G R Matthews
My journey to being traditionally published...
This first appeared on the wonderful Fantasy Book Critic as part of a longer interview about Seven Deaths of an Empire (Solaris Books, June 2021), but I wanted it here too - for posterity.
Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Geoff and many, many congratulations on your signing with Solaris Books. Can you provide us with a summary of your journey leading up to your book acquisition?
GRM: There is a long journey from beginning to write, to learning to write, through practicing and eleven completed novels - the magical 1 million words.
There is also the shorter journey of this book though it will take longer to describe. Get a coffee, maybe a snack, and settle down in your comfiest chair.
I’d been subbing to agents for a couple of years, and one (Jamie Cowen) gave great feedback on the first book I sent in. He took the full manuscript, read it, enjoyed it, but ultimately turned it down with some incredible advice and thoughts. Just getting the full MS request was a massive boost. So, I wrote another book and subbed that. Again, Jamie got back to me - comparing the book to the ‘The Revenant’ (and adding in a little John Wick), which was great, but again it wasn’t quite right as a debut, a first book.
Third time’s the charm, they say. Well, only if you work damn hard and listen to advice.
In July 2019, I started writing Seven Deaths and then went on a family holiday. While there I saw, actually I think I got told about it, a ‘Shoot your Shot’ event held by Rebellion Publishing. At this point I had three finished, unpublished books; the two I’d sent to Jamie, and a post apocalyptic ‘World of Warcraft meets the A-Team’ one (I think you’ve read that one, Mihir). Being cheeky, but when you are shooting your shot, the more bullets you fire, the better chance you’ve got to hit the target (my approach to Call of Duty multiplayer), I figured why not try them all.
Each “shot” was a pitch of one of those books on twitter using the right hashtag. I crafted three pitches - one line to sell the book on. I have them lying about somewhere. Anyway, I fired them off whilst on holiday (I take a laptop so I can write) and then went swimming (probably). After a day or two, and near the close of the window for that event, I thought “why not?” and pitched the book I was only 18,000 words into. Utter madness.
However, I’d learned from the advice and rejections, and for the past three books I’d written a plan for the book. I had character arcs, major events, and gone from pantser to architect without really realising. I’d also gone to an event in London a week or so before my holiday with Mike Evans and Anna Stephens, where commissioning editors had spoken about pitches. Admittedly, I might have gatecrashed one of the events, but one of the panel (and the organisers) did say it was OK. So, I didn’t really gatecrash, I asked… I am British and was raised to be polite. Just after that panel and as the person who’d booked the slot didn’t show up, I sat with Jack Rennison, Editor at Harper Voyager, for about ten minutes talking about this nascent book and pitches - I’d always had a “pitch line” in my agent query letters and working out how to improve them was, for me, important.
It was, after sending the pitches in, all about waiting… and writing. I settled in for the long haul and put it out of my mind. This book wasn’t done, nowhere near, and I’d just pitched it. It would be just my luck they’d chose this one instead of one of the completed books.
Bugger, they asked for Seven Deaths and it had been less than a week! I polished the 10K near the end of the holiday. My family allowing me the time to do so. I sent the first 10k to some friends (an SPFBO judging panel - there is no more difficult group to get a book past), who are all readers and writers. I took their corrections, feedback and polished some more.
Synopsis - bloody synopsis. I hate them, my precious… cough… erm… anyway.
This time, due to my new method of writing, I’d actually written that before I set to writing the book. It wasn’t perfect and things might change as the book gets written, but this synopsis needed to be right. I begged, well asked Adrian Selby (Winter Road, Snakewood) to look it over for me… please… and like a gent he agreed!
Let me point out before a deluge of synopsis rain down upon him, I’ve met Adrian quite a few times and spent many an hour drinking and discussing something or other - the alcohol is not good for the memory. All of which boils down to; I sent it off and he replied a day or two later with some great advice. A quick rewrite and it improved massively. All done and with a nervous flutter, I hit send and the letter (it is just polite), synopsis and 10K sample was carried to Rebellion on the wings of an email.
I put it out of my mind again. Well, tried to, but what if they asked for the full MS and I’ve only got 25K done by this point. It was back to work (the job that pays the bills) in September, writing in the evenings and at the weekends. Write, write, write. I had a plan to follow; scenes, beats, and events to include. By mid-October it was done. Well, the first draft was done. I typed “The End” and sighed in relief, opened by social media, checked my emails. 155, 000 words… I can write quickly and have often had two books on the go at a time, but this had been like doing three NaNo’s in a row. I was knackered, but exhilarated.
A week later. Shit. They’ve asked for the Full MS. I’ve just finished draft one… it is rough, unpolished. A quick email to Kate, the editor who asked for MS, explaining how rough it is. Doesn’t matter, she said, send it anyway. Gulp.
Bundle it up in an email, a quick check of the formatting as I dragged it from Scrivener into word. A very quick spell-check, and send.
And now it was off to BristolCon, keeping it as quiet as I can, because, you know, jinxing things. Had a great time meeting an amazing bunch of folks, watching a friend demolish, ever so slowly, a plate of pasta. I really enjoy BristolCon - small enough to be friendly, big enough to always meet new folks. Back home and I know I’ll polish the draft, because if they say no, it is going to be subbed to agents. I sent my second draft, really just a read through and tidy up of sentences, to Julia, always my first reader, and wait for the feedback. When Julia sends it back it is edit, correct, and polish. Wait and try and think about the next book.
December 2019. Sat in a board game cafe on a work team building, well-being event. Check my emails, because I’ve been checking it every five minutes since October. Read the offer email… we’d like to publish your book… read it again. And a third, fourth time. Have I read that right?
Almost scream in shock, fright, excitement - but manage to keep my cool (I so did not). Woohoo!
What now? Jamie, help!
Which is where I sit now. The contract is signed, the announcement has been made, and I am ready to get on with edits... and writing the sequel which is close to 50,000 words as I type this.
The future remains an "undiscovered country" and given the current state of affairs (virus, lock down, social distancing) it is one we hope will be filled with joy and excitement!