Struggling Authors Interview

This interview originally appeared in 2007 on the Struggling Authors website.

by R Grayling

Douglas Reeman

Douglas Reeman receives his copy of Coronach from the author.

KIM REEMAN’S FIRST NOVEL, Coronach, is due out on October the 15th. We caught up with her to see what actually happens at this time and what insights she can pass on from her experiences.

So, Ms. Reeman, you must be very excited at the moment, could you just talk us through briefly what has happened in your literary world over the past few months – so that we know what this stage is really like?

Well, in our initial conversation you suggested I might be nervous. I am busy and excited, but I am definitely not nervous. The only thing that makes me nervous is the thought of not making a go of this. I’ve worked in radio and publishing, and for twenty-two years I’ve seen first-hand every aspect of the best-selling novelist’s life. I edit Douglas’s manuscripts and word-process them, I help him with research whenever he asks, I write the blurbs for the book jackets, I proofread, I liase with his publisher and agent, and I’ve attended every PR event, interview, sales conference and signing session. So no aspect of the business is unfamiliar to me, and none of it is intimidating.

You also said you had a certain admiration for the way I’ve stuck to my guns and not ‘kowtowed to the establishment’. Believe me, I would have been delighted to have been published in the conventional manner, and for years that was my dream, as it’s everybody’s dream – somebody reads the manuscript and says, “Where have you been all our lives?” and hands you a huge whack of money and you end up on the bestseller list. In the words of Carly Simon, whose songs I love, “That’s the way I always heard it should be.” Unfortunately, nobody offered me that invitation. My book scared the hell out of everybody who read it, and because nobody could think outside the box, nobody would touch it. So I took the decision, supported by Douglas, to self-publish. In my case, it was almost literally ‘publish or die’, and I’m not ashamed to say that.

You mention my seemingly horrendous journey toward this moment. It was more horrendous than anybody could know, or will know, except the man who lived it with me. There will never be a point in my life when I can look back and laugh and say, “Oh, well, I’m over it now.” I will never be over it, and neither will Douglas. It almost destroyed both of us. And I had years of it. The American agent who said he didn’t “do sea stories”, having read, not the plot outline and sample chapters but, wait for it, the name of our company on my stationery; the London agent who told me to cut, cut, cut, and sent the book out a few times to publishers with a little note on it warning them that it was “very dark”, so, of course, destroying its chances immediately; the London agent who said she loved the first five chapters, wanted to take me to the London Book Fair, wanted to take me to meet publishers, but first, could I cut the book? I cut the book. I worked on the book from March until July two years ago, editing it with every ounce of my not inconsiderable skill (and I am a good editor, so it’s not conceit to say that) during a period of great personal distress, while my mother was dying in Toronto, and at the end of July, after her death, when the book was done, I contacted that particular agent and told her it was finished, and would she like me to deliver it? Her answer: “I’m not really interested in representing you now.” My crime? Because I know the business, I had commented a little too sharply on the reaction of a particular editor known to Douglas, to whom we’d sent a few chapters. Turns out that particular editor was a friend of the agent. So, end of story. And there were others, many others. I attracted every liar, time-waster and fool in the business. The clincher was the agent who told me he would represent me only if I rewrote the book as a trilogy, to his specifications. That was last December. That would have been selling my soul to the devil. I refused.

In January, I put my battle plan into action. I approached the photographer and designer who had been working on a stunning series of covers for the Alexander Kent Bolitho novels which were being reissued by Arrow, and asked them if they would do a photographic cover for Coronach. They were all for it, and immediately we got to work, exchanging ideas. I told them I wanted an authentic British army officer’s uniform of the mid 1700s, and supplied them with details and sketches.

I then contacted the advertising departments of Publishing News and The Bookseller, both of which I’ve read for years, and bought the front cover and inside front cover of PN and a full-colour, full-page ad in The Bookseller, and set a date for the ads to run, September 7th. I had already decided that publication would be on October 15, 2007, Douglas’s birthday. And then Douglas and I had a meeting with Emma Williamson, senior publishing executive at AuthorHouse UK, and took a dossier of stuff including a blurb, biographical details, a plot outline, etc. I signed the contract, and went to work for about six weeks checking over the manuscript and making sure everything was exactly as I wanted it, restored a couple of scenes, and submitted it on disk. Meanwhile, Richard Jenkins and Nick Castle at Transmission UK had come up with a series of photos from their shoot, and we chose what I think is an iconic image. The details of the uniform are as accurate as possible, the lighting is superb, the colours are sumptuous, and the mood is arresting and intriguing. We then collaborated on the general design of the cover, I wrote the blurb and author info, and in due course the galleys, as the Americans at AuthorHouse US call them (British publishing tends to call them ‘page proofs’) arrived for correction. We went through three versions of these until they were as error-free as I could make them, and then the book went to the printers, in two editions, one hardcover, one paperback. The very first hardcover book arrived last week for my approval, and I gave it to Douglas. It was a very emotional moment.

When did you actually ‘finish’ the book, and how long did it take before you got to a stage where you were ready to set a launch date?

I finished the book quite a long time ago, longer than I care to remember. And I walked the bitter road of rejection for years, rather than months. When you’re a sensitive person, and you know that what you have to offer is not only good, it might actually be exceptional, a steady diet of unjustified rejection has the potential to destroy you. I am a strong person emotionally, but there were times in the darkness of those years when I considered suicide. If it hadn’t been for Douglas, and the knowledge that it would break his heart, and for my faith in myself and in Coronach, which never wavered, I might very well not be here today.

And although I’m not a particularly religious person (oh, all right, maybe I am!) on more than one occasion I used to stare out at the stars, and I actually said, “Lord, show me the way!” And a voice inside my head, not the voice that speaks to me when I’m writing, dictating the words, but another, said very clearly, “The way lies within yourself.” And it was true.

You are already working on a second novel set in World War II. How has your attitude changed (if at all) now you know that your first book has made it into print — has it altered your way of working?

No. I’m still as pig-headed as ever. I just wish I’d chosen this path years ago.

Leading up to the launch date, what actually happens next? Do you plan to do a book tour? If so, do you have any dates yet?

I hired a PR agency in Edinburgh, which has been working on my behalf for the last couple of months, collaborating with me on an author pack and approaching the media and bookstores, introducing the book and me. We’re also placing more ads, one in a major Halifax, Nova Scotia, newspaper, which is the heartland of Scottish Canada, and a series that will run in the newspaper handed out to all the English-speaking stalls at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I don’t know about a book tour yet. Interest is building. We’ll see what develops.

Do you have any ‘caveats’ for us struggling authors — is there anything you would now do differently?

At the risk of sounding like a pontificating twit, which you know I dread … they say, “Write what you know.” Imagine if Shakespeare had confined himself to that. I say, “Know what you write.” And know it thoroughly. Find your own voice, and be true to it. Be the best you can be, and if that means rewriting, rewrite. Learn the craft. And know that this business can break your heart. Have faith in yourself and your work.

What would I do differently? Hope I recognize where fate is leading me the next time.

Last but by no means least, do you have any words of encouragement for us late night scribblers or early rising keyboard tappers?

Know your market, if you’re going to self-publish, and go for it. And be prepared to promote your book, even if it means investing a certain amount of money. Believe in yourself, and keep the faith.

Many thanks Kim, your insights I feel will be of particular use for those Struggling Authors who are just about ready to publish.