Most people seem to have seen the original Ghostbusters movie. Starring Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis, three would-be ghost hunters save New York from a succession of hotdog-eating ghosts and androgynous demi-gods.
Oh, and a giant Marshmallow Man.
So how did this slice of early eighties CGI and Supernatural Goo help me get, not one, but three, publishing deals?
The secret’s in the second half of the movie when one of the characters, Louis, is possessed by Vince, a rabid, dog-like creature with horns. Once possessed, our character becomes the Keymaster. All he needs to do now is get it on with Dana, the other character that has been possessed, and is now the Gatekeeper. Once they’ve united, together they can wreak carnage on the unsuspecting folk of New York.
I never really understood that part of the plot. What I did understand though, was that everything hinged on the Keymaster getting it together with the Gatekeeper.
Which is how you get a book deal.
Publishers are the Gatekeepers. But they’re not the Keymasters.
You are. The writer.
Without you, the Gatekeepers have nothing. They need you. Badly.
But only if you really are the Keymaster and can unlock the gate.
Because on the other side of that gate are book sales. This is what the Gatekeeper is interested in, in one form or another – paperbacks, ebooks, audio – it’s all unit sales to them.
And you need to have the right key to unlock the right gate because even though a publisher might publish many categories of books, they want to know that you understand most keys only fit one lock.
So if you pitch them a book that is ‘a murder mystery/dystopian/coming of age/urban fantasy/romcom’ you’re probably going to get another rejection.
But if you pitch them a murder mystery, that’s a different kettle of ghosts. Okay, that analogy needs work.
So how do you know your key will open the lock for their gate?
Well, most traditional locks have five pins – some fancy new ones, six – that the key needs to fit in order to be a perfect match.
And books aren’t that different.
Take a murder mystery. Tell the publisher it has:
- a murder
- a detective
- a handful of suspects
- a twist and
- a climax where the detective brings down the killer
and the publisher may recognize you’re the Keymaster they’ve been desperately seeking.
I say ‘maybe’ because your key still doesn’t quite fit the lock. Elements need to be ground and honed a little further. Elements like…
The Murder. Make the murder unusual. Maybe a man in a skydiving suit is found dead in an underground cave system. Or make it so ordinary it’s hardly noticeable. A woman in perfect health complains of feeling faint and is dead by the time concerned onlookers fetch a glass of water.
The Detective. Make the detective a bitter old-timer, obsessive and fractured, haunted by a past that keeps threatening to derail the present case. Or make the detective a fresh-faced amateur with no idea what they’re getting into. And no way of getting out.
The Suspects. Make it so they all have a motive for killing the victim. Or none of them does. Maybe none of your suspects actually committed the murder. Or all of them did.
The Twist. Make the twist… a twist on the twist. And then twist again. Don’t stop until…
The Climax. And even then you can still squeeze in a final twist that will spring that door open.
It doesn’t matter what genre you’re writing in, even experimental literature – although don’t quote me on that one – every genre has a gate that opens if a certain key is inserted.
Learn the parts that go to make up the gate you want to open, put them together and present them to the Gatekeepers.
And they’ll bite your hand off.
Of course, some Gatekeepers are better at their jobs than others. Luckily, Zuul, Vince’s Gatekeeper recognizes a perfect key when she sees one and together they unlock the gate that allows Gozer, The Destroyer to saunter in and get… well, destroying until our three heroes put some moves on the Goze.
But not until the giant Marshmallow Man destroys half of New York.
It’s a great popcorn movie.
And that’s how I got a book deal when all else – keyless manuscripts, endless tantrums, and pointless blame games – failed.
I worked out what door I would have the best chance of unlocking – hint: choose the one you’re already behind as an avid reader – and worked my butt off not to write a book, but to learn what key unlocked that door.
And then I incorporated that key into the book I wrote. Well, three actually.
Then I only sent them to Gatekeepers who I knew were looking for the type of key I had. Historical mysteries, in my case.
And they didn’t bite my hand off, or hide in my fridge – you’ll have to see the movie – but they did offer me a three-book deal. And then another. And then another.
Stop banging your head against yet another closed gate.
Go find out what key opens it, create your own version – making sure those 5 or so pins are still there in the right sequence – and then present it to the right Gatekeeper and walk on through.
Is it easy?
But it’s more fun than drilling a hole in your head.
Sorry, you’ll have to see the movie.
(c) Verity Bright
About Murder at the Fair:
Summer flowers, warm sunshine, a maypole dance and… is that another murder? A tricky case is afoot for Lady Swift!
Summer, 1921. Lady Eleanor Swift, the best amateur sleuth in the country, is delighted to be in charge of the prize-giving at her village summer fair. But the traditional homemade raft race takes a tragic turn when the local undertaker, Solemn Jon, turns up dead amongst the ducks. Jon was the life of any party and loved by the entire village. Surely this was simply an awful accident?
But when a spiteful obituary is printed in the local paper, Eleanor realises there may be more to Jon’s death than first thought. Despite handsome Detective Seldon giving her strict instructions not to interfere, Eleanor owes it to Jon’s good name to root out the truth. So with her partner in crime, Gladstone the bulldog, Eleanor starts digging for clues…
When another local dies in a riding accident, the police refuse to believe he was murdered. But a second vindictive death notice convinces Eleanor of foul play. Solemn Jon’s assistant, a bullish banker and a majestic marquess make her suspect list, but it isn’t until she finds a dusty old photograph that she knows the true culprit behind both crimes. Then another obituary appears – her own! Can Eleanor nail the killer before she too turns up dead among the ducks?
An utterly compelling and charming cozy mystery! Pure delight for fans of Agatha Christie, T.E. Kinsey and Lee Strauss.
Order your copy online here.