Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What Makes an Author by guest blogger Michael Parker

What makes an author? And why so many? 
By Guest Blogger 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 with 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 earlier last year
(2012) 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: the KDP Select programme is running out of steam. My book sales have slowed to a low level, but I am at least selling more now than I was before KDP came along.

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 eight novels to my credit, the latest of which, THE BOY FROM BERLIN (December 2011) has been taken up by Harlequin Books and is available in paperback in North America and Canada. They have also agreed to publish another of my Hale books, THE EAGLE’S COVENANT, which is due for release in November this year (2013).

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 two 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 is 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. 

For more on Michael Parker  and his writing, check out his website 
Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Parker


  1. Thanks for the post, Jill. Even though I wrote it, I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Actually, Michael, you give me heart. And I remind myself, writing the first draft is the bliss. Thanks for your story.