I’ve recently read Mercedes Mercier’s debut thriller, White Noise, which centers around the justice system, criminals and the therapists who deal with them. It’s creepy, has you quickly flicking through pages to find out what’s going to happen, and makes you really interested in the process of rehabilitating criminals for release. I think the unique prison setting and also familiar setting of Bondi Beach is what makes this such an uncomfortable read (in a good way!). It’s as though danger is always close by. Mercedes has a great concept here and writes suspense very well.
But this interview focuses on how she went from writing White Noise, to joining the prestigious Fiona McIntosh Master Classes to securing a two-book deal with Harper Collins. So naturally, you’ll want to know how she did and why she chose to write about a topic we’re all so fascinated with! And even though she thought the dream of becoming an author was out of reach, look at how she did it!
How long have you been writing?
I’m sure most authors have a similar answer – but pretty much my whole life. I still have stories in my first (glittery, pink) diary that all seemed to revolve around a girl with very long hair and a bunny (I still have long hair, but unfortunately no rabbit – I don’t think my boisterous dog would approve!)
When it was time to choose a career, I knew that I wanted to do something where I could write for a living. I thought that the dream of being a published author was too out of reach, so studied media and communications. In my day job, I get to do lots of writing – press releases, speeches, news articles – so I’m thankful that writing has always featured heavily in my life.
What led to your offer of representation with an agent (or contract with a publisher, if you went that way around first?)
For many years, I’d been writing in spare snatches of time, when I felt motivated or inspired. I enjoyed it, but I could recognise that it wasn’t leading me anywhere. So in 2016, I enrolled in Fiona McIntosh’s Masterclass, as I wanted to change writing from my hobby to my career. During the five days, Fiona suggested that I take advantage of my unique background in the criminal justice system and write a crime/thriller manuscript. For years I was too intimidated to take her advice, fearful that I wouldn’t do the genre justice. Instead, I wrote a variety of different manuscripts, from women’s fiction to romance, all of which were unsuccessful. Then, in the early days of the pandemic, I got fed up with my self-doubt and started writing a thriller set in a prison. I found that the words just flowed, and White Noise was born.
I sent the finished manuscript to my parents to read, then paid for a professional structural edit. After that I sent my synopsis, cover letter and manuscript to Fiona. She sent it onto two publishers, and HarperCollins came back saying they were interested.
How long did you have to wait to hear back and was it a partial or full request?
I think it was just under a month (although it felt like a looooot longer!)
Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches?
For a cover letter, make sure that you follow any rules that they stipulate, and tailor it to suit each submission. For mine, I also included a one-line ‘hook’ that I could picture on the front cover, followed by a four-line blurb that covered the conflict, intrigue and layers in the manuscript. I also included a short paragraph of relevant information on myself and comp titles to show where my manuscript would sit in the market.
For my synopsis, I kept it to one page, and made sure it covered the main conflict and resolution in the manuscript. I only included four of the characters to keep it to that tight length, and made sure the writing was compelling (but not prose). Synopses are tough!
Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
I burst into tears! I was working from home at that point and had been getting a lot of spam calls every day. So when a mobile number I didn’t recognise came up on my phone, I ignored it, as I usually did. It ended up being my publisher, who left a voice message telling me to call her back because she had “some good news”. So of course, I rang back immediately (with very shaky fingers!). Once she offered me the contract, she had to keep talking about the ins and outs and the details, because I couldn’t string a sentence together, other than saying “thank you, thank you” between sobs. I saved that voice message and still listen to it.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on the sequel to White Noise, which will be out mid-next year.
EEEK, that’s so exciting, Mercedes! I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next! Thank you for your advice on submissions/synopsis writing, and I have to agree with Mercedes: they ARE hard to write.
Thanks for stopping by,