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john next stepsBy John A. Connell

My debut thriller will launch in a few days. The galleys are out, the blog tour has commenced, events have been scheduled. I am, at the same time, excited and nervous.

Once a new writer manages to conquer the seemingly insurmountable hurdles of landing an agent and a publishing deal, a whole new set of challenges awaits. You only have to look at the statistics to know that the chances for a new writer being discovered and launching a successful debut novel are daunting. I won’t recite those statistics here, just to say that, to beat those odds, more pressure than ever is on the writer’s shoulders to promote themselves and their work—to stand out in the ever-increasing demand for a reader’s attention, build a readership, and create momentum for future books.

Word of mouth is still the best way for a writer and his or her book to be discovered, and that requires spreading the word as far and wide as possible. The dichotomy is that all of the promotion in the world will not guarantee a book’s success—success depends on the intangible: how does your book resonate with readers?

Yet, without promotion the book may never get into the hands of readers.

On a panel recently, I was asked what has surprised me as a newly-published author. The answer was an easy one. For all the fierce competition out there, authors are great supporters of new writers and their work. As authors rise in their careers, they reach back to offer a helping hand, and I wager many new writers would face an even greater struggle to establish their careers without that support.

ITW and the authors who created it are a perfect example. Part of the organization’s mission statement is to provide a powerful support network for all authors. This is especially true for debuts and those “next steppers” who face similar challenges with book two, three, and beyond.

lee next stepsOne of the founding members of ITW, Lee Child, developed the Debut Authors Program for that very purpose. Jenny Milchman, ITW Vice President of Author Programs, had this to say about Child’s support for new writers: “Lee is an inspiration in the Next Steps tradition—having built one of the most lasting careers in the biz. And he’s a great one for sending the elevator down, a saying that has been attributed to Dennis Lehane. Lee looks for opportunities to nurture and school newer writers.”

When asked what inspires him to send that elevator down, Child offered this wry rejoinder: “So they stay in business and I have something to read after I retire.”

Those next steps in building a career are crucial, and that’s the concept behind the new “Next Steps” radio show. Sponsored by Authors On The Air and ITW, the show airs once a month and currently attracts more than ten thousand listeners. In each episode Jenny Milchman interviews debut writers, often pairing them with an established author.

“In my capacity as Vice President of Author Programs,” Milchman said, “ITW has allowed me a great deal of freedom—almost anything that will do good things for our authors. Next Steps Radio grew out of a desire to give authors a chance to hone their radio skills, promote new books, and create a conversation around this thrilling life on air.”

When I asked Jenny’s previous guests to offer insights about the show, this is what they said:

“[I]t provides not only an in-depth conversation about their process and points-of-view, but a showcase for their work that goes beyond the elevator pitch or cover blurb.  It’s a thoughtful venue for thriller writers at a time when the sound bite may be all we’re used to getting.”

Andrew Pyper

“For anyone who has ever felt rejected or frustrated along the path to publication, just tune in to Next Steps.  These shared stories not only expose listeners to wonderful new books and their authors, but also remind us that writing and publishing are as much about perseverance, determination, and being open to opportunities, as they are about sheer talent and luck.”

Susanna Calkins

“A one-of-a-kind radio show where readers and authors converge their questions, comments, and ideas about novels and the creative process. The give-and-take was a blast, plus my debut novel got a boost from call-ins and listener questions.”

Bryan Robinson

“Where else could I hear authors talk so meaningfully and candidly about the state of publishing? What I love best about the show is the way it easily shifts gears. One moment, an author might be talking about the intersection between their personal lives and their fiction, and the next, they might be offering up an insider’s view on the nuts-and-bolts of getting published.”

Suzanne Chazin

“Knowledgeable speakers, intriguing questions, and even more interesting answers—Next Steps brings it and then some.”

Maria Alexander

This month I’ve been given the incredible opportunity to be on the Next Steps show, a writer debuting my first thriller, and—talk about contrast—I will be paired with Lee Child.


No doubt, with Jenny’s passion and talents, and Lee Child’s… (well, what can you say? It’s Lee Child!), you’re in for a real treat when you listen to Jenny’s May 27th Next Steps radio show—with me tagging along for the ride!