By Tj O’Connor, author of Dying to Know & Dying for the Past
I did it. I finished. Tuck solved another case and I wrote “The End” on Dying to Tell, the third book of Oliver Tucker’s case files— dubbed “The Ghost Gumshoe” by Midnight Ink, my publisher. Dying to Tell was a killer, no pun intended. The hardest thing I did in a very long time was hit “send” on the email that whisked Dying to Tell off to my agent, Kimberley Cameron.
It was painful. The email sat in my draft box for hours before I could muster the courage to send it. No, I wasn’t concerned about the book—my test readers loved it. It was about The End, plain and simple.
You see, a little more than a year and a half ago, Midnight Ink bought Dying to Know—my fourth novel and first to be published—along with two sequels. Dying for the Past, the first sequel, releases January 8, 2015, and Dying to Tell, the second sequel, releases January 2016. Selling Dying to Know as a series thrilled me—and terrified me—and thrilled me some more. And, for the past year-plus, I wrote those two sequels night and day. Turning in Dying for the Past was easy. “The End” and on to Dying to Tell. No problem.
Then, a strange thing happened around page 300 of Dying to Tell. A ball of “oh crap” filled my gut every time I sat at my keyboard. I found reason after reason to rewrite chapters and refine plot twists. This character changed, that character died. Then undid it all and started again. In the end, the final draft looked identical to the first—except I had languished over it for an extra two months.
As I neared the final chapters of Dying to Tell, I was indeed dying—dying for the next story, the next book deal, the next bit of proof that my work was good enough for the world to read. Dying to Know, not a book I ever meant to publish, gave me a huge confidence boost when it first landed me my agent, Kimberley, and then ended up being my first published book of four at that time. Success! Someone besides my three Labs thought my work was worthy!
And the reality smacked me in the face. The series was written. The contract all but fulfilled. All there was to do was wait for the launch dates and try to build more readers. Not that all that is easy, mind you, but the real work was done. And, even before I typed “The End,” I missed Tuck and Hercule. And, with that, I worried about what was ahead.
On page 325 of Dying to Tell, I realized any evidence of talent I might have was not yet in hand. It would be the next book. It was the next sale. The next series. Tuck’s adventures were a great start. But was it a fluke? Had my agent and publisher had one-too-many the night before and saw something in my work that wasn’t there? (Gasp, eerie music, another gasp.)
Panic. Does that make me nuts? A defeatist? No. I think it makes me humble (yes, children of mine, I am humble now and then). I think my fear of failure is normal. In particular, after the first book sale. You wonder if it’ll ever happen again. You wonder if anyone will remember your name, your books, or your damn Facebook page.
You just wonder.
I think many authors face this—that scary place between your first book sale and your next. Writing books is easy—well, sort of—but finding success is not. Success comes not just from fans, readers, critics, and the occasional atta boy. To publishers, it’s mostly about commercial success. Sales. And, let me tell you, selling books is painful, slow, and often a climb that breaks your spirit. It’s tiny little steps—a book here, a few books there… a slow, almost endless quest to build an audience that will get you notice and more book contracts.
So you go on. Signings. Book fairs. Monstermania (yes, I went there and had a blast) and any place you can get yourself invited to. You Facebook, blog, blog some more, take out ads, take out more ads, and find every inventive way you can to get your book in someone’s hands. You will do whatever it takes…
And, when you ask why, it’s easy—How bad do you want to be an author?
Bad. Sinfully bad. Sell my soul and refuse to pay taxes bad. (No, IRS, I do pay my taxes.)
And, for me, the fear of failure is—wait for it—palpable. I finished Dying to Tell and began to worry about the next book, the next plot, and above all, the next book deal. Since selling Dying to Know, I’ve penned two other novels in addition to Tuck’s two sequels. New Sins for Old Scores, another murder mystery with a paranormal twist and a historical subplot, is with Kimberley trying to find a home in the market. The Killing of Tyler Quinn is a more traditional story about a small town journalist who returns from the Gulf War after disappearing for years. Quinn’s best friend is found murdered on the evening Quinn reappears—his mysterious disappearance and the murder too coincidental for the town—he’s the prime suspect. The question is—will either of these sell? Will they find a home in this ever-tightening market?
What if they don’t? Will I perish in the land of the unknown authors—a crowded, lonely place where blogs and Facebook are your only comfort?
Kimberley says be patient, relax, my career has just started. And I trust her. But, deep down, hidden behind the thrill of having three books published and my past swashbuckling around the world chasing terrorists and spies is the woosie-boy in me. Can I do this? Will I sell another book? Can Wilfred stop the evil Dr … no, no, that’s a soap I watched the other day.
Nuts? No. I think people like me—self-driven madmen—measure ourselves not by what’s behind us but by what’s in front. You’re only as good as your next book. You’re only as loved as your next review. You’re only as talented as those weird voices in your head say. Okay, I’m nuts.
Now, given my fear of failure, one might wonder how I keep from leaping off my porch to my bitter end. Well, my porch is only two feet off the ground. But, for real, it’s the occasional email or random fan who drops me a note or stops by a signing just to tell me how much they loved the book and can’t wait for the next—and what else am I writing … when will it be out? I’m just getting started and I’ve only had a few dozen of such emails and conversations, but each one is a thrill for me.
Nuts? Hell yes I am—to the bone. But, that has nothing to do with writing books.
Warning: The following is a cheap promotional announcement…
Don’t miss the sale… Amazon has Dying to Know on sale for Kindles… $1.99 between 11/7 and 11/23!
Tj O’Connor lives in Virginia with his wife and three Labs. Dying to Know is the fourth of his eight novels and is currently available in bookstores and online. Dying for the Past, the first of two sequels, will be released in January 2015—available now for pre-orders. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism and investigations. Learn about his world at www.tjoconnor.com and Facebook at www.facebook.com/TjOConnor.Author.