Monday, October 3, 2011

Marine Corps Advice for Writers

One thing you learn in the military is to fight through adversity. Every branch of service has their version of the Marine Recon slogan “Adapt and Overcome.” I’m here to tell you, that theme of never quitting applies to all of life. For writers, it should read, “Adapt and Never Stop Writing.”

A couple months ago, my literary agent warned me that my manuscript faced possible resistance from publishers because of a movie, Contagion, that could saturate the public market for any book using a similar theme—that being—a deadly virus. I went from the doorstep of final submission to dead-in-the-water after a year of working up through the system.

I was momentarily blind-sided by this obstacle. I admit, there was a temptation to quit and move on to the next manuscript, but I just don’t work that way. Yes, I might fail in this publishing chase, but not until my lifeless body becomes carrion for the publishing vultures.

Here’s what happened since.

My literary agent did not bail out on me. Instead, she emailed my manuscript to me with copious notes throughout. She compared my writing to Dan Brown (I felt very upbeat about that) and she felt the story could be saved if I re-wrote it to change the core threat from a virus to something else. “Yeah, right,” I thought sarcastically. “Let’s see, rabid pigmies, or maybe, pigeons with acid poop. Seriously, some of her suggestions excited me, so I rolled up my literary sleeves and got down to business.

Holy moly, Robin! The story almost wrote itself and came out better than the original. It went from 22 long chapters to 78 short chapters with lots of cliffhangers (classic Dan Brown technique). Two characters got a face lift, fleshing out their personalities better. In addition, I added substance to a minor character who will become a main character in the sequel. The changes worked! Delivery of the story became more compelling. I also made a tough decision and decided not to worry about the movie. If it becomes a success, more people will want a “virus” story. Look at what happened with vampire books after the success of Twilight. A successful "virus movie" could be a selling point. If the movie fails, then my book will stand on its own two feet as a high-powered, fast-paced, terrorist attack with a lethal virus as the weapon. Either way, it WILL stand out because it scares the hell out of the reader! I’m thrilled!

Thank you Marisa Corvisiero for the good suggestions that helped me with the re-write. More importantly, thank you for your confidence in my ability to “fix” the situation. It means the world to me.

In Vietnam, I was part of a team. In publishing, it’s no different. Marisa’s on my team, and together, we will adapt and overcome. If your agent does not respect you as part of a team, then find a new agent! For anyone struggling with the publishing process, I am proof that persistence pays off. It would have been easy for me to abandon this story and move on, that is, if I was inclined to quit. And that, my friend, is the moral of this blog. I did not quit. And, neither should you!


  1. Good to know the story is moving forward! Another hurdle overcome.

  2. Excellent attitude! I salute you not only for your service but for your message in overcoming adversity through hard work and determination! My Marine years have helped me so much as well. Those leadership traits and principles are the ground to which I stand tall and proud...and humble. Semper Fi!


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