Recipe for getting your book published:
Baste it now and again . . . then let it bake for twelve years!
by Thomas OíCallaghan, author of Bone
I was never much of a reader until one day, in the early eighties, I picked
up a copy of Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. This is an often used adage, but I couldnít put it down. The
authorís attention to detail fascinated me. After that, I was hooked on novels
depicting murder, mayhem and suspense. I soon discovered such notables as Thomas
Harris, John Sandford, Lawrence Block and Ed McBain, just to name a few. Unlike,
Helter Skelter, where the storyline was based on an actual murder, Harris, Sandford,
Block, McBain and company, created murder and the intrigue that surrounded it. I
was enthralled all the more. Read on, I said, and so I did.
After I finished reading my twelfth 87th Precinct novel, I thought: I could do that! And so, on a gloomy,
rain soaked Friday afternoon, that happened to follow Thanksgiving, I began writing Nightkills,
which, would later become Bone Thief.
That was 1993!
No one had even heard of Ďcut and pasteí back then, at least I hadnít, so a
typewriter was the vehicle to write on.
So, there I sat, pounding away on an old Smith Corona, a large supply of correction fluid at the ready. Some would say Iím a bit of a perfectionist. The large quantity
of the Liquid Paper supports that assertion, I suppose. In any case, after three
hours of pecking away at the keys: Voila! My opening chapter. As I recall, it had something to do with a woman returning videos to a local retailer. As she was returning to her car, she was abducted. We meet
her again, bound and gagged in chapter two. Thatís how it was written for Nightkills
and, after a bit of editing, thatís how itís featured in Bone Thief.
On I went with my writing. Along
the way, I had the luxury of having flexible hours on my real job, a quiet room in which to write and a very supportive wife. If she hadnít gifted me my first laptop one Christmas, Iíd still be using the correction
fluid. And, I hope my former boss doesnít find out, but I used my ďfield timeĒ
to write what was sure to be a blockbuster. In my mind, at least.
Iíve discovered much along the twelve year trail toward publication. I learned when to use lay and not lie. I found out that laptops
donít operate at peak efficiency after being dropped on a tile floor. And, that
friends like to be featured in your book. Even if they appear as a corpse.
A background in sales helped me deal with something that new, idealistic, hopeful
and naive first-time novelists donít plan on: Rejection. And lots of it! You see, thereís a nurturing chain that exists on the road to getting published. It starts with the writer pecking away at a somewhat confusing arrangement of the
alphabet, twisting and turning those little letters into words, paragraphs and chapters.
Sometimes, not necessarily in that order. Next, when you think youíve
put the final spin on your collection of words, you visit the number two guy on the chain, the fellow at the copy center. I once read that a very famous author, whose name eludes me right now, once mailed
an original manuscript to his editor and . . . you guessed it. It got lost in
the mail. The author hadnít kept a copy so the novel went unpublished. Thatís why the guy at the copy center holds an important place on the chain. You see him, excitedly explain how important it is that he gets the Ďcopyí part right and he says ďcolor
or black and whiteĒ. Now youíre puzzled.
Would it actually look better in color? You opt for black and white. Itís your first book, your baby, but youíre not Rockefeller. You go for 8 cents a copy on heavyweight, bright white and hope for the best. An hour or two later, youíve got a copy, or perhaps several. Where
The number three person, the point man if youíre a basketball enthusiast, is
the literary agent. Here, youíve done your homework. Youíve gone to Barnes and Noble and purchased any one of a number of books detailing how to get your work
published and each and every book suggests submitting your manuscript to an agent. Letting
the agent submit it to the publishing house gives you a better shot at seeing the work in print. What you hadnít planned on is the agent not liking the book. Good
grief! Why not? Itís brilliant writing,
you reason. Not so, in the eyes of the agent.
Hereís where the years start to accumulate. Rewrite after rewrite after
rewrite. Remember, writers write, but published writers rewrite. Got the rewriting part down? Good. Armed with a copy of the current yearís Guide to Literary Agents,
you narrow down your search for literary representation, (some new words you have discovered).
You target one, two, three, or a dozen agents that are open to receiving work in your particular genre and you send
them a query letter. (Something else thatís new to you.) Hereís where the tough part starts. Youíve decided to target
a dozen agents, or if youíre me, a hundred. In either case, your query letter
produces either a friendly Ďno thank youí or . . . a Ďplease send the entire manuscriptí.
If the latter applies, youíve broken ground. Number three person on the
nurturing chain likes your idea for a story well enough to want to read all of it. Wow! Youíre in a hurry now. Youíre very pleased
that you let the number two guy make the copies because you want to get the manuscript out to your agent before he changes his mind. Or, God forbid, someone else
publishes a book exactly like yours!!! You sprinkle some holy water on
the box, cram your manuscript inside, and hand it over to FedEx for an overnight delivery.
Then you sit by the phone and wait and wait and wait. Did I say wait? No one warns you about the waiting part, unless you scrutinized the notation in your
Guide to Literary Agents, where it says:
ďThis agent responds in four months to requested manuscript.Ē
Over the next several months youíve amassed enough paper rejection slips to
wallpaper your office, either from the agent that agreed to read your book, or others whose door you chose to knock on. Along the way, though, a helpful agent suggests you seek the help of an editor, a
book doctor of sorts. Itíll give the book marketable legs, youíre told. If youíre like me, youíll follow the advice.
I hooked up with a wonderful freelance editor named Dick Marek. He helped
me successfully forge the manuscript into a book.
Then it happens.
An agent, a real, in-the-book, bonafide agent writes to say that he wants to
represent your work and market it to the publishing world. You scream. Your first impulse is to tip the mailman. You plan dinner
out with your spouse. You tell everyone you know that youíre now represented
and that itís just a matter of time before your book hits the shelves. Finally,
after rewriting the work again, this time to satisfy the agent, your agent, he sends it out to one or more publishing houses. The
rejection slips come in. But, if you have a considerate agent fielding the slips,
like I had in Matt Bialer of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, you donít see them.
Then it really happens!
You get the call.
Numero four on the chain. An editor
of a publishing house, in New York, no less, likes the book and wants to offer you a deal. In my case, that editor was Michaela Hamilton of Kensington Books.
A delightful person to know, and an insightful person to work with.
But, guess what?
You wait. From this point on,
it takes a considerable amount of time and energy and a bit more re-writing to get the book on the shelf. But, this time the effort and the waiting arenít as difficult. You
have a contract. Anxiety isnít casting its shadow over the immediate future.
In closing, let me give you some further words of wisdom. Along the way, youíll discover that you talk to yourself; who better to bounce dialogue off at three in
the morning? Youíll resolve a plot issue while showering. What will you do? Iíll tell you what youíll do. Youíll skip the conditioner, climb out, and write down the resolution while a puddle forms at your feet. Then, the word thatís been escaping you all day, pops into your head just before falling
asleep. Mark my words. Youíll hop
out of bed and write it down and while youíre up, youíll find yourself writing down other words. Strings of them! Youíll need a bigger piece of paper! Donít
tell my former boss, but I use the flip side of the business cards from my old job.
And one thing more you should be made aware of. Youíll meet some truly
amazing people along the way and as your book nears the stores youíll make some very good friends in many of them.
Three cheers to the chain!