How It Happened by Brad Parks

WARNING: This blog post contains egregious name-dropping, which may result in nausea or vomiting.

It was Lee Child who told me it takes ten years to be an overnight success in this business.

When I first heard those words—did I mention they came from Lee Child?—it was 2009. I was a handful of months away from having my debut novel published, still too new to have any idea what he meant.

Eight years later, I get it. So, no, this isn’t going to be one of those tidy “How It Happened” columns, where the long-toiling writer, his walls papered three layers deep in rejection letters, finally gets The Call and lives happily ever after.

This one is messier.

Fact is, I had a relatively easy path to publication. (I say “relatively” because it only took two manuscripts and nine years, and most of that time I was distracted by a demanding job, getting married, starting a family, etc.).

Maybe because of that (relative) ease, I was still laboring under the misapprehension that because I had gotten The Call—and because it involved an offer from a respected publisher—I was now in the Big Leagues.

In reality, I had an agent who had never sold crime fiction before, and she had gotten me a minuscule advance from an associate editor at an imprint that put out roughly 140 books a year. I was in Rookie Ball.

Still, certain things went well. My 2009 debut, Faces of the Gone, sold through its modest first printing in nine days and went on to win two awards—the Nero and the Shamus—that, by quirk of fate, no single book had ever won before.

My second book also sold through its (still modest) first printing in nine days. I changed agents, switching to a sharp-eyed former editor with long experience in the genre. He and I agreed that to progress my career—both creatively and commercially—I had to write a standalone.

So I did. From “Once upon a time” all the way to “The End.” Then I showed it to my new agent.

He said it lacked heart. I agreed. We made the difficult decision to throw it away.

I’m blessed with fast fingers, so I wrote the fourth book in my series, to keep my name in front of readers.

Then I did another standalone. We threw that one away, too. Not twisty enough.

Another series book. Then another standalone.

Also tossed. It turned out the characters were all douchebags.

Back to the keyboard. Series book six was followed by standalone attempt four.

But this one? This one felt different. A keeper. The premise was original: a federal judge whose children are kidnapped by people trying to control the outcome of a case he’s hearing. It had heart. It was twisty. The characters were likeable.

I called it Say Nothing. I loved it.

My agent didn’t. He also suggested I get a new agent.

That led to four months of having very nice conversations with very nice agents, none of whom ultimately wanted to represent a mid-list author whose combined sales after six books were a rounding error when compared their more successful clients.

Then an editor friend recommended I reach out to Alice Martell.

We hit it off immediately. Alice has a heavy-hitter client list—including my friend William Landay (have you read Defending Jacob? If not, go now. I’ll wait.)—but what our partnership has taught me is how important it is to have a good fit with your agent, someone who really gets you and who speaks the language in a way you understand it.

Alice opened my eyes to places in my manuscript where my too-breezy tone got in the way of suspense I was trying to build; to small inconsistencies in the characters that led to large problems with plausibility; to places where, from a writing standpoint, I needed to step on the gas pedal a little harder.

We spent five months on revisions, then went out on submission in January 2016. And this—six published books, three abandoned manuscripts, and three agents later—is where the story finally gets tidy. Alice sold the book to Dutton, a dream publishing house, which made it a lead title.

Say Nothing has since sold in thirteen countries and garnered starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal. It releases in the U.S. on March 7.

I’m not ready to declare that I have achieved that long-sought overnight success. But I’m certainly positioned better than I ever have been with Say Nothing.

There’s even a blurb on the cover from a guy named Lee Child.

Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero and Lefty Awards, three of crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His first standalone thriller, Say Nothing, will release in March from Dutton Books in the U.S., along with thirteen other publishers worldwide. Parks’s six previous novels chart the adventures of sometimes-dashing investigative newspaper reporter Carter Ross, and have collectively won stars from every major pre-publication review outlet. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Parks is a former journalist with The Washington Post and The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger. He is now a full-time novelist living in Virginia with his wife and two school-aged children.

To learn more about Say Nothing, click on the cover below: