Starting A Second Career As An Author And Networking Tips With Patrick O’Donnell

How can you transition into being an author after a long-term career elsewhere? How can you adopt an attitude of service in order to build your network in an authentic manner? Patrick O’Donnell shares his tips.

In the intro, Spotify subscribers in the US now have 15 hours of free audiobook listening [The Verge] — you can find most of my books there if you want to give them a try! Plus an update from 20BooksVegas, which will now be Author Nation; and signing my gold foil hardbacks of Writing the Shadow.

In AI news, ChatGPT is now multi-modal, and can also be fine-tuned as GPTs and made into agents. You can try out Creative Writing with The Creative Penn, or Write Thrillers like J.F. Penn, trained on my books. Plus, join me and Joseph Michael for a free webinar on Using AI as an author, 5 Dec 2023. Click here to find out more.

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This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors. 

Patrick O’Donnell is a retired police sergeant with 25 years’ experience. He’s now the author of nine books, including police procedurals and the Cops and Writers reference guides, as well as a podcaster, screenwriting technical consultant, and organizer of the Cop Camp Conference.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • Becoming a writer after a significant first career
  • Dos and don’ts of finding a mentor
  • Being of service and volunteering with purpose
  • Knowing when an author relationship clicks
  • Writing entertainment vs. writing for therapy
  • Cop Camp — What it is and why host it?
  • Managing different energies in an author conference

You can find Patrick and

Transcript of Interview with Patrick O’Donnell

Joanna: Patrick O’Donnell is a retired police sergeant with 25 years’ experience. He’s now the author of nine books, including police procedurals and the Cops and Writers reference guides, as well as a podcaster, screenwriting technical consultant, and organizer of the Cop Camp Conference. So welcome back to the show, Patrick.

Patrick: Well, thank you so much, Joanna. It’s an honor and privilege to be on your show.

Joanna: I’m excited to talk to you again. Now, you were last on the show in 2021, where we talked about your background in the police and also tips on writing authentic crime fiction. So we are not talking about that today.

Patrick: Okay, good.

Joanna: Exactly. We’ve done that already. People can come over to your Cops and Writers for that.

Your second career is really taking off, and I wanted to start with this because, obviously, you were a police sergeant for 25 years. Then you decided not to retire, you decided to really go for it in your second career. So I wonder—

What are your tips for people who want to be writers after they’ve had such a significant first career in a different industry?

Patrick: Well, I’m a big fan of the saying, “Dig the well before you’re thirsty.”

I had the luxury of knowing when I was going to retire from law enforcement. My first day in the police academy was January 16, 1995, and I knew January 16 of 2000 that I was eligible to retire, and I did.

I knew that I was going to do that pretty fairly early on because I didn’t get into the police academy and become a cop until I was 30, which is a little bit on the older side. So you don’t want to be too old doing police work. That’s a young person’s job. It’s not an old guy like me job. So I knew that.

I absolutely loved law enforcement, I loved what I did, I loved where I worked, but I knew the time was coming. So it was looming on the horizon. So a few years before I knew I was going to leave, I was thinking about what I wanted to do, or more importantly, what I didn’t want to do.

Law enforcement is very regimented. Lots of rules, lots of SOPs, and all that kind of good stuff, and I wanted freedom. I wanted freedom of work and freedom of when and where I work. With writing, there’s still deadlines, and there’s things you have to do, but there’s a lot more flexibility and that had a huge appeal to me. So that was the precipice of that. I really enjoyed that idea.

So as far as learning, that’s ongoing. I believe if you’re a writer, you should be a reader, and reading with purpose.

So if you want to write sci-fi or post-apocalyptic, start reading some good books in that genre. You’ll start to pick out tropes and how the author is doing what they’re doing. You can buy courses, books, listen to podcasts, and get some mentors. A lot of it’s on-the-job training. Hopefully, the more books you write, the better you get.

Joanna: I think one of the difficult things for people who are later on in life is this feeling of, I’ve just climbed this ladder, and now you’re telling me I’ve got to go to the bottom of the ladder and start again. So how did you get round that mindset of—

Oh, my goodness, I’m starting again later in life. Is it too late?

Patrick: No, never. I think what I was thinking was, you know, it’s like, I was a boss. I was in charge of these like huge complex crime scenes. Lots of homicides, lots of shootings, lots of serious stuff. That was one of the things about being a sergeant was I had to respond to shootings, homicide, sexual assaults, armed robberies, et cetera, et cetera, fire, dead body, whatever.

It was nice walking away from that and doing something completely different. That part I really, really enjoyed. It was like, okay, now this is something completely different. It’s almost like cleansing your palate. I truly enjoyed just walking away from law enforcement.

Like I said, I love the job and all that, but this had a lot of appeal to it. You have to have the mindset of, okay, I’m starting over again. I’m gonna make mistakes. I’m a rookie again.

It’s almost like being back in the police academy, if you want to look at it that way. From my point of view, looking through my lens, it’s like, okay, I’m a rookie again.

How did I learn when I first got on the job? Well, I had mentors that helped me along. So that was also a big part of it. I made relationships with authors that were a lot better at this than I am, and that helped out quite a bit.

Joanna: Yes, you have been very good at networking. I want to comment there on mentors because I find that some people—

Like I get emails all the time that say, “Will you be my mentor?”

And you’re laughing. Okay, so why are you laughing at that?

Patrick: I’m laughing because I can only imagine how many you get because you are very popular and most would say you’re very successful.

So I could see people who may not even know who you are all that well, or maybe not even have ever read one of your books, or listened to your podcast. It’s like, well, I’ll get a mentor, and then everything’s gonna be hunky dory. But it doesn’t work that way.

Joanna: So how does it work? How would you go about it? Or how have you? Because you’ve done very well.

Patrick: Well, you know what —

The way I looked at things as far as networking with other authors and getting mentors, is being of service.

And the way I can explain that is, okay, you know, I really got into 20Booksto50k, and I thought, well, I really enjoy the idea of being an indie author, and the people there were so nice and so ready to help you out, but I’d be of service.

So the first 20Booksto50k conference, I wanted to volunteer. I also wound up being an admin for the 20Booksto50k Facebook group.

I was volunteering with purpose.

It’s like, okay, what can I do to help somebody?

So eventually, I wound up going to different writers conferences, and I’m still a rookie writer, and people would just start coming up to me, and they’re like, “Hey, you’re that police guy, right?”

And I’m like, I don’t have a t-shirt on or a sign saying I am, but sure, why not? And inevitably, they would have a question for me. And I’m like, okay, so my specialty or niche was police stuff. So I’m considered an expert. When I testify in court, I’m an expert in police procedure, all that kind of good stuff.

So a lot of people have questions for me, but a lot of these authors were further along in their journey than I was. So I was able to give them something, and then it wasn’t a huge ask if I said, “Hey, you know what, I’m kind of stuck on this, ‘whatever.’ Could you give me a hand?”

Now, I wouldn’t just email somebody, any of these people, and say, “Could you be my full-time mentor?” That’s a huge ask. That’s a big, big ask. That’s like almost asking somebody that you don’t even know and saying, “Hey, could you read my book and do a blurb for me?”

Joanna: I get those, too!

Patrick: I’m sure you do. But that’s a big ask, and you know, relationships are two-way streets. It’s like—

What do you have to offer them?

That’s the way I looked at things, and that’s the way I kind of conduct my business.

Joanna: I love what you said there being of service and volunteering with purpose.

It’s so interesting, because it is the balance, isn’t it? Because if you just volunteer and volunteer and volunteer, and you never do the ask, so you do at some point, you know, either people will offer to help you or you get to ask because you have almost done your time.

I guess, as you said about being a rookie in any career, you’re not that useful at the beginning, to be honest. You have to do your time.

Patrick: Right, but you might have something to offer somebody that’s further along than you that others don’t have. You might have some unique skill set.

Joanna: Or even as you said, volunteering to help at things. I mean, that’s how I’ve met people.

Also I feel like, for me, I’ve never had like a mentor so much in person, but —

I consider people mentors when I read their books or listen to their podcasts.

Patrick: Well, you know what, your book Audio for Authors, which, if anybody’s thinking about starting a podcast or being a guest, I highly suggest getting that book.

I love audiobooks, so I bought the audiobook, and then I liked it so much that I got the paperback and I got out my highlighter. There’s some gold nuggets in there, and I’m just like, oh, heck yeah. So you were a mentor to me as far as podcasting goes, and you never even knew it.

Joanna: Oh, fantastic. That is how I like being a mentor.

I’m so glad you found that book useful. It’s so funny because I wrote that book Audio for Authors because my brother was starting a podcast, and he literally sent me a WhatsApp message which said, “How do I start a podcast?”

And I looked at this message and went, ‘oh, I wish I had a book I could give you,’ hence I wrote that book. I’m glad it helped you because my brother did like three episodes and stopped. 

Let’s come back to your networking ability. So you volunteered with things, but now you co-write with Michael Anderle, and you co-host Writers Ink, with J.D. Barker, amongst other people. These are some pretty big names in the industry.

How did you work your way up the network?

Patrick: You know, it’s interesting how all that happened, and a lot of it was through podcasting. I mean, you and I both know that it’s hard to make money being a podcaster without any kind of plan to generate income from the podcast. That could be another podcast all together, but we won’t go down that rabbit hole.

But the way it worked for me with Michael Anderle, was I was friends with Craig Martell. Michael is an introvert. He’s a very quiet person that does not like a lot of attention drawn to him.

I had Craig on my podcast, I think one or two times, and I said, “I’d love to have you and Michael on the show, talking about the 20Booksto50k Vegas conference and the other conferences that you do.”

And he says, “You know what, I’ll get him on.” And I’m like, “Thank you.” So, before I know it, we’re just chit-chatting, and Craig had to go walk his dog. And Michael and I are just like looking at each other on the screen, and we just started talking, and we just clicked. It worked really well. 

Before I knew it, he was like, “Hey, let’s write together.” And it’s like, okay, I didn’t see that coming, but I was like, okay, that sounds good, and we just wound up working together.

But that never would have happened if I never volunteered and built up a relationship with Craig at first. He would come into Wisconsin from Alaska, he lives in Alaska, and he’s coming to Wisconsin for a Dungeons and Dragons conference. And I offered, you know what, let me take you out to dinner. Let’s do this. Let’s do that. And you become friends. I didn’t do it with the hope that I’m gonna get a whole bunch of stuff back. He’s just a really nice guy. 

I remember the first time I met him, I asked, but it wasn’t out of the blue. He knew who I was. It was almost like an Obi Wan situation.

It was like, what’s the secret? I already had like maybe two books, three books written. He just smiled at me, and he’s like, “Write the next book, Pat.” I’m like, ah, okay. I was hoping for something really a lot cooler than that. I’m like, alright, more work, yeah. And he’s 100% right, of course. But that’s how I got with Michael and his company was because I knew Craig.

Same thing with J.D. Barker. I was friends with J. Thorn, and him and Zach were the co-hosts on Writers Ink., and I said, you know what, I’d really like to interview J.D. And he says, yeah, no problem, but we already knew each other.

I helped him out, he had like police questions about a book that he was writing, and I’m like, yeah, I’d be happy to help you. So it wasn’t a stranger just saying, “Hey, I want to interview J.D. Barker,” like out of the blue.

So I developed that relationship, and so I interviewed him on my podcast, and J.D. started reaching out to me with police questions.

Again, I had a little skill set that a lot of other people didn’t have. And we developed this relationship, and J.D. and Zack left the show, and before I know it, now I’m a co-host on Writers Ink.

None of this came cold, it just built up through time, and again, putting yourself out there.

Joanna: Yes —

Putting yourself out there, being useful, and also, being authentic.

I want to come back to this idea of “it clicked,” because this is important too, especially with a co-writing relationship, which is like a legal agreement that can go beyond your death. I mean, it’s more serious than like your marriage, your marriage ends in death. It’s like, this is a big one.

So this idea of ‘clicking’—I mean, also you podcast, too—there’s some people you talk to, and you’re like, yeah, okay, I really got on with them, and they were a good interview, and we had a chat off screen or off mic. Other people, you just go, okay, I’m glad that’s over. You know what I mean?

Patrick: Hopefully it’s not with me today, Joanna!

Joanna: Well, the thing is, you’ve been on the show before. Also, I know all this other stuff you do, so I know I can trust you to come on the show.

This is another thing about proving who you are. If you have a platform, like you’ve built different websites, I can listen to your voice on things, so it’s almost like if you pitch people and you don’t know them, you need to have other evidence that you can be trusted. You know what I mean?

That personal introduction is good. But talk a bit more about the clicking with people. How do you know that you could work with someone?

How do you know when you’re going to be able to develop a relationship?

Patrick: When it comes to writing, the way I looked at it—I’ll use Michael as an example. We just started talking, and he has LMBPN, him and his wife are running that whole show, they’re the bigwigs. They’re known for sci-fi, and post-apocalyptic, fantasy, space marines, those genres, that’s what he’s leaned into very heavily. And he wanted to reach out into crime drama, crime fiction.

He’s very honest, and again, being a cop for a long time, I’m fairly good at reading people, and what struck me was he was a very honest person. He was very genuine.

He’s like, “I don’t know anything. Well, I know very little about crime fiction. I don’t know police stuff,” et cetera. We just started talking, and before you know it, it’s like, okay, I could work with this guy. I think this would be a good thing.

You should, if you’re going to be writing with somebody, if we wanted to go down that path, you have to have some very clear expectations, I think, of who’s doing what, and leaning into the person’s strengths and weaknesses.

It’s like, okay, obviously, I have the police background, I’ve written books, but I haven’t written millions of words like Michael Anderle has. So he knows the nuts and bolts of publishing a lot better than I do.

So if you’re looking for a relationship, try and find something, as far as clicking, is like maybe not where you’re both at the same level with the same skill sets, maybe you can both bring different stuff to the table and mash it all together, and hopefully come up with a decent book.

Joanna: Tell us a bit more about that because I’ve co-written a few books. I find it quite difficult, I think, because I’m such a control freak.

I think with co-writing, you do need to sometimes let your own ego lie in order to actually co-write with someone else.

How does this work for you, as someone who you’ve written your other stuff?

What are the pros and cons of co-writing? How are you dealing with it?

Patrick: Well, most of it has been pros. LMBPN is a well-oiled machine, but it’s not for rookies.

If I had never written a book, it would be like drinking from a firehose. I’d be like, huh, what? There’s a lot of stuff going on, and it’s very fast-paced. We definitely had a marketing plan for the books, and it’s not like, well, we’ll just write these books, and when we get them done, we get them done. It’s like, no, we had very clear cut deadlines, and I had to meet those deadlines.

So when you’re just kind of writing on your own, there’s deadlines, but they’re a lot more flexible.

But with this, there’s proofreaders, there’s editors, there’s cover designers, there’s a whole bunch of different people in this ecosystem. If you slow things up, then everything else gets screwed up. So there’s some pressure on you that way. So you want to keep everything moving along. 

It’s awesome to work with pros. You know, I think you up your game when you work with somebody that’s better than you. And obviously, Michael is better than me when it comes to this stuff. So you definitely up your game, and I think it makes you a better writer.

So that’s what I did, and it was awesome to work with these pros. You know, it’s like, okay, cover designer. You know, it’s like, “Hey, here’s some covers, what do you think? What’s your input? “Through every step of the way, they were always asking like, “What do you think? What do you think?”

And that was something I was a little worried about because I’ve talked to people who have traditional publishing deals, and they’re like, “There’s your cover,” and you’d have zero input on it, and it’s like, oh, okay. So this was a lot more of a partnership, so that was really cool.

Doing zooms with Michael was really cool. I’m talking to somebody who has sold millions of books, and I’m on a zoom call with him. And it was nice when—I mean, you’ve written tons of books, Joanna—and sometimes it is nice to bounce story ideas, or it’s like, “Hey, this is what’s going on with the story right now. What do you think?” It’s so nice to talk to a person about that. So that’s probably one of my favorite parts about writing with Michael.

Joanna: How are you going to balance things going forward for your creative self?

Because obviously, I mean, Michael, though he was an indie author, I mean, he now is part of a massive empire. It is like a publishing house, it’s bigger than publishing houses — LMBPN. So you’re writing in a universe and a series that belongs to LMBPN, and you’re learning a lot, obviously.

How are you going to balance your own writing with the series you do with Michael?

Patrick: Well, you know, funny you should mention that because I told Michael I had another idea for a book, and he wasn’t interested. And I’m like, well, I’m gonna write it. And he said, cool.

So I’ve taken a slight break from writing with Michael. I mean, I know I’m gonna wind up writing a few more books with them in 2024, and I already started another one of my own series. So that’s how you kind of do the balance. It’s like, I’m completely transparent, be transparent with your business partner. It’s like, hey, you know what? This is going along great. Maybe it’s not going along great. Maybe it’s not working, whatever.

For us, I think it’s gotten along great. But sometimes you just have to do your own thing, too. So that’s what I’m doing.

Joanna: And actually, you mentioned in your email pitch that the writing has brought back some personal memories. I mean, you mentioned earlier the crime scenes that were quite harrowing at times in your career. So I wondered, how has this helped you? Or has it hurt you?

Where is the line between writing entertainment and writing for therapy?

Patrick: Well, about 10 years ago, I went through a messy divorce. So I wrote a book from the perspective of a father with kids going through a divorce.

I did it because I wanted to help other dads that were in my situation, but I didn’t know a whole lot about writing at the time, and I wrote it under a pen name. So when you’re a police officer, any kind of off-duty employment, you have to have clear through them, and I’m like, nah, I’m going to skip that part.

So I wrote under pen names while I was still working. Or if I was close to retirement, I didn’t care because it would take them about a year to figure out if I was doing it or not. So, like I said, I wanted to help other dads that were going through that.

Writing that book was very therapeutic for me, just getting it out on paper. It wasn’t full of like vinegar and venom, and, you know, hate. It was just, okay, these are some best practices for you to do if you’re going through something like this. So it was very therapeutic for me to write that book.

Fast forward, and I started writing the Brew City Blues books with Michael, and, boy, that brought back some memories. I didn’t think it would be as intense as it was.

When I was working, and I was going through my divorce, I went to a marriage therapist, and on a sidenote, she’s like, “Well, you know, you got PTSD pretty bad.” And I’m like, “I do? I didn’t realize that, okay.” And she was very helpful, and most of us do have it to a certain degree.

Now I’m writing this series again, and I’m reliving all these situations, and I thought I was okay. Every now and then a memory would kind of flash back in front of me, nothing too awful bad, but nightmares were really bad.

I’d wake up, and I’d just scream, and my wife is looking at me like, are you okay? Okay, I’m fine again. But I had that when I was on the job, and I know now that you get through it. 

That’s what happened with me with writing these books again and reliving these situations. It’s like, okay, you got through it, you’re still here, you’re in one piece. You’re okay.

So it’s not all doom and gloom, some of the memories were downright hilarious. So it’s taking the good with the bad, and that was just one part of it. Writing the books, I think was helpful, but it also brought back some pretty icky memories.

Joanna: So something for some people to consider. I mean, it’s always hard to know where the line is. And I mean, in my book, Writing the Shadow, I talk about this, and I feel like only you can know whether you can deal with this or not.

Patrick: Absolutely, absolutely. Yes. You’re the best judge of you.

Joanna: Exactly. And some people will be like, oh, no, you should never write about that because you’ll have your nightmares. And it’s like, well, yes, but I’m still going to do it anyway, and I’m willing to do that. And, I mean, it would hurt some people more, but other people less. It’s just so hard to know, isn’t it?

Patrick: I think you have to kind of know where the line is. And if it’s debilitating, and you can’t go on with your like normal day, or you can’t write anymore, you can’t work, or your relationships are suffering, well, maybe it’s time to pump the brakes on it. It’s like, okay, you’ve reached that line. It never got that bad for me at all.

Joanna: I mean, are you writing some kind of like light and fluffy something for your other books? Or are you still in the mystery?

Patrick: It’s really dark. It’s gonna be called The Good Collar. It’s gonna be a series with a vigilante police chaplain.

Joanna: Oh, nice.

Patrick: Did you ever watch Dexter?

Joanna: I watched some of it. It wasn’t my thing, really.

Patrick: Oh, okay. It’s very much like Dexter, where everybody trusts this guy, and nobody would suspect him of being a vigilante killer. He rights all the wrongs.

Joanna: Ah, right. So it’s a justice. It’s the vigilante justice trope. That sounds good.

So talking about being authentic and sharing our true selves, and I talk a lot about doubling down on being human on this show.

Patrick: Human is good.

Joanna: Exactly. And I mean, in-person conferences can be a big part of this being human.

You mentioned 20Books Vegas earlier, and you hosted this Cop Camp earlier in 2023. So first of all, tell us like—

What is Cop Camp? Why did you do it? What were some of the highlights?

Because it sounds pretty awesome.

Patrick: Well, my partner in this endeavor is RJ Beam, who’s also a writer, and he’s an instructor at the police academy in Appleton, Wisconsin. He cold emailed me. He never talked to me before, he just cold emailed me. He’s like, “Hey, would you be interested in doing a small writer’s retreat at the police academy here in the Fox Valley in Appleton?”

I’m like, hell yeah, I jumped all over that because in the back of my mind, you know, I’m going to these conferences, and I thought to myself, you know, I think I could do that, and this would be a fun way to, again, be of service to the writing community.

So Cop Camp was born, and it was four days of a combination of classroom instruction and hands on instruction.

Here’s some examples of stuff that we had. We had a canine and his handler come talk to the class. The dog did not talk, but he almost did, he’s very, very smart. CSI people came, and they showed you how to process a crime scene, using like trajectory rods. Like if there’s a bullet hole in something, you could put this trajectory rod with a laser, and it’ll show you most likely where the shot came from, that kind of stuff, fingerprints, DNA processing, just like regular items.

We had people leave fingerprints on stuff and they dusted for their own prints, showed exactly how we do something at a crime scene. We had a CSI tech that that’s her job. That’s what she does. That’s her full time job, and she came out and did this for us. 

We also had Honoree Corder and Michael Anderle come. So I wanted the book stuff in there as well, talking about publishing and book writing and marketing.

We also had Anne Schwartz, she’s a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and the author of Monster, talking about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. She broke the story when she was a rookie reporter back in the day, and she was actually in Dahmer’s apartment when they first discovered the crime scene.

Joanna: Oh, goodness.

Patrick: I also had a DA come in and explain how they process criminal charges and what’s all involved with that. Adam Richardson from the Writers Detective Bureau, he was there. He gave a class on what a detective does in investigations.

I had John Nores come, he’s a retired lieutenant from the California Game Warden, and he had a strike team fighting illegal marijuana grows out in the state parks that were just killing the environment because they’re stealing like thousands of gallons of water, using banned pesticides, all kinds of cool stuff. 

We had students towards the end process a mock homicide scene. So we had like mannequins that were like the dead bodies and evidence all over the place. And oh, they just loved it. It was so much fun.

Joanna: I mean, this is what’s so funny, it sounds really fun, and I know people are listening like, oh, that sounds really, really good. We’ll tell people where to find out more later.

But I’m so interested in this because you just had four days, and I know you had someone that you’re working with, but organizing these things is so much work and often leaves people out of pocket. So the question really is about—

Why the hell organize a conference? What have you learned from this?

Patrick: Oh, boy. Yeah, I learned a lot.

For RJ and I, it was a learning experience. The first one you do, you’re probably going to lose money, so you have to find out what your pain point is.

If you’re going to run a conference, I say, under promise and over-deliver. What made me the happiest about our conference was people were walking away and were like, I can’t believe how generous you guys were. I can’t believe, you know, we got all this stuff. 

It wasn’t like physical stuff, even though we did give them swag. Michael was very generous. He bought them memberships for different organizations, et cetera. He was there through the whole thing. Michael wasn’t just there for one day, he was there for the whole thing. It was just so much fun having him there, as well. Again, how often do you sit next to somebody that sells millions of books?

Most of the writers that I had at this conference, I think the most anybody had written was like maybe five or ten books, and some of them hadn’t written any books, which is fine, that’s great.

So I think you have to have an idea of why you’re doing this, and what’s your why. It’s like, do you want to make mountains of cash or you just want to have a small intimate writer’s retreat?

What I did, I reached out to people that have already done it and are good at it. Craig Martelle and Cecilia Mecca were my two conference mentors because I know they both do it, and they do it very well. So they gave me some best practices, and Craig actually printed out a spreadsheet for me. It’s like, okay, this is what you do at this time.

One of the things I will suggest to people if they want to do this, start out small and start out simple. You can always build up later.

And it is nice to have a partner to lean on and what they’re good at. I got the speakers and negotiated the prices at the hotel. RJ already had a caterer that they worked with at the police academy, so we had that handle. He had the contacts with the local police departments, so he was able to get the dog, he was able to get the CSI tech, etc, etc.

So again, you’re probably going to lose money the first time you do it, plan on that. Know what your pain point is and don’t go over that.

It’s a learning experience. Cut yourself some slack, it’s not going to be perfect at first. Like anything else, the more reps, hopefully, the better you get at it. 

It was just so much fun. I think that’s one of the biggest takeaways I had from it was you make more relationships with people, and it was genuinely a good time. You knew when they walked away that they had learned quite a bit that they didn’t know before.

Joanna: So, are you an extrovert? I mean, you can deal with people.

Patrick: Oh, yeah. You bet.

Joanna: I think that’s really important. Like I could not do that, I just could not. And just energy-wise, like I’m coming to 20Books Vegas—in fact, this will go out after Vegas, so we will have done it by then, so maybe I’ll put in the introduction what’s going on. But I canceled my ticket last year because I was like, I just can’t do it. I’ve got plans to make sure I manage my energy.

So if people are introverts, and they’re thinking about attending any of these conferences, not even necessarily organizing one, but just attending—

How do you allow for people’s different energies in, particularly, an author conference?

Patrick: Know yourself.

I mean, like what you’re saying, you’re an introvert, and you know how much you can handle. I can handle a lot. Yeah, if you’re going to be the host or a co-host of something like this, I was going from seven o’clock in the morning sometimes until 11-12 o’clock at night. I fed off the energy of everybody, and it went really well.

But one of the things I want to make sure is everybody was safe, and the airport was five minutes away from the hotel, and everybody’s flights got delayed. So I’m picking up people left and right, you know, at different times, just orchestrating everything. 

Again, if you’re just attending a conference, or if you’re going to be running one, you have to have that energy. That’s also when you lean on your friends. If somebody’s gonna volunteer, okay, maybe it’s time to divide and conquer.

I was lucky enough to have a partner in this endeavor, so we could split the work, and that that worked out really well. But if you’re a one-man or one-person band, that’s a little bit tougher.

As far as say, 20Books, there’s so much stuff going on there. I mean, I think there’s like 120 presentations, maybe more. Here’s my two cents, if you’re an introvert, this is what you do, take a look and see what interests you and pick out like maybe four or five presentations. Don’t try to go to every one of them.

You’re gonna burn yourself out. You’re gonna go banana cakes. You don’t want to do that, just pick out what you think is interesting.

I know you have a couple of things you’re going to be speaking at. So it’s like, okay, cool, I want to hear what Joanna has to say. Plan it a little bit ahead of time, but also go with the flow. It’s like, okay, I really wanted to go to that one, whatever, but I have these three writers that I just met, they want to have lunch at the casino, and I might get a little more out of that because they’re a little further ahead in their writing journey and their careers.

So be flexible, be Gumby, be flexible like Gumby. Give yourself some time. Cut yourself some slack. It can be overwhelming, but you can do it. Have fun with it. Genuinely, have fun with it.

Joanna: That’s sort of circling back to the beginning. I mean, this is how you make relationships. And even as an introvert, I know how important these things are to connect with people, reconnect with people, just meet people in real life.

Like you and I haven’t met in real life, so we will, well, we will have by the time this gets out. And it’s important, we are actually real people. It does make a difference, I think, to meet people. 

I wanted to ask you just before we finish, but I know —

At the beginning of my career, I said yes to everything. Then it got to a point where I was like, I have to start saying no to things because I am really very, very busy —

and I need to concentrate on certain things. Now, you seem to be saying yes to absolutely everything. So I wondered what your plans are because, like you said, I mean, Cop Camp is a sort of ongoing thing, you’ve got various series, you’ve got other stuff going on.

So what are your thoughts and plans around your author business?

Patrick: Well, I’m at the point now where I’m leaning more into the fiction side of things. I’m having a lot of fun writing stories.

I’m not saying that I’ll never write another nonfiction book, but for now, I’m enjoying writing fiction. I have the four books that we already wrote with Michael. I started The Good Collars series, already I’m about 30-40% done with that for the first book. 

I’m also having fun with the podcast. And every now and then I think to myself, I’m like, I’m just gonna stop doing that. Then I think of a guest or I hear them on another podcast, and I’m like, oh, my god, I’d love to talk to that person. So I do that. 

Like you said, the preliminary stuff for Cop Camp ’24 is pretty much done. That’s going to be May 16th through the 19th, here in Wisconsin. I also guest lecture at colleges now, talking to future cops. I think that’s very important. I can help them a little bit. I wish I had that when I was sitting in a classroom when I was in my early 20s. That would have been nice.

Saying no is tough for me. I have had to learn to do it, and I have to thank you. We were talking about it, the last time we talked I was doing consultations with authors, I was reading their manuscripts and picking them apart with police procedure. The ROI just wasn’t there, it was minuscule, and it took up a ton of my time. So as tough as it is, sometimes I have to say no to authors, and that’s tough.

Joanna: I mean, definitely that sort of one-on-one is difficult. I’m now only doing the one-on-one consulting with my Kickstarters. I’ve decided that’s basically when I sell consulting, and it sells out super fast. So I figured that’s a good way to do it. It is important for us all, life is short. You know, you have to figure out what you want to achieve. And I guess that would be my last question, too.

Are you ever retiring, Patrick? Or is this your retirement?!

Patrick: I’m never gonna retire, retire.

My wife just laughs at me. She’s like, you’re busier now than when you were working as a cop. And I’m like, I when I was working as a cop, I was used to minimum like nine to ten hour days, that was minimum. I felt lucky.

But it’s like, okay, every day when I got home from work, I’d go work out, and I’d always find time to write or do something with my author business. If you want to find the time, you’ll find it.

Joanna: It’s true.

Where can people find you, and your books, and Cop Camp online?

Patrick: Well, has links to my socials, and that’s my website. Facebook group, Cops and Writers, that has about 6500 members. That has writers and cops, literally, from all over the world.

It started out with me and my editor and like one of my buddies, and now we’ve got 6500 people. And I’m like, wow, that blew up fast.

The Cops and Writers Podcast, that’s on wherever you consume your podcasts. So you can get me there. Then Cop Camp for 2024, that’s gonna be So that’s where you can find me.

Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Patrick. That was great.

Patrick: Joanna, thank you. And again, it was an honor to be on the show with the heavy hitters that you’ve had on here before. I am very humbled. Thank you so much.

The post Starting A Second Career As An Author And Networking Tips With Patrick O’Donnell first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • November 23, 2023