The 22 Stages of Having Your First Book Published
Between receiving the abovementioned letter and the book coming out there were 23 months. It wasn’t finally in the shops until April 2001 and I can’t tell you how slowly these months dragged by. It felt like I was waiting for my life to start. The Millennium passed me without me blinking and I spent almost two years counting down the clock. I was a published author-in-waiting. And for 23 months I just kept waiting for the bubble to burst and for Serpent’s Tail to change their minds.
13. FIRST COPY
Finally I got a call from Serpent’s Tail to say they had printed copies in. As the author I was entitled to ten free copies, after that I could buy them at a reduce rate. I think I probably bought and gave away around 50 for family and friends. I would soon learn. From The Hitman Diaries onwards whenever anyone asked me for a free book I would ask them for a free haircut, pair of shoes, short PR campaign or whatever it was they did for a living. It was a great feeling though. Holding my own book in my hands. Very few people have their life’s ambition come true. I had mine. It’s something I can wholeheartedly recommend.
14. IN THE SHOPS
If seeing the book in my hands was good, it was even better seeing it in other peoples. Shortly after it was published I saw someone reading The Burglar Diaries on the tube. This is the sort of thing that can turn a person into a stalker and as much as I tried, I couldn’t help but stare. Did she know the famous Danny King was just across the Tube carriage and watching her? If she did she wasn’t digging it. The book was in the shops too, in Books Etc, Borders, Foyles, Waterstones and even something called Amazon, which was some weird online thing back then that I didn’t think would ever catch on. My publisher urged me to go into the book shops and ask to sign my own copies. I did this in about twenty London bookshops. The assistants would bring out a great big pile of them, I’d sign them and they’d stick on a sticker saying SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR. This all made me feel incredibly important until my publisher pointed out that signing a book meant the book shops couldn’t return them. Still, every flick of the pen earned me 50p. Not a bad day’s work.
The book soon started appearing in some newspapers too. Most of the reviews were very flattering and went straight to my head. “Hilariously un-PC… If ever there was an antidote to Bridget Jones’s diary this is it” – THE MIRROR. “Plenty of very good jokes… King wisely stops short of turning Bex into the simple, loveable rogue that’s recently been in vogue” – THE INDEPENDENT. “A true work of comic genius” – Amazon.co.uk. Still, it wasn’t all good. I had a right good kicking in some of the magazines. “An unnecessary rehash of the cockney geezer theme” – THE FACE, “Gibberish… fails to raise more than a smirk” – MONDO but you learn to take the rough with the smooth. Perhaps my finest review came not from a publication but a person, Bruce Reynolds, the mastermind behind The Great Train Robbery. I’d met him at a publicity function and pressed a copy into his hand. Bruce was a gentleman and did indeed read it. He even gave me a quote for the cover, which I’ve since used to death. But it was what he said next that stayed with me. He said. “… and you know what Dan, I can tell you’ve done a bit”. For a former petty criminal like myself this was like praise from Caesar.
16. FOREIGN COPIES
I didn’t know English books got translated and published in other countries. Why would I? But sure enough, and to give Darley Anderson their due, they got The Burglar Diaries published in France, the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Russia, Taiwan and audio, so I can’t say they never did anything for me. But as the above basically involved sitting behind a big stack of books at the Frankfurt book Fair and handing out photocopied press releases to anyone who asked for one, I still can’t see that they did much more than a Metro newsstand. The foreign copies did look great on my bookshelf though. But I can’t help but wonder what a Russian reading The Burglar Diaries makes of all the Only Fools and Horses references.
17. FILM INTEREST
Like all authors what we really want is a film made of our books. Preferably a super-cool ice blue John Le Carré type film. Sure enough there was a little buzz around my book and the film rights were optioned to a company called Loud Mouse Productions. When the film got made I stood to pocket between £40,000-£100,000. I was all set to be rich. Unfortunately all I ever saw was a £1,500 advance for a one year’s option, which was very welcome, but I still had to go to work the next day. After Loud Mouse the book was optioned by someone else, I can’t remember who, but I saw the script they wrote and sleep happily knowing this awful film never saw the light of day. I had several other meetings with some very powerful film executives. I know this because they told me so. But after a few years the film interest fizzled out.
18. THIEVES LIKE US
The [then] BBC Head of Comedy set her department a challenge to go out and find a book they could adapt into a sitcom. Two of them came back with The Burglar Diaries and they optioned it. At first they wanted to get an experienced writer to write the scripts but two screenwriters turned it down on the grounds of bad taste. I had no such scruples. The Executive Producer entrusted me with writing a six-part series and I bluffed my way through, learning and earning as I went. Finally I didn’t have to go to work the next day, which was just as well because I’d been sacked anyway. Thieves Like Us (as the sitcom was renamed) was an amazing experience. I can’t quite tell you how egomaniacal it is to sit in a room at the BBC and watch famous actors you know off the telly come in and read your lines. I did the best job I could and tried to make it as funny as possible, but I was on a steep learning curve. I do think it had a couple of genuinely great episodes though and I started finding my feet as the series went on, but it never got the chance to take off. The series was axed after six episodes and my brush with fame and fortune was over. Or was it? Yes it was.
Watch an episode of Thieves Like Us below:
19. MORE BURGLAR DIARIES
Like Alan Partridge, I might not have got a second series but one final thing did come out of Thieves Like Us, a second book. So many jokes, scenes and storylines were cut from the series for one reason or other including a complete and final episode. But rather than lose these things to my hard drive forever I novelised the scripts and called it More Burglar Diaries. I didn’t want to do a quick cut and paste job so I reacquainted myself with Bex, gave the book a proper narrative and wrote it in such a way that it could stand up by itself. Serpent’s Tail passed on it as they were already publishing, Blue Collar, but Byker Books came forward and agreed to put it out. It’s funny, it had never occurred to me to write a sequel to The Burglar Diaries, but tying up loose ends gave me the opportunity and it felt good to take to the old drainpipes again. Perhaps I’ll write Yet Another Burglar Diaries one day? Or perhaps I won’t. I don’t know.
20. PROFILE BOOKS
The paperback is out of print now. You’d certainly struggle to find it in a book shop. You can get used copies on Amazon, some for as little as 1p + £2.80 P+P. Chances are it’s probably even signed. I think I did most of them. In 2007, Serpent’s Tail were bought out by a much larger company called Profile Books. In 2010 they dropped me from their list of authors. In 2012 they did the same to Pete Ayrton and John Williams. It’s no longer an independent publisher that takes chances on unpublished writers and bucks trends. It’s just another mass-market commercial imprint that doesn’t take unsolicited mess. Not that I’m ungrateful. To Pete and John and all the Serpent’s Tail staff that came before, they have my eternal thanks.
One thing Profile Books did do was let me have my ebook rights back. I don’t think they had any plans to do anything with them so why not? Still, very kind of them. I was therefore able to put the book out again on Kindle where it remains and continues to find a new audience, albeit one who doesn’t know what a VHS recorder is. Priced £1.99 and available on Amazon, if you’ve not read it you should. Just ask Bruce Reynolds, The Daily Mirror or The Independent. Not The Face or Mondo though (who the hell are Mondo anyway?).
The Burglar Diaries was my first book. It helped me find my writing style, fulfilled my dreams and changed my life, (eventually) paving the way towards a full-time writing career. Just a month ago I was in a meeting with a film executive who told me she’d read the book for a film company when it first came out. She said of all the books she’d read (in her capacity as script/book reader) it was one of the few she’d really enjoyed. She then said, “It was quite a big deal back then, wasn’t it?” It wasn’t. Not really. But I guess it was to me.
Did I mention The Burglar Diaries is available on Kindle priced £1.99?