I recently sat down with Nathan Farrugia, Australian author of the Fifth Column series. His first novel, The Chimera Vector, is a number one bestseller on the Amazon and iBooks stores, and also claimed the title of Apple iBooks Thriller of the Year. We chatted about the trials and tribulations of publishing digitally, as well as his writing process. Hint: there are near-death experiences and clandestine operations involved.
The series follows Sophia, a black operative who is genetically modified and trained by a clandestine government agency known as The Fifth Column. She is abducted by renegade scientists and soon finds herself the spearhead of a resistance movement. So far, the series is three novels and one short story, with more books coming soon. The Fifth Column series are technothrillers, which is a hybrid sub-genre of thriller and science fiction that features military technology, genetics, espionage and martial arts. The series follows the journey of Sophia and her fellow genetically enhanced friends.
I started off trying the traditional route. Since I was writing popular fiction, my literary agent wanted the full weight of a large publisher behind us, and there were six publishers here in Australia who fit that criterion. So he started submitting to the first of the six. Each submission would take three to six months. Even with agents like mine who helped filter the slush pile, publishers still had a lot to wade through. Submissions are typically read by the publisher’s editors and assistants in their own time, on evenings and weekends.
My first submission was read by an outsourced reader, a trusted third party who gave feedback to the editor at the publishing house. The editor requested a major change to the manuscript and a re-submission. My agent and I agreed this was going to improve the manuscript regardless, so I went ahead and made that change. When we re-submitted six months later, the editor was no longer working there and the new editor didn’t like it. One publisher down, five to go! So the following year we submitted to a second publisher. It was around this time that the publishing landscape changed dramatically. Borders and Angus & Robertson closed, Amazon’s Kindle became incredibly popular. And my second submission was rejected. But this time the rejection made me happy, because now I could self-publish.
I stalked an editor on Twitter to see if he was available to edit my manuscript. He took on the job, but about halfway through there was an awkward delay. I didn’t know what was going on and he wasn’t telling me anything. I had no idea but behind closed doors he was pitching it for his publisher’s new digital imprint. When I finally got a response, instead of an invoice it was an offer for publication. I was shocked and excited. The digital imprint was Pan Macmillan’s Momentum, and they emerged at just the right time to offer exactly what I was looking for, so it was a case of superb timing.