Historically Successful: An Interview with Novelist Anne Perry

anne_colourI have been a fan of author Anne Perry for about 20 years now. I have read nearly all of her novels and novellas and would have a hard time choosing a favorite.

About a year and a half ago I reached out to Anne via email to ask her for some resource recommendations for a Victorian-era book I’m working on. I thought there was a decent chance that either I wouldn’t hear back from her at all or she would tell me in a polite way that she had no time for a lowly aspiring author. Imagine my surprise, when not only did I hear back from her (and right away), but she also responded most graciously with some great tips and encouragement.

Fast forward to about a month ago when I reached out to Anne again to tell her how helpful her advice had been. I also asked her if she would grant me the privilege of interviewing her for this blog. I was amazed and thrilled when she said yes, not just because of her status as a writer, but also because she is a very busy woman. At 76 years old she shows no signs of slowing down. Read on to learn more about Anne’s success as a writer and the advice she has for aspiring authors.

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Anne Perry is the international bestselling author of over fifty novels, which have sold over 25 million copies worldwide and have never been out of print. The Times selected her as one of the 20th Century’s “100 Masters of Crime.” In 2015 she was awarded the Premio de Honor Aragón Negro.

Her first series of Victorian crime novels, featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, began with The Cater Street Hangman. The latest of these, The Angel Court Affair, is her most recent of many appearances on the New York Times bestseller list.

In 1990, Anne started a second series of detective novels with The Face of a Stranger. These are set about 35 years before the Pitt series, and feature the private detective William Monk and volatile nurse Hester Latterly. The most recent of these (21st in the series) is Corridors of the Night (April 2015).

Anne won an Edgar award in 2000 with her short story “Heroes.” The main character in the story features in an ambitious five-book series set during the First World War. Her other stand-alone novels include her French Revolution novel The One Thing More, and The Sheen on the Silk, which is set in the dangerous and exotic city of Byzantium.

Moving into a different area, Anne has responded to requests for workshops and teaching by producing her first ‘how to write’ instructional DVD Put Your Heart On The Page,” which is now available to buy direct from her website. It is also available to US customers on Amazon.com (click HERE) or in audiobook format (click HERE).

Here is a little preview of the DVD:

1) How did your writing career get started? My career began when I wrote my first mystery, instead of just a straight historical adventure, and then I got an agent.

2) What did you do for a living before you became a writer? How did you balance working and writing? Before I got anything published I did a large number of things, some secretarial, some in shops, airline stewardess, ship and shore assistant purser, etc. You write when you can. Weekends, holidays, evenings.

3) Your first book wasn’t published until you were in your late 30s. Was there a time you thought it might never happen? Did it matter? Certainly I feared that I would never be published, and it mattered very much.

4) About how many times did your first manuscript get rejected before it was published? How did you persevere through the rejection? My first manuscript was never published. As soon as you send it off, you start on something else. If you wait for a reply, which may never come, you will waste half your life. The most helpful thing, which you rarely get, is to be told what is wrong with it.

5) You are a prolific writer. I read somewhere that you now work on three novels per year. Is that true? How do you sustain such output? Tell us about your process. I write two novels and one novella, only 150 pages, a year. I outline in considerable detail, probably 15 to 20 pages, single spaced, scene by scene, and then several more pages of character outline and back-story. That way there is never a ‘writer’s block.’ And I keep going, never go back and edit until I am finished, then I do several rewrites as needed to make it the best I can.

6) What is the most helpful piece of career advice you have ever received? Write the sort of thing you like reading. If it bores you, it will probably bore other people, too.

7) What makes a good agent? What should an aspiring writer look for in an agent? What makes a good agent is very hard to define. What makes a bad one is anybody who asks for payment other than the regular percentage (usually about 15) of whatever they sell the book for. Nothing, if they don’t sell it, which is why they cannot afford to take on one they don’t think they can sell.

Useful suggestions about rewrite are gold. However, ones that change what you are trying to say, for example, [add] more violence, more overt sex etc., — get a different agent. It should be your work, your style, just better.

8) What has been one of the biggest career challenges you have faced? That’s hard to say, because there is a need to keep fresh all the time. Each book needs to be different from the last, and a little better, at least in some way.

9) What would you do differently if you could do it all over? I would have read more books about writing much sooner in my career. Good ones are priceless.

10) What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who wants to become a traditionally-published author?

1. Get a good agent and listen to their advice.
2. Never write something you don’t believe. People will sense it and turn off.
3. Be prepared to rewrite, several times if necessary.

11) How do you define success? To what do you most attribute your enormous success? Real success? When strangers write to you and say that your book had meaning for them, and better still, they read it more than once.

12) You travel a lot these days giving talks about your books and the writing process. Apart from the publicity aspect, have you benefitted from these “teaching” experiences in other ways? Have they informed your writing in any way? I benefit enormously from travelling and meeting people. I think nothing teaches you more than trying to teach other people. How much great advice do we give and not always take ourselves?

13) Tell us about what you are working on now. Right now I am finishing up the Christmas novella for 2016. Almost there. I think!

14) If you were conducting this interview, what is one question you would ask? Is there anything else you would rather have done than write? Nothing at all.

You can read more about Anne by visiting her website: http://www.anneperry.co.uk/. You can also find her on Twitter: @AnnePerryWriter.

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