Building Up From Nothing By Sean McLachlan

Digging up dead bodies had lost its charm. I’d been an archaeologist for several years and, while the thrill of discovery remained, career advancement entailed an increasing amount of office work and earning a Ph.D., neither of which were very attractive to me.

I’d always liked writing and had contributed to many small press publications, and now realized I wanted to write books for a living.

Journalism school and a stint at the New Delhi bureau of Reuters got me experience and killed writers’ block forever (you can’t agonize over words when your deadline is half an hour away), but my big break came when Globe Pequot needed someone to update their Insiders’ Guide to Phoenix. I called up the editor, told her my writing experience and how I had lived in Arizona for ten years, and got the job.

While only a co-authorship of an update, the project showed publishers I could do a book. That combined with my archaeological background led to a contract for Byzantium: An Illustrated History (Hippocrene, 2004). Hippocrene liked my work and since I had lived in Missouri and written several history articles on the state, they had me do Missouri: An Illustrated History (Hippocrene, 2007). That led to another job with Globe Pequot writing It Happened in Missouri (2007). By this time I had plenty of experience, so it wasn’t hard to land Moon Handbooks London (Avalon, 2007).

In less than ten years, I went from occasional appearances in the small press to publishing five books. I did it by building on my strengths, developing relationships with publishers, and submitting clean, accurate copy on deadline. Oh, and that Phoenix update? Work for hire. Many say you should never do that sort of job, but it’s worth it if the money’s good and it breaks new ground for your career.

Sean McLachlan is a freelance writer and editor specializing in history and travel. Now that you know what he’s done in the past, visit him at to see what he’s doing now and what he has planned for the future.