In this guest post fantasy author Mark Lawrence writers about his experiences as a debut fantasy author.

Here's some information about Mark Lawrence:

Mark Lawrence is a debut fantasy author. His first novel, Prince of Thorns, will be published by Voyager (HarperCollins) in August 2011.

Click here to visit Mark Lawrence's official website.


So when asked if I'd like to do a guest post for the site I said, 'Sure. Point me at some previous guest posts so I can get an idea of what you're after...' And of course it turned out that I'm the first guest poster, so I'm making it up as I go along!

I've been watching for a while now – there was a time when if you typed 'Prince of Thorns' into google, Risingshadow was pretty much the only hit you got. Today the same query got me 58 pages of hits. The book's existence was first registered here in October 2010 and the Risingshadow review came out on December 29th, which is pretty forward thinking for a debut that is released in August!

I really don't have anything to say about the state of the fantasy genre, or opinions on the great writing issues of the day, or indeed any idea of what the great writing issues are. People talk about various trends, I'm often told my writing is part of the 'dark gritty realism' trend and that I'm either like Joe Abercrombie or (sorry Joe) I am the new Abercrombie. The only problem with that is that I've never read an Abercrombie book or a book by any of the authors I'm lumped in with. It may be true that a trend exists, and that my work was plucked from the slush pile because it somehow fitted with publishers' thoughts on the direction of the genre, but that doesn't mean that I (or any other authors) are somehow studying trends, jumping on bandwagons, or trying to be the new someone else.

In fact the only fantasy author I read in the several years over which I spread the writing of 'Prince of Thorns' was George Martin, and my writing is nothing like his. All I learned from George Martin was that the bar had been raised sky-high since the fantasy of the 80's I was brought up on, and some seriously good writing was now mixed with the seriously good imagination and vision of those earlier years.

So, lacking strong opinions on the genre, I guess I’ll lay out my personal experience in the business instead. One thing I've discovered in life is that things are seldom as good as you imagine they are going to be. I think that sense of anti-climax is hardwired into many of us – it's a mechanism to keep us pushing for more and to stop us relaxing into what we've already got. Being an author however has not been one of those things that wasn't as good as I imagined it would be. The overriding reason for this is that I never imagined I would be an author. When I wrote 'Prince of Thorns' it was to entertain myself and the handful of readers that I had critiquing it chapter by chapter as I turned it out. The idea that it would somehow turn up on shelves across the world a few years later never occurred to me!

I sent the manuscript to four agents because a friend kept bugging me to do it and buying me writers’ market books she couldn’t afford. I felt guilty and hoped she’d stop if I could tell her I had tried and failed. A few months later the last of the four agents I had approached wrote back and took me on. Another of them sent me a standard rejection a week later. The other two have yet to reply! My agent told me not to expect to hear from him any time soon as the publishing business moves with glacial slowness. Six weeks later he called me to say he’d sold the rights to the book after an international bidding war between many publishing houses. Also, could I write two more books because it was a three book deal? I carried my severely disabled little girl into the next room and told my wife.

So far the life of an author has been unremarkable. There’s a lot of waiting involved, occasional flurries of activity, and then more waiting. From having ‘Prince of Thorns’ accepted for publication to having it appear in hardcover in a language I can read, has taken 18 months. That’s a lot of anticipation time! It’s true the book has been out in Germany (‘Prinz der Dunkelheit’) and The Netherlands (‘Prinz der Wrake’) for several months and seems to be doing well over there, but until I can walk into a shop and pick it up the experience still seems remote.

There have been a few surprises along the way. I hadn’t realized that an author has essentially zero choice in their cover design for example, or indeed that the title of my book could be changed (neither ‘dunkelheit’ nor ‘wrake’ mean ‘thorns’ in their respective languages – they don’t even mean the same different thing!).

One of the most pleasing discoveries was the huge number and range of online communities and blogs centred around fantasy books. I’ve had a great time visiting these places and they’ve really enhanced my enjoyment of my own fantasy reading. It’s wonderful to be able to go back to books I read years ago, more or less in isolation – able to discuss them with just a couple of friends - and now see the collective experience and opinion of hundreds or thousands of other readers across the world. And as an author I feel it will be a much more interesting experience to be able to watch in real-time the reaction of readers to my work, rather than be limited to the very narrow view that writers were restricted to in previous generations.

So, in short, I’ve come a long way in 18 months, having crossed that rather arbitrary line between hobby writer and international author more by luck than judgment. Right now I’m surrounded by piles of my novel that I’m supposed to be signing for various booksellers, and wondering what homes they’ll end up in, who will be reading them, how long the images, ideas, and story between those covers will stick with the people who consume them... and in a week or two it all kicks off. I’m living in interesting times!

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