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New York Times’ bestseller and local author Stephen Spignesi shares some of his secrets of success, and entertains local readers. (Photo by Margaret McNellis/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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Stephen Spignesi, a New York Times’ bestselling author, has been writing since he was nine years old. Since then, he’s written more than 70 books. He shares his secret: Professionalism and persistence in publishing are paramount.
“I wanted to be a writer because I was a reader,” Spignesi says.
He vowed to publish his first book by the age of 36, and began submitting his work in his late 20s.
“Publishing was buying like crazy,” Spignesi says.
From 1980 to 2007, he wrote like crazy to match and pumped out two books a year.
“Half were offered to me,” he says, “and not my own idea.”
Publishers keep a list of books they want to publish, and when they think they have an author to match to the book title, they invite said author to write the book—and Spignesi “said yes to everything.”
While he’s written on topics spanning the pop culture world, Spignesi is best known for his books on The Beatles (he’s written four), Stephen King (he’s written six), and The Titanic (he’s written two).
“Why is the Titanic the most famous [shipwreck] in world history?” Spignesi asks. “Because it was a maiden voyage, because it was a cultural line of demarcation, [because it was] a worldwide awakening to arrogance—in both design and human error.”
Spignesi’s books on the Titanic, The Complete Titanic and The Titanic for Dummies, explore how one event led to sweeping changes in shipping, finances, and ice patrol.
“Since April 15, 1912, not one ship has struck an iceberg,” Spignesi says.
After a quarter-century of writing at breakneck speed, Spignesi started to notice the publishing industry was changing—it was compressing and consolidating.
That’s when he began a decade-long stretch as an adjunct professor at his alma mater, the University of New Haven, where he taught composition and literature classes.
“I always asked my students on the first day if they read Stephen King,” Spignesi says, “and if their parents read King. If the parents read King, the kids read King.”
Spignesi qualifies himself as a Stephen King fanatic, and says his favorite book ever written by the king of horror was IT, which Spignesi refers to as “his magnum opus.”
King is a shining example of publishing professionalism according to Spignesi.
“There was no one waiting for this guy from Maine with coke bottle glasses [to submit] fiction,” Spignesi says.
But King paid his dues. Spignesi shared a story with me about King spearing his rejections on a nail in his attic, and before long, he had so many rejections that he started spearing them onto a railroad spike.
As evidence of his own persistence, Spignesi writes every day from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. now that he’s retired from teaching.
When he’s not writing, he’s planning and giving talks. He already has about 20 on his schedule for 2019, some of which he’s already given.
“I’m shooting for 30,” Spignesi says.
Though he’s appeared at R.J. Julia Booksellers and even live on a west coast radio station, he focuses primarily on Connecticut libraries.
“I miss my students and I miss the classroom, and the talks feel like that,” he says. Between writing for seven hours a day and giving talks, Spignesi’s “working harder now than when I was teaching full-time.”
Spignesi runs writing workshops geared toward unpublished, un-agented authors who want to learn more about what it takes to develop a successful career as a published author.
“I touch on the meticulousness a manuscript must go through,” Spignesi says.
He also encourages fledgling writers to “stop fixating on sending a book to a publisher. You’ve got to get an agent. Work as hard at getting an agent as writing a book.”
Spignesi reminds writers that they’re trying to break into an industry, and they’ve got to play by the rules; they’ve also got to protect themselves and their work, and that’s where the agent comes in.
Amidst his advice are inspiring nuggets of wisdom, too.
“Every editor I’ve ever known,” Spignesi says, “has said they’re looking for a new voice.”
Most of his talks are for a wider audience; Spignesi has an upcoming illustrated lecture titled A Century of Titanic on Saturday, April 27 at 2 p.m. at Hagaman Memorial Library, 227 Main St., East Haven.
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