7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by A.J. Colucci

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by science fiction thriller writer A.J. Colucci, author of THE COLONY) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

GIVEAWAY: AJ is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: missnelso04 won.)


A.J. Colucci is an author of science thrillers, stories that combine
the adrenaline-rush of a thriller with real science. Her novel, THE COLONY,
received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, noting, “Michael Crichton
fans will hope that this is but the first of many such outings from the author’s
pen.” Visit her website or find her on Twitter.



1. High Concept is easier to sell.  Within three years of writing fiction, I had a couple of books, a few partials and a lot of story ideas in my head, but agents kept telling me that The Colony was my best shot at getting published. They said the premise was high concept: When a series of grizzly attacks hit New York City, two divorced entomologists find themselves back together, trying to destroy a supercolony of ants that have been genetically mutated into a weapon. A high concept novel can be summed up in one sentence that instantly gets the listener interested and paints a visual image of what the book is about. It should have broad appeal and a killer title, like Jurassic Park, The Godfather, or Jaws.  It’s easier to sell because it’s pitch-driven, not sold on execution. Considering how hard it is to publish a first novel, that’s definitely something to keep in mind.

(How can writers compose an exciting Chapter 1?)

2. Study the Greats (but don’t compare).  It’s natural for aspiring authors to be envious of exceptional writing, but during my early endeavors it became almost painful to read my favorite books.  I was angry with Dennis Lehane and Scott Turow, I called David Baldacci terrible names, and I almost threw Silence of the Lambs at the wall.  However, I learned that by studying great novels as if they were textbooks, my prose, dialogue and descriptions improved dramatically. It might be the single most important thing a writer can do. Eventually I forgave those horribly wonderful authors and could once again read books for pleasure.

 3. Readers want to learn something. It takes less than one tablespoon of ant pheromone to lead an ant around the world 5,000 times.  The Colony is loaded with such scientific tidbits and I worried about throwing in too many facts. As it turned out, critics and readers all responded favorably to the science.  Best-selling authors like Dan Brown and James Rollins are famously informative, giving details on fascinating subjects.  As long as you do careful research and make sure it’s relevant to the story, facts and figures can enhance your novel.

4. Build it and they will come (not!) For some bizarre reason, I truly believed that a high concept novel with a striking cover and terrific reviews would fly off the shelves. Perhaps I was naïve (or in denial) but the  book was just a few months from launch when I realized that no one is going to know it’s out there.  Publishers are stretched for time and review space is shrinking.  I had to stop writing and focus on marketing full time. I even hired my own publicist. Most authors abhor the dog and pony show but, trust me, you really do have to market your book.  Early. Often.

5. Schedule your life. Once my debut novel was published, I wanted to throw myself into my new book, but I still had to promote The Colony. Trying to do both at the same time was difficult and I found that it’s best to make a schedule.  For instance, you can devote Mondays to publicity and the rest of the week to writing.  Afternoons can be for emails and errands and evenings for family.  However you manage your time, be sure to make writing a top priority.

(How long should a synopsis be? Is shorter or longer better?)

6. Be nice.  Realizing all the people involved in your crazy dream to get published can be humbling. The folks in that writing group who gave you great comments, the best-selling authors who read your book and gave you blurbs, your family, readers, cheerleaders, agent, editor, publicists and book designers.  They all helped to make your dream come true.  So smile. Show your appreciation and help new writers along the way whenever you can. It will be good for your karma and your career.

7. Wait!  Being an author is a job. You get to do what you love every day, but there are few moments of excitement. It’s mostly waiting and waiting and…did I mention waiting?  You’ll wait for agents to get back to you, a publisher to get contracts to you, an editor to get changes to you, a designer to get you cover art. The list is endless and goes on for years.  Even when the book comes out, it can be anti-climactic – and then the process starts all over again. So be patient.  Like any job you love, it’s not about getting the gold watch at the end; it’s about the journey.

GIVEAWAY: AJ is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: missnelso04 won.)



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22 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by A.J. Colucci

  1. CHC

    Really like these tips, AJ. Some really helpful advice. That “Study the Greats (but don’t compare)” is always the one that gets me; you start reading them, and just say, “forget it. I can’t even come close.” Where’s the “Read Crap (because you can do better)” tip?

    All the best on The Colony and your next great book!


  2. ChiTrader

    Glad you emphasized studying the best writers. Especially the writers in one’s genre. I’m getting a great lesson deconstructing Dennis Lehane’s “Prayers for Rain.” Congratulations on your success, AJ.


  3. DanielJayBerg

    Thanks for sharing and best of luck! One thing I’ve learned about patience is that a year can actually go by pretty fast, especially when you’re busy.

  4. Ann

    Thanks for sharing those tips. I personally love #6 “Be Nice”. Self promotion is hard and I’ve met many an local author where smiling is exactly what they were doing. I was always internally thinking that a smile draws people in. Like Bees to honey, so you can share your slice of your soul that was bound in those pages. Well it worked on me, I have quite a few books from authors that were self-promoting. Many that I had no idea was out and about.

    So yes, Karma has a way of coming back around. I do wish all authors new and established good fortune each time they get out there.

    P.S. I personally like how catchy ‘The Colony’ is, caught my attention. 🙂

  5. BingoBill

    Thanks for the advice. I realize that the organization of writing and daily hours is the key for a successful writer. It’s funny but every time I manage to carve out a few hours to play with the ol’ manuscript ( now older than one of my school age children ) I become envious of those who can focus and provide a solid foundation for the writers life. I’ll say it, envy.
    And yet thank you. I know others can do it so I have no excuse for my shortcomings. And to be honest, I have skimmed horrible cliche novels in the supermarket checkout and thought to myself, ” If this idiot can do it why can’t I?” I should be at least as talented as the less talented published author out there.
    To badly paraphrase; Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. I will persevere.
    Thank you for the uplift.

    1. A.J. Colucci

      Hi Bill – Glad to hear you won’t give up. Getting published does take a long time, no way around it. That’s why it’s important to love the writing experience, so it doesn’t feel like drudgery. If you keep working on your ms in your spare time it will eventually become polished enough to send out. Just don’t be tempted to rush it out the door. Take your time. Remember, there’s no age maximum for novelists and readers aren’t going anywhere. Good luck!

  6. amy snyder

    Thank you for your insight, especially on marketing and promotion. I always find it difficult to reconcile the introverted writer with the extrovert needed for publicity.

  7. akrajewski64

    A.J. (my initials too!),

    Best of luck to you with The Colony. I’m struggling through my forst and haven’t given one iota of thought to what might happen after I get (hopefully) published. I appreciate the insight into the self-marketing aspect of a first time novelist.

  8. vrundell

    Thanks so much for the post. I definitely liked the point about teaching–it’s true those great details add authenticity a reader values. Best of luck!

  9. simeon

    Hi A.J. – great tips! Your tip about reading the great writers but not comparing is exactly what I’ve been through! I’ve written a fantasy novel, and so have read Game of Thrones, LOTR, etc…, and have also read “good writers,” such as Franzen, Jennifer Egan, etc… and I study and underline great sentences, analogies, etc…, how they seemlessly go from the present situation to back story and back again, and fold down pages (one reason I don’t read books on the Kindle I received for my birthday…) And I also, like you, always get discouraged, thinking I could never write like them, etc… But then I just plug away, continuing to learn from them while not focusing on how they may be “better.” By the way – one problem with reading books like this is that it’s a slow go, re-reading and analyzing the text, and though I enjoy the books immensely, I don’t always lose myself in the books like I otherwise would – have you experienced this issue?

    Good luck with the book!


    1. A.J. Colucci

      Hi Simeon – Absolutely. I can remember being pulled out of stories whenever a great sentence came along. It can be frustrating. But you’re doing everything right! Reading other authors in your genre is important. At some point, you realize you’ve mastered all the basics and you feel confident in your own unique voice. Then you’ll get lost in books again. Best of luck with your novel!


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