Silence of the Lambs book coverAs an avid thriller reader, since discovering Silence of the Lambs in the eighties, I began to be aware around ten years ago that I was finding fewer and fewer interesting and exciting books and I began to drift away from the genre.

Not a serious problem as I have an abiding interest in American literature of the Mailer, Vidal and Heller vintage. But I enjoyed books about crime and serial killers and it was frustrating to be offered novels with big reputations which bored me.

I began to see an increasingly formulaic approach taken by authors and publishers.

Plots began to follow a familiar pattern of kill and chase, the only variety available being the serial killer’s method of dispatching victims and the hang ups and idiosyncrasies of the detective(s) assigned to the case.

Competing to devise the weirdest, cruellest and most ruthless

Writers seemed to be competing against each other to devise the weirdest, most inventive deaths committed by the stereotypical cruel and ruthless genius-gone-wrong who killed because he – it’s usually a male – enjoyed it.

His victims were beneath him – mere conduits for his pleasure – the police couldn’t stop him and were unworthy of respect until our detective joined the battle of wits and his or her insights begin to bear the fruit that catches the twisted killer.

And so on. And so on.

Fine at a certain level but I wanted more. I wanted the why dunnit and not just the “because his genes aren’t wired right” routine. And I wanted a thriller that had some connection with society, not taking place in some kind of parallel universe cut off from the real world.

And so the idea for Reaper was born.

The strap line ‘Coming soon to a family near you’ was added later.

And, like all aspiring authors, as the novel was taking shape and I was given to believe it was publishable, I bought my Writers and Artists Yearbook like a good boy and started sending off the synopsis and the first three chapters of the book to agents.

I’m sure you know the rest.

Don’t bother writing to agents

My advice to anybody having come through this process is – don’t bother. If you feel you must, then don’t give it very long and don’t expect to be encouraged let alone taken on.

Agents, in fairness, are swamped with material and no matter how good your work, don’t expect to get it accepted.

More often than not it will be routinely rejected, having been read by somebody on work experience, if at all. But think about it. If agents were short of clients, they wouldn’t be putting so many barriers between you and them. They already have more than enough work to do and presumably are making money.

For that reason don’t take rejection personally and certainly don’t treat it as an objective assessment of the quality of your material.

Employ a professional editor to give you feedback on your novel

And if you’re writing for pleasure, for yourself, rejection will be irrelevant anyway – a far better bet is to get your manuscript in as good a shape as you can get it then employ a professional editor who will give you a detailed report on what’s right and wrong with your work.

If you’re confident in what you’re trying to achieve you’ll take from it the good advice, agonise over less favourable advice (before changing your manuscript) and keep the non-negotiables that give your work that edge which takes it away from the formula.

And if you bypass agents don’t think this means you should avoid the publishers.

I’m sure they won’t thank me for this, but I received far more encouragement from publishers, particularly small publishers, who often seemed oblivious of the convention that only agents may approach them: a tacit acknowledgement I think that publishers too realise the flow of talent is often being extinguished at source.

Clearly it helped that by this stage I had a smart looking self published novel and had sold the majority of the 2000 print run.

This still left ample copies to offer members of the industry if they declared an interest.

One publisher said they loved Reaper but as I had already self-published it felt they couldn’t take it on. They asked to see any other work but as I was working on a sequel, I declined.

Another publisher declared a definite interest but didn’t have the funds in place. So don’t be discouraged. Have fun with your work. Enjoy the process. And if you feel confident in your work, publish it yourself.