I had just finished my first novel, a biblical thriller, Judas the Apostle, in 2011. Set in modern times, the story revolves around an ancient oil jar, what’s in it, who wants it, and what they will do to get it. Everyone said I needed an independent review of the book since I have no platform. Without a platform—some notoriety such as being a TV personality or someone famous or infamous—one has virtually no chance of being published by a traditional publisher. There’s just too much content out there. Like most new writers, I’ve been rejected by every agent I’ve approached. No traditional publisher would pay any attention to my work because I had no agent. Still, the flame to be published burned. I can’t say exactly why. But, like many of you, I kept at it. The internet is a wonderful portal for new writers—but it’s kind of like trying to start a wave in a stadium.
I kept hearing that an independent review was a marker on the way to publication. It made sense. If someone who didn’t know you and who was an expert in the industry thought your book was pretty good then it might, in fact, be pretty good. Others might be inspired to check it out and so on. Maybe the wave would roll.
As I inquired, the gold standard of independent reviewers was Kirkus Reviews. I did my research and Kirkus was it. I decided to submit Judas the Apostle. It was like submitting your 7th-grade English paper that was 30 percent of your grade to the teacher. I felt I was a supplicant at the altar of Kirkus. What would they think? I wasn’t sure I could handle another rejection. Still, I had something to say, and I would suffer to have it heard.
Each day after submitting my book, my wife or my daughter would ask if I had heard from Kirkus. No, not today. If the book was panned, it was over. Wasn’t it? Finally, Kirkus answered and seemed to like the book, calling it a “solid thriller” with an “invigorating” religious theme. No star but no anchor either.
I finished the second novel, The Last Sicarius, and submitted it. Same process and the same result with Kirkus calling it an “exhilarating companion piece” to the first in the series. I felt I had progressed from invigorating to exhilarating. The bottom line is: I write commercial fiction, and I felt this was high praise for the genre. It lifted my spirits and sold a bunch of books. My next novel and the third in the Cloe Lejeune series, 7, is out, and I’ll submit it to Kirkus soon.
Van R. Mayhall, Jr., is the senior partner in the Baton Rouge office and is a former chairman of the firm’s executive committee having served six years as such. He has extensive legal experience with strategic and enterprise legal issues affecting ongoing businesses. Mayhall advises boards of directors and senior management on such issues and for over 40 years has practiced in the areas of corporate and business law, business transactions, tax and securities, insurance regulatory, selected litigation, and alternative dispute resolution.