I’ve gratefully learned this lesson in having ten novels published: it takes a team.
My Thornleigh Saga is a seven-book historical series that features a middle class English family’s rise through three turbulent Tudor reigns. The latest is The Traitor’s Daughter. For this series my publisher wanted a book a year, and for me that’s a challenge. I couldn’t achieve it alone. I’m happy to say I’ve been blessed with a support team, three people that are definitely an “A” team. I sing their praises here.
First is my agent, Albert Zuckerman. Al is something of a legend in the publishing world. He founded Writers House, one of the largest literary agencies in the world. He’s been midwife to dozens of bestselling books, many of them blockbusters such as Dr. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, Michael Lewis’s Moneyball (made into the film with Brad Pitt), and Ken Follett’s mega-bestsellers like Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. I’m honored that Al names me as one of his leading clients.
Years ago, when I was a rookie in this business, peddling my first novel but knowing nobody, I sent queries out to a slew of agents, as all new writers do when trying to break in. I’d read an interview with Al in which he was asked: “What’s the one piece of advice you’d give new writers?” Al’s answer: “Be willing to work your ass off.” Oh, I thought in my novice dream-state, he means the endless book launches, book signings, interviews, and fan mail. Nope. Turns out he meant the ass-busting work of writing.
He was right, of course, as he has been with every other piece of advice he’s given me over the years in shepherding my novels from stumbling outline to polished final draft, and in stewarding my business interests from book contracts to foreign rights sales.
Speaking of story outlines, Al is the one who taught me that the time spent on outlining is invaluable. In fact, it’s the most important thing I’ve learned in my career as an author. Even when I’ve been under contract to produce a book a year, I spend about four months on getting the outline right. When I mentor writers, I teach this essential piece of craft—I call it “Storylining”—in a special workshop.
Al has vast literary wisdom and book-business savvy, and I always heed his counsel. He is truly a scholar and a gentleman (my late father’s words of highest praise) and I’m proud to call him my friend.
Next on the “A” team is my editor at Kensington Books, Esi Sogah. Esi joined Kensington’s editorial team in 2013 after working for years with bestselling authors at William Morrow & Avon where she helped launch the Avon Impulse digital-first imprint. I’ve been fortunate indeed to have her on my team.
Esi has been a joy to work with, a true collaborator, whether we’re discussing characters in my manuscript or artwork for the cover of my latest release or future storylines for my Thornleigh Saga books. She’s got that magical mix of passionate story-loving heart and cool analytical head that’s the mark of a top notch editor.
Last, but definitely not least, is my husband, Stephen Best. Writing my first historical novel years ago, I discovered an eye-opening research resource: this guy I married.
The Queen’s Lady, the first book in my Thornleigh Saga series, is set during the reign of Henry VIII. Henry and my husband share no similarities regarding tyrannical rule and beheaded wives—I married a thoughtful, peaceable man. He is, however, endowed with the standard issue male anatomy, and this helped my research. Here’s how.
In my first draft I’d written a scene of a Midsummer Eve celebration in which boisterous revelers dance around bonfires, lovers steal kisses, and a drunk old man pisses as he staggers through the crowd.
Wait a minute, I thought. Can a man do that—urinate while walking?
I took the problem to my husband. “Can a man do that?” I asked.
“I’ll go see,” he said, and walked out the door.
Thankfully, we lived at the time on sixty rural acres. Not a soul around.
Five minutes later he came back in. “Yup,” he reported.
You can see why I value this resource!
That little episode happened many books ago, and Stephen quickly became my go-to guy, an important partner in my creative process. In creating each new book, I have him read the first draft, chapter by chapter. He constantly makes suggestions that are dead right. And he often sets me straight on how men think.
For example, in The Queen’s Lady I’d written a scene of high drama in which my heroine, Honor Larke, to save her friends’ lives, takes a terrifying risk by hiding in the hold of a ship, and ends up trapped there as her enemies roam the ship’s deck. If they find her it will mean her death.
I couldn’t leave Honor there. So, since the ship belonged to her business partner, Richard Thornleigh, who loves her, I wrote a scene of Richard coming on board for a meeting with Honor’s enemies and striking a tough bargain with them to get the ship back.
“I wouldn’t do that,” said my husband, frowning when he read the scene. “If the woman I loved was trapped in the hold and facing death, I’d burn the ship to the waterline and get her out.”
I was agog. Of course Richard would do that!
Final draft: Richard swims to the hull at night, climbs aboard unnoticed, sets fire to the mainmast and yells, “Fire!” In the chaos of shouting, panicked crewmen Richard slips down to the hold, lifts the unconscious Honor, slides her through a gun port into the bay, and dives in after her. Saved!
Me too. Saved by Stephen, by Esi, and by Al. Many times over. So, when you read my novels’ acknowledgements pages in which I thank these people, you know my gratitude is heartfelt.
Writing as a team sport? Absolutely. “Go, team!”
About Barbara Kyle
Barbara Kyle is the author of seven acclaimed historical novels – the Thornleigh Saga series (“Riveting Tudor drama” – USA Today) – and of contemporary thrillers, three under pen-name Stephen Kyle, including Beyond Recall, a Literary Guild Selection. Over 450,000 copies of her books have been sold in seven countries. Barbara has taught writers at the University of Toronto and is a popular guest presenter at writers’ conferences. Through her workshops and manuscript evaluations she has helped launch many writers to published success. Before becoming an author Barbara enjoyed a twenty-year acting career in television, film, and stage productions in Canada and the U.S.
B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree