It’s time to meet another author who got a literary agent & book deal — so we can learn from their path to success. This interview is with J.C. Carleson, a former undercover CIA officer. She spent nine years conducting clandestine operations around the globe before trading the real world of espionage for writing about espionage. She is the author of the nonfiction book, WORK LIKE A SPY: BUSINESS TIPS FROM A FORMER CIA OFFICER (Portfolio, Feb. 2013). Success said the book will “make you more versatile, shrewd and savvy, whether you’re a job seeker, salesperson, manager or CEO.” Publishers Weekly said “This quick and enjoyable read offers plentiful nuggets of information, which can be put to good use by any career-minded reader.”
What is the book’s genre/category?
Please describe what the story/book is about.
WORK LIKE A SPY introduces readers to techniques and skills used by CIA officers that can also be used in a business setting.
Where do you write from?
Outside Washington, D.C.
Briefly, what led up to this book?
I floundered a bit after quitting my job at the CIA, not quite certain what I could do to follow what had been a pretty amazing career. I decided to give writing a try, almost on a whim, and discovered that I loved it. My first book, CLOAKS AND VEILS, is a thriller. I was a bit reluctant to tackle nonfiction, to be honest, only because I had no desire to write a “tell-all”.
What was the time frame for writing this book?
I spent about nine months writing the book — I tend to write very slow, but very clean first drafts, so subsequent passes are more about tidying up than anything else.
How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)?
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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
Like just about everyone who has ever published a book, I was shocked when I first learned how slow the publishing process is. More recently I’ve been very surprised to discover just how different it is to promote a newly released work of non-fiction than it is to promote fiction — there seem to be far more promotional opportunities for non-fiction.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
For me, the critical first step was getting an agent. I knew nothing at all about the publishing industry at the time, and even now, years later, I know only enough to know that I don’t want to navigate the waters alone. I’m quite content to focus on writing the next book.
On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I would have started earlier!
Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?
No, and I still don’t. Because of my background working for the CIA, I suppose, I’m an extremely private person, so I steer clear of most social media. This may very well cost me book sales, but I’m hoping that I can make up for that by continuing to write better and better books each time.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Writing fantasy, mystery, literary, urban fan, sci-fi or horror? Query Shira Hoffman.
- Writing the Male POV: 5 Tips.
- Author Antonio Hill explains: 5 Keys to Writing a Great Thriller.
- Agent JL Stermer puts out a call for more women’s fiction and young adult.
- 5 Ways to Build Solid Relationships in Your Story.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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