Today, mystery author Michael Parker is my guest blogger, in anticipation of his appearance on my next Crime Cafe podcast.
As part of his appearance, he’s giving away ten copies of his novel WHERE THE WICKED DWELL.
The giveaway ended on Sunday, March 26. So, if you missed it, better luck next time!
As you’ll soon learn, Michael is an author with (in my humble opinion) an impressive track record in traditional publishing land. His guest post gives a great “behind the scenes” look at a writer’s life in the era of ebooks and social media marketing. 🙂
So, without further ado, here’s Michael Parker!
What makes an author?
by Michael Parker
When I look at other writers, they always seem to be successful, cool, best-sellers, prolific. They have that confidence about them that says how easy it is for them to turn out novel after novel, no sweat. But the reality is so different, and you can only get to understand this by experience, by sitting down and suffering writer’s block, knowing that you need another three or four thousand words for that day, and then just another seventy or eighty thousand to finish the book. How many times have I heard someone say they are writing a book and have written about ten thousand words? And you know that they are never going to finish it because of the hard work involved.
All writers suffer this problem to some degree, although there are others who manage to find a way around it. Ian Fleming once said that it takes about six weeks to write a thriller; the editing and grammar corrections can be left to the professionals. Jack Higgins admitted that he wrote a thriller in the space of one weekend. He went into his room on the Friday and came out on the Monday with a best seller. Hard work though.
Rejections are as familiar to most writers as sunrise and sunset, and I suspect that almost all writers have suffered this to some degree. I used to find my cynicism creeping in when I read of an author who was surprised that his/her first novel had been accepted with no problem at all, and then you learn that he/she was already connected in some way to the publishing world. It’s all about the market and what sells. Some of the most prolific best sellers over the years have been pure dross, but they served the market’s hunger for depravity, celebrity or whatever else had nothing to do with talent.
I asked the question: What makes an author? I believe they are born with the talent. They are like musicians, artists, surgeons, scientists etc. They have something that cannot be manufactured: the ability to do something that comes almost naturally. I was described as a “gifted narrator” in the Financial Times (London, 1980). What happened to my gift? What happened to my talent? It didn’t go away, it’s still there; but probably too late now for me to become that runaway, best-selling, globe-trotting writer of blockbuster novels. Now I’m getting carried away (but it’s good to dream).
I know how to write, but I probably have no idea how to market myself. And that’s the rub: not knowing how to market your work, or not being able to afford the services of a professional publicist. So now I can say thank goodness for Amazon and Kindle.
I launched myself on the Kindle Select programme when the feeding frenzy happened around 2008, and managed to sell over 6000 eBooks. 40,000 of my books were downloaded during the ‘free’ promotion and I went right to the top in the free category for my genre. I was up there with the best-selling talent and I enjoyed every minute of it. Now the dust has settled and the frenzy is over; my book sales have slowed to a low level, but I am at least selling.
But let me give you a kind of snapshot of my writing career, which is a hobby by the way. I had my first book (NORTH SLOPE) published by Macmillan of London in 1980. I thought that was it: I’d made it with a top publishing house. They rejected my next book (HELL’S GATE) and it was four years before SHADOW OF THE WOLF was published by Robert Hale of London. From that moment I was floundering, trying to get my work published but no-one was interested. I gave up, left manuscripts gathering dust on the shelf, became inspired (my wife claims the credit for that) and continued to write. But I got fed up again and let it all drift.
Then in 2006, Robert Hale, with whom I had had no contact for years, agreed to publish HELL’S GATE; this was 23 years after it had been rejected by Macmillan. Hale then published four more of my novels. Suddenly I was on a roll and now I have nine traditionally published novels to my credit, the latest of which is PAST IMPERFECT (January 2015). Two of my novels have been taken up by Harlequin Books and are available in paperback in North America and Canada: THE EAGLE’S COVENANT and THE BOY FROM BERLIN, which was released in November (2013). All my titles are available on Amazon and other on-line book sellers. The first, completely self-published novel of mine was A Dangerous Game. It was published in 2016. This year, 2017, I have published Where the Wicked Dwell.
So finally things are looking up. But getting back to the subject of marketing: what is it I’m doing wrong, or not doing? I was advised to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Stumble, Goodreads and all those web sites that are supposed to be a gift for writers to get advancement. Oh yes, and I needed a blog. So I blog on my website and copy it to all those places. In about four years of blogging I have had no more than about four contacts. My statistics are pretty sad. I know people are looking in at my blog, but I don’t know how many actually read it. I never get the kind of reaction I see when looking in on other writers’ sites. I suspect that it is probably the same for most of us.
Having been down the traditional route of publishing, I find the Amazon deal quite exciting because of the potential to climb up the ladder. For those of you who have not experienced the traditional way believe me it’s no fun. Finding an agent or a publisher was like looking for hen’s teeth in a chicken run. And if you were lucky enough to get published, the hardback book was set at a fixed price with no paperback allowed for at least a year (if you were lucky). The collapse of the Net Book Agreement in 1997 put a stop to price fixing, but it didn’t help wannabe writers like me: the top guns still held sway over publishers.
But now most of that has been being swept aside by the Amazon and eBook revolution. The only problem with that now is that it kind of takes away the kudos of being able to say you are a published author. We are all writers now: anyone can get published. For an old fashioned traditionalist who has been through the school of hard knocks in the literary world, it’s a shame that I now find myself among the bottom feeders of the so-called electronic slush pile. But I’ve been among the bottom feeders all the time really; the difference now is that I can literally control my own writing destiny. I’ve just got to get to grips with the promotion and marketing. But for those of you out there who are trying, I wish you luck. I will always have faith in my own ability. But one thing writers should understand is that you need a readership to be successful. In the old, hardback days that meant having at least five published novels to your credit, and that was no mean feat. Today you need a lot of luck, and not just be a decent writer.
Michael Parker has been writing thrillers for many years and has experienced the highs and lows of being a writer since having his first book published in 1980. He has been married to Patricia for fifty seven years and they have four sons, ten grandchildren and three great-grandsons. His main hobby is writing, of course, and has had eleven novels published. His other hobbies are snooker, speedway and football. Michael is a born again Christian and played keyboard in his Christian fellowship in Spain for several years. He has worked as a maintenance technician most of his adult life, serving sixteen years in the Royal Air Force, and about seventeen years with a food manufacturer. He retired in 1996 (at the age of fifty five) and moved out to Spain a year later, where he lived with Pat for seventeen years. They returned to UK in 2014. Other jobs include Merchant Seaman, office boy, and general maintenance electrician for a chicken farmer! Michael has received many excellent comments about his writing, but the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. For those of you who want to know a little more about him, and see him ‘in the flesh’, check out his website at www.michaelparkerbooks.com.