Friday, June 12, 2015

Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends

I once was on a panel—I think it was at Bouchercon—discussing authors who rose from the ashes of miserable failure to regenerate their writing careers. Janet Reid, famous agent, was in the audience. I was talking with her later. She found it annoying that the cessation of a series of projects, or the leaving of a certain publisher, or even a certain agent, should be referred to as “failure.” This is the normal course of a writer’s career, she said. It’s not failure.

It didn’t occur to me to mind being branded a former failure, since I come from a race of cold-blooded, slow-witted northern Europeans who take five or six months to realize they’ve been insulted. Writing careers do tend to wax and wane, and mine certainly has. My first book—did I ever tell you about that?—was reviewed in the New York Times, favorably, I might add, and earned out its advance plus a thousand dollars more in royalties. It was a quirky detective story called Unbalanced Accounts.

Jonathan Kellerman’s first book was written up in the same review. His writing career from that point on did better than mine. It may have been that he was more diligent about promoting himself. It may have been that he worked harder at writing and had fewer distractions. It may be that he is simply a better and more entertaining writer than I am, or scarier, or less quirky, or more firmly plugged into the zeitgeist. In any case I’d be willing to bet that nobody ever put him on a failure panel.

So time went on. A number of publishers took me up and put me down again. The detective series reached a logical end. Time for something completely different. I wrote Bury the Bishop, the first in a series of traditional clerical mysteries. A Dell paperback, Bury the Bishop is the most successful thing I’ve written so far in terms of copies sold. After four more in that series my publisher let me go and my agent quit the business. They all said, “I hope you won't stop writing.” Why would I do that?

At the time of the aforementioned Bouchercon rising-from-failure panel I had a new agent who had just sold The Edge of Ruin, a historical murder mystery about the early days of the movie industry, as well as its sequel, The Brink of Fame, to St. Martin’s Press. The day after I accepted a prize for The Edge of Ruin from the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance it was remaindered. Come to find out I was supposed to sell it myself. Who knew?

I thought, if that’s the way things are done these days I might as well self-publish. So I wrote a little fantasy set in Lambertville and called it Monkeystorm. It had a video game in it and a couple of grisly murders. The protagonist was mental, in a charming sort of way. But the title didn’t really work. Nor did the cover, which was too scary for the book. A good publisher would have fixed those things, maybe even promoted the book. But, alas, you see. So nobody bought that one either. My friend Mark liked it. He’s a Terry Pratchett fan, which gives you some idea.

Still I refuse to stop writing. Once again it’s time for something completely different, and this time I’m going to undertake to write a spy thriller set in New York in 1915. Animals will be killed. It’s not a cozy. There was a war on, for Pete’s sake. Bad things happened.

So here goes. Wish me luck. You know what they say: if you never try anything, you’ll never fail, but then you’ll never succeed, either.

© 2015 Kate Gallison


  1. This is a gutsy self-revelation. I wish you the very best in your next level of output, fame and success! Thelma Straw

  2. Good luck, Kate. I know it will be a good story.

  3. Good luck, Kate. I believe I own your complete works (unless you have published other things under pseudonyms.). I actually first saw you on a panel when you had published "Bury the Bishop." I believe the Bishop of Virginia was fan. I loved those books and the Irene Fleming books were wonderful. I don't under publishing at all. Why do places publish books if they're not going to bother to promote them?