It wasn’t meant as a novel, at least not to begin with – it was just a story. I was still in school at the time, and I’d started and abandoned a lot of stories, and I had no reason to think that this one would be any different. But that story grew and grew until it became a 100,000 word novel, and by the time it was done I’d started to wonder if it might be publishable. It wasn’t, of course – 99.9% of first novels are terrible, and mine was no exception. And I wasn’t thinking in terms of being a full-time writer, or of even being a writer at all. But if I had to put my finger on the point at which I started out as a novelist, that would be it.
It took me seven years to go from that day to being published. When I did get published, it was as a children’s author, which wasn’t surprising, since all four of the novels I’d written were for children. Books two and three were children’s urban fantasy, with the main characters being elemental mages (sound familiar?) but the book that finally got me a publishing contract had a martial arts theme. These were the Ninja books, and given that I had a contract for two of them, I was pretty excited. I optimistically believed that I’d arrived, that I’d be able to keep writing children’s books, and that my publisher would keep bringing them out.
All three of these beliefs turned out to be one hundred percent wrong.
The following years were tough. The first Ninja book had mediocre sales, and so did its sequel, leading to my publisher dropping me. My next book was also rejected, first by my now-ex-publisher, followed by everyone else. My next book after that was also rejected. And so was the next book after that. And so was the next book after that. (If you’re losing count by this point, you can imagine how much fun this was to experience.)
By 2008/2009, I was starting to lose hope. My career as an author was dead in the water, and my only income was coming from my work as an English teacher. I decided it was time to face the facts, enrolled for a law training course, and in the meantime took a half-year contract to teach in China. Before flying off to Shanghai, I finished up my tenth book, a weird first-person fantasy novel with a protagonist who for some reason I’d made a diviner. Then I sent it off to my agent, without really expecting that she’d be able to sell it. In the past, whenever I finished a book, I’d immediately start planning out the next one. This time I didn’t. At some level, I felt that this was my last shot. If it didn’t work out, I was going to give up.
I was back from China and a week away from starting my law course when I got a message from my agent. An editor at Orbit was tentatively interested in my book. He didn’t think it was publishable, but thought it could be made that way with a rewrite . . .
Fast forward two and a half years to 2012. Fated was just being released, books #2 and #3 were written and contracted for, and I was working on a fourth. Best of all, this time I wasn’t just being published in the UK, but also in North America. Once upon a time this would have thrilled me, but by this point I’d become wary – I’d had the rug yanked out from under me once, and at the back of my mind I was watching for signs that the same thing was going to happen again. So I kept writing, but I kept one eye on my sales numbers, always mindful of the possibility that the series was going to fail, as so many do and as mine had before.
Skip forward a final seven years . . . and that brings us all the way up to today. Nine Alex Verus books have been published, with a tenth written. The sales are very healthy, and each new book sells a respectable amount of pre-ordered copies as soon as it hits the shelves. I’m not sure exactly what the tipping point was, but I realised somewhere in between 2012 and a few years ago that the Alex Verus series was off the endangered species list. It had built up enough of a fanbase that I didn’t have to worry about it being cancelled any more. And sure enough, right now I’ve got publishing contracts that run all the way to Alex Verus #12, which means that I can be absolutely sure that the series is going to be completed. Somewhere around 2021 the last Alex Verus book will come out, and for the first time ever, I’ll see a series that I started be published all the way to its end.
Seven years from my start as a novelist to my first publication; seven years from my first publication to my first successful series; seven years from the start of that series to now. In the old days, seven years was the traditional length of time for someone new to a craft to go from apprentice to journeyman. To go from journeyman to master was another story. I don’t know how long it’ll take me to get there, but I’m working at it, and with every book I try new things and improve a little more.
What a long strange trip it’s been. Thanks to all of you who’ve helped along the way.