After publishing for a few years, an author’s career goals change and evolve. What used to be chased after might no longer be in your field of view. Authors often advise each other to do “the work.” You should remain focused and motivated. For author Rob Hart, writing has and always will be what comes first. “I want my next book to be better.” It’s about craft.
Hart hit the ground running and never slowed down, becoming involved in New York City’s literary scene, including the long-running Noir at the Bar reading series; likewise, he stepped into the online literary scene orbiting both social media and LitReactor, a site that offers classes, workshops, a community forum, and a content-rich online magazine.
His first six books—the propulsive Ash McKenna series of crime thrillers—as well as his short story collection, Take-Out, a thematic blend of culinary and crime, were all published by venerable indie Polis. His debut novel, New Yorked, was an inventive rendition of The Warriors with an influx of New York mythos and crime.
“It was a fantastic proving ground—a small press with some real weight to it,” says Hart. “It got me into bookstores and libraries and in front of readers and critics.” What more could an author ask for? Hart continued writing, aiming to complete several projects on his plate. He didn’t ask for anything but 110% of himself and to write his absolute best.
The Warehouse followed New Yorked. Published in 2019, it is as much an addictive thriller as it is social commentary on our increasing cultural and structural reliance on big corporations like Amazon that have a stranglehold on commerce and capitalism. Hart had been writing the novel for years, as far back as the early 2010s. When he finally could step away from it with a manuscript, he gave it to Josh Getzler at HG Literary, who had expressed interest in checking out Hart’s work after reading one of Hart’s previous books.
The stars seemingly aligned, Getzler loved The Warehouse and wasted no time showing it to editors. “The Warehouse was bought in a preempt by Julian Pavia (editor of Ready Player One and The Martian) at Crown, who was one of my dream editors to work with.” What happened next was the stuff of dreams.
“The Warehouse changed my life. It sold in more than 20 countries, was optioned for film by Ron Howard, and allowed me to be a full-time writer.” Hart pointed out that with every peak, there are also pitfalls to prepare for. “It got me into therapy because the pressure that came with that kind of deal was immense.”
Though the pressure was enormous, Hart took each opportunity in stride, always putting in the work. Working with a major publisher after so many years of being hands-on with an indie like Polis, Hart was humbled by Pavia’s editorial style. “We did something like 10 passes on the book, starting with the big picture and then whittling down. It was a challenge, for sure.” But that’s how a writer gets better. An editor points out things that might not have come to mind and a writer learns from those pointers, discovering new ground. “Part of what I love about Julian is he never gives you the answer, he just shows you how to get there.”
The marketing and publicity team and budget was another area where Hart discovered traits that he had no way to measure from previous experiences in publishing. “I felt very lucky to be working with such a great team. The idea of working with a major publisher is daunting, but it felt like a very intimate, hands-on experience.” The team had Hart conduct interviews, go on talk shows and news programs, speak at universities—the gamut of promotional possibilities to help spread word of The Warehouse.
Still, Hart tempered his expectations. There comes a time when an author sees where their book stands in “the marketplace.” Every author develops an audience, and some audiences are larger than others. Over time, there may be a groundswell by way of a breakthrough book. The Warehouse was one of those books for Hart, and yet he understood there was a limit on what he could do in the book tour/publicity space. “The reality is I’m not Stephen King. I’m not going to pack a bookstore. Sending me out on the road for two or three weeks is expensive, and it’s hard to get a return on it.”
From Polis to Penguin Random House, Rob Hart has carved out an admirable path. Part of what keeps him so focused is the understanding that the path doesn’t end. It needs to keep going if you want to become a better writer. The commercial side of things is one small part of it. “You’re always going to want to have sold more copies. You’re always going to feel like you could have worked harder.” Hart knows not to let the negative stuff bring him down.
“You’re always going to struggle with self-doubt.” All those years publishing the Ash McKenna series helped build up his defense for what’s on the path ahead.
MICHAEL J. SEIDLINGER is a Filipino American author of Runaways: A Writer’s Dilemma, Scream (part of Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series), and other books. He has written for, among others, Wired, Buzzfeed, Thrillist, Goodreads, The Observer, Polygon, The Believer, and Publishers Weekly. He teaches at Portland State University and has led workshops at Catapult, Kettle Pond Writer’s Conference, and Sarah Lawrence. You can find him online on Twitter (@mjseidlinger) and Instagram (@michaelseidlinger).