I am impressed by the way you’ve moved from publishing to writing and back again. Let’s start with publishing. You worked with Thomas Nelson, the biggest Christian publisher. What do you think is the common misconception writers have about the submission and editing process?
There is no simple answer to that question. The amount of attention a submission gets can be very capricious. A lack of attention and response may come down to nothing more than an editor’s workload. At the larger publishers, most submissions must come through an agent, even if that rule isn’t written in stone. If you have your own reality show or ten million Twitter followers, don’t worry, the publishers will knock at your door. Based on the sheer volume of manuscripts being written, the agent’s role has grown. He or she is being trusted by publishers to cull submissions for the best of the best. For any writer wanting to pursue the traditional publishing route, it begins with preparing a proposal that sells an agent.
You were involved in the publishing process for God’s Little Devotional Book and Jesus Calling which both became phenomenal best sellers. What did the editors see that made them think these books should be published?
God’s Little Devotional Book was an almost immediate success. It was ordered by Sams and other big box retailers and the sell through outpaced countless books by big name authors. Jesus Calling was a slower build, even though it did very well from day one. For one thing, the first printings were four color, which meant they were done in China, so we kept running out of books and it would take months to restock. So we converted to two-color so we could print domestically and keep in stock. People were so moved by Jesus Calling that they would order in case lot quantities to give to friends or a child’s athletic team or class at school.
In both series, the phrase we used to explain sales was “it’s a God thing.” I’d like to say I was smart or spiritual enough to predict such levels of success, but that was beyond anything I brought to the table. On more than a few occasions I’ve looked at success stories like these and tried to reverse engineer the dynamics. Hits like that just don’t work that way.
Your bio shows you’ve ghostwritten numerous books. How did you get involved in that process?
I’ve ghosted about seven books now, so that’s obviously not been my focus. The first book I wrote was with Don Soderquist who was Sam Walton’s right hand man during Walmart’s explosive growth. I didn’t know him before we worked on the project, but we were introduced by a mutual friend. In his case, he had put most of the meat of the book on paper and my job was to shape it into a commercial project. I’ve ghost written other books where it was based on very little author writing but extended interviews. I’ve had one instance where someone had an idea and not much else, but they wanted a book to promote their business. I think there is tremendous opportunity for writers in this area.
You are now writing your own books. With all your publishing contacts, why didn’t you go the traditional route?
The most disrupted category in publishing is adult fiction. Obviously not for the A+ authors, but for the solid B authors and especially new authors, publisher acquisitions have contracted significantly. Further, the marketing dollars are going to go to the bigger projects. So I believe there’s more opportunity keeping control of the publishing process.
Are you looking for submissions for your publishing company, Sydney Lane Press?
At Sydney Lane we are acquiring at a modest pace. We are looking for authors who have ownership of a backlist with some modicum of success and new materials ready to go. When spending money to promote a book, we want it to have spillover onto an entire series.
What inspired you to create your Kristen Conner mysteries? How do you come up with the ideas for the murders in your book?
I’ve read so much character-driven series fiction through the years that I’m surprised I didn’t jump into fiction earlier! I definitely saw Kristen Conner as a series. With six children — three boys and three girls — I determined that most of the drama in my parenting life came from my daughters, so that settled it for me. Write a female protagonist.
My first three books have had some sensational murders. Every Breath You Take was the murder of a billionaire’s son. I was writing while there were huge protests against Wall Street and the 1% so I think that probably inspired the story line. I am finishing up the fourth mystery, Under Pressure, and this one is built around multiple murders, including a school shooting. Since the stories are based in Chicago, it is easy to follow the crime timeline.
What new book(s) do you have in the works?
I’ve launched a new series with Rise of the Beast, book one in the Patmos Conspiracy. This is going to take a lot of people by surprise. It sounds biblical—and it’s definitely Apocryphal—but it’s an international thriller with the incredible twist of a billionaire megalomaniac who decides he will volunteer to be the Beast of Revelation in order to purge the world of a couple billion people.
What is the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
Read a lot more than you write. When you do write, write what you like!
Thank you for your insight on writing and publishing. If you'd like to learn more about Mark's current series or upcoming ones, here's a link to get you started: http://www.markgilroy.com/ and if you attend the Killer Nashville conference next month, you might just meet him there!