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Navy SEAL Jack Carr’s 8-Point Guide to Writing a Bestseller

After a career as an elite warrior, this combat veteran hit the big time as a thriller author

spinner image jack carr looks into the camera in this close up photo. a rifle sits over his shoulder.
Mike Stoner

Sitting on his outdoor balcony overlooking the mountains of Park City, Utah, with a mug of hot coffee, former Navy SEAL and New York Times bestselling author Jack Carr reflects on the path that brought him to where he is today. 

“From the age of 7, when I first learned what a SEAL was, I knew that I wanted to serve my country in uniform, specifically as a Navy SEAL,” he told AARP Veteran Report

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Born into a military family, Carr’s mother was a librarian, and from that he developed a passion for the works of writers such as Tom Clancy, Nelson DeMille and Louis L’Amour. 

Here are eight tips from an author at the very top of his game.

How to start

“Sit down and write it,” Carr said. “Just get it done. Don’t worry about it being ‘bad’ – give yourself permission to write a bad sentence, a bad chapter, a bad book. And then go back and edit it and make it great.” 

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He suggests attending conferences such as ThrillerFest, where you can “speed date” with literary agents.

“I know at least three people who found their agents that way and went on to get book deals with major publishers,” he said. 

Get a good shot in first

The reality of pivoting from war fighter to writer was fraught with uncertainty.

“I started as a SEAL sniper, became an officer, then moved up to troop commander—it was a good run,” he said. 

spinner image jack carr looks into the camera while in a military uniform during his time in the service
Jack Carr during his military service.
Courtesy Jack Carr

“But my family needed me, I have three kids including one with severe special needs, so I thought it’s time to get out and do something different.” 

When he retired in 2016, he set about writing The Terminal List, the first of his six thrillers thus far.

“I knew I needed to come out of the gate with something that was just hard-hitting, visceral and primal,” he said.

He caught the interest of actor Chris Pratt, who eventually starred in the book’s hit adaptation as an Amazon series.

Be real

“Today, authenticity reigns supreme," Carr stressed. "For me, coming out of the SEAL teams and having a book that’s rooted in authentic realism of the modern battlefield, that’s what sets me apart. 

“If my protagonist gets ambushed as part of the story, I remember what it was like to be ambushed in Baghdad 2006, and I take those feelings and emotions and apply them to a completely fictional narrative. If it reads true to someone who picks it up, it’s because it comes from a real place – right from my heart and soul, directly onto the page with no filters.”

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Market yourself

Carr has evolved into a master of promoting himself through social media platforms and affiliations, including suspenseful YouTube videos, and on X (formerly Twitter), in order to promote his work and connect on a deeper, more personal level with his readers. 

“As an unknown writer, you have to do all the things you have to do starting a company,” he said. “If you expect your publisher to do it for you, that you’re going to get the same amount of attention and resources as Stephen King or one of those authors, you’re going to be very disappointed.”

Stay in the mix

spinner image book cover of jack carr's latest book, only the dead
'Only the Dead' was released earlier this year.
Simon & Schuster

Carr mused on his early dreams of writing in a remote cabin in the woods.

“I found out it doesn’t work that way,” he laughed. 

“It might seem hard to believe now, but I’m actually a really private person. I had no social media and didn’t want any part of it. But I have to think about how I can add value to both my publisher and the lives of my readers.”

Build your audience

Carr believes that innovations in “hybrid” and self-publishing through companies like Amazon have opened the doors for many writers who didn’t have such options in the past. 

“Everyone’s going to take a different path,” he said. “But you can build an audience on channels that weren’t available to authors in 1985 or 1995. You can start a podcast or be on other people’s podcasts, and create platforms on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram that let people know you’re also an author.”

Keep growing

Carr is about to take his first leap into the nonfiction world with the first in a series called “Targeted,” due in the fall of 2024. It will be about the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, drawing on declassified materials from the Reagan White House. 

Don’t sweat the sales numbers 

When I asked him how many books he’d sold to date, he laughed and said he had no idea: “I’ve never even asked,” he said. 

“I wouldn’t even know how to compare that number to other writers. It’s just not something I think about.” 

He paused for a moment to appreciate the view from his balcony, takes another sip of coffee and added: “But it’s a lot. I do know that.”

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published twice a month. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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