*Please be aware today’s blog post contains some swear words. Apologies in advance – Jack Hayes*
A few days earlier than I expected, my third book Overtime has hit the digital shelves.
The book was actually the first one I finished writing and I feel an enormous sense of both relief and excitement to finally see it published by Endeavour Press.
The journey for this novel, originally titled Ritter’s Line, was a long and hard one.
It was picked up by an agent after a recommendation to them from two different authors. They demanded a host of changes. After a year of batting back and forth I said enough was enough – it was time for it to be shopped around.
The agent disagreed but eventually accepted my view and sent it to 14 different publishing houses.
I am ashamed to say: he was right, I was wrong.
Seven publishers rejected it straight away.
It wasn’t their thing.
That was understandable: I am British, so was my agent and so were the publishers. To appeal to a US market I had purposefully written about an English “fixer” working for a Russian mobster who had bought an American Football club.
Four more said they would accept the book, if I changed the lead character to an ex-SAS man.
This caused a fundamental problem for the plot. Not only would it make the book an obvious ersatz Lee Child knock-off, it also insulted the intelligence of readers.
The lead character, Simon Ritter, was a lone wolf – a melding of Dirty Harry and Simon Templar. Such a person would never fit into an elite Special Forces regiment; they simply wouldn’t make it through the selection process.
One more rejected the book with a simple, single line email: “I did not understand this book.”
In my heart he got bonus points for ruthless honesty. In my head, I thought he was a moron.
Overtime is, in many ways, a modern rewrite of Dirty Harry. You could call it many things (“too violent” or “too American” or perhaps “not American enough”) but to say you didn’t understand it was as though you’d gone in to the cinema, watched the film “Die Hard”, and come out complaining you didn’t understand the underlying metaphysical construct.
“Man with big gun shoots bad guys” didn’t strike me as a complex plot.
You live and learn.
Down to the last two publishers.
One sent me a long email explaining that the editing department at his publishing house had loved the book. They’d taken it to the sales department and it had been rejected on the grounds that the book was “unsellable.”
He thanked me profusely for sending in the novel and asked me to submit any future books directly to him.
I shan’t mention his name here – however, after all the previous rejections, I shall be eternally thankful to him.
But the last rejection… oh, the last rejection…
It was an email that was very blunt and on occasions scatological. I no longer have the original so offer here my memory of it:
Thank you very much for sending in your ms Ritter’s Line (now called Overtime). I loved this book. I passed it around my colleagues here in the Editing Department.
We thought it was brilliant.
I took it straight down to the Sales Department, marched into the Head of Sales’ office and slapped it onto his desk.
“We have to have this book,” I said. “This is where it is at. It is the new-new thing.”
The Head of Sales asked me about the plot, so I explained it to him. He waited very patiently until I’d finished speaking, thought briefly and said:
“No fucking way.”
Our conversation rapidly descended into a “who’s got the biggest dick” contest.
I just want you to know right now… I lost.
This was, head & shoulders, the greatest rejection I have ever received.
Unfortunately, in this race, a loss was a loss. The are no prizes for getting a rejection, no matter how well worded.
The agent refused to send the book out to any other publishers. I would have to write a second book if I wanted to get published (that novel was titled Rook and eventually published by Endeavour Press as Dead Man Rising).
The story of Dead Man Rising is one for another blog post… but the story of Overtime doesn’t end there.
Two weeks later, quite out of the blue, I received a second email from the publisher. It was in the same scatological vein and, working from memory, went approximately:
Dear Mr Hayes,
A few days ago, I was clearing old manuscripts out of my office and came across Ritter’s Line.
“It couldn’t possibly be as good as I remembered,” I thought, and so I sat down to read it again.
Knowing the plot twists and turns, I enjoyed it even more the second time!
I immediately marched back down to the Head of Sales’ office and stormed up to his desk.
I called him an idiot.
I told him this book was brilliant and exactly what we needed. We needed to sign it up straight away.
After a loud argument we agreed to convene a six-person meeting. Everyone in the room had read your manuscript and we debated back and forth the pros and cons of it.
The conversation rapidly descended once again into a “who’s got the biggest dick” contest.
I just want you to know, right now, I’m very sorry.
I lost again.
And there it was.
It has taken FIVE YEARS to get Overtime out to the market. It has been longer still since I first put my fingers on a keyboard and began to type that fateful opening sentence: “The first time I met Josh Wheeler, he was already dead.”
I am enormously grateful to everyone at Endeavour Press for their hard work in getting my books out and believing in them.
I hope you enjoy reading Overtime as much as I did writing it.
posted by Jack Hayes
on May, 22