How ThrillerFest Taught Me To Plan Like a Pro: Part One

by Bess Cozby
published in Community

When I attended ThrillerFest this summer, I was at the tail-end of a long wait for query responses. I’d had a few requests. Some promising leads. But in the end, nothing panned out. I actually received a rejection letter while at the Conference. Talk about a bummer! But, thankfully, I’d spent a day listening to the pros at Thrillerfest. In observing their attitudes, I realized I needed to change my own. When I did, I was able to make a new plan. When I put it into practice, I made some surprising discoveries that changed my writing life.

This is part one of a two-part series about how acting like a pro helped me through my query woes and turned my writing life around.

Take a Break

At this point, I had re-written my draft seven times. I had spent five years working on the concept. I had done more research than I did for all my college papers combined. I thought this was just evidence of how dedicated I was. How invested.

But I noticed that none of the writers at Thrillerfest had spent that long on a novel. It wasn’t that they weren’t invested, or passionate. But they were also professional. And humble. Michael Connolly is a man of craft and precision, but even he said, “Entertaining is the priority.” He was able to keep a distance and a humility about his role as a writer.

And I thought, Bess, your work is not the Mona Lisa. Maybe what you need is not another re-write, but a break.

This thought depressed me immensely. What? Take a break? What writer worth her salt takes a break? There’s no break from writing!

And I was right—there’s not. But you can take a break from a book. Which is exactly what I decided to do. I needed to realize:

Waiting is Part of the Process

I’m no stranger to waiting. Writers do a lot of waiting. Hearing the different authors at Thrillerfest talk about the publication process made me realize that I wasn’t looking at en end to waiting any time soon.

We wait on feedback from readers. We do this over and over, then create a query package and wait on feedback for that. Then, we finally send it out into the world! And . . . wait some more.

And the unfortunate thing is, if all goes according to plan, if I had landed a dream agent and he or she immediately sent my manuscript on submission, and it was immediately picked up by a dream editor at a dream house (or any editor at any house), I would be in for a lot more waiting.

We wait on our editor to edit the book—maybe once, maybe more. Then there’s the copyeditor. The proofreader. The first pass. We’ll wait on art. We’ll wait on publication. We’ll wait on sales numbers.

Then, we’ll start the process over on a second book, another deal.

It will never end.

I was just waiting to start writing again. I judged I needed two months—real distance. And in the meantime? A black hole of time where I didn’t know what to think about. No new projects sounded interesting. I had started a book a while back, but was finding it hard to connect with—especially after spending so long with one set of characters. But I had decided to act like a pro, so there was really only one question–what would a pro do?

Outwit the Wait

Michael Connelly, who’s written 25 books in 20 years, said in an interview at ThrillerFest:  “You go work and you write. There’s no writer’s block. There’s no waiting for inspiration. You have to write. I know how to get myself to write on a daily basis.”

He also said he never shows anyone a book until the second or third draft. Which, I thought, must mean even his first drafts are pretty crappy. And I thought—okay, if Michael Connolly’s first drafts are crappy, this just means everyone’s first drafts are crappy. It had been so long since I’d written a first draft, I’d almost lost touch with that very simple reality.

So, now I had a plan for a pro: write on a daily basis. Even if it’s crap. I’ll write. Set a word goal and meet it—even if I’m not happy with the words.

So, I wrote it. A thousand words a day, and no peaking at my old manuscript. And the draft is, in fact, crap. But I made myself keep going, and in the process, I learned a lot about persistence.

But it’s not as if that old, discarded draft just sat in a drawer. It was still in my head, and over the two months that I didn’t look at it, I gained some much-needed perspective. And in September, I decided to take a few more lessons from the pros, and put them into practice before I started my re-write. What I discovered was so much more than a fresh eye. I discovered a new plan for my writing life, one that helps me be more efficient, productive, and happier even in the midst of waiting, doubts and first draft woes.

Check back here next week for the second installment of this essay—How ThrillerFest Taught Me to Plan Like a Pro. 

IMG_4628Bess Cozby writes epic stories in expansive worlds from her tiny apartment in New York City. By day, she’s an Editor at Tor Books, and Web Editor for DIY MFA. Her work is represented by Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency. Tweet her at @besscozby, contact her at, or visit her website at

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