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7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Lee Thompson

Categories: 7 Things I've Learned So Far, Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Thriller Agents, What's New.

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Lee Thompson, author of A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS) 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: Lee is excited to give away a free copy of his 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: DanielR won.)


Screen shot 2014-08-03 at 11.48.15 PM       Screen shot 2014-08-03 at 11.06.00 PM

Lee Thompson is the author of the suspense novel A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS
(August 2014), which was called “one of the best novels of the year”
by the Minneapolis Books Examiner. His forthcoming suspense novels include

(May 2015). He is represented by the extraordinary Chip MacGregor of
MacGregor Literary. Visit Lee’s website to discover more.


1. Having an agent does not equate to overnight success. Just because he loves my novel does not mean a publishing house will love it. My agent has had two novels on submission over the past year and so far no sale. But I’m not alone in this, thank God, otherwise it’d be depressing. If you write, and a professional believes in you, keep faith in yourself and accept that there are possibly numerous reasons your novel hasn’t sold yet. Not a good fit; yours is too similar to one they just bought; you’ve written in a subgenre that has passed its trendiness; etc. Plan your career for the long haul.

2. I’ve grown the most as a writer by studying my heroes and reading in various genres. I make notes when I’m reading books I love. And one thing I’ve noticed about my biggest heroes is that no matter what genre they’re writing, they write wide and deep. They write about contrasts and the human heart in conflict with itself. The disturbing aspects of a violent act are not as powerful if they lack tenderness or understanding or empathy to frame them.

(Ever want to adapt your novel/memoir into a screenplay? Here are 7 tips.)

3. I want to have what my heroes have. Writers like James Lee Burke, John D. MacDonald, Tom Piccirilli, William Faulkner, Peter Straub, Stephen King, Clive Barker, etc., have their own subject matter, their own style, the unique way with which they execute the plot, characterization, and pacing of their stories. You read the first couple pages of their work and you know it’s them. I want that and I strive for it. Reading novels that could have been written by anybody because they play it safe, or lack style, tend to bore me.

4. I learn best by working. I learn best by brainstorming and listening to my instincts when they start beeping. I learn best by hand copying favorite novels to improve my understanding of the craft and my options on how to execute a particular story. I learn best by actually sitting down and knocking the words out, and then by editing them.

5. Not everyone will like what I write. It’s a fact for every writer. Why the hell I ever thought it was possible (and I did when I started) makes me feel quite silly now. It’s important to find our core audience, of course, and once we find them, to treat them well and give them another thrilling story.

(Learn how to protect yourself when considering an independent editor for your book.)

6. My greatest weaknesses have always been on the non-narrative side. Promotion/marketing. Query letters. Writing the jacket copy. Writing a synopsis. I find that work too much like work. Worse than work actually, because work can be fun if it interests you. I have to ask for help with those things, and I don’t feel any shame for it, because then I have more time and energy to focus on what I’m good at.

7. My greatest enemy is impatience. The next acceptance… The next book cover… The next review… none of them can ever get here quick enough. I think it’s because I’ve always feared dying young, so subconsciously I am driven to produce and see the tangible results of what I produce as quickly as possible. The only thing I’ve found to fight my impatience is to start writing the next novel or novella. Idles hands/Idle minds, the devil’s workshop… It’s good to have friends in the business who have been there and can often remind you how long the publishing process takes.

GIVEAWAY: Lee is excited to give away a free copy of his 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: DanielR won.)


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10 Responses to 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Lee Thompson

  1. r8nbodmn says:

    Very nice, Lee. I’ve always liked reading about your learning process and how you come to the conclusions you do with your work.


  2. cotidiano says:

    I find impatience to be one of my greatest enemies as well, particularly in the sense that I must resist the temptation to rush through the publishing process. At the same time, I want my work to be carefully crafted, the best quality it can possibly be, but I know with my editing style that could take years.

  3. MargoKelly says:

    Great post! I especially appreciate the last point and your comment: “It’s good to have friends in the business who have been there and can often remind you how long the publishing process takes.”

  4. BillScott says:

    “Not everyone will like what I write.” Learned that lesson. Good luck with the book.

  5. burrowswrite says:

    Thanks for sharing awesome column

  6. Micheleann says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. The more articles I read from authors, the more I realize we are all very much the same in our hopes and fears. May the force be with us all!

  7. Lee_Thompson says:

    @Daniel: Thanks for the comment. I agree, it is an absolutely essential realization. I can’t believe how long it takes for us to learn things like that, and how once we accept it, all we can do is laugh at ourselves. Good luck in winning the paperback!

    @Suzyann: Thanks for the comment. Keep up on taking notes on King. That’s a wonderful education. And go after what your heroes have. Good luck in winning the paperback!

    @Debbie: Thanks for the comment. I still struggle, almost daily with impatience. Keep up the fight and getting the words down and improving. Good luck in winning the paperback!

  8. Debbie says:

    Focusing on what we are good at feeds impatience. These two points of yours meld together in such a true way. We want to write, wave a magic wand, and have it published. Maybe a topic for a fantasy novel? Thank you for the good tips.

  9. suzyann68@att.net says:

    Lee, thank you for sharing your seven pieces of insight. Your perspective on the business and encouraging words are greatly appreciated. So many times I’ve felt the weight of trying to write something that everyone must like. That is simply not realistic. I’m glad you spelled it out plainly that as writers we should find our core audience. I have read a great deal of Stephen King’s work, I do enjoy his style, and take notes on sentence structure and pacing. You’re absolutely right, I also want to have what my heroes have!

  10. DanielR says:

    Thanks for your insight! The point “Not everyone will like what I write” is one that I think is always difficult for authors to accept but is an absolutely essential realization to reach. And…I share your impatience. Thanks again for the article.

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