Episode 92B – Joel Burcat – Changing to a Writing Career

Overview

Joel didn’t start as a writer, but he used his career knowledge to empower his writing. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t learned other lessons about writing and publishing that he shares.

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Transcript

[00:00:00] Joel: Are you working on your author career, but struggling to get that first book published, does the goal of being an author seem too lofty or thoughts of having multiple books and making a full-time living are as fantastical as living in Cinderella’s castle. Welcome to discovered wordsmiths a podcast where aspiring authors can be heard.

Join Stephen Schneider is he finds and talks to authors. You may not know, but authors that have gotten their book on the author career path here, what they’ve done to get there and where they want to go. Now, settle back. It’s time for a bit of inspiration and advice. Come listen to today’s discovered

[00:00:44] Stephen: wordsmith.

All right, Joel, before we begin talking about some of the other author topics use, you’ve been writing. Uh, a large part of your life, but more seriously in the last couple of years, we’re going to be talking about that. So what are some things you have learned from the first [00:01:00] stuff you wrote published?

What the newest books are, that would be things that new authors, Hey, avoid this, or here’s some good advice. That type of thing.

[00:01:09] Joel: One thing that I believe you have to do is learn how to write, and it seems like a. Kind of an obvious statement. We all learn how to write. When we were children went to school, we learned how to write in school and we may have even taken some creative writing courses in college and beyond college.

But you need to learn how to write as an author would write. And that’s very different than what you might do as a lawyer doctor or a. Podcast producer, the way we write as fiction writers is different and you need to learn stuff about that. And some of it, frankly, for me, I’m not going to talk about others, but some of it for me just went right over my head.

I would read a book and I wouldn’t pay attention to point of view. I wouldn’t necessarily [00:02:00] take a attention to setting other than the fact that this is a cool setting. Wow. That mansion that’s really, I wouldn’t pay attention to how the author built that up. I wouldn’t pay attention necessarily. To the dialogue, unless the dialogue was really stilted.

I would say people don’t talk like that. Shakespeare Metta talk like that. The normal people don’t talk that way. And so you need to learn a few things. And certainly the first investing you can do is just write Stephen King and his book on writing says that your first draft is going to be really bad, but you’ve got to put it down anyway, any.

Who is another well-known writer. Who’s also written a book on writing called bird by bird. She’s a little more blunt. She says your first draft will be a piece of crap that she actually uses even a stronger word. And she says, your first draft is going to be lousy and you’re going to throw it out, but don’t worry.

Cause nobody else is going to look at it. But the important thing is you’ve got to get it down on paper. So you start, right? And then you’ve got to start figuring out what is it I’m doing, right. What is going be doing wrong? [00:03:00] There’s so much stuff out there to. I’ve taken in-person courses over the years, I took a full day long program at Rosemont college.

On point of view something I knew I had to know something about, but who would you want to talk about it? A nerdy class go to a full day long class that discusses nothing other than point of view. That’s all we talk about. And there are other organs, a lot of organizations that are out there. There are a lot of writing programs that are out there.

You don’t necessarily need an MFA. Ernest Hemingway didn’t have an MFA Steinbeck. Didn’t have a Fitzgerald. Didn’t have an MFA it’s it would be nice if you had one, but if you don’t have one, there are ways you learn. And so one of the things that you’ve gotta do is you’ve gotta learn how to write like an author.

And these are important to you because not that as a reader, you’re necessarily saying, Ooh, his point of view is Oscar. But leaders will notice that something’s off and off might be that you’re jumping around from [00:04:00] different points of view in the same chapter, which is off-putting because that’s not the way we read as aren’t the stories that read.

So it’s very important for you to actually learn how to, how to write

[00:04:09] Stephen: agreed and what I would emphasize it with. That is what you said. Keep writing write more because I’ve found a lot of people will write one thing and then. Keep going back to it and tinkering and fiddling and changing over and over, but they don’t continue actually writing new stuff.

And I found, I learned the most by writing something new and looking at it and how I’ve improved over the years. All the advice and all the teaching makes no sense until I’ve had stuff written, you know, just academically reading it. Okay. That sounds great. But until you really internalize it through lots and lots of writing, and it goes back to that old, but 10,000 write 10,000 words or 10,000 stories.

Before you become the master at it.

[00:04:52] Joel: That’s right. And you got to, you’ve got to keep writing. You’ve got to write new stuff. It, look, we all overwrite. I’m doing it right now at one certain I’ve just, I [00:05:00] just decided the other day, I’ve just got to push us away that I, I was tinkering with it just too much.

And I have some other things that I’m working on, but yes, you have to constantly be writing. That’s very important. And because there are all the other things you have to do as a writer as well. If you want to be a published writer, you’ve got to be. Making sure that your story is as clean as possible, perhaps getting it to an agent or sending it to an independent, private.

Or deciding that you’re going to self publish wherever it is, you’re going to do that. So there’s a lot of work that’s done to do that. You can’t just simply push a button and your story ends up in an agent’s lap and you want to make sure that it’s clean and you want to make sure that you’re complying with her requirements, usually newsflash and spoiler alert.

When you go to agents, they’re sometimes asking you for the first five pages of your novel, and they’re going to make a decision on as to whether they want to read anything. On the basis of those first five pages, which is why I think a lot of authors overwrite because they get totally wrapped up in trying to write the best [00:06:00] possible five pages that they can right now, the other 300 pages may be crap.

They’re, they’re focused on those first five pages. Ultimately, if you’re successful and the agent wants to read more, they’re going to read all 305 pages of your novel, not just this fine. But I think it’s very important as you say, to be writing and to write all the time and spend as much time as you can doing actual writing and not procrastinating.

Yeah. So when

[00:06:22] Stephen: you write what software and services are you using use Scribner word you handwrite. What do you do? And then, uh, do you do a editing software publishing software? What do you use?

[00:06:34] Joel: I just use a word just regular, old word is how I’ve been. I learned how. I guess I’ve been using words since it came out years and years ago as a lawyer.

And so I was most comfortable with that and I continue to use words. I’m technically, I’m legally blind and that creates many issues for me. So you can’t tell, but I’ve got a yard wide ultra high definition monitor, which helps me. And I can, I use certain [00:07:00] fonts that are very helpful to me. Ariel black has a very good wide font that I can read and also I can adjust.

Font size. So I do that. The, in terms of other software, there’s a program out there called related words. It’s an app. It’s really not a program. I love related words. Just type related words. It’ll come up. It’s got a picture of an elephant on it. And related words, if you write in a sentence, The same word over and over in a sentence or paragraph that’s one of those no-nos that you should never do as a writer.

And when you read a clumps anyway, as a reader, oh gee, this guy used this guy, used the word rage over and over again. And couldn’t you think of another word? Sometimes you can’t fight away, but you go to this site. Related words and you type in the word rage, and then it just gives you in half of a second.

It gives you dozens and dozens of alternatives, and you can find some other words, anger, [00:08:00] mean-spirited, whatever it might be. And it gives you that I like using that. And so that’s a good one. I do a lot of research online again because of my vision issue. I have a very difficult time reading paper. I can do it, but I have to really string in.

And then I know that I’m in for a headache after I read for 15 or 20 minutes or so. So I try to avoid reading a print if I can. So I do most of my reading on a screen or on a, on an iPad backlit and where I can adjust the size of their fonts. And that’s helpful for me.

[00:08:32] Stephen: Do you do a dictation at all with your writing?

[00:08:36] Joel: I do actually. And sometimes if I just want to get a lot of stuff down fast, I have dragon software and I’ve used that now for maybe seven or eight years, maybe longer, but I’ve been using dragon and that’s a great way just to get stuff down fast and Dragon’s pretty good. I just got the latest version of it not too long ago.

And the latest version of it is quite good. It was [00:09:00] always about 95 to 97% accurate. And now it’s maybe 99.9% accurate in terms of getting your words and where it might mess up is if you said, um, you know, the sale went through and is it S a L E S S a, there are different ways you can spell that word. So it may mess that up.

The other thing too, that I learned the hard way with a dragon is that sometimes as we’re talking, the words that we use are commands on. And you, if you are not aware and there’s, sometimes there’s something there’s so many commands that you can use. You may not be aware of the fact that when you say, when you say John, John was living in the, in the Victorian period, the word period then of course comes out as a period.

But the thing that’s, that’s more that makes you crazier than that is when you use a word, which is like a universal command. And then as you’re dictating all of a sudden, the whole screen flat. And [00:10:00] it’s like your life flashing before your eyes. And then everything is all changed up. And so you’ve got, you know, unfortunately you’ve got that go back, that undo button that you can push.

And that saved me a few times, but you really have to keep your eye on the screen while you’re doing it. I’ve learned actually the dragon, I never dictate more than a paragraph or a chapter. I set everything up as an individual chapter. And then when I’m done dictating the chapter. And I’ll put that over onto it, my word document, rather than taking the chance that I’m going up, I’m going to accidentally, you know, spell some word wrong throughout the entire story.

So I, the worst that I’ll mess up is just the one chapter, but yeah, I do use dragon and that.

[00:10:43] Stephen: All right, so your books are out. You’ve got another one coming. What are some things you’re doing to market

[00:10:48] Joel: those books? One thing you’ve got to do is you really have to start way in advance. And if you start the month before your book comes out, you’ve really missed the boat.

You really have to start [00:11:00] about a half a year in advance. So you know that your story is getting close to being finished and it’s been edited if you’re working with a big publishing house, like random house or Simon and shoot. They’re already taken care of at least that detail for you, what has to happen in wet.

But if you’re working with an indie or if you’re self publishing that your book is getting to the point that it’s going to be ready to go out, you have an idea as to when the release date is going to be, and you’ve got to figure out a good five or six months in advance, a number of things you have to pick a cover for you.

Yeah. So you have to deal with an artist or your publisher has to deal with an artist on uncovers and that’s, that can take weeks and weeks until you get the right cover for that. You’ve got to start promoting your book in small ways. You’ve got to set up if you want reviews either by regular reviewers or books, the grammar, viewers or others, you’ve got to identify who are the, were the reviewers that you’re going to approach some reviewers, the publishers weekly, for example, They will only review your book if you send it to them at [00:12:00] least four months in advance.

So you can’t decide a month in advance that you’re gonna send it to publishers weekly. You miss that deadline three months ago and other reviewers will say fine, I’ll, I’ll take the book a month in advance. And it’s a, you’ve got to, you got to figure that out and you’ve got to develop your own spreadsheet as to who are the likely reviewers that would be interested in reviewing your book and you need to establish a presence.

On, uh, social media, social media I’m told over and over again is very important. I’m not sure. I believe it entirely. It certainly seems as though it’s important and you need to develop a large following because when your book starts, when you get close to the time that your book is going to come out and you want to be able to tell the world and the world is largely going to be who your followers are.

So whether it’s on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, but you need to have as large, a following as possible. So that following doesn’t just happen. If you’re naming, if you’re a 16 year old in high school, you might have. A lot of [00:13:00] friends who follow you, but a 40 year old who doesn’t have more than 40 or 50 friends, you got to figure out how do I create, how do I get more friends?

And so you’ve got to be out there. You’ve gotta be putting content out to attract people who want to friend you, whether it’s on Twitter or on Instagram or on Facebook. And so you’ve got to start developing that list and then you’ve gotta be out there so that people are anticipating your tweets. When you finally do release your book it’s oh, his book finally came out.

Isn’t this great. And it can’t just simply be my book is coming out when it comes out by my book. Nobody wants to read you saying over and over again by my book. So you’ve got to provide other kinds of content, other kinds of interesting stuff for people to look at. And that is what I think is going to enable you.

Then when you’re booking. It released you to say, Hey, my book came out today. Now you can buy my book, right? Here’s the link to Amazon, or here’s the link to indie bound or whatever there are, [00:14:00] that’s the way you have to do it. And then the other thing too is bear this in mind. And that is that there’s a kind of a narrow window after your book comes out, maybe three months, two or three months when your book is fresh enough that people are going to be interested in reviewing it.

And people want to read a new. They’re going to want to read you in the first several months. So you can’t say well, when the book comes out, I’ll spend the next year or two promoting it. You can, but it’s one thing to promote a book that has just come out. It’s another thing to promote a book that’s been out for a year or two, and it’s why there’s an adage in the publishing industry.

And that is that the second book sells the first book. A third book sells the first two books because people will then read your new book. So when strange fire comes out in February know, people will hopefully see that and read that book it’s written as a standalone. And then they’ll say, I wonder if this guy has written any other books.

Oh, look, there’s a mid rage here, drinks every Meese. I think I’ll read these other books. So Dan brown is very famous for that. He wrote his big book, the Vinci code. Thank you. [00:15:00] He had written several books prior to that that were then sold a few thousand copies and then DaVinci code made the other books bestseller.

So it works in a big way for somebody like a Dan brown. And our work in a small way also, you know, writers who are only going to sell a few hundred or few thousand copies of their books. That’s why that addict exists. We also have to be thinking in terms of getting all that promotion done at the time your book comes out.

And then for the couple of months after your book comes out, don’t

[00:15:31] Stephen: you. Necessarily a new writer and it wasn’t even your first career. You mentioned you were an environmental lawyer for years and years. You’ve had training and study and all that. So now you’re getting to the age where you’re retiring from that.

Why go from doing that to wanting to write a book instead of just, Hey, I’m going to retire and drink my ties on the

[00:15:49] Joel: beach. The liver wouldn’t allow me to do that, but I’ve got a very curious mind and creative mind and. I always loved [00:16:00] writing even when I was a lawyer. And I wrote, like I said, I, I had a little opportunity to write for a year or so when I was, when I turned 40 and then put it aside again.

And then for about the past 15 years of the last 15 years of my practice, I was writing and I would write late at night and I had this. And, uh, the managing partner in my law firm had this expectation that I was going to actually do law during the day. Even imagine that he wanted me to work. And so I was doing law during the day.

And then usually prior to the time I was writing, I’d be exhausted. The kids would be asleep. And my wife and I would sit in front of the TV and I’d pass out at 10 o’clock and the sort of watch the tube. And when I started writing. What I gave up was that television time. And by the way, I didn’t miss it for the most part.

I enjoyed the writing and it really, I found that I got a second wind. I get up very early in the morning. I’d be up by six every day and in the office sometimes at seven or eight in the morning. And I’d be home [00:17:00] six or seven at night, maybe later, but I would have dinner and spend some time with my family and then go upstairs to my writing room.

And I would write for two hours or three hours or four hours. And it was like this, no matter how exhausted I was hired to that. And it was like this whole new wind came over me and I just was excited to be writing again and doing that. And I would write sometimes till midnight or one o’clock my wife would sometimes say, you’ve got to come to bed.

You’re getting up at six o’clock and you can’t. It was, there were times I just had to push myself away from it. So now that I’m retired, I don’t. No, I don’t have to practice law any longer. And what I actually do is, although my name is still on the masthead on technically what’s known as of counsel, which is my law.

Firm’s way of saying that I’m retired, mostly retired. They just keep me on the letterhead and then it’s nice for them and me. I wasn’t quite ready to. Calling [00:18:00] myself a lawyer, but it also enables me to consult with them from time to time. Younger lawyers sometimes will call me up and I like doing that.

So I’m still a lawyer. I’m still in the masthead and I can do that kind of thing. People still call me, clients still call me former clients still call me and I’ll refer them to people who are still practicing law. So I like doing that, but I’m not getting any compensation any longer from my practice law, but I can work all day on.

I’m still up at six or seven in the morning and I’m still writing it, you know? And now instead of writing it eight o’clock at night, I’m ready at eight o’clock in the morning. And I, I find that my whole writing scheme has changed. So whereas before I would come home, have some dinner with my family and then go upstairs and write at eight or nine, nine o’clock at night.

Now I’m writing at eight or nine o’clock in the morning and I’ll write all morning until I get home. And I need lunch and then I’ll have lunch and then I’ll work on what I call the business of books in the afternoon. My brain loses some of its [00:19:00] creativity by two o’clock in the afternoon, but there’s still so much stuff to be done in terms of the creative part of writing or the non-creative the business side of writing.

So that’s what I devote time to in the afternoons.

[00:19:15] Stephen: So you mentioned two things that are like. Personal, uh, secrets to success formula and that’s passion and focus that you have to really love doing it and get some focus on it. So you do it all the time. That’s right there in the formula, which I’m still working on myself.

So let me ask, do you think that if you would have started writing earlier that you might’ve gotten more success earlier and maybe replaced be an environmental lawyer at some point, or do you. This trajectory of your life was the best one for

[00:19:46] Joel: you. You never know when you’re going to hit and when you’re going to be successful and success in writing is measured in a lot of different ways.

I happened to know Sean Cosby, who came out [00:20:00] with has come out now with two books. His latest is called razorblade tears. And Sean started publishing only about three years ago. It was when his first book. And I just saw today that razorblade tiers was listed as, by the New York times is one of the 100 most notable books of 2021.

So yay for Sean. I’m really happy for him. And, and he is a great writer, great thriller writer, and he’s he mixes genres and he just, he’s just an awesome writer, but not all of us are going to be people who are going to be listed on the New York times bestseller list in our first and second ago. And you just never know.

So I was very happy. I liked being a lawyer. I enjoyed being an environmental lawyer. I got a lot of satisfaction out of it. For the most part. I enjoyed my colleagues and my clients, and I made a good living doing it. So I was very happy to be able to do that. But at the same time, when I just couldn’t put off writing any longer, I found a way to do it.

And you’re right. You do need to have a passion for it. You [00:21:00] have to love doing it. If you’re going to write you can’t you got to do it every single. And whether you’re doing what I did as a lawyer, and you’re writing it nine o’clock at night for an hour or two or three, or whether you’re fortunate and you just simply write from nine o’clock in the morning until you fall over.

You just got to write every single day. And if you don’t have a desire to do that, you can’t say, you know what? When the football season is over and before March madness, I’m going to write them on Sundays. On weekends. You can’t just write for one month, a year, you’ve got to decide this is going to be something it’s going to be your gig.

It’s going to be your thing. W whether it’s your hobby or whatever, and you’ve just simply got to, you got to do it. And if you don’t have the passion for it, and maybe you ought to consider how serious you are about being a writer. I agree. The writers that I know, all of the ones who are really working on it are working every single day and it may only be 15 or 20 minutes because that’s all they have, but they’re trying to work every single day as writers.

Yeah.

[00:21:58] Stephen: All right, Joel, I’ve [00:22:00] got another interview I got to get to here in a few minutes. So it’s been really great talking to ya. I appreciate all the advice in your book. Sound great. Do you have, before we go, any last minute advice for new authors?

[00:22:11] Joel: Yes, I do. And my advice is two things. Number one is you’ve got to read.

It’s very important that you. I mentioned that I read all the time and I read all different kinds of things. I read established authors, like James Patterson. I read debut authors, people who this is their first book, because I want to see what are the up and coming new authors. What is it that they’re reading or that they’re writing?

I read nonfiction to mix it up and to learn something that’s different than what I get in fiction, because I’ve started writing some young adult stories. I’ve been trying to mix in at least every fourth book, a young. Novel and learn about that John rhe as well. So however you do it, it’s very important that you read and you’ve got to read as much as you can, and look at every book as an opportunity to [00:23:00] learn.

You’re not going to necessarily take a course, but you’re going to read these books. The other thing too is you’ve got to right. You absolutely have to sit down and put your, took us in the chair and you’ve got to write that’s really important for you to do. And again, if you can only write for 15 minutes, Okay.

But if you can write for an hour or two every day, then that’s what you got to do. And just get the words on the paper. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t, don’t find excuses, but just right. And don’t worry about what it looks like, because you don’t have to show it to anybody else you don’t want to, and you can work on it and make it look clean and good.

And then try to get it published. Read and write. Those are my first two and most important lessons that I can give to anybody who’s interested in being a writer. Wonderful. Joel,

[00:23:42] Stephen: it was great meeting you and talking to you about your book. I appreciate you being

[00:23:44] Joel: on. Thank you very much for having me. It’s been great and look forward to seeing this when it goes up and thank you very much.

Thank you. Have a great. Thank you very much. Thank you for listening to discovered wordsmiths, [00:24:00] come back next week and listen to another author. Discuss the road they’ve traveled and maybe sometime in the near future, it might be you .

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