The questions I’m asked most often about my new crime novel, Rogue Island, are: “How long did it take to write?” and “How did you find a publisher?”

“That figures,” a friend quipped.“Nobody wants to read a book anymore, but everybody wants to get published.”

So here are the answers:

— Either 14 years or six months, depending on how you count.

— And a combination of dumb luck and friends in the right places.

It all started back in 1994, when I was working for a Connecticut newspaper.One day, I received a note from a reader praising “a nice little story” I’d written. “It could serve as the outline for a novel,” the note said. “Have you considered this?”

I would have tossed the note in the trash except for one thing. It was from Evan Hunter, who wrote literary novels under his own name and the brilliant 87th Precinct police procedurals under the penname Ed McBain.

I sealed the note in plastic, taped it to the side of my home computer, and started writing.

At the time, I lived 15 minutes from the newspaper, so I got up early every morning and wrote for two hours before driving to work. I was a mere 20,000 words into the novel when my life turned upside down. I accepted a demanding new job as a department head at The Associated Press in Manhattan. My 15-minute commute swelled to 90 minutes each way. I got divorced, and then remarried; and my new wife brought a small child into the mix. In this busy new life, I had no time to finish a novel.

Years streaked by. Each time I bought a new computer, I taped that note from Hunter to it.My yarn about a street-savvy investigative reporter on the trail of a serial arsonist never stopped haunting me.I promised myself I would return to it.Someday.

Meanwhile, I was reviewing novels on the side for the AP and The New York Times book review section. That gave me entre to the city’s literary circle.

One evening I dined with Otto Penzler, the dean of American’s crime fiction editors. We promptly discovered that we admired the same authors, had similar senses of humor, and looked enough alike to be mistaken for brothers.We hit it off.

We were half-way through out entrees when I happened to mention that long-ago note from Hunter. Otto dropped his fork and gave me a hard look.

“Really?” he said. “EVAN HUNTER wrote you that note?”

“He did,” I said. “I still have it if you’d like to see it.”

“Look,” Otto said, “Evan Hunter was a good friend of mine. Before he died, we used to have dinner together once a month. In all the years I knew him, Evan never had a good thing to say about anything anyone else wrote. He REALLY sent you that note?”

“He really did.”

“Well then you’ve got to finish that novel,” Otto said, “and when you do, you have to let me read it.”

That was too good an opportunity to pass up. I went home and told my wife that I had to start writing again.Patricia is a writer too, so she understood. I wrote at night on work days and all day every Saturday; and six months later, the book was done.

Otto kept his promise and read the manuscript. He loved it.

“Do you have an agent?” he asked

“No,” I said. “I don’t even know any.”

“Then let me make a call for you.”

Next thing I knew, I was represented by Susanna Einstein of LJK Literary Management, one of the top agents in the country.I didn’t realize what a big deal that was until months later, when Susanna told me she’d never agreed to represent a first-time novelist before.

As she began contacting publishers, I started collecting blurbs – the quotes from famous authors that publishers like to splash across the back covers of their books.But this was my first rodeo. Nobody told me you’re supposed to have a publishing contract before you bother authors for quotes.

I got in touch with 15 crime novelists whom I’d met briefly at writers’ conferences over the years.I was hoping one of two would remember me, read the manuscript , and be willing to say something nice about it. I was astonished when fourteen of them, including Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, and Harlan Coben, agreed.

Meanwhile, a handful of what Susanna called “encouraging rejections” trickled in from publishers who liked the book but declined to buy it.It was, I soon learned, a terrible time to be trying to crack the market as a first-time novelist. Book sales were down. Innovations including e-books had publishers anxious about future of their business. And the economy was, well, you know.

That’s when Jon Land appeared out of nowhere and took me under his wing. Jon, the author of several thrillers about a gun-slinging female Texas Ranger, took a special interest because he lives in Rhode Island – the claustrophobic little state where my novel is set. Jon read the manuscript, enjoyed it, and told his publisher, Tor/Forge, they’d be crazy not to buy it.And so they did.

Those blurbs I’d collected prematurely were one of the reasons, Eric Raab, my editor at the publishing house, told me. “Our marketing department loves that,”he said.“It also helped,” he added, “that you wrote a great book.”The bibles of the publishing industry— Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly—thought so too. They all published rave reviews in recent weeks, with Kirkus calling my book one of the year’s best.

I don’t know about all that. I just hope “Rogue Island” is worthy of the dedication: “This one’s for you, Evan. I just wish you were still around to read it.”

“Rogue Island” (Forge) 204 pages, $24.99, by Bruce DeSilva, will be published on Oct. 12.

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BRUCE DESILVA worked as a journalist for 40 years before retiring to write crime novels full time. At the Associated Press, he was the writing coach, responsible for training the wire service's reporters and editors worldwide. Previously he directed an elite AP department devoted to investigative reporting and other special projects. Earlier in his career, he worked as an investigative reporter and an editor at The Hartford Courant and The Providence Journal. Stories edited by DeSilva have won virtually every major journalism prize including the Polk Award (twice), the Livingston (twice), the ASNE, and the Batten Medal. He also edited two Pulitzer finalists and helped edit a Pulitzer winner. His first novel, "Rogue Island," was a Publishers Weekly selection as one of the best debut novels of 2010 and won both the Edgar and the MaCavity Awards. The sequel, "Cliff Walk" will be published in May of 2012.

11 responses to “What People Always Ask About My New Novel: How’d You Get Published and How Long Did It Take To Write?”

  1. Interesting read. I’d argue that everyone wants to write a book and everyone wants to get it published, but no one wants to put the effort into either. I think some people fantasize about simply sitting and typing out a one draft wonder, and stumbling into a multi-million dollar publishing contract.

    I love that people ask you those questions. Back when I was writing books (and giving up) people used to say, “What’s it about?” and I say, “Er, well…” because at that stage I was in university and writing something randomly based upon every other damn book I read. I had no idea. At least people think you’re some kind of guru.

    Anyway, kudos on the book.

  2. Paul Clayton says:

    Bruce,

    Congratulations! My experience with publishing the first novel I’d written was long and labyrinthine. Willie Morris tried to help me. He sent my manuscript to Algonquin, which declined, respectfully, as they say. He wrote me again to tell me he was going to send it along to some other houses he worked with. Then he died suddenly. And Colonel David Hackworth was responsible for the book finally finding a place on the shelves. Just before he died he had me send it to his agent, who sold it to Thomas Dunne. This was after years of collecting scrawled nothings and insults from interns, lower level editors, and probably the night watchman or janitor at the big NYC houses.

    For every young writer that logs on here and reads this, know this. It only takes one enthusiastic champion to get you there. But they have to be highly placed, uusally, and there seem to be fewer and fewer of the, or else there are more and more of us, or more likely, a combination of both.

    I wish you all the best with your book! And may you get that one review that will rocket you to the bestsellers list.

  3. Greg Olear says:

    It sure does take awhile, and I’m glad to see that a publisher gave you the well-deserved thumbs-up.

    Oh, and I’ll be sure and avoid those two questions in my interview (which we’ll do soon)

  4. Jessica Blau says:

    Congratulations! I love crime novels and look forward to reading yours!

  5. Brin Friesen says:

    So how does having you book published compare with how you imagined it would feel?

  6. The whole experience is different from what I imagined. When I took early retirement from journalism last summer to write crime novels, I imagined a rather leisurely life as an author. Instead, I’m workin’ harder than when I was workin’. The writing is a joy, for the most part, but the rest of it? Yikes! Right now, I’m in book-promotion hell — blogging, social-networking, making travel arrangement for my book tour, which starts Oct. 12 and runs through mid-November . . . It’s a hell of a lot of work. Holding the book in my hands for the first time was a joy, but I haven’t really had the time to savor it. And, oh yeah, by agent is clamoring for me to finish the sequel before the book tour starts.

  7. Marni Grossman says:

    Congratulations on the novel. However you look at it, it’s the accumulation of some serious hard work and dedication.

    Those are irksome questions, though. One of my pet peeves is when, at a book reading, someone asks, “how did you first get published?” I mean, what a waste of a question.

  8. […] How did his crime novelist life begin?  It all started with a bird.  A falcon, to be precise.  From Malta.  A dog was also prominently involved.  Then, he soaked up knowledge from Thomas H. Cook, who taught him that “Whodunnit?” is not the most important question to ask.  And then there was the note of encouragement from Evan Hunter, better known by his pen name, Ed McBain. […]

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