I’ve kept all my polite rejection letters. I’m not sure why – I never intended that one day, if I ever got published, that I’d rush into the offices of editors and agents who’d rejected my synopses, shaking a fist and shouting, ‘there, I told you so!’ But I kept them anyway and enjoy reading them to remind me how lucky I was to get a break.
And luck does play an enormous role in getting published. I don’t know if the story is true, but apparently one of my favourite authors – Frederick Forsyth – relied on a huge slice of luck. The story goes that he had accumulated his fair share of ‘thanks, but no thanks’ letters and his manuscript had been dropped onto a secretary’s’ desk with instructions to send out the usual rejection. She had a sandwich at lunchtime and leafed through the manuscript as she ate. On her editors’ return to the office, she urged him to have another look at it, and so ‘Day of the Jackal’ saw the light of day. I’ve absolutely no idea if the story is true, but it does highlight how difficult it is to get published.
I had begun writing my first novel, ‘Horse’s Arse’ during 1998/1999 whilst I was ill, as a form of therapy. Once I was back at work, I put it away and forgot all about it. As I neared retirement from the Police Service, I began to wonder if the book could make it in the publishing world and began the depressing process of sending out sample chapters with a synopsis and a self addressed envelope to numerous agents and publishers. Most at least had the decency to return what I’d sent them; the arrival of my envelope causing a sir of anticipation following by crushing disappointment.
I eventually decided to have a bit of a punt, to back myself and started to research the world of self publishing – or ‘vanity publishing’ as it’s sometimes unkindly referred to! I found a US based company and over a period of a couple of months worked with them to get ‘Horses Arse’ in print. And one day, there it was! My own paperback with a great cover and all it’s typo’s and errors despite numerous proof readings – and available on the publishers website and Amazon. Even though I’d paid to get it published myself, it still felt like a ‘real’ book and to my immense satisfaction, actually sold a few copies!
Then I had my stroke of luck. Richard Tucker, a very old friend of mine, who I’d given a copy of ‘Horse’s Arse’ to, used to work in the sales side of things for Headline. He still did some odd jobs for them and had remained friendly with the then Deputy Managing Director, Kerr McCrae. Armed with his copy of ‘Horse’s Arse’, Richard saw Kerr one day and asked him to read it. Perhaps it was the fact that he was given a book to read rather than an A4 manuscript (or maybe Richard threatened him with serious injury!) but Kerr did read it and later gave it to Martin Fletcher to read. A few weeks later, Richard (now as my agent!!) and I were invited to see Kerr and Martin at Headline and I walked out with a two book deal. I’d done it! I was floating on air; I was going to be a proper published author with a well established, internationally renowned publishing company! I had the services of their marketing and publicity departments to help sell ‘Horses Arse’, they produced an iconic new cover for it, I went to various trade events and did radio interviews. And then a horrible realisation hit me. I had signed a two book deal with Headline and only written one! I had a deadline to meet and suddenly my hobby had become terribly serious.
Still, I met that second book deadline and went on to complete another two books in the ‘Horses Arse’ series after that. Today, I’m still working full time in a ‘proper’ job and writing is still just my hobby – and I love it. The truth is that very few authors make much of a living from writing, with some obvious exceptions. For every Frederick Forsyth, JK Rowling, Dan Brown, Jeffery Archer or Ken Follett, there are hundreds of unknowns desperate to get their stuff onto the same shelves.
But getting published ranks as one of my most significant achievements. The buzz I get out of seeing a complete stranger reading one of my books on the tube or a train is all the reward I need. Two of the characters in my books (the appalling Brothers) have a simple work ethic – the harder you work, the luckier you get. I go along with that view 100%. I’d advise any prospective author to back their own talent, explore every opportunity, persevere, never give up, but above all – be lucky!
Two Tribes is published by Headline