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The Sirens of Suspense




Kira Peikoff has written for The Daily News, The Orange County Register, Newsday, and New York magazine. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from NYU. LIVING PROOF is her debut novel, she is currently working on her second novel.

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So You're a First-Time Author: item1

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As of this week, I’m a published novelist. My debut thriller LIVING PROOF came out on February 28th in the US. and Canada. Day 1, you might say. But really, the journey started years before, as it does for many authors.

I knew nothing about publishing a book when I set out to write one. All I knew was that I had a story to tell. The day the seed of my story was planted—that was the true Day 1. (Link to Erin’s blog about the inspiration behind the book here.) It would be another year before I wrote the first word, then 9 more months before the book was written, and four years after that before it was published. So, by my rough estimate, I’m actually at around Day 2000. And now I feel as though the journey is just beginning.

So how did a girl from a small suburb in Orange County, California make it this far? Well, I had the great fortune to work in book publishing in New York City as an editorial assistant for several years in between the time I wrote the book and when I found my publisher. That was the best education I could have gotten, and also at times, the harshest. Case in point: Part of my job included writing rejection letters to agents on behalf of my boss, an editorial director. Sometimes, I would I receive my own rejection on the same day I’d write one! Suffice to say I came to master the morbid art of breaking bad news gently.

There’s nothing like working in a publishing house to give you a first-hand understanding of how truly low your odds are of getting signed. I say this not to discourage you, but to give you a reality check. In the two+ years I spent working in editorial departments, my bosses received hundreds of projects and signed fewer than fifteen. And it’s not as though all you need is one agent, and then one editor to love your book. You of course need that much, but your editor-to-be will also need to convince a roomful of colleagues, including his or her boss—the publisher—why the house should invest its precious time and money in your book. It’s the dreaded Acquisitions Board. No book-buying decisions are made today without one.

When you’re an unknown first-timer with nothing but a manuscript and a handful of rejections, it is utterly daunting. But here’s the good news, which I also learned from being behind-the-scenes. Persistence pays off. It is cliché because it’s true. And you’re going to need persistence every single step of the way, whether it comes in the form of taking a writing class to improve your craft, going to conferences to network with publishing professionals, spending years editing your project, or overcoming the sting of inevitable rejections. And that’s before you’ve even gotten a deal.

OK, let’s say you’ve doggedly done your job, and now you’re signed. Getting that phone call makes it all worth it! But this isn’t the time to get complacent: just the opposite. Working in the industry gave me some crucial insights into how to be a dedicated publishing partner. I learned not to just lie back and expect my publisher to shoulder total responsibility for the marketing and selling of my book. I recognized that the authors whom my bosses most enjoyed working with were those who were extremely proactive and savvy. I aimed to become one of them—not the diva everyone loves to hate or the first-timer whose cluelessness merits eye rolls, a la: “When will the New York Times run my review?”

Getting real, I knew that debut novelists have to buckle down to get their work noticed at all, by anyone. First up was to get blurbs—established authors’ praise for my book to print on the back cover. Even though many editors spearhead this process on behalf of their authors, I wanted to show that I could help get this done, too. I made a list of other authors in my genre whose work I admired, researched their contact information, and mailed cold copies to about a dozen of them, along with a letter explaining who I was, what I admired about them, and why they should read my book. To my complete shock, I got four blurbs back. One author was so amazingly supportive that she reached out to her wide network, telling them about my book, which led to three more glowing quotes.

Another helpful thing I did pre-pub was to attend industry conferences for writers in my genre—Thrillerfest and Bouchercon. Besides having a great time, I got to meet a group of people who were passionate about the same things—suspense fiction, writing, and sharing great books. I now feel part of this incredible community that I wouldn’t have otherwise known existed. I’ve met booksellers, bloggers, reviewers, friends, and mentors; their support has been invaluable in so many ways.

As my pub date came closer, I knew I wanted to support independent bookstores, who as everyone knows are having a tough time these days. I traveled to five or six around my hometown, sharing galleys with them and making valuable contacts. This led to me arranging signings at those stores upon my publication. Recently, a week before the big day, I received a shipment of my books from my publisher and sent the copies gratis to other independent stores around the country.

Which brings us up to today. Being an author is like being the CEO of a small business: you have to learn all you can about your industry and be willing to wear many hats. I’m so glad that working in publishing helped me get the message, or I wouldn’t have gotten here, to Day 7.

I mean, 2007.



COMMENT? QUESTION FOR KIRA? OR TELL US about your journey to publication further down on this page or on our Facebook page and be entered to win one of two copies of LIVING PROOF!

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