An Interview with Author, Stephen Clarke

I am pleased to announce that today’s post will feature my interview with the witty and funny author, Stephen Clarke. If you’re not yet familiar with Stephen and his books, this is the time to get to know him. I promise you that by the end of this interview, you will probably find yourself reading his website and purchasing his books.

I met Stephen briefly at the Paris Writers Workshop I attended last month. He spoke during the lecture on Literary Trends: Self-publishing and E-books. The panel consisted of a few self-published authors who shared their stories of how they got published. Each story was unique and eye-opening. Stephen’s in particular, amused me, made me laugh, and of course—inspired me.

What’s so inspiring about Stephen’s story was how he used his determination, his creativity and his sense of humor to reach his goals. He went from being self-published to selling his books to a publisher. It goes to show that as long as you keep going, keep believing and keep writing—you too, can get there.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is my interview with author, Stephen Clarke.

During the Paris Writers Workshop, you mentioned how you initially self-published and sold your books in a trolley around town. Tell us a little bit more about that experience.
SC: It was very liberating. I was told by several professionals in the book trade that my novel, A Year in the Merde wasn’t worth publishing. So I did it myself, the old way, that is, by finding a printer, a cover designer, and getting the software to lay out the pages. I was then free to do whatever I wanted, so I had fun with the blurbs, doing collages for the cover, adding fake endorsements, even the copyright disclaimer had jokes in it. I got 200 copies printed up, but I decided not to let anyone know I was self-publishing, so I invented a fake publisher called Red Garage Books and claimed that “we” (it was never clear who “we” were) had discovered this great unknown called Paul West, who’d written the all-true exposé of life in a big French company and couldn’t reveal his identity for fear of being fired or assaulted. I then started trying to sell the books door to door in English-language bookshops, and sold almost no copies at all until I got a mention in a freebie newspaper, after which suddenly I was getting 100 orders a day. I then sold the rights to a “real” publisher, who clearly thought the book was worth publishing after all. That’s a very brief resumé. What I remember most is six months or so of solid work (that’s after the novel was finished), a lot of panic, several troughs of despair, and a hell of a lot of fun.

With the recent success of e-books, should writers still consider traditional publishing first?
SC: It’s entirely up to the writer. Obviously e-books are a lot less difficult to publish and ship, but you miss out on being able to hawk them to bookshops, so I don’t know. If you want an instant world market and know how to use the social networks, I’d say go for e-books. In any case, Americans seem to have forgotten how to turn the pages of actual paper novels, and the rest of us won’t be far behind because we always end up following the American lead in technology. I’m sure my iphone will soon have a real-book detector fitted, and if it smells paper pages nearby it will refuse to turn itself on.

What advice can you give writers who have been rejected by Literary Agents?
SC: Either find another one, or don’t – it’s a very personal relationship, a bit like finding a sexual partner. Someone might think you’re cute but hate your smell. The same goes for agents, except your idea is the cuteness and your style the smell. Just because one or more says no, it doesn’t mean they all will. On the other hand, there are those who prefer to do without…

What advice can you give writers who have self-published but are struggling with book sales?
SC: Look for niche markets. If your book is about French blue cheese, make sure you’ve sent emails to every magazine, website, club and trade union dealing with France, cheese and blue things. You have to plug yourself non-stop. I still do this. Any time there is any friction at all between France and the Anglos, I will tweet about it, and any journalists interested in my opinion on the subject will get an interview. You have to be a blatant self-publicist, even if you’re doing OK.

What do you think makes a good story?
SC: Absolutely anything that grabs readers’ attention. The same story told by two different people will be as different as Shakespeare and Barbara Cartland. You have to make sure that your version is gripping.

What do you think makes a good writer?
SC: The ability to finish writing their book. And the voice. You have to find your own voice, your very own, personal way of narrating.

What book(s) are you currently reading?
SC: I am re-reading an excellent comedy novel called The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, by David Nobbs, and have just finished Robert Harris’s latest, The Fear Index. Though I prefer his historical stuff.

What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
SC: Giving readings and seeing people laugh.

Thank you Stephen for letting me interview you. It was a lot of fun.

Stephen’s book, 1,000 Years of Annoying the French is #1 at the’s French History chart.

To purchase Stephen’s books, please visit his website or go to

Look for Stephen on Twitter: sclarkewriter

Why We Don’t Give Up

So you’ve sent out dozens of query letters, sent out partials, received rejection letters, attended writers conferences, and still—no representation. Do you stop trying? 

I met a writer at a conference last year that told me he’s been attending the same conference for years, trying to sell his book idea to agents and editors and have not succeeded. It’s not an easy task and yet he still keeps trying.

There are many possible reasons as to why he hasn’t gotten signed. He could have an excellent story, but his query letter is poor. Or have a great story, but not a sellable one. Or have a great plot, but it’s not well written, or not edited, or he’s been pitching to the wrong agents and editors or his book is simply not ready, or we can go on speculating.

The truth is, we don’t know why he hasn’t gotten signed. But this goes for a lot of us who have patiently held on to our manuscripts for weeks, months, or even years, and have sent out queries and prayed for the perfect agent to give us that phone call that will change our lives forever and sign us and make us millionaires or best sellers, or whatever else we dream of being. In the end, we are writers who want to get published. We want our stories to make it, just like the rest of them.

But how long are we willing to wait…

Before we move on and decide that maybe the manuscript we have now is not meant to be our first book?
Before we move on and write our next story?
Before we say that maybe we don’t want to wait for a Literary Agent to dictate when we will be published authors.
Before we say that our story is good and that maybe self-publishing is the way to go.
Before we say that this is our dream, therefore it is up to us to make it real.
Before we give up.

But you see, we don’t give up. Our stories exist because we were called to write them. Something, somewhere gave us the idea and it was our job to write it down. And we did. There is a reason for that, and that’s why we are here still trying.

The thought of landing a Literary Agent can sometimes be frustrating and discouraging. The thought of self-publishing can be daunting and overwhelming, so what do we do? The reality is, we wrote a book. A book we believe in, and we want it published someday, somehow, somewhere.

And now, we must ask ourselves:
Do we want to be traditionally published or do we want to self-publish?
Do we want to control our destiny or wait for a star to fall?

I say we continue to research, network, educate ourselves, and know our options.

And while we wait to see our name in lights…we keep writing.

Writing Tip #1: Don’t Overuse the Word “Suddenly”

Don’t overuse the word “suddenly”.
I had the pleasure of sitting and chatting with a Literary Agent from Simon and Schuster at a conference last year. During our conversation, she had mentioned that she once stopped reading a manuscript all because the word “suddenly” appeared excessively.
“Everything was suddenly this and suddenly that,” she explained chuckling.
Aside from “suddenly”, I think it’s wise not to overuse any words.
Recently, while editing my manuscript, I noticed I used the word “realized” four times in one page. Yikes! Glad I realized it. 🙂

Why It’s Important to Know Your Genre

Around this time last year, I attended my very first Writers Conference.

There were two questions I got asked a lot. One was, “What genre do you write?” and “What is your book about?”

For this post, I’ll talk about genre. I’ll save the second question for my next post.

A Writers conference is a great way to network and meet writers, editors, authors, and agents. It is inevitable that someone at some point will ask you about your genre and your book. Knowing your answers to these questions will put you a step ahead.

Before attending the conference, I did some research on my own regarding genres. I knew it was important. For one, you can’t approach a Literary Agent without knowing your genre. Approaching an agent who represents romance when you have a thriller will only waste your time and theirs.

It was interesting to have met quite a few fiction writers who came to the conference wanting to land an agent, who didn’t know their genres and who didn’t even have finished manuscripts. They wandered around aimlessly not knowing how to approach an agent.

NOTE: If you plan on pitching to an agent or an editor and you write fiction, make sure you have a finished manuscript and know your genre.

If you’re unsure about where your book belongs to, AgentQuery has a great list of genres and descriptions.

There are many reasons why knowing your genre is important. For one, it can help you market your book. Some people search by genres when they go online to find books they’re interested in, like romance, thriller, chick lit, fantasy, etc. Same when they visit bookstores.

If you don’t know your genre and need help figuring it out, here are some tips:

Think of it this way—if you were to walk into a bookstore, what aisle would you find your book in? Check and see how books are categorized. Go to your local bookstore and check out the signs and sections. Where would you see your book?

So, what’s your genre?

To Get a Literary Agent or to Self-Publish, That is the Question. Part 2.

Do you get a Literary Agent or do you self-publish?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that in order to answer this question, I would interview two authors—one with an agent and one who is self-published.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Sotto, author of Before Ever After. She shared her story on how she got published with the help of a Literary Agent.

As promised, I said I would also interview a self-published author. I am happy to announce that the self-published author I picked and who agreed to an interview with me, is Dina Silver, author of One Pink Line.

Check back soon to read our interview.

Self-publishing e-books = Success?


Are you done writing your novel (and by done I mean you’ve written your best and you’ve edited it like crazy)? Have you been looking for an Agent but haven’t found one to represent you? Have you sent out queries to 5, 10, 30 Agents and have received nothing but rejection letters? Don’t give up yet. This article might just be your answer.

But could it really be that gone are the days of toiling over writing queries and receiving rejection letters? Could you really write a story and publish it without the help of a Literary Agent? And can you really get published and gain success all on your own?

Well, according to this article, with e-books, anything is possible. Just ask authors like Michael Prescott, Barbara Freethy and Amanda Hocking.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Query Letter: If it’s not perfect, don’t send it.

Easier said than done. But if you’re writing a book and are planning on going the Literary Agent route, make sure to check your query once, twice, three times or more, before sending it out. Remember, this is the letter that represents you and your book. One typo and you’re perfect novel is in the slush pile.

Speaking of slush piles, a friend of mine just told me about an interesting blog of an anonymous Literary Agent that posts examples of queries that failed. Check it out. You might learn a thing or two. I know I did.

An Interview with Samantha Sotto, Author of Before Ever After

A few days ago, I mentioned that in order to answer one of the most common questions writers have regarding getting an Agent or getting Self-Published, I would interview two authors—one who got a Literary Agent and one who is

I was fortunate enough to snag an interview with the talented Samantha Sotto, author of Before Ever After. Samantha went with a Literary Agent, which worked out well for her.

Check out our interview below:

COREY: When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
After I typed “The End.” The dream of becoming a published writer took shape after I finished writing Before Ever After. Prior to that, it was simply a fun thing to do while waiting to pick my son up from school.

COREY: What inspired you to write Before Ever After?  
There are two ways you can deal with traffic: you can sit in your car and slowly go insane, or you can plot out a novel.

It might have been the Dr. Who marathon I had just emerged from or the “hangover” I was nursing after reading the Time Traveler’s Wife (I couldn’t stop crying about Henry!) or a combination of both that made Max, my main character, hitch a ride with me that afternoon. I didn’t know much about him then, except that he had a talent for staying alive, had a soft spot for chickens, ran an offbeat European tour, and was not a vampire.

I began to wonder more about his “lifetimes” and the people he had met along the way. That’s when I discovered that he had a wife, or rather, a widow – who had no idea who he really was. I knew then that I had to hop aboard Max’s Volkswagen van and take a detour into his and Shelley’ s story.

You might say that the research for this book was done years before I even had the idea to write it. I lived, studied, and traveled through Europe and have always been drawn to its crooked cobblestone alleys and tucked away corners. These forgotten nooks whispered stories that the history books left out. The “gaps” I found between by my travel scrapbooks and formal research became the places and times Max filled in with his secrets.

COREY: If you were to tell us about your book in one sentence, what would it be?
It’s a quirky fairytale for grown-ups about love, loss, and all that comes before ever after.

COREY: How long did it take you to write your novel?
About a year.

COREY: Did you ever consider Self-Publishing or did you always know you wanted to send your manuscript out to Literary Agents? How did you decide?
I only started researching about the publishing when I finished the book. I knew absolutely nothing about the process so when I saw a second hand copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published on sale, I bought it. That’s where I learned that I needed to find a literary agent. By default, that’s what I pursued.

COREY: Describe the process of getting published. How long did it take you to find your Agent? How long after you found your Agent did it take to get your book published?
Google became my best friend during my three-month agent hunt. I scoured the web for agents whom I thought would be a good fit for my book. I made a shortlist, sent out my query letter, and crossed my fingers and all appropriate appendages. But I didn’t send out my letter to everyone on my list. There was an agent that I particularly liked and so I decide to “save” her until I got feedback from the other agents. I was rejected a number of times, but luckily, I also received requests. When about four or five agents had my full manuscript, I found the courage to send my letter to her. She read my query, requested for the full manuscript the next day, read the book overnight, and made me an offer before the other agents had finished reading what I had sent them. She asked me to make a few revisions and when the book was ready, she pitched it to publishers. After about a month, she sold the book.

COREY: Who read your manuscript before you sent it out? Did you have it edited? Were you part of a Writer’s Group?
I sent the finished chapters to my mom and husband. They read the book in “real time” as I wrote it. My mom made sure that my T’s were crossed and my I’s were dotted. I was not a part of a formal writer’s group but I did join support forums online.

COREY: Have you joined any writing competitions?
Does an essay writing contest in 6th grade count? 🙂

COREY: What genre does your book belong to?  
Is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle a genre. No? Um…okay. The book crosses over genres – mystery, history, romance, humor. It also has a little bit of magical realism on its mother’s side. 🙂

COREY: Describe your writing style.
Quirky with a hint of lime.

COREY: Who is your favorite author, and why?
Neil Gaiman. I want to be him when I grow up. He builds worlds I want to live in.

COREY: Define a good book.
I like books that have characters that walk around in your head long after you’ve finished reading.

COREY: Define a good writer.
A good writer is an invisible one.

COREY: What is your favorite book? What are you reading now?
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. (Sorry, Neil.) I’m not reading any book at the moment. Sadly, I can’t read while I’m writing. My imaginary friends are a chatty bunch and take up the limited space in my head.

COREY: How has being a published author changed your life?
It hasn’t. I just get a whole lot more email – that I promise to get to. Pinky swear.

COREY: How do you balance being a writer and being a mom?
Being a mom comes first. I only write when the kids are in school.

COREY: What inspires you to write?
The fire-breathing deadline I have at the end of the month.

COREY: Are you working on your second book?
I’m wrestling with it now. It has me in a choke-hold. Send help.

COREY: What tips can you give other writers who are waiting to get published?
Show up for work even if inspiration calls in sick.

Thanks Samantha for allowing me to pick your brain. It was a lot of fun.

If you’d like to check out Samantha’s blog and/or buy her book, check out her website for more information:

Before Ever After is also available on 

Come back soon for my upcoming interview with a Self-Published author.

To Get a Literary Agent or to Self-Publish, That is the Question.

So you’ve finished your manuscript and you can’t wait to get it published. Now the question is, do you get a Literary Agent or do you self-publish? This is a question I have been asked many times and my usual answer is, it all depends. Depends on your book, and what your goal is as a writer.

But there are many reasons why some writers get an Agent and why some self-publish, but what are they?

To help answer this question (and other questions), I decided I would interview two authors—an author who got a Literary Agent, and an author who is self-publishing or is self-published.

I am happy to announce that the author I picked who got a Literary Agent, and who  agreed to an interview with me, is Samantha Sotto. She is the author of the novel, Before Ever After. She will be my very first guest on my blog and it is an honor to have her.

Check back soon to read my interview with Samantha Sotto.