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Olympics and Writing

Published February 13, 2010 in Advice , Business , Novels , Process , Publicity , Short Stories , Writing - 9 Comments


During the Olympics, the world watches great athletes from all nations perform seemingly impossible feats with breathtaking skill.  When those well-toned men and women receive their medals, we admire them for their almost superhuman abilities.  As we sit on the couch munching potato chips, most of us don’t kid ourselves that we could be just as talented, just as fast, just as strong . . . if only we had the time.

For some reason, though, many believe exactly that about writing books.  I’ve had many people tell me, “Oh, writing is easy.  Anybody can do it if they just sit down and put their minds to it.”   Here’s how the conversation goes:

Somebody at a book-signing:  “I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  I could write a novel.”

Me:  “Oh?  Why haven’t you?”

Person:  “I just don’t have the time.”

Me:  “Hmm.  Nobody gives me the time, either.  I have to make the time, set priorities, discipline myself to get my writing done each day, no matter how tired I am.  I worked a full-time regular job while I wrote my first novels, scraping out an hour here or there in evenings and weekends.  That’s how I’ve become a successful author.”

Person:  “Yeah, right.  I think you’re just lucky.”

Most Olympic athletes start their training as kids, practicing, competing, clawing their way up year after year.  They get up before dawn just to grab enough hours of training during the day.  They strive to improve their performance, stretch their abilities, beat their personal bests, and then beat them again.  They practice until they’re ready to drop, and then they keep at it.  Yet they find a way to do it, as well as maintain family lives, relationships, and countless other personal obligations.  Many are injured along the way, and the vast majority of those who try out don’t end up making the Olympic team at all.  They may win semifinals and regional competitions, but only the best of the best become part of the team—and only the very best of those will win a medal.

I’ve received dozens of letters posing the same question:  “I want to write a bestselling novel, but it seems to take so long, and it’s an awful lot of work.  Can you tell me what the shortcut is?”  They seem to think that I figured out some simple formula and if I would just share it, then anybody could be a bestselling author, just like that.

But does anyone really say, “I want to win a gold medal in figure skating, but I don’t have the time for all that practice and training.  In fact, I don’t even own ice skates.  Can you tell me the shortcut to winning a medal?”

To make a short answer long, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was five years old.  I sat in my dad’s study and plunked out my first “novel” on a manual typewriter when I was eight.  By the age of ten, I had saved up enough money to buy either a bicycle (like a normal kid), or my own typewriter.  I chose the typewriter.  I got my first rejection slip by the time I was 13, had my first story published when I was 16 (after I had gathered 80 rejection slips), and sold my first novel by the time I was 25.

I have a trophy in my office proclaiming me to be “The Writer with No Future” because I could produce more rejection slips by weight than any other writer at an entire conference.  My files now bulge with more than 800 rejections.  On the other hand, I also have 100 books published, 46 of which have been national or international bestsellers, I’ve got a shelf full of awards, and my work has been translated into 30 languages.  I’ve written more than twelve million words, so far.

No, I don’t know any shortcuts.  Sorry.

If you look at the numbers, there are about as many New York Times bestselling authors as there are members of the various US Olympic teams.  The competition among bestsellers is just as tough as the competition for medals, and your chances of success are just as slim.

Where does this notion come from that just anybody can write a novel, if they bothered to get around to it?  I never hear the claim that just anybody can be an Olympic athlete, or a brain surgeon, or a space shuttle commander if someone would give them a cheat-sheet.  Even if we did “have the time” to raise capital and invest wisely, few people could manage to be as rich as Warren Buffet.

Guys, publishing a novel involves more than stringing a lot of sentences together until you fill enough pages with words.

Every author has heard this one:  “I’ve got a great idea for a novel.”  Voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper.  “I’ll tell you the idea, then you write the book, and we can split the money.”  (As if the idea is the hard part!)  I’m not short on ideas; most writers aren’t.  In fact, I’ll never have time to flesh out all the novel possibilities that occur to me on a regular basis.

Because my parents raised me to be polite and courteous, I’ve never actually responded to such an offer with the obvious reply: “Thanks for the offer, but I’m pretty busy right now.  Why don’t we try it the other way around first?  I’ll tell you an idea off the top of my head, then you can do all the research, the plotting, and character development.  You can write a hundred thousand words or so, then edit the manuscript (I usually do at least five to ten drafts), shop it around until a publisher buys it, work with the editor for any revisions, deal with the copy editor, proofread the galleys, then do booksignings and promotion after it’s published.  After all that, we’ll split the money since, after all, I did give you the initial idea.  Sound fair?”

Now, I’m not comparing myself to an Olympic gold medalist.  I can’t even stay up on ice skates. But I do have a pretty good idea how to write a novel.  I’ve been practicing and training for most of my life.  As a public service maybe I’ll write a self-help book of shortcuts for these would-be authors who live all around us.  I could call it, How to Become a Bestselling Author in Twenty Years or Less.

If only I could find the time to write it. . . .


Note: The contest for a free attending membership in the Superstars Writing Seminar at the Pasadena Convention Center (March 19-21) ends tomorrow, Feb 14.  If you haven’t entered yet, go to the Superstars contest page to add your name.

VIP Dinner Added to Writing Seminar

We are pleased to announce the addition of a special VIP dinner, limited to 25 people, for Saturday, March 20, at the Superstars Writing Seminar.   Attendees will have access to the instructors—Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, and Eric Flint—during the three days of sessions in the Pasadena Convention Center.  However, this dinner gives a group of students the chance for a more relaxed, personal event with all five bestselling writers in a quieter setting.  The restaurant, Il Fornaio in Pasadena, is within walking distance of the Convention Center and is considered one of the best restaurants in the area.

We hope you’ll consider joining us for the 3-day event as well as for the VIP dinner.


TERRA INCOGNITA: Anatomy of a Book Release, Part 2

This is the second of a four-part series about the release of Terra Incognita: THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (novel. Orbit Books) and Terra Incognita: BEYOND THE HORIZON (rock CD, ProgRock Records) on June 2.

Part 2.  Music and Words—Epic Fantasy Novel, Epic Rock CD

 In Part 1, I described our efforts to begin building steam for the release of the novel Terra Incognita: THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, months before its release.  However, I had actually begun another part of the project almost two years earlier, during the planning and research stages of the novel, which would make this an innovative and unusual project: Not only was “Terra Incognita” an ambitious fantasy novel, it was also a groundbreaking crossover music CD with performances by some of the legends of rock.

Since I began writing my first stories, I have always been influenced by music, especially the genre known as “progressive rock” (Rush, Kansas, Styx, the Alan Parsons Project, Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, Tool, A Perfect Circle, Lana Lane, Asia).  Many stories, scenes, even entire books blossomed from the CDs playing constantly on my stereo.  My first novel, RESURRECTION, INC., was entirely inspired by the Rush album Grace Under Pressure,  which I acknowledged in the dedication. 

However, not only were many of my stories inspired by music, but a lot of the music I enjoyed was inspired by science fiction and fantasy.  Progressive rock clearly has a genre focus, and the two audiences have a lot in common.

 I had become friends with Shawn Gordon, who owns the record label ProgRock Records, and we discussed the possibility of tying together a novel and CD as a sort of synergistic, crossover project.  In 2007, as I began work on Terra Incognita, I suggested to Shawn that this might be the perfect subject for such a creative endeavor—an epic novel and an epic CD, written by the same author.  Shawn immediately saw the potential and brought aboard accomplished keyboardist/composer Erik Norlander (Rocket Scientists) to write the music and produce the recordings (he was also our keyboardist).  I had enjoyed Erik’s solo work, and I particularly loved the music and vocals of his wife Lana Lane (“the Queen of Symphonic Rock”).  Erik and I began corresponding, exchanging novels and CDs.

 For our crossover album, Terra Incognita: BEYOND THE HORIZON, I adapted a storyline from the 600-page novel, a part that I thought could best be enhanced in music format.  I worked with my wife and frequent coauthor Rebecca Moesta to write the lyrics to all the songs.  Erik wrote the music, Lana sang the demos, and the whole thing started to come together.


 It turns out that a lot of the singers and musicians I had admired for years were indeed fans of SF/F and often fans of my novels.  We put together a “supergroup” of some of the top names in the business, creating a band called ROSWELL SIX.  Vocals by James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Michael Sadler (ex-Saga), John Payne (Asia feat. John Payne) and Lana Lane.  David Ragsdale (the violinist from Kansas) came aboard, along with Martin Orford (from IQ, who came out of retirement to perform on our CD), Gary Wehrkamp (guitarist, Shadow Gallery), Kurt Barabas (bassist, Under the Sun), Chris Brown (guitarist, Ghost Circus), Chris Quirarte (drummer, Prymary), and Mike Alvarez (cello). 

 Altogether, the 13 tracks on the CD tell part of THE EDGE OF THE WORLD.  In addition to the lyrics, I wrote connective text in the CD booklet, which contains interior art by multiple-Hugo-winning artist Bob Eggleton.  The unique aspect of the combined CD and novel attracted attention from both the music and book business, and Orbit Books and ProgRock Records were able to cross-promote.  The novel and the CD were set to release simultaneously, and Orbit arranged to send out packages containing both items to an extensive review list.


 In the course of my career I’ve had over a hundred books published in many languages, with many bestsellers, but this project has been a dream come true, a creative synergy unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my career.  Listen to the music, read the novel—and enjoy.  (Sample tracks are available at

 –Kevin J. Anderson



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