My guest today is Pete Morin.

I don’t recall how many years ago it was that I stumbled across the introductory chapters of Diary of a Small Fish, but I know he’s been reeling me in ever since. This is Pete’s story:

Thanks to my dear friend Jill for her introduction to all you writer folks.

Jill asked me to share that part of my journey wherein I decided to ditch my pursuit of the Holy Grail of traditional publication and join the ranks of the Great Unwashed (that’s how Big House editors look at us, I’m told).

First let’s get something straight. I am not a dreamer. I am a cynical, battle-scarred veteran of partisan politics and the trial courtroom. While I briefly entertained a dream of being a novelist back in college, it was quickly squelched by the pressure of parental expectations, economic reality, and the recognition that I had no life experience worth writing about.

So I went off and got some life experiences. The kind worth writing about. But it wasn’t until almost 20 years later that these experiences began to spill out of me in a story. A pal of mine asked back then, “do you have a novel in you?”

“Nah,” I said, and believed it.

Then my father died in August 2007. I’d been helping him with his memoirs when he became too weak to continue. After he left us, I tried to transform the work into a biography. But it was just too painful, and too soon. Still, I needed to find a way to grieve, and I found burying myself in a story was a pretty good way to do it.

One day I found, where Jill’s pal John Hudspith found something within the rough first chapter I’d put up there that glimmered through the crap. I don’t know what it was, or why he thought so, but he invited me to join him and Jill and a lot of other awesome writers at a place called The Bookshed, and 18 months of merciless flogging later, I typed “the end.”

I did not write a novel to become a novelist. I had no illusions of big advances or Hollywood movie deals. I just wrote a novel, and people seemed to like it. I wrote some short stories and people seemed to like them. And I had a blast doing it, so what the hell, right? You enjoy doing something, why not see how far you can go with it? Surely, somewhere not far down the road, cold reality would slap me silly.

I started two more novels, just in case.

Going 0-for-120 on the query trail didn’t really bother me. This novel must not be as good as people say, I thought. Hell, a lot of folks think the food at Denny’s is pretty good, but we know differently, don’t we? It was the same as cooking. A lot of my friends thought I was a pretty good cook, too; but I’d never thought I was qualified to run the kitchen at a five star restaurant.

Then I went to my first writer’s conference in November of 2009, The New England Crime Bake. The first day, I attended a pitch practice session. Fate’s fickle hand at work, you know. I sat at the first empty seat, next to a lady I’d never met. She happened to be the agent. She went around the table, listening to stumbling and stuttering neophytes who hadn’t known what at all to expect. But I had practiced my elevator pitch. I sure had.

“What have you got,” she said to me, wearily.

Diary of a Small Fish is about a virtuous man who gets indicted for playing golf.”

A couple of giggles from the others.

“I want to read that,” she said.

Heh, what can I say? She’s married to a trial lawyer. She read it and loved it. He read it and loved it. Dumb luck. Nothing more.

Six months later, I signed on with Christine Witthohn at Book Cents Literary, but not until I’d spoken to a half dozen of her current clients, published and unpublished (at her insistence). The lady had sold practically everything she’d put her hands on. She must know what the hell sells!

Still, I am a cynic, you recall. I do not entertain fanciful dreams. During the next nine months, I did significant revisions to the manuscript, based upon long conversations with Christine – and her husband, Jeff Mehalic. In that stretch of time, I might have sent Christine a dozen emails. She responded to every one of them within two hours, mostly by phone – except once, when she was stranded in Italy.

I know there are other cynics out there who find this preposterous. An agent responding to an email with a phone call? Within an hour? Like I said. Dumb luck.

These developments occurred, you will note, during the onset of the “ebook revolution.” Self-publishing was developing at light speed, and there were dozens of pioneers blazing the trails. I followed this closely, because many of my Authonomy friends were trailblazers.

In December of 2010, Christine submitted DOSF to editors at 7 publishers – editors she knew. Editors she’d sold stuff to before. But she told me when she did, “I’m not sure I can sell your book.”

You see, it didn’t fit neatly into the mystery/crime/suspense genre. (As Jill’s lovely review begins, “What exactly IS this book? Yes, it’s a political mystery. It’s also a love story. It explores corruption, honour and integrity. And it’s funny. But how to define it?”)

The wait began. That ridiculous, inexplicable, infuriating wait where even your own agent’s inquiries to them go unanswered. Two months, three, four. Okay, that’s to be expected. But more?

In the meantime, Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Barry Eisler, Amanda Hocking, John Locke and dozens of others filled the internet with dazzling information. Bloggers like Robin Sullivan kept tabs on a growing number of self-published authors making a serious living! Selling ebooks at 99 cents!

Get out of town. Seriously. And I was sitting on my hands waiting for a response, 6 months now. June arrived. Christine and I had a heart-to-heart.

My novel is Boston-centric. It involves the shadows of personalities still walking, big names in politics being tried and convicted of the very same crimes my poor virtuous protagonist is accused of. At that very time! There was a market for this fiction, right here, right now! I was missing it! I couldn’t wait!

Christine’s response was simple:

1. When you want to withdraw DOSF from submission, say the word, and I’ll call them.

2. If you want to self-publish, then do these things first: (a) put up a single short story that’s really, really good, for FREE, (b) put up a collection of short stories a month later for 99 cents, (c) bust your ass creating buzz in advance of DOSF release, and (d) keep busting your ass to sell it.

Like a man looking at a break-up with his first true love, I asked, “What about us?”

Seriously! I had snagged one of the hottest agents in the business, and one who not only had a conscience, but a clear one at that. A lady as righteous and morally sound as my own protagonist! How could I take my only property off the market and negate the subject matter of our contract?

“We’ll use DOSF as a platform to sell your next one. And if it does well enough in the meantime, I can still sell it.”

Dumb luck. I’d stumbled upon a literary agent who not only understood the changes that were coming, but embraced them, and encouraged me and several other of her authors to self-publish.

When Amazon announced their genre imprints, she was on the phone to them, grilling them about what they were looking for, and in some cases, delivering it.

When the 9 month anniversary of the DOSF submissions approached, when none of the 7 had even given her the courtesy of a reply, and when Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer took a pass, it was time to go ahead.

[Note: There are now several authors on Christine’s list (some signed to multi-book deals with Big 6 publishers) who have at least one self-published work available. Some shorts, some novellas, some novels.]

I self-published Diary of a Small Fish on October 1st. I worked hard on the launch, had a lot of help from writer friends who delivered some very nice reviews (none nicer than Jill’s), and sold some books. I ordered 100+ paper copies from Createspace, sold most of them in a month, ordered some more. I had a smoking hot launch party in the shadow of the State House, sent out a very smart press kit.

Why did I, the stubborn cynic, the world-weary ex-politician and trial lawyer, decide to go to all this work and trouble to self-publish a first novel? Why didn’t I put it on the shelf and move on to the next, as the Old Guard would have?

Because somewhere in the process – when I’d heard enough feedback from people whose opinions I respect and trust – and when I’d re-read enough of it for the 100th time, I realized how damn much I believe in this novel.

I’m no authority on fiction. I’m just a guy with a little storytelling talent. But I firmly believe that a successful novel is one that touches all of your emotions. Humor, sorrow, anger, hatred, love, hopelessness, panic, fear, elation, etc. I didn’t know that when I started writing.

I think that’s what DOSF does. And I wanted readers to experience it now, today, not in Q4 of 2013.

There is also this:

What is going on in fiction publishing today is truly revolutionary. Seldom is the use of that word so fitting. It was impossible for me to sit idly in the cheap seats, waiting for my prom date, when all that energy was burning on the dance floor below. There are some bad dancers down here, but they’re not stepping on my feet. And there are some really fabulous dancers, too. This is where the action is, here in the scrum. I want to have fun dancing, not compete in a marathon.

Pete Morin has been a trial attorney, a politician, a bureaucrat, a lobbyist, and an astute witness of human behavior. He combines them all in his debut novel, Diary of a Small Fish, and his short story collection, Uneasy Living.

Pete’s short fiction has appeared in NEEDLE, A Magazine of Noir, Words With Jam, 100 Stories for Haiti, and Words to Music. He published many of them in a collection titled Uneasy Living, available in ebook.

When he is not writing crime fiction or legal mumbo jumbo, Pete plays blues guitar in Boston bars, enjoys the beach, food and wine with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two adult children, and on rare occasion, punches a fade wedge to a tight pin surrounded by sand or water. He lives in a money pit on the seacoast south of Boston, in an area once known as the Irish Riviera.

Pete is represented by Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency.

And here you can listen to Pete reading the first chapter of Diary of a Small Fish.

    15 replies to "Joining the Scrum"

    • Tricia Gilbey

      Absolutely fascinating – I’ve always wanted to hear the story of the journey of your novel, Pete, having come across snippets of news about it over the years, but never quite being able to put the pieces together. Good luck to you. I remember reading DOSF all those years back, and it’s good to see you bring it to the marketplace in your own way. I do think Authonomy etc was a good testing ground for books, and know what you mean about connecting with your audience, and having faith in your book because of that Your agent sounds like a complete gem, great to hear of her pragmatic attitude.

    • Batty Jane

      I, too, remember reading an early version of DOSF, remember smiling, enjoying and admiring its easy flow of words. It’s good to hear how you persevered, how you succeeded in bringing this baby to full term and how you presented it to the world. Fantastic and inspirational post. Thanks.

    • Pete

      Thank you, Tricia and Jane – it’s sort of like being reintroduced to the college-graduated child of your old friend, last seen in a pram.

      Sort of.

    • Sue Howe

      Great post, Peter! Having a trustworthy agent to endorse you puts your self-published book in a completely different category to most and I applaud your decision to go ahead while the topic is so hot. Good for you and the best of luck with your next! Sue.

      ps I shall put it on my Christmas list but it’ll have to be paper!!

    • jilljmarsh

      The book is no less than terrific. And for its appeal to reach this far across the water, it must have something special. But the chord you struck for me is the local market. A Boston political/legal story sold directly to Bostonians. You’ve got me thinking, Mr Morin. Wishing you every success with your fine Fish and I admit to a dolphin squeak when I read there are two more Morin fry to come. Bring it on (I’m all out of subsea allusions).

    • Sheila Bugler

      I read an earlier version of this book and adored it. Pete Morin is a GREAT writer. The published novel is most definitely on my Christmas list.

    • Pete

      Oh my Sue and Sheila – how cool would it be to have a few pics of the cover in London! If you send me an email with your address, I’ll ship you signed copies. (Sheila hasn’t seen the Acknowledgments yet, Jill)


      • Sheila Bugler

        Seriously? Pete, please send me a copy. I’ll also get my book club to read it.

    • Lorraine

      I remember DOSF from both YWO and The Shed. It’s an amazing story really well told. I’m so pleased you have an agent you can trust to guide you in the right direction.

    • elizabethjasperwriter

      I absolutely loved this book and I’ve found it fascinating to learn the story behind it.

      Pete Morin is a highly talented writer and i’m looking forward to his future work.

    • Pete


    • Kat

      I love this blog, Pete. Even though I am sitting here fighting to keep my eyes open, it fills me with energy and the desire to do stuff…

      I’ve only ever read the opening of Small Fish, a long time ago, but I loved it. Desperately need to get it on my reading list.

    • Mike Lewis

      Love the story of the story. I haven’t read DOSF yet (soon to be remedied) but I was wondering if your agent’s strategy worked? Has the self-published success opened doors at the old school publishers?

    • Pete

      Yikes I might have to do an event in UK!

      Mike, it’s too soon to tell. The DOSF sales is one challenge, and finishing #2 is another. But none of this stuff happens right away, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of another.

    • Liza

      Great post, Pete. You are lucky to have such a wonderful agent. Best of luck to you.

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