When I meet other authors they invariably ask: “How did I manage to find a publisher?” And it is not a short answer, because my literary career has been a journey of highs and lows.
During my time with the BBC I made many films and dramas, including one about a period of my life titled, Mimosa Boys, which was broadcast on BBC1 as a Play For Today. It was a wonderful period where I worked with BAFTA and Emmy award winning directors. I left the BBC to focus on writing my own scripts and ended up writing the novel first so my story is set firmly on the page – my experience with the BBC taught me scripts are rewritten and change from the original script due to budgets, director’s idea’s and perspectives and then the actors come in with their own ideas on the character they’re playing. Making a film is an intensely creative process and it is a process I love, but after finishing my first novel, which is Raw Nerve, I knew I’d been born to be a novelist first and foremost, mainly because the creative intensity is doubled and my relationship with the characters is so much more real than working on a script where it’s necessary to leave it to the director and actors to flesh-out character.
After writing a series of short stories, one of which won a national short story competition and another was commissioned by the BBC for an arts series, the first novel I wrote was Raw Nerve.
After I’d finished Raw Nerve, I sent it to an agent in New York who immediately signed me - this was a time when submissions were posted via snail mail. My agent was very excited about the book and was phoning me with updates at least three times a week. Very soon I found myself flying to New York to sign a deal with HarperCollins. Whilst in New York an actor friend had just won a Tony Award on Broadway, so we hooked up and in his dressing room I met a film producer who asked what my novel was about? I thought for a second how best to explain the story, “It’s a fictitious scenario about why Colin Powell didn’t run for the White House,” I said casually. The producer’s knees buckled. “I have to read it,” she gushed, so we arranged to meet up the next day with my agent. As you can imagine, this was very exciting times. Everyone who read the book loved it. So why didn’t it get published or made into a film, you may well ask? Well, although all the junior editors in the major publishing houses wanted to publish, on every occasion the plug was pulled by the President or Vice-President of the company because it was considered too controversial. One VP actually stated they couldn’t be associated with riots in the streets and another said I was stretching credulity to breaking point and beyond – I think they were referring to the fact I was suggesting a black woman could be elected to the White House. It’s laughable now since Barack Obama has been elected twice.
Anyway, I ended up self-publishing Raw Nerve. I spent an intensive period on marketing the novel and although I did make some sales, I didn’t make anywhere near enough to enable me to write full time. So I went through a number of day jobs - even starting a photographic business that had me working all hours - and met a woman who had two young sons and spent years where my time was simply not my own and was very unproductive with regard writing any new material. But the hunger was still there and ideas for stories kept bubbling up in my mind.
When the relationship failed, I immediately looked at ways of creating the time and space to write the next novel. Due to my experience with self-publishing on Amazon and very aware at how much Amazon had changed the publishing industry, I considered how best to get my foot in the door first. Before working for the BBC, I’d had a very interesting, although short, military career. During idle moments I would recount some anecdotes to a girlfriend and she began insisting I write a book about my experiences. After the agent in New York had failed to place Raw Nerve, we had parted ways and I’d quickly secured representation with another agent, who also ended up failing for the same reasons and then Obama was elected and that dated the story, which is why I ended up self-publishing. But I sent some material for a memoir to the second agent as we were still in touch. He insisted I write more material and once I’d finished the book he quickly placed it with The History Press. The memoir is In Sights: The Story Of A Welsh Guardsman.
Now I had my foot in the door, I wrote a big, juicy thriller that is titled The Thai Girl. The novel is 170,000 words and I sent it to my agent not doubting he would love it and quickly place it with a publisher. However, we spent an hour on the phone when he explained to me how much the industry had changed since I’d written Raw Nerve (140,000 words). During that phone call he told me he couldn’t even look at the novel until I’d got it down to 120,000 words. Wow! The Thai Girl was nine months of intense work. This was a blow to the solar plexus! To say the least my relationship with the agent was now very strained.
But not to be deterred, there was a story I’d wanted to write for a while. It had kept bubbling up in my mind over a few years and I’d even written the script for a TV film. It was a drama I rediscovered whilst clearing out some boxes in my parents home. After rereading the script, I decided to write the novel. I knew the story I wanted to tell pretty well and actually wrote the first draft in six weeks. The final draft came in at 80,000 words and I tentatively sent it to my agent - our relationship was still feeling bruised. The novel is titled The Drama Merchant and I loved everything about the story. My agent, however, did not. He took serious exception to one character who expressed anti-religious opinions. I suspect the agent is a Christian and it was obvious he didn’t feel he could represent the novel unless I had another look at Steve’s opinions. So our relationship was strained further still.
Again, not to be deterred, I quickly wrote another novel that finally came in at 75,000 words and is titled A Seed Once Sown. It is another story that I’d been excited about writing for a while and another story that deals with difficult (some would say controversial) subject matter. It has an anti hunting core storyline and I again suspect my agent (a Canadian) likes to hunt.
Obviously I have now parted company with that particular agent. But the truth is it has become clear to me that I am attracted to difficult subject matter and I need an agent and publisher who are as passionate about the story as myself.
And I have now found that publisher in Wales Press. I submitted The Drama Merchant and A Seed Once Sown and they were not only accepted, but embraced. Finally the novels were loved by someone other than me. It’s a great moment when that happens.
Finishing on a positive note, A Seed Once Sown had already been accepted by another small publisher, but I decided not to go with them and withdrew the novel and accepted Wales Press offer - the main reason was the other small publisher's marketing strategy. They seemed to be anti Amazon, and in today’s world that seems crazy to me. It’s one thing to get a novel into bookshops, but I want my novels in Amazon’s shop window as well - authors now have genuine access to a world market primarily through Amazon! Why limit the market to UK bookshops? I think they feel the are above Amazon and ebooks because they consider themselves a literary publisher.
With Wales Press I have found a publisher who wants to explore all the sales avenues and I have now finished recording The Drama Merchant for an audiobook - something I couldn’t have achieved without their financial backing. Next we intend to publish A Seed Once Sown and then The Thai Girl, a novel that will probably be published in two parts due to its length - price point is important.
So far my journey in publishing has been one big learning curve. as I said, there have been highs and there have been lows. But I remain hugely excited about the novels I have written and the books I have yet to write.
However, to see my novels have a chance at achieving their potential, I needed a publisher I could work with. I think now we might actually record an audiobook for Raw Nerve, so, at the moment, I’m on a high...