J.B. Simmons is a lawyer-turned-author but not quite in the mold of John Grisham, who has come to define the legal thrillers. J.B. writes fiction beyond the legal world. His books “tackle hard questions and turn them into page-turners.” He bills them as “smart stories” with “epic ideas.” And he has gained fans the world over and was a guest on Episode 52 of the Agents of Innovation podcast.
A graduate of UVA law school, J.B. Simmons embarked on a legal career at a boutique law firm in Washington, DC. He traveled the world, suing foreign governments, and certainly collecting plenty of stories. With a wife and three kids, you’d think that might keep him busy enough. But something kept churning in Simmons’ mind. He had a passion to be a writer. After all, that’s partly why he went to law school in the first place.
While an undergrad at the University of North Carolina, in his native state, a college professor recommended that if he wanted to become a writer he should go to law school. After all, writing is something lawyers do quite a bit of. The idea intrigued him and off he went. But law school usually leads to being a lawyer and so it did with him.
However, about seven years ago, he found a way to start pursuing his passion to write books. “There’s something about storytelling and writing that is so critical in the legal field that plays pretty nicely when you start trying to write novels,” said Simmons.
Like millions of other readers, he was “caught up in the wave of young adult fiction in the past 10 or 15 years.” Series like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games had become “culture-defining books.” He found that these “books read by young adults would go on to be read by people of all ages,” and “what’s compelling about those books is they really capture your attention.”
While he wanted to write, the only time he found in his schedule between his legal career and raising a family was to turn from being a night owl into waking up early – as in 5:00 AM. He did this daily for years. He would write for a couple hours in the morning before his kids were waking up and before the demands of his real job set in.
“One of the things I liked about those early morning hours is it’s a time when you can focus without interruption and do the work that’s important to you before the distractions and the hustle and bustle of the day starts,” said Simmons. “It is such precious time. Your mind is clear. Your focus can really hone in on the project you are doing and then when you finish, say 6:30 or 7 [in the morning], you feel like you’ve already established your place for the day. You’ve done important work already and anything done after that is just bonus.”
But what happens when the writing is going good on any particular morning and he has to shut it off to get to the demands of the day? J.B. Simmons reminded us of a quote he once read by Ernest Hemmingway: “Every day I try to quit while I’m going good.”
Then he told us that what he thinks Hemmingway meant by that was this: “You don’t have to completely exhaust your creative supply and your output of words every single day and, in fact, it can be helpful some days to finish – in the middle – when you know what’s coming next. You have it already in your mind. So, when you come and sit down the next day you know where to start, you know where you’re going.”
He seems to have done alright. When he first started looking at getting his works published, Simmons found advice from another entrepreneur-turned-author who had done work as a start-up author and publisher. In the book, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Guy Kawasaki talked about how entrepreneurial authors could navigate around the traditional gatekeepers of the publishing world and go directly to readers.
Around the same time, J.B. Simmons said, “I whas seeing something very innovative in the marketplace – that people were starting to buy books in only one place and that place was Amazon.”
As a fiction writer, J.B.’s works also have some really nice cover art. Where did he find such artists to design that? He put out a bid through 99Designs.com. He received somewhere between 100-200 possible book covers. He sent some of the ones he was considering out to some of his most avid readers and fans and asked them to vote and give feedback about what they liked. He found that crowdsourcing things like this was a good marketing strategy that has helped in his own success.
Publishing houses used to have a “monopoly on this talent,” he said. But now, anyone can find quality designers “without breaking the bank.”
He put out his first book, Light in the Gloaming, which took him six years to write. Over the next few years he put out an additional five books. All were fiction and one was nonfiction, The Awakening of Washington’s Church.
“I was finding that the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write,” said Simmons. Readers were devouring his books and asking about when the next one would be out. But he was writing these books while practicing law, traveling around the world for work, and raising a family back at home in northern Virginia. All of this took time away from his family. With all this to consider, he decided to hang up the legal career in early 2018 and put his full-time effort into writing. He was also more than thrilled when he discovered that his colleagues at the law firm were very encouraging, which gave him comfort in his decision.
“People love to see others pursuing their dreams,” he said. “I think it emboldens them about their own lives and the kind of dreams they’re pursuing.”
Now over six months into this new life as a full-time writer, he has found that he has to be more disciplined with his time. “I think time has a capacity to fill up no matter what you’re doing,” said Simmons. “What I found is that it takes even more focus and daily emphasis on routine and habits to make sure I’m using this newfound time to write as much as I can.”
In addition to writing books and blogging at JBSimmons.com, he also can now spend more of his time on marketing and publications, emailing with fans, responding to social media, and reading – including reading about the writing and publishing industry. But the main task is putting out good writing and good content and he recognizes that “I have to be a little more on guard than I used to be” when it comes to his time.
There is a lot on the horizon for J.B. Simmons and his fans. One of his books is currently in the very early stages of production to possibly be turned into a film. As part of his “Five-Tower series,” he’s working on a sequel to The Blue Tower, which is due out in 2019. In addition, he’s working on a different kind of book, The Treaty Room, which is a thriller that involves international politics, espionage, and intrigue – perhaps with some elaborated stories from his days as a lawyer suing foreign governments. Whatever does come next for J.B. Simmons, we know the plot will continue to thicken.
To learn more about J.B. Simmons and his work, visit: jbsimmons.com. To listen to the full interview with J.B. Simmons, tune into Episode 52 of the Agents of Innovation podcast on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or Soundcloud. You can also follow the podcast on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. We welcome your comments below!