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By ED OTTE

First-time authors “hope to catch lightning in a bottle” but the formula for success is simple: research, rewriting and networking.

That was the message from two former Rocky Mountain News journalists turned authors at the Nov. 13 Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists Fireside Chat at the Denver Press Club.

“Unless your name is Grisham or King, you will face challenges. Many challenges,” said Denny Dressman, who has authored five books, including a 2010 biography of Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson, and edited four others.

“Even Grisham had difficulties breaking in. It wasn’t until ‘The Pelican Brief’ was published and made into a movie that he was successful. After it was a best seller, his publisher asked if he had other manuscripts and he sent them ‘A Time to Kill.’ It had been turned down by other publishers before ‘Pelican Brief’ became popular.

“You hope to catch lightning in a bottle but most beginning writers have to work hard to get published and to sell their books.”

When the News closed in 2009, Mike Madigan had compiled enough historical material to produce “Heroes, Villains, Dames & Disasters/150 Years of Front-Page Stories from the Rocky Mountain News.” The book won the 2010 Colorado Author’s League award for best non-fiction and was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award.

Both men are members of the Colorado Author’s League and Madigan cited CAL and other writers’ organizations as vital for budding authors.

“It was what we learned as journalists, networking is so important,” he said. “The mentoring, the advice, the leads. It’s all very helpful.”

Dressman said networking also involves finding a reliable person to edit a manscript. “The reason self-published books aren’t reviewed by the mainstream media is because so many have misspellings and grammatical errors. They needed a good editor.”

When asked about the advantage of e-publishing over printed books, Dressman said it is “for specific genres of fiction – romance, sci-fi, young adult novels – a good way for new authors to get published.”

Both men said research is key to producing a good manuscript.

Madigan’s adventure thriller “Double Dare” is based in southwestern Colorado and the author researched the geography and history of the area “to make the story credible. You have fictional characters but everything else has to be accurate.”

For “Sterling Heroes of World War II,” published in 2012, Dressman researched Allied airbases in Europe and included the information in the book so “younger readers would understand the references made by the people interviewed for the story.”

Rewriting was an ongoing process in Madigan’s novel, which was released in September. “When I started, I thought I had to write the perfect book. I was wrong. I did a lot of rewriting to make the dialogue believable, make it all better.”

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