By Richard Jay Parker
Sleuthsink - a North American crime writers' website, asked me to write a blog for them this week so, as I've been in traditional Christmas frenzy, I'm reproducing it here. I answered questions during my live blog so you can check them out and discover more about Sleuthsink by visiting them here:
They're a thoroughly decent bunch. Until 2010 then - Merry Christmas.
As a writer I've always been interested in articles about the process of getting work out there. This isn’t intended as a How-To piece, however. I hope this will encourage writers who are languishing in any of the 'writing a book/rewriting a book/looking for an agent/seeking a publisher' categories and any sub-purgatory categories in between.
There's no doubt about it--getting a book published is one of the hardest tasks anyone can attempt. I began my writing career by submitting comedy sketch scripts on spec to TV companies. I began getting more involved in the production before becoming a head writer, script editor and eventually producer. It was steady progress across years but a book is something different. You're either published or you're not. For a publisher, it's a large investment of faith and money and nowadays they have to be positive of getting a return on that investment before taking the plunge.
It's taken me a drawer full of manuscripts and ten years to get to this point. I don't ever consider that as wasted time though. If I hadn't written all of those manuscripts I wouldn’t have written STOP ME. I also didn't begin by writing thrillers but discovered how much I enjoyed plotting them along the way. I decided that if I were to become pigeonholed as a writer then thrillers were what I’d be comfortable writing until the cows came home. My then agent’s response: 'Great! But I don't represent thriller writers so you'll have to find another agent.'
I won't bore you with the grim details of trying to find alternative representation. Luckily–and lets not forget what a huge factor that is in the journey–an agent who had previously shown interest in my work was poached to another agency and asked me to submit to him there. I was working on STOP ME at the time. I sent him what I'd written so far--about a third--and waited. By the time he’d read it I'd finished writing the whole manuscript. He read the other two thirds, got a positive in-house reader’s report and submitted to publishers.We got positive feedback but no offers.
There was a common criticism of the manuscript which concerned its plot flashing back to the past too often. I quickly rewrote it and made the story more linear. We then got an offer as well as interest from two other publishers. Eventually we settled on my current publisher.
As an editor I'd been pretty brutal re extraneous writing and had fiercely polished the manuscript so there was little story editing to do before it went to print. There were inconsistencies though and I was very glad of the input I had from my editor, Lara. The publisher politely welcomed my suggestions re the cover but I bowed to their superior knowledge and they came up with something much better than anything I could have envisaged–simple but striking.
And there you might think the work is over but that depends on how successful you want your book to be. Most publishers encourage their authors to be proactive re publicity for the book so my next question was--how do I get a book by a new author noticed?
Firstly I pursued some established writers of the genre for blurbs. One of them read my book and was kind enough to give me a great blurb for my cover. It arrived a day before the book went to print. It's difficult to know just how much a blurb can help but, as a newcomer, associating your work with someone that people recognise has got to be a step in the right direction.
I also followed the usual route of setting up a website. I think this is absolutely vital whether you're published or not. You can post all your details there as well as samples of your work, short stories etc. I did try and make my website as quirky and memorable as possible. You can have a look here. I also got a good friend to compose a simple piece of menacing music to unsettle people as they read about my story. Copyright is obviously always an issue but you can get pictures and music that are copyright free.
I'm lucky enough to have great support at Allison & Busby in the form of Chiara Priorelli who organises blogs, signed books and publicity. She’s proved invaluable in terms of promoting me on the publisher's site and is always happy to get involved in a publicity concept.
Twitter is also a great tool for getting the word out about your book and is how I came to be associated with the friendly people who run Sleuthsink. There are lots of avid readers as well as publishing people who use Twitter and I've found that if you tweet your thoughts about writing you can soon connect with many people who share a similar passion. You can follow me on Twitter @Bookwalter. You can also find our other Curzon members there individually and at @CurzonGroup.
The promotional process is ongoing and although it's difficult to measure just how much impact a lot of your efforts have, you can at least be positive that you’re doing everything you can to make people aware of your work. Soup to nuts – the whole process. And likely to drive you nuts in the process as well. But there’s no doubt that actually getting published is indeed the hardest part. It’s not impossible though even if it does feel that way sometimes. To get there, being positive is the most important part of your armoury. It's a lonely business being a writer and the disappointments don't get any easier.Constructive rejection letters only have a use a couple of days after you’ve received them because initially they just mean REJECTION! Once you’ve surfed the disappointment, however, examine them and take the comments on board. Also remember that opinion is subjective. What won't work for one publisher may be perfect for another. If you have genuine faith in your work then chances are somebody else will. Be your own harshest critic. After you’ve finished your book go back and read it a few months later.
Always start thinking about your next project as soon as you've finished your first. If your current project doesn't get the reception you wanted, by the time you've learned that you'll have something else exciting underway.
I'll finish with a story from 1999. I'd become disillusioned with TV and wanted to concentrate on novel writing. I’d left my TV agent and got a literary agent on the back of my first novel. I was invited to a literary party at the agency and was described in Publishing News as 'soon-to-be-published.’ I thought I'd effortlessly jumped ship. It's now 2009 and I have my first book published. It may even be my last but seeing STOP ME on the shelf definitely made it all worth it.