Thriller author T.R. Ragan is one of my personal inspirations and also another shining example of an author who stood the course, not letting rejection dampen her belief in her work.
Due in large part to old-fashioned perseverance and a solid work ethic, she’s now sold millions of copies of her novels and has graced the most coveted bestseller’s lists, including The New York Times, USA Today, and the #1 spot in Amazon’s Kindle Store.
I was lucky enough to get a Q&A with her this month. Here’s what she told me.
Describe your road to publication. How long did it take to break in? How did you receive your break?
The road was a long and winding one. Over the course of twenty years, while raising four children, I wrote more than a dozen novels.
Frustrated with the industry, I decided to start killing some characters—I switched from writing romance to thrillers. After writing ABDUCTED, the book had yet to be submitted by my agent when I took matters into my own hands and self-published in 2011.
Things happened fast from there. Thomas & Mercer bought the Lizzy Gardner series in 2012 and I’ve now sold more than two million books.
What do you find most challenging about writing? Most fulfilling?
Everything and everything.
I love the challenge of staring at a blank page before I start to write a new novel. Later, of course, I end up cursing that same blank page. As I write, I begin to wonder how the heck I’ll manage to come up with enough scenes to get to the end, but somehow I always do.
I enjoy the process of getting to know my characters. I also like revising, which is a good thing, because that’s when an idea becomes a novel.
The most fulfilling part of writing a book is holding the finished product in my hand and flipping through the pages as I try to wrap my brain around the fact that I did it again.
What does your writing schedule look like? How much time do you spend marketing?
When I’m on deadline, I am sitting at my desk for ten to twelve hours each day. I shoot for a minimum of 2,000 words and an hour a day on social media/marketing.
I work with a VA (virtual assistant) and I have two daughters who help me with graphics, contest giveaways, twitter, newsletters, and all the rest.
Do you reward yourself when you hit your writing goals?
Meeting my writing goals and deadlines makes me happy. That’s reward enough.
Describe your writing space. What’s your ideal writing environment?
I’m either in my office or sitting in bed with my laptop. I need a good, loud fan in the background as white noise so I won’t hear anyone talking or walking around the house. Quiet helps me focus and go deep into the characters’ minds.
Do you have any writing rituals? Typical foods you eat or drinks you enjoy while writing?
I do like to print pictures of people or celebrities who I think look like my characters and pin them to a corkboard for inspiration.
As for food and drink, I stick to green tea, water, and two cups of coffee before I get started.
Do you have any advice on staying productive?
I’ve worked since I was fourteen years old, so staying productive is a habit. I won’t allow myself to stop before 5 pm.
The great thing about staying productive is that when I need to spend time with family or one of my kids, I feel I’ve earned that time and I take it!
So, I guess my advice would be sit down and write. Don’t wait for inspiration. “Just do it!”
Which of your novels do you consider your most successful work?
Definitely Abducted book #1 in the Lizzy Gardner series. I call it the book that keeps on giving. It has changed my life.
As I mentioned earlier, I had been writing for a very long time when I became frustrated with the industry. I felt that decent writers, like myself, were not given a chance to get their foot in the door. Editors were telling me that my heroine’s were too tough and needed to be softened. A lot of authors were rejected because publishers already had a similar book.
In 2009, or around that time, I read about Lisa Gardner’s two-year journey from writing romance to thrillers. I spent weeks reading her books and the research tools she suggested on her website. I followed her lead and wrote my first thriller.
It took me a year or two because I had a tough time researching real-life serial killers. But in the end, I got to know my protagonist and realized she wasn’t a victim, she was a survivor. My writing career took off from there.
Switching from writing romance to thrillers was the best decision I ever made. Thank you, Lisa Gardner!
Which novel would you recommend new readers start with?
If you like thrillers, definitely start with Abducted.
What do you think is most common misconception about career writing?
Whether you are self-published or traditionally published, there’s so much more to writing a book than just writing. Twenty-five percent of the actual writing process, at least for me, is staring out the window as I ponder characters and scenes and what comes next.
What do you have in the works now?
I am working on book #3 in my new Faith McMann series. It begs the question: “What would you do if your children were taken?” Furious will be available on March 22, 2016, with book #2, Outrage, following a few months later.
If you weren’t a novelist, what would you be?
Hmm. That’s a tough one. I’ve been a waitress, jewelry maker, and legal secretary. I like to play the piano and travel. I love hanging out with my family. If writing novels wasn’t keeping a roof over my head, I would find a job that pays the bills, but I would never stop writing.
What’s your definition of career success?
Writing the kinds of books I want to write. Doing things my way. Pushing myself while finding a balance between living life and writing.
It’s true, I spend many hours at my desk, but I also enjoy spending time with my husband, children, and sisters. If I need time away from writing, I take it.
My idea of a successful life is being happy. Waking up every morning and spending my day doing what I love brings me joy. I’ve never been happier.
Do you have a favorite quote about writing?
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
– Robert Frost
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Learn your craft. Write the best book possible. Enjoy the journey.
Learn More About T.R. Ragan:
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Jaynes is the USA Today bestselling author of the thrillers, Never Smile at Strangers, Ugly Young Thing, and Don’t Say a Word. Visit her website to learn more about her work: www.ProjectJennifer.com.