From the outside looking in, my road to publication probably looks quite easy. Start writing my first novel in December 2011, get an agent ten months later, a publishing deal in January 2013… it’s the dream for quite a few writers I imagine. No years spent writing hundreds of thousands of words that never see the light of day. No endless rejections from agents before finally finding someone who says yes. No close-calls with Book One, ending with Book Four being the one which is published.
I’ve been lucky in so many ways.
It doesn’t mean I haven’t worked for that luck, however.
When I started out in July 2011 – the birth date of the ‘Guilty Conscience’ blog which brought me to the attention of the crime writing community – I’d been a voracious reader for many, many years. However, apart from a co-writing gig with a school friend (we were tasked with writing a nativity for the school Christmas show – my contribution was the Three Wise Scousers, who brought with them a gold chain, Lynx aftershave for frankincense, and The Mayor), I hadn’t written a word of fiction.
Reading so much, and the fact it was now possible to speak to writers more easily via social media, meant that I wanted to give something back. ‘Guilty Conscience’ was born as a reviewing/interviewing space, and grew beyond my expectations. Of course, it didn’t take long before blogging about books made me want to try and create some stories of my own. I started with short stories, after a chance conversation online with the writer Charlie Williams (in which he sort of dared me to write a story about Jeff the Uninspired Vampire), and led to a few more, an acceptance from a great (now sadly no longer with us) website called ‘Thrillers, Killers, ‘n’ Chillers’. The confidence grew, as did the network of other writers, culminating with the publication of an anthology of short stories from a whole range of writers worldwide called ‘Off The Record’, which raised money for children’s literacy charities.
I enjoyed writing short stories, but I was already eager to try writing a novel. My first effort ended at around the 25-30,000 word mark. A ridiculous attempt at a hard-streets of Liverpool, drug-dealing, prostitution, and violence style of book, which just never felt right. Then, a psychology lecture and reading a Steve Mosby book, made me realise the type of book I wanted to write: a police procedural, with a strong psychological element to it.
Dead Gone was born.
Back then, it was called something else entirely. The first version (finished in April 2012) was around 20,000 words shorter than the published version is, had different characters, different timeline, and a vastly different ending. Upon finishing the book, I knew exactly which agent I wanted to send it to. I’d spoken to him very briefly a few months earlier, due to including some of the writers he represented in the Off The Record anthology. He expressed an interest in reading the novel when it was completed and knowing his client list included writers I greatly admired working in the same genre as myself, he was the perfect fit.
The first version showed “promise” he said a month later, but he wouldn’t be taking me on at that time. He gave me some great advice and said he’d read another draft. So, I went back to work and sent off a rewrite a couple of months later.
In September 2012, he rejected that version as well.
I was getting closer though. This time, the notes were less extensive. By this time, I was also receiving some interest from other agents as well. The first agent was invested enough to call me, and in a two hour phone conversation, we thrashed out the book – what needed to be changed, what didn’t – and at the end of the talk, offered representation. It took another month, a drastic rewrite, and he was happy to start sending it out.
One of the things that was often said to me during that time, was that northern crime fiction was difficult to sell. Books set in cities such as Sheffield, Manchester, Newcastle… hard to get past an editor at a publisher. My book was set in Liverpool, but I was undeterred, thinking it mattered little. I’m still not sure if it does make a difference or not, but I was lucky enough to have the book submitted to an editor at Avon (an imprint at HarperCollins) who knew the city well. She also saw the potential in the characters, the story, that she made an offer pretty much straight away. Although there were other offers on the table, her enthusiasm for the book was so palpable, there was only really one way I wanted to go.
The contracts were signed January 2012. The first thing to change was the title, with the much better Dead Gone chosen out of a list I drew up of around eighty titles! Next came the edits, which strengthened the book immeasurably. Proof copies followed, then a December release date for the ebook, and now the paperback release one year after signing the contract which would change my life.
2013 passed in a blur. It’s difficult to sit back and actually look at the trip you’re on when so many things are happening constantly. I got the agent I always wanted, despite two rejections and so much competition he was receiving daily from other writers submitting. I signed with a publisher who have been enthusiastic and passionate from day one, infinitely improving the book to what it is today. They say luck plays a big part in getting published, and I’d probably agree with that. However, if I’d given up after the first rejection, I wouldn’t have got to the position I’m in now, which shows that tenacity and being unwilling to take a “NO” without trying again, also plays no small role in the process.
I only ever have one piece of advice for other writers who are trying to go down the same path as myself.
Never give up. Not in trying to improve, not in learning about the craft, not in turning that “NO” into a big, lovely “YES”.
(c) Luca Veste
Dead Gone is available in all good bookshops and online here!