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

1. High Concept is easier to sell. Within three years of writing fiction, I had a couple of books, a few partials and had 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 supercolony of one trillion ants attack Manhattan, two divorced entomologists are brought together to stop the invasion before the president nukes the city. A high concept novel can be summed up in one sentence that instantly gets the listener excited 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. 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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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.

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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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