So You Want to be a National Bestselling Author!

16 Apr

By guest blogger, Terry Spear

You can be anything your heart desires, if you want it badly enough. That was what my father always told me when I was growing up. He’s been dead for many years now yet I still recall so many of his words of wisdom—well, maybe not all of them were words of wisdom. Like the: Eat your spinach. It’ll grow hair on your chest.

NOW you know where I get some of my wry humor!

At one of the writing conferences I attended, a NY Times bestselling author said that we should reach for the stars. Dream big. Don’t just shoot for something little. But have a lofty goal. Something that seems unattainable. Like—“I’m going to be a NY Times bestseller.” That was her goal. And then she made it.

I’m thinking: that’s easy for her to say. A big publisher picked her up and so sure, she made it.

But there’s some truth in what she said. Ever enter a contest just for the judges’ critique? Or do you hope to final? To win? To catch an editor or agent’s interest?

Do you write a novel, several, just because you have to quiet the demons running rampant in your head and once you tell their story, you can have a break? Or do you want to share your stories with readers and hope they fall in love with your characters, their worlds, their plights as much as you do?

Unfortunately, to get anywhere in this business, you have to work hard at it. Writing the story is the key. Revising it over and over again until it shines is one of the most important things you can do. But once you’ve submitted, and gotten the rejections, dozens maybe, what do you do?

You can be anything your heart desires, if you want it badly enough.

Always remember that.

What I do is start from scratch. I’m an eclectic reader and writer. So if one genre wasn’t working, I’d try something else. My critique partners LOVED my vampire romances. They said I’d found my niche. I had loved Dracula ever since I was 13 and my mother had taken me to see him at a college play. My mother was really ahead of her times. She loved Star Trek and vampires, and how cool is that?

But I hated that the vampire had to die, that he was unloved. So I created my own version. But what happened about the time I was shopping my vampire stories? No, not Twilight. That came much later. Everyone was writing them. Everyone. If the author was a NY Times bestselling romantic suspense author, she was now writing vampires. If she was a NY Times bestselling historical romance writer, she was writing vampires. If she was a NY Times bestselling romantic comedy writer, she was now writing about vampires.

What is the key phrase in this scenario? NY TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR

Yep. No chance there. Most of the houses already had their own vampire authors…the authors probably didn’t love vampires from an early age like I had, but they were published, already had a huge following, and that’s all that mattered.

Moving along—what else could I write that would be as sexy as my vampires, with the same light darkness/dark lightness—I love romantic suspense, but I can’t write without humor—so my writing is something in between.

I had grown up also on werewolves. And they had the same problem as vampires. They were unloved. Yet the poor man couldn’t help what he was. I always wanted the underdog to have a happily ever after, even if it was supposed to be a horror story.

At the same time, I had also loved Jack London’s tales, Call of the Wild and White Fang and so I decided to write a werewolf story where the shapeshifters are like real wolves, not beastly characters, and in their human form they still have the wolfish senses.

I never ever ever thought that one story, that had been requested by several agents and publishers and consequently turned down by every agent and publisher until Sourcebook’s editor, Deb Werksman, gave it a read might want it. Here’s what happened.

She called me and I thought she was a telemarketer, and I even asked if she was selling something.


She was not a telemarketer and we had to sort of start over again with introductions.

She had only read through half of the book and loved it, but wanted to know if I’d sold it yet. Nope. She would read the rest and get back with me if she liked where I went with the story.

Some notes: She wanted to know if it was unique. Long after I had written the book, I’d judged some contests that had a couple of werewolf stories. One, the shifters turned into beasts, dogs, all kinds of stuff. In the other, not really based on wolves. Others that I hadn’t read, but looked up were historical. And I also gave her specifics in my story that were truly unique to my world.

She got back to me about it sometime later, can’t recall now when, but it seemed like FOREVER, and said she loved it and wanted to take it to the acquisitions board. YES!

But it wasn’t a done deal until they bought it. And they might not like it!  It took FOREVER to get back with me because the board didn’t meet like it usually did. When she did, the book was sold! And she wanted to know what else I had. HEART OF THE WOLF made PW’s Best Book of the Year, only 5 mass marketed books that made it that year, and the first for Sourcebooks in their romance line.

I was over the moon. I still never thought that I would become a bestselling author. My daughter would tell me, “Mom, if you don’t think you will be, you won’t be.” Which brought me back to my dad’s saying, “You can be anything your heart desires, if you want it badly enough.”

I always wanted to make bestselling status, and I’ve worked hard with promoting in every way, shape, and form that I can think of. But basically after 15 years of writing, revising, submitting, and tons of rejections, and 9 books into the werewolf series, I finally made the USA TODAY bestsellers list the first week out with A SEAL in Wolf’s Clothing!!!

My advice: Keep writing. Switch genres and see if another might be the one that suits your writing style best. Make your book as unique as it can be so that readers will be able to identify with your world and know it’s yours. Never quit learning the craft. No matter how many books I’ve written, I’m always learning how to improve my writing. “Never give up. Never surrender”~~Galaxy Quest

Write as if the next book will be “the one” that will make it. That’s what I did and it finally worked!

Set writing goals, finish the books, and with each new story, fall in love all over again. And remember you can do whatever your heart desires if you want it badly enough!


USA TODAY bestselling author, Terry Spear has written over a dozen paranormal romance novels and two medieval Highland historical romances. An award-winning author, Terry’s Heart of the Wolf  was named a Publishers Weekly’s Best Book of the Year in 2008. A retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, Terry Spear is a librarian by day and spends every spare moment writing paranormal romance as well as historical and true life stories for both teen and adult audiences. Spear lives in Crawford, Texas, where she is working on new paranormal romances! For more information, please visit!/TerrySpear


Posted by on April 16, 2012 in Guest Blog


17 responses to “So You Want to be a National Bestselling Author!

  1. Liz Fredericks

    April 16, 2012 at 4:49 AM

    Thank you for blogging with GSW, Terry! Your message today inspires me – it’s not only ‘last woman standing’ but also preparation and improvement coupled with the flexibility to adapt and respond to opportunity. Your Dad’s advice seems spot on . . . . though my pops added ‘cooked’ spinach . . . apparently raw is exempt. Thank goodness!!

  2. terryspear

    April 16, 2012 at 7:08 AM

    Thanks so much, Liz and to Gem State Writers for asking me to be here today!! Oh, I sooo agree with everything you say. In a class I was teaching on Dealing with Rejection, one thing I mentioned–when opportunity knocks–so many times a new line would open up and I’d write a story that I thought would be great for that line–Flipside, a new YA line at a couple of different publishing houses, Luna, Bombshell. Each time, something was wrong with my stories. Not really wrong, but made them not a good fit for the line–my Exchanging Grooms and Marriage, Las Vegas Style were both funny, but had some serious sides to them, so didn’t fit Flipside. The editor for Luna loved my voice, but I had too much romance in my fantasy. Tomb Raider line–too much romance in my kick-ass heroine Bombshell story. I didn’t “fit” in. But that didn’t stop me from writing. And writing. And writing. One of the new YA lines even picked up my first two YA books, but after paying an advance, the house closed it’s YA line before either book was published. Every new opportunity that popped up, I pursued it. Sourcebooks was one of those new opportunities!

    And the other stories? I’ve sold them as self-published works and they’re doing great! They might not have fit a publisher’s line, but readers love them just fine!

    Too funny about raw spinach being exempt!!! 🙂 Good luck with your writing! Never, ever give up!

  3. Janis McCurry

    April 16, 2012 at 7:13 AM

    Terry, you hit the mark about changing direction. Right now, I write paranormal lights. The world isn’t coming to an end, no “sturm und drang” on a universal scale. Those are not the shiny thing right now. So, I’m working in another genre. I won’t give up on the other, but sometimes, the timing isn’t right. Thanks for bloggin on Gem State Writers.

    • terryspear

      April 16, 2012 at 7:20 AM

      Absolutely, Janis! I saw where agents are saying dark paranormal are more the thing now. And then paranormal is going to be out. But you know what? Readers don’t all of a sudden give up on the type of stories they love to read! So why does NY believe that one is out and another is in?

      I love historical romance and the paranormal and well, a LOT of different kinds of writing. But I can’t write totally dark. My daughter says I add rainbows to my stories. 🙂 Forcing ourselves to write something that isn’t us, doesn’t work. One of my author friends writes moody dark works. When everything was chick lit and light paranormal, it wouldn’t work for her. We have to write what we feel, not what’s dictated. And like you said, it’ll swing back our way again! 🙂

  4. Clarissa Southwick

    April 16, 2012 at 8:24 AM

    What an inspirational blog, Terry! Thanks so much for being our guest today. You gave me some great ideas on how to write what I want and still fit the market.

    • terryspear

      April 16, 2012 at 12:23 PM

      Thanks, Clarissa, for having me! We so have to write what we love! It shows in our writing. If we write only for the market, readers can tell. I was curious about a NY Times bestselling author who has millions of devoted fans and what happened with a new release when she wrote out of her genre. Reviews were bad. They love her. They said so. But she added “things” that said, I’m writing in this genre. But she wrote it for the trend, not because it’s a genre she’s well read in or has immersed her characters in. In their reviews of her work, readers were recommending to other readers the kinds of books that were excellent examples of this genre fiction. We have to always remember that readers are very savvy!

      Thanks, Peggy! I love mysteries! I grew up on Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, and a boy series mystery, not Hardy Boys, but another (because that’s the series they had a garage sale and I picked up all of them)…It’s neat to know that you have a talent and love for some form of writing when you’re creating that work of art. In one story I heard, the agent had read the 2nd book submitted by the duo of authors, the first book having been released and loved by fans, but when she read the 2nd book, she was like, wait! Something’s wrong with this book. It was missing a key element that readers loved! The humor. The 2nd book was very dark, no humor. The two authors hadn’t even realized their humor was what made the 1st book so endearing. So knowing what we excel at when we’re writing and ensuring we share that with our readers is really important!

  5. Peggy Staggs

    April 16, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    Terry, great advice. I read all kinds of things and write all over the map. They usually turn into mysteries, no they always turn into mysteries. There’s a new (at least to me) series, “Grimm” that has all the classic scary characters. I love the way they turn things. The good guy is the descendant of one of the Brothers Grimm and his side kick is a werewolf. Great twist. For me that’s what makes a great read. Sometimes I’m disappointed and sometimes delighted. Thanks for blogging with us today.

  6. stephanieberget

    April 16, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    Thanks, Terry. I don’t think we can hear that piece of advise too often, “You can do whatever your heart desires if you want it badly enough!”

  7. ramblingsfromtheleft

    April 16, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    Thank you so much, Terry. I am a frequent reader of GSW and your post today reaffirms my love of this blog and its amazing guests. Your determination and hard work are a light at the end of the tunnel for those of us still striving. Great post 🙂

  8. terryspear

    April 16, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    Thanks, Ramblings from the Left! I always loved hearing from authors who were just like me, writing the stories, submitting, getting rejected, yet they never gave up. It’s easy to feel like our stories aren’t good enough, but all we need is that one chance, the right manuscript at the right time. That’s it. So we just have to keep writing until then! 🙂

  9. marsharwest

    April 16, 2012 at 6:03 PM

    Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement, Terry. It’s always good to hear from someone who labored long, kept the faith, and finally made it. (And of course, now you still labor on.) LOL Apparently, becoming a NYTBSA, doesn’t let you off the hook. Appreciate all the positive statements. We’re the only ones who can defeat ourseves and that’s by giving up.

    • terryspear

      April 16, 2012 at 6:24 PM

      Thanks, Marsha!! No, lol, still on the hook. Actually more so because of having deadlines! I work full time also, so it makes for a lot of intense after-hours writing and promoting! You’re so right in that we are the only ones who can defeat ourselves by giving up.

      I have to say here that sometimes that’s what we need to do. Just give up for a while. Take a break. Do something else. But if you can’t stop the stories from coming, you’ve got to get back into the proverbial saddle. When my dad died, I was devastated. He knew I’d be published and would tell everyone it would be soon. He was actually reading and loving my first historical romance novel before that happened.

      I just couldn’t write anything. But I kept thinking about him and his story. I ended up writing his story for the EX-POW Bulletin: The Thirteenth Mission, about his WWII experiences in being shot down as a 16-year-old gunner in the AF, and was imprisoned for 16 months in Germany POW camps.

      After that, I never quit writing. I wrote for magazines for a while, then began tackling novels again, and that was it! 🙂

      So sometimes we might have to take a break, but if we have storytelling in the blood, we can’t quit forever. 🙂

  10. maryvine

    April 17, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    Thanks for sharing your journey! Your books sound very interesting.

    • terryspear

      April 17, 2012 at 2:29 PM

      Thanks, Mary! I had a lot of fun writing it! Just got the cover for the next in the wolf series and wow, that sure helps to encourage me to finish another–just so I can have another hunk. 🙂

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