The more you do something, the better you’re supposed to get, but I’m not sure that applies to writing. In some ways, each book is its own thing. Since my second novel, Invisible Dead, has just been published, I’ve been thinking about what I learned from my first novel, Last of the Independents, what lessons I can take away.
When I wrote Independents, I didn’t know anything about the market–and still don’t, really. A lot of people claim to know what works, what sells, what’s hot. This is guesswork presented as fact–if it weren’t, there’d be no discount bins in bookstores.
People will also tell you horror stories of working with publishers, having their novels’ setting changed from Toronto to Detroit, their endings changed, the soul of their fiction bled away by callous editors and money-hungry publishers. This hasn’t been my experience at all–maybe I’ve just been fortunate.
Last of the Independents won a Crime Writers of Canada manuscript award, and was published by Dundurn Press. By the time it came out, I had finished the manuscript of my second novel, and was ready to send it out.
When I first started submitting Invisible Dead to agents, I had interest, but often the agent didn’t ‘get’ the book, or wanted to make it something else. One agent actually told me she liked the story, but that it was “too much like a detective novel.”
Thankfully, Chris Bucci at the McDermid Agency got the book. He knew the market and had smart suggestions, but he never asked me to change the substance. It remained set in Vancouver, rather than being moved to Seattle or Los Angeles, and the characters and story remained intact.
When Chris submitted Invisible Dead, we had a few offers, one of which was quite generous. But Chris knew that Craig Pyette at Random House would be the ideal editor. There were a tense few days of waiting to see if a deal would be made, but happily it worked out. Happier still, Craig also got the book.
What do I mean by ‘got the book’–that they loved it unconditionally? Hardly. The book went through a rigorous editorial process. What it meant was that the changes Chris and Craig asked for made the book better.
To me, that’s the key–any change that might improve the novel is worth considering.
With Invisible Dead, I wrote the book I wanted to read–a book about Vancouver. I wanted to use the private eye novel as a vehicle to examine systems of power and violence, and to look at who counts and why. Vancouver is really no different than Seattle, Minneapolis, Juarez; it has its problems with land and money and sex and violence, but these are ultimately universal concerns.
The publishing process for Invisible Dead has been an exercise in faith. I have no idea about the relative success of the book, except that the form it’s being released in is what I envisioned. This is the book I wanted to write. Every writer should be so lucky as to have that experience at least once.
Sam Wiebe is the author of the crime novel Last of the Independents, which won the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize and an Arthur Ellis award. His second novel, Invisible Dead, was published this June. His short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, and SubTerrain, among others. Visit Sam: http://www.samwiebe.com