My number one rule of writing is always to write as though no one will ever read it. Because it allows you to be as bold and audacious and set aside the fear that so often plagues writers.
‘Queen of psychological twists’ Tosca Lee is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven novels. She tells us how it took six years for her first novel to be published, why it’s important not to hang your entire identity on writing and how she plots her high-octane thrillers.
Please give us a brief overview of yourself and your work.
I write thrillers with a slight sci-fi or supernatural edge, historical novels (mostly ancient/biblical) and suspense. I’m married to a handsome farmer and have four step-children, of which two are still at home.
What made you want to be a writer?
I’ve always written—used to win contests as a kid and teen, even—but never really thought of it as a thing because I wanted to be a ballerina. When, after an injury, it became apparent that might not be the road for me, I went off to college thinking I’d go into business or something. It was during a conversation with my dad my freshman year that I started talking about what I loved about my favorite books and I just blurted it out: “I want to write a book.”
Do you have a writing routine?
My days vary. If I’m on deadline, I write long hours until I’m pulling all-nighters up until the end. When I’m between projects, I may not write at all. That’s when I catch up on all the balls I dropped and social stuff I missed while I was working.
How do you outline your work and begin writing?
I try to outline the general story—I’ve learned from experience I’m not a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants)! That said, I always leave myself some wiggle room and some space for mystery. Because good stuff always pops up in the writing process that you just can’t plan for ahead of time.
Is there any particular incident that has happened along your writing journey that you’d like to share?
Many—from the time I wrote a thriller about the descendants historical serial killer Countess Elizabeth Bathory (A.K.A. the “Blood Countess”) and learned I was distantly related to her, to my most recent novel, in which I wrote about a disease that mingles with the Influenza A… and then caught Influenza A while writing it. I’m kind of thinking I ought to write a book about an author who wins the lottery at this point.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
My number one rule of writing is always to write as though no one will ever read it. This allows you to be bold and audacious and set aside the fear that so often plagues writers. Also: finish the book. Especially if you’re writing novels, don’t worry about how to get an agent or publisher yet—because you can’t until you’ve finished and polished the book.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for new authors?
Discoverability. There are so many new books every single week vying for reader attention!
What methods of book marketing do you find the most effective?
Goodreads is a great way to connect with readers. BookBub also. Reaching out to book clubs, doing giveaways, and taking the time and making the investment to attend conferences and events where you can network is all very valuable.
What struggles did you face in the writing and publishing process?
It took me six years to sell the book that would become my first published novel and I’d had other ones rejected before that. Having the tenacity—and the patience—and the drive to press on takes a lot of energy and faith. Or just hard-headed stubbornness.
How do you handle self-doubt as a writer?
My husband is a great encourager to me, and I spend a lot of time talking things through with him. And honestly, I just keep trying and pushing forward, even when I’m not feeling confident. I do think it’s also important to not hang one’s entire identity on writing. When you remember that writing is what you do but isn’t all of who you are, that is a great help.
What is the best writing advice you have received?
Have fun. When I start stressing out, this is what my husband always says to me. And let’s face it—if you’re not having fun, why do it?