Tuesday, 20 March 2012

My Dreamy New Electric Book.... by Mark Chisnell

I thought I’d open my account here at Author’s Electric by saying thank you - it’s great to be invited to join the roster – and by giving you a little background on how I came to be dreaming of electric books... 

I left home after college with a rucksack, an old SLR camera and a notebook, along with a vague plan to write a book about hitch-hiking around the world. I spent three years on the road but somehow (it’s a long story) got waylaid into a professional sailing career, and all those carefully kept notes and travel diaries quickly fell into the awkward limbo of not being recent enough to be contemporary, while being too recent to be social history.

So I started to think about a novel instead... and I had an idea. Action thriller The Defector grew out of that idea - a game of the Prisoner's Dilemma played for life and death. In 1996 it was finished and first published in the UK by Random House.

In the meantime, I'd published the first three of five technical sailing books and was starting to carve out a career as a freelance journalist with (mostly sailing) material appearing in magazines and newspapers worldwide. Then came the internet - which for me started with the 1997-98 Whitbread Race and an offer from the official website to write a daily commentary.

The National Geographic photographer, Rick Tomlinson also asked me to write the accompanying text for his book about Team EF's two competing boats – Risk to Gain. The immediacy of the internet was a revelation, and when EF Language went on to win the race it didn't do the book sales any harm either.

All of this was a massive distraction from the second novel, and by the time I finished The Wrecking Crew in late-1998 any momentum gained from the debut was gone. And since it was a sequel, that wasn't good - the publisher rejected it. But the internet was still gathering steam and by the next year there were four or five sailing websites in various stages of gestation in the UK, and they all needed writers and editors.

Some of these were proper jobs, the kind I'd never had - salary, benefits, share options. It seemed like a good time to give that life a go, pack up the travelling and the uncertainty of freelancing. So I took a job to launch and edit madforsailing.com. We'd been going for five months and were nudging towards fifty thousand users when an email arrived from an America's Cup team with the kind of offer that you can't refuse. I handed in my notice, pulled the bags back out, packed up and moved to Auckland for two years of sailing as a navigator.

I also saw an opportunity to inject some life back into my career as a novelist. I contacted HarperCollins in New Zealand to see if they'd be interested in republishing my first novel during the America's Cup - when it might have more chance of gaining that crucial media and public interest that can make or break books from new authors.

They were and it did - The Defector was much more commercially successful second time around. And I had the follow-up book ready to go. The Wrecking Crew came out eighteen months later and sold more than three times as many as the debut – in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, beautiful and diverse as it is, NZ isn’t a very populous place. Back home in England, as I started on a new book, I knew that I had to find a publisher in London to make it worthwhile. To cut a long story short – and despite getting a book optioned by Working Title Films – I could never close that deal.

Fortunately, while I was trying, there was a revolution in publishing.

The Kindle and other eBook readers have transformed opportunities for writers, particularly ones like me who have been dropped by their publishers – often for no better reason than the economics of big London businesses with massive overheads and an accountancy driven publishing model (more on that here).

The Defector and The Wrecking Crew have found success in the new eReader formats and so, finally, there is a brand new spy thriller out – The Fulcrum Files, my latest (very dreamy) electric book. I hope you have a moment to take a look...


You can find Mark Chisnell online at...

Twitter: @markchisnell

9 comments:

Susan Price said...

Welcome, Mark! What a fascinating life! Wishing you lots of success with your ebooks!

Jan Needle said...

hooray! go self publishers, and never mind the detractors or distractions. apart from anything else, though, may i just say how terminally jealous i am of the sailing elements of your life. i'd chuck all my bics away, and my laptop, for a cv like that. any time you fancy a quiet float around the helford or cardigan bay, tho (my boats go up to TWENTY FEET!!!!) just say the word. i wish you a billion sales to go with your million sails.

Avril said...

Never sailed in my life and not likely too, though never say never, but I have travelled and loved it. Your life sounds fascinating! Welcome to Author's Electric Mark. Your story bears out many others in these pages and I wish you immense success in the revolution!

Mark Chisnell said...

Thanks everyone, very pleased to be here!

Dennis Hamley said...

Brilliant, Mark. What a life. And yes, isn't NZ wonderful? My partner is a Kiwi and we're often out there, though our sailing is confined to her son-in-law's boat on Lake Wakatipu. And I can't even water-ski. Too old to learn now, I think.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Fascinating! (And yet another fine writer dropped by publisher story - just how many of us are there, I wonder!) My husband was a professional yacht skipper for many years - he went from being a trawler skipper to skippering charter yachts - eventually a 50 ft company catamaran in the Canaries. I spent many months aboard with him there, and it was a blissful period - also resulted in a La Gomera set novel (written mostly aboard the yacht!) called The Golden Apple, which was bought by the Bodley Head, which was its natural home, but published by Century, which wasn't. Sadly, it sank without trace! (I'm seriously considering rewriting it completely and publishing it to Kindle!) Alan came ashore when our son was born, but did a number of long voyages after that - through the Baltic to Leningrad and to the Azores, among others. Think he still misses it all, although severe arthritis means that his sailing is quite limited. Very nice to read about another sailor though! And welcome to Authors Electric.

julia jones said...

Great to have you on board. I'm really looking forward to reading your books. Maybe the thrillers before the sail trim - because that IS a real mystery

Mark Chisnell said...

Wow, I didn't think they'd be so many people with a sailing connection - great to see!

@catherine - you really should republish The Golden Apple!

@Julia - the dark art of sail trim is demystified in my book, honest ;-)

@Dennis - I've sailed on Lake Wakatipu, with some sheep farmers a longtime ago...!

And I should perhaps add that The Fulcrum Files went to #1 Historical Mystery on Amazon.com yesterday, and was still there this morning... :-)

Jennie Walters said...

What exciting lives you all lead! I'm with Avril on the sailing front, though it's lovely to have the experience vicariously through reading about it. Lovely to have you aboard AE, Mark, and hope your sales rise up the charts quicker than a ...(insert appropriate sail metaphor here)