“When’s your book out?”
I’m asked that a lot with The Ghost Hunters. It’s my own fault. After all, I’m the one who’s been telling anyone who will listen, for the last few years, that I am writing a book.
“Later this year,” I say. “October.”
Puzzled faces all round. ‘Why so long?”
Another infuriating - but lovely - question, is: “How’s book 2 coming along?”
This one is usually asked by the close friends who haven’t seen you for months because - yep, you’ve guessed it - you’ve been walled up at home creating other people’s lives while you put your own on hold.
Up until three months ago, the conversation would then usually go something like this:
“Actually I’m still writing book 1.’
“Oh…I thought you finished that?”
“So did I.. I’m doing revisions now.”
And revisions can take a long, long time; not because editors want to make your life more difficult, but because editors are there to make your novel leaner, faster passed, and generally much, much better.
The fact is, writing a novel, re-writing it, finding an agent, securing a publishing deal, then re-writing again, is an extremely time consuming and demanding process. Over the last three years, my social life has diminished to a fraction of what it once was.
Now, with the publication date in sight (about 50 days out), I thought I’d talk a little more about the process of getting there.
I have no idea what the next 50 days have in store, but this is how life started for The Ghost Hunters.
After securing the wonderful support of my agent, Cathryn Summerhayes at William Morris Endeavour, I spent a whole year polishing the novel, re-writing key scenes. You’d think, perhaps, that after all the time I had spent on my manuscript, I wouldn’t have needed to re-write, edit, delete and write - but you’d be wrong. There are always changes, and aspiring writers, should never stop looking out for them.
We submitted at the end of 2011 and Cathryn was hopeful, but even with an agent who believed in my novel, I knew the odds of getting a publisher weren’t good. For every book that receives an offer, thousands more are rejected. Cathryn sent it out, along with a brilliant cover note, to a selection of commissioning editors who were already primed to expect a spooky, historical novel.
The cover note included a short synopsis of the work, as well as a few paragraphs on my background and my research into the paranormal. This was relevant because a novel like The Ghost Hunters is likely to find appeal with both, lovers of fiction, and people with a genuine interest in paranormal events. The characters, the scenes, key plot moments - all are based on recorded history and devised careful scrutiny of the historical evidence, and I wanted this acknowledged in the final work because we felt it added credibility to me as a writer.
So we had submitted. And now the waiting game began. Oh, now, that was a very tense time. I didn’t sleep, and filled my time by drafting plans for a second novel. I even jotted down ideas for a sequel, in case any prospective deal tuned on demand for a follow-up.
The first indication that things would go well came a couple of weeks later in an email I received whilst staying at a friend’s house in Barbados in January 2012. It was Cathryn. ‘Neil, can I speak with you?’
I phoned her back immediately. ‘Any offers?’
‘None yet. But I just got off the phone from a scout in New York who described your novel as one of the most accomplished, original debuts he’s read in a long time. Speak soon.’
‘Soon’ turned out to mean the very next morning.
Over coffee, overlooking the sparking ocean, I listened anxiously to my agent tell me the news I had longed to hear. ‘I’m expecting Quercus to make an offer. They want to speak with you this morning.’
That was one of the longest mornings of my life.
I drank more coffee, paced the floor, went swimming in the sea. My mind was swelling with answers to the questions I imagined they would ask me.
When eleven o’clock finally arrived, I was sitting anxiously by the phone. Five, then ten minutes, passed. Twenty. But… yep, you’ve guessed it…. No one called. And by midday I had already decided, in a moment of catastrophic over reaction, that the publisher no longer wanted my novel.
Then the phone did ring. Phew! It was Jo Dickinson, mass market editor at Quercus. I released a long sigh of relief as Jo explained that she found The Ghost Hunters both fascinating and terrifying. I listened to her wonderful ideas to improve the structure of the work and asked some questions. When did they envisage publishing The Ghost Hunters? Which scenes did they think were most effective? How did they plan to promote the novel?
Jo’s answers left me in no doubt whatsoever that this was a publisher who believed in me. And from the moment I hung up the phone my mind was spinning with new ideas for the manuscript.
A week after getting back from holiday I arrived at my desk to find an email from my agent waiting in my inbox. The subject of that email sent a shock right through me:
It simply read, “Offer.”
Those five letters of the alphabet never looked more enticing.
I clicked, opened the email. And in a second that lasted twenty years, my childhood dream came true. I’d written a novel, slaved through countless coffee fuelled nights at my computer. Pitched that novel to an agent. And sold it, eventually, to a major publisher.
I shouted, jumped up and down. I think the woman sitting next to me at work thought I had gone crazy.
‘What is it, what’s wrong?’ she asked me.
‘Nothing,’ I replied with the widest possible smile you can imagine. ‘Everything is very all right!’