Thursday, 6 September 2012

An Author's Life

So the summer holidays have ended. With the rain finally stopping (more or less) and the sun coming out, we've been getting out of London as much as we can. This was Cornwall. Who knew that England could be so beautiful once the sun shines?
Cliff walk, near Penzance.
Anyway, now that the fun is over, I have to get on with this "trying to make it as an author" business. Gosh, it's complicated. It makes me almost pine for the straightforward awfulness of the years I spent doing (sort of) regular work.

I always wanted to write a novel and, back at the end of 2010, The White Rajah finally saw the light of day. It was published by JMS Books, who are an independent (read "tiny") publisher in the USA. This meant that, though JMS did a really good job on producing the paperback and getting the e-book onto Amazon and zillions of other websites, there wasn't any marketing budget and you're unlikely to see it in a bookstore. (Though some really well-known stores, like Foyles, do stock it.) Still, despite not a lot of people hearing of it, The White Rajah got decent reviews including coverage in The Bloomsbury Review. JMS were pleased enough to ask for a sequel and so, at the end of February this year, they published Cawnpore.

Meanwhile, I was working on revising a book I started ages ago. Called His Majesty's Confidential Agent, it's a very different kettle of fish from the two novels published so far. Publishers who turned down The White Rajah said they thought it was "too difficult" and my agent (yes, I even had an agent before he decided to represent people whose books would be easier to sell) suggested I do something more cheerful. I had thought of advertising Cawnpore as "will make you cry or your money back" so you can see that it wasn't quite what my agent had in mind. Instead, I wrote another book, set about fifty years earlier and featuring a dashing hero who duels with evil villains, wins beautiful ladies and finally puts Johnny Foreigner in his place. It's based on a true story and it's a lot of fun and pretty sure not to make you cry. All I have to do now is to find a new agent who thinks there might be room for it in a world where any novel not including sado-masochistic porn seems to start at a marked disadvantage.

What people fondly imagine writers do is write their books, but it doesn't quite work like that. The books I have out already won't sell themselves, so a lot of my time is spent trying to help them along. Much as I enjoy chatting to you, dear reader, the principal reason for this blog is to encourage you to read the books and, if you've read them to review them and tell everyone how wonderful they are.

Besides writing the blog, I chat to other writers online and try to learn from them. Some, like S A Meade, have been kind enough to support my book and I try to return the compliment from time to time. I pester libraries and I turn up at any book groups that will have me.

Besides trying to sell the books that are already out there, I'm trying to find an agent for His Majesty's Confidential Agent. That's a soul-destroying business, involving researching possible agents, writing desperate letters begging them to look at your masterpiece and then waiting two months (more if they're busy) before getting a reply that starts, "We are sorry that we are unable to respond individually..." Actually, I have begun to get personalised rejection letters, which is a definite step up the food chain. But my research suggests that on average successful authors (ie those who eventually get representation) can expect to be rejected by around 40 agents before they strike lucky. And, after each rejection (besides the deep depression and suicide attempts), the synopsis and the covering letter are tweaked, the sample chapters are re-read and edited (again) and a virgin is sacrificed at the full moon (increasingly tricky, given the times we live in).

Meanwhile, I am researching another book. I often think I should have gone in for crime writing or vampire tales, where you don't have to spend forever reading accounts of life in the Far East under the Raj or checking the uniforms worn by the Native Infantry on the North West Frontier. At least if I was working on Twenty Shades of Magnolia the research might be more fun. I'm looking at two possible areas. There's Britain in around 1860, if John Williamson is given another airing, or the Napoleonic Wars, if I'm going to start a sequel to His Majesty's Confidential Agent and cross my fingers that the first one sees the light of day. Both periods have a lot to offer and I'm torn. Of course, I could just write something completely different, but the commercial reality is that series sell and I don't think I could bear to be hawking two different novels around agents at the same time. Do you, dear reader, have any suggestions? Spying and skulduggery in the world of Trafalgar and Waterloo, or dirty deeds in Dickensian London? Let me know if you have any preferences.

So, there we are: the life of a modern author. Next time you say, "That must be fun, just sitting and writing your books all day," don't be surprised when you are stabbed with a quill pen. The Mystery of the Critic's Pen. I wonder... Let me just check what kind of quill they wrote with in 1862.

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