Here, myself and Louise Voss talk to Harrogate International Festivals about our road to success.
We appeared in the 2012 Festival’s ‘Creative Thursday’ session ‘The Road to Publication – Success Stories.’
The paperback publication of Killing Cupid is proof that if you create something good enough and want something strongly enough, you can make it happen. Even if it takes a long time. This story is intended not just for writers but for anyone who has a dream of achieving something that is difficult to attain: whether your field is music or art or business; or even something in your personal life. Whatever you want to achieve, you can do it.
We started writing Killing Cupid ten years ago. Come Together by Emlyn Rees and Josie Lloyd had recently been a big hit, and we came up with the idea of writing something with the same structure – alternating male and female narrators – but instead of romantic comedy, we wanted to write a psychological thriller. We knew what the twist in the middle would be – it was our starting point – but we had no idea where the story would end up.
A few months after we started, I (Mark) moved to Japan to become an English teacher. I remember sitting on the floor of the guest house I stayed in during my first week there, the day after arriving, jet-lagged and bewildered, working on Killing Cupid. Over the coming months, Louise and I wrote it like a tag team, writing alternate chapters and sending them back and forth.
Halfway through writing it, Louise met up with a BBC TV producer who had liked Louise’s solo books but was looking for something darker. Louise showed her our work in progress and she loved it. The BBC optioned the book before it was finished. We were sure we were onto a winner.
About nine months after we started it, Killing Cupid was complete. However, Louise’s agent at that time wasn’t keen, but she agreed to submit it to publishers. We kept being told that because it was a mixture of thriller, romance and comedy, it would be too difficult to market. Everybody passed on it.
Still, we had the BBC option which was exciting in itself. The BBC hired a scriptwriter, took us out for dinner… Then silence. We didn’t hear anything for months. Many months. Finally, we were shown a treatment for the drama: they had changed everything: the plot, the characters, even the title. It bore no resemblance to the original novel. The while thing fell apart.
We then wrote Catch Your Death, deliberately making it more of a straightforward thriller, but this time we weren’t even able to find an agent. My former agent, who I had had a pretty good relationship with for years, rejected it with a single line: ‘Just not good enough.’ After a few months of trying, we gave up. It wasn’t worth the stress. We had good day jobs. I was starting to have kids. At the risk of sounding corny, we put the writing dream back in the drawer along with our old manuscripts. That was in 2006.
Fast forward to 2010. I started reading about a few authors in America who were making it big on Kindle and suggested to Louise that we give it a go. What did we have to lose? So we set about updating both the books, dragging them into a world where Facebook and broadband existed.
In February 2011, we put Killing Cupid on the Kindle store. On day 1, we sold 2 copies, to my mother in law and boss. Over the next few weeks we sold a few copies a day. And spent every evening after working blogging and networking like crazy to try to get people to know the book existed.
We’ve told this story lots, but it’s still exciting to tell it: after a few months of relentless pushing, and a very very slow crawl up the chart, Killing Cupid sat at No.2 on Amazon.co.uk.
And our other book, Catch Your Death, was No.1.
From there, we got an agent, who sent the manuscripts of both books out to publishers before the end of the week. We were all over the media, appearing live on BBC Breakfast and Sky News, the first of the British indie writers to hit the top spot.
The same day that we were on Sky News, we got an offer from HarperCollins, which we accepted. I was going to write ‘happily accepted’ but that would be a massive understatement. It was the moment I had dreamt of for a long time, and if you’re a writer, I bet you’ve had that fantasy too. The call telling you that you’ve got a book deal. It’s the literary equivalent of scoring the winning goal in a cup final.
So now, here we are, ten years after we first had this crazy idea to write a book about two crazy people, and Killing Cupid is finally in the shops. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, sitting there in WHSmith, crying out ‘Buy me!’ to passers by (as they head towards the massive table groaning under the weight of all the copies of 50 Shades of Grey).
It feels fantastic. Like after all this time, we’ve achieved something. Something that means a lot to us.
And it’s not just about achieving something and then resting. It’s about using it as a starting point and moving on. Because whenever you get something you’ve wished for, you will – if you are anything like us – want something more. In our case, it’s wanting to be able to keep doing this, to write more books, to find more readers, because it’s what we love doing. Killing Cupid has put us in the lucky position of being able to do that.
The publication of the paperback of Killing Cupid marks the end of the first phase for us. Catch Your Death and Killing Cupid have been so good to us, even though for a long time it seemed they would languish unread. Now, though, we can’t wait to get more books out there. The next one, All Fall Down, is being copy-edited now and will be out next February, and we are about to start writing our fourth book, Forward Slash.
Being writers is what we have both wanted to do for most of our adult lives. We did give up for a while. With hindsight, we could say we were biding our time and waiting for the right opportunity to come along. When it did, we seized the day. That’s what you have to do.
Whether you’re a writer, an artist, a musician, an entrepreneur, a lover or a fighter.
Never give up.
To read the article on the website, click here.