Book Title: The Charlemagne Connection
Publisher: Crime Scene Books
Thank you for your time in answering our questions about getting published. Let’s begin by having you explain to us why you decided to become an author and pen this book?
Author: I had recently retired from my main job, and the last thing I wanted to happen was for me to go moldy in some corner. I have always played at writing since I was a teenager, so I thought I would give it a go. So waving goodbye to the medical profession, I set off to the part of France I wanted to set my book in in order to go and do some research.
Is this your first book?
Author: No Charlemagne is the second of what is at the very least a trilogy. The first book, The Richebourg Affair was the adventure. Charlemagne is the sequel and the third book is called The Romanée Vintage. I had more or less decided to create the three right at the beginning, with Richebourg set in the spring, Charlemagne set in high summer, and Romanée being set, as the title says, during the vintage. It is a mystery series set in among the wine-making community in Burgundy. Being a fairly avid reader of fiction, I was surprised to be unable to find any fiction set there either in French or in English, and therefore I decided to create some.
With this particular book, how did you publish – traditional, small press, Indie, etc. – and why did you choose this method?
Author: It is a Small Press Publication. And like so much about Richebourg and Charlemagne, I didn’t choose it, it chose me. Richebourg was a fairly stream of consciousness novel, and there were times that I had wandered so far off the point that I had lost the plot altogether. There were times when the plot and the characters and I nearly came to blows. When it finally came together in some sort of coherent form, I then knew, that before I even thought about attempting to get it published, it needed a damn good going over by someone else. It needed editing. The first contact I made with a firm who had best remain nameless, but they advertised on the internet, and I contacted them. Twenty four and a half hours later, the half hour was ear-bending on the telephone, and the person on the other end was telling me all about how he and his firm were going to arrange the film rights for my book, which I had yet to tell him anything about. He was also telling me how much I was going to be paying for the whole thing.
At that point I ended talking to a very old friend on the phone, who told me all about this editor her husband had been in communication with about a project of his own. This sounded more like it. I met Sarah Williams in Woodstock, and she offered to look at the book and see if she could do anything with it. Well over the next 6 months we knocked the thing into shape.
Her next tip was to go to Crimefest in Bristol, and meet all the people who were there. My socks were blown off! There were all those people whose photos I had seen on the back covers of the books that I had read. I also pitched my book to a couple of agents. They both liked the pitch enough to ask to read the whole thing. One of them came back fairly rapidly with a thanks but no thanks response, and the other went very quiet. Meanwhile I started working on Charlemagne, as that part of the season was now happening in Burgundy, and it was that time of year to do the research. I spent most of that summer in Burgundy talking to winemakers and police, and in the autumn I was writing the book.
Meanwhile the agent was still silent. I wasn’t hopeful as there was no reply from my, admittedly very polite e-mails.
By the end of the year the first draft of Charlemagne, which was a much easier book to write, and it too pretty much wrote itself, but behaved considerably better. In due course it reached Sarah.
At this point I went to Monterey CA for its Left Coast Crime festival, and ended up talking to Sue Grafton. She advised me not to sit around waiting for this agent to happen, but to become excited. I also enlisted my editor to try to get a response from the Agent.
We finally got a response saying ‘No’. Fair enough, sad it had taken that long.
Some three months before, Sarah, my editor, had already suggested that she would like to publish Richebourg. She had already worked in publishing for a number of years, and was just in the process of starting up her own publishing house focusing exclusively on crime fiction. She very much wanted my books to be among the first on her list. After some thought, I finally said yes. And she now had two books to hand, with a third on the way. Monterey had produced two other people in the plot. Jeffrey Siger had offered to read Richebourg and see whether he was able to write a blurb, and also I ran into Maryglenn McCombs, a publicist, when someone wandered in off the street brandishing a manuscript. When I turned round and explained to him that that wasn’t quite the way you did it, of course my very English vowels stood out. And she was also given a copy of an early edit of Richebourg on a memory stick.
Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey? The pros and cons?
Author: We had worked on Richebourg awhile so the next step was the copy editing, and then typesetting, while the maps were drawn and the covers were designed. The covers were designed for all three books at once. At the end of July 2014 Richebourg was on the street. Thereafter I have been at conferences on both sides of the Atlantic, or on one occasion, when I lost my passport over here, so I never got to Killer Nashville last year. I have little idea whether being the ‘missing author from Britain’ helped or hindered my place in the market.
What lessons do you feel you learned about your particular publishing journey and about the publishing industry as a whole?
Author: It takes a very long time and a lot of effort to be discovered. Never consider JK Rowling was an overnight success. I have no illusions that I will write a ‘Bestseller’ but those who have read what I have written tell me that they have liked what I wrote. They like the story, and also the lessons about wine and how Burgundy works that are built into the books.
Would you recommend this method of publishing to other authors?
Author: It really depends on whether you can survive without advances. I have a reasonable income from my medical pension, and therefore I don’t need money from the book to put food on the table or cover my living expenses. I hope one day for this situation to become more interesting. On the other hand, working with a small publisher, I am in much closer touch with what is going on. Everyone involved in the whole project is someone I have come to know well. I have talked to some authors who have told me that they send an e-mail to their agents about something or other, and a couple of months later that agent gets back to them … That I would find seriously irritating. On the other hand the larger publishing houses have bigger budgets if they do decide to back you.
What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring authors?
Author: Firstly, write what you want to write. Then be prepared to let it go. Like a child, a book must be allowed to spread its wings, and the first person must be an editor to see what they can make of it.
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