Brett Battles lives in Los Angeles and is the author of two acclaimed novels in the Jonathan Quinn series: The Cleaner, which was nominated for a Barry Award for Best Thriller and a Shamus Award for Best First Novel, and The Deceived, which was nominated for a Barry Award for Best Thriller. He is at work on the fourth book in the series.
You can visit the author’s website at www.brettbattles.com.
Welcome to Beyond the Books, Brett! Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
Thanks for having me. My latest, Shadow of Betrayal, is my third published novel.
What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
This is where blog interviews suffer from not being able to accurately represent any vocal reaction. As soon as I read this question, I started laughing. The reason is that my first finished novel was never published because it was, in a word, awful. But that’s okay. It was a training novel, and without it I would have never been able to write a novel that did get published. Oh, and the name…Shifter. Don’t ask.
For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
Believe it or not, I think it was between 60 to 70 rejections, most to agents. The rejections ranged from no response at all to my query to nice letters saying they weren’t looking for new clients at the moment.
How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
I actually decided early on that any time I got a rejection, it was just an opportunity for me to cross that name off the list. I tended to send queries out in groups of 10 to 20, so once I’d heard back from everyone in a group, or if a reasonable amount of time had passed without a reply, I’d moving on to the next group. I was all about keeping things moving forward. I should also say that while this was all going on, I would be working on a new novel with the thought that if the novel I was shopping didn’t sell, then I’d go out with the new one as soon as it was ready.
When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
Okay, this is a loaded question. My path to being published is not even close to being a normal one. So bear with me here, but I guarantee you it’s entertaining. The book we’re talking about, my debut, was entitled The Cleaner. As I mentioned earlier, I’d queried somewhere between 60 and 70 agents (and a few publishers) with no luck. In fact, I had gotten to the point where I was thinking it might be time to put The Cleaner on the shelf, and concentrate on finishing the next one. This wasn’t the first time this had happened to me. The Cleaner was actually the third novel I’d written, the previous two eventually finding homes on my closet shelf. (One was Shifter, and the other was a techno-thriller called Encryption.) I was a little bummed, though. I really liked this book, and had a good feeling this would be “the one.”
I ran into an author friend of mine and expressed my frustration. His name is Nathan Walpow, and he was being published at that time by a small Los Angeles publisher called Ugly Town, and he suggested I just send my whole manuscript to them. He also said he’d put in a good word for me. So, of course, I did. That was in February, 2004. Nearly a year later in January, 2005, I had heard nothing from them and had basically written them off.
One evening, I was in a coffee shop at work on a new novel when my phone rang. It was Jim from Ugly Town, and the gist of the conversation was that they were going to buy my novel. As you can imagine, it was Cloud Nine for me. I’d finally got my foot in the door! Things were going along well until late July. Suddenly they weren’t answering my emails or phone calls. A week went by when they finally gave me a call. They had to suspend operation because of financial issues with a distributor that had gone bankrupt. My heart sank, knowing I was back at square one.
Only I wasn’t. Jim and Tom of Ugly Town did not abandon me. They couldn’t publish me, but what they did was send my manuscript to an editor friend at Bantam Dell. And come October, Bantam bought my contract from Ugly Town, and had given me a new 3 book deal.
Okay, that’s probably more detail than you wanted, but it’s kind of a hard story to condense. Hope I didn’t put anyone asleep.
How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
I was elated, of course. I went out to dinner with some friends, and had a big launch party that following weekend after my pub date at my local mystery bookstore, which, ironically, is the Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles. It was a great day and a great week!
What was the first thing you did as promotion when you were published for the first time?
I started a blog about a year before my pub date, and had a small following. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing then. But it did lead me to something else. I met a few other authors who were also going to be debuting the year I was (2007), and we hit upon the idea of joining together with some other mystery and thriller debut author to form an organization to help promote us all. That group was called Killer Year. We ended up with 13 debut authors including JT Ellison, Jason Pinter, Marcus Sakey, Sean Chercover, Robert Gregory Brown, Gregg Olsen, Derek Nikitas, Patry Francis, Bill Cameron, Dave White, Toni McGee Causey, and Marc Lecard. It was a great success. Even better than any of us had hoped. We even got St. Martins to publish an anthology (called Killer Year) of short stories by all of us, and edited by Lee Child.
If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
Well, something a little less stressful might have been nice. But, honestly, I don’t think you can choose your route. It kind of chooses you.
Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
Yes. A year after The Cleaner, the second Jonathan Quinn Thriller, The Deceived, came out. And this summer has seen the release of the third book in the series, Shadow of Betrayal.
I think I grow each time I set down to write. As an author, I believe part of my job is to make each book better than the last, to always look for ways to improve my craft. In my mind, that never ends. Whether it’s my first book or my fiftieth, I always want to be learning and improving.
Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
I’m not sure what I could have done differently, and I’m not really sure I would have done anything differently. The reason is that good writing takes practice and experience. Baseball players don’t just walk onto a major league team and play their first game ever. They’ve been practicing for years, working hard for that moment. And many never make it to the bigs. It’s the same for novel writing. We need to work hard at it, and that takes time and work. Sure, a few people make it with their first novel, but the majority of authors don’t. We need to make mistakes, so that we can learn from them.
What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
Nothing tops being published, itself, and seeing your books in the bookstore. But I’m also very proud to have been nominated for both a Barry Award for Best Thriller and a Shamus Award for Best First Novel for The Cleaner, and just recently being nominated this year for another Barry Award for Best Thriller for The Deceived.
If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
Maybe travel photographer. I love to travel and I love to take pictures, so it’s the perfect combination.
Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
I’ll stick to being an author. It’s what I’ve wanted to be since sixth grade. Besides, since I write international thrillers, I still get to travel to do research, and I always take a lot of pictures.
How do you see yourself in ten years?
Still writing, I hope. Still waking up each day, sitting down in front of my laptop, and being excited about what I am going to write that day.
Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
The most important trait you can have, the thing that should be tattooed on the inside of your mind, is persistence. You just have to keep going. There will be setbacks. There will be delays. But you can’t stop. You need to write ever day, even if it’s crap. If a story doesn’t sell, don’t get mad. Look at it, try to figure out why. Learn from your mistakes, and improve your craft constantly. If this is what you want, what you really want, never, ever give up.
Check http://virtualbooktours.wordpress.com/ during the month of August to see where Brett Battles and his virtual book tour stop next.