Living the Dream

Bestselling Columbine author Dave Cullen shares his advice on what you can do to make a living from your writing—and how to get your work read.

What advice do you have for writers striving to make a living from their work?
Work like crazy to get as good as you can, and figure out great stories to tell. And understand the odds are still stacked against you on both counts. I’m about to turn 50, and hopefully just started supporting myself this way.

What was the most important thing you learned about writing while you wrote Columbine?
Compassion.

What’s the best advice you got that you want to pass on to other writers?
I remember my publisher telling me that on publication day there will be nothing I can do or they can do to make my book a hit. It will be too late.

Everything that determines that will happen in the pivotal two to three months before. Six to eight weeks out they were pitching to “60 Minutes” and “Nightline.” Producers were reading it eight to 10 weeks before, and 12 weeks before we were trying to get to that person. That’s how a book becomes a hit. It takes that time.

One other bit of advice I think is crucial: Get the people you’re pitching to actually read your book. Ask them to read 10 pages, so make the first 10 pages count. Interns read your book, tell their boss[es], pass it around, and suddenly they’re all talking about it. That’s how word trickles up.

And, for God’s sake, read Publisher’s Weekly every week for at least two years. It’s how the industry works.

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