There used to be one way only to become a successful author: first get an agent, then land a publishing deal. That was it. Now, there are numerous routes – which can make it both easier and harder to know what to do. In a short series, authors share their fascinating personal journey to publication with me. Today, to celebrate the launch of my latest book, and to kickstart a week of competitions and giveaways, I’m sharing my own experience…
Recently I attended the Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival, in Harrogate, a fabulous three-day event attended by readers, bloggers, and incredible household names such as Lee Child, Val McDermid, and Martina Cole. Several times I spotted an author who I’d have loved to speak to – Mark Edwards – and if I’d only had the courage to walk up to him I’d have told him how, inadvertently, he put me on the path to where I am today.
I’ve spent most of my working life earning a living through the written word. When I was 19 I was working behind bar, unsure of what I’d do with my life, when I spotted an advert in my local paper for a trainee reporter. I could do that, I decided, and when I reached the interview I somehow managed to persuade the editor that bar work and journalism were actually very similar (you need to be able to talk to anyone, put people at ease, assess situations quickly if they become fractious and know how to diffuse them, that kind of thing).
That was the beginning of my career as a journalist, and from the Skegness Standard and Louth Standard, I worked my way up until I was writing for national newspapers then finally magazines, where I moved into editing and management. By this stage I was in my mid-thirties and an idea for a book had started to develop slowly in my mind, but I wasn’t sure how one went about writing a book or getting it published. It was while I was deputy editor of a magazine that I spotted an article in a rival magazine that caught my attention. Two authors, Louise Voss and Mark Edwards, were talking about how they’d self-published a book and subsequently landed a publishing deal.
Now that sounds interesting,I thought, wandering over to the photocopier.
That copy stayed folded up in my handbag for months, pulled out, smoothed and re-read several times. Finally, I bought myself the smallest, cheapest laptop I could find and started writing. I began a couple of books, but never got further than a couple of thousand words, but I was flexing my fiction-writing muscles, which had never been used before. Soon I felt ready to tackle the idea that wouldn’t go away, about a woman in a boring marriage who by a twist of fate becomes one of the most hated women in Britain.
I couldn’t quite believe it when I wrote The End the first time. I’d done it. The next step (after a LOT of editing) was to send it off to agents and try to get a publishing deal. I was nervous, excited, but in the back of my mind was something else…ambivalence. That article with Louise Voss and Mark Edwards kept popping into my mind. Within weeks I was getting rejections from the five agents I’d sent my manuscript to. A couple of them had requested to read in full, and although they were full of praise for the idea, the writing, the atmosphere…ultimately no one wanted to take it on.
Instead of feeling discouraged, I actually felt really positive. No one had said it was dreadful and that I was kidding myself. In fact, they’d loved it. So I decided not to send to any more agents or publishers, instead I found out more about self-publishing, inspired by that well-worn photocopy.
It was a steep learning curve when Invisible was published on 31 March, 2014. I’d never heard of bloggers so only received about three reviews on Amazon. I did manage to land a couple of reviews in national magazines, though.
‘Totally gripping and scarily believably characters. One of the most assured debuts of the year,’ concluded Bella magazine. Sales picked up. They were nothing to set the world on fire, but enough for me to decide to keep at writing.
My next book, Flowers For The Dead, did even better, hitting Number 24 overall on Amazon UK’s chart. It even beat Lee Child’s latest offering, to be chosen as the Sunday Mirror’s Pick of the Week, which was a HUGE feather in my cap.
While writing Flowers For The Dead, I’d also begun blogging, recommending and reviewing my favourite books. There was one publisher that I particularly liked. It was small, a new start-up, but I loved the crime fiction they were producing. Through my reviews I made connections with a couple of the authors, and got to know the person who did the company’s social media and marketing. What struck me was not only how talented everyone was, but that everyone was so friendly and nice. I made a decision – I really, really wanted to be published by this company. Their name? Bookouture.
One of their editors followed me on Twitter and I almost had a heart attack I was so excited. So when I finished my third book, I sent it off to her and crossed everything. But just in case, I also sent it to a couple of other publishers and agents. It got a lot of interest and several offers, but when Bookouture expressed interest I almost snapped their hand off I replied so quickly! They offered me a four-book deal, and I couldn’t believe my luck.
Now, all of this sounds a bit fairytale-like. The truth is, of course, different. During the first few years of being an author, I had to tighten my belt so much I almost cut myself in half. When the offer came in from Bookouture, I had to have a long discussion with my partner about whether or not I should go for it, because they don’t pay an advance, and it meant I’d be earning even less than usual until the royalty cheques started coming in – and there was no guarantee they’d be more than 50p a time! The hours are long and tiring, and there have been times I’m literally barely capable of speech because I’ve been writing since 4am and only finished at 10pm. There have been numerous times I’ve thought about giving up, because I’d run out of ideas, or reviews were getting to me (because inevitably I only listen to the bad reviews, not the good ones) or my health has been bad. Dreams only come true with hard work and sacrifice.
But for as long as I’m on this rollercoaster ride I’m going to thank my lucky stars I’ve made it this far, and enjoy every minute of it. My fifth psychological thriller, THE PERFECT FRIEND, was published at the start of this month and I’m keeping everything crossed that once again readers enjoy one of my books and tell their friends about it – perhaps even leave a review on Amazon, or whichever site they bought it from. Who knows? Without reading that interview with Louise Voss and Mark Edwards I might still be working in an office, dreaming about becoming an author but not knowing how to do it.
GIVEAWAY! How to enter
From 28 July until 8 August inclusive, my posts on this blog will be followed by a question about the content. Find the answer, and then either comment on the post or email InvisibleAuthor@outlook.com
Every person who answers correctly will be entered into a prize draw. The competition closes at midnight UK time on Friday 3 August.. The winners will be chosen at random and announced on Friday 10 August.
** Today’s question is: Which publisher did I sign with? Let me know! **
What am I giving away?
ONE lucky winner will receive a SIGNED COPY of The Perfect Friend.
TWO lucky winners will receive a SIGNED COPY of Her Last Secret.
ONE lucky winner will receive a SIGNED COPY of Flowers For The Dead.
ONE very lucky winner will have a CHARACTER NAMED AFTER THEM in my next book. *
WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
* Please note that the character will have your name but will not be based in any way upon you or any person living or dead. Any similarities are coincidence. They may be a good person or a bad person – they could even be a killer. So be prepared! The part they play may be large or small. Entry into the competition is taken as agreement to these conditions. Thank you.
About THE PERFECT FRIEND
My name is Alex, and my world has been shattered.
My husband has left me.
My children won’t speak to me.
My friend Carrie is the only person I have.
She’s the only one I can trust to keep all my secrets.
She’d never do anything to let me down.
This dark, gripping psychological thriller will have you holding your breath until the very last page.