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The Story of Writing Where the Light is Dim: First Anniversary


I started writing a blog on my website in July 2011. Since a year has passed, I thought it would be instructive to reflect back on my ups and downs during the past 12 months.

Professionally, it has been a terrific time for me, unquestionably the most productive and prolific period of my nascent writing career. In December 2011, Rowman & Littlefield (R & L) published my latest foray into southern history, Coming For to Carry Me Home: Race in America From Abolitionism to Jim Crow. R & L also agreed to publish my book on terrorism, now titled Terrorist Attacks on American Soil: From the Civil War Era to the Present. It should appear by the end of 2012. In the meantime, my academic article “Managing Scientific Uncertainty in Medical Decision Making: The Case of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices” appeared in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy in February 2012. I also sold two manuscripts to other publishers. CRC Press bought a manuscript on the history of American environmentalism (slated for publication in 2013) and Praeger bought a manuscript on great cases in criminal procedure (slated for publication in 2014).

For someone who writes part time and cannot profess to be in a class with David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin, my track record in 2011-12 has been encouraging.

I wish I could explain why things have come together so nicely during the past year. I suspect it has been a culmination of several factors. When a career gains momentum, wonderful things can happen.

The first and most obvious reason I have managed to do so well of late is because I have learned the game. After working on multiple projects, writing numerous book proposals, and dealing with many editors and publishers throughout the years, I have figured out how to work the system. I know what usually appeals to publishers, and what does not. Also, as my list of books grows, so does my confidence — as well as the confidence of editors and publishers that I will deliver a suitable manuscript.

Let me say a thing or two about confidence. I have always had a confidence problem. As a five-foot, five-inch, balding, bespectacled introvert with a girly voice and a thick southern accent, I am extremely self-conscious and painfully shy. Such attributes generally are not a recipe for success in a testosterone-laden world of manly men and A-type personalities.

My shyness has led to many personal defeats, including, at least in part, the break-up of my marriage, but I have labored mightily not to let it destroy my professional career. Fortified with six university degrees and a string of books to my credit, I have slowly climbed up the mountain of self-esteem. It has been a tough slog — and I will always struggle with a confidence problem — but I am making slow, steady, incremental progress. My growing confidence undoubtedly has contributed to my recent successes.

Another reason I have succeeded is because my timing has been good. I have found “hungry” editors anxious to discover new writers. Three of the last four editors who have agreed to buy my manuscripts have been young — i.e., under 30 years of age — and willing to take a chance on me. Of course, the more I write and publish, the less risky I appear as a commodity.

Still…. I have come so far, and yet I have so far to go.

I am standing on a nice plateau right now, but make no mistake — it is still a plateau.

I inhabit that nether world between the academic writer who publishes monographs that are read by maybe 100 people and mostly collect dust in a library somewhere and the professional writer who produces highly readable, popular bestsellers that sell zillions of copies and serve as source material for television and film.

It’s not a bad place to be. Even if I never move off the plateau, my current career position is enormously satisfying.

Still…. I am hungry for more. I may be writing where the light is dim, but I want to turn up the wattage.

I have a lot of ideas for the future once I clear current projects from my desk.

Let’s see where I am in my career when I write my two-year progress report in July 2013.


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