Sunday, April 1, 2012

The people who encourage and inspire us

A Writer's Sojourn

I was going to sub-title this post "A Writer's Journey" but the word "journey" has been so over-used on reality tv it has become something of a caricature of itself. And that's a crying shame as it is a perfectly good word, and an effective one when used correctly and sparingly.

Thankfully many reality shows have recognised this and are now encouraging their participants to use different words and phrases. Hopefully, then, "journey" will one day regain its rightful place. The English language can be robust like that.

The writing life is a little of both - the trip, and the temporary stays along the way.

But I digress.

My first writing sojourn began when I was very young, telling stories by play acting all the characters. If I'd continued down that path I might've been treading the boards as an actor but I didn't go down that path (too many strange looks).

I started using stick figures and props, moving them around the back yard. If I'd stayed on that path I might've been a Spielbergian-type director, treading the red carpet at the Oscars. But I didn't continue down that path and have a baby grandson named Oscar instead.

I began writing stories down in exercise books (I shoul'd've been doing homework.) I'm still writing stories down in exercise books when I'm not tinkering with them on laptops.

A couple of weeks ago the KDP Select Free Kindle/Promo Giveway for 'The Delta Chain,' exceeded my wildest expectations in reaching the #6 spot on Amazon's Free List for Mystery/Suspense and #1 on Amazon UK's Free List/Thrillers.

After the Free Promo ended, sales of the novel received a much-needed kick up the you-know-where, reaching #30 on Amazon UK's Paid Bestsellers List/Thrillers and #60 on the Mystery List.

Many authors have reported similar experiences with the Amazon promotional initiatives. It's much welcomed encouragement for authors and it caused me to reflect on the importance of encouragement for writers on their life-long storytelling sojourns (there's that word again.)

Several years ago 'The Delta Chain,' was taken on for representation by a leading UK literary agent, Bob Tanner of the International Scripts Agency in London. Bob loved the book and wrote me a letter, offering representation, that bubbled over with his enthusiasm for the project. Bob had an editor with a large UK book imprint wanting to publish and waiting on approval from his board. Unfortunately the acquisition fell through for reasons not fully understood but something to do with not enough votes to keep me on the island.

The editor was disappointed, I was disappointed - and Bob seemed even more disappointed. There were a few other setbacks and Bob suggested putting the manuscript aside for a while and working on another.

Unfortunately Bob passed away in 2009, after a forty-plus year career as an editor, publishing executive and literary agent. He founded the International Scripts Agency in 1979 and over the decades had worked with many authors in many genres, including Richard Laymon, Simon Clark and Dean Koontz. Dean Koontz's dedication in his novel,'Strangers,' was to Bob, and he wrote: "To Bob Tanner, whose enthusiasm at a crucial stage was more important than he can know."

In the brave new digital publishing world, many literary agents have expanded their role, in some cases becoming e-producers for their authors, or e-distributors, and in some cases going on to form their own e-publishing operations. Ever the entrepreneur, I've no doubt Bob would've been in the thick of it.

I didn't know Bob beyond some written correspondence and a couple of phone calls. He was in London, I was in Sydney but even from that distance his enthusiasm for my writing, his support and his encouragement made an impact that I've carried with me ever since.

In part it's the reason I pulled 'The Delta Chain' from the drawer and submitted it to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel award, where it was a 2009 Quarterfinalist. It attracted some good reviews, further prompting me as the ebook age dawned to publish the novel and then promote it via the Amazon/KDP Select promotional campaign.

When I saw 'The Delta Chain,' at #1 on the Free Books List/Thrillers, on Amazon's UK site - and then the following week reaching #30 on the Paid Bestsellers List for Thrillers, I was immediately reminded of Bob and his inspirational comments, and smiled at the irony that this first breakthrough for me was in Bob's country, not to mention the same country from which my Mum and her family emigrated to Australia after the Second World War.

I reflected on how vital those encouraging words were to me, from Bob and from others, during the years of this storytelling journey (ok, so I've used the "j" word.)

There is no question that those genuine moments of passionate support for an author, (or for anyone from any walk of life), be it from an agent, an editor, a reader, a reviewer, a friend, have a deeper and longer-lasting effect than the person who gives them could ever realise. (Relax, I'm not going to break into a rendition of 'The Wind Beneath My Wings,' and even if I did it wouldn't sound anything like 'The Wind Beneath My Wings.')

Even sports teams have their cheerleaders, rolling out the fanfare whether their team is on a winning or losing streak.

We all need our cheer squads, our mentors, our supporters. And we're all capable of offering our own cheer to others. We may never know how important that encouragement is, or how far-reaching its effect. Those positive comments, whispered in someone's ear, are like a ripple on the water, spreading out over the pond.

They just keep on going and going.

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