Chart-busters and babies – they both take two: Louise Voss explains why.

Day Ten

“Death, taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.”

So wrote Margaret Mitchell in Gone With The Wind, Which reminded me of literary agent Jenny Bent’s observation on the gatekeepers recently.

Jenny wrote,

“A year or two ago I was having lunch with an old friend, someone I think both intelligent and savvy, the publisher of a largish imprint at a major house. We had a disagreement about what was going to happen as e-books became more popular. His position was that readers would always need the big publishing houses because they needed to have their content filtered, so to speak–because as agents, editors, and publishers, we had a certain kind of literary taste or standard and we needed to pass that along to the reader.”

The reason Margaret Mitchell came to mind was that I’m late, again, with the blog post. And one of the reasons is childbirth.

No, I’m not a father again. In these temperatures?  It’s too hot here even to think about it!

But one of my little projects here is supporting the new born, in a country where desperate poverty is a way of life. Infant mortality is nowhere near as bad as it was ten years ago, but still far, far too high.

It was Daniel Defoe who first observed the certainty of death and taxes (variously attributed since to Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and others) but Margaret Mitchell’s words about the inconvenience of death and childbirth sprang to mind as I was looking to explain the latest blog delay.

Not here to burden you with tragedy. Just to remind you that most people in the world do not live a phone call away from emergency services and a well-equipped hospital. And sometimes real life gets in the way of blogging schedules.


 I chose Margaret Mitchell because she famously had her manuscript for Gone With The Wind rejected thirty-eight times.

The role of the agents / publishers has traditionally been to decide what the public could or could not read, because they believed they knew best.

And of course they got it wrong time and time again.

Fortunately somewhere along the line one or other of the gatekeepers took a chance on these numerous famously rejected authors and they went on to huge success. John Grisham, Stephen King, JK Rowling… The list is endless.

But still the gatekeepers turn down good books people want to read.

I mention here briefly our own Sugar & Spice, which met with the disapproval of almost every UK agent before we put it on Kindle and let the readers vote with their feet.  Just this week we got our one hundredth five-star review.  Evidently the public do not share the agents’ views…

Thanks to e-publishing authors can now by-pass the gatekeepers and go direct to readers. And many are doing so.

And time and again books the gatekeepers turned their noses up at are selling in serious numbers. Sure, none are yet matching Grisham or King, let alone Rowling. But e-books have only just begun.

Of course we all know of Amanda Hocking’s story, and John Locke just this week became a million seller with his own range of e-books.

Here in the UK the e-market is several years behind the US. Kindle UK only came into existence a year ago, so no surprise there are no comparable sellers here yet. Our own success with Sugar & Spice will be well known to most readers, but today’s guest in the MWi green room, Louise Voss, proves the UK e-book market has now matured, and that our success was no fluke.

When I first approached the fellow writing team that is Louise Voss and Mark Edwards and asked them to do a post on their new thriller, Catch Your Death, the e-book had just been launched on Kindle and was still finding its feet. Their other e-book, Killing Cupid, was slowly rising in the charts.

Today both books are in the top five. Catch Your Death held #1 best-seller position for a couple of weeks, dropped to # 2 overnight and as I write this is back at #1. They have sold over 30,000 copies in a ridiculously short space of time.

Both books were rejected by the gatekeepers time and time again. Go away, Louise Voss and Mark Edwards. We don’t want your rubbish.

Needless to say now the books have proven to be commercially successful the gatekeepers are fighting themselves to get their grubby paws on them. Now where have we heard that before…

As this is Girls Just Wanna Have Fun month Louise drew the short straw and was invited to talk about how she and Mark wrote their two thrillers. Of course none of us ever suspected that by the time the post came up they would be the only indie writer ever to take the #1 slot, and to have featured on BBC television (this very morning) for doing so!

For the first time in the UK, indie writers are being taken seriously. Britain is finally catching up with America. Don’t let on to the agents and publishers though. They’re still partying like its 2010.


Another odd thing. Saffi and Mark… Louise and Mark…

Is it coincidence that the only indie writers to break the UK Kindle top five have been male and female co-authors? Probably, yes, but then again…

Is it coincidence that both partnerships have guys called Mark?

You’re right. Who cares? Here’s Louise.

I’ve never been much of a fan of ‘boysey’ thrillers .  James Bond leaves me cold.  (And I realise I’ve never seen the word ‘boysey’ written down before, either…’boysie’?  ‘boyzi’? )  I guess you know what I mean, though:  peripheral characters meeting gruesome fates, lots of ammunitions hardware and/or military references, jaw-dropping martial-arts moves from the hero and imaginative torture rituals from the baddies.  I don’t want to generalise, but they’re usually written by men. 

So when Mark and I set out to write a straightforward  thriller, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it.  Would I be able to cope with the jargon?  The corpses, the blood?!   I’d wanted for a while to set a novel around the old Common Cold Unit in Salisbury, but it was Mark’s idea to make it a thriller involving rogue scientists and hidden collections of exotic viruses capable of wiping out the entire planet… ( I’d been thinking more along the lines of a gentle romance, perhaps with a hidden family secret or two to uncover….I have to say, Mark’s plans for it were a lot more exciting!)  

Our first novel together, Killing Cupid, had been a thriller of sorts, but more of the psychological variety – the tale of a stalker who becomes the stalked.  It was enormously enjoyable to write because we took a voice each – that of the male and female protagonists, so their discrete world views are very clear.   With Catch Your Death, however, it was more complex because we just used a third person narrative, sometimes omniscient and sometimes close third person from the main character Kate’s POV.   As with Killing Cupid, we took it in turns to write a chapter – but this time, instead of cracking on with our own characters’ plotlines, we made sure we edited each other’s words and added little bits of our own to try and make the voice more uniform throughout the novel.   We had to rely more on dialogue to convey the protagonists’ personalities, rather than the interior monologue that a first person narrative affords.

All these issues were an initial concern, but as Catch Your Death progressed one thing became very clear to me – it was just as much fun to write as Killing Cupid had been.  I did tend to leave the more imaginative scenes of bloodshed and violence to my writing partner (who showed a slightly worrying relish for them!)  But what we both discovered was that writing really bad guys is really good fun.  There are several very dodgy blokes in CYD who are very much larger-than-life: Vernon, the mean-spirited philandering ex-husband of the main protagonist Kate;  and Sampson, handsome, devoid of emotion, a cold-blooded assassin.   All my own previous novels had dealt with basic themes of family, loss, friendship, that sort of thing; and so there was something  extremely liberating about creating characters who lived outside of social norms and values.   We couldn’t get enough of them! 

I think that thrillers co-written by male and female writers often do work really well for this reason – they have an inherent balance, containing as they do the perspectives of both sexes.   I love the books by the Nicci French partnership, for example – they have that blend of gritty realism and emotional inner life.  Of course, I’m not saying that women can’t write violent car chases and men can’t do tender love scenes, far from it;  but one of the joys in a male/female writing partnership is the stretching of writing horizons and the challenge to react differently to the way one might in one’s own world.

Right, well, the next one won’t write itself, must crack on *rings co-author and suggests a night at the pub* …

Thanks Louise. I love that last line about the interaction of different genders in writing. I think you hit the nail on the head with that. What does everyone else think?

Have you ever tried co-writing? Would you ever considerate it? It worked for us!

Louise and Mark originally wrote their books many, many years ago. They submitted them to the gatekeepers and the gatekeepers said no. Dejected by being rejected, they turned their backs on writing, and threw those tatty manuscripts in a cyber-drawer. Today…

I leave you with this thought on Margaret Mitchell and her thirty-eight rejections.

Gone With The Wind is one of the all-time classic of  both literature and cinema. Supposing she’d given up at thirty-seven?

  1. Great post and well done to Louise and Mark!

    @ MY Mark, how come you never call me and ask me to go to the pub? 😉

    • You’re more than welcome to join me for an ice-cold Julbrew (local Africa lager) in one of the year-round tourist hotels, but as the cost of a tourist bottle of beer could feed a local family here for several days it’s rare you’ll find me anywhere nearer them.

      However I might make an exception and have one to celebrate the launch of our next book at the end of July.

  2. It sounds so much easier to write with a partner. But I don’t think I could share my own approach to MY book to that extent!
    Do I need to learn something here?
    But most great writers so far haven’t been in partnership – why should Kindle writers be different? Any ideas why?

    • I think if you’ve already got a book on the go and you’re confident with it then it would be difficult to share. I have dozens of WIPs and some I would never share because they are personal journeys.

      That said when Saffi and I “met” we were both mid way through our own novels – totally different genres – but slipped into one another’s styles with no problems whatsoever.

      I’d previously co-written for theatre and TV so had no problems, but this was totally new for Saffi. What’s for sure is that the books we end up with are very different from what we might have finished on our own.

      Personally I love co-writing because you can bounce ideas back and forth, And of course the physical act of getting a book finished is that much faster. Even if we just wrote 500 words a day each we could have a 60,000 word draft finished in two months.

      There’s something very gratifying about sending a draft of a novel at say 10,000 words and when it comes back a week or so later there’s 15,000 words and you’re sitting there with another 5,000 to add to that…

      The downside of course is when one of us wants to take the story in a totally different direction than the other. Lucky we’re on different continents when that happens. 🙂

      I think for commercial fiction collaborations are an ideal way forward in the digital world, and I would envisage a time in the not too distant future when maybe four of five authors team up to write a commercial series of books, using author numbers to bring speed of production, and their multiple viewpoints and skills to ensure good storyline and editing.

      Imagine it – five competent authors writing 12000 words each and you have a 60k novel. Sure the royalties split five ways is a pain but consider this: trad publishing offers you 15%. If this group of five authors self- pubbed on Amazon and took 70% they’d still get 14% each.

      Establish a successful series formula and they could be knocking out six books a year in the same time it would take to write one. Plus five promotion arms to help get it out there and noticed.

      Almost all succcessful US television series are written by teams. It never used to be that way.

      Quite simply, team writing brings qualities a lone author cannot. It might not be appropriate for all books, or even all genres, but for fast-paced commercial fiction (and not just thrillers, either) it’s ideally suited to the new digital market where fast turnaround can be rewarded.

      Anyone interested? My email address is on the site.

  3. I love the word “boysey.” So much more elegant than “dick lit.” I’ve never been a fan, either, so I’m doubly amazed that you got into writing it–and with a partner.

    Partnering is kind of scary stuff. I’ve read many authors who cautioned against it. Maybe it’s something about being Brits. You’re more polite than some of the rest of us 🙂

    I’m actually partnering on a book right now, with my writing mentor Catherine Ryan Hyde, but it’s nonfiction–a very different thing. We each write about our own field of expertise. We had to brainstorm on the query, outline, and book proposal, but other than that, it’s just about fitting our own stuff into the outline. If we have a difference of opinion, I defer to her, because she’s famous and I’m not.

    • Anne, you’re right – partnering is scary. The two writers need to be able to slip into one another’s style and voice for the project in hand and there has to be mutual respect about one another’s strengths and weaknesses.

      As per response to Gerry, above, there are many advantages, and in the digital age where the gatekeepers aren’t dictating the rules I’m sure commercial fiction will go the way of commercial television writing and team writers, not just duos, will become commonplace.

      I know there will be shouts of dumbing down and the slippery slope, but these protesters are of the same mentality as the gatekeeper referred to by Jenny Bent in the blog. That the great unwashed need the gatekeepers’ superior outlook on life to decide what’s good for them.

      The whole issue of “dumbing down” will have to be the subject of a proper blog sometime.

      As for “boysey books”… Having been gender-liberated (so far as reading is concerned) at an early age I would have no problem having a go at writing “chicklit” or Mills & Boon style romance or pretty much anything else men are supposed not to touch. That’s not to say it would work (maybe my gender experience would be inadequate), just that I’d happily give it a go.

      My favourite WIP is Anca’s Story. It’s an historic lit-fic adventure coming-of-age novella (Genre guidelines? What are they?) about three children who smuggle their way INTO Auschwitz-Birkenau in search of their parents. It’s told in the first person through the eyes of a twelve year old Romanian girl.

      It’s 80% finished and has been for a decade, but I know it needs that feminine perspective to bring it to fruition, such that I can never bring. I’ve never been a twelve year old girl.

      Sadly not to my co-authors taste. Any takers? 🙂

  4. We’re a male/female team, just released our first novel Hexult, perhaps you could start a club!

    • Sounds like a great idea! Look forward to checking out Hexult.

      Have emailed you directly too, but my emails are proving haphazard. If you don’t get it, my address is in the “about” section.

  5. As you know, I interviewed Mark and Louise on Literascribe some weeks ago – and since then it’s been absolutely wonderful to watch their success build at such an exponential rate! So pleased for them! Very annoyed, though, that I missed Louise on BBC breakfast.
    Your comments on co-writing are fascinating – I don’t think it would be for me, though (total control freak!)

  6. I suddenly feel the urge to find a co-author named Mark. 🙂

    One of my critique partners suggested recently we co-write a novel. I was hesitant because her reaction to critiqes is… uh… not good. And her first novel showed it. The minute I saw the outline and first chapter for our suggested partnership, it was very clear that the suggested co-authoring SO wasn’t going to work.

    • Don’t be put off trying with someone else!

      Obviously there has to be the right chemistry between the partners and they need to share the overall vision of the story, and inevitably there will be disagreements about direction.

      All writers have strengths and weaknesses, and the ideal partnership is one that balances those out.

      If a critique partner is able to give feedback on your WIP that is meaningful and that fits in with the voice established for that WIP then that’s a good sign.

      • I’ve got another critique partner who is AWESOME. Honestly she’s better than a substantative editor. My book is a thousand times better because of her.

  7. Seeing Louise’s take on co-authorship made me feel as if I’d like to have a go. I can think of a couple of male authors whose work I should love to be involved with… if they’d have me. And they are the kinds of authors I would like involved with my own… strong writers, brilliant at dialogue and twist and turn plots.

    It’d surely be rare for two artists (for that read writers) to agree 100% on everything, but in truth I think a man and a woman have far more chance of making it work and I honestly can’t say why; its just a gut feeling. I’ve always been happier and more confident working with men than women.

    And speaking as one whose stomach inherently curls when I have to write violence, I’d love to hand that to a male counterpart.

    • Go for it, Prue!

      I’ve co-written with both male and female and they all work if it’s the right person and there’s mutual respect.

      But no question mixed gender brings unique qualities.

      As for feeling more comfortable… That’s an interesting one. I guess that would depend on whether it’s working together in person or at a distance. Saffi and I have only met in real life twice. That makes it easier, I suspect.

      Certainly nothing worse than having your co-author sat there with you while you read their latest draft.

  8. Sounds good, Shea. We all need people like that!

    As for substantive editors… We’ll be covering the issue of editors in a near future post.

  9. I’ve collaborated a lot on projects and, of course, shows as you know, but co-authoring is something I’m not sure about. There are one or two people I think it would be amazing to try it with and see what happened though. For me what’s fascinating about co-authoring is just how much more prevalent it is in the crime/thriller arena than elsewhere. I always imagine it has to do with conniving together over ingenious plot twists and new ways to place characters in peril that left to our own devices we just couldn’t conceive (or an escape from which we couldn’t conceive)

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