The More You Write For Yourself, The Better Your Book Will Be

There is an old saying. What comes from the heart reaches the heart. I have always found this to be true. But I would add to it my own less elegant postscript. It helps to know who you’re talking to. GIVEAWAY: John 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: bikerkat won.)
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There is an old saying. What comes from the heart reaches the heart.

I have always found this to be true. But I would add to it my own less elegant postscript. It helps to know who you’re talking to.

GIVEAWAY: John 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: bikerkat won.)

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John Verdon is the author of mystery-thrillers. His latest novel
is LET THE DEVIL SLEEP (July 2012, Crown). John is a former
Manhattan advertising executive who lives with his wife in the
mountains of upstate New York. His first two Dave Gurney novels,
Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight, are
both international bestsellers.

When I wrote my first novel, the mystery-thriller THINK OF A NUMBER, I had an advantage that I would never have identified at the time as an advantage, or as anything good. It was simply this: I had no belief that the book would ever be published.

Wherein lies the advantage in that, you ask? And you might also ask, why did I bother to write it, if I didn’t believe anyone was going to read it?

Well, I hoped at least one person was going to read it. But I’ll return to her in a moment.

(A WD editor's best piece of writing advice -- period.)

The initial reason I wrote THINK OF A NUMBER was simply to see if I could. I’d been reading and enjoying certain kinds of detective novels for many years. I discovered a handful of writers whose works I devoured: Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Reginald Hill, Peter Robinson.

After a while, it seemed to me that I had come to understand what they were doing -- not just that I understood their books, but that I saw the art behind the whole detective story concept, the process of creating it. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to put this presumption to the test, to try to write one myself. I was afraid, of course, that I was going to discover that doing it was a far different thing from understanding it -- like the first time I tried ice skating.

A few ideas started coming together in my mind: a scary opening, a brilliant murderer, an impossible crime, a restless detective, a marriage in trouble. Various colorful characters started to populate the landscape. Soon I had a starting point, a rough outline, an emotional arc. All of that found its way onto index cards.

And then, at some point, surrounded by all my scribbled notes, I started writing. Paragraphs. Pages. Chapters.

Which brings me back to my audience of one. I was fairly sure, if and when I finished the story, that my wife would read it, and that would be the end of it. And so, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes consciously, I was writing it for her. I was writing it to her. I was telling her the story.

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

When she finally read it, she told me she loved it. And not only that she loved it, but that she thought is was really good and I should try to find an agent and get it published.

Cutting to the chase ... I followed her advice and got a wonderful agent, Molly Friedrich; a wonderful publisher, Random House; a wonderful editor, Rick Horgan; and ended up with an international bestseller, sold to 27 publishers around the world, with hundreds of thousands of readers; and contracts for two more books -- including my new thriller, LET THE DEVIL SLEEP.

But I have an odd feeling about it all. I have a feeling that if I was trying to write for hundreds of thousands of readers, I might not have ended up with any. I have a feeling that the success of my book came from the fact that I knew who I was writing it for.

I was writing it for someone whose intelligence I respect, whose sense of humor I share, whose opinions I value. I was writing it for someone whose sensibilities I would never want to offend. I was writing it for someone I love.

Perhaps writing for a reader you care about -- and caring about the reader you write for -- is another way of saying, “What comes from the heart reaches the heart.”

GIVEAWAY: John 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: bikerkat won.)

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