Living The Dream: The Gatekeepers Eat Humble Pie Yet Again

If you’ve come to MWi today seeking inspiration and reassurance, having just gotten your latest rejection from the gatekeepers, this is your lucky day. We have an extraordinary story of rejection, redemption and rejoicing for you.

Today it was officially announced that indie authors Louise Voss and Mark Edwards have signed a four book deal with Harper Collins for a six-figure sum. And having been a supporter of these guys since they first launched on Kindle earlier this year I’m absolutely delighted for them.

But this not just a great story about an author partnership that got the dream ticket. This story is special in so many way.

Because this isn’t  just a story about a couple of authors who wrote their books, sent off their queries, waited patiently and eventually hooked the big fish. This is a story of a couple of authors who wrote their books, sent of their queries, hooked an agent each (each!) and still couldn’t get the big fish.

They tried, and tried, and tried again. But they never quite got there. And with rejection comes dejection. Eventually these guys just gave up.

Literally. They threw their battered manuscripts in the drawer, closed their book of dreams and walked away from writing.

It was only when the Kindle came along they they got the urge to try again. They dusted off those old manuscripts, updated where necessary, and stuck them on Amazon. Not re-written.  Just updated to take account of things like mobile phones, that didn’t exist first time round. But let’s be clear, these were the same books as before. The ones the gatekeepers turned their noses up at.

But that’s the funny thing about the gatekeepers.  They claim to be protecting us from the drivel that us self-publishers stick on Amazon. Yet the moment that “drivel” starts to sell it suddenly acquires some hitherto non-existent star quality that the gatekeepers are desperate to get the rights to.

And after suffering so much rejection that these guys actually gave up writing, one can only imagine how gratifying it must be now to have the gatekeepers not just querying them, but handing over a six-figure sum to be allowed to publish the books they previously turned down.

Mark Edwards’ first appeared on MWi back in April, soon after Louise and he launched Killing Cupid onto Kindle. The second book was still being prepared for release.  Mark explained in raw, emotive terms, his journey from wannabe-writer to f**ck-’em-all-I-can’t-take-this-any-more defeat and back to new aspirant.

His story is reproduced below, as originally presented here on MWi.

It was an amazing story when I first ran it. That was just thirteen weeks ago.

Since then that second book, Catch Your Death, has become the number one best-seller on Kindle UK, and at one stage the first book, Killing Cupid, joined it at number two. The ultimate double-whammy. Last month alone they sold a total of 42,000 e-books.

No surprise, then, that these dreadful books previously deemed unpublishable are now hot properties.

Here’s Mark’s story once again, with my original intro.

~

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.

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

The Sea of Obscurity

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.

Fifteen years to achieve overnight success? How about thirteen weeks.

Louise and Mark I’m proud to have been in there at the re-start and to have watched your incredible journey. It couldn’t have happened to two more deserving people.

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  1. What an amazing story this is! I thought it was amazing the first time around, and I think it’s even better now. I just giggle with glee at the thought of all those rejections turning into pure gold. Silly, silly Gatekeepers.

    • Shea, are you and Charley both linked to my computer somehow?

      How can anyone read and respond to a post before I’ve even written the twitter link?

      Yes, you’re right, silly gatekeepers – apart from the one’s who just got the deal with Louise and Mark and are now going to make a fortune. A safe bet with that sort of advance that when these books are paper released they will get the full plinth treatment.

    • CharleyR
    • July 8th, 2011

    Wow. This is an incredible, heartening story. Louise and Mark, I don’t know how you had the determination to keep going, it’s really extraordinary and really gives inexperienced newbies like me so much hope about the future.
    Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Mark and Mark (xD)

    – Charley R

    • Charley, as per comment to Shea, you’ve done it again. You two are unreal!

      But yes, be inspired. The window of opportunity to get a paper deal like this is fast closing as digital takes over.

      Which makes Louise and Mark’s achievement all the greater.

    • gerrymccullough
    • July 8th, 2011

    I’m so thrilled for you both, Mark and Louise! What a wonderful, exciting story! Enjoy your success, sweethearts!

  2. I love this post!

    • Thanks, David. It’s been a real pleasure to run it. From the very first time I heard about Catch Your Death I told Mark this was a sure winner and they’d eventually steal our crown as the biggest-selling UK indie. But I could never have predicted it would happen so fast

      And a fine idea about the BBC. It would make a fantastic documentary.

  3. Mark Edwards’ agent should totally call the BBC and tell them to take that old footage and turn it into a documentary leading up to today’s news.

  4. This, literally, gave me goosebumps. Okay, yes, I will admit it – AND brought tears to my eyes. I am going to quit coming here are reading these posts. I always seem to start puddling up. Sigh….
    Mark Edwards and I started exchanging emails a few months ago. In fact, I connected with Mark Williams after he saw an interview with me on Edward’s site. Both of these guys have been so kind and so encouraging to me.
    Mark Edwards and I exchanged emails joking about checking our sales figures and basically just encouraged one another as writers. Who knew I was talking to the next indie rock star?
    Mark Williams contacted me and invited me to do a guest post on his blog. I thought, okay, sure I will do a blog on this guy’s site. But I had no idea how kind Mark would be. And encouraging. And downright inspirational. How long will it be before Williams is signing a contract with a major publisher too?
    Both of these guys are just the kind of writers that you want to “hang out” with. If I had only known what heavy-hitters I was exchanging emails with, I would have been nicer. Maybe baked them cookies or something. Okay, probably not. I don’t really like to bake.
    Congrats Mark and Lousie. I am thrilled for both of you. You are truly an inspiration to all of us. And I am so happy that you never gave up. Perhaps just one writer reading this today will be inspired to hang in there too. I hope so. 🙂

  5. Yeeha and woohoo! Well done, Mark and Louise!

    Enjoy it to the full – you did it :o)

    • Thanks for joining us again, Lexi.

      For those unfamilar, Lexi herself is no stranger to indie e-pub success, with over 30,000 sales, and so far as I know is the only indie author in the UK with a foreign language version to her credit.

  6. Huge congrats to Marik and Louise! Welcome to the big time!

  7. Thanks so much for this inspirational set of articles! After reading rather snarky posts on other sites about how traditional publishing is the ONLY way to go and self-publishing is rubbish, this post made my day. Wonderful that your hard work paid off!

    • Welcome to MWi, Donna.

      There are a lot of snarky blogs at the moment trying to deride the self-publishers. Whenever any vested interest is threatened the first response is always to belittle the new option.

      That’s natural, and part of the Old Model mentality, from a time when shelf-space was limited and only the select few were invited to the party.

      You’ll find most of those anti self-publishing now will themselves be self-publishing a year down the line, and hoping we don’t click back on their old posts.

  8. A great story. And, not to minimize the incredible accomplishment, but it points to how timing and luck make such a huge difference. Mark himself notes it’s the EXACT same book that nobody wanted–and this story of sudden discovery has been duplicated in the US, too, except now authors are turning down the publishers that were once turning them down. Very exciting to see how it will all play out! Congrats to Mark and Louise.

    • Thanks for joining us, Scott.

      You’re right, luck and timing will always play a role. Louise and Mark were lucky to have two great books ready and waiting that they could launch within weeks of each other, and that helped pull each other up the charts.

      Of course, the key words there are great books. No matter how many books you have it will make no difference if no-one buys them.

  9. Thank you for sharing the story. I wrote a romance book about 4/5 years which a publisher really liked, but they wanted me to make some character changes that I didn’t agree with, so it languished on my computer. Now with Kindle, I’ve been able to publish the book as I want it. I think it’s great to have your own independence as an indie author and also you know that all your sales are a result of your own hard work (however, if a publisher were to offer me a deal . . .)

    • Welcome to MWi, Kathryn.

      Your own story of a publisher / editor wanting you to make changes you didn’t like is a key reason why many of us prefer to pursue the indie route.

      But you’re right – if a publisher was to offer “a good deal” then it’s worth looking at.

      It sounds like Louise and Mark have got the balance right and aren’t sacrificing their independence. But that’s because they’re negotiating from a position of strength.

      Which is why we will continue to urge new writers to self-publish and prove their writing is good enough BEFORE they worry about getting an agent or publisher who will start mauling their manuscript to suit their own commercial requirements.

  10. What wonderful news. Congratulations Mark E and Louise! The thing I love about this last six months has been the quantum changes, the seriously bright ‘Ah Ha’ moments, the excitement, the fact that we are all sitting on the crest of a tsunami that is re-configuring a landscape. Maybe in another 12 months it will be different again, but it will NEVER be the same and I can’t begin to say how it feels to have books published in these times.
    I wake every day knowing something breathtaking will have happened: today it’s the news about Mark E and Louise…
    Thanks Mark W for keeping us up to date.

  11. Thanks for featuring us again Mark!

    Your many visitors might be interested to know that I just wrote the full story of how it happened – and why – over on IndieIq.com

    • Always a pleasure to have you here. Even moreso now you’re mega-stars! 🙂

      Hope you’ll join us again a few months down the road and let us share in your experience of the “real” publishing world as it negotiates the Transition.

      As you say over on indieiq there will be lots of us doing the maths and wondering if you’ve made the right decision given the way the industry is changing, but at the end of the day it’s a subjective judgement on what works best for those concerned at that particular time.

      And most importantly of all, as you say there, it’s not really about the money. It’s about having the time to write, and being able to share your product with a wider audience.

      But to those who say self-publishing will harm your chances of a legacy contract, I can only say dream on.

      Forget querying and going cap in hand, bowing and scraping to the gatekeepers.
      The best possible way of getting an agent or publisher is to get a good book out there and prove the market exists. The rest will take care of itself.

  12. @ Mesmered: You’re right, there’s an air of thrill and excitement in the industry quite unlike anything that has come before or will be in the future.

    There’s never been a better time to be a writer.

  13. I love hearing these stories! It’s so inspiring and now a dream to all Indies. Over the past week, my debut novel~Carpe bead ’em, made it on the US Amazon’s Movers and Shakers list. I hear there is a lot of what I call “Kindle Trolling” from agents on there. I try not to think about that, and keep my nose to the grind and continue with my next novel. Cheers! Thanks for a wonderful post!

    • Welcome to MWi, Tonya.

      Kindle trolling by agents is most definitely happening and while it’s a great way to beat the old query system, as Louise and Mark’s experience shows, its also wide open to abuse by less scrupulous agents looking for an easy way through the Transition.

      The real beauty of the old system was that if an agent accepted you it was because you got past their own in-house gatekeepers and they genuinely liked your book.

      Some (by no means all) agents now are trawling the e-charts by sales number alone, and seeking to rep authors and books without a clue what the book is about. And that includes some big-name agents, not just backwater outfits.

      As per Alan Rinzler’s article linked in David Gaughran’s comment, above, there’s never been a better time to be a writer.

      There’s also never been a better time to be stung. Industry bloggers Kristine Rusch and Anne R Allen should be compulsory reading if any writer is suddenly head-hunted by an agent or publisher.

      Author beware!

    • Miriam
    • July 9th, 2011

    Sooo many comments! Gah! 😉
    Thing is, it’s all very well talking about all the self-publishers that make it big, but what about all the ones who don’t? There are probably an equal number of people with publishers that don’t make it than ones without publishers that don’t, aren’t there?

    • Absolutely right, Ms Miriam. Trust you to ask the awkward questions. 🙂

      There are two important considerations here.

      1) What constitutes success? Stephen King and James Patterson are failures compared to JK Rowling. It’s all relative.

      Also, some books sell more than others simply because of their genre. It’s just like with music. You’re not likely to see Tchaichovsky on MTV, or see Handel alongside the Rolling Stones or the Beatles in any charts.

      With books you can be top of your genre charts and still sell nowhere near the 1000th best-seller in a commercial chart.

      But point 2 is what really counts:

      2) You’re right, many self-published books will never be bought other than by the author’s best friend’s aunt’s dog-sitter. Most self-published books will “fail” commercially, and many deservedly so.

      But check out the link to Alan Rinzler’s post (in David Gaughran’s comment above). Alan is a hugely respected figure in the paper-publishing world. He had this to say:

      “Book publishers have been very slow to realize this but gradually began to admit that they really didn’t know all that well what they’re doing.

      Seriously. They don’t. And they know it. Did you know that nearly all published books – conservative estimates range between 80-90 percent – lose money? These books don’t earn out their advances, don’t have second printings, they sell in the low four digits at best, are returned from the retail accounts and pulped or recycled.

      The rest have to make up for it, and often don’t. What kind of a business is that?”

      Alan is talking here about Gatekeeper Professionally Produced Books that have had the best agents, the finest editors and proofreaders, the most wonderful cover artists, and the help of professional marketing teams to sell them. Books that have been distributed to every major book store in the country.

      The gatekeepers love to tell us how their expertise is so essential to the publishing process and how only they know the secret of success. Actually it’s just one big circus. All that expertise, all that money, all those resources, and the vast majority of these books end up being pulped, unsold.

      And what’s really important here is that those paper books usually get a window of about three months to prove themselves. If they haven’t sold by then they are discarded. Pulped or remaindered. The shelves have to be cleared for the next run of hopefuls.

      Our own book Sugar & Spice sold almost nothing in the first three months. By the trade standards it was an abysmal failure. Had it been in the shops it would have been pulped by now.

      Yet in the NEXT three months it sold over 60,000, and is still selling thousands a week three months after that. Maybe many of those failed paper books would have sold too, given the chance.

      The Old Model doesn’t work.

      The beauty of e-books is that they are forever. Just because they didn’t sell last week does not mean they won’t next week. And the cyber shelf has enough room for them all.

      • Excellent point Mark, and Alan Rinzler is right (and he should know, with a long, distinguished career in traded publishing).

        Only a small percentage of books make money. The rest either just about break even, or lose money.

        One of the main reasons for this is the publishing industry produces twice as much of what it needs and has destroy half every year.

        That just blows my mind.

        Walk into any bookshop. Half of those books will be pulped.

        But not before the are printed, shipped, stored, shelved, stored again, and shipped back to the publisher. The expense is colossal.

        The reason that they overprint so many books is that they have no idea which books are going to be successful.

        They can rig the game by buying endcaps, and table displays, and paying to make sure all the books are face out, and giving ridiculous discounts to box stores and supermarkets so that the book they want to push is the only one a lot of readers will see, but even that doesn’t work a lot of the time. More money down the drain.

        The business model is unsustainable (not too mention awful for the environment).

        Big Publishing is hanging on by its fingernails, only kept alive by the tiny percentage of books that are big hits. But in a way, it’s always been this way.

        The industry is set up to sell blockbusters, and it actually does that well. The problem is, the blockbusters are the only ones that make them money, so all the focus is on finding books that could be the ones to break out (because they don’t know which will be).

        So, they don’t look for books which could be sleeper hits, or build an audience slowly, or make nice money in a niche, they look for potential blockbusters, at the cost of pretty much everything else.

        And they are not even good at picking those.

  14. SO pleased for Mark and Louise and delighted to have known them from the start of their venture. Overnight success is never overnight. It really hacks me off when people bemoan “overnight successes” with a massive chip on their shoulder – be those successes literary, filmic, or in the music world. Even the most sudden of X factor successes comes on the back of year on year of graft. It’s always wonderful to see those years pay off.

    And my my this blog gets better and better – a fabulous little piece from The Smiths in there, Mark!!

    • Absolutely right, Dan. Overnight success (or thirteen weeks or so in the case of Mark and Louise) comes on the back of years of hard work and accumulated experience.

  15. Congratulations Mark and Louise for tackling the Gatekeeper and winning the battle. After casting my query net 130 times and receiving 131 rejections (one agent felt the need to reject me twice), I retreated from the Gatekeeper. Recently, I indie-pubbed my debut mystery, Harbinger of Evil. Whether it be success or failure, the future is mine. Thank you MWI for a lovely post.

    • Thanks for joining us, Meb.

      Rejected twice by the same agent? Impressive! And 130 queries shows some real determination. Good luck with Harbinger of Evil. It may take time, but if readers like it they’ll tell others will buy it and do the same.

      And while you’re waiting I hope you’re beavering away with the next book.

  16. Meb,

    I think I have you beat. I got rejected for a book I didn’t even write.

    I posted a requested partial off to an agent in New York that only took hard copy. A couple of weeks later I got an email. Form rejection. For someone else’s book.

    Was my book rejected and the just put in the wrong title? Or has someone else gone on to literary acclaim and mountains of gold doubloons on the strength of my five chapters?

    I guess we’ll never know.

    Dave

  17. What a great story–and I love all the comments here as well.

    David, I’ve had several of those rejections for books I didn’t write. I assume their authors got my rejections, but I can’t help wondering if they went on to fame and fortune like the girl who stole David Duchovny’s novel ms. in Californication. For my comic mystery, Ghostwriters in the Sky, I got one rejection on a full ms. recently, saying simply, “We do not represent nonfiction,” and another that said, “your paranormal romance, Vamp of New Orleans” while intriguing, is not right for us at this time.

    Mark, I’m posting on a similar subject tomorrow. I’m responding to the WSJ article about how we’ll miss book publishers when they’re gone. It said the same old stuff: we’ll be buried alive in a pile of cybercrap–and how will we know we love steampunk zombipocalypses this year if they aren’t there to tell us what to read?

  18. That is one hell of a story! I hadn’t even heard of Mark and Louise until a couple of days ago, when I happened on the Facebook interview with the Summer Book Club. Or so I thought – after reading this post I remembered reading the earlier one (again, via a link on David Gaughran’s blog). I had two other thoughts – one, that success stories like this – and the posts that report them – can only inspire the rest of us to keep dreaming, writing, working; they are all good, and make my day every time I read one of them. Two – anyone who can write a post like that – a measly blog post – and make me want to cry, and to punch the air in triumph, in the space of a few hundred words – is an author that I want to read. No wonder the book loving public discovered this when the gatekeepers couldn’t! Best of luck to the both of them.
    Tony

    • Thanks for visiting us, Tony.

      Plenty of similar inspirational tales in the MWi archives, though none with quite such a spectacular outcome. Not yet, anyway.

      But you’re spot on about blog posts. When someone writes about anything with passion the reader will connect. Your own guest post over at David Gaughran’s site is a fine example. There will be many who would never have touched a travel book previously who will be thinking, “it’s not my genre, but this post moved me – maybe I’ll give this guy’s book a try.”

      Hard sell doesn’t work. Good old fashioned honesty, integrity and passion does.

    • Tony – you have been so emotional ever since that bear ate your pants…

      • Tell me about it! I just went over to David’s blog and answered all the comments again – didn’t really notice until afterwards that this time they weren’t for me… Must be ‘the change’ coming over me. Or, you know, the wedding in two weeks. Yeah, that could be it…

  19. This story gave me chills. I’m inspired, motivated, and so happy for them. 😀

  20. Mark, I thought I’d copy exactly what I posted yesterday on Cheryl Shireman’s inspiring blog. It would appear to have as much relevance to what you and your commentators are saying as it did to Cheryl’s inspiring post.

    “Three years ago, I published my first fantasy novel POD feeling somewhat of a loser at going down that road after the usual submit, return process. I published the sequel a year later. On hearing of my sales, the hits to my blog and website, an agent asked to read both books. After doing so, she said she wanted me to do a re-write (changing the books entirely) and she would attempt to sell me on and why on earth did I go down the independent route anyway, how could I be so ridiculous! I politely said that as my books were already ‘out there’ with a niche following, I would certainly not re-write and was happy to continue as is… thank you very much. On publishing them as e-books this year, a successful mainstream author wished me luck and said ‘it does seem to be a little more acceptable to self-publish these days.’ There was something alternately pleasant and yet uncomfortable about her words.
    Yesterday, I received an email from a highly reputable literary consultant saying the following: ‘I’d say you’re one of our most e-savvy authors and I’m always slightly envious of the ease with which you seem to embrace new technologies, media and ways of telling stories. ‘
    That to me was one of the nicest things that has been said about me and to me for some time. It has made the efforts to go down the independent road, the struggles, the workload… all worthwhile. And WHAT a turnaround from that other awfully ill-informed and ill-mannered agent in 2009. Exciting and rewarding times.”

  21. Wow, wow, wow! That is such an amazing story, it brought tears to my eyes. It’s wonderful that things worked out so well for Louise Voss and Mark Edwards.

    I love your statement:
    But that’s the funny thing about the gatekeepers. They claim to be protecting us from the drivel that us self-publishers stick on Amazon. Yet the moment that “drivel” starts to sell it suddenly acquires some hitherto non-existent star quality that the gatekeepers are desperate to get the rights to.

    It’s so true. One day it’s a sow’s ear, then the next day it’s a silk purse? I don’t think so. If it’s a silk purse today, the book was a silk purse yesterday. What astounds me is that the legacy publishers in today’s market seem to offer significantly larger advances to successful self-published authors than to most of their own loyal authors who published with them from the beginning of their careers. I’ve started thinking that it might be a safer gamble for new writers to self-publish first than to bother sending out all those query letters and risk no advance or a small advance plus the very real possibility of being dropped by the publisher if they don’t sell large enough numbers of their books.

    • Thanks for joining us, Marilyn.

      My advice to all writers is to seriously consider self-publishing FIRST.

      Forget the old query process. At best it is an enormous waste of your valuable time. Yes, the WRITER’S valuable time. At worst it is soul-destroying, as Mark explained.

      How many more writers gave up with great books, but aren’t now in a position to try them again on Kindle?

      To writers, I say this: make sure your book is as good as you can get it first. When it is, let the readers decide.

      If it does well, the gatekeepers will come knocking at your door. You can negotiate from strength. Louise and Mark got a six figure offer because they had proven the market exists.

      If your book doesn’t sell, then maybe there’s a problem with it. In which case, why should an agent / publisher do any better?

      That said, at this stage in the Transition there is still a huge paper market out there which e-publishers cannot reach. In the US that is vanishing fast. Really fast. In the UK it will last a bit longer, but not much.

      Unless a writer is really star-struck by the dream of the plinth (very little time left for that), or has so little confidence in themselves that they *need* an “agent” to tell them their book is good enough (If the author doesn’t think it is, why are they sending it out?) then get the book as perfect as you can, self-publish, and let the readers decide.

  22. Don’t worship the gate-keepers – they are idols with feet of clay.
    As a successful erotica author I have watched my publisher pay me peanuts while reaping 100 or 200 times the income from my work over the past 11 years. I also strongly suspect that tens of thousands of my books have been sold secretly at wholesale price without my knowledge, but I have absolutely no way of proving it. They make endless careless mistakes with their accounting for my sales and royalties.
    This subterfuge and unfairness broke my will to write. What is the point of being a writer whose books people love to read and I don’t get paid for that good work? What is the remedy if the gatekeepers not only pay you hardly anything but they steal and lie as well? The average author is too poor to sue one of the big six.

    Not only that, but despite having had three books published in three years, after that they didn’t want any more of my books. They are a comfortably earning backlist for them. Why make any more effort to use me or my work?

    I bless the fact that I got my digital rights back from them 6 years ago before they thought they needed them. When they requested the rights back, as belatedly, they were publishing 100 NZ authors in ebook format early this year. I asked my editor for information on their marketing plan, and how much of their profit was I to receive?
    There was no marketing plan, and I was to get 10-25%.

    Having heard the news about ebooks I found smashwords and others online. I said thanks but no thanks to my publishers, as I think anyone would have.

    I have now set up my own publishing company. My old books are being re-edited and going on-stream online steadily with many etailers, not just Amazon. Additionally I have found a very talented author, A J Burton, a retired policeman who writes gripping, realistic, very funny detective mystery fiction.
    My choosing to publish him, recognising his talent and acknowledging his ability as a writer has transformed him into a real person, not a loser, as he had been, in the eyes of his family.
    From being depressed and almost giving up, he is in heaven now, busily producing the sequel to Coven Three, and learning about how to edit his work.

    The ebook revolution, fuelled by the manufacturers of ebook readers and app writers, etailers, Amazon.com and many authors has set millions of people free – we are merely two of them!

  23. Just came from Mark Edwards’ indieiq site. Between this site, my site, and his – it surely feels like a party. I am loving all of these comments!
    One big party stretched across the world.
    But I have to take off these heels – they are killing me.
    Turn up the music and let’s dance!

    #WritersEncouragingWriters Love it !!!

  24. This sounds a lot like my own story, except without the BBC part and how I could never quite give up, in spite of near miss after near miss. I also took off in an unexpected way this spring with my novel, The Righteous, and am hammering out the final details of a five book deal with a major publisher. And this is a book that went to auction, got several near-misses, and then died.

    And then came April, where I sold 20,000 copies, was approached by four agents and two publishers, and suddenly the same book became a hot property.

    • And it’s the same book, right? What I mean is, this book that has been wildly popular is not drastically different from the one that got the cold shoulder before? Or did you pull apart and rewrite?

    • Michael, that sounds like a great story we’d all love to hear more about. I’ve sent you an email to that effect.

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