Friday, 21 March 2008

How I got to where I am

Some of you have asked how I got where I am. Below is an updated version of an article that ran a year ago in the online newsletter Writers Weekly, in their "Success Story" section:

Digging up dead bodies had lost its charm. I’d been an archaeologist for several years and while the thrill of discovery remained, career advancement entailed an increasing amount of office work and earning a Ph.D., neither of which were very attractive to me.

I’d always liked writing and had contributed to many small press publications, and now realized I wanted to write books for a living.

Journalism school and a stint at the New Delhi bureau of Reuters got me experience and killed writers’ block forever (you can’t agonize over words when your deadline is half an hour away), but my big break came when Globe Pequot needed someone to update their Insiders’ Guide to Phoenix. I called up the editor, told her my writing experience and how I had lived in Arizona for ten years, and got the job.

While only a coauthorship of an update, the project showed publishers I could do a book. That combined with my archaeological background led to a contract for Byzantium: An Illustrated History (Hippocrene, 2004). Hippocrene liked my work and since I lived in Missouri and had written several history articles on the state, they signed me up to do Missouri: An Illustrated History (upcoming, 2008). That led to another job with Globe Pequot writing It Happened in Missouri (2007). By this time I had plenty of experience, so it wasn’t hard to land Moon Handbooks London (Avalon, 2007). The Missouri angle worked for me again and got me and Outlaw Tales of Missouri (Globe Pequot upcoming, 2008).

In the meantime, I kept on pitching to magazines, gradually (read, slowly) building up a core group of regular clients.

In less than ten years I went from occasional appearances in the small press to publishing six books. I did it by building on my strengths, developing relationships with publishers, and submitting clean, accurate copy on deadline. Oh, and that Phoenix update? Work for hire. Many say you should never do that sort of job, but it’s worth it if the money’s good and it breaks new ground for your career.

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Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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