Scott McCormick is a bestselling and acclaimed children’s book and YA author. Its diverse production includes graphic novels (the famous Mr. Pants series), fantastic books (The Dragon Squisher and its sequel to come) and several Audible Originals, including the Rivals a series of humorous audiobooks on history and a forthcoming novel titled Mutual detention).
Micah Solomon, Principal Contributor, Forbes: How do you spend a typical day? If there is is a typical day?
Scott McCormick: I write everyday. The times I write change, but basically when I’m not driving my kids or getting everyone ready for the day, I’m writing. And when I’m not writing, I am often thought on writing. It sure doesn’t make me the most exciting person to be around, but it gets the job done.
Solomon: How did you publish your first book?
McCormick: When my illustrator (RH Lazzell) and I finished our first Mr. Pants story, we printed a few copies independently and shared them. The reaction to Mr. Pants was surprising: “Oh my God, this is amazing. Can I have a copy for my niece? So we were pretty confident that we had found something great; I figured we’d find an agent and a publishing deal in no time.
Well, not so much.
Finding an agent is difficult. And the process of asking questions to find one is intimidating, time consuming, and comments usually aren’t very helpful. My luck changed when I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in New York. There I attended a panel hosted by an agent I had never heard of before, but the moment he started talking I realized he would understand. Mr. Pants. I approached him after the end of his panel and we immediately hit it off. From there he helped us polish our IP and when he was convinced it was ready to go in prime time he made a call and sold it practically overnight. on the next day.
So my advice to all aspiring writers: join a writers’ organization and attend their regional or national conferences. It’s a great way to meet other writers and maybe your future agent.
Solomon: Like most of us, I guess you didn’t become a freelance wordpreneur (it’s mine; feel free to use it) all at once. Did you have a day job? Any idea on the transition? Something to watch out for?
McCormick: My first serious job was in public relations, which involved writing a lot of press releases. It wasn’t the kind of writing I aspired to, but it paid the bills. Then I worked for a manufacturing company where I worked my way up the ranks of newsletter writing to eventually become their senior writer. In that role, I wrote all of their catalogs, website, and ads, and basically everything else. This job was a great training because it forced me to find new ways to be creative on the most boring things you can imagine.
This job also gave me great training for writing on a deadline. As a result, I like to write on a deadline and actively hate not having one. I used to tell my coworkers to always give me a tight deadline and lie to me if the project didn’t. Never tell me there is no rush. It just means you will never get it. But if you tell me you need it on Tuesday, you’ll have it on Tuesday, no matter how long it is.
It was when I still had this work that I published Mr. Pants: It’s time to leave, and things finally started to happen for me in terms of reaching my creative goals. But of course, you don’t publish a single book and suddenly quit your daily job. You need to master the nuts and bolts of business like paying your bills, forecasting cash flow, and having a good mix of income sources. So, in order to become a full-time author, I started Storybook Editing, where I offered editing and ghostwriting services for freelance writers. It not only helped me pay my bills, but because I was finally immersed in publishing, I was able to hone my own craft.
As for the transition, I wouldn’t go full time until you had two good years of income, or unless you had a great support system. Editing is a strange business. It takes a long time to get a book from the contract stage to the shelves, which means it can take a year or two before you get paid fully for your work. So unless you have a loved one with a steady paycheck (my wife is a superhero), year-on-year fluctuations can be tough until you get over the bump.
Solomon: Do you believe in “flow”? Do you feel like you have moments when you write?
McCormick: I experience the state of flux, but not as often as I would like. It’s the biggest feeling in the world when the characters start talking about themselves. When I’m in this state, I don’t write as long as I take a dictation. As I mentioned before, deadlines, especially the panic about missing a deadline, will put me in this state without fail. If I don’t have a deadline, it can be difficult to get into this state.
Solomon: What are some of your creative triumphs?
My first Rivals book (Rivals! Enemies who changed the world) was the number one bestseller on Audible for about a month and continues to sell very well. The third volume of the Rivals series, Pirates! The villains who shook the world, is my favorite so far, although I’m very excited to hear the fourth book: spies ! Sneaks, Snoops and Saboteurs who shaped the world, coming out in spring 2022.
i am very proud of The Dragon Squisher, a humorous fantasy novel by YA, especially since I self-published it. The reception given to this was astonishing, even arousing the interest of Hollywood. (If you’re a fan of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, The Dragon Squisher will be right in your driveway.)
And even though it came out almost ten years ago, I still get fan mail for my Mr. Pants series, which I co-created with super-talented illustrator RH Lazzell. The kids dressed up as our characters for Halloween and sent me their own Mr. Pants stories. I even hear parents say they found their children reading my books under their covers long after bedtime. This is the kind of fan mail you dream of receiving, so it warms my heart every time.
Solomon: What are you dying to try that you haven’t done yet?
McCormick: I’ve always wanted to sell a screenplay. I put that ambition on the back burner for a few years while pursuing children’s books, but again this year I completed a script that has generated a lot of interest. So let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Solomon: Do you have any tips for overcoming writer’s block?
McCormick: Most professional writers will tell you that they never suffer from writer’s block. Well, that’s fine for them, but as a person in pain I’ve come up with a few tips over the years that generally help me.
First: go for a walk. And make sure it’s the most boring walk in the world, where you can’t mind where you are going and where you won’t be distracted by other people or beautiful views. You have to get up, step away from the computer, get your blood flowing, and let your mind wander. Do not walk your dog. Don’t listen to podcasts or music unless you use it to disconnect from the world. (I like listening to Miles Davis fusion records because they are so energetic and there is an almost total lack of melody to distract me.) Get up and go. Sometimes it only takes a few dozen steps to fix the problem.
If you’re still stuck, try writing a random scene with your characters set in the most unlikely setting possible. Write a space opera? Have your characters go bowling. Write a romance? Play your characters with laser tag. Have your villain and hero go to the supermarket or play Twister. You’ll be amazed at how much this exercise can give you a ton of new ideas about this project, help you understand your characters better, or even give you an idea for a new book. Most importantly, this exercise will allow you to enjoy writing again, which is the most important.
Solomon: Any other advice for other writers?
As trite as it may be, my best advice is to just don’t give up and keep trying and testing new things. I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer, and over the years I’ve tried writing anything but a cookbook. I tried poetry, songs, journalism, comedy sketches. . . you name it. It never occurred to me to try children’s books until I had my own kids, and even after I tried it, it still took me a few years to find my voice. And even after I published my first books, I still had some ups and downs. But I kept going and kept learning and kept trying new approaches to writing, and today I’m a full time writer, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.