CARTER: Let’s talk about the publishing of Eating Smoke, because I’m sure there are dozens of expats across Asia reading this who feel that they, too, have exciting stories which deserve a place on bookshelves, yet are unsure of how to go about getting published.
So once Blacksmith Books expressed an interest in your proposal what kind of writing process did you embark on to complete the book?
THRALL: After six months of writing, when Blacksmith Books contacted me, I had pretty much the first draft written – 230,000 words at the time. The problem was I’d never studied English above high school level, so I spent a year referring to books, websites and online forums, teaching myself proper punctuation (not what we were taught at school!), grammar, and the art of self-editing.
CARTER: What kind of final editing was done to Eating Smoke? Were there any major changes to it and, overall, was it a hostile or pleasant experience? I ask because editors and authors don’t usually see eye-to-eye.
THRALL: According to Blacksmith’s editor, the manuscript was structurally sound. I’d pretty much worked out for myself what did and did not need to be in there.
Any anecdote not taking the story forward or adding to the understanding of a character or situation, I took out.
As far as the end result is concerned, it was great to see the manuscript polished, with some incorrectly used words amended, some over-ripe humor taken out, and some excess sentences deleted. That’s not to say it wasn’t a stressful experience at the time.
Editors are good at spotting mistakes and cutting out excess lines. But that can leave un-poetic passages that don’t flow well on the page. My editor and publisher were completely accommodating, allowing me to rewrite any amendments myself in my own writing style – or understanding when I insisted that certain lines were left in the book, for continuity, or sentimental reasons because the story is true-life.
CARTER: The literary landscape is changing, some say deteriorating.
Where once New York publishers actually sought out quality literature that would last through the ages (John Steinbeck, Pearl Buck), today they only seem interested in boardroom-created-blockbusters like “Twilight” or throwaway celebrity memoires.
To add insult to injury, newspapers like the “New York Times” are notoriously anti-POD (Print on Demand) and will only review Big 6-published books despite the recent sales surge of self-published titles.
What’s your advice, then, for aspiring authors who lack literary connections but feel that their book is too good for CreateSpace?
THRALL: If you truly believe you have a story that will be of interest to many people, think carefully about sending your manuscript to a busy executive in a publishing house that probably has fifty other manuscripts land on their desk everyday and no time to read them.
Instead, consider hiring (or find) an agent that has some influence with the big players or simply send your first chapter to an author in a similar genre. Authors tend to be very kind and approachable people – as I found out, Tom! – and having been through the process themselves, they know what a publisher is looking for. If they like what they read then there’s a good chance they’ll recommend you.
Writers want other writers to have success. In addition, you’ll get pointers if your writing is lacking in any area. I’m currently writing a free e-book that will be available to download soon from http://www.christhrall.com to guide people through the process of writing a memoir and getting it published.
CARTER: What’s next for Chris Thrall? Tales from your time with the Corps of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines? Or perhaps some fiction?
THRALL: Not sure. You’ll have to ask the readers of Eating Smoke that question!
Chris Thrall was born in the UK. At eighteen, he joined the Royal Marine Commandos. Following active service in the Northern Ireland Conflict and training in Arctic warfare and survival, he earned his parachutist’s ‘wings’ and went on to serve as part of a high-security detachment onboard an aircraft carrier. In 1995, Chris moved to Hong Kong to oversee the Asia-Pacific expansion of a successful network-marketing operation he’d built, part-time, while serving in the Forces. Less than a year later, he was homeless, hooked on crystal methamphetamine and working for the 14K, Hong Kong’s largest triad crime family, as a doorman in Wanchai’s infamous red-light district. Eating Smoke, a humorous yet deeply moving first book, is his account of what happened.
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