Sunday, May 31, 2015

Know When to Hold ’Em, Know When to fold ’Em

Matt Coyle Revisits Crime Writer’s Chronicle…

His first novel,
Yesterday’s Echo, won the Anthony Award - Best First Novel, the San Diego Book Award for Best Published Mystery and the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Silver Award. Rick Cahill now stars in Matt’s second novel, Night Tremors. We welcome Matt again, and his yellow Lab, Angus. They both live in San Diego - Matt, does Angus also write???

T. J. Straw

It took me eleven years, from first words on a floppy disk to actual pub date, to become a published author. During the wilderness years, a very nice agent who had given me a close rejection on my first book told me that she'd heard Jonathan Kellerman wrote nine novels before he was published. I think she meant to encourage me. It might have worked if I'd been in my thirties or even early forties, but I was fifty. I did the math. At the pace I was going, I'd be dead before I was published. I didn't want to be the next John Kennedy Toole.

However, I intended to write a series and thought the first book was essential in laying the foundation for the main character and his future development. After more revisions and another year of rejections, I began to wonder if I'd written, and rewritten, a story that nobody wanted to read. Was I going to be that writer who just kept writing his first book over and over while his life passed by? Over a four year span, I'd received almost one hundred agent rejections or ignores. I was running out of agents to reject me. I sent the manuscript out to the last few agents on my list and then closed the book on that first book.

Finally, I started writing the next book in the series. A few chapters in, I received yet another rejection for the first. The closest rejection I'd gotten to date. The agent told me what she thought the book lacked and agreed to look at it again if I addressed her concerns in revision. When I'd started writing the second book, I had finally given up on the first. I convinced myself that the first was the book I needed to write to learn my protagonist but it would never be published. People were living longer these days and maybe I'd be luckier than Jonathan Kellerman. Maybe it would only take me two novels to get published.

My writers group told me they liked what I'd written so far in book two better than book one. Still, I'd put so much time into the first one, I wasn't sure I could let it die. I finally decided to send it, along with the agent's notes, to Carolyn Wheat. She'd read earlier versions of the book in writing novel classes she'd taught and I'd attended. I asked her if was worth her time (and my money, of course) to look the book over and worth my time to revise it, yet again. Yes on both counts.

Weeks later, Carolyn sent me back twelve single-spaced pages of notes. She found even more weaknesses than had the agent. Her suggestions for improvement were good, but I didn’t know if I could rip and rewrite the book for the fourth or fifth time. Besides, book two now had my interest, my energy. Book one was an anchor, a reminder of failure. But I still thought it was a story worth telling. I decided to give it one last try.

It took another two years of revisions to get the book exactly were I wanted it. The agent who’d given me the last rejection had faded away from publishing. I sent the book out again and still got rejections. I sent it to agents who’d rejected or ignored it before. The title had changed and so had the book. But maybe not enough.

Finally, Kimberley Cameron said yes. Six months later so did Oceanview Publishing. Yesterday’s Echo was born.Two years later, it won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Eleven years to publication. Close to one hundred rejections. And I'm thankful for every one of them. If an agent had said yes earlier, the book would have been inferior and probably never been published. And I wouldn't have met Kimberley Cameron, the perfect agent for me.

I’m not sure I’d advise other writers to follow my path. You have to be very stubborn or very stupid. Or maybe just convinced that your first story is worth telling.

That second book? I had to revise it, too. Just not for eleven years. Night Tremors hits the shelves on June 2nd.

© 2015 Matt Coyle


  1. Angus doesn't write, but he watches me while I do...when he's not sleeping on the couch.

  2. I admire your willingness to be so frank and open with us about what a rough row you had to hoe! We writers tend to think often the path is strewn with glass shards because our stuff is not up to par! But you've given us today a little mental hug and said - it's ok, pal, just keep on keeping on!!! Thelma Straw

  3. Congrats on the new book, Matt. Persistence is a writer's best friend, but I often think most of us are storytelling addicts. Could you stop if someone tried to force you never to write another word?