Steve Berry is an international, mega-best selling thriller novelist. According to his website, he’s sold 19 million books in 51 countries. Me? Another 18.9 million copies and I’ll be right there with him.
I’ve met Steve several times, but let me make it clear, we aren’t necessarily BFF. If we were to meet again, he might recognize me, but might or might not remember my name.
He probably doesn’t realize it, but he’s been an “encourager” of mine, always, whenever we met, urging me to keep writing and reminding me–as he has many others, I’m sure–that “if I [meaning himself] can do it, you can do it.”
To be honest, though, the first time we met, he wasn’t much of an encourager. Quite the opposite. He was more like a drill sergeant laying into a wet-behind-the-ears recruit.
In 2005, I decided to attend my first Southeastern Writers Association (SEA) Workshop on St. Simons Island, Georgia, mainly because I found out that Steve, then a rising star, was going to be part of the faculty. He would be teaching fiction and doing manuscript critiques. Perfect, I thought.
With a little trepidation and a great deal of optimism, I sent the first chapter of my then work-in-progress, The Koltsovo Legacy, to SEA for Steve’s review. I thought the story would be right up Steve’s alley, something he’d really like, a thriller with international tentacles. Maybe he’d even recommend me to his agent.
Ever hear of delusions of grandeur? Well, I was totally delusional. When the time came for my one-on-one with Steve, I walked into the room, sat, and Steve shoved my manuscript across the table toward me. His first words–I remember them well–were, “You’ve got a lot of work to do.” Things went downhill from there.
All of this came back to me rather vividly a few days ago when I decided to clean up the clutter in my office, which was beginning to look like a document storage warehouse. Or, as a friend noted, “This place is an arsonist’s wet dream.”
Anyhow, among the stacks of paper in my “warehouse,” I discovered the opening chapter of The Koltsovo Legacy, the copy on which Steve had scribbled some notes. Near the top of the first page he’d written: “NOT A GOOD OPENING.” On the bottom of the last page: “WEAK ENDING.” As quick witted as I am, I recall thinking at the time, “Probably not going to get an introduction to his agent.” Insightful, huh?
Between the first and last pages, Steve hammered me for things such as losing my point-of-view, author intrusion, and not making my dialogue more “oblique.” And this: “YOU’RE TELLING HERE–SHOW THE SCENE–RENDER–DON’T TELL.”
Yep, I had a lot of work to do.
Needless to say, I was crushed. I went back to my room that night and drank two bottles of Jack Daniels. Honest. Fortunately, they were the little airline bottles.
Believe it or not, I woke up the following morning feeling pretty good and harboring new resolve. Steve was right. There’s no magic formula for becoming a published writer. Just a hell of a lot of hard work.
It took Steve twelve years and hundreds of rejections before he struck gold with The Amber Room. He quit three times prior to that. It took me ten years and hundreds of rejections. I didn’t quit, but was on the verge in 2010 when Eyewall got picked up by my agent, Jeanie Loiacono, who had it sold within a month.
The Koltsovo Legacy, by the way, after vicious (and necessary) editing and several massive rewrites, was published as Plague. The novel won the 2014 EPIC eBook Award in the suspense/thriller category.
I’ve run into Steve several times since our first meeting, and he’s never been anything but gracious. I probably owe him a steak dinner for kicking me in the butt the first time we met.
So, if you’re ever in Atlanta, Steve, give me a call. I know a nice club. And I can brag, “Between the two of us, we’ve sold over 19 million novels.”