I was delighted to be invited by Barbara Bos at the Women Writers Women’s Books website to write a piece on my Road to Publication, from an early longhand novel to my foray into indie publishing, and everything in between.
I have been in this writing game long enough to have started out in an entirely analogue world.
When I wrote my very first novel there was no internet, no social media, no email, no mobile phones, and precious little by way of computerisation.
(I should point out here that I was only fifteen at the time.)
I penned the whole manuscript longhand and my father, bless him, typed it up for me on an electric typewriter—with carbon copies. It did the rounds of the major publishing houses, where it received what is known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’. Everybody loved it. Nobody wanted to publish it.
I temporarily shelved my idea of becoming a novelist and went on to a variety of jobs in my teenage years. But the compulsion to write never quite left me. So, when I learned to drive and bought my first car, an elderly Triumph Spitfire, this led me into the classic car world. And, more particularly, into the classic car magazines.
It wasn’t long before I realised that there were a lot of car magazines on the market in the UK—about 120 at that time—and they were all desperate for good copy. I gave up my job, turned freelance, and discovered I had more work on than I could handle. It wasn’t long before editors starting asking for pictures to go with the articles. So I borrowed a camera and taught myself to use it.
That all began in 1988. I’ve been making a living from words and pictures ever since.
I may have found early success with non-fiction, but I never lost that urge to create my own story rather than retelling other people’s. For much of the 1990s I was kicking around the idea for a crime thriller. Mainly because that was the genre I most liked to read but also because, in the thrillers around at the time, I couldn’t find a female character who really satisfied me.
Mostly, the women in such books were there as the hero’s love interest, or to cook, tend to the wounded, scream in a firefight, or twist their ankle at an inappropriate moment and need to be rescued.
I wanted to read about women who were quite capable of doing their own rescuing, thank-you-very-much.
Enter ex-Special Forces trainee turned self-defence expert and close-protection operative, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox. I finished my first novel featuring Charlie back in 1999. After picking up my copy of the WRITERS’ AND ARTISTS’ YEARBOOK, and searching for Agents (Crime) I began at A. The second agent who requested the full typescript offered to represent me.
With hindsight, I should have spent days in my local library, going through the Acknowledgements sections of my favourite crime authors’ works, looking for the ones who thought highly enough of their agents to name-check them.
If I were starting out now, of course, I’d look at author websites, which often list the author’s literary agent on the Contact page. Or simply resort to Google, or—better yet—go and hang out in the bar at CrimeFest or Harrogate.
But, back then I was a novice, and there wasn’t the plethora of advice, forums, and support groups there is now. Even with the mistakes I made in my early decisions, KILLER INSTINCT came out in 2001.
Since then, I have written thirteen books in the Charlie Fox series, the latest of which is BAD TURN—out in Sept 2019. I’ve also written more than twenty short stories, which have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. I’ve penned a couple of standalone crime novels, one of which is now the first of a trilogy set in the Lake District and featuring CSI Grace McColl and Detective Nick Weston. The second book, BONES IN THE RIVER, came out in May 2020.
When my first publisher was swallowed up by a larger fish in the pond, my early works fell out of print. I reverted the rights and, in 2011, decided the eBook bandwagon was something I ought to be on. I self-published, with immediate success. Ever since, I’ve been a hybrid author with a foot in both independent and traditional publishing camps.
I’ve learned to handle the layout and content side of indie publishing, as well as cover design, editing, marketing, social media strategy, blogging, and advertising. It can be overwhelming and exhausting. But the upside is total control and information flow in an industry not noted for providing the average author with either commodity.
It’s a lot of plates to keep spinning at any one time. Especially when you consider that there’s also the small matter of actually writing the books…
But there is a good deal of satisfaction to be had in knowing what you’re going to be writing next, regardless of whether that’s part of an existing series, branching out into another, or even trying something new.
When I wrote the first book in what has become the Lakes Crime Thriller Trilogy, DANCING ON THE GRAVE, it was intended purely as a standalone title. Then reviewers hinted that they thought Grace and Nick had legs. Soon, readers joined that cry, and I knew I just had to go again. So far, I’ve committed to a trilogy that can all be read independently. After that, well, it’s up to my readers.
But, with Charlie Fox fans clamouring for more—allied to the fact the series was recently optioned for TV—plus another standalone bubbling inside my head, and another series to launch into, who knows what might happen next?
There’s one thing about being an author—it’s never dull.
Read and comment on this article over on Women Writers Women’s Books.