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“You have to tell a captivating story” to write a bestselling book, an interview with authors Sara Connell & Mark Stevens

Be patient. Write and rewrite until it’s not “good.” No, that you passed “good” and went to a level you didn’t think that you could reach. As part of my series on the “5 Things You Need To Know To Write A Bestselling Book” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Stevens. Mark has appeared […]


Be patient. Write and rewrite until it’s not “good.” No, that you passed “good” and went to a level you didn’t think that you could reach.

As part of my series on the “5 Things You Need To Know To Write A Bestselling Book” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Stevens.

Mark has appeared in major media outlets: print, radio & TV. Stevens is quick, witty and charismatic. He is a storyteller who sees the exceptional in what others may view as ordinary and spins it in a compelling, but highly insightful/intelligent way. 

He has a fabulous sense of humor too.

TV appearances and speaking engagements: Wharton School of Business, Nike, Oracle, Virgin Air, REMAX, Guardian Life, 42ndStreet Y, etc. As a frequent TV & Radio guest commentator, Stevens lends his insights and opinions on a wide variety of topics to AP, NPR, CNBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox Business, WPIX, CNN International etc. on the annual subject of Super Bowl advertising and Carl Icahn (Stevens is the sole biographer), “Before You Tie The Knot: How To Create A Successful Partnership (WSJ); “Why Successful People Don’t Sleep,” (NYT) & “Be A Better Boss,” (Forbes.com).

He has also address business audiences at Wharton School of Business, Nike, Oracle, Virgin Air, Culinary Institute, REMAX, Guardian Life, etc.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

A first grade challenge. Our teacher challenged the class to write a sentence describing the one place in the world that we liked best.

I write two full pages about Juno Alaska.

I’d never even been close to there.

At that moment, I knew that I was a writer.

What was (so far) the most exhilarating or fulfilling experience you’ve had as an author?

Meeting Bill Gates. He read one of my books and through my agent asked for me to spend a day with him at Microsoft. When I told people that “I’m going to see Bill Gates on Thursday,” all had the same response: “Who’s that.”

The year was 1990 and although the Boy Wonder was on his way to ushering in the Information Age, he was not yet a household name.

What was the craziest, weirdest, wildest experience you’ve had as a bestselling author?

When I wrote the bestseller, The Big Eight, I was asked to appear on the influential TV show, Wall Street Week. The host built me up with a grand introduction, calling me the world’s greatest expert on the Big Eight accounting firms.

As he turned the spotlight to me, he asked me to start by naming the firms.

Horror of horrors, my mind went blank — I couldn’t think of one.

So I did a segue “Before we get to that, let me recount an interesting story.” I went off on an intentional tangent and thankfully he never returned to the name game.

What is the greatest part about being a successful, bestselling author? What is the worst (if anything) part?

The best part is that an idea that you present to the world, can change established practices. Seeing people on airplanes, in swimming pools, lounging in hotel lobbies: well that’s a thrill and a half. And when the likes of Nike and Virgin Air asked me to share my thoughts about “Your Marketing Sucks” with their teams, I knew my points of view were making waves in the real world.

And anyone who says there’s something bad about having a bestseller is lying.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study)

The Pajama Rule.

When I’m writing a book, I commit to doing five pages every morning before I shave, brush my teeth, change out of my pajamas. I’m zoned in and never distracted.

Plus I may be the only person who writes his books on an iPhone. It’s always with me and so when I get inspired (even after the PJ period) I can write.

Which writer or leader has had the biggest impact on you as a writer? Why?

I’ve been influenced in life, but never by a writer.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

Making it clear to agents and publishers that you don’t want to follow their formulas. And the best way to do that is to write some good that you like — so good that they want to publish it even if it’s unorthodox.

What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? What lesson(s) did you learn?

Be patient. Write and rewrite until it’s not “good.” No, that you passed “good” and went to a level you didn’t think that you could reach.

What are the 5 things a writer needs to know if he/she wants to become a bestselling author?

1. You have to tell a captivating story. When I was a teenage novelist, I was writing avant garde material that I thought was ingenious. When a prominent agent read it, she said “Very interesting but interesting isn’t good enough. Get some sec in it.”

She pissed me off but she proved to be right.

2. There are zero rules for writing. When Hemingway started out, writers had to paint word pictures loaded with adjectives, such as “The old man bent over the creaking table and tasted the warm country soup filled with a rainbow palette of vegetables.”

Hemingway’s way: “The old man enjoyed the hot soup.”

3. The title is incredibly important. When I named my book on marketing, “Your Marketing Sucks,” I knew I was throwing a match on gasoline. Do you think it would have become a bestseller if I titled it “Your Marketing Is No Good?.”

4. Work your way to a great agent. They aren’t writing geniuses, but their names open doors. I went from an agent who was a nobody in publishing to one who served a Who’s Who client list.

5. Save your money. One bestseller can earn you enough to live on for life. When I write my first hit, I bought a dream house with cash. And with the earnings from the next big books, I out the money in the bank and it’s all still there.

What are you most excited to work on next? Most excited to read next?

A sequel to my only children’s book, SkysAmazingDream.com

I just read the touching and insightful true story of a loving and courageous Labrador Retriever going blind.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

The power of applying your personal creativity to absorbing and magnifying the beauty of life.

Thank you so much for these great insights!


About the author: Sara is an author and writing coach with a private practice in Chicago. She has appeared in Oprah, Good Morning America, NPR, The View and Katie Couric. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Tri-Quarterly, Good Housekeeping, Parenting, IO Literary Journal, and Psychobabble. Her first book Bringing In Finn was nominated for ELLE magazine Book of the Year. www.saraconnell.com

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