It seems that, recently, the internet – or the little corner I inhabit of it – has been full of writers either telling their stories of how they got published, or what happened after they got published or even, in the case of Chuck Wendig asking other writers to contribute their stories of how they got published to act as a corrective against bad advice being given out to aspiring writers about the publishing industry. It’s here. Have a look at it. It’s well worth it.
So with that in mind, and in response to Chuck’s piece, I decided to write my own. It’s not particularly brilliant or original, but it is, as they say in the best comic books, my origin story.
So here you go. Here it is.
I started writing with the serious intention of being published in 1992. Like most people in South London, I was an actor at the time. I had moved to London after college in the hope of getting acting work. Ironically, the work I got was anywhere but London. But I wanted to write. Probably, in hindsight, more than I wanted to act. And I loved crime fiction. So, with the money I’d made form a couple of commercials, I bought a second hand word processor and sat down to write. It took me three months and I’d written a crime novel. I thought it was brilliant. No one agreed. So I bought the Writers Yearbook and went about tracking down an agent. I started at the ‘A’s and worked my way through, phoning them up, asking if they’d like to see it. Not being pushy or mental about it, just calm and (hopefully) interesting and engaging. Some said yes, some didn’t. The ones who said yes I sent some sample chapters to along with a covering letter. I think it took me nearly as long to write the letter as it had done the book. One agent eventually said yes. I sent her the full book to read and waited to hear back, all excited. She hated it. Said it was one of the worst things she’d ever read in her life. Back to square one. Back to the Writers Yearbook, starting from A.
Another agent wanted to read it. One who had read it before, incidentally. I told her I had completely rewritten it. She read it, liked it and agreed to represent me. Long story short, my first novel, Mary’s Prayer, was published in 1997. Five years, that took. From thinking I had a novel after three months to finally seeing it in a bookshop. During that time it went round every publishing house in London, both big ones and small ones. While it was out I was constantly rewriting and editing. It was my first novel. No matter how brilliant I thought it was I could always make it better. Eventually an editor read it, liked it, but thought it needed work. I asked her what she meant and whether she could show me. She edited a couple of chapters, showing me how she wanted it done. It was the most valuable thing anyone has ever done for me as a writer. I spent six months editing it like she had shown me. I sent it back. I got a two book deal. That was it, my foot was in the door.
I switched publishers for my third novel. It did better than the first. I also got to know other crime writers. I got invites to launches and parties. I went and networked. I talked to people in publishing, became friends with some of them. At no time did I present myself as desperate or ambitious. Just as one professional to another. I also went along to support other writers and their work. This is a community. We all have a part to play. We get out of it what we put in.
I moved publishers with my third book, then again for the fourth, for a substantial hike in money this time. I wrote two literary novels that, while being critical successes, weren’t commercial ones. I found myself at a crossroads. Be mainstream, literary and unread or go back to crime. I needed a change. So after ten years I switched agents. It was a wrench but I felt it was the right thing to do. I’m still with the agent I switched to.
I wrote The Mercy Seat, the first of the Joe Donovan novels. It was nominated for a couple of awards. Didn’t win, but it got me attention. I wrote (so far) four in the series but couldn’t stay with that publisher any longer. I’d kept in touch with my old editor from my previous publisher. He’s now deputy publisher at one of the biggest houses. He asked me to write a commercial thriller under a female pseudonym. I asked my wife to help. Tania Carver, the internationally bestselling author, was born. There have been five Tania Carver novels to date, published all over the world. With varying degrees of success, it has to be said. I’m also about to write a novel under my own name again. Hammer Books asked me to write the sequel to Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. I couldn’t turn that down.
And that’s where I am now.
So, as Jerry Springer used to say, what have we learned here? What lessons can be drawn from my origin story? I don’t know. I wanted to be a published writer. I wouldn’t take no for an answer and kept going. I worked bloody hard to get it right, to improve, to make my work good enough to be published. Bloody hard. I was lucky enough to find two agents who’ve believed in me. I got out and met people. I networked. I wasn’t pushy or desperate because I’m not pushy or desperate. In all my dealings with my agent and publishers I’m thoroughly professional. I listen to what they have to say and generally act on it because they know their job better than I do. I’ve never been precious about my work. I know it can always be improved.
It’s a business, yes. A publisher wants to make money, as does an agent and a writer. I want to make money from it and I’m fortunate enough to be able to do that. I’m not super rich or even plain old rich. But it’s enough to pay the mortgage and to provide for my family so that’s OK. Plus I don’t have to get a regular job. I know it could all change tomorrow. But at the moment it seems to be working.
But the other important thing is – it’s also my life. I love being a writer. My best friends are now other writers and other publishing professionals. It is, as I said earlier, a community. One that I’m proud to be a part of.
I’ve rambled on too long and I don’t know if this’ll help anybody. Or even if anyone will get to the end before expiring. But there you go. It’s how I did it.
Anyone want to share theirs?