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Monday, December 14, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER: Richard Jay Parker, Author of STOP ME


SOUP TO NUTS
As a writer I've always been interested in articles about the process of getting work out there. This isn’t intended as a How-To piece, however, I hope this will encourage writers who are languishing in any of the 'writing a book/rewriting a book/looking for an agent/seeking a publisher' categories and any sub-purgatory categories in between.

There's no doubt about it--getting a book published is one of the hardest tasks anyone can attempt. I began my writing career by submitting comedy sketch scripts on spec to TV companies. I began getting more involved in the production before becoming a head writer, script editor and eventually producer. It was steady progress across years but a book is something different. You're either published or you're not. For a publisher, it's a large investment of faith and money and nowadays they have to be positive of getting a return on that investment before taking the plunge.

It's taken me a drawer full of manuscripts and ten years to get to this point. I don't ever consider that as wasted time though. If I hadn't written all of those manuscripts I wouldn’t have written STOP ME. I also didn't begin by writing thrillers but discovered how much I enjoyed plotting them along the way. I decided that if I were to become pigeonholed as a writer then thrillers were what I’d be comfortable writing until the cows came home. My then agent’s response: 'Great! But I don't represent thriller writers so you'll have to find another agent.'

I won't bore you with the grim details of trying to find alternative representation. Luckily–and lets not forget what a huge factor that is in the journey–an agent who had previously shown interest in my work was poached to another agency and asked me to submit to him there. I was working on STOP ME at the time. I sent him what I'd written so far--about a third--and waited. By the time he’d read it I'd finished writing the whole manuscript. He read the other two thirds, got a positive in-house reader’s report and submitted to publishers.

We got positive feedback but no offers. There was a common criticism of the manuscript which concerned its plot flashing back to the past too often. I quickly rewrote it and made the story more linear. We then got an offer as well as interest from two other publishers. Eventually we settled on my current publisher.

As an editor I'd been pretty brutal re extraneous writing and had fiercely polished the manuscript so there was little story editing to do before it went to print. There were inconsistencies though and I was very glad of the input I had from my editor, Lara. The publisher politely welcomed my suggestions re the cover but I bowed to their superior knowledge and they came up with something much better than anything I could have envisaged–simple but striking.

And there you might think that the work is over but then that depends on how successful you want your book to be. Most publishers encourage their authors to be proactive re publicity for the book so my next question was--how do I get a book by a new author noticed?

Firstly I pursued some established writers of the genre for blurbs. One of them read my book and was kind enough to give me a great blurb for my cover. It arrived a day before the book went to print. It's difficult to know just how much a blurb can help but, as a newcomer, associating your work with someone that people recognise has got to be a step in the right direction.

I also followed the usual route of setting up a website. I think this is absolutely vital whether you're published or not. You can post all your details there as well as samples of your work, short stories etc. I did try and make my website as quirky and memorable as possible. You can have a look here: http://www.richardjayparker.com I also got a good friend to compose a simple piece of menacing music to unsettle people as they read about my story. Copyright is obviously always an issue but you can get pictures and music that are copyright free.

I'm lucky enough to have great support at Allison & Busby in the form of Chiara Priorelli who organises blogs, signed books and publicity. She’s proved invaluable in terms of promoting me on the publisher's site and is always happy to get involved in a publicity concept.

Twitter is also a great tool for getting the word out about your book and is how I came to be associated with the friendly people who run this group and site. There are lots of avid readers as well as publishing people who use Twitter and I've found that if you tweet your thoughts about writing you can soon connect with many people who share a similar passion. You can follow me on Twitter @Bookwalter.

Obviously blogging (like I'm doing now) is a great way to share important information. As well as joining a band of UK thriller writers called The Curzon Group and blogging for them every Friday, http://www.thecurzongroup.blogspot.com/ I also write for other groups. It's a great way of sharing your experiences, helping other writers as well as promoting your work along the way.

I also cooked up the idea of doing airport book signings with fellow Curzon writer Matt Lynn. We found British Airways very receptive to the idea and did a number of signings. People were intrigued to find us loitering in departures and a great number of them were happy to make their snap purchases from us. It really was odd having to pass through passport control to sign books but it just goes to show how people are willing to get on board if you apply a little lateral thinking.

The process is ongoing and although it's difficult to measure just how much impact a lot of your promotional effort has, you can at least be positive that you’re doing everything you can to make people aware of your work.

Soup to nuts – the whole process. And likely to drive you nuts as well. But there’s no doubt that actually getting published is indeed the hardest part. It’s not impossible though even if it does feel that way sometimes. To get there, being positive is the most important part of your armoury. It's a lonely business being a writer and the disappointments don't get any easier.

Constructive rejection letters only have a use a couple of days after you’ve received them because initially they just mean REJECTION! Once you’ve ridden out the disappointment, however, examine them and take the comments on board. Also remember that opinion is subjective. What won't work for one publisher may be perfect for another. If you have genuine faith in your work then chances are somebody else will. Be your own harshest critic. After you’ve finished your book go back and read it a few months later.

Always start thinking about your next project as soon as you've finished your first. If your current project doesn't get the reception you wanted, by the time you've learned that you'll have something else exciting underway.

I'll finish with a story from 1999. I'd become disillusioned with TV and wanted to concentrate on novel writing. I’d left my TV agent and got a literary agent on the back of my first novel. I was invited to a literary party at the agency and was described in Publishing News as 'soon-to-be-published.’ I thought I'd effortlessly jumped ship. It's now 2009 and I have my first book published. It may even be my last but seeing STOP ME on the shelf definitely made it all worth it.

58 comments:

Beth said...

Richard, thanks so much for guest blogging. I just added your post and am going to bed. Can't wait to hear what others ask you!

You have an interesting background from writing television comedy scripts to thriller novels.

And...I love your creative idea of signing books at airports. Fantastic idea since people love to read on planes.

More tomorrow.

Shirley said...

I love the airport signing idea. People are always looking for a last-minute book to read at airports.

Richard, sounds like you had a lot of writing/media experience before you wrote Stop Me. Do you feel like having you name linked to that profession helped you get an agent for your first book?

I've also heard conflicting views on websites. Some authors say don't bother until you've got a book published, but you're saying go ahead and do one now. I tend to agree with you. Having your name known beforehand can't hurt!

Thanks for joining us today. Can't wait to read all the comments.

karmaperle said...

Hi Richard - I know nothing about the publishing business but have great admiration for all involved. My life would be much poorer without you all. I love a good plot how do you work it all out?

StephanieJ said...

Thank you Richard for a great blog - a full course meal as you say. How did you go about finding a new literary agent? Web, friends, magazines? I'm at the sub-purgatory level of final edits and searching for an agent. Stephanie Jarkins

Beth said...

Richard, I, too, am at the sub-purgatory level (love that line) of finishing my novel, reworking edits, and agent hunting. Do you have any idea whether it's harder or easier to find an agent and publisher in the U.K.? Have you been to America?

BTW, your publisher, Allison and Busby, asked me to mention that STOP ME will be available in mass market paperback by Jan., 2010, for $6.99 Wonder if that's pounds or dollars?! :)

Also, you mentioned a link where people can buy your book for 30% off (with free shipping worldwide) http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/
book/9780749007072/Stop-Me

And your site: www.richardjayparker.com
Everyone, you must go to his site. It's very creative with scary background music. Well done.

Beth said...

I love your premise--very timely. Did you come up with that after receiving a lot of crazy emails that people wanted you to forward?

Also, as far as the stack of manuscripts in your drawer, are they thrillers or another genre?

zen20865 said...

Thanks for the welcome Beth. Am pleased to be in the warmth of my office answering queries instead of outside in the chill of the UK.

Will now answer questions so far...

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Shirley,

Thanks for your comments.

TV and novel writing are two very different worlds so I didn't find I had any sort of advantage when I was trying to place my book. I had to leave my TV agent of eight years and find a literary agent.

Having a simple website - nothing too spectacular to begin with - gives you a presence and you can direct potential agents/publishers there if they want to easily access your work.

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Karmaperle,

Glad to see some of my friends from Twitter have followed me here.

Thanks for your kind comments but remember - without readers we writers have nobody to show off to.

Plots are difficult things to get right. When I was writing STOP ME I started by scribbling down six different ideas for books and then utilised all of them in its plot.

AL said...

Hi Richard, I'm still not allowed to read STOP ME as it's been bought for my birthday which is next week and it's under lock and key until then :)

I wanted your opinion on which internet social media has proven the most useful to you in order to get the word out. I myself came across you through Twitter, but there are so many others.

Do you have a favourite/most effective platform you prefer?

Regards,
Alfonso

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Stephanie,

Finding an agent is notoriously difficult because all the good ones are so busy with their current clients that they have very little time to read new manuscripts.

Some have hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts coming into their office every week.

Best thing to do is identify which agents specialize in your sort of work. Get hold of 'The Writers And Artists Yearbook' and analyze all the agents. Think of a writer you can equate to your own work and find their agent.

Submit to a few at a time. They can take months to respond so most of them know you'll be doing this. That way, if one turns you down you know you'll already be working your way to the top of another's reading pile.

Beth said...

I struggle with balancing my time between emails, social networking, and actual writing/editing time.

How do you manage your time? I see you on Twitter quite often promoting STOP ME.

Nic Ford said...

Hi Richard, how did you manage to stay positive and focussed on getting your novel published, for what seems such a looooong time? I'm finding it difficult not to get dis-heartened especially in the current financial climate, will new authors be popular again?! Best, Nic.

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Beth,

I know that STOP ME is currently being submitted to US publishers.

From talking to writers from both sides of the pond it appears that getting a publisher is tricky wherever you are in the world.

There appears to be a limited window of opportunity when you sell your book. By this I mean your agent can still pursue international publishers for months afterwards but that it's during that initial burst of interest when most of the publishers around the world will be interested.

Yes - I still get spam email and the idea of nasty things happening if you don't forward the message to ten friends is obviously somethijg that exists but that I took to extremes with the Vacation Killer.

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Alfonso,

Will try not to give away too much of the plot of STOP ME then!

I know you're a Twitter user and I think it's a great tool for interacting with readers and people in the publishing world.

I'm also on MySpace and Facebook but I find Twitter to be the most accessible.

The idea of being an aloof and mysterious writer seems to be extinct and I'm glad for this to be so.

Readers love to interact with writers and Twitter seems to be the best platform for this.

Happy Birthday!

Richard Jay Parker said...

Writing and promoting is a difficult balancing act but obviously one feeds the other.

Twitter is something I have minimized throughout the day and, if/when I have spare few moments, it's very easy to convey my thoughts or send out a link quickly.

If you do have to choose one though I'd always put writing first.

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Nic,

Publishers will always need material and although there are less spectacular deals around because of the recession this means that some new writers (who don't have outrageous lifestyles and ruthless agents) might get a chance.

I was lucky enough to get my book picked up during the recession.

The main thing is to have your work out there. If it's not, it can't get picked up.

So, if you've finished your manuscript, get it out there.

The waiting is relentless and spirit crushing but most writers have been through the same process.

Shirley said...

Love that minimize button. However, it still gets in the way, cause I love checking emails.

Do you find yourself getting so engrossed in your work that connecting with the "real world" isn't a problem sometimes?

Also, do you ever write away from your usual desk? Do you carry a laptop/netbook with you wherever you go?

Nic Ford said...

Thanks Richard - it helps when other writers pass on their experience of dealing with 'common' problems. :)

By suggesting getting a finished novel 'out there' do you mean out to lit agents, or is it acceptable to put a chapter or two on one's website?

Richard Jay Parker said...

Yes, Shirley. I've got Tweetdeck so a little window pops up every time I get updates - slightly distracting.

I do exit Twitter if I'm working on a manuscript though otherwise I'd never get anything done.

Do all my actual writing at my desk but most of the work has already been done before I sit down - early hours of the morning, walking to town etc.

I have one particular long walk that always ties up any loose plot ends in my head - probably because it's a few miles!

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Nic,

It depends if you're protective of your idea. Some writers don't like to put their work out there for fear of it being plagiarized. If it's the style of your writing that you think is the selling point (rather than the concept)I don't see why you shouldn't put some excerpts on a website.

It is difficult getting an agent but it still seems to be the only way to get publishers to take you seriously. It's not a guarantee but usually a good agent won't invest time and energy in something they don't believe in. The publisher is all too aware of this when he's selecting from his 'to read' pile.

There are some new publishers who now only accept email submissions and don't insist on represented work but, currently, they're still in the minority.

Nic Ford said...

Thanks again.

Last go, don't want to hog you! Do you have the story for your next book all lined up, can you tell us a bit about it?

Nic.

Tawnya said...

I am so looking forward to reading your book!! Do you have others out or one in the works now?

Tawnya
@Tiggercooks

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Nic,

Yes - book 2 is all finished.

It's another stand-alone thriller which examines some new themes as well as bringing in another sinister techno element.

I hope to be revealing more about it early in the New Year.

My agent and an assortment of my harshest critics have read it and all seem to think it's better than STOP ME.

There's a different character dynamic, even more twists and some sexual tension as well. What more could you ask for?

WotV said...

Richard,
Love the live blogging! And you know I want to win your book!!!
WotV

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Tawnya,

Great to have another Twitter supporter here.

Book 2 finished and I'm currently mapping out book 3. Will begin work on that early in the New Year.

Hope your copy of STOP ME arrives soon.

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi WotV,

Another friendly face.

It is good to break the 140 character barrier.

Fingers crossed you get lucky and win the book.

Thanks for dropping by. Help yourself to dips.

Indigo said...

Wonderful guest post. Love the idea of the airport signings.

I was curious Richard if writing scripts previously, helped with the dialog in the books? I've found it hard myself at times to make it sound natural and let the words flow as if someone were actually speaking. Part of it may be my deafness and not hearing people actually speak. To make up for it I'm constantly studying character dialog in other books.

Once again thanks for the time and interview. (Hugs)Indigo

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Indigo,

Nice to see you on here.

I think dialogue on the page is something you have to keep practicing to get right. You'll just get better and better.

I think script writing did certainly help me with this. It's all about getting the right characters in your head as well though. If you have good characters then you'll sometimes find you can't get the words down fast enough.

Beth said...

Hi, again.

You said book #2 is finished. You must be a fast writer. How long would you say it took you to write STOP ME and book #2?

Also, sounds like you outline. Do you know the ending before you begin writing? Do your characters sometimes take over and go in a different direction than you had planned? (Mine do.)

Beth said...

Richard, our previous guest blogger wrote about her great experience with a smaller, independent book publisher. Is your publisher, Allison & Busby, an indie book publisher?

RTHRBRTN said...

Thanks for Blogging on Sleuth's Ink. We are always looking for ways to improve our writing. I will look for Stop Me in the book store.

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Beth,

STOP ME took about 9 months - including 2nd, 3rd draft and rewrite for agency.

Book 2 has taken about the same time. Draft 1 took about 4 months and then my agent saw it. I did another draft for him (he felt there were too many ideas and wanted me to concentrate on the central idea).

I do work out endings beforehand but this makes the journey there more fun because you're constantly bluffing and double bluffing to throw your readers off the scent.

Allison and Busby are a respected and established UK crime publisher with a very eclectic stable of writers. You can learn more about them at allisonandbusby.com

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi RTHRBRTN,

Thanks for your comment. Book is not in US book shops yet but you can get it via The Book Depository link Beth posted at the top of this thread (30% off with free shipping to US)Or go to my website.

Thanks for having me. It's been my pleasure.

If you or any other visitors would like to continue this discussion or have any more queries for me you can email me via the contact page on my website:

www.richardjayparker.com

Thanks.

Beth said...

Thanks for the great discussion, Richard. Hope you'll check back later tonight or tomorrow since it's not yet 10:30 a.m. here in the states. We'll hopefully have more questions and comments during the day.

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Beth,

Yes - if any members would like to leave further questions I'll check back in a couple of hours.

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

Hi Richard
I came in at 28 Comments. Then went to your site. Great site. The music does set the mood. Red is hard to read for colorblind people. Your link for the "Sample Chapter" gave me a note that read:The file is damaged and could not be repaired.
I liked what I read and am looking forward to the book. When I got back there were 36 Comments. You are popular here today.
I am wondering about "the techno twist" in your next book? Love that kind of idea. We live in a marvelous age and you are adding to our reading fun. I see you are going to be on e-books soon. There is debate going on about it over here. I think anyway you can get your work into a readers hand is good. Some authors think they will make less money from them. How do you feel about e-books?

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

Richard
This is a P.S.
Thanks for the helpful answers you are giving us today. And your time.
Also where in the airport do you set up? This is a great idea!

grumpybybirth said...

Hi Richard, thanks for answering my question I sent via email. Glad to see you will be back on here though. I have a question in regards to your website again. Do you yourself creat your website or did you hire someone to do it for you? I did a project for school (graphic design student at night) on websites and I used yours as an example. A few of the other students and the teacher expressed an interest in your book after hearing what I had to say. I haven't even read the book yet :-} Your website is very unique, and your book sounds so great I can't wait to read it. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, and I will see you on twitter.

sheri

Cait London said...

Really interesting. Thanks for share the journey. As a veteran writer, I do think that now a debut writer has a better chance than a few years ago. "Debut" gets lots of attention, so use it hardily. :) For quotes, agents and editors can sometimes help there, in fact that is usual, i.e. agent to agent. Are you a member of ITW? Or Dorothy L? Wishing you the best for a long, great career.

Beth said...

Hi, Richard. I thought of a couple more questions.

How do you explain the difference between thrillers, suspense novels and mysteries? We've had this discussion on our blog previously and I'm always interested in everyone's answer.

Also, who are your top three thriller authors? Mine are James Patterson, Harlan Coben and now you, of course!

Shirley said...

Thanks for stopping by, Richard. Lot's of great info here. I haven't checked out your site yet, but I will. I'll be needing to order Stop Me!!!! Love the title.

Beverly said...

What are your thoughts on e-book readers? I've read comments by book stores, and gadget lovers, but not from authors. Personally, I love books. I love the feel, smell and sensual pleasure of holding one, but I'm going to Japan for 4 months and don't want to carry a ton of books there and two tons home again. (I'll buy lots while I'm there.)

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Janet,

Thanks for your points.

Glad you like the site. Will look into the sample chapter glitch. Know this has happened once before.

Re E-books - there's a lot of hand wringing about it amongst authors in the UK but I suspect they will live comfortably alongside books as cinema still does alongside dvd.

Everyone said that VCRs would be the death of cinema...

I also think publishers are in their rights to delay the release of e-books and publish in hardback first. People have always waited for paperback release after hardback. E-readers are another convenient format but one that won't suit everyone.

What's for Christmas after people who want them have their e-readers? Personally I wouldn't want a download as a Christmas present.

Bikes were never ditched because cars were invented. Think the book is still a winning format.

I wouldn't rule out buying an e-reader myself (I'm sure they're invaluable if you need to travel light) but it's not something I'm rushing out to get.

Richard Jay Parker said...

Janet,

We set up in WHSmith in a couple of airports on our tour. There's not a lot of space in airport book shops but in UK you're not allowed to leave their confines unless accompanied by security.

It was quite a bizarre experience.

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi grumpybybirth,

You're welcome and you certainly don't live up to your Twitter name.

Some friends of mine created the website and were very accommodating towards my twisted ideas.

The site is still getting a lot of hits. Thanks for introducing it to your class.

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Cait,

Thanks for taking time to share your comments. Glad to hear that debut novelists are getting a better deal.

That's great news for me and a lot of the people reading this.

Will use 'debut novelist' to the hilt.

Beth said...

A few more questions:

How do you feel about self-publishing? And how do authors in the UK feel about it? Some in the states are quite accepting of the idea while others are very snobbish about self-publishing.

Also, since you were previously a comedy writer, do you infuse comedy in your thriller? (I'm still reading the suspenseful first few chapters.)

Richard Jay Parker said...

It's a question with no definite answer as far as I can see, Beth.

Thriller is indeed a very broad umbrella and can encompass everything from Harlan Coben to Dan Brown.

Mystery seems a little more specific and, in terms of UK books, conjures images of fog-shrouded mansions and revelations in the study.

Suspense seems pretty broad as well as you could apply this to many books outside of the genre.

I never thought of myself as a thriller writer. I just write stories that interest me but when you're trying to place yourself as an author there are plenty of people who will categorize you.

I've seen STOP ME described as a mystery, a thriller and a suspense thriller.

Re writers - I usually read lots of books by different authors rather than working my way through the catalogue of one. I did enjoy the last Harlan Coben though.

Richard Jay Parker said...

Thanks, Shirley.

Hope you enjoy STOP ME.

Curl up with a serial killer this Christmas...

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Beverly,

See my earlier comments about e-readers.

Think you're a perfect example of what I was talking about.

You'll obviously use an e-reader on your trips away but enjoy real books in the comfort of your home.

Books are tactile - readers want to grip their read. It's also great to be enticed by a cover, pick it up, weigh it up and read the back. They're also a memory - from the message someone may have written to you inside to glimpsing the spine of the book on a shelf and remembering the holiday you were on or where you were when you read it.

It's not the same looking down a list of files.

But as for those long trips away - e-readers make sense.

Beth said...

Ha!

Richard, your words are music to Shirley's heart "Curl up with a serial killer this Christmas..."

Just give her some Earl Gray tea to go with it and she's a happy camper. That's our fearless leader. :)

Richard Jay Parker said...

People are very divided about self publishing, Beth.

I've heard success stories about authors who have first self published before getting an offer from a large house. It seems that getting the deal from the established publisher is the ultimate goal for a lot of writers though.

It depends what your agenda is. If you want to see a very personal work in print and aren't interested in the cut and thrust of 21st century book marketing then self publishing may be the way to go.

If you want to be writing commercial books in the forseeable future then you have to choose between the long wait for agent/publisher attention or a quicker route to exposure which may not have the same results as a deal with a major publisher. Neither are guaranteed.

I can only speak from my experience so far.

I had an offer of publication for my first novel by a small publisher and I turned it down. I'm not saying I was right to do this but it was a gut instinct and that can be terribly accurate in so many different circumstances.

Richard Jay Parker said...

Earl Gray?

How terribly British!

Beth said...

Yes, very. Shirley must be a Brit in disguise. She talks about Earl Gray tea ALL THE TIME. :)
Me? I prefer coffee.

Shirley said...

Hmm. Not sure about the British part, but I always end the evening with a cup of tea and a good story.

Can't wait to try a cup with Stop Me.

Great points on e-readers, Richard. I've been curious about those. Looks fun, BUT will I ever use it? Probably not when a handy book is available. Just wouldn't be the same with my Earl Grey.

Angela said...

Richard, thanks for taking time to share your experiences with us. The information is great. I once thought of myself as a contemporary romance writer. While driving into work one day a plot began forming in my head. By the end of the day I had a complete outline for an erotic suspense... a genre I'd never read. I've enjoyed researching the genre and am looking forward to finishing the manuscript. The characters were even kind enough to give me the premise for a second book.

Not having read Stop Me, I can only ask if there is to be a sequel?

I'll check out your blog when I get to WiFi this weekend.

Happy Writing!

Richard Jay Parker said...

Hi Angela,

Thanks for your comments. What a pleasant surprise to find you have a new string to your bow - especially an erotic one.

Had a similar experience with book 2. I didn't set out to have any sexual elements in the story but that's where the story took me.

Much better this way than to try and shoehorn sex into a story.

Never say never but STOP ME is a stand-alone and I've no plans to do a sequel. The next book is self-contained as well.

Thanks to everyone for their comments. Have enjoyed my visit and hope to come back soon.

Thanks to Beth for inviting me and Shirley for the welcome.

Merry Christmas, Sleuthsink and a productive 2010.

Richard