Posts Tagged ‘ next year’s best seller ’

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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The Summer Book Club Part 2 – I Burned My Bra For This? One Woman’s Fantasy.

Yes, it’s Summer Book Club time again, and this week the focus is on Cheryl Shireman and her book Life Is But A Dream.

First off a reminder to everyone that the Summer Book Club is available FREE over at Smashwords, and for a nominal fee on Amazon. Any royalties from the Amazon sale will be going to the Joplin Library fund.

For those with short memories or who do not follow world news, Joplin was a town in Missouri, USA devastated by a tornado. Unlike in The Wizard of Oz this was for real.

For those who haven’t got an e-reader, a reminder that there are apps available so you can dowload to your computer and numerous other devices, including smart-phones.

Anyone thinking the name sounds familiar, you’re right: Cheryl was with us just last month on MWi talking about her tear-jerker pictorial book  You Don’t Need A Prince, which gave me a great excuse to indulge my passion for emotionally-charged books.

Today Cheryl is talking about her adult novel, and in the best traditions of MWi posts she actually talks about everything but. Bra-burning militism from the Women’s Lib brigade, cowboys in colour, remote controls for television, Donny Osmond back in his Puppy Love days, and the joys of motherhood.

If you’re young enough not to be a Baby Boomer then check out a wonderful film called Mona Lisa Smile which will give you some idea of just how far society has changed for women in the last few decades.

As this is a Summer Book Club post my intro will be short and sweet.

In fact, that’s it!

Here’s Cheryl:

I BURNED MY BRA FOR THIS? ONE WOMAN’S FANTASY

I’m a Baby Boomer. Which means that I remember bell-bottoms, Happy Days, and having only three channels on the television. I played Donny Osmond albums on a record player. My parents watched Gunsmoke, and on Sunday nights we all watched The Wonderful World of Disney. In the living room. Together. On the only television we owned. Imagine that! I remember the first time I saw Bonanza in color. I remember the first time I heard about remote controls for televisions. The whole idea seemed ridiculous. With three channels, really, how often would it be needed? I remember the Watergate hearings playing on the television when I came home from school. 

I also remember watching feminists (does anyone use that word anymore?) burn their bras and march for equal rights. I grew up believing that a woman deserves equal pay for equal work and that a woman is not defined by the man she marries or by the children she gives birth to. In fact, we were told that both men and children were optional. The idea seemed revolutionary at the time. It still does. Women were mad as hell and they weren’t taking it anymore. We called it Women’s Liberation, and though it was never said, it was certainly implied (and believed in most circles) that a woman who did not work was a bit inferior to a career woman. That was when such women were called housewives and not “stay at home” moms. Women were divided into two groups – those who worked and those who didn’t.

Back then, no one thought that staying home and taking care of a family and home was work. The women of my generation wanted more, demanded more, and believed we were entitled to just that – more. We sometimes looked at our own mothers, most of whom did not have real jobs, as women who simply did not understand that there was more to life than being a mother. If truth be told, we thought they were a bit simple-minded and we secretly vowed to do more with our lives.

And yet…as this Baby Boomer looks at her life, I realize nothing I have ever done, or will ever do, is as important as being a mother. Not career, volunteer work, graduate school, or any creative pursuit. Nothing else even comes close to being a mother. Period.

One of my children lives half an hour away, another is one state away, and the third is on the other side of the world in Denmark. Yesterday, my husband and I spent the entire day with our two-year-old granddaughter. She then spent the night. As I write this, I hear her gentle breathing in the baby monitor positioned atop the table close to where I sit.

To say that my children, and now my granddaughter, have filled my life with love and joy is an understatement. As children, they expanded my heart in ways I could never have imagined. For the first time in my life, I not only understood, but received unconditional love. As adults, they are three people that I know I can always count on. They will always be there for me. Just as I will always be there for them. Can you say the same about your career?

There used to be a tv show called Fantasy Island. People visited the island and lived out their fantasies – no matter how wild (okay, not that wild – this was primetime family tv in the seventies). Not too long ago, my husband and I had a discussion about that old tv show and asked each other – What would your fantasy be? Mine was easy. If I could have a Fantasy Island day, I would relive one day with my children. My son would be 10, which would make my daughters 4 and 2. We would spend the day doing whatever they wanted. Going to the park, going to the movies, playing games, baking cookies, or just sitting on the floor playing with Legos and Barbies. I would hug them a lot. And kiss the tops of their heads. And take tons of pictures. I wouldn’t cook. I wouldn’t clean. And I wouldn’t worry about my career.

I would watch my son show his younger sisters how to do things, like he always did in his older brother sort of way. I would watch my 2 year-old daughter follow her older 4 year-old sister around the room, shadowing her every move. Just as she did, even through their college years when they shared an apartment near Indiana University. I would watch the older sister taking care of her younger sister, as if she were her baby. Which is what she called her when she was born – my baby.

Bedtime would be later than usual on that fantasy night. I would tuck them into their beds, fresh from baths and smelling of shampoo. The girls smelling like baby lotion. My son would hug me goodnight with his long skinny arms and tell me he loves me. And I would feel the truth in that. I would tuck in my girls and tell them it is time to go to sleep. I would take extra care in covering the older girl’s feet, because she always kicked her blankets off during the night. I would kiss the baby and hold her a little longer, because I would know that, as I type this she is in Denmark which makes visiting tough.

And, as I walk down the hall and turn out the lights, I would call out to all of them, as I always did… “Goodnight. Love you. Sweet dreams. See you in the morning.”

And that would be my fantasy day. Oddly enough, it has nothing to do with my career as a writer. Even though being a writer has always been my dream. My first novel, Life is But a Dream, was published earlier this year. The main character, Grace Adams, is a woman facing an empty nest and the possible demise of her marriage. Grace withdraws to a secluded lake cabin to redefine her life and try to find a reason to continue living. While at the lake, Grace not only finds renewed purpose and hope, but when things take a turn for the worse at the lake, she finds a strength she never knew she possessed. The novel is thought-provoking, sometimes frightening, and often funny (just like life). It is also, very definitely, fiction.

Even though my “nest” is empty, I am enjoying this time and this new focus on my career. I am not suicidal or lacking in purpose. My husband and I both work from home (he designs websites), we live on a lake, and our schedule is our own. It is truly a wonderful time in our lives. Sometimes I have popcorn for dinner. Enough said.

But, would my current life be as wonderful if I had not pursued career and graduate school and developed the skills I am using now? Probably not. I managed to combine work and school and motherhood. I believed I could have it all, and do it all, but to be honest – the kids always came first. And being a mother is the strongest and best part of my identity. It is the thing I am most proud of. My greatest achievement. And, once in a while, I miss those days when toys where scattered across the floor, the washer was always running, and we bought eight gallons of milk a week.

If you have children at home, cherish those simple every-day moments with them. They really will be gone in the blink of an eye – sooner than you can possibly imagine. Get off of your computer. Now. Go sit on the floor and play a game. Pop some popcorn, put on one of their favorite movies, and cuddle up on the couch. Live that “fantasy” right now. You will never be able to recapture these moments again. Enjoy them now. There is no greater gift than the love of your children. Spend the rest of your day letting it pour over you. And pour your love right back over them.

As I type this, I can hear my granddaughter waking up. I am shutting my computer off, too. Right now, I am going to go upstairs and scoop her up from her crib. She will probably wrap her little arms around my neck and ask, “Play blocks, Bomb Bomb?”

And we will play blocks.

Cheryl Shireman is the author of Life is But a Dream which can be purchased as an ebook for 99 cents at Amazon US  Amazon UK  Barnes&Noble  or as a paperback for 11.99 at the Amazon locations. Learn more about Cheryl at her website and blog at http://www.cherylshireman.com or by following her on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/cherylshireman or on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/cherylshireman or her books page http://www.facebook.com/cherylshiremanbooks

She will be doing a live Facebook chat on Saturday July 9th at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time at http://www.facebook.com/summerbookclub  Please join us with your questions for Cheryl!

Harry Potter and the Dam-Busters – you heard it here first!

We interrupt the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blogfest for a news update.

So now it’s official.

JK Rowling IS going digital, and there’s much chatter among the writing classes about what this means for us all.

The consensus is more e-reader sales, more kudos to e-publishing, and a Christmas bonanza in 2011.

Actually, here at MWi we were saying exactly this way back in April. It seems appropriate therefore to reproduce that post today.

The figures for Sugar & Spice sales are a little dated, of course, but the main thrust of the post seems as pertinent today as three months ago and is reproduced here as was.

Remember, you heard it here first! 🙂

Harry Potter and the Dam-Busters.

Be careful what you wish for: Saffina Desforges 100 days later

The UK agents said it was “The last taboo.”

“Well written, but no-one would buy into the subject matter.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.”
So we stuck it on Amazon just to prove them wrong.

Today Sugar & Spice celebrates 100 days in the Kindle UK top 100.

As for the agents: They call us. From New York!

Real life… You couldn’t make it up!

Here’s Saffi:

Be careful what you wish for: Saffina Desforges 100 days later.

Also available in American!

Move over, Spidey! There’s a new kid in town!

If you’re looking at that image of the young Peter Parker and feeling nostalgic, welcome to the club. You’re going to enjoy this.

Stan Lee

If you’re thinking Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Amazing Fantasy # 15, then you’re going to LOVE this!

If, on the other hand, you only “do” superheroes when they come fully packaged on the big screen, don’t give up just yet. This could be right up your street.

Ice-Cubed Kirsten

And if you think superheroes are “kid’s stuff” then… Shame on you!

And please accept our condolences for your loss. The loss of years of enjoyment, that is, that you’ve denied yourself.

Kids’ stuff? You’ve got to be kidding. Just look at Jessica Alba in the Fantastic Four films, or think of Kirsten Dunst in that soaked-through top in Spiderman

But seriously, superheroes have never really been aimed at kids, in the same way as The Simpsons isn’t aimed at kids. What they do is, just like Bart and Homer, is appeal to an audience at all levels, and that’s what makes them so durable.

Durable? Superheroes?

Actually they’ve been around a lot longer than you’d think.

Just take a look at the car on the front cover of the very first Superman comic. Yes, double-take that date too. It really does say June 1938.  But in fact Superman was created even earlier, in 1932!

Batman was created in 1939.

By comparison Spidey, the Fantastic Four, etc, are relative babies, only coming into existence in in the early sixties, thanks to a young upstart writer called Stan Lee, who turned the world of comics on its head when he set his fictional superheroes in real cities, and gave them real problems alongside the supervillains.

Would you want your child reading a storyline like this?

And I don’t just mean dating problems, either, although the death of Gwen Stacy was a landmark in comics history. These “comics” tackled serious themes like drugs and alcohol abuse (Tony Stark’s drink problems in the Iron Man films were being explored in comic-books forty years ago!).

And while the “four-colour” big-names tried to appeal equally to children and to older readers, comics were also diversifying into niche markets which were very adult in every way. If you saw my interview over at indieIQ last week you’ll know I teamed up with co-authorSaffi to write a vampire novel.

When you consider my teen reading was comic-books like Vampirella (below) you will understand why Saffi’s story of up-close-and-personal vampire girls grabbed my attention, and why I can’t wait to get back to finish it. (That’s Equilibrium Book 1: First Blood by Saffina Desforges, coming to a Kindle near you late 2011.) We don’t have  book cover yet, so this wondeful Vampi cover from yesteryear will have to suffice.

Kids' comics?

But you need have no fear of anything too sexualised,  gratuitously violent or otherwise unsavoury about the work of today’s guest, Marion G. Harmon.

I stumbled across Marion quite by accident at the beginning of this year, when I received his opening chapters as an assignment on the peer review website youwriteon. His novel, Wearing The Cape, was a story about superheroes, and this intrigued me right away.

As a kid it was my ambition to write for Marvel Comics, although sadly my careers adviser at school could offer no help there, and while I would later go on to freelance for some British comics and magazines, this was small compensation. Yes, I loved writing for Bunty and Just Seventeen (and yes, they were for girls!) but that I never got the chance to write an episode of Spidey or Dr Strange will always be a sore point.

True, I half-wrote a novel in which Peter Parker came to England and saw some action as the wall-crawler on London’s streets, But this was in pre-word processor days (yes, I’m that old!) and never got ay further. Besides, writing a novel about a graphic art form is not easy. Not easy at all.

So to do it with original characters, and make it work, as Marion G. Harmon has done…

And to do it in style, with a unique voice and a fresh take on an old theme… That was quite beyond my wildest aspirations.

As for a first time novelist doing it, and doing it so well… It just makes you want to throw up! Life is just so unfair!

Yowriteon has a lot to answer for!

But I’ve a great fondness for youwriteon, despite its many faults.

I “met” my co-author Saffi there, of course. And I “met” Tom Winton and Marion there.

Tom’s novel Beyond Nostalgia, is destined to be one of the great books of the twenty-first century. If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to do so. Love stories burn slowly and rarely set the charts alight, but Beyond Nostalgia will be selling long after us upstart commercial fiction merchants with our serial killers and gritty crime stories have faded from memory.

As luck would have it I “discovered” Beyond Nostalgia after it had been published on Kindle, so never got to review it on the youwriteon site.

Which means that Marion G. Harmon’s Wearing The Cape is the only book I’ve ever given five stars to across the board on a peer-review site.

I’d love to say it’s a classic in the making, along with Tom’s Beyond Nostalgia, but Wearing The Cape is about superheroes, not love (although there’s a love story in there, of course). It’s not literary fiction, even though the writing is good enough to be.

Wearing The Cape is most certainly not dumbed-down like so much commercial fiction these days. Rather it is both thought-provoking and emotive, with an intellectual underlay that will appease even the most discerning reader, But its fantasy premise and its fantastical characters mean it won’t be winning any haute-culture prizes.

But Wearing The Cape is unquestionably next year’s best-seller, and a blockbuster movie waiting to be made. I would be seriously surprised if this were not snapped up by Marvel Studios once it gets noticed.

Bottom line is, it’s a fine piece of writing that I’m incredibly jealous of, and very proud to introduce here. Over to Marion for the inside story.

Wearing the Cape is my first novel, though you’d think a compulsive reader with degrees in literature and history would have gotten around to it sooner.

Its subject matter, superheroes, is the product of a childhood love of comics which never entirely went away, and the kind of adult mind that looks at those wondrous modern myths and wonders about superhero certification and licensing, insurance issues, publicity and marketing possibilities, etc. And who would run around in a mask and tights, anyway?

It’s no wonder most “serious” treatments of superheroes deconstruct the poor bastards (here Watchmen and V for Vendetta come to mind).

But superheroes are the perfect vehicle for talking about Good and Evil in a world under the shadow of terrorism.

Supervillains, undetectable menaces till they choose to use their powers, are a metaphor for our times. A large theme in the novel is means and ends and the moral choices we make concerning them—choices we’re forced to make simply because we have the power to make them.

It’s not my fault; I’ve discovered the medium shapes the message and, much as you can’t seem to write a vampire story without bringing up sex-death metaphors, the angst of immortality, etc., I couldn’t write about superheroes without going into issues like personalism vs. instrumentalism, the ethics of deception (what is a secret identity but a lie, after all?), and the responsibility of power.

This is NOT Marion's character Astra, but as close as I could find to how she MIGHT look.

All this may sound very heavy, but Wearing the Cape is, for the most part, light and optimistic. Hope Corrigan, the plucky Main Character and a neophyte superhero, is no tortured Rorschach or fanatical V.

True, she isn’t sure she wants to be a superhero, and she’s less sure she has the chops for it, but duty calls. Putting on a cape and mask, she leaves her normal life for the world of celebrity superheroes, and what a world it is, with publicity agents, media licensing, designer costumes, and heroes who are very, very human.

Which brings me to my own adventure in self-publishing.

I really, really thought I was finished.

With a 110,000 word manuscript in hand, last year I sent out close to 100 query letters to literary agencies and publishing houses. A handful responded with requests for the first chapter or first 10 or 25 pages. And I never heard from them again.

The genre-defying nature of the story probably discouraged many agencies from giving it a look (Is it modern fantasy? Science Fiction? YA-Teen Adventure?), but I couldn’t ignore the deafening silence from those who’d asked to see my writing.

Desperate for an online substitute for a local reading group that could tell me what was wrong, I stumbled across youwriteon,  the site that allows you to submit the first 7,000 words of your story to the merciless opinions of strangers. I later discovered the Book Shed, a more selective and less formal site providing much the same service.

I put the first few chapters of Wearing the Cape up on Youwriteon.com in October 2010, and took a beating. By the time Mark reviewed it in January 2011 it had undergone so many changes it was Wearing the Cape (Revised). For one brief shining moment it went as high as Number 2, finishing in the Top Ten for three months, and is now a youwriteon bestseller.

Constructive criticism from the Book Shed has helped it further along, and it is as good as I can make it at my current level of craft. In my humble opinion, it’s Good Enough. Trimmed to 90,000 words, it’s certainly lighter.

But what now? The top-tier literary agencies and the publishing houses most likely to look at this kind of story had already rejected it. Re-querying was not likely to be a fruitful pursuit.

Fortunately for me, my acquaintance with Mark and the success story of Sugar and Spice suggested an alternative; after a great deal of thought and research I decided that, since I had burned my bridges in traditional publishing, self-publication was the only open road.

Am I publishing too soon? Who knows, but there have been two good omens.

The first is Mark himself; when a successful co-author reviews your writing and decides you are secretly a published writer testing new material under a pen-name, you can’t help but be cheered.

Second, a month after I’d made my decision and set a date, I got a very late response to one of my submissions. Having read a recent draft of the first 50 pages, she asked to see the whole manuscript. When I told her about my plans, she asked me to call her when I sold 20,000 copies.

So let’s see how high it flies.

——————

Can you imagine? How many query letters?! It just shows what an amateur Stephen King was. He only managed fifty!

This for me just reinforces everything I’ve said about the tick-box world of traditional publishing, and really stands on its head the argument that traditional publishers are the industry’s quality control.

In the fantasy world of agents and publishers superhero novels aren’t due to trend next year, so thanks but no thanks. Zombies? Yes please. Bring it on! Mindless C-List celebrities who need to have their stories ghost-written for them? Now that’s another matter altogether…

Ker-ching!

And it’s just so f*****g sad. Sad that great writers like Marion have had their hopes and dreams all but dashed not because they’re writing isnt good enough, but simply because it didn’t tick the right boxes at the right time.

As Cheryl Shireman said over at indieiq recently, “Many of our greatest writers were rejected multiple times before finally being published by a traditional publisher. How many other great writers gave up after the first handful of rejections?”

It’s a question that doesn’t bear answering, of course.

By the way, Cheryl’s book will have sold a thousand copies on Kindle by the time you read this. That’s a thousand sales she wouldn’t have had if she’d waited for the gatekeepers. And her sale figures are still rising.

Marion G. Harmon

Marion, of course, has all that to look forward to. And if he thought he was getting off lightly with that snippet of interview above, he had another think coming. I wanted to know more.

MW: What inspired you to write superhero fantasy?

Marion: Frustration. In “traditional” modern fantasy, elements of fairy tales and mythology are updated to our modern-day setting. So we have vampires, werewolves, ghosts, gods, wizards, witches, elves, fairies, etc.


Anyone thinking this is a shameless plug for our next book might just be right. But you've gotta admit it's a great pic!

And these are fun—but they’re not our myths; we use them because, in the modern, rational age we live in, we don’t have our own contemporary myths. Or at least our modern myths are small or “scientific” (the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Grays and Men in Black…).

Superheroes are the exception; they’re big, bold, and have lost nothing compared to their predecessors, the gods, demigods, heroes, saints, and sorcerers of the old stories. And they’re ours, creations of the 20th Century imagination. No translation necessary, no special pleading required.

I think the only reason we haven’t seen a full-blown superhero novel genre is the perception that superheroes belong in the comic books. Hopefully, Wearing the Cape will help to change that.

MW: What it’s like writing in words what is traditionally a graphic novel?

Marion: I actually found it very easy. Superhero comics have come a long way from the simple Hero vs. Villain template where most of the comic was one long fight-scene. Writers of superhero comics today are expected to create well-rounded characters, and are essentially “storyboarding” plots as complex and involved as anything in a novel.

And medium-crossing has been going on for years; novelizations of the big Marvel and DC titles (The X-Men, Superman, etc) are in wide distribution. So are graphic novel treatments of television series (Dr. Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer spring to mind) and successful sci-fi/fantasy novels and series (Game of Thrones, Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, The Wizard of Oz…).

MW: What it’s like writing with a teen female lead character?

Marion: For those who haven’t talked to Mark or seen my author profile (I’m a 45 year-old bachelor), what he’s really asking is “How did you manage to write a believable teenage girl? And why?”

To start with the why: it was an accident. I created Hope’s world first—that was what interested me the most. Then I needed a Main Character to experience it for the reader. My first attempted MC was Atlas. If there’s any author-insertion in WTC’s characters, he’s it, a professional and dedicated hero who is nonetheless more realistic than idealistic. The problem was he already knew too much and had experienced too much.

An older Hope/Astra was my second try. Making Atlas the world-wise mentor and letting Astra experience the superhero world for the first time, bringing the reader along for the ride, worked much better.

Then one of my closest friends and best readers said “This reads like a YA novel. Why don’t you make her a teenager, go for the YA-teen market?” So I’ll say it again; it was an accident. A happy accident, as it turns out—making Hope younger made her more vulnerable, brought in coming-of-age themes, and in general greatly strengthened the story.

As to “how,” I don’t know why Mark is so impressed. I honestly made no attempt to duplicate current Teen-Speak (Hope uses a few verbs I stole from Buffy and company, that’s it). I tried to write her as an intelligent but inexperienced young adult. I may have been helped by the fact that I have four younger sisters, who were all in or verging on their teens when I graduated from high school; I love them all dearly, but they’re the reason I left home at the earliest opportunity.

Mark: And what inspired Artemis – my fave character of all?

Marion: Not Astra? Really? Well, I suppose a writer of crime-thrillers would find Artemis more his speed.

A more traditonal Artemis than Marion's version.

Artemis filled the needed Dark Vigilante role (I wanted to show that in Hope’s world not all the superheroes worked within the law). In mythology Artemis was the goddess of the Moon and the hunt—the perfect name for a night-hunting female vigilante.

The whole vampire thing came straight from my vampire burnout; they’ve invaded every literary genre (fantasy, romance, mystery, science-fiction, etc), inspired the vampire-goth subculture, and generally been reduced from horrific monsters to stock heroes and villains.

Not that vampire stories can’t still be done and done well, but Done To Death is a label that definitely applies. So I decided to include a “vampire” character who is completely unsentimental about it, killed her sire, has no progeny, and despises every wannabe-vampire out there. No offense.

Not that vampire stories can’t still be done and done well.” Phew! Lucky Marion slipped in that last second disclaimer, given our autumn (fall) release is a vampire thriller. But needless to say it’s no run-of-the-mill vampire thriller, of course.

Marion, thanks for your time here today.

~

There are loads more questions I just had to ask Marion, of course, but most of my blog readers probably aren’t quite so obsessive as me. That said, for those who are interested, please find further below a couple more questions I threw out, with in-depth answers from Marion.

For the rest of you, thanks for making it so far.

This is a blog about writing and books. Both huge subjects that encompass much more than just novels and how we write them.

But lest we forget, the bottom line is about story-telling.

A book is just one way of presenting a story. Storytelling can range from poetry to epic saga, from oral to visual. A century or so ago Charles Dickens used to tour the States reading his novels out loud to packed (and I do mean packed!) theatres.

And some authors still do that. Well, not their entire novels – that’s what audio-books are for. But some writers still tour packed theatres reading out loud. Seriously!

And I’m delighted to say I have one such author joining me here at MWi this coming week. Given the vagaries of my technical support here let’s just say mid-week some time. But be sure not to miss a treat as Dan Holloway struts his stuff, with some video footage thrown in just to prove he’s not making it all up.

And next weekend be sure to watch out for Prue Batten, another writer who doesn’t let herself get bogged down with the idea that a novel is the only way to tell a great story. If you’re familiar with Prue’s works you’re in for a treat. If not, you’re in for a treat and a big surprise.

That’s Dan some time midweek, and Prue some time next weekend. Pointless me saying exactly when because the powers that be here have little regard for my timetable. Click on the RSS feed or subscribe by email to be sure not to miss out.

 ~

As above, there follows yet more discussion on comics. Indulge or not as the fancy takes you.

MW: Presumably you read any comic-books you could lay your hands on when you were younger. I certainly did (not always easy in the UK where supply was erratic). But there comes a point where we become more selective, narrow the choice, and perhaps “grow out of” some. Which comic-book superheroes have stood the test of time for you?

MH: Actually although they are always around, I wasn’t a huge superhero fan in the beginning. My first serious interest was the Star Wars comic series (I took crappy care of them, or they’d be worth big bucks today). My conversion moment came when I read the “Pheonix Must Die!” episode of The Uncanny X-Men as a teenager. It was practically Shakespearean, and it hooked me on the X-Men. My next comic of interest was the New Teen Titans, and today I will pick up and lose interest in titles depending on the current quality of the writers/artists and my interest in the storylines.

The truth is Your Milage Will Vary depending on who’s writing the series. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Avengers, they’ve become enduring legacies new writers will come to and make their own for awhile. Sometimes they’re rebuilt from the ground up (the entire Ultimate Marvel line is a complete reboot). Although I still keep up with the old names, my interest these days is in non-traditional storytelling. Tod Nauck, who took a turn with Spider Man and Young Justice, caught my attention with Wildguard, a mini-series about a reality-show superhero team. I also enjoy Powers, a comic series about “normal” police officers in a superhero world–its take on superheroes is fascinating, although it’s sometimes too dark for my tastes.

MW: Outside of the USA, comics are still regarded as an inferior art-form by many. The blockbuster films do well in the UK and Europe, but your average Briton would struggle to name a superhero that hadn’t been in a Hollywood film. In the UK still, comics are first and foremost fun-reading for pre-teen children. In the US comics are the staple of university students. With so much of our culture homogenised and pasteurised, how has this dichotomy come about?

MH: Oscar Wilde wrote, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, the language.” Like so many truisms, this isn’t true. To be honest, I have no idea why comics as an adult entertainment medium didn’t jump the pond when comics grew up here, which they did in the 70’s and 80’s. Before then they’d been pre-teen and young teen fair over here as they still are in the UK. Possibly its because they were never as big a part of childhood in the UK as they were in America, which meant a smaller adult market.

MW: Same question: Japan is perhaps the exception, but their direction is very different again, with juvenile super-heroes on the one hand, and on the other scantily-clad schoolgirl imagery aimed at a rather unsavoury readership. That’s probably a stereotype too far, and no question Manga has revived interest in graphic novels in Europe, but for better or worse?

MH: If anything, the Japanese have a stronger comic-book tradition than anybody. Partly this is because of the complexity of their alphabet; full literacy, mastery of several thousand characters, takes years, so illustrated stories are easier to read. They have their own obsessive sub-culture (Otaku), but Manga is as mainstream as regular novels.  Because of this, Manga covers every storytelling genre imaginable; they have action-adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, superhero (sort of), real life, relationship, romance, and yes, an incredible array of highly imaginative (perverted) pornography. Sadly, it’s the last category that is most widely publicized. For better or worse? I’m hardly impartial there, but I think comics can actually be an aid to literacy, a window into printed literature, much in the same was that the Harry Potter books inspired a new generation of readers.

Marion G. Harmon, thank you for your time and insights.

In the immortal words of Stan Lee: Nuff said.

How long is too long? When is the “right time” to self-publish?

Okay, I have to be honest. I’ve been struggling all week to figure out an angle to do a shameless plug for the launch of our US Edition of Sugar & Spice without it looking like a shameless plug.

Then out of the blue came three successive blog posts by a fellow author that made me realise that the plug could wait until tomorrow.

This was far more interesting. So ignore that image above. It has no place here.

Instead, say hello to Anne R. Allen.

Among Anne’s most recent offerings is a post titled “12 signs your novel isn’t ready to publish”, which follows hard on the heels of “3 questions to ask before you jump on the indie publishing bandwagon.”

As Anne says, “Trusted voices in the publishing industry, who not long ago warned against self-publishing, are now singing its praises.

Self-publishing is no longer equated with vanity publishing, and we all know the success stories of writers like Amanda Hocking, who have spear-headed the “indie” e-publishing revolution, and rightly earned their place in publishing history.

But as Anne thoughtfully reminds us, it is a bandwagon.

And, tempting as it may be to rush in now with your recipe book, great great grandfather’s memoirs, or the blockbuster manuscript you’ve been secretly working on this past three decades and lay them before an adoring public, maybe it is better to take a step back and take a reality check. Hence the “12 signs your novel…”

Anne had in mind the case of the author on Amazon who recently responded badly to what appeared to be legitimate criticism, and was savaged all the more for her troubles. I certainly won’t embarrass the author further by identifying her or her book. I’m sure we all know the story by now. A sad episode for all parties concerned, as best summed up Nathan Bransford in his blog Virtual Witch-Hunt.

I have to say I was heartened to learn (again through Anne’s blog) that the author’s sales actually picked up as a consequence. Which is kind of nice. Hopefully that writer has learned her lesson and will go on to greater things. As for those who jumped on that particular bandwagon of name calling and finger pointing… The less said the better.

But underlying Anne’s blog piece was the question of how do we, as writers, know when we are ready? Or when our work is ready?

At what point do we stop seeking approval of the almighty gatekeepers and just go for it?

“How long is too long?”

~

Now obviously we’ve been exceptionally lucky with Sugar & Spice.

When we finished the script last year the idea of e-publishing hadn’t been given much thought. The Kindle hadn’t really caught on here in the UK, and anyway we were writers.

We believed a book wasn’t a book until it was on the plinth in the bookstore on the High Street. Or at least gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. But it had to involve real ink, and paper. After all, this new “e-publishing” malarkey was just a modern form of vanity-publishing, wasn’t it?

Of course we’d heard of Amanda Hocking and the other up-starts making waves across the pond, but no-one in the UK read e-books, surely?

So we began the long, hard slog of playing find-an-agent.

Now it’s one of the ironies of the agent-hunting business that, the longer they take to respond, the more likely it is they are actually interested.

If your proposal comes back by return post, or even worse, the same day as an email, you’ve either submitted your work to an agent who doesn’t touch your genre, or your work was bad enough to need just a single glance and be allocated a rejection slip.

Agents are running businesses. Time is money. They don’t have time to waste trying to find the one good bit in your mess of a manuscript. And they most certainly don’t want your pointless proposal cluttering up their desk any longer than necessary.

So if you’ve been waiting for an eternity for a response, take heart. They like your work enough to at least seriously consider it.

But as we’ve seen with Tom, Mark and Gerry (previous blogs), even if you get the agency contract, that’s only half the battle. You then go through the whole thing again to get an actual publisher.

Which brings us back to the key question: “How long is too long?”

And perhaps more importantly, are you missing out on the opportunity of a life-time by chasing the paper dream?

~

We elected for the dual approach.

With the Kindle Christmas bonanza approaching we decided to e-publish through Amazon and continue to submit to agents simultaneously. We hoped maybe we’d pick up a few e-sales along the way and get some feedback, and meanwhile keep our fingers crossed for an agent.

In fact we’d left it too late and we totally missed the festive e-sales bonanza. Come Christmas morning when everyone was gleefully buying their first ever e-book downloads, Sugar & Spice was just another obscure e-book in the Amazon jungle and no-one knew it existed. And so it stayed in January. What did it take to get noticed on Amazon’s Kindle?

Fast forward three months…

Agency rejections have come in slowly. Slowly being the sign we weren’t being rejected out of hand, at least. But our novel is not an easy-sell. One leading agent told us it was well written and she had agonized over it, but the subject matter (inside the mind of a paedophile killer) was “the last taboo” in crime writing.

And of course the paper publishing industry anyway works on a different time-scale from the real world.

The manuscript has been with the latest prospective agent now for two months. Yes, they are definitely interested, but that’s as far as we’ve got.

The e-book?

Well, regular readers will know the situation and just have to forgive me mentioning for new visitors that Sugar & Spice is, as I write, the #1 best selling thriller on Kindle UK and #3 in the main Kindle UK chart, selling some 20,000 books a month.

And that’s JUST through Amazon. We haven’t even begun to explore other options properly yet.

But the reason for citing those figures is to make a very real point.

Leaving aside the obvious delight at having got so far on our own, and leaving aside the short-term financial boost this brings, what we have now as writers is something far more important.

Let’s return here to the third of Anne’s blogs, titled “What if somebody steals your plot?”

Anne begins by addressing the amusing habit new writers have of fearing their agent / publisher / best friend’s mother-in-law will steal their plot and make a million.

As Anne says, new writers “can embarrass themselves with plot-theft paranoia. That’s why you never want to mention copyright in a query letter. It red-flags you as an amateur.”

Wise advice indeed. But it was Anne’s follow-up comment that really struck a chord with me. Anne mentions how she and other authors are often approached by non-writers convinced they have this great idea for a book and just need someone to put it into words for them.

“I don’t want to be mean,” Anne says with majestic diplomacy, “but they (non-writers) need to understand that most writers have plenty of story ideas of our own. Our biggest fear is not living long enough to write them all.”

How true is that?!

Even before I teamed up with Saffi my projects folder was a heaving mass of ideas across all genres, fiction and non-fiction. Now, between us, just the short synopses of what we’d like to write next would make a full length book.

What of it?

Well, had we not gone the self-publishing route, and instead were still patiently hoping for the gatekeepers’ seal of approval, we would at best have been working half-heartedly at book number two, wondering what we were doing wrong.

And of course if an offer had materialised we would have just signed on the dotted line, glad to be “accepted” by the gatekeepers, and agreeing to whatever they suggested.

Which sure as hell wouldn’t be daring to experiment with a US edition of Sugar & Spice, or working on completely different genres. In fact ninety per cent of our projects would have been vetoed from the start just because they didn’t tick the right boxes for the gatekeepers.

Knowing now that we don’t “need” an agent or publisher to reach an audience has given us the confidence to press ahead with our many other projects. We hope to have several more books on Amazon by the end of the year, across several genres (the first of the Rose Red crime thriller series and the first of the Equilibrium dark fantasy trilogy to name but a few), and have plans for a dozen more over the next three years. (Two writers together can easily more than double the output of one!)

We’re far from ready to give up the day jobs, of course. And yes, we could drop out of the charts tomorrow and plummet into oblivion. Our next books may flop completely. We are always realistic.

But having the confidence to seriously get on with the next projects, knowing we can publish when we are ready and not have to rely on the gatekeepers’ approval… Having the freedom to write what we want to write next, not what the gatekeepers think will trend in two years time… And above all being able to control the timing, the marketing and the pricing (of course we would never be selling 20,000 a month at book-shop prices) is worth its weight in gold.

And it does raise the awkward question, what will we do if an agent / publisher does finally come up with an offer?

Watch this space…

Becoming a Rhino – Gerry McCullough’s Story

When an attachment about a rhino first arrived in my in-box it had had me flummoxed.

Plenty of hippos in this part of West Africa, but rhinos are in short supply. Was this a safari enquiry? Or maybe a recipe suggestion?

In fact it was from Gerry McCullough, author of Belfast Girls.

Rhinos? That will become clear as we go.

I’d asked Gerry to share with us her path to publication. Had she discovered the magic formula to instant success?

Sadly, no. It’s another forlorn tale of hope and disappointment, of  dreams and reality, and of rejection and redemption. But yeah, mostly rejection.

Rejection underpins the lives of amost all authors, no matter how successful they are now. And in a weird kind of way, we as wannabe writers thrive on other peoples’ rejection stories.

They give us the will to live when we begin to doubt ourselves, as yet another beautifully crafted rejection slip arrives in the post or our email in-box.

We love to remind ourselves how the venerable JK’s first Harry Potter manuscript was dismissed by the gatekeepers time after time, including the biggest names in British publishing, and then given a tiny print run and was almost never heard of again.

We love to hear how John Grisham got up an hour early every day to write his first novel, only to have it rejected by twelve publishers and fifteen agents who thought they knew best.

Which of course they must do, right?

Agents and publishers are the gatekeepers, after all. Or so some seem to think.

Jenny Bent is a New York based literary agent who thankfully doesn’t see things that way, but readily admits she’s pretty much on her own. This from her latest blog:

“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”

I’ll be coming back to the issue of agents and publishers as gate-keepers in a near-future blog. But for now, before we move on to Gerry McCullough properly, sit back and enjoy a few more examples of the gate-keepers showing their “certain kind of literary taste or standard,” as Jenny so elegantly puts it.

Let us be forever thankful for the gatekeeper who spotted the mindless drivel some up-start wannabe writer tried to palm off on a professional publisher. Wisely he passed on The Spy Who Came In From The Cold to a rival with the comment, “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” So said another gatekeeper publisher as he saved us from the banal witterings of this new guy, Stephen King.

William Golding’s Lord Of the Flies managed to upset an impressive twenty publishers. One noted thoughtfully, “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” With those words a young Rudyard was sent packing by those who know best.

“It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA,” said a publisher who slightly misunderstood the point of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Another talentless wannabe, Margaret Mitchell, managed to rack up no less than 38 rejections for her ludicrous attempt at a manuscipt before some two-bit publishing outfit got fed up with her pestering them and gave it a small print run. Then some idiot went and made a film about it.

They both flopped, of course. I mean, whoever heard of Gone With The Wind?

But apart from being writers, what do all the above have in common with Gerry McCullough?

Answer: They never gave up.

Here’s Gerry’s story:

I’ve been writing since childhood, with the encouragement of my primary school teachers, but it was when I was in my teens that I started sending things off to publishers/ magazines, and piling up the rejections.

PG Wodehouse once said that he had enough rejections to paper the walls of his study. By the time I had a study, I had enough rejections to paper all four walls and the downstairs loo as well.

My dream was to be a great writer on the lines of Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, acknowledged as a good writer by the literary critics but also a bestseller popular with the reader-in-the-street.

I had no idea how impossible that is in today’s publishing world.

Ten years ago, I had my first acceptance, a short story for a popular Irish weekly magazine. I was flying. This was it – no more refusals, now!

Well, no. The same magazine seemed happy to accept anything else I sent them but not many others were. The rejections kept coming.

A few years later I won the Cuirt Award for New International Writing for a more literary short story.  This is a prestigious Irish award from Galway Arts Festival. Again, I saw this as a real breakthrough – but it wasn’t.

Did I see myself as a short story writer?  No. I’ve written lots of short stories and had quite a few published but meanwhile I’ve also written at least six novels, the first completed and unsuccessfully submitted to publishers in my mid-to-late teens.

I badly wanted to have a novel published.

Another breakthrough – I thought – was when a local agent accepted me and started to push my book, Dangerous Games.

This was the story of three girls growing up in Belfast. Originally set during the Troubles, it had been re-written for the modern post-conflict era of drugs and money. Sound familiar? Yes, with a change of title it became Belfast Girls.

After a year of unsuccessful submissions, my agent suggested that I put it up on authonomy.com, the HarperCollins online slush pile, and I did.

The rest is history – the history of a hard slog.

I worked to make my book visible, reading other books and commenting on them in the hope that their authors would be polite enough to at least look at mine in return. Mostly they were. I think if the book had been rubbish they wouldn’t have gone further.

But in fact by April last year, at the end of five months, I had reached the top five, earning my book a review by an HC reader and the possibility of a publishing contract. I held on to my Top Five place until the end of April and then waited another six weeks for the review.

I had convinced myself by now that a contract offer would follow.

Alas, although the reader said some very flattering things about the book, no publishing deal emerged. It was a bitter disappointment.

Rejections still pierce.

I haven’t yet developed the hide of a rhino, which my friend Sam Millar, the crime writer, says all authors need.

HC wanted me to turn my book into either a romance or a thriller, and I wasn’t up for that. Belfast Girls is about life – which means romance, thriller, comedy and much more.

I’m delighted to say that the exposure of being on Authonomy won my book the interest of quite a few smaller publishers. 

Of these, Night Publishing was happy to take it as it was, without trying to push it into a genre. They offered me a contract on 1 July (a fortnight after the HC review) and a few weeks later I decided to go for it.

By the end of November, the book was for sale on Amazon.com as a paperback and on both Kindles, etc, in eBook format.

Then came the really hard work.


Lots of articles are written about how to sell your book online and you’ll be glad to hear this isn’t yet another one.

At first I tried to sell my paperbacks. About a month ago, I realised that the major sales were coming from the eBooks, and started to concentrate on that.

I’d had quite a few interviews on blogs, which was nice – but I’m not sure how many books it sold.

I’d been on local radio, with a wide audience, three times, with the prospect of more, and I’d had a number of good reviews in local newspapers and magazines. Writer Garbhan Downey compared me to Andre Malraux, and said my book was about the human condition, which pleased me a lot, because that was the intention.

I was getting the literary appreciation I’d hoped for. But what about the bestseller status?

Did I need to change, to label my book ‘Romance’? Change the title and cover and description? I thought about it.

Meanwhile, my husband had set me up on Facebook with a Fan page, and I began to make use of this.

Suddenly I saw the book begin to climb the bestseller lists on Kindle UK.

I didn’t, like Byron, wake up one morning to find myself famous. But I did wake up one morning to find myself well up the Women’s Literary Fiction list, at No.32. Last Sunday I came home to see that I had reached No.13. I was also halfway up the Literary Fiction and the Contemporary Romance lists.

Since then it’s been continual movement.  I hope I’ve at last reached the tipping point, where the book will continue to sell without the amount of work on publicity I’ve had to give it until now.

Belfast Girls is on just about every Amazon site worldwide and although it’s early days yet to say how it’s doing, there’s been quite a bit of interest.

One customer from South Africa has been glowingly enthusiastic, and hopefully there’ll be lots more from these other countries. So far all my reviews have been good. With increased sales I expect a few bad ones will arrive. Then I’ll find out how thick a hide I’ve grown. Not very thick yet, I suspect.


But the main market is Kindle. I’d hoped to see piles of my books in bookshops, and that isn’t likely to happen currently.

But the Kindle sales are a delight and more than make up for it. Perhaps I’ll get to the top of the bestseller list sometime soon.  That’ll be the time for running through the streets shouting, ‘Hallelujah!’

But if not – well, I can only say that I’m very happy – over the moon, in fact! – to see Belfast Girls doing as well as it has.

Thanks for that, Gerry. Let’s hope your book soars up the Kindle charts and begins to develop sales elsewhere.

For anyone interested, Belfast Girls can be bought on amazon.com here, and amazon.co.uk here.

BTW, and for the record, should anyone have spotted that Night Publishing is behind both Gerry’s book and Tom Winton’s Beyond Nostalgia, featured here a week or two back, just to stress that that is purely coincidental. Neither Saffi nor I are connected in any way with Night Publishing.

My acquaintance with both authors came through their presence on the peer review sites youwriteon and authonomy.

Which is perhaps a pertinent note to end on.

For all their faults, both sites remain excellent places to “meet” and sample new and up-and-coming writing talent.

Both sites deserve our continued support and encouragement whether, like us, we are just taking our first tentative steps on the self-publishing ladder, or even if one of us hits the jackpot and get a deal that would make even JK envious.

However successful the mega-star writers are now, they all started out as wannabes, just like us.

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