The Road to Waterstone’s

I will signing copies of my book The Green Bicycle Mystery in some book stores next month – more details in due course. It’s the culmination of a 35-year journey. I remember its first step.

It was taken in an English Literature lesson, studying George Orwell’s 1984. This was two years before the year would adorn calendars and diaries. I loved the book and Orwell’s style, both of which had a profound effect on my 15-year-old self. I sat there, with the penguin paperback edition on my desk, thinking how wonderful it must be to have a book published, to have your name on a cover, to be a writer. It was something I hoped I would be one day.

My schooldays, and then college days, soon passed me by. At university I discovered the Sherlock Holmes stories and became enthralled. I wondered if there were any real-life cases that had any resemblance to the fictional ones. I became interested in unsolved crime, especially interesting cases from that period in history. A time of Brougham cabs, gas lamps and steam trains. And afternoon tea with a spoonful of malice, normally arsenic, I found.

Then, like almost every graduate, I fell straight onto the treadmill of full-time work. Time’s accelerator peddle was pressed hard to floor. A decade zoomed by. I changed careers, becoming editor-in-chief of a US-based magazine. Life was more exciting, time seemed to slow because so much was packed in just a few years. Children came. The pace of time picked up again. Before I realised it, I was at the wrong end of my 40s, turning grey, and recognising more of the names in the obituary columns. How time had slipped through my fingers and, with it, unnoticed, those teenage dreams. Dreams, I feared, would never be fulfilled unless I did something.

So, I quit my job. I first took a masters in philosophy, to atone for the vapid course of management science I took at university decades before; how university is often squandered on the young. Then I attended an evening class called ‘Telling True Stories’ (see my post The Long Journey). This where the idea for Cold Case Jury was born.

I self-published four e-books, including The Green Bicycle Mystery, testing the concept of whether readers would deliver their verdicts online after reading an unsolved murder case in a book. It worked. I then approached some publishers and secured a publishing deal. In fact, I was offered contracts by two publishers but decided on Mirror Books. It’s easy to write in a few sentences but the whole process took over two years.

A publishing deal. It gives the impression that plenty of money is involved but, for the overwhelming majority of writers, including me, this could not be further from the truth. Unless you’re a successful author in a popular genre – like thrillers or cookery – writing pays well below the poverty line. Most books from a first-time author sell less than 3,000 copies. An author might receive 50p per book on a cover price of £7, and proportionally less if the book is discounted. A cheque of £1,000 might be a realistic return for over a year’s work.

So I think I can offer this morsel of advice: don’t write to become rich but only to enrich your life, and hopefully others too. Otherwise, the road to Waterstone’s is likely to be an arduous and unfulfilling one.