More inspiration for aspiring writers: Mark Edwards’ story.

It seems like only a week ago (okay, it was exactly a week ago) we carried the story of Tom Winton, wannabe writer and all-round nice guy who, after more than decade of set-back and heart-ache, finally found both a paper publisher and a niche on Kindle for his novel  Beyond Nostalgia.

It is a bizarre element of blogging that, while there’s a comments section below each blog, most comments about what is written will be found elsewhere, in emails to me, on other blogs, on facebook, tweeted or in a myriad other ways.

Tom’s raw emotion and passion in describing his struggle got a huge response (a tiny fraction reflected here in the comments section), and hopefully many went on to buy his book.

If you haven’t yet done so, then you are missing out on something special. A master-class of its genre that shows literary fiction can deal with everyday themes like love and teenage angst, mentally-disturbed parents and lousy fathers, social and political unrest and even war, and make you laugh and cry, care and despair, and want to turn the pages like it’s the number-one commercial best-seller, not a period romance written by (gasp!) a man.

Which is all very unfair on my next guest, Mark Edwards.

How on Earth does he follow that?

Mark is co-author of Killing Cupid, a commercial crime-thriller that he hopes (and we hope too, but not quite as much!) will give us a run for our money in the Kindle charts.

Like Tom’s, Mark’s road to publication has been an emotional roller-coaster of a ride, and the road behind him is littered with shattered hopes and dreams.

For wannabe-writers Mark’s story is a salutary lesson in how, even when it seems nothing can go wrong, things can turn pear-shaped at any time, even when you think you’ve finally made it.

There are no prizes for being oh-so-close in this business.

Just heart-ache and derision. Mostly derision.

As mark says,

The problem is, I guess, that the wider world is utterly indifferent, whether you’re a writer, actor, artist, whatever…

Everyone thinks that it must just be because you’re not good enough.


Sea of Obscurity

For years I didn’t tell anyone about my attempts to make it as a writer because I got tired of the pitying looks.

Now I have people asking me how many copies of Killing Cupid we’ve sold all the time which is kind of embarrassing at the moment! Still, we should sell 100 this month (March) which I think isn’t a bad start.  The difficult bit is staying out of the ‘sea of obscurity’ as Tom puts it.

Pause here to ponder Mark’s earlier words: Everyone thinks that it must just be because you’re not good enough.

Doesn’t that just sum it all up?

Sad but so true.

As writers we start out with such high hopes (yes, often too high hopes, as Mark readily concedes, below), only to have them dashed against the rock of rejection as one agent after another declines our work.

Of course many rejections will be thoroughly deserved.

But many more will be simply personal or commercial judgements by the agent at that time. Maybe she had a row with her partner before leaving for the office and something in your submission reminded her of it. Maybe he simply doesn’t like that genre and you didn’t do your homework properly before sending it to him. More often your work simply doesn’t have, in their humble (but expert) opinion, the commercial appeal to make them money.

Yes, make them money.

There is a very common misconception among wannabe writers that agents are some kind of charitable institution, offering their services free to anyone who can peck at a keyboard.

I’ll be looking at the role of agents more closely in future blogs, but here just to remind everybody they are running a business, and their money (usually about 15%) is only made if and when they manage to sell your work and it goes on to make money from readers buying it.

No wonder agents reject far, far more authors than they ever take on.

Which doesn’t make it any more pleasant when the rejection slip lands on the mat. But unless your work is seriously dire then it’s best not to take it personally and just move on to the next one.

Of course, getting an agent is just the start.

True, agents do have a hot-line to editors in publishing houses. But… They don’t have decision-making powers.

Getting an agent means you’re well on the way to being seriously considered by a publisher.

But as Mark found out the hard way, nothing’s final until the money’s in the bank.

For sheer determination in sticking with it, and as inspiration for all those of us are on the fence or haven’t the confidence to go for it, this is Mark Edwards’ story.

The Kindle has, ahem, rekindled my love of writing. Until very recently, when I caught scent of the indie writing revolution as it carried across the Atlantic, I had officially stopped trying to be a writer.

I had a great job that I could pour all my creative energy into, a family who happily occupied all my spare time, and I didn’t need the grief of trying to get published, a pursuit that had been an obsession for a long time. I had quit. I felt like a smoker who occasionally sniffs cigarette smoke and thinks ‘Hmm, I quite fancy…’ before stamping on the thought. I was cured of my writaholism.

Rewind fifteen years to my twenties. I had a rubbish job and lived in a dead-end town: Hastings, East Sussex, a place that had been cursed, according to local legend, by black magician Aleister Crowley just before he died. I wrote as a means of escaping the crap job.

I churned out novels almost as quickly as Amanda Hocking does now, writing them by hand on paper – paper! – with, wait for it, a biro and typing them up on this ridiculous contraption called a Fontwriter, a kind of glorified typewriter that displayed five rows of text at a time, the display blinking as you typed, rather like a Kindle does when you change page, come to think of it. Then you had to feed in and print out the pages one at a time.

If I wanted to copy a manuscript I had to take it to a shop and endure the embarrassing questions and pitying looks of the staff.  All of my early novels exist only on floppy disk, unaccessible, buried in a technological grave.

Sometime during this period, during which I spent half my income on brown A4 envelopes and printer ribbons, I landed myself an agent. A proper agent with bestselling clients. She LOVED my novel. She was going to make me a star. I was going to be rich and famous. I truly believed this was a certainty. The day the agent phoned me to tell me she was going to take me on was one of the happiest of my life.

But then… rejection. None of the publishers she sent my novel to wanted to buy it. I was gobsmacked. Sick as a parrot. I wrote another novel. She loved this one even more. The same thing happened. Then I rewrote the original novel and made it vastly better. At this point, the BBC enter the story for the first time.

BBC2 were making a documentary about first-time novelists. They wanted three people:  someone who was just starting out; someone with an agent but no publisher; and someone with a deal. I was the middle one. The successful one was Jake Arnott.  The other one was a friend of a friend of the director.

Again, I was assured of fame. I had cameramen following me around Hastings and filming me in my job(answering complaints for the world’s worst rail company). I did a photo shoot for the Radio Times, standing just behind Jake Arnott. It was so exciting.

But when the TV show went out, showing me receiving rejection calls for the edification of a shrugging public, it made me look like a desperate wannabe.

This is probably because I was a desperate wannabe.

I was like someone years later on the X Factor semi-final, blubbing because they’d been voted off and hadn’t landed the million pound deal, vowing ‘You haven’t heard the last of me.’ The programme didn’t bring about a single whiff of interest from publishers – these days I would have self-published and probably sold thousands of books. But at that point, no book existed. I got recognised in the street for months afterwards but I had nothing to sell.

The one good thing that came from that programme was an email from Louise Voss. Louise was in exactly the same boat as me. An agent, no book deal. We emailed each other all the time – I had just graduated to an iMac and binned the Fontwriter – and swapped moral support. We didn’t meet up for around two years but we were each other’s biggest cheerleaders.

Then Louise got the big break. A super-agent took her on and suddenly everyone wanted to publish her. Her book, the fantastic TO BE SOMEONE, went to auction; she got the long dreamt-of advance. It seemed like her time had come. I can honestly say I wasn’t jealous. Instead it made me think that if I kept going my turn would surely come.

I kept writing. I came maddeningly close to landing a deal once or twice. I kept writing. My agent gave up and dumped me. I tried and failed to find another one. I was that desperate bloke off that programme. I was tainted. I turned thirty. I had an early midlife crisis. Left my wife, left Hastings, went to live in Japan for a year…

While I was in Japan, Louise and I came up with the idea of writing a novel together. Her career hadn’t taken off as anticipated. She was still being published, but the books weren’t selling as well as her publishers hoped; which was a huge problem, since they had invested so much money in her. We came up with the idea for a stalker novel, written alternately from male and female perspectives, with a delicious twist in the middle and another at the end.

For the zillionth time I was sure I was finally on to a winner, especially when the BBC hove into the story for a second time:  a drama producer who had read and loved one of Louise’s other novels optioned our book, KILLING CUPID, before it was even finished.

Writing together was a dream. As Louise says, it’s as if while you’re asleep the writing elves come out and craft the next chapter for you. We would brainstorm the plot, decide what was coming next, then one of us would write a chapter before the other person edited it. The whole thing was so easy to write I couldn’t believe there weren’t more writing duos out there.

When the book was finished, Louise’s agent tried to sell it. Unbelievably, although I was by this point punch drunk on rejection and should have seen it coming, she couldn’t find us a publisher.

The book didn’t fit neatly into a genre: it was part thriller, part comedy, part suspense, part literary fiction.

Still, we had the option. It was going to be on TV.

Yeah, right….

The production went into development hell. The BBC changed their policy around two-part crime dramas. Somebody upstairs didn’t like the main character. The option expired.

I banged my head against a wall until it bled.

I was back in the UK and had just started my first proper job, at the ripe old age of 32, by which I mean a job I enjoyed rather than endured, being a digital marketer for a publisher.

I was OK.

Writing wasn’t everything.

But Louise and I had one more go. We wrote another thriller called CATCH YOUR DEATH, a Dan Brown-esque chase novel about a killer virus. Louise, by this point, no longer had an agent or a deal.  We finished the new novel the same week my first daughter was born. We sent it out to agents. Several said they liked it, but not enough. Getting published, it seemed, was getting harder and harder. And life, I had realised, could be enriching without being a writer. Real life was more interesting and infinitely easier without the relentless stress of trying to find a bloody agent and publisher.

That was it, I decided. I had given it my best shot. I read about other writers getting big deals and didn’t feel a thing.  I could see a novel by a celeb in  a bookshop and not feel the urge to projectile vomit.  I had stopped caring. Nobody could say I hadn’t tried. It was time to concentrate on my career and my family. I felt liberated.

And then the Kindle came along. Reading about this new way of publishing, it seemed so exciting. Finally, here was a way to take back the power from the gatekeepers. I persuaded Louise that we should put our novels on Amazon; we had nothing to lose. So we went through them and discovered they were as dusty as my old manuscripts. In KILLING CUPID, no-one had broadband or a mobile phone. Facebook didn’t exist, and how can you have a modern stalker novel without a bit of Facebook stalking?  We spent a few months polishing them, got my sister-in-law to design covers, and on February 19th 2011, when KILLING CUPID was added to the Kindle store, I finally became a published author.

A self-published author, but so what?  We are in control. The book’s success or failure is in our hands. If it’s good enough, and we put enough energy and intelligence into promoting it, we will reap the rewards. The day after it was published, we had an email from a BAFTA-winning film producer who wants to option it for the big screen.

With my track record, I’m not going to order a Porsche – or a second hand bicycle – yet. But my interest in writing has been reborn, this time without the ridiculous self-imposed pressure.

This time, I know there’s more to life.

This time, it’s fun.

Plus a little bit of an addiction to checking the sales figures.

In the next few weeks, we are going to add CATCH YOUR DEATH to the Amazon store. Louise has got the digital rights to her old Transworld novels back and is planning to get them on Amazon soon.

I am going to rewrite the best of my old novels, a psychological horror about neighbours from hell.

And we are going to start work on a third novel together.

And one day I’ll be able to tell the world about how it took me fifteen years to achieve overnight success.

Or maybe twenty years.

I don’t really mind.

Mark Edwards, thanks for sharing.

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  1. What an amazing story of triumph and redemption! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi Mark – thanks for this – I’m hoping I will be giving you a run for your money at the top of the charts soon 😉

    Just wanted to say that although I took the whole ‘trying to get published’ thing very seriously at the time, well out of proportion in fact, I am able to look back on the whole thing now with humour and laugh about it. The message I wanted to get across was ‘don’t take it too seriously’ – that’s the advice I would give my younger self.

    The thing I am most bothered about now is connecting with readers and entertaining people with what I write. It’s the writing itself that’s important, and finding some kind of audience. The feedback we’ve had about KILLING CUPID has been great and Louise and I are really proud of it.

    If anyone wants to contact me directly with any comments or questions, or if you have a blog and want a review copy of the book, you can contact me on mredwards @ mac.com

    Cheers
    Mark

    • A pleasure to be able to pass on your story. It’s been live barely an hour or so and already the hits are in the hundreds.

      As with Tom last week, you have a story behind the story which is almost worthy of a book in itself.

      Connecting with our readers is the most important thing, as you say. E-books and social networking make that so much easier, and so much more rewarding.

      As for not taking it too seriously: sound advice indeed!

      We all start out writing for fun, and it should always stay that way, even if we progress to our writing being our day-job.

  3. Mark, thank you again for a terrific article. The behind the scenes stuff is inspiring to all who put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Plus of course I’m a huge fan of Tom Winton’s “Beyond Nostalgia”

    I am following your site avidly.
    Soooz

  4. Terrific article, Mark. Your war stories sound so much like mine, yet your wounds have to be deeper. You’ve flirted with, been teased by, and rejected by full-scale success more often. But it sounds like you’ve finally mastered your attitude. Now you just want to have fun. Way to go!

    With all the close calls you’ve had, it seems only natural that a victory is close at hand. I don’t mean that as a rah-rah statement either–just a statement. I hope something big is in the wings for you.

    I’m still checking ratings and all that good stuff. One minute I’m cloud-dancing, the next I’m sulking deeper than ever before. I’m just a few pages away from finishing another novel and still caught up in all my Beyond Nostalgia-fueled excitement. It’s like sitting in the eye of a Category-5 cerebral hurricane.

    Best of luck with all your work.

    Tom

  5. Thanks everyone for your kind comments.

    Yesterday was our best sales day yet – yay! But today we’ve sold nothing – boo! Talk about ups and downs.

    Anyway, it’s all good fun and tomorrow I’m going to start properly on the rewrite of The Magpies, my neighbours from hell novel. Oh, and I have the germ of an idea for a new one. eek, the bug has bitten me again…

  6. Hi Mark,

    Great to read this blog post, the only problem is, it might spark off a raft of writing partnerships to give us ALL a run for our money! 😉

    I am glad that Louise has a writing elf, my elf is also called Mark! 😉

    Seriously though, I find writing as a twosome a really productive and worthwhile experience and if you ask Mark, he is BOUND to agree! 😉

    Good luck with your books; past, present and future!

    Saffi

    • Writing as a duo is great… until the royalties cheque comes in.

      Then it’s a good thing we live on different continents!

      Almost had Saffi agreeing to a split according to the number of letters we each input, but then she realised I had a bigger dictionary, and that words like “antidisestablishmentarianism” repeated seventy times were not actually contributing to the story.

  7. Thanks for a great story that gives any self-publishing author hope!

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