Accepting a book contract is much like saying “Yes!” to a marriage proposal.
The moment of commitment is overwhelming. You want to explode, to shout your news to the world. So you do. You tell anyone and everyone, infecting them with your giddiness.
And just like an engagement, the big announcement evokes big questions: When is the wedding (release) day? Do you have a dress (cover)? What are your honeymoon (book tour/promotion) plans?
Self-publishing is akin to elopement or a small, quick wedding. Plans are entirely in your control and either the release itself is over and done with by the time it’s made public, or the book is published soon after the announcement.
No waiting. Answers to all questions are readily available.
I want so badly to answer those questions, to know exactly when the first book will be released, what the cover will look like, where I can do book signings and book discussions. But I can’t. This is the first lull, the time when committed couples meticulously compare calendars, settle on the size of the wedding and look for venues that will work for all.
The first of the novels, A DEAD MAN’S EYES, awaits that kind of meticulous overview. It sits in the Black Opal queue, waiting for an editor to review it for any major plot problems, inadequate research or facts that are incorrect. About four to six months later (in June, July or August), the manuscript will emerge and the editor will likely request some changes.
My hope is that I will be thrilled with the editor’s suggestions, that I will quickly and effortlessly revise the manuscript and we will move on to the next stage of planning. But it is possible that, like couples planning a wedding, there will be a little back and forth before we settle on these big and important details.
Next comes the nitty gritty.
This is the final round of edits, when someone will comb though my manuscript, studying every chapter, paragraph and sentence for errors. If this were a wedding, Black Opal and I would spend this time carefully sampling the food of recommended caterers, reviewing photographers’ portfolios and listening to the music of various bands. The goal is perfection, a book that creates lasting memories, that moves people to recommend it to others, and makes them clamor for more.
But this isn’t a wedding. I made my selections when I wrote the book. Now I will have to wait another six months (until December, January or February) until the second-round editor has a chance to scrutinize my every choice, look for mistakes and give me feedback. It is not something I want to rush. This book has my name on it. I want to publish the best book possible.
Once that second round of edits ends, the process will pick up speed.
Black Opal will give me a release date and I will have a cover to reveal. I will suddenly find myself in a hurricane of preparations. I expect to hound friends and family for space on their basement floors where I can blow up an air bed and crash for a night in order to do promote my book in every city, village and hamlet I can manage. I will seek out bloggers for reviews. I will send out press releases to news outlets in every place I have where I have even the most remote connection.
While all that is happening, the second book in the mystery/suspense series, NEVER BROKEN, will enter its second round of edits in preparation for release five months later. NO STRANGER HERE, a stand-alone thriller, will likely be published five months after the second novel.
So what do I do now? Twiddle my thumbs? Not a chance. The key to getting through this period with my sanity is keeping busy. I recently completed a second thriller and I have started writing book three in the mystery/suspense series. My goal is to have the third book in the series ready when the second one comes out.
Between writing, teaching and my family, I am hoping the time will fly. So, please, toast with me to a happy, healthy and long-lasting relationship with my publisher, Black Opal Books.
I entered my first marathon as a favor for a friend. He wanted to surprise his girlfriend by running one with her, but he needed a training partner.
I was fueled by ignorance.
I didn’t train enough. I wore shoes made for running 5Ks. I knew nothing of protecting myself from chaffing and other long-distance injuries. My legs were leaden pegs when I crossed the finish. My toes bled through my sneakers (I eventually lost nine toenails.). I was so sore in the days after that even driving was difficult.
Still, I finished the 26.2-mile route in less than four hours, pretty respectable for a first-timer.
I wrote my first novel the same way. I knew nothing of novel writing. I had too many primary characters in the first draft. The pace in the first half differed from the pace of the second half. I edited as I wrote, which slowed me down. It took me six years to write my first novel, and I spent another two years revising it.
Still, it was a semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, respectable for a first novel. It remains my favorite and it has been the favorite of two literary agents. I have shelved it for another look at a better time in my career.
I credit ignorance for my success in completing that first novel, the same kind of ignorance that carried me through my first marathon. I believed all through the writing process that novel would sell, and I became more firm in that belief when I signed with my first agent. I even told the kids we would celebrate its sale by buying a Wii.
A year later, my husband and I caved and bought them a Wii anyway.
For first-timers, the novel-writing process can seem daunting and the goal, unachievable. The greatest obstacle is self-doubt and the greatest feat is pushing through that doubt to cross the finish line. So why not allow them that ignorance? Why clue newbies in on the perceived impossibilities?
Let them write. Let them make mistakes without knowing they are mistakes. Let them cross the finish line just once with pure joy, unaware of the bleeding toes, chaffed skin and torn muscles they acquired along the way.
I had started my next novel before I knew the first one wasn’t going to sell immediately, and that was a good thing. I had learned from my mistakes and inefficiencies. The next novel took two years to finish and that is a pace I feel comfortable with at this stage in my life, with young children to raise and elderly parents who need me.
I recently signed a contract with Black Opal Books for that second novel, a thriller entitled No Stranger Here, and for the two novels I wrote next, which are part of a mystery/suspense series. I am happy with my work and thrilled by the contract, but I’m not sure I would have made it to this point without the gift of ignorance that first time around.
I ran five more marathons after the first one. I trained smarter and ran faster for the second two. For the last two, I focused only on finishing injury-free, relying on my previous experiences as a guide. I ran a few minutes slower than my first marathon, but I finished without lasting pain and was able to hit the roads and the track again two days later.
I loved it.
I stopped running marathons when I started my first novel. The two decisions were unrelated, influenced by other factors in my life, but I am not sure I would have succeeded in one without the experience of the other. Marathon training prepared me for novel writing, but it was ignorance that got me hooked on both.
I have waited a long time to say this, and here it goes:
I have signed a contract with a publisher, a three-book contract with Black Opal Books.
I am beyond thrilled.
I am beyond giddy.
I am sore from jumping up and down, but I still hop whenever I think about it
I have no release dates yet. The editing process takes a while — anywhere from six to eighteen months — but my thriller, No Stranger Here, and the first two books of my mystery/suspense series, Dead Man’s Eyes and Never Broken, will finally make their ways into readers’ hands.
I first heard about Black Opal Books in May during a Pennwriters conference, where I met a couple of authors who had signed with the Oregon-based company. It is important to be cautious with small publishers. I’ve heard stories about contracts and rights lost when small publishers folded, but Black Opal Books has been around for a while. They are also approved by Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers, two high-profile groups that advocate for crime writers.
Even more important though was that the authors I met were happy. Black Opal Books was founded by people in the publishing industry who wanted to do more for authors. They wanted to publish high-quality, well-edited works while offering a percentage of royalties that surpasses the big publishing houses.
I looked into submitting when I returned, but the publisher was closed to submissions until June.
The summer got busy with a family reunion and the high school graduation of our oldest. In the midst of it all, I forgot about submitting to Black Opal Books, focusing instead on writing a new novel. Then I got an email from Pennwriters. I had won first and second places in the organization’s 2017 Novel Beginnings Contest. Pennwriters wanted updates from past contest winners for its newsletter. I remember my conversations about Black Opal Books.
This was in November. Black Opal Books was open for submissions until Dec. 31.
So I did it, and I am glad that I did.
I will post more about the release dates when I know more.
A friend once confided in me that he was nearly finished with his first novel, but that he was keeping it secret from his co-workers. He planned to quit when the novel sold and earn a living as an author.
He was young, optimistic and enthusiastic.
I didn’t want to crush his dreams, so I said nothing.
We all believe we will defy the odds, and maybe we will. Maybe my friend’s novel will earn a huge advance, the movie rights will sell immediately and the never-ending sales of licensed t-shirts, trinkets and video games will keep his coffers full. Then, maybe the second novel will take off, too.
But a new survey from the Authors Guild, the largest of its kind, suggests otherwise. The Authors Guild, in cooperation with 14 other author organizations, collected surveys from 5,067 published authors who are U.S. residents about their 2017 earnings, and the picture it paints is rather grim.
The median incomes of all published authors (This includes part-time, full-time, traditionally published, self-published, and hybrid-published authors) was $6,080, and that’s not just royalties. That figure includes money earned from freelance writing, speaking engagements, teaching — anything writing-related.
From books alone, authors earned a median income of $3,100.
But those figures include everyone.
Here is a more specific breakdown:
Median income for full-time authors for all writing-related activities: $20,300.
Median book-related income for self-published authors: $1,951. (That climbs to $10,050 for self-published romance and romantic suspense writers.)
Median book-related income for traditional authors: $12,400.
These figures do not include the 25 percent of all published authors and 18 percent of full-time authors who earned no royalties on their books in 2017. Yes, that happens. Books often take a long time to write. In a year without new publication, it is possible to earn nothing at all.
It’s not all bad news though. The highest paid authors in 2017 still did well:
Traditionally published: $305,000.
But that is for just one year. It is possible to get a large advance from a publisher for a book, and then never make anything more. A writer’s income is rarely consistent, which is another reason so many writers need day jobs.
Does that mean my friend should give up his dream? Absolutely not. Most of us write because we have a passion for writing. It’s in our blood. If we can make money doing what we love, even if we still need to hold onto our day jobs, why shouldn’t we?
We can also work together to improve the situation for each other. We can share ideas on marketing and promoting books. We can join organizations like the Authors Guild, which advocates for writers by keeping them informed and providing access to free and discounted services. We can promote the love of reading and writing in our communities.
Maybe I should have warned my friend about the financial status of the industry, awakened him to the reality, but I was selfish. I wanted him to enjoy the ignorance a little longer. I learned these things piecemeal, beginning in my college days, and each time a bit of industry news got me down, something else pulled me back up — a published short story, a friend’s success story, a contract offer from a publisher 17 years after starting my first book. (Yes!)
I want that for him.
A career as an author does not make financial sense, but a trip to a local book store is evidence that writing is about more than the money. All those authors. All those books. They happened anyway. He will find out soon enough, or maybe he already has, but I still expect to see his name on those shelves someday alongside my own.
Update: More patience is required. I’m told one more week!
We all handle rejection differently.
Some laugh. Some cry. Some get mad, allowing jealousy to devour their ambitions.
My own practice has been to remind myself that the timing could be much better, that it’s okay, and maybe even beneficial, to wait a little longer.
I began working on my first novel when our oldest was a toddler and our daughter was an infant. That was sixteen years ago. Since then, we have grown as a family with the addition of twins, who are twelve. I completed four novels between cross-country moves and part-time gigs as an adjunct instructor, a book editor, a freelancer and a taxonomy specialist, and I started two more. I self-published a nonfiction book as well.
I went through two literary agents and a couple of “almosts” from acquisition editors during that time. It was disappointing. No doubt. But I knew that publication in the early years of parenthood would leave me torn between my passion for my kids and my passion for my work.
My kids will always need me, but their needs were more physically intense in the earlier years. With each rejection, I told myself there would always be time to become a successful author, but that the window for successful parenting was limited. That was my consolation.
It was okay, I said. I could wait.
But the kids are older now.
I am ready and so are they.
I have exciting news to share, but I need to be patient just a little bit longer.
You know that last post? The one about the Christmas dream? I should have been more clear. I meant the Christmas of 2015, but I’m not picky. Christmas of 2016 will do. In fact, I would prefer it. So much has changed since I last wrote: I took a part-time paying job to help meet mortgage payments on our old house until it sold. (Yep. I am now a taxonomy specialist. Ever hear of that? Neither had I, but it’s kind of cool.) My mother-in-law broke her hip and came to live with us. (She calls herself my fifth child, but don’t let her fool you. She’s 88, but she’s already back in the commander’s seat, itching to permanently move back home.) My agent and I agreed to switch submissions strategies after only a handful of publishers, shelving the thriller for a bit while we push the rewritten mystery/suspense series. (Working on book three of the series now!) So my time has not been my own and the timing for my debut into the publishing world would not have been great. At least, that’s how I rationalize the situation to quell by my impatience. Distraction is key, so I plan to hunker down for the upcoming months and devote any free time to my work-in-progress. But I hope you’ll forgive me if I steal a few moments to toss pennies into fountains with my eyes closed, cross my fingers and write a few letters to Santa. Christmas of 2016 is only 100 days away. Anyone know of a stocking appropriate for a book contract?
Oh, the ecstasy! The emotions are etched in my memory like a high-contrast, high-definition photograph. I actually screeched that day six years ago when my then-agent emailed a list of editors at various publishing houses who received my manuscript for consideration. It would all fall into place from there. I just knew it. My novel would be on the shelves within a year. The next novel would result in a bidding war. Everyone would be reading my stuff. Yup, that’s what happened. Not! What a contrast from today. Today, marks my third submission day (My fourth if I count rewritten and resubmitted work.) and the emotional picture is far less jarring than it was six years ago. It’s more like soft-touch through a sepia filter. I feel no euphoria. Only a pleasant buzz. And I like it that way. The first time around, rejection was devastating. I had jumped so high that I had a long, long way to fall and the landing hurt — a lot. My then-agent was new to the business and had set his own expectations just as high. We had buried several truths in our ignorance: – The manuscript was not ready. – My agent did not have the necessary connections. (He now represents only nonfiction.) – Debut authors are a hard sell. You know that saying, that ignorance is bliss? It’s not. Ignorance, in this business, often invites disillusionment. Disillusionment takes weary, broken writers by the shoulders, spins them around and encourages them to walk away from that which has hurt them. They leave their dreams behind because they don’t want to experience that kind of severe impact again. That could have been me, but one thing kept me from surrendering to disillusionment’s power: my journalism experience. When the first novel failed to sell, I started researching the business of publishing while writing another novel. I connected with established authors and aspiring writers like me. I asked questions. Lots of them. I needed realism and I found it. I met authors who had written multiple novels before they celebrated publication. I became friends with a writer who sold her first novels in mere days, not only because she is that good, but also because she is smart and savvy. She had spent as many years researching the markets and the players as she had writing. I also met writers who had simply gotten lucky. I opened my eyes and saw the mistake I’d made in signing with an agent who had no experience beyond his previous job working for a publisher. He knew a great deal about the after-market end of the business, but not enough about selling to publishers. I left my agent with two completed novels in hand and started all over. I had just started a third novel when I connected with my current agent, Liz Trupin-Pulli, a woman who has been in the business longer than I can ever hope to be. Liz is calm, but enthusiastic. She is practical, but ambitious. She’s connected, but in ways that run deep. Her contacts are more than business associates. Like her clients, most are friends. And she’s worn off on me. I hope this novel sells, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t dream of it. But I won’t let those dreams overwhelm or distract me. I refused to pour all of my being into the fate of this one novel. If it sells, I’ll be screaming from the roof tops, but I’ll wait until that happens to climb up there. For now, I’ll just sit on my porch, where the ground is only a few feet below me, and focus on the next novel like the one under submission doesn’t exist. I know I’ll lose my balance if this novel doesn’t sell. I’m only human, after all. But the landing won’t hurt so much and my recovery time will be minimal. And I’ll climb right back up the stairs to the porch and start writing again.
The guy in the black clothing sneaks up behind his victim, slips his large hands around her throat and squeezes. She desperately reaches for her throat, weakens and drops dead. The teenager is dead on the pavement, blood gushing from the hole in his chest. A masked man walks into a convenience store, whips our a nine-millimeter handgun and shoots the woman who tries to stop him, blowing her head off. I cringe. I don’t want to read these novels anymore. I don’t stop because the scenes are frightening, shocking or gross. I can handle that. I stop because I have lost my suspension of disbelief. The death scenes are impossible. Inaccurate. Unreal. It takes about five minutes to die from asphyxiation and it’s a messy death, with the victim in panic mode, fighting with huge doses of previously unknown adrenaline for his or her life. Hearts stop beating when people die, so blood stops flowing. Nine-millimeter bullets might make small messes inside their targets, but not outside. They certainly don’t blow heads off. I don’t want to be that writer — the writer who loses readers who are familiar with guns, medicine or death. And it’s amazing how many people know that stuff. That’s why I appreciate people like D.P Lyle. I met D.P. Lyle in August at Killer Nashville, a conference for mystery writers in Nashville, Tennessee. I listened to him speak, chatted with him, bought two of his books and became a fan of his blog and podcast, Crime & Science Radio. Dr. Lyle is a cardiologist, a novelist, a writer of nonfiction and a medical consultant for authors. He has worked as a consultant for such television shows as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars. His expertise is a big part of the reason I attended Killer Nashville, to improve my knowledge of forensics. To get it right for my own peace of mind and for readers. Every mystery writer needs a D.P. Lyle. Who is yours?
When I first spoke with Mark Pryor, I was impressed.
In one phone call, I could tell he knew his stuff — the law, the streets, human nature. He even had a sense of humor. Throw in the fact that he is an English guy living in Texas, and he had all the ingredients for a great mystery writer … if he could write.
No doubt, he proved that with his debut mystery, The Bookseller: the First Hugo Martson Novel, already climbing the best-seller lists and recommended by Oprah.
Hugo is an intriguing character, an ex-FBI profiler working as head of security for the U.S. Embassy in Paris. He’s bored, debating what to do with his vacation time, when his friend Max, an elderly bookseller is abducted. Hugo watches, forced to stand helplessly by.
With no help from the Paris police, Hugo enlists his semiretired CIA buddy, Tom, to help him find Max as bookseller bodies begin surfacing in the Seine. Soon, Hugo becomes the target of unknown assassins himself, unsure whether former Nazis, who were hunted by Max, or drug lords fighting violently for control of Paris’ streets are behind the guns.
The novel is fast-paced and suspenseful with rich characters and the perfect setting.
I even learned something of Parisian history.
But Mark didn’t even pause to take a breath after its October release.
The second book in the Hugo Martson series, titled The Crypt Thief, will be released in May of 2013, and the third in October. Mark’s first non-fiction book, As She Lay Sleeping, will be published this coming January and is the true story of a ‘cold’ murder case he prosecuted last year.
With his freshness to the publishing scene, his early success and the experience he already is building in writing serial mystery, Mark seemed like the right guy to ask about the genre of serial mystery, the craft it demands and the choice to pursue it.
Thankfully, he agreed to answered a few questions.
First, just a little more about the author:
Mark is a former newspaper reporter from England, and now an assistant district attorney with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, in Austin, Texas. He is the creator of the nationally recognized, true-crime blog D.A. Confidential. He has appeared on CBS News’ 48 Hours and Discovery Channel’s Discovery ID: Cold Blood.
Now, here we go!
You write book-length fiction and nonfiction. Which was your first passion?
Mark: Fiction.My imagination has always pushed me to take a real life situation and say, “Yeah, but what if this happened next?And then this…?”I remember once in primary school in England, when I was six or seven.We had two notebooks to write in, one was foractual stuff we didand one for made up stories.My teacher once asked us to write in the “news” notebook about what we did over the weekend.So I wrote about the haystack I’d played on with my best friend, and how it had suddenly floated out to sea as we were being attacked by crocodiles. Now, I’m pretty sure that didn’t actually happen but what stuck with me the most was the fact that my teacher never said a word about it that I recall–perhaps she liked the story?!
Did you set out to write serial fiction?
Mark: Yes, I think I did.Or at least, create an enduring set of major characters.
If yes, why?
Mark: I’ve always wanted to have a character I could run with.Someone interesting who I could develop and plonk into different situations among different good guys and bad guys.I think back to my favorite books they were always the ones I could get to know and appreciate over time, starting with the Hardy Boys and moving on to Sherlock Holmes, to my modern-day favorites like Harry Bosch and Harry Hole.When you pick up a book with a familiar character it’s like sitting down for a chat with an old friend, and so that’s something I’d really like to be able to create.
When you sat down to write the second Hugo novel, which has yet to be released, how did that differ from writing the first one? Did any particular issues surprise you?
Mark: It differed in that I tried to plan it more carefully, to outline it.I created a notebook with ideas and characters, sketching out scenes and events. I did a lot before I sat down to write and guess what? I think it’s fair to say that zero percent of those people or events made it into the book!Turns out that as long as I know who does what to whom, and why, I can pretty much push the start button and get writing.Now, I did think more consciously about pacing, about making sure the reader bites and then (hopefully!) keeps enjoying.I suppose it might be fair to say it’s closer to a thriller than a mystery, although those distinctions have always eluded me to a large degree.Anyway, one thing I’m sure of, I won’t be outlining again!
In serial mystery, authors must consider the main character’s potential for growth and development. What kind of future do you see for Hugo? Which type of reader would be most intrigued by Hugo’s development?
Mark: I agree, that’s important.I always thought of Hugo as a little detached from those around him.He’s led an interesting life but a fairly testing one.He has built walls to protect himself and his own personality make him, as I say in The Bookseller, a watcher not a player. But like in a real friendship, I hope that over time these walls come down, that the reader gets glimpses into what makes him tick.I never wanted to create someone you felt you knew after the first few chapters, or even the first book.After all, if you want someone like that you can enjoy Tom Green who isn’t shy about laying it all out there from the get-go.
As for who will enjoy him?I think there’s a little something for everyone.He’s a man’s man to some degree, in the sense that he’s very practical and pragmatic about solving problems.He’s not particularly emotional or sentimental. . .and yet he has that softer side.He’s playful with Claudia, and has an old-fashioned charm that is sincere and makes him appealing to women.At least, I hope so!
How well do you know Hugo and the other characters who will likely return (I hope!), such as Tom? How well do you feel writers should know their characters in serial mystery before they get started? Should they map it all out, or discover as they go?
Mark: I think for the writer as well as the reader it’s a journey of discovery.Some things happen in the second book that I didn’t plan out but that developed because they seemed consistent with the actions and personalities of the characters.Sorry to be so vague, but I can’t very well spoil my own novel, can I?!
The bottom line is that all people grow and change over time, all relationships and friendships do.I can’t pretend to know what Hugo will be like two or three books from now because I don’t know what wonders and evils he will encounter.I like it that way, because if it’s a little unpredictable, if it’s a fun journey of discovery for me, then hopefully it is for the reader, too.
Hugo has quite an interesting resume – former FBI agent turned head of security for the U.S. Embassy in Paris. What inspired you to choose this career path for Hugo and what are its benefits for you as a writer?
Mark: I actually went to law school with the idea of becoming an FBI agent myself! True story.And I have known a couple of FBI agents and even profilers, through my personal life and my job as a prosecutor.And those guys have stories to tell, I can assure you, fascinating people.In some ways it’s a fairly obvious choice for a main character but on the other hand there aren’t really many repeat novel characters who have that job, are there?And yet it’s something, behavioral analysis, that just about everyone on the planet has some interest in.It also fits Hugo’s character as a ‘watcher,’ as I talked about before — it just wouldn’t be right to have him as a former Navy SEAL or retired ninja!
As for the US Embassy job, well, I needed him to be in an English-speaking environment, where he gets to carry a gun (I checked on that point), and can move around the city, the country, even Europe pretty easily.His job fills those criteria very nicely, and lets me put him in contact with visiting Americans (see book two) and dignitaries (see book three!) alike.
Why Paris? How important is setting in serial mystery?
Mark: Great question, in fact I just wrote a guest post on this topic for my local indie bookstore’s blog.And I hope it’s obvious from reading The Booksellerthat setting is very important to me.Paris has so much to offer, as a writer, a reader, and even an imaginary character.It’s such a walkable city that Hugo (or I) can stroll around and find adventure anywhere.It’s a beautiful city, no one would argue with that, and it is subject to the whim of the four seasons, which are always helpful in creating mood.(Maybe I’m not good enough to write a book set in Texas, where nine months of the year it’s nothing but hot!)
I also see history as a part of ‘setting,’ and that’s going to be a huge part of the Hugo Marston series.Obviously, the unique bouquinistes and France’s World War Two history feature in The Bookseller, but history and place continue in the next two books: the cemeteries in the next, and Napoleon and the Revolution in the third.
As much as I love Paris, and always will, I must confess to looking forward to having Hugo explore other places, though.Because, as mentioned, that means I get to as well!
Early in the novel, we learn of Hugo’s traumatic romantic history. He eventually begins a relationship in through which a more personal side of him is revealed. How important is the romantic plot to serial mystery? Should all serial mystery contain some element of romance or lust?
Mark: I wouldn’t dare to pronounce a rule for all mysteries!But it’s an interesting question because if one is to have a successful series there’s no question that the main characters must be fully rounded, or at least must be working towards being fully realized people.And if that’s true, then it seems to follow that the parts of their lives that matter will reflect the parts of our lives that matter.Romance, health, work, money, spiritual fulfillment, I suppose all these have to play a role in some way in a series.
Now, how those appear must be left to the author, of course.Some will focus on health as an area of conflict (drug and drink-addled detectives) and some may focus on work or money.But romance is an intriguing area because it lets a writer play with his hero’s softer side.Hugo’s a red-blooded Texan in that he’s not afraid of an adventure and he willingly chases bad guys down blind alleys, but he’s also a big softie in some ways.He’s old-fashioned and a little out of his depth with the savvy, confident modern woman.I don’t intend (I don’t think!) to linger on his romantic adventures or to make his pursuit of love any kind of significant sub plot.But as an attractive, single man with needs and desires, it does let me find conflict for him, and it allows me to show the reader another side of him, which is important to make him a fuller character.Plus, when they make it into a move and let me play Hugo, I might get to kiss Angelina Jolie. . .
What do you suppose has made your debut novel such a big success so soon? What elements does it offer readers that some of the less success serial mystery does not? Any sage advice for budding writers bade on your experience?
Mark: Now you’re being too sweet — I don’t know whether it counts as a success, though one can hope.But I’m always happy to give advice.I think the first thing is to make sure you know the nuts and bolts of writing, to make sure you learn the craft of it.Things like showing v. telling, using strong verbs instead of adverbs, going easy on the dialog tags.Learn those, and practice them until they are second nature.
The second piece of advice is to remember what you’re doing.I’ve been asked my opinion on sample chapters, or entire novels, and it seems to me that the writer is too aware they are writing a novel, they are trying very hard to be a writer.Sometimes it helps to step back and remember you’re not writing a novel, you’re telling a story.That may seem like a strange distinction but it does exist, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
The final piece of advice kicks in when you have the craft of writing under your belt (as much as anyone can) and you have a story down on paper.Don’t give up!Sadly, writing the book is sometimes the easy part.Finding an agent, and then a publisher, can be frustrating, dispiriting, exhausting.You’ll get more rejections that a spotty teenager who smells like Gruyere, but that’s the nature of the business.I’d tell you how many I received, from agents and publishers, but I lost count long ago.Be patient, persevere, because if you have a good story and it’s well told I really believe it will find a home.
Who is your favorite serial mystery author if you have one? Why?
Mark: Conan Doyle.Sherlock Holmes is such an icon, such a brilliant character, and the stories are so intricate and fun, that I doubt they will ever be replaced for me as the greatest series. I love the interplay between Holmes and Watson, too, and I’m sure that had a strong influence on my creation of Tom as Hugo’s friend.
I was excited last year when I dropped the kids off for the first day of school. I had recently terminated my contract with my agent and couldn’t wait to find out what the future would hold. It was a scary thing — going agent-free after two years, especially since my former agent is such a good guy — but I knew instantly I’d made the right decision. We were not a good match. Sometimes, that happens. I was careful when I started firing off queries to new agents. I didn’t want to go through that again. Some rejected me instantly. Others asked for full manuscripts and have yet to respond. Others read partials or fulls and decided against representation, or were interested in only one of my two completed novels. The latter were the agents I chose not to pursue. I want an agent who will stick with me throughout my career, regardless of what genre I write. I’d hate to shelve a novel simply because it’s not a particular agent’s “thing.” Then came the response from Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli of JET Literary. She’d found flaws in my mystery/suspense novel that no other reader had, and offered to reconsider after revisions. She opened my eyes to those logical errors and immediately inspired confidence. In her emails and on the phone, she struck me as sharp, honest, and experienced. But it was that confidence that impressed me most. She knew what both novels needed and she knew how to express that. She had plans. She offered strategies, visions and direction. She knows the industry and knows it well. She is the kind of agent who can sell my novels and steer my career in the right direction. I like her but, more important, I trust her. So here we go. It’s that time of the year again. All four kids will be in school full-time for the first time ever. I will have time to write and, as much as I will miss them, I am excited. But this is a fresh kind of excitement. This year, I get to write — just write — without worrying about the business side of things. I feel focused. I feel encouraged. I feel, once again, like I made a wise decision. Two more days and I’m off.