Fellow Canadian mystery author Mike Martin was on It’s a Mystery Podcast in July 2017. He’s with us again today to talk about persistence, one of my favorite topics.
As you’ll read in Mike’s article, writing and publishing is not as much about the romantic image we have of six-figure advances and international celebrity, as it is about hard work and never giving up. If you’ve ever tried to write a book you’ll know what a challenge that is. When it comes to getting that book out into the world for readers to enjoy, well, that’s when the really hard work begins.
Some people say that I just make stuff up, but I choose to say that I have a vivid imagination. That imagination and creativity was stifled through the regimens of school and work, but somehow it still managed to get out. At first it was little, funny stories that I would make up for my friends. Later, it was bedtime stories for my own little prince and princess.
I have few regrets about the past, mostly because there’s little we can do about the water that’s already flowed under the bridge. But if I could go back, I would have pushed myself harder in my fiction and creative writing. Instead, I conformed and followed along the paths that had been laid out for me. That didn’t mean I stopped writing. Heck no!!
I just found outlets that were open to me at various times in my life. That meant writing three essays for English class and then fretting over which one to submit. It also meant finding work where I could write for at least part of the time, even if that writing was policy manuals or internal newsletter copy or just correspondence.
And I did manage to find ways to spend more time writing. Over a number of years I eventually grew out of wanting to be part of a company or organization. Maybe I just grew up as a writer.
About twenty years ago I took the plunge as a freelance writer. The waters were very deep and very cold. It is tough trying to make a living as a freelance writer, especially tough if you expect to eat on a regular basis. But what I learned from freelance writer is two things. First, rejection happens. Get over it. Second, keep writing. No matter what, keep writing.
When I finally got to the writing of my dreams, my fiction writing, these lessons were absolutely essential. So many times when I was writing my first book in the Sgt. Windflower Mystery Series, I wanted to give up. I’d hit walls, and I would just be stuck. At these times I remembered to keep writing, and I did keep on writing until I had a product that I wanted to show the world.
I thought I had succeeded. I had written a book. Except that it wasn’t near finished. Two years and reams of rewrites and an ocean of tears later it was done and my baby, The Walker on the Cape was born. Only it wasn’t really born yet, at least not out in the world.
The next challenge was finding a publisher, and I thought I could drop my manuscript off at a few publisher’s offices and then watch as they competed over my business. It didn’t happen that way.
Almost all the big publishers will no longer talk to writers, they want to talk to your agent. I applied to seventy-five different agencies and got back twenty-two replies. Twenty were form letters that said ‘much too busy to talk to me, come back in about ten years’. The other two were nice little notes that said ‘Thank you, but it’s not right for us.’
Now I was stumped.
No publisher, no agent, no book. At this point I almost gave up, but I remembered the lessons from my freelance writing days. If your piece gets rejected one place, then try another. So I did.
I wish I could tell you that I was at an event and I bumped into some famous author and they gave me the name of their agent and I got a six-figure advance and a contract for five more books, but that didn’t happen. It would make a good story, though!
No, I found a co-operative publisher right in my home town. I would pay some of the costs and do my own promo and they would print and sell the book. And so the first book was born. If the ‘industry’ would not help me then I would help myself.
Since then I have used several co-operative publishers and independent book distributors to release and sell my books all over the world. This has helped broaden my audience and allowed me to sell books in Britain, Australia and Germany, Italy, India and Brazil. I can’t say I’m an international best seller, but my books are available anywhere anybody has access to the Internet.
I now have seven books, seven babies out in the world. The latest book, Darkest Before the Dawn, is now available both in print and in e-book format on Amazon and through Chapters/Indigo in Canada. You can also find it in many Chapters/Indigo and Coles stores across Canada as well as select independent book stores like Novel Idea in Kingston and Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto.
So if you’re struggling, keep on struggling. If you are a writer, keep on writing. And remember what Stephen King says about writing “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
Mike Martin is the author of the Windflower Mystery Series, set in small communities on the east coast of Canada.
Darkest Before the Dawn is available in print and e-book versions worldwide through Amazon and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo and other fine bookstores. And from Ottawa Press and Publishing. Learn more on Facebook, and on Twitter @mike54martin. You’ll also find Darkest Before the Dawn on Goodreads.