Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer

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  4. Four CIA Secrets That Can Boost Your Career - Speakeasy - WSJ
Former CIA Operative Explains How Spies Use Disguises - WIRED

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  • Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer by J.C. Carleson.
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Two concepts are heavily emphasized in both the world of espionage and the world of publishing: the hook, and the pitch. And yes, CIA officers really do use those same terms. In general, writers seeking publication treat their hook and their pitch as stagnant concepts — once crafted, they are never changed. CIA officers, on the other hand, go to great lengths to customize each and every pitch.


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  8. Every target is viewed as a unique opportunity, and the techniques outlined in my book explain how case officers determine what sort of a hook will be most likely to entice and persuade a particular target. CIA officers treat hooks and pitches as living, changing tools — a practice that I think would serve writers well.

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    It would be nice if a well-written book would sell itself, but the reality is that writers also need to be responsive to industry and personality variables when pitching their books. That seems like a vague and impossible task until you break it down into specific, actionable steps…which is exactly what CIA officers do every day. In my contacts I have a card from a CIA agent who agreed to talk shop with me. Self preservation perhaps?

    Please declassify for authors CIA techniques that could be useful in writing in any genre, not just espionage. But pedestrian bits aside, there are quite a few clandestine skill sets that would serve any writer well. For example:. CIA officers do this so that, when pitch time comes, the target is at least willing to entertain the possibility of recruitment to work as a spy. This is a key concept for CIA officers. There needs to be a reason — a vulnerability. CIA officers work hard to identify and exploit those vulnerabilities.

    Now, all writers need to do is go back and re-read the last few sentences with a mindset towards character development. Which was more difficult to write and why? Fiction was definitely more difficult to write.

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    It was a big challenge to strike the right balance between authenticity and readability. My editor correctly cut a number of scenes out of my novel that were just too detailed. Reality has a nasty way of bogging down a thriller plot…it needs to be included with discretion. My ideal writing future will include more works of fiction and non-fiction. It was very important for me to create a main character who is both very accomplished and very flawed.

    So at the same time as I imbued my character with the skills I learned during my career, I also cursed her with some of the flaws and mistakes I routinely witnessed among real-world spies. Is it a coincidence that you worked for Starbucks Corporate and the CIA has one within its headquarters?


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    4. It would appear that Starbucks has mastered the art of identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities, no? Never, ever underestimate the power of caffeine. This typed with my second cup of coffee of the morning within jittery reach. Tell us, how common is it for agents to think they can write thrillers? What sort of advice would you give your former colleagues?

      Four CIA Secrets That Can Boost Your Career - Speakeasy - WSJ

      I was a member of the club, though I traveled too often to make many of the meetings. Interestingly, I did not meet any other clandestine service officers in the club — the group was populated mainly with analysts. The only advice that comes to mind is really more encouragement than it is advice: Keep writing!