A One-Shot Kill – In Half a Million Rounds

Readers, please welcome guest poster and mystery author Susan Spann to the halls of blogdom today. Many of you know Susan as a multi-featured guest here, and the reason is obvious. She’s just so darn awesome. Join me in congratulating her on the recent release of her debut novel, Claws of the Cat. And there’s two more on the way!

All it takes is fortitude and the will to put enough words on the page.

Top-notch snipers always hit the bulls-eye when it counts.

One shot, one kill, one mission accomplished.Claws of the Cat Cover (50)

Watching a sniper in action, it’s easy to think that every shot a sniper fires always strikes the target. The observer doesn’t see the ten thousand rounds that sniper put down range in practice, many of which went wide of the bulls-eye mark. But every good sniper knows the way to make a one-shot kill is half a million rounds of practice time.

The same applies to success in the publishing world.

My debut Shinobi mystery, Claws of the Cat, required only one conference pitch to land an agent, and sold in a three-book deal two months after that agent sent it on submission. To outside eyes, that looks a lot like a sniper making a thousand-yard kill with a single bullet. It’s almost a miracle—even to me, and even now.

But what most people don’t see are the four completed manuscripts (five, if you count the 80,000-word epic fantasy novel I wrote in high school) lurking in my digital “trunk.” They don’t see the seven years of daily writing and polishing craft that it took for me to write those other manuscripts—or the dozens of rejections those novels earned along the way.

Today, I’m shining a light on those dark corners of my road.

I’ve wanted to be an author since my preschool days—essentially from the moment I learned to read. Stories buzzed incessantly in my head, and by high school, I believed myself “good to go.” In 1986 I penned a full-length novel set in the fantasy world of Terinthia—basically “Generic_Fantasy_001 [With Dragons].” It took two years to write and five to edit, and I never showed it to anyone but my high school English teachers.

In retrospect, that’s a good thing—the story sucked like a Dyson.

Flash forward to 2004. By then, I’d graduated from law school and spent almost a decade practicing law, but publication remained a distant dream. That year I made a commitment to write “as often as I could.” I attended the Maui Writers Conference, and my historical fiction manuscript was a finalist in the writing competition. I was psyched! My time had come!

Or maybe not …

I queried agents about that manuscript and received some requests for reads, but every one of them ended in rejection. I had to face a difficult truth. My writing wasn’t ready.

I mourned my beloved novel, and wrote another one. I queried it. Again, I faced rejection.

I kept on writing.

By 2011, I’d written four more novels—a total of 500,000 words. All four manuscripts were rejected, multiple times, by dozens of agents. Many of those agents wrote me encouraging notes or emails, but at the end of the day, they rejected me, along with my manuscripts, more than once.

I kept on writing.

Early in 2011, inspiration struck again, this time for a mystery novel about a ninja detective. Writing a mystery sounded hard, but I figured I couldn’t do any worse than I’d already done with historical fiction.

I wrote my ninja mystery under the working title SHINOBI (an alternate word for “ninja”). In the process, I fell in love with mystery writing. I finished the novel in record time. That September, I attended the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold conference and pitched SHINOBI to literary agent Sandra Bond. What happened from there it looks a lot like a one-shot kill.

Except that it wasn’t really, and now you know that too.

Publishing success, like a sniper’s skill, is achieved through and many, many hours of work—which means many words on a page. It took me seven years of focused study to do it right. Some people succeed much faster than I did. Others take longer. But one thing my journey has taught me, without a doubt, is this: I didn’t succeed because I am any brighter or any better than anyone else. I succeeded because I was just too stubborn and too determined to fail.

It took me half a million words to learn to write Claws of the Cat (which, if you’re wondering, contains just over 62,000 words), but I did it. I succeeded. And if I can, anyone else can, too. All it takes is fortitude and the will to put enough words on the page.

Susan Spann (headshot)Bio: Susan Spann is a transactional attorney and former law school professor whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She has a deep interest in Asian culture and has studied Mandarin and Japanese. Her hobbies include Asian cooking, fencing, traditional archery, martial arts, rock climbing, and horseback riding. She keeps a marine aquarium where she raises seahorses and rare corals. You can find Susan online at http://www.susanspann.com, or on Twitter @SusanSpann. Her debut Shinobi mystery, Claws of the Cat (Minotaur Books) released on July 16, 2013.

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All content copyright unless otherwise specified © 2013 by Tammy Salyer, writer. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to use short quotes provided proper attribution is given.