it’s a lack of motivation or an incessant drive to go about other tasks, but the sheer scope of such a project seems unfathomable. I was reading something a few days ago which had outlines of great authors for their works, and some spanned entire walls with character development, plot advancement, themes, and the like. It may be lack of creativity (or a secret fear of not being creative enough) that’s held me back, but this post has given me the encouragement to at least start brainstorming SOMETHING.

Let’s face it, Hemingway didn’t write A Farewell to Arms in a day.

7 corgimas May 16, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I would love to see a “SYWMJ” post about a kite maker…i can put you in touch with a few…they get to go ALL over the world to fly kites as their job…

But, i do believe that paper printing of books is here to stay….yes, lots of people read electronically, but many do appreciate paper….

8 Aaron Root May 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Author had wise things to say about the long haul of working as a writer. Really, why would it be different? Every vocation requires preparation beforehand, and continual improvement and refinement of one’s craft. And just as few of us are eager for a sermon from a very young and inexperienced pastor, we expect that some experience of life will correlate to a novelist having something to say.

9 Ian P. May 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I’ve recently considered writing a novel. I’m a big fan of Ian Fleming. I am steadily working my way though the James Bond series. Fleming wrote his first novel in his mid-forties, so being that I’m only 37, there is still hope that I’ll crank out my own “Casino Royale” someday.

10 Brendan May 16, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I LOVED this article! I wrote a novel last year, and had no idea what to do with it. I’m not sure it’s any good, but I feel like I have a good next step and Dennis’ words are extremely encouraging.

11 Brooks May 16, 2013 at 2:51 pm

I get up at 4 each morning to write my fiction before going to work. It’s the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do.

It was great to read Mahoney’s thoughts on sticking with it and dealing constructively with rejection. When you put that much of yourself into something, it’s often very hard to disassociate criticism of your work from criticism of you as a person.

As someone currently trying to capture that “defiant sort of happiness” (in Mahoney’s words) in knowing that I can continue to write even without success, it’s reassuring to see that I’m not the only one. I’m interested to see how much of this attitude resonates in Fellow Mortals.

12 Claude May 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm

I just want to thank you for this article. I’ve never pursued my interest in writing, but at 17 my daughter has written a couple novels and many short stories and we haven’t been successful in finding info about publishing.

Thanks again.

13 Eric May 16, 2013 at 2:58 pm

This has been a dream of mine for a long time, but I am too lazy to follow through more than thinking up a plot. I convince myself that it won’t work after a few days of thinking about it.

14 Jake May 16, 2013 at 3:03 pm

This is a great article, inspiring for all of those secret authors out there. Great interview!

Other topics: Roboticist

15 Matt S May 16, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Stumbled across this article while looking for the ideal pair of shoes to wear with shorts…10 min later I find myself writing this comment. Great little article/insight. I don’t fancy myself much of a writer, but I seem to be surrounded by them. I appreciate the perspective as it helps me to understand what goes on “inside their (my kids) minds” as they look to be busy scribbling away..thanks for sharing.

16 Bryce Farmer May 16, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Good luck to Dennis and I have to agree with James, about how great these SYWMJ articles in that they make me want a career change. I think my wife gets tired of hearing the words, “so I was reading on AoM today…” and before I can finish she tells me I am not going to do whatever I am about to say. She is right, but it is fun to spend alittle time with my head in the clouds. Jounaling is also a great thing even for someone who isn’t into writing a novel. I have been doing it for over 15 years and still do my best to do it everyday but it is a huge part of my daily routine.

17 Sam May 16, 2013 at 3:11 pm

My friend just published his first (non-fiction) book. I have to admit that I was skeptical when he first started talking about it but five years later, his devotion has paid off.

18 Justin May 16, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I try to write and it is a lot of fun, even if nobody other than myself sees it. This was a great article.

19 Jordan May 16, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I’ve finally taken the plunge to start writing, and while I appreciate this post, nothing struck me harder than the author’s thoughts about depression and the inner critic. There are few tasks more isolating and more difficult to feel satisfied with than writing.

20 Matt G May 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm

I thought this was cool. I’d like to see a SYWMJ of an antique dealer or someone who buys things for resale.

21 L.J. May 16, 2013 at 3:33 pm

I’m a writer myself. I self-published my first novel, along with countless stories in the pipe and two more books coming up this year. It is not easy, it takes hard work with a lot of self-discovery and practice, and it does take time to find that sweet spot of success. This article is true in many ways.

22 Charles May 16, 2013 at 3:33 pm

I would like to a see a SYWMJ about plumbers, electricians, or carpenters. Lately, I’ve been wishing that I had a more practical skill like that, and thinking if I could have made the same living I am now doing it.

23 Grayson May 16, 2013 at 3:36 pm

This was strangely inspirational. Maybe one day I will be an author worth interviewing.

24 Stan May 16, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I’d love a copy. My suggestion for SYWMJ is carpenter or blacksmith. Really any of those forgotten professions that are work with your hands types that only a few people still do.

25 Lee May 16, 2013 at 3:40 pm

SYWMJ – Pediatric surgeon

I have a lot of respect for novelists. Conveying thoughts and ideas in meaningful ways takes a lot of energy and diligence. More than is often apparent.

26 Daniel May 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Thank you for writing up this article, as I have always wanted to be a novelist. I am currently a literature teacher and I run a creative writing club at my school, but I have yet to pound out anything more than a few short stories for myself. I am hoping that now that I have children of my own, I will be motivated to write more by doing some storytelling each night.

27 Matt May 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Excellent stuff to know. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to do some writing as a side hustle while simultaneously finding an outlet.

28 Stanislav May 16, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Great interview about novel writing! Will read again! A+

29 Josiah May 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I really appreciated that interview. Had always been interested in creative writing but never had the guts to share my work. But it’s not about the success, so I guess I had better get started!

30 Mike May 16, 2013 at 4:22 pm

I’m in the very early stages of writing a non-fiction book about the MBA career search. It is the most intimidating thing I’ve attempted in recent memory…which means it’s very probably good for me. When the writing goes well (not often) it’s exhilarating. To Mr. Mahoney, next time you’re back in Troy, first beer is on me at Brown’s. Great article and great for you.

31 Nate Emery May 16, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Great interview. As a writer, it is good to be reminded of the rewards involved without losing sight of the struggles along the way. Personally, I’m looking for more advice on ways to get writing opportunities, of ay kind, and build a platform and name for myself.

32 Logan May 16, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I like the whole concept of his job being a lifestyle. It’s a great concept that I feel many people don’t get. If you have a job you really love, I think it should be reflected in your lifestyle.

33 Andrew May 16, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Hope to read this sometime! SYWMJ- “anyone involved in the glass blowing trade” that always fascinates me.

34 Con May 16, 2013 at 4:52 pm

What a great interview! Thanks for putting it up.
I’m just nearing the beginning of the end of the first draft of a novel I’ve been writing, and has it been a journey! I’ve been at it 7 or 8 years now (writing, not the novel thankfully) – and frankly, it’s a struggle. Endless self-criticism, hours just sitting and panicking, and staring at a blank page, sleepless nights worrying about imaginary characters…

But then there’s the freedom, and the fun, and the joy of creation, and the peace of mind when your friends talk about office politics, or share their concerns about how small their bonus might be this year.

I completely agree with Mr Mahoney, I think of it as a craft, like cabinet making or being a father…something you get better at over time, and which gives you immense pleasure.

35 Matt Lane May 16, 2013 at 5:07 pm

This was a great article. Ever since I read my first Hemingway novel, I’ve loved the romantic nature of a writer. I would love to see a SYWMJ of a clockmaker. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that one. Thanks!

36 Jacob May 16, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I have to disagree with him when he said that writing a novel isn’t magic. The pole-vaulter can train rigorously to do what they do, but a novelist takes an innate talent. I’ve tried my hand at writing, I sucked, it’s not my talent. It may be overly glamorized, but it’s still a special kind of magic to be a great novelist.

37 Sonny May 16, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Great insight into the process of writing! As an engineer, I’m more logic driven so I’ve always had an admiration for those who are artistically inclined and can draw, write, or otherwise create something just from an idea.

38 Rob P May 16, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Writing a novel is always something I’ve considered multiple times. All my life I’ve been told I’m an exquisite writer. The only problem is that I don’t enjoy writing. I used to be a bookworm when I was a child and now I can barely finish a book or sit down and write anything. Maybe I’m just out of practice.

P.S. Great article. I’m relatively new to the site, but these SYWMJ articles are awesome.

39 Dave May 16, 2013 at 5:54 pm

As a published author myself, I can vouch for much of what Dennis has to say. I have likened writing to other forms of art, such as ceramics or painting or music. You are creating something that in some ways is going to be similar to other works, but in at least a few ways is going to be completely unique in the history of the world. And when someone reads your book and tells you it was something that couldn’t be put down, it’s a rush like few others.

40 Asher Davidson May 16, 2013 at 5:55 pm

I’d be interested in reading the book. I like this series of “So You Want My Job” articles. Thank you.

41 Stuart Schwenke May 16, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I am reading through Stephen King’s book, On Writing. My day job has me writing 2500 – 5000 words a day, mostly technical writing. I end each week writing a sermon for church of 1500 to 2000 words.

My daughter has found some identity, like our guest, in writing. So, we enjoy studying the art of writing.

42 JEB May 16, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Well, time to revise again.

43 Andrew May 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm

I write a lot, constantly, obsessively. It’s an outlet and a vent, but I could never turn it into a career like this.

I write because I want to write, because I want to tell a story, because the pain of NOT writing has become too great, because something inside me yearns to burst free and soar into the heavens. Once I’ve written something, I almost never go back to edit it or re-write it for someone else’s needs. I’ve purged that thing, to change it after the fact seems dishonest to why I wrote it in the first place.

And that’s why I can’t ever be an author, but will forever be a writer.

44 Michael J. Riser May 16, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Writing to me is both a joy and a terror. So much time to build something, so much hope invested, and all so quickly taken away with a brief rejection. But we keep at it because we love it, because like a lover that loves and leaves you over and over again, somehow that just makes you want it all the more.

45 Matthew May 16, 2013 at 6:42 pm

I love the author’s stance on the “death of fiction” and its likelihood. Creativity never ends– a constant and awakening reminder to my logical brain that prefers numbers over art.

46 @Pavoneo_ May 16, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Recently got into writing myself; this is incredibly relevant and insightful. Thanks for this

47 Samuel May 16, 2013 at 8:49 pm

I agree making the time is rough. Great response on publishing.

48 Tom K. May 16, 2013 at 9:10 pm

As an English teacher, I often dream of finding time to sit and write a novel, or even a manuscript. It’s unfortunate that the education field leaves no time for such a rewarding activity/alternate career option. That being said, if I don’t win the novel, I plan on making a purchase in the near future.

49 Kevin Marusca May 16, 2013 at 9:13 pm

With great writing comes great responsibility.

50 Steve G May 16, 2013 at 9:27 pm

I just got back into reading novels a couple of years ago. I started writing my first blog and website last year. Now I feel inspired to learn more about writing styles so I can make getting a book published my next goal. Thanks for this article.

51 Kendall May 16, 2013 at 9:56 pm

I have enjoyed writing for a while now. I like the idea of writing ideas that under go the ways of human nature and good vs. evil.

52 Marc May 16, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I’m one of those people who would love to write and who has a lot of (what I think are) good ideas, but I just can’t seem to find the time to sit down and pump out a few hundred pages of a book. However, I think it’s one of those things where If I look back later in life and have never finished writing a book, I’ll really regret it.
Time to move it up on my priority list I think and just make some time to write.

53 Ryan May 16, 2013 at 10:21 pm

sometimes i think i would like to be a writer, but i worry that i would wind up like johnny depp, killing my ex wife, burying her and eating a lot of corn. i really don’t like corn.

54 Paul May 16, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Thanks for the post. I just started to work on my own book and found this piece to be very motivational. I’m not sure whether or not I could do this as a career, but enjoyed getting an inside look at what it takes to get published.

55 Adrian May 16, 2013 at 10:53 pm

I’ve always love the creative arts. The mere idea of being capable of create something as rich as a song, a poem, a movie, a short story or an epic novel is something I’d always loved.

Early in life I discover that I have some kind of talent of creating stories. But more than talent, I discovered I have a passion for it. And that’s the key of all: PASSION.

I’m 21 now and I just entered a Creative Writing Workshop at my college. I am able to talk about all the writing process with a published writer. And it’s awesome. I recently told him about a novel I’ve being working for since I was 12. His words gave me strength to continue this beautiful path.

56 AJ May 16, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Love the series. Personally, I’d like to see a SYWMJ- “Lawyer” entry. I think this would do well to clarify some of the roles and dispel myths within a diverse profession, and give some insight to those considering law school.

57 Alex May 16, 2013 at 11:22 pm

Excellent article! I am an English major right now, and I hope that one day I’ll have a book on a shelf somewhere. My big worry is how to go from writing 10-page short stories with prompts in a creative writing course to writing 300 pages with no direction and nobody pushing you. I’d love to read your book though!

58 Ryan May 17, 2013 at 12:16 am

Creative writing is one of the best ways to express the complexity of the human condition. I have the immense respect for the critical thinking it takes to write a beautiful piece of fiction.

59 Alan May 17, 2013 at 12:34 am

Congrats on the publication. I am currently stuck on the first hurdle of getting the attention of an agent. The work may die a quiet death, but I’m trying to convince myself to keep trucking on the next idea. If not for the public, I should at least do it for myself.

60 Kevin May 17, 2013 at 1:11 am

The interesting thing I see with writing is that its actually much easier to get yourself “out there” today than it was 20 years ago. Blogs and podcasts at the bare minimum allow anyone to share their writing. The flip side is that people have access to much more content and can go with their taste/niche rather than something more mainstream. This parallels the music industry in my mind – easy to create, record and post videos on youtube, but to actually get to the point where an album goes famous and you tour is difficult. I wonder if we’ll ever see the idea of bands like the Rolling Stones, bands that keep on recording and touring for 30+ years.

61 Andrew May 17, 2013 at 1:49 am

Cool article. I love reading and have recently discovered how valuable it is to me. I have always dreamed of being a writer but never maned up and tried it. After this article maybe I’ll try…

62 Jake Anderson May 17, 2013 at 2:41 am

Books have always been a passion for me, ever since I was old enough to read. I always liked words and stories, so when I got to college I decided that I wanted to be a writer. Still writing three years later, and loving it!

63 Sarah Anne May 17, 2013 at 3:19 am

“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.”

As a fledgling writer with so many projects and ideas this is a wonderful thing to remember….also since I am on the subject as a woman writer AOM has proven incredibly helpful in creating believable male characters :)

64 Chris May 17, 2013 at 4:28 am

Inspiring. It is refreshing to see that hard work is the most desired trait rather than waiting around for some magic flash of genius.

65 Lochie May 17, 2013 at 4:50 am

i’d like to see a SYWMJ on a butcher or a chef

66 Mr. A May 17, 2013 at 4:55 am

I’m currently in a developing country teaching high school English. I read, on average, a couple books a week outside of the teaching load. Since bookstores are few, far between, and very poorly stocked, most of my reading material comes to me electronically. I love reading, both on paper and electronically, both traditionally-published and self-published material, and back in my college days I did for a while have ambitions of “being a writer”. Now I’m wondering — where does the “MUST WRITE BECAUSE I LOVE IT” mindset come from, in the first place?

67 Andrew May 17, 2013 at 6:09 am

Very interesting interview Brett! I enjoyed it immensly.

For future SYWMJ interviews might we see more blue collar professional jobs? Perhaps an electrician, plumber, etc.

68 Lyle B. May 17, 2013 at 7:11 am

I read a lot. I thought “how hard can writing be? Maybe I’ll write a book.” Then I tried to write an outline. Writing is not easy and not for me. I still read a lot though and would like to try the book.

69 Luke May 17, 2013 at 7:20 am

What else can I say than writing a novel is manly?

70 David S. May 17, 2013 at 7:28 am

I have a lot of respect for a anybody that can come up with an idea and actually do something with it – write outlines and drafts and revisions until your numb and pitch it to an publisher and edit it again and on and on until it lands on a bookshelf somewhere. Even if it never becomes a NYT bestseller, the creativity and determination it must require to take a book from start to finish deserves a firm handshake and a strong nod.

71 Kin May 17, 2013 at 7:37 am

I haven’t picked up a book that I would like to read, lately. This could be it.

72 Phil May 17, 2013 at 7:38 am

Ive always wanted to see a SYWMJ on something totally absurd like a rocket scientist. Because really, what do they do?

73 Rusty May 17, 2013 at 7:39 am

Kudos to Mr. Mahoney for getting published! I recently began my journey towards becoming a published author. There is a huge amount of work involved in developing the content and honing your writing skills. All before you can even think about finding a book deal. This is definitely not a journey you embark on on a whim. It will take massive determination and grit, but I will get there…

74 Jack May 17, 2013 at 7:59 am

It’s always been my dream to write a novel. I’ve got a Moleskine full of ideas, plot outlines, character overviews, etc., but I just haven’t felt ready to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it may be). *The* idea just hasn’t come yet. This is a great interview for those who have already written what they believe to be the next great novel, but I’d love a follow-up about the actual writing process.

75 Derric May 17, 2013 at 8:42 am

This was a great read. I’m about halfway finished with the first draft of my first novel, (so nowhere near complete). Thanks for this, its great to read these from established authors.

76 Tyler May 17, 2013 at 8:44 am

As an English major, I wrote and read pretty much non-stop, but unfortunately a lot of the assignments were obscure or dense or just boring. The only way I kept sane was starting a blog and reading books I wanted, and now that I’ve graduated I’m devouring all the books I’ve let pile up the last few years. Being a writer is one of those things people assume about you when you say you majored in English, but for a long time I told myself that wasn’t what I wanted to do. It was only after starting to write things besides research papers that I realized how much I enjoy it and that there’s no reason not to give it a shot. This article was great motivation!

77 Rachel May 17, 2013 at 8:50 am

As an aspiring novelist, it’s usually encouraging to hear from others how they did it. Especially here, since he’s only just published his first one. Sometimes I look at my favorite authors and think “how did they even do it the first time??”

78 Kevin Wilson May 17, 2013 at 8:53 am

I would love to read a sywmj on truck drivers or meat buyers.

79 Patrick May 17, 2013 at 9:00 am

I’m just graduating from my BA English degree so it’s been years since I read anything for pleasure – and until recently I’ve never thought about writing. I’ll have to reconsider. Thanks Dennis, Brett and Kate.

80 Jeff May 17, 2013 at 9:01 am

Great interview. I’m always looking for a new author to read and have long considered opening my own independent book shop (possible SYWMJ?). Thanks for this series!

81 Dan May 17, 2013 at 9:08 am

The SYWMJ series is one of my favorites on this site! Please keep them coming!

Some interesting future SYWMJ professions would be gun smith, journalist, and social media manager.

Regarding the last one… I am a social media manager at a large private university and would love to talk about how it is a real job (and not just “playing on Facebook”) and how people can use social media to advance their professional lives.

82 Marc May 17, 2013 at 9:15 am

I used to despise writing in high school, it felt so onerous to write what I can say in spoken language and be done in 5 minutes, rather than taking 5 hours to construct an organized paper. Now that I am in college, I have a new outlook on life, and my views of writing have definitely changed. I love writing in my journal now, i basically have a novel of my own life, and I now really have a great appreciation for the stories that authors create.How about a so you want my job article on a commercial airline pilot? thanks for yet another great article!

83 Chris M May 17, 2013 at 9:23 am

I’ve always loved the idea of being a professional author and I love reading success stories like this. It’s important to hear about the struggle associated with making it in a business like this so that people know what really goes on behind the scenes. I’ve got a friend who has been attempting to get published for a few years now, and it hasn’t worked that well, so I’ve heard plenty about the struggles involved in the initial steps of getting published. Like I said, it’s great to hear the inner-workings from someone who experienced it all and managed to work through it and reach success.

84 Wil May 17, 2013 at 10:27 am

I think there might be some more surprises left in regards to shifts in self-publishing and publishing in general. It’ll be interesting to see how things play out.

85 Brent B. May 17, 2013 at 10:40 am

Working in an independent bookstore, I surround myself with the thoughts and ideas of great novelist. I’ve seen many writers come into our store and always want to hear their stories and get to know who they are. Finding that perfect story and someone willing to publish it is trying. This was a great interview and I’m looking forward to reading his book.

86 Matthew R. Jones May 17, 2013 at 10:59 am

I have been struggling with the idea of whether I should try to write a book for many years now. Not for the fame or money, but for a creative outlet. Writing is a very satisfying challenge. It pushes the mind to find the best way to put a thought into words. It’s an amazing process of creation. After reading this post, at this point in my life, I think I finally have my answer.

87 Jaredd Wilson May 17, 2013 at 11:12 am

My wife is a writer, just about to get an agent for her novel, and I’m trying to write a nonfiction book, so this was appropriately timed.
Thank you,

88 Pike May 17, 2013 at 11:26 am

I spend a lot of time reading, but as a molecular biologist pretty much all of my writing is technical. I love the idea of writing some fiction (even a novel, though that seems a bit ambitious), but I’ve had most of my creativity (at least as regards writing) beaten out of me over the years.

It’s great to hear about people still being successful in writing. Every time I hear about the demise of writing or American literature it saddens me, so it’s great to hear that people are still making it.

89 MShaneD May 17, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I sometimes have these amazingly vivid dreams fantasy dreams like something out of a Robert E. Howard story. When i wake up I start writing them down, but it fades so fast! Have you ever used a voice recorder to get ideas out of your head?

90 Evan May 17, 2013 at 12:19 pm

I’d really like to see a SYWMJ on a Patent Attorney.

91 Ramon L. May 17, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I thought writing news pieces every day was hard when I was a journalist. I’m trying to write a novel now and it’s brutal.

92 Joe May 17, 2013 at 12:32 pm

I can relate to his comment about being exposed to new books in school that he wouldn’t have found on his own.

Some of my favorites books are the ones I’ve picked out at random off the shelves.

93 Mary May 17, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Once a bookseller, I now work on the corporate side of publishing. I miss bookselling. I miss talking about writers and their work and engaging people in discussions about everything from current events to literacy programs. I miss hand selling books because it was a way of moving ideas around.

Publishing in general, including journalism, suffers from the popular misconception that writing and editing isn’t real, hard work requiring skill and experience. Places like the Huffington Post succeed financially by not paying most of their writers. For most of us, our time and our skill, our labor, is our only capital; yet that time and skill is increasingly invisible.

People have absorbed the false mythology that information should be free of cost and that it arises magically from nothing. I’ve heard people say that if newspapers went under they’d just search Google for news. When I asked them where the news would come from for them to search for, they hadn’t imagined that journalism was people going out, getting the news then bringing it back in narrative form.

As Uta Hagen said of acting, people imagine acting is easy because they see someone who looks like them doing things that they can or would like to do. Everyone can write a sentence, therefore, writing a novel or a screenplay or a story is just stringing sentences together. Never mind that some of these same people can’t create a coherent powerpoint presentation….

94 Craig May 17, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I have always wanted to be a writer. I find the hardest part is to develop a theme…concept for a story. I have solid ideas for characters, some story arcs and plot twists, but have been struggling to find a main premise for the story. I have done many short stories based on the above that I would like to include in the main story someday.

95 Steven Assarian May 17, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Excellent article. Can’t wait to read the book.

As for my attitude about writing, it can be summed up this way –

All of it is one line,
Both my means and my ends:
All love is work and you have to punch in.

96 samW May 17, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I guess I’ve always had this thought that someday I will write a book….kinda like something you do after you’ve done everything else? maybe that is the wrong idea, maybe its something to try now?

97 Kevin Land May 17, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Great read! I am a writer of music and take to heart a lot of the advice herewith, especially about working other jobs. I’ll spend hundreds of hours on a single song, be sure it’s the hit of the century, then forget about it a month later and have no reward for my work. But it’s OK. I love the work and I get better every time I do it. Like Dennis, I write every day, and that’s why I feel sure that one day or another, I can do it for my life. Thank you for sharing your knowledge – hope to win your book!

98 Josh Barkey May 17, 2013 at 4:14 pm

So much of this rings in tune with my own writing experience.

I write movies, myself (although I did self-publish a collection of short stories), and after three years of hard-core screenwriting, three short films in pre-production with three different directors, and six completed feature-length screenplays, I’m only JUST beginning to feel like MAYBE I can write features worth shooting (and not in that delusional, I-am-a-word-arranging-god way we all feel when we first start writing).

I like your voice, sir. Stripped, clear, authentic… you. Keep plugging, and I wish you bounteous success.

99 Nicole May 17, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I like this. It’s so much less condescending than the other “here’s how publishing REALLY works” articles that are out there!

The publishing industry is changing, but perhaps in that there is a kind of anti-publishing industry rising with self-pubs, epubs, and the like. It’s sort of a mass-production of literature-again, this is not a new fear, but one that was a very common anxiety in the early 20th Century, when writers were worried about what readers would *get* from their writing, and what would happen to people who simply read indiscriminately. I’ve been sort of fascinated with the “everyone’s a writer” phenomenon represented by NaNoWriMo. Because writing 50,000 words doesn’t really make a writer.

100 Sean Hogue May 17, 2013 at 5:33 pm

I think the point about not being able to control or influence word of mouth, which is stated to be the number one way of creating buzz, is totally backwards. Just look at how Tim Ferris markets his books. You got to get out & pound the pavement though, it can’t be done in isolation

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