A LOT of people ask me how I wrote THE SECRET KEEPER. They want to know which parts of the book are based on my own experiences and which are sheer imagination. It is an honour – and a dream come true – to have had a book published and be able to talk to people about characters and a plot that once existed just inside my head but now can be bought in bookstores.
But that dream very nearly did not come true. Alongside all the questions about the book itself, lots of other people want to know how the book got published. They want to know something of the mechanics of writing a novel, finding an agent and getting it to the market. This post is for them and it illustrates two things that are important. Firstly, don’t give up. Secondly, don’t always listen to the experts. They are often just guessing at what they think the market wants.
I began by making the decision to take my fiction writing seriously. So I sketched out a plot and wrote down about 25,000 words as a sample. Using that I asked a journalist friend to put me in touch with an agent that he knew in London. The agent – who shall remain nameless – liked my writing and the idea. She encouraged me to finish the novel, which I did. It took me more than a year to do it but eventually I had a first draft. The agent then suggested I make some changes. I did so. Then she suggested I change a lot of the structure of the book. Reluctantly, I obeyed. Time passed again and I presented the agent with a final draft. This time she thought about it for a while and then come up with a conclusion I had not seen coming: this book did not really work after all, she said. I should scrap it.
It was a body blow. It felt like years of wasted effort. I was devastated for several weeks. The agent – in her defence – then wanted me to write another book. “I love your writing, I just don’t think this book is the one for you,” she said. Then she added: “But if you want to try and take it elsewhere, I’ll understand.”
Eventually I picked myself off the floor and selected six agents by quite literally Googling them and seeing if they were interested in the sort of fiction I had written. I sent off the manuscript to them. Three replied wanting to represent me. One, in particular, was so enthusiastic that I was just won over immediately by her attitude. I went with her. The first thing she suggested doing: change the structure back to what it had been originally! Happily I reversed all the changes the first agent had suggested. Then my new agent successfully sold the book in America, Italy and Holland.
As I said, if you want to write a book: don’t give up and definitely don’t always believe an expert.
About the Author
Paul Harris is currently the US Correspondent of the British weekly newspaper The Observer, the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper. He has held the post since 2003. Prior to that he reported from Africa for the Daily Telegraph, the Associated Press and Reuters. He has covered conflicts and trouble spots all around the world, including Iraq, Sudan, Burundi, Somalia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Pakistan. In 2003 he was embedded with British forces during the invasion of Iraq.
The Secret Keeper was inspired by his reporting on events in 2000 in Sierra Leone as that country’s long civil war came to an end.
Paul now lives in New York and is happy to have swapped the dangers of the front line for the less obvious perils of writing about American politics and culture.
To learn more about the author and the book, visit his website at TheSecretKeeper.us.
Paul Harris is giving away a signed copy of his book, The Secret Keeper, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to his book tour page, http://paul-harris.omnimystery.com/, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 1576, for your chance to win. Entries from Bookish Ruth will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on his book tour page next week