REPOST: How to: When writers want authors to Guest Blog…

While speaking at the wonderful Whidbey Island Writers Conference this past weekend, I was asked a question: “If you’re not a literary agent, how do you get an author to agree to appear on your blog?” Oooohhhh. It struck me that it must seem MUCH harder than it actually is to interview an author for your blog or to have them guest blog for you. So raise your sword because I swear by the power of Grayskull…you can do this.

…and here is how, aka, follow the pictures.

Pick an author. For our purposes, we will choose an author that has appeared on This Literary Life: Gitty Daneshvari. Author of the School of Fear series.

Now, there is a reason I chose Gitty. It wasn’t a random choice. I KNOW my readers. They are writers and they write children’s books. This was a calculated choice. You do not want to feature an author whom none of your readers will identify with. Plus, Gitty is just absolutely fantastic.

So, I’ve selected my author. The next thing you will want to do is get in contact with your author. Sometimes you will not be able to do this, and that’s just a fact. But for every author who does not put contact info on their Web site, there is an author that does. So I head on over here:

Then I went here:

Can you feel it? We’re getting closer…

VOILA! So the truth is, the easy part is over. Now you write an EXTREMELY polite and informative email to the author and…WAIT. DO NOT PESTER. I don’t think I can stress that enough. Write once, and wait. If they never get back to you, move on.

So this was my next step:

It took her a few days to respond, and we found a time that worked for HER (do not make this about yourself, they are doing you a huge favor. You work on their time schedule).

A word about blogs: Always tag and use categories on your blog!!! When tagging or using categories, use “hot words” like Gitty Daneshvari and School of Fear and Middle Grade Books, etc. “Hot words” are words that people use in a Google search. You do this so that your blog has a higher chance of appearing when someone searches these words. Advice: Look through your entire blog post after you have finished writing it and think to yourself: what key words or ideas are used in this post that people would Google search? Then tag them or use them in the categories.

Also, use images. Not only does it make reading a blog post much more exciting, but when people Google Image Search for Gitty Daneshvari, the image I used of Gitty will appear with the many others, and will drive traffic to my blog.

ALWAYS feed your blog link through other social media sites: Twitter, Facebook, etc.

**It’s important to remember that authors are people too. Which means a few things: They love to promote their books, as well they should. It also means that they have crazy hectic lives just like all of us, and “no” is very much a reasonable answer. So, be patient, choose wisely, and remember that “if you never ask, you’ll never get.”

March Hot Blogger: Lisa Rivero~Encouraging Young Writing Talent

“When you’re young, so much of [writing] is trying to be other people. That’s what you do when you start off … and I think that’s perfectly natural and perfectly acceptable.” ~ David Sedaris

“Talent is the desire to practice.” ~ Malcolm Gladwell

When children exhibit talent for and interest in music, we know what to do. We pay for a music teacher and an instrument, perhaps enroll our child in band or orchestra, and encourage daily practice.

When they show artistic ability, we probably allow them free rein to draw or sculpt or paint, without feeling the need to critique every brush stroke or correct every error in perspective.

However, when a young child or teen is a talented writer, parents are often confused as to how best to encourage and support her. The temptation is to go to one of two extremes: treating the passion for writing as a kind of embarrassing hobby that the child will outgrow (after all, how likely is that they will make a living from it?), or over-critiquing and over-managing what began simply as an innate love of the written word.

The following “Do and Don’t” suggestions can help parents to encourage and support the writing talent of children and teens.

Don’t confuse handwriting with writing.

For some children, learning to write in cursive is the end of their love of writing. What was until that point a source of pleasure for its own sake—putting words on paper as a way to create and share stories and ideas—suddenly becomes a constant struggle. Students with small-motor difficulties, left-handedness, and other challenges can easily think that because their handwriting is “bad,” their writing must be, too.

I’m not saying that children shouldn’t learn to write in cursive, but I do know that in my college classroom, the vast majority of my students choose to print their work when they must write by hand. It’s just as fast for them and often easier to read for me.

Do provide a wide variety of writing tools and make them handy to use.

Some students who struggle with handwriting might be prolific writers on a laptop or netbook. Others might enjoy writing on legal pads with mechanical pencils, or index cards with fine-tipped markers, or sketchbooks with gel pens. Just as parents can fill their house with books to encourage a love of reading, they can make writing tools accessible in every room of the house.

Even more important, allow your children to see you write often and for many purposes. While modern technology is a boon for writers, it also hides much of the process of writing. Our children don’t see us write first drafts, cross out sentences, re-write them, then take a new sheet of paper and start over. They just see us click away on a keyboard. We even make grocery and to-do lists on electronic organizers and text ourselves notes rather than write them on a whiteboard on the fridge.

Challenge yourself to do more handwriting—lists, letters, journals—especially when your children are around. Let them see you write and, more to the point, re-write. Even better, ask them to proofread or give feedback on something you have written (and watch the pleasant surprise on their faces!).

Do ask your children what kind of feedback, if any, they want on their writing.

Not every piece of writing needs to be marked up or corrected.

The knee-jerk correction of grammar and spelling is one of the hardest habits for parents to break. However, for many children, especially bright, sensitive, perfectionistic learners, this kind of well-intentioned feedback from adults feels like a continual reminder that they have failed and can turn passionate writers into non-writers.

In this sense, writing is a very different subject from, say, math. If a student gets a math problem wrong, we can point out the error, she fixes it, and we say, “Now it’s correct. Well, done!”

When we point out writing mistakes, the student may fix them, but that doesn’t really mean that the piece is now “correct.” To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, writing is never really complete; rather, we abandon it at some point and move on.

When I led a mixed-age student writing group, I gave the students a checkbox list where they could let me know what level and kind of feedback they wanted for each piece they gave me. First, they could indicate if they wanted any feedback at all. Sometimes what they needed was for someone simply to know what they wrote and to acknowledge having read it. If they wanted feedback, they could request a discussion about content only, written feedback on style, help with proofreading, and so on.

Do remember that improvement can occur with positive feedback.

Let’s face it: It’s much faster and easier to circle sentence fragments than to give thoughtful feedback on the strongest parts of a story.

When you point out what you like about a story, you show a child what works. When you explain what makes a certain sentence “sing,” you are at the same time, but without having to point it out, indicating what kinds of sentences thud. If you want to suggest a revision, such as a stronger conclusion, it’s much better to do so in the form of a question—“What are some other ways you could end this?”—rather than with something like “The ending doesn’t work at all and needs to be changed.” The author of the book Toxic Feedback offers excellent advice for how to use positive feedback effectively.

Don’t worry if your children “copy” the style or themes, or even the plot ideas, from their favorite writers. In fact, encourage it!

Some parents worry that their children aren’t original enough, that they write stories that bear an uncomfortably strong resemblance to the plot of The Lord of the Rings, develop characters strikingly similar to Harry Potter, or sound too much like the style of Tamora Pierce or Suzanne Collins.

This is not a bad form of “copying.” Just as art students study and copy the masters, so, too, can young writers “apprentice” themselves to their favorite published authors. This can sometimes go on for years, and, all the while, the young writer is picking up skills and internalizing techniques.

A writing exercise I often give young people is to write a story or even just a paragraph in the style of their favorite author. The practice forces them to study the style of the writer, to see what makes it work, and, in the words of author Elizabeth Winthrop, it gives them new tools for their writing toolbox

Don’t force the issue of writing contests or publication, but do support them if your child takes the initiative.

Unlike being a mathematician or a musician, being a writer is a slow journey, in part because the life experience that transforms clever, smart writing into insightful, gifted prose cannot be rushed. Many of our best authors didn’t hit their stride until mid-life or later. The inevitable rejection that comes with being a paid writer is hard enough for adults to manage; for many children, it is something best left for later, when their skills are more finely honed and their confidence more firmly built. An author of several excellent books for young writers, Ralph Fletcher reminds students that they can always self-publish their writing for friends and family members.

However, some children—Christopher Paolini is a famous example—do publish to acclaim at a young age. If your child takes the initiative to enter contests or seek publication, and if his passion for writing can withstand rejection slips, then take a look at Publishing Opportunities for Young Writers, which offers an up-to-date list of opportunities.

Encouraging young writers is simple if we remember that to encourage means to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope–valuable toolbox tools for writers of all ages.

-Lisa Rivero

Lisa on Twitter:

February Hot Blogger (a bit unorthodox) Kate Grace AND Bree Ogden

Kate= Purple, Bree= Blue

Let’s get this started…this is some intense stuff we are talking about today…

Don’t Fear the Reaper… or Commitment.

(Visit Kate’s site at, and watch the trailer for Burden of the Soul here.)

I stepped off the backline and took the seat next to my improv comedy teammate, mirroring the small, intricate motion he was doing with his hand as the scene started. Between two fingers I mimed holding a small, rounded object while my other hand twisted another small object over and over as if screwing a nut onto its bolt. Or, as my mind saw it, making bullets.

I wasn’t so far off because the scene started around us with dialogue from two other team members. With comedic measures, our scene was the meeting of a murder club, a completely ridiculous spoof on Fight Club.

The creative collaboration of the scene took shape and I was the simpleton member who answered only by nodding her head yes or no (and still got it wrong) and just loved making her bullets and lining them up in neat rows.

But then the scene was made even more ridiculous when the conflict was introduced. The newest member was told he had to “kill” the next person that walked in the door or he would be out of Murder Club. Enter another teammate pretending to be a cute girl scout selling Samoas.

The scene continued from there and I could feel my simpleton character breaking. I could feel the laughs coming and the desire to be an audience member taking over. But I caught myself by internally stating, “You will stay here. Stay right here.”

Literally. My inner voice became the inner drill sergeant. “You chose to be the creator and not the viewer so commit. You WILL stay here.”

Commitment: it’s something stressed in every improvisational theater school and needed in any creative process. It’s also something guys say they’re afraid of, but I’m convinced it really means, “Your toothbrush doesn’t belong there, it belongs way far away in your apartment.” But that’s for another day.

Commitment in your creative writing process is huge, and so important, because as you fall deeper into the writing coma you feel as if you shift from writer to transcriber. The story is taking place in your mind like a movie and you’re just kicking back going along for the ride, watching your characters’ lives play out…

…and sometimes end.

Your fingers freeze and the silence in your room is overpoweringly loud now that the clickity clackity of keyboard keys has called it quits. Your brain stops for a moment and you think, “NO!” For so many “reasons” such as: “It’s so early, what if I need her/him later?” or “I could be shooting myself in the foot here,” or “That’s way too dark.”

But mostly, those are just excuses because what you can’t necessarily admit is somewhere along the way you went from writer to reader and became emotionally attached to your characters. You can’t let them go emotionally.

I’m working on the additional books in the Burden of the Soul series and I’ve come up against this wall a number of times already. I gave over fully to the writer’s coma and trusted the story completely. So when I had a hunch to visit a shooting range for research, I didn’t question it. When I felt a hunch to start asking car specialist about the mechanics of car chases and crashes, I didn’t question it. When I started Googling “Krav Maga classes” near me, I didn’t question it.

I gave over completely to my sense of creative process. I became that same simpleton just lining up the bullets, never piecing it together where those bullets would go.

So then the moment came where the story and my subconscious actually put it on the page. My fingers froze and the silence in my kitchen became overpoweringly loud when the clickity clackity of keyboard keys called it quits. My brain stopped for a moment and I thought, “NO!” Then, “Oh shit, Bree is gonna kill me,” because Bree is emotionally attached to these characters too.

But then another voice kicked in, stern and convincing. “You will stay here. Stay right here. Commit.”

Still I didn’t budge. Then a softer voice: “Trust.”

Slowly, the clickity clackity returned.

It’s such a difficult balance to strike as a writer, trusting your inner storyteller and your inner reader and hoping they agree at least majority of the time. As the moments piled and got bigger, darker or more tragic, I finally had to take it to someone. The doubt was setting in.

Sitting on the grass along the Missouri River in St. Charles, I told the darkest of these moments to Bree Ogden in great, vivid detail. She sat really quiet looking out over the river.

She. Didn’t. Say. A. Word.

I panicked and started the rewrite in my mind immediately and continued it on the flight back to Michigan through the night and into the next day.

But then came the Facebook message, the email, the text. Her reaction was… Well, I’ll let her tell you.


I’m going to take a step back for a moment. There are several authors whose words stick with you long after you read them. For me, one of those authors is Chuck Palahniuk. Often times I’ll read something he has written, completely unaware of the impact it will have on me later that week.  And then, I’ll be going about my life and POW, this insanely strong emotion will set in and I won’t recognize its source. This happens often with Chuck. And it happened with Kate.

I read Kate’s manuscript, the one I currently represent, Burden of the Soul a few times, and was emotionally involved with the characters. And that day, sitting by the river, I learned of the absolutely gut wrenching, and I mean absolutely rip-your-heart-out-of-your-chest-with-a-fist, complete story of a few of these characters.

I was heartbroken. It wasn’t necessarily the loss of the characters. It was the way I had to watch them fade out of my life. But life went on. It’s just a book right? They’re just words. Right?

Weeks later, I felt sad. Really sad. I felt like something was missing in my life but I couldn’t place it. It was the same feeling I had after I read Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk. And when I recognized that feeling, all of a sudden a bloody, tear-streaked montage played through my head. Blood drenched hands. Chains. Anger. Tears. Passions and admissions—I remembered what Kate had told me in Missouri.

I felt genuine pain for her characters. And I knew that as much as I hurt for them, Kate must hurt for them ten-fold. Still, weeks passed and at random times of random days, I would feel the loss.

As an author, this is the type of devotion you want your readers to feel towards your characters. And it’s okay to take them away from the reader. Rip them away from us, smash them to bits, tear them into pieces, splatter the reader with their blood and guts if you must. But make sure that your reader has had the chance to develop some sort of emotional connection with these characters before you do so. You want your reader to be wiping tears from their face along with the blood and guts of your characters.

In Invisible Monsters when I’m mentally watching a character write haunting words on the wall in her own blood—I’m crying, and I’m re-reading, and I’m unsure—but I’m hooked.


The doubt faded and the inner artist smirked with an “I told you so, you idiot” gloating air.

Because if we trust and commit, and give over fully to that artist living inside those chunks of meat in our chests, then something amazingly powerful will come out of it. You must trust. And you must commit.

This isn’t dating advice, but it is relationship advice for you and your Work in Progress. Trust it. Don’t give up on it the moment it shows its less attractive, gritty, dark side. It’s never going to be all bubble gum and roses. What may strike you as “too far” and difficult to accept may just end up being your most haunting plot turns or the moments in your story that the characters pull at your readers’ emotions and ignite empathy.

Your characters have a story to tell. Your characters are chomping at the bit to connect with your readers, so step aside and let them. Think of yourself as the conduit.

And as for Murder Club? I did stay there and the scene continued to wonderfully absurd heights where the Girl Scout revealed she was an orphan, could sing and dance, and saw nothing but the beauty of endless possibility and rainbows outside the window. The newest member struggled and eventually got kicked out of Murder Club, unable to make the kill.

Admit it. At first read you cringed at the thought of “Murder Club”, and now you want to see that scene where a sweet little Girl Scout outsmarts a room of trained killers.


Operation Hot Blogger: Gordon Warnock

Ahhh! It’s been so long since I’ve had a hot blogger. Buster Bluth would be so disappointed. So not only am I starting off 2011 with this delicious hot blogger, but I am ending my long hot blogging celibacy at the same time. No pressure, Gordon.

Gordon Warnock is a senior literary agent at Andrea Hurst & Associates. You can read all about this totally rockin’ agent here.

Today, Gordon is going to talk to us about writers’ conferences. A very important subject that I would advise you to pay extremely close attention to. He gives dos and dont’s, faux pas, and advises you on how to get the most out of a conference (including how to impress an agent.)

So please welcome to This Literary Life, agent Gordon Warnock and his tips on attending a writers’ conference.

I attend a lot of conferences because I love getting out and talking to writers face to face. It’s a great way for me to get a feel for what people are writing and to hopefully find a few potential clients. When a writer attends a conference, it conveys two things to me:


  1. You are serious enough about your writing to put forth the time and effort to attend. 80+ percent of the population believes that they have a publishable story within them, and I joke that the rest work in publishing. I believe that as a fundamental function of society, we all should write. But if you then want to have your work commercially published, you should know how to go about doing so. As an agent, I can always tell who has done their homework, and just your presence at a conference helps convey this.


  1. You will hopefully absorb some of the wonderful information that is being presented to you. One of the best compliments I have ever received from a writer was at the San Francisco Writers’ Conference last year. At a mixer the first evening, a lady whom I had spoken with earlier in the day came up to me and a bit drunkenly said, “You know, I was going to pitch you on Sunday, but now I want to go home and just write.” Chances are, even if you attend a conference with what you think is a finished product, you will learn something during the event that will inspire new revision. And when your manuscript ultimately reaches me, it is in everyone’s best interest for it to be in the best possible shape.


I realize that, especially at some of the larger conferences, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. You can end up wandering around, only finding what you happen to stumble upon. To get the most out of a conference, I suggest spending some serious time on the conference’s website ahead of time. Nearly all of them will at some point make available:


  • Which presenters will be there
  • What their areas of interest and expertise are
  • What the session topics will be
  • The time and maybe even location for each session


Armed with this information, you can then form a game plan that will help you hit only the most pertinent stops for your particular needs. On your list at some point should be speaking to an agent or acquisitions editor about your project. I’ll give you a few tips from my perspective on how best to go about this.


  1. Take the time to learn my areas of interest beforehand. This bears repeating, because if you don’t, you are wasting both my time and yours. After you view my bio on the conference’s website, go to my page on the agency’s website. If there are any conflicts, trust what is on my official agency listing. And while you’re there, you can view our other agents and their interests. If one of them is a better choice, you can query them instead. That frees up more time at the conference for you to speak to someone more appropriate.


  1. Prepare and practice your pitches prior to proceeding (the alliteration must mean this one is important). You may sign up for agent pitch sessions at the conference, but you should also be able to talk intelligently and succinctly about your project should we end up sitting next to each other during lunch or standing next to each other in the elevator. You should optimally have a good one-liner, a one minute pitch, a 3-5 minute pitch, and a 10-15 minute pitch for more involved conversations. Know specifically your genre, hook, target audience, plot synopsis, comparatives, word count, author bio, and be able to access this information as easily as if I was asking for your date of birth.


  1. Be courteous and professional. Don’t say or do anything to me that you wouldn’t say or do to your boss. In seeking an agent, you are seeking a business relationship in which a contract is signed and services are exchanged for the potential of monetary compensation. You don’t have to address me as “Mr. Warnock,” or be overly formal. But there are a few things you should avoid that would ruin your professional credibility:


  • Do not slap my back and call me “dawg” if we’re meeting for the first time. Though I’m in my twenties, I’m a businessman. And though you’re an artist, you’re a potential client. A simple handshake and eye contact go a long way.
  • Do not attempt to bribe me in any fashion. You’re seriously wasting your effort. It doesn’t alter my opinion of your project, nor does it convince all of the others who must determine your book is viable before the decision is made to publish it.
  • Do not hit on me. This goes without saying. Show a little self-respect. And please, no touching.
  • Do not disrespect my personal space. I’m referring less to the “close talker” episode of Seinfeld and more to the alarmingly numerous urinal pitches I receive. We all have those times in which we need to not be disturbed. I will never accept a submission in the restroom not because it insults or violates me, but because I then know how you would approach our working relationship.
  • Do not refuse to take no for an answer. If your project just isn’t right for me, you won’t be able to argue your way into making me think it is. There are plenty of other agents out there, usually even at the conference.


  1. Mint. This is really your secret weapon as something that most other attendees won’t think to do. Conferences tend to be high-energy environments, in which everyone is rushing around and worrying about a number of things. It’s understandable and even expected that you would consume several cups of coffee and/or step out for a few cigarettes as the day progresses. But when you do so, make sure to freshen up afterward. At every event without fail, there is at least one person who doesn’t realize this and then ends up trying to have a very close, in-depth conversation with me. I want to concentrate on your book. I really do.


  1. Relax. I won’t bite. I won’t even work with vampires. You can take comfort in the fact that everyone at the conference shares something in common: We are all writers and lovers of the written word. You can talk to us with the kind of enthusiasm that you’d have with your writer friends. If you tend to get nervous, as some of us do, you can bring a pitch page with you. Just try to avoid relying on reading directly from the page.


Attending a writers’ conference is an excellent way to learn useful skills, improve your writing and hopefully leap past the slush pile. To learn more about me, what I like and how to contact me, you can visit Or if you happen to see me at a conference, you can just say, “Gordon,” and I’ll say, “What?” and turn my head slightly.


October Hot Blogger: Jonathan Maberry

Last May, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Editorial Director David Gale to hear about his upcoming projects. When he walked back from his bookshelf with a gargantuan looking book and set it on the table in front of me, I nearly passed out. The image in front of me was breathtaking. Granted, I’m probably one of the few to call this type of image breathtaking, but that’s what it was. Rot & Ruin. David informed me it was written by Author Jonathan Maberry, but I had already spied that on the cover. Having read Patient Zero, I was well aware of Mr. Maberry and a very huge fan.

Then I was informed that the book didn’t release until September 2010. My mind did a quick mental sweep of the months between. Close to 5 months I would have to wait to get my hands on this book. I tell you this, my friends, because I was a fraction away from snatching that copy of Rot & Ruin off of one of the most influential editor’s table and making a mad dash for the elevator.

I thought about Rot & Ruin for the next 5 months and salivated every time. I kept playing over and over in my mind what David Gale told me was being said about it: Rot & Ruin is George Romero meets The Catcher in the Rye. Swoon.

Then it released. I read it. Twice. Cried. A lot. Contacted the amazing Jonathan Maberry and asked if he would grace my blog with his typographical presence. And he replied, “I’m in! Sounds like fun!” Such a humble and gracious man. In the midst of a book release, book tours, release parties, and numerous book signings, he was able to find the time to be This Literary Life’s October Hot Blogger.

Please tap your keys loudly for Mr. Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author (meaning, I would pay close attention to his hot blogging advice if I were you):

A funny thing happened on the way to writing an adult horror short story.  I wrote a teen dystopian novel instead.

That’s kind of how my career’s been going.  I wear seatbelts when I write because I always seem to be taking hard curves at high speeds.  And I couldn’t be happier.

When I first started fooling around with the idea of trying my hand at fiction –after writing magazine feature articles, poetry, plays, greeting cards and really bad song lyrics for 25 years—I received a couple of bits of advice.  Some useful…others only useful as catbox liner.  I was told to find a niche and dig in (bad advice).  I was told that switching genres was a career killer (really bad advice).  Stuff like that.  Phooey.

I constantly switch genres.  I love switching genres.  It’s defined my career, and it’s also put me in the path of a lot of interesting projects.  Genre hopping is also one of the reasons I’m now a full-time author making a very nice living.  A lot of my friends are still working day jobs, or seeing their careers dry up because their genres stopped being hot.  I’m certainly no better a writer than them…but I’ve learned to keep my options open.

I started out writing mostly articles nonfiction books on martial arts (kind of a ‘write what you know’ thing, which IS good advice), then shifted that to write textbooks on women’s self-defense and safety awareness.  That may sound like a similar type of book to the martial arts books, but it’s not.  Different audience, different info, different style.  Different genre.

Then in 2001 I started writing about the things that go bump in the night and have since written four books on the folklore/legends of vampires, werewolves and other critters that get all bitey when the sun goes down.  People warned me that it was career suicide…switching from writing scholarly books on martial arts to pop-culture books of supernatural folklore.  They were wrong about that, too.

The first one I did was THE VAMPIRE SLAYERS FIELD GUIDE TO THE UNDEAD (released under my one-time-only pen name of Shane MacDougall); then VAMPIRE UNIVERSE (Citadel Press, 2006); THE CRYPTOPEDIA (co-authored with David Kramer; released in 2007); and ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (2008), THEY BITE (also with David Kramer, 2009) and the just-released WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE: Vampire Hunters and Other Kick-ass Enemies of Evil (with Janice Gable Bashman).  That opened up a whole new world for me, and a new audience.  It was a fun audience, too!

While doing the research for these books, I wrote my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES, in 2005 and sold it to Pinnacle Books.  It was the lead-off to a trilogy of supernatural thrillers set in a fictional small Pennsylvania town of Pine Deep.  It won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel, which –I have to admit—kind of validated my whole ‘should I try writing fiction experiment’.  The sequel, DEAD MAN’S SONG came out in 2007; and then BAD MOON RISING the following year.

Instead of pounding away at horror (a genre that has been a ‘soft market’ for years anyway), I decided to try my hand at a much,much healthier genre: thrillers.  I wrote the pitch for PATIENT ZERO, a bio-terrorism thriller in which a Baltimore detective (Joe Ledger) is recruited by a government agency to combat a terrorist group bent on releasing a plague.  St. Martins Griffin bought that and two sequels (THE DRAGON FACTORY, which came out this year; and THE KING OF PLAGUES, due out in March).

Sure, switching genres meant re-branding myself to a new audience.  And, sure that meant doing a lot of social network (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Shelfari, etc.) and a blog and other stuff to get on the radar of the new audience.  That’s a pain in the butt if you don’t like the nuts and bolts aspects of publishing-oriented marketing; and it’s fun if you’re like me and you digEVERYTHING about the publishing world and the writing life.

Somewhere around the time I was wrapping PATIENT ZERO, I got approached to try something new.  Because of my presence on the social media sites, Universal Pictures sought me out when looking for someone to write a novelization of the remake of The Wolfman.  Had I ever done a media tie-in book?  No.  Had I ever adapted anyone else’s work?  No.  Did I take the gig?  Hell yes.  When Tor Books released THE WOLFMAN in February it clawed its way right onto the New York Times bestseller list (my first visit to that lofty peak!)

Then came ROT & RUIN.  That was kind of a double genre shift for me.  It started out as a short story for an adult anthology called THE NEW DEAD, edited by Christopher Golden for Griffin.  Golden asked each of the contributors to do something different, something they had never done before.  I had never written a post-apocalyptic story, so that’s what I wrote.  The story was called ‘Family Business’, and it’s been cited in a lot of the reviews of the book (which is packed with superb stories by superb writers like Max Brooks, Kelley Armstrong, David Liss and others!).

I showed the story to my agent, and she said that it was the opening of a teen novel.  I was surprised.  I’d had no intention at all of writing a dystopian teen story –and in truth the short story version has violence and harsh language.  My agent suggested I read some of what’s being published in the teen market.  I did.  Wow.

So, I let her shop an outline for a much expanded version of the story, and almost at once we had competing bids for what they were calling ‘a dystopian novel for the middle grade boy market’.  Really?  I had no idea.  Simon & Schuster won the bidding war and bought ROT & RUIN and its sequel, DUST & DECAY.  Now I was writing teen fiction.

So…where’s all this going and why am I pulling on your coat about it?

The economy is still in the crapper and the publishing industry is walking with a limp.  A lot of writers are hitting closed doors at full speed.  A lot of writers are being chased out of the biz by the need to find a job that pays the bills.

I’m doing great.  As I said, this is not because I’m any better or worse than these other writers (and some of them I know damn well are better than I’ll ever be).  But I move around.  I follow the trends.  I put myself in the path of publishing success.  It works.  I’ll also try just about anything.  Over the last few years I’ve been invited to write short stories or novellas in a variety of genres including mystery, military science fiction, horror, psychological suspense, comedy, regional folklore, fantasy, pulp, thrillers and even toy-related media tie-in fiction (such as GI Joe).  My gypsy tendencies have put me on several radars.  Some haven’t led to anything.  Some have lead to big things (Marvel Comics scouted me to write super hero comics –Wolverine, Punisher, Captain America—after an editor read one of my thrillers.)

I didn’t invent this process. Some of the most successful writers in recent history have stayed in the game by using the same genre-hopping process.  After all, Stephen King has published books that are technically horror (SALEM’S LOT, THE SHINING), Young Adult fantasy (THE TALISMAN), adult fantasy (THE DARK TOWER series); science fiction (CARRIE, FIRESTARTER, THE CELL), urban fantasy (LISEY’S STORY), post-apocalyptic science fantasy (THE STAND), young adult drama (THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON), suspense (MISERY), and a whole bunch of other stuff that would fit on a dozen different bookstore shelves.

So…to all of the writers reading this –those of you who are published and those who are not yet published—if you want a tip from someone who is living the writing life and having a blast…consider opening yourself up to…anything.  If you’ve been shopping a YA paranormal fantasy for three years and haven’t gotten a bite…keep shopping it, but maybe try a Steampunk novel.  Or a dark fantasy for the adult market.  Or a romance.  Or…anything.

Who knows…maybe your first success will be in a genre you always thought was ‘not something you’d ever try’.  Shake loose from that kind of thinking.  Try anything.  Try everything.

Yeah…it works.

-Jonathan Maberry

Follow Jonathan on Twitter/ @JonathanMaberry

And the winner of the Tara Normal original is…

Ellen Erickson!

Proud new owner of an HC NOEL original.

The winning answer:

It took me awhile to embrace my penchant for the macabre and unusual. I’m well into my fifties according to the calendar but not according to me. I’ve watched every episode from beginning to end of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and have graduated to True Blood. I make sure my DVR records Ghost Hunters and while I’m new to Tara Normal I just had to subscribe to Paranormal magazine so I could follow along. Keep up the extraordinary work you do. Great stuff.

Ellen, email me your address and I will forward it along to HC!