This interview first appeared on the Book Publishing Secrets blog.
: Harley Mazuk
Book Title: White with Fish, Red with Murder
Genre: Mystery (private eye)
Publisher: Driven Press
Thank you for your time in answering our questions about getting published. Let’s begin by having you explain to us why you decided to become an author and pen this book?
Harley: I could go way back, to a kid’s daydreams, or to a college student’s vague stirrings, but really, this book started a few months before my 50th birthday, when I decided to write a murder mystery game and assign roles to the guests at my birthday party. Some years later, I began to entertain serious thoughts about becoming a writer when I retired. I took the old scripts and dossiers for the murder mystery characters out of the drawer and began to turn it into a novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder. There’s a lot about this book that I just like, and wanted to write about—private eyes, dangerous dames, trains, wine. The book’s set in 1948, a period I like for detective fiction, as the investigation can be a human, personal thing—not technology---not DNA, GPS, cell phones, and the like. The book was a natural fit for me, and led me to being an author, and a lifelong interest in reading and writing led me to this book.
Is this your first book?
Harley: White with Fish is a first novel. I sold a long story or novelette of about 18,000 words to Dead Guns Press in 2014.
With this particular book, how did you publish – traditional, small press, Indie, etc. – and why did you choose this method?
Harley: This is a small press book. I didn’t set out to do a small press book, but that method chose me. I tried to go traditional and even had an agent for about 18 months, a knowledgeable, honest agent whom I trusted. But she failed to sell it to traditional publisher. If it’s not one of the 20 or so biggest, they aren’t likely to pay an advance, and if there’s no advance, there’s nothing in it for the agent.
When my agent pulled out and the book reverted to me, I began querying some small presses that accept un-agented submissions. I think I’ve fallen in with a good one, Driven Press, which is small but seems very professional.
Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey? The pros and cons?
Harley: A writing teacher once suggested to me that the difference between published writers and unpublished writers is perseverance. I sent out more than 300 queries before getting my agent. This is probably more of a reflection on the marketplace or on my query writing abilities than it is on my book, as the manuscript generally doesn’t accompany the query. But it is a reflection on my perseverance.
One of the pros of a deal with a traditional or small press is that you get professional help turning your manuscript into a finished saleable product. I had excellent editing. Just having others read my manuscript and contribute their thoughts and talents makes the final product better. I also received some good quality cover art.
A couple of cons: Small presses don’t have much of a budget for promotion and publicity. To make money on your book, they need to keep costs down. So, if you want to get your book out to top reviewers, you’ll need a publicist.
What lessons do you feel you learned about your particular publishing journey and about the publishing industry as a whole?
Harley: As I said above, I learned reaching your goal takes perseverance. I also think an aspiring author should go to writing or publishing conferences that fit in with their interests—for example, I’ll soon be attending Malice Domestic and Bouchercon, a couple of the premier mystery writer events. Be friendly, be kind, listen. You may meet someone who can steer you to an agent or editor. And wouldn’t it be better to start your query with, “Stephen King mentioned to me that you enjoy detective stories like mine in which . . .” rather than just, “Sir or Madam, will you read my book?”
Would you recommend this method of publishing to other authors?
Harley: Oh, yes. Unless you get a six-figure advance and a two-book deal from Scribner’s or Alfred A. Knopf, I strongly recommend a small press. I read a recent article in Fortune magazine indicating that there are billions of dollars in self-publishing—such as Amazon Kindle. And I’ve learned it’s easy to do, too. But unless you are a social media whiz, by which I mean unless you have as many Twitter followers as Lady Gaga, or can get your YouTube book trailer to go viral, your book may get lost out there among the thousands of titles.
What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring authors?
Harley: Write regularly, hone your craft, and write what you like. Chances are, if you’ve learned the craft and turn out work you like, someone else will like it too.