Arts and Entertainment

Picking the brain of a bestselling author

Journalist/lawyer/author — Robert Dugoni. - Courtesy Photo/Robert Dugoni
Journalist/lawyer/author — Robert Dugoni.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo/Robert Dugoni

In his late 30s, Robert Dugoni abandoned a financially successful five-year law career to follow his life-long dream of being an author.

Now at age 47, he has three published books, including a bestseller. Another novel is on the way, tentatively scheduled for a 2009 release.

On the whole, his story seems somewhat of a fairy tale, a real grabbing life by the horns kind of conquest, however the years in the interim were anything but.

“Failing is the best thing that ever happened to me,” Dugoni said. “And by failing I mean the rejection letters. That failure caused me to step back and figure out what I was doing wrong.”

He’ll be talking about the query letter enlightenment he found and about his latest book, a suspense thriller “Damage Control,” at 7:30 p.m. March 20 at Eagle Harbor Books, 157 Winslow Way on Bainbridge.

With a communications degree from Stanford University and stints as an LA Times staffer and a successful lawyer under his belt, Dugoni, the middle child in a family of 10 overachievers, was sure that he could become a published author.

He’d always known that he wanted to be a writer, and he had the experience with the Stanford Daily and LA Times to back up his skills. Still he’d receive rejection letter after rejection letter from publishers for the fiction works he was racking up.

“It was rough, it was really rough and really scary at times because I had no income,” Dugoni said.

With one son and another child on the way, Dugoni had done what he’d always been told not to do — he quit his day job. In a panic, as his queries continued to be returned with rejection letters, he couldn’t quite fathom why it was, until he took a step back and studied the structure of “selling” a book.

“(Getting a novel published) was completely different than anything I had ever done,” he said. “Everything has a structure to it that you have to learn to follow. I didn’t know the structure, I didn’t know the game.”

He had been sending in marathon-length query letters and story synopsis that attempted to invoke every unique detail and aspect of charm within the story he was trying to sell, trying to get the agent to see just why his book was a work of creative genius.

In reality, most agents probably never got past the first three pages because the sheer weight of the query would be weighing them down.

“It was lengthy, it was wordy, it was confusing,” Dugoni said of his early publisher queries. “All the mistakes that they say not to make, I’d made.”

By a stroke of luck — meeting and hitting it off with an Exclusive Buyer’s Agent at a cocktail party — Dugoni got his big break when he became involved with a non-fiction project called “The Cynanide Canary,” released 2004.

That led to his query letter enlightenment and the successful publishing of two of his fiction novels — “The Jury Master” (a 2006 New York Times Bestseller) and “Damage Control” (2007). Looking back he now sees where he’d been going wrong.

“The biggest mistake most writers trying to get published make is they go overboard,” Dugoni said.

He lays it out in these simple terms:

Your query letter is your business card.

Your story synopsis is your book’s resume.

Your first three chapters are your interview.

Keep it concise.

To hear Dugoni elaborate, check him out at Eagle Harbor March 20.

Bestselling author Robert Dugoni will speak at 7:30 p.m. March 20 at Eagle Harbor Books, 157 Winslow Way to talk about the query letter enlightenment he found and also about his latest book, a suspense thriller, “Damage Control.”

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