I'm currently working on a new novel that will be published by Headline next year. Keen to understand what awaits me, I tapped James Law and Jenny Blackhurst, two very talented, recently published first time thriller writers, for advice.
Jenny's up first. Her debut novel, How I Lost You, is a number one bestseller on Amazon, and has been described as an utterly gripping debut.
Finding the time and energy to write a book is a challenge for most first time authors. Jenny's opportunity came shortly after having her first child.
"I had been on maternity leave with my first baby when my employer went into administration and I was made redundant. For me it was that 'now or never' moment, so although I didn't have a 'day job' as such I had to balance writing with looking after a newborn - and I certainly had less energy than I'd have liked! Writing gave me a renewed energy, I only felt like myself when I was creating words, so in that way I was more energised than I'd been in years. I wrote every spare second the baby was asleep, one hand writing while the other was changing nappies!"
The editing process can seem daunting, but it's a critical part of the process of preparing a book for publication. Editing provides other perspectives and helps writers tell the best possible story. Jenny says:
"There was a fair bit of editing involved in my first novel. I got a lot of feedback before I submitted, and my agent is very hands on so there was another round when I was taken on, then of course the publishers edits. I had cut a lot of back story out in my rounds of edits thinking it slowed the story down, so luckily a lot of the parts my agent wanted fleshing out were already in my head, I just had to find the right places to include them so that it didn't affect the fast pace of the story."
Having previously self-published my novel Out of Reach, I was interested to hear Jenny's experiences of a large publisher's marketing process.
"I was the greenest shade of green so I was so glad to sit back and let my very experienced publishers take care of the marketing. I love the cover they designed. I was lucky that the whole Headline team really understood what How I Lost You was about and captured the essence of it perfectly in marketing materials."
How I Lost Youby Jenny Blackhurst
Many authors seem to relish playing an active part in book promotion and Jenny is no exception.
"I've been very active on Twitter and Facebook and have had a lot of interaction with readers - which I absolutely love. I did a couple of panels at Crimefest and that was a great experience, especially meeting other crime writers who are the most supportive bunch you could ever come across. I'm not great at blowing my own trumpet so that bit has been a bit difficult for me, I tend to just retweet nice things others have said."
First publication changes the reader dynamic. Until it's published, a book is usually only read by people who want to help improve it, and authors have the chance to respond to criticism and refine their work. Publication sets the final form of a novel and brings with it the all important reactions of critics and readers.
"Waiting for reviews was (and still is) a nerve wracking experience, I can't see that ever changing, but you just have to get used to the fact that some people will like it and others won't. That doesn't make bad reviews easier mind! As long as there are some people who understand where I was going and what the book is about then I'm happy."
Success brings its own challenges. Second novels can be notoriously difficult, and for Jenny the biggest issue is exceeding the high standard set by How I Lost You.
"I never ever believed my first book would be published so I wrote it just for me. I never even considered how things might look to readers - as far as I was concerned there wouldn't be any! With my second I am much more aware of how different readers react and their expectations. I'm scared of disappointing the people who loved the first book and trying to learn from my experiences and grow as a writer. That's a lot of pressure."
According to Jenny, the one thing every aspiring writer should know is:
"Success doesn't just happen - even the so called 'overnight successes' spent years trying to get to where they are now, you don't always see the blood sweat and tears that happen behind the scenes."