A publishing contract with a cost…

A publishing contract came through the letterbox the other day, but I won’t be signing it. As this might seem strange from a published writer who is desperate to be published again, this blog offers an explanation.

The last contract I signed was with Minotaur Books for a two-book American deal. The money involved was not huge. Around £3,000, plus a dribble of royalties to follow later. Still, I’d written the books already for publication by a small York publisher, so it seemed like a deal. And I was genuinely thrilled, spotting opportunities lined up the horizon like ducks at the fair (foolishly forgetting in my excitement what happens to ducks lined up at the fair).

The two York-based crime books came out in hardback and were reviewed quite nicely, apart from the critic who said there weren’t enough murders. And another one who said the second novel wasn’t a thriller as it said on the front. Well, writers don’t put those words on the front, and I guess the thriller is a flexible beast.

Anyway, here in the name of dusty vanity are a couple of quotes about that first novel, The Amateur Historian. “Cole’s debut rings so many fresh changes on the echoes-of-the-past thriller that even more readers will welcome the series it introduces” (Kirkus).

Jay Stafford of the Richmond Times-Despatch – lovely man, clearly, although we have never met – said my novel was a “fascinating look at how the intersection of past and present can turn deadly”, adding that it “succeeds on so many levels that the reader can but hope that Cole’s next effort lives up to this commanding debut”.

That next effort, Felicity’s Gate, also received some decent reviews, although not from the critic whose taste for blood remained unsatisfied.

The novels never made it into paperback, where they belonged, as the publishers covered their costs on the hardback and put aside their promised plans.

They also declined a third novel in my Rounder Brothers series, called The Baedeker Murders, which I put on Amazon for Kindle, where it can still be found cowering in a lonely corner.

Since then there has been the time-slip crime novel about the York Mystery Plays, written and re-written and now in a locked drawer on the laptop, awaiting future attention.

I write most of the time, but there does come a day when you wonder at the point of it all. It’s a compulsion, I guess – sometimes a happy compulsion, sometimes a banging-head-against-desk compulsion. It’s likely I will only stop when fingers or brain seize up.

Does writing making a person happy? Er, um – less unhappy than they would be if they didn’t do it. Oh, but that’s a bit gloomy. So, yes, putting words in reasonable order can make a writing sort of person happier than they would otherwise be.

But it is still nice to be read, to see those words in print, and to spot your book on the shelves.

The book with an offer of publication is a thriller – I hope that word is acceptable – about a man who escapes a life on benefits by becoming a hitman. Newman, the hero, is an innocent abroad in the worlds of politics, journalism and espionage. An innocent who kills people for money (best and only job he’s ever had).

Anyway, the manuscript went to a publisher spotted on Facebook. I won’t name them as they had the decency to read the book and make intelligent remarks, or flattering remarks.

They wrote back within about six weeks, which is lightning fast in publishing circles, offering me a contract – if I stumped up £2,300 to support publication.

A broke man cannot afford such a cost, so no. And I don’t want to borrow the money, as the whole thing doesn’t seem right somehow. The experience has put me in a writerly tizzy. This writing lark was supposed to make money – not cost money.

I will now wind up today’s blog, and do a spot more work on the second new novel on the go: a murder-mystery set in Victorian York, reimagined with steampunk elements.

Lord, what sort of an idiot comes up with such an idea? Funny thing is, on this rewrite it’s beginning to make a mad sort of sense.

So, I won’t stop writing just yet, even if sometimes it does seem like the compulsion of an idiot optimist.

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