I am extremely troubled by the lack of tolerance and compassion in our country. I do not understand why some people are angered by or fear people who look different, who speak differently, or who love differently. No matter the color of our skin, our native tongue, or the people we fall asleep with at night, we are all human. We all need love and acceptance. We all want peace and opportunity and education. Why can’t we choose to look for the ways in which we are similar instead of focusing on our differences? That is what I most want to change.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Beck. Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author Jamie Beck’s realistic and heartwarming stories have sold more than two million copies. She is a two-time Booksellers’ Best Award finalist, a National Readers’ Choice Award winner, and critics at Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist have respectively called her work “smart,” “uplifting,” and “entertaining.” In addition to writing novels, she enjoys dancing around the kitchen while cooking and hitting the slopes in Vermont and Utah. Above all, she is a grateful wife and mother to a very patient, supportive family.
Thank you so much for joining us Jamie! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Prior to writing, I worked as a commercial real estate and lending lawyer for a decade, then became a stay-at-home mother of two. When both my kids hit grade school, I found myself with too much free time. Lawyering for banks and developers doesn’t lend itself to working from home, which led me to explore other options. As a teen, I’d dreamed of writing for film or TV, so I thought, why not try my hand at writing a novel instead? That first manuscript is under my bed, but, flawed as it is, I love it for lighting the fire that ignited this new career.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
While no singular interesting story comes to mind, I’ve had the good fortune to meet and befriend myriad fascinating writers from varied backgrounds and parts of the world on this journey. My life is vastly richer for knowing them and learning from them. I’ve also traveled from the West Coast to England and Italy for signings, which has been exciting (if tiring).
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t know that I’d term this funny, but the biggest mistake I made was the way I went about querying my first manuscript. Setting aside that it was simply not ready to submit, I approached querying with impatience. After drawing up a long list of agents, I sent one huge batch of identical (form) query letters. Boom! That approach resulted in all but one rejection. The “revise and resubmit” I received from one kind soul ultimately went nowhere, too. I got smarter with subsequent manuscripts (it took me three to land my agent). My advice? Do your homework and personalize each query (research articles about target agents or try to meet them at conferences so you can open with something specific to them, and also research the authors they rep who might be good comps for your work). Also, query in small batches so, if you don’t get any bites, you can revisit and revise the query blurb and hooks to get better results.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My first fourteen books are all what are termed “mainstream” romance novels. This means they are contemporary, contain a large cast and strong secondary plot, and deal with realistic subject matter (ex. recovering alcoholic, breast cancer survivor, etc.) — all of that in addition to primarily telling a story of a couple’s journey to commitment. But beginning in 2020, my books will be women’s fiction with light mystery and romantic elements. The first, IF YOU MUST KNOW (May, 2020), is a sister story about trust and misperceptions that also involves everything from an errant husband, to a medium, grief, a puppy, and new love. The second, TRUTH OF THE MATTER (September, 2020) is a multigenerational tale of three women “coming of age” at the various crossroads in their lives. And I’m getting started on a third — a tale about friendship — but that is still in the planning stages.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study). Can you share a story or example?
I don’t think of myself as a great writer, but the number one habit that led to my success as a working writer is perseverance. To me, discipline, craft, resilience, and everything else fall under that umbrella. When I began, I set my mind to learning craft, learning the industry, learning to juggle my schedule, and to overcoming rejection and obstacles. Traditional publication was my goal and I wouldn’t quit until it happened. Perseverance is truly the key trait behind success in every career, not just writing.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
As my work is fiction (not a memoir or non-fiction), there isn’t a way to answer this particular question without spoilers!
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
With respect to IF YOU MUST KNOW, I think an important takeaway is that often your attitude toward others determines their attitude toward you.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
The biggest challenge was (and continues to be) self-doubt. This is a tricky business, and a very subjective one. There is no clear path or “right way” to make it happen, which is ripe ground for doubt and confusion. I have to talk to myself regularly to clear away the ever-lurking imposter syndrome. The best solution I’ve found is to turn to my writer friends for commiseration and/or cheerleading. So find your tribe! That’s my advice.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I love reading books like Little Fires Everywhere, The Nightingale, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and other “book club” books. I’m inspired by the great writing. I also like to learn from the characters’ experiences. Good books open your mind to new ways of seeing everyday things, and that can improve your relationships and your overall outlook on life.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
At the very least, it entertains people for a few hours. But I’ve had some beautiful letters from readers telling me that a particular book really helped them through a tough time or a similar situation, so that is a tremendous gift (for both the reader and for me).
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Network early. I spent the first fourteen months of my “career” writing and researching in a vacuum. If I had known that so many well-organized writing groups existed, I not only would’ve had people to commiserate with, but I also would’ve had access to information that would’ve cut my learning time in half. Every commercial genre has a national writing group (Romance Writers of America, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, International Thriller Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, etc.). Find yours and join. Better yet, volunteer so that you can start building friendships. Those are the people who will support you when you are down, as well as when you have a new book coming out!
You need to become a marketer. I thought that all I had to do was “write a good book” and the rest would take care of itself. In fact, the opposite is true. Many good books languish because no one knows they exist, and many publishers aren’t putting much money behind anyone other than their top sellers. A Catch-22. You need to learn how to build and use a social media presence, and if you are going indie, how to run Amazon ads and networks with librarians and booksellers to get your books to the public.
It’s a craft, not a gift. I used to think that great writers were born, not made. That “talent” was a static thing. Now I know that is a falsehood. Even looking back over my own work, I see growth. What makes a great writer is dedication to improvement — that sense of never settling. Of always striving. And, of course, that requires you to park your butt in the chair, even when it is painful.
Don’t read your reviews. You can have one thousand great reviews, but the four you’ll remember are the crappy ones. The truth is that each review — good and bad — is only one random person’s opinion. You can’t learn anything from it that your agent and editor and critique partners haven’t already addressed with you. You also have no idea what biases that reader brings to their experience with your book. Reading is subjective. Reviews are subjective. No book is uniformly loved (even To Kill a Mockingbird has its haters). Don’t dig for pain!
Don’t compare your career to another. This is a tough one, because it is human nature to compare yourself against others, but you must try to avoid the temptation. You may start your journey at the same time as a few other people, but some of them will catch a break before you — get an agent or a publishing contract. Some may produce a brilliant and celebrated debut, others won’t break out until book number ten, and still others never finish a book. There is no formula for success (if there were, every editor would follow it and only put out bestsellers). You are on your own journey, which cannot be compared to anyone else’s. And you have to establish your own markers of success (getting a contract, putting out an indie book, winning a contest, etc.) and be happy with them regardless of what else is going on in the market. Professional jealousy will destroy your happiness, and could destroy your career.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I wish I was a person of enormous influence! I am extremely troubled by the lack of tolerance and compassion in our country. I do not understand why some people are angered by or fear people who look different, who speak differently, or who love differently. No matter the color of our skin, our native tongue, or the people we fall asleep with at night, we are all human. We all need love and acceptance. We all want peace and opportunity and education. Why can’t we choose to look for the ways in which we are similar instead of focusing on our differences? That is what I most want to change.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m easy to find because I’m everywhere! My website, www.jamiebeck.com, has icons that will lead you to all of my social media platforms and, more importantly, my monthly newsletter (which contains updates, sneak peeks, reading recommendations, and chances to win birthday gift boxes!)