The second part of our guest post by Bradley Nickell, originally published on his blog, Nickell’s Corner.
Brad is a detective with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. After the top investigation of his career, he realized someone needed to write a book about it. And with no prior writing experience, he realized the only person for the job was him. For the first half of this post, click here: From Handcuffs to Keystrokes; My Journey to Becoming a Writer, Part I
Many times during my life, I have heard people speak about writing as an art form. I never bought in to that artsy-fartsy idea. “Come on … writers write stuff, they don’t make something that can go in a museum. They don’t paint a masterpiece.” What little did I know.
I worked with professional writer and editor, Andy Meisenheimer, who helped me to better show the readers things with my writing rather than to tell them. Andy helped me see things that needed to stay in the story, and what needed to go. Andy’s a master at bringing pin-point attention and weeding out distraction. At one point, Andy said, “You’re giving me too much frosting and I need more cake.”
With the scenes I had already written and put into the manuscript, they were my babies. I was protective of them and you would never be able to pry them from my hands because some of them were so painstakingly difficult to construct in the first place. Andy helped me learn how to release a lot of that and I was eventually able to pare the manuscript down to about 120,000 words–still a fatty to most publishers.
After telling me how backwards I was by trying to learn how to write in the middle of a huge writing project, Andy suggested, no, he challenged me to start reading a few really good writers, and to watch for their style to emerge, and look for methods they use to draw readers into the story.
I read the Jon Krakauer NY Times Bestselling titles Into the Wild and Under the Banner of Heaven. I tore through the true crime classic, The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh. I probably learned more about writing from these three books than anything else because I read them with a different eye than I had read anything before. I read them with my eye on the writing, not on the story.
I read a few unpublished manuscripts and advance reading copies from other writers I had met, including William Beck’s Caribbean Agenda, Dane Batty’sWanted: Gentleman Bank Robber, and Julie Dolcemaschio’s Testarossa, and I’m continuing to read today, having finished NY Times Bestsellers Steve Jackson’sBogeyman, and Caitlin Rother’s Twisted Triangle. I’m just now starting Ron Franscell’s Delivered from Evil.
I’ve learned that being a good writer isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. Yeah, that’s cliché, and violates a popular rule to good writing, I know. But it’s true! If I’m going to be a good, no, a great writer, it doesn’t happen with one good book and then it sticks around forever. It’s something that must be nurtured and fed and developed and maintained.
After working with Andy, Chip MacGregor said, “Brad, your writing has caught up with your story.” To me, that was a big deal. From the first day I put words on paper to the day Chip said that was a little over four years. A bonafide gatekeeper welcomed me into the sanctum.
Up to that time, I had rewritten or massively overhauled my manuscript close to twenty times. I learned very clearly, that writing is an art; it’s like sculpting. A writer starts with a big block of material, and slowly molds and cuts and peels and scrapes away. A writer patches and smoothens, flattens and straightens. A writer takes something that had no form or hope of being interesting, and shapes it into something that builds a pathway into the imagination of the reader. If successful, the writer might even get more one-on-one time out of a reader than the reader gives to his or her family – sad to say, but true and very weighty.
At that point, the manuscript wasn’t done, it had only graduated into a class where it had promise. I worked with professional writer and editor, Holly Lorincz, to put the final layers of polish on and really bring the best work forward. Holly did a really good line edit on the manuscript and provided good information for me to work on character development as well. By the end of our collaboration, the manuscript had been winnowed down to about 106,000 words.
Something I didn’t tell you is, having a good story and good writing are only two of three things a publisher looks for when considering a writer’s work. The third element is platform. I had questions to ask myself: “Why would anyone pick me, an unknown, out of the crowd of writers to read?” “What makes me an expert on what I’m writing about?” and “What makes my writing stand apart?” If a writer has two of the three things publishers look for – good story, good writing, and platform – they stand a decent chance of getting published. If they have all three, the chances rise enormously.
To get an audience, or to have a platform, people need to know who you are and why they should read what you say. As I wrote the manuscript for Repeat Offender, in 2009, I began developing a presence as a writer on social media, my own website and as of a couple months ago, I started my own blog.
I developed good relationships with the editors of a few national law enforcement magazines and I’ve written full-length features for them. I’m recognized as a contributor to POLICE Magazine and American COP Magazine, both of which have a heavy footprint in the law enforcement world with digital and print versions reaching tens of thousands of paid subscribers and hundreds of thousands of web readers.
Chip and I spent the past two years trying to get the book a publishing contract with one of the few remaining major publishers, or one of their imprints, and it has been tough. Chip isn’t accustomed to rejection much anymore because he’s experienced and known in the industry as top-notch. When Chip brings something to the table, it usually finds a publisher. But the book industry is still experiencing great turmoil with massive brick-and-mortar international chains like Borders and Waldenbooks going out of business. Unless you’re already famous or have an exclusive Bin Laden story, getting a contract with a major publishing house is next to impossible right now, especially for a first-time author.
Even further difficulty is added when you understand that the true crime genre is hurting. True crime fans are spending their time watching any of the many true crime shows on television. There are entire cable networks focused on bringing true crime shows to this group of people that used to read books more. Even some of the more famous true crime writers are struggling to sell their books. If you’re not at the top of that pile, major publishers are seeing more risk than they’re willing to take.
After a dozen publishers declined to offer a contract, Chip approached an old friend, NY Times Bestseller Steve Jackson. Yes, that’s the same Steve Jackson I mentioned before. Steve had started up his own independent press, WildBlue Press, with his longtime friend and partner, Michael Cordova.
WildBlue Press has put together a consortium of experienced, award-winning, and best-selling authors who will be publishing their works out from under the difficult and sometimes unrewarding umbrella of big publishing houses. Big publishers want almost all control and aren’t always the best at sharing the fruits of the labor. WildBlue Press has a vision to break the mold that the big publishers try to force writers into and become a trendsetter in the new age of publishing, where the relationship between publisher and writer is more of a partnership.
To make a long story short, WildBlue Press has agreed to take me on as one of their first “rising stars” (their term, not mine). We have signed a contract and Repeat Offender will be published April 14th, 2015. You can pre-order your own digital copy for Kindle here.
Advice for Rookies
The takeaway from this post is two-fold: first, if you’ve ever had an interest in writing, but don’t think you’ve got what it takes, start writing anyway, and make a plan on how to get better. I’ve offered a few really good examples, such as read everything you can get your hands on, and work with other writing professionals. Second, never give up on your plan. You can modify it, put it on hold, change directions, but never just give up. If you really want to be a writer, it’s probably not because you thought you’d get rich. It’s because you have a passion for something and want to share that with others. Don’t go twenty years and say, “I wish I would have written that book.”
About the Author
Out of high school, Bradley Nickell spent almost four years in the United States Air Force, working on the super-secret SR-71 and U2 spy planes. in the last two years of his military service, Bradley also worked as a Reserve Police Officer in Marysville, California. In 1992, Bradley joined the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and was promoted to detective in 1999. For the past sixteen years, Bradley has been assigned to the Repeat Offender Program, specializing in identifying, catching, and helping convict career criminals who prey on the citizens of Southern Nevada. Although still a police detective, Bradley is a credentialed member of the press and has written several law enforcement-themed features for both American COP Magazine and POLICE Magazine. Bradley has been interviewed on TruTV (formerly Court TV) as a subject matter expert and was a key speaker at the Fifth Annual LeadsOnline ® Law Enforcement Leadership Conference (2012). Bradley’s debut true-crime thriller, REPEAT OFFENDER, is being released by WildBlue Press on 04/14/15.
About His Book
Millions in stolen property, revolting sex crimes and murder-for-hire were all in the mix for a Las Vegas police detective as he toiled to take Sin City’s most prolific criminal off the streets for good.
Las Vegas Police Detective Bradley Nickell brings you the inside scoop on the investigation of the most prolific repeat offender Las Vegas has ever known.
Daimon Monroe looked like an average guy raising a family with his diffident schoolteacher girlfriend. But just below the surface, you’ll learn he was an accomplished thief with an uncontrollable lust for excess. His criminal mind had no bounds—he was capable of anything given the proper circumstances.
You will be revolted by Monroe’s amassed wealth through thievery, his plot to kill Detective Nickell, a judge and a prosecutor, and the physical and sexual abuse to which Monroe subjected his daughters.