Signing Up by Matt Rees

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A book takes a long time to write, and then it takes a while to sell. And another while to sell in another country, and another after that. So a writer’s smile spreads across time.

My long-term grin widened this weekend, when I signed with my UK publisher for my next two books. Not only because Atlantic, the excellent publisher which has brought out all four of my Palestinian crime novels, bought my next books. But because Atlantic is launching a very exciting new imprint called Corvus.

The new imprint is headed by Nicolas and Anthony Cheetham, a father and son team who made Quercus such an important imprint. They’ve taken on my next book MOZART’S LAST ARIA, which is already completed and being edited in New York by the delightful Claire Wachtel at HarperCollins, and the novel I’m currently writing, which has the working title CARAVAGGIO ON FIRE. It’s about the Italian artist who, incidentally, is thought to have died 400 years ago on Sunday.

Writers will know what I mean when I say that signing the contract is a wonderful marker, but also similar to many other things in a writer’s life – it seems like a big milestone, but no one’s around to witness it except you, so you have to go inside yourself to enjoy the moment.

It’s what I felt when my first novel THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM was published in the US on Feb. 1 2007. I stood at my computer on that day, wondering if something was supposed to happen. Was the phone supposed to ring? Was I to receive congratulatory emails from friends? Queries from journalists? Well, nothing much happened that morning. I looked out across the valley toward Bethlehem, congratulated myself, and got on with writing the next book in the series.

That’s how it is with contracts. I know — I’ve been lucky enough to sign a lot of them. My first novel came out last week in Greece, and has been published in 20 different languages and even more countries than that.

So this weekend I was at my agent’s office. My two-year-old son went outside with one of my agents to water the garden. My agent’s assistant chatted with me while I initialed and signed the contracts, but we talked about her plans, because despite the sense you might get from my blog I usually prefer not to talk about my accomplishments. The phone kept ringing for my agent, distracting everyone.

As with anything else in writing, I smiled and reminded myself of something my good friend Thomas M. Kostigen said more than a decade back when I was visiting him in Los Angeles. Tom, who’s now one of the foremost environmental writers in the U.S. and quite an adventurer, too, had just completed work as a screenwriter on a movie called “After Sex” (Brooke Shields fans will know it as the one with the girls’ golf weekend; Tom makes a cameo appearance, as it were, in a smashed photograph as Brooke’s ex). Tom had done 60 rewrites at the request of the director, the producer, the stars and so on. “You just have to enjoy the process. If all you want,” he said, “is to be the guy who says he wrote a movie to impress people, it isn’t going to be worth it.” I’ve never heard a better explanation of the difference between a real writer and someone who thinks it’d be cool to be a writer.

When a writer can maintain that attitude, everything – even the silence all around when the contract is being signed and mailed back to a distant publisher – looks positive. And that is the only way to get yourself up and to get yourself writing the next day.

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