Brad Harper Success Story Interview with Mark Malatesta – During this insider interview on our literary agent blog, Brad Harper, author of the novel A Knife in the Fog shares advice for authors of all genres about how to write, publish, and/or promote their books. Brad also talks about how he worked with former literary agent Mark Malatesta to improve his pitch materials, resulting in representation with Jill Marr of Sandra Dijkstra & Associates, who then got multiple publishers interested. Brad ultimately signed a two-book deal with Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books in New York, distributed by Penguin Random House.
Authors published by Prometheus include Steve Allen (the first host of The Tonight Show), John Maynard Keynes (one of the most influential economists of the 20th century), Nietzsche (the philosopher), and Isaac Asimov (the science fiction author). Within her first decade of agenting, Newsweek dubbed Sandra Dijkstra, founder of Sandra Dijkstra & Associates, “the best agent in the West,” Esquire chose her as one of the nation’s “top five literary agents,” and the Los Angeles Times proclaimed her an “über-agent” and “the most powerful literary agent on the West Coast.”
Scroll below now to: 1) Get instant access to the audio interview, 2) See Brad’s success story about how he got a top literary agent, and 3) See a description of Brad’s book. And, click here to visit Brad Harper’s website.
Audio Interview with Brad Harper – Author of A Knife in the Fog
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Brad Harper’s Success Story
“Mark, the day you said would happen, has happened. My agent, Jill Marr with Sandra Dijkstra & Associates Literary Agency, got multiple publishers interested in my novel, A Knife in the Fog, and I just signed a two-book deal with Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books.
When it was confirmed I had an agent, I opened a bottle of wine, got some nice Irish cheddar cheese, and my wife and I celebrated. I had three bottles of wine set aside: one bottle for when I got the agent, one for when the book sells, and the third one for when the book is published. Each bottle, of course, is a better quality of wine. Life could not be better.
My agent is very easy to work with, quick to respond, and very enthusiastic about my work. We talk a little bit about personal things as well. I don’t feel like I’m having a conversation with my dentist. She did give me some feedback on things that she wanted me to change in my manuscript, before offering me a contract. I think, among other things, she wanted to see how easy I would be to work with.
Mark, before I found your website, I got no response at all from my query letters. No interest. Nothing. Well, I take that back. One agent was interested in my concept, but then she said my story wasn’t exciting enough. She wanted me to mimic the voice of another author. That’s when I decided to get help and stumbled upon your website. As a retired physician, I know there are things you should use consultants for.
I didn’t know how to shape my query and you gave me perspective. Let me use an analogy. When I was in medicine, I would sometimes send a patient to another physician, and there was a standard format to use. I’d make the information concise, relevant, and useful. I only gave the other person what they needed. And I wouldn’t give the same presentation to an otologist that I’d give to, say, an oncologist.
I didn’t know how to do that when writing a query letter. A friend of mine had lent me one of her books about query letters, but I needed help to learn how to be concise and provide agents with information relevant to them. Information that would help them decide, quickly, if my novel was something they’d like to consider further. That’s the help that you provided. You taught me how to think like an agent.
Writing and telling a story is art but, once that story has been told, it’s a product. There’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, Leonardo da Vinci lived off the proceeds of his work. You can be an artist, but, artists also have to live. So, I had no issues whatsoever in shaping my idea, my concept, into something that would make other people want to read it. They can’t do that unless you get it in their hands though, you know?
I thought about self-publishing my book, but I knew I’d probably just get a couple thousand people at best to read that way. And, most self-published authors spend most of their time marketing, marketing, marketing. That doesn’t get my juices flowing. My dream is to get on an airplane, see somebody reading my book, and hear them tell me how good it is before I tell them I’m the author. It would be one of those fantastic moments that you put a gold frame and then put it into your treasure chest of favorite memories.
One of the most important things you gave me, Mark, was validation. That I wasn’t being totally unrealistic. You showed me the best way to pitch my product, but you also reassured me that I wasn’t wasting my time. You helped me hone my skills, and you were an excellent sounding board – you still are. It’s nice to have somebody to talk to about my writing in ways that I can’t talk to my wife. You’re a professional who knows the business and always gives me reality-based feedback. That’s extremely useful.
I know that I was one of your greener clients, and you were always very accessible. I would send you a little something about what was happening, and you’d always get back within a day or so. And you were always encouraging. I never felt like I was getting an automated or template response. It was always personal, from Mark to Brad, and I always felt like you were in my corner.
I was also impressed that you helped me secure so many testimonials. Eight well-known and bestselling authors agreed to blurb my book. My agent told me right up front, ‘You’ve done your homework; this list of people willing to give you blurbs will get editors’ attention.’ If I was William Faulkner or Stephen King, I wouldn’t need anyone like that, but I’m not William Faulkner or Stephen King!
I’m just a 65-year-old, unpublished author. My agent is taking a risk with me. Agents and publishers can’t afford to lose too many times. You know what you call an agent or publisher who takes on too many unsold or underperforming books? You call them unemployed. Having well-known authors and experts willing to review your work gives you credibility, and it shows agents and publishers that you can help sell books.
The list of agents you compiled for me was also huge. It saved me months of time and made it so that, when I got a rejection, I’d simply say, ‘Okay, batter up, who’s next?’ I didn’t have to go back and start rummaging through those hard-to-navigate-and-often-outdated-and-incomplete directories to try to find more people. That made getting rejections, and getting more submissions out, a lot easier.
Signing up to work with you wasn’t a financial burden for me. I mean, it was a significant investment, but, my wife and I talked it over. I wouldn’t have done it without her support. She saw how important it was to me to try to make it as a writer and said, ‘Well, you know, let’s go for it.’ It was a joint decision, and we decided it was an investment in this new career of mine. So, we did it.
I knew, Mark, after my first coaching call with you, that you could help me, and that I could trust you. You didn’t just give me a sales pitch. You listened. You were thoughtful. And your advice was appropriate. As an author, you can only get things to a certain point on your own, using advice from books and websites. Even great ones like yours. Thank you for everything. We have come a long way, my friend.”
Author of A Knife in the Fog: A Mystery Featuring
Margaret Harkness and Arthur Conan Doyle
(Prometheus Books/Seventh Street Books
distributed by Penguin Random House)
A Knife in the Fog by Brad Harper (Preview)
The period of the Ripper murders in 1888 was an interesting one for Doyle, both as a writer and a physician. He had a successful practice as a general practitioner in Portsmouth and some small pieces of historical fiction accepted by minor publications but nothing that had attracted much notice. His first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, was completed in April of 1886 and was his largest and most ambitious work to date. He sent it to various publishers and was hurt by what he described the “circular tour” of his manuscript. Fortunately, Jeannie Bettany, wife of the editor in chief for Beeton’s Christmas Annual, plucked it from the slush pile in her husband’s office and convinced him to buy it. They offered Doyle twenty-five pounds, which he found insulting as they also demanded full copyright, but he ultimately agreed. For the remainder of his life, Doyle never ceased to mention that those twenty-five pounds were all he ever received for his introduction to the world of his most enduring character.
In July of 1887, he began a historicalnovel entitled Micah Clarke about the English Civil War. When his story in the Christmas Annual was published it proved an instant success, selling out within two weeks after a positive review from The Times.Doyle, embittered by his meager pay for the story, labored on finalizing Clarke, which occupied him for the next year. The second Holmes story, The Sign of Four, was not published until February 1890, roughly sixteen months after the Ripper’s last victim, and nearly four years since Scarlet. The Ripper murders, therefore, took place in the interim between Scarlet and Sign.
All the murders occurred in 1888, but there is still debate as to which women slain that year could be attributedto him. There are five that all experts agree on, however, beginning on the 31st of August 1888, and the final “canonical” victim on the 9th of November. These five murders over seventy days within the narrow confines of London’s East End were so brutal that they made Jack the Ripper into an immortal figure of savagery and fear.
I should dearly love that the world should be ever so little better for my presence. Even on this small stage we have our two sides, and something might be done by throwing all one’s weight on the scale of breadth, tolerance, charity, temperance, peace, and kindliness to man and beast. We can’t all strike very big blows, and even the little ones count for something.
– Arthur Conan Doyle, Stark Munro Letters (1894)
* * *
January 1st, 1924, Windlesham
The small cardboard box arrived from Florence last monthand sat unopened until today. Knowing this contains my very last communication from one with whom I faced great danger and who earned my enduring affection, I have been reluctant to confront this final farewell. Foolish of me perhaps, but I can pretend she is still alive as long as the box remains closed. It is as though by opening it now, I am consigning her to her grave, though it has already been occupiedthese past several months.
It is human nature to reflect upon one’s life journey when those dear to you pass away, to recount shared experiences, and to contemplate where the road ahead without them may lead. While I have never considered myself an introspective man, I find that, with the passage of time, this tendency becomes more pronounced.The comrades to whom I swore an oath of silence regarding the events I am relating here have now, with her death, all crossed over, and I believe that when we meet again,they shall forgive my desire to recount their courage and nobility of spirit.
My soon-to-be published memoir, Memoriesand Adventures, contains no reference to my involvement in the Ripper investigation or how it is that I alone now know why he ended his wanton killing of the “unfortunate” women of London as suddenly as he began. I am of two minds as to whether this account shall ever be released, but the arrival of this box has spurred me into recording my memories while I still can. Perhaps,in the end, I shall leave it to my dear wife Jean to decide this memoir’s fate once I have joined my companions on the other side.
* * *
Thursday, September 20th, 1888
It began in September of 1888, the month hastening into autumn. I was closing my clinic in Portsmouth for the day when a stranger arrived without an appointment. I asked the nature of his ailment,and he surprised me by responding that he was not there for a medical consultation, but was serving as a messenger, handing me hiscard whichidentified him as Sergeant Major (Retired) Henry Chambers, courier.
His erect carriage and regulation grooming werequite in characterwith his previous occupation and rank, as were his clothes that, though well-made, were unobtrusive. When I requested the nature of his message,he handedover a thick envelope addressed to me.
Within, I found a ten-pound note and a letter written on thick bond paper bearing the letterhead of former Prime Minister William Gladstone.
Dear Doctor Doyle,
Please consider this letter an offer of employment for a period of up to one month as a consultant. The nature of the task I request of you is best discussed in person. As a gesture of good faith, I have enclosed a ten-pound payment that would be yours for traveling to London to hear my proposal. Should you decline my offer, the payment would be yours to keep. If accepted, it would be deducted from future reimbursements.
The courier has no knowledge of the matter but merely requires your response. If you accept, he will telegraph my office with the date and time of your arrival, and I will ensure that a member of my staff is there to meet you.
I strongly urge you to accept my invitation, sir, as many lives may lie upon its balance.
I tried to learn more from the courier, despite the rejoinder in the letter that he was ignorant of the reason for this summons. He explained that he rarely met his wealthy clients himself, primarily receiving his commissions from the doormen of the better clubs in London. Although this was his first courier mission requiring travel outside the city, it was in no other way different from many others he had performed.
I could not explain how Mr. Gladstone should know of me, or why he would seek me out. I considered myself a capable general practitioner but gamely admitted there was an abundance of physicians at least as competent as, and certainly more experienced, than myself readily available throughout London.WhileI was hardly destitute, the promised sum of ten pounds for a journey I could easily make and return from in a single day was enticing. As my wife Louise was pregnant with our first child, the funds would be welcome.
After a moment’s reflection, I agreed, perhaps as much influenced by my curiosity as the ten-pound note, which exceeded a fortnight’s income at the time. Besides, a short holiday from the daily labors of managing my practice would be welcome.
The courier had a copy of the train schedule on hand, so I selected the train arriving at Waterloo Station at one o’clock in two days. I informed him that I would be wearing an oiled canvas coat over a checked vest so that I could be easily identified upon arrival.
I notifiedLouise of my impendingabsence,posted a sign announcing the closure of the clinic in two days’ time, and arranged for colleagues to see my patients during my absence. Had I known at the time the nature of the request, I cannot sayto this day if I would have accepted the invitation. Though my purse would profit significantly, many of my pre-conceptions regarding humanity and society (humanity writ large) would be lost. What else I may have gained, I leave to you, Dear Reader, to conclude at the end of my tale.
I arrived at Waterloo Station punctually at one o’clock, relieved that someone would be meeting me as at that time I was only vaguely familiar with London. Indeed, for many yearsI kept a simple post-office map of the city posted above my desk as a reference when writing my Holmes stories. I carried it with me now, and it would become well-worn over the next six weeks.
I noted a pale, well-dressed gentleman slightly less than average height, in his early twenties, who was plainlysearching for someone among the disembarking passengers. I opened my overcoat to display my checked vest,and his face brightened when he noticed me.
“Dr. Doyle?” he enquired, with a slight continental accent.
“Indeed,”I replied, extending my hand. “Now can you tell me what this is all about?”
“I see you are a straightforwardman, sir,”he responded, grasping my hand a tad over-enthusiastically. “Mr. Gladstone has empowered me to act as his agent in this matter. My name, sir, is Wilkins. Johnathan Wilkins. I am Mr. Gladstone’s personal secretary.”
“So Mr. Gladstone is not the patient?” I asked, puzzled by his use of the word “agent.”
“I apologize for the vagueness of our correspondence, Dr. Doyle, but it is not in a medical capacity that Mr. Gladstone seeks your assistance.”
“Then why, in Heaven’s name, am I here?” I said, irritated by the vagueness of his reply.
Mr. Wilkins looked aboutand hoarsely whispered in my ear “Murder, Dr. Doyle. Or rather, murders…The Whitechapel homicides.” Then in a normal tone,he added, “But I request we delay further discussion until we reach Mr. Gladstone’s club where you shall find the lodgings most agreeable, and paid in full.”
I walked along in a daze as Mr. Wilkins took my bag, guided me to a waiting hansom, and bundled me and my belongings inside. While Portsmouth is not the heart of the British Empire, our local papers had shared the details of the grislydoings of the madman at the time referred to in the press as “Leather Apron.” It had not occurred to me that I should be asked to assume the role of my fictional character Sherlock Holmes as a consulting detective. I resolved to hear Mr. Wilkins out, politely decline, and return home on the next availabletrain. For ten pounds,I could certainly give him an audience of a few minutes.
The journey to the Club passed quickly and in silence, for which I was grateful as I was busy composing my eloquent refusal of Wilkins’ pending request.
The Marlborough Club was indeed quite comfortable, conveniently located at No. 52 Pall Mall, aptly fulfilling its stated goal of being “a convenient and agreeableplace of meeting for a society of gentlemen.” Its members consisted primarily of affluentbarristers and members of the Stock Exchange. My traveling clothes, when contrasted with their well-tailored suits,seemed shabby. I, therefore,insisted that Wilkins state his proposal beforeI unpacked, should that prove unnecessary. He escorted me to the reading roomand poured us each a glass of water from a crystal decanter before beginning.
“Very well,”said Wilkins. “I could tell by your reaction that you knowof the gruesome murders thathave occurred within Whitechapel this past month. Three women, Martha Tabram in early August, Mary Ann Nichols on the 31stof August, and Miss Annie Chapman on September the 8th, a fortnight ago. Miss Tabram died of multiple stab wounds, while Mary Nichols and Annie Chapman had their throats slashed, allwithin yards of others close enough to have heard a scream. Thus far,however, no one has claimed to have noticed anything unusual at the time these murders occurred.”
Mr. Wilkins shivered slightlyas he described the women’s injuries and sipped from his glass before continuing.
“Mr. Gladstone has, throughout his career, been quite active inphilanthropic activities within the community of fallen women who reside in Whitechapel. A delegation of these ladies, many now serving as madams of various brothels, has approached him with a request for any assistance he can provide to end this reign of terror.” Wilkins cleared his throat before continuing, “There is also a growing anti-Semitic sentiment within the East End. Many are now saying that only a Jew would be capable of such barbarity. The recent murder bythe Jew, Lipski of a fellow boarder is used by some to justify their suspicions. There have been assaults upon Jews by gangs on the streetsand Mr. Gladstone fears that the increasing oppressionin Poland and Russia may be used as examples by the lessermembers of London society to incite riots.”
“How does this involve me?” I asked, hoping to bring him to the point.
“I read with great interest your story A Study in Scarlet published this past December,” he continued, not to be deterred. “The use of scientific methods of analysis to deduce the murderer seemed quite sound to me,so I convinced Mr. Gladstone to summon you to serve as our ownconsulting detective. Your task would be to review the work of the various police agencies and propose avenuesof investigation they may have overlooked.”
He took a deep breath, and before giving me a chance to respond, concluded his apparently well-rehearsed offer. “The pay is three pounds per day,lodgings provided here in the Club, and any reasonable expensesreimbursed. Do you accept this commission, Dr. Doyle? It grantsyou a rare opportunity to trial your theories as to the role of science in combatting crime. The pay is not unsubstantial,and the experience may well guide you in future stories. What say you, sir?”
I sat there stunned, overwhelmed by the scope of the task laid at my feet. I have always seen myself as a champion ofjustice,but I did not wish to assume a competence beyond my abilities. Were I to fail, as was most likely, my reputation would suffer,and my clumsy efforts might impede the work of others more experienced and capable than myself. I, therefore,saw no reason to accept this strangecommission, but several to refuse.
“I am sorry, Mr. Wilkins. Your cause is just, but I am not Sherlock Holmes,” I replied. “He is a fictional character withknowledgeand skills that I do not possess. My inspiration for this person is my old professor of surgery, Joseph Bell. Although I carefully studied his techniques, I lack his keen intellect and ability to deduce the great from the small. I recommend that you contact him,though I doubt he will leave his practice in Edinburgh for such a quixotic quest.”
Mr. Wilkins leaned back in the comfortable leather chair and pondered my words with a worried frown onhis face. I confidently awaited my dismissal,when his replycaught me off-guard.
“Very well, sir. Knowing how keen Mr. Gladstone is to resolve this matter, I extend the same offer to Professor Bell. Please understand, I am offering this to the both of you as a team. Professor Bell may have the deductive skills, but you are his voice. I will only accept the professor if you agree to work alongside him. Having a colleague to discuss his findings may make a team that is stronger than the sum of its parts. Is that agreeable?”
I recall my thoughts quite clearly at that moment: surely Professor Bell would never agree to this; thus,I would be excusedfrom taking it on myself,allowing me to walk away ten pounds richer without angering a powerful man. I had to suppress a smile while congratulating myself on my clever escape.
“Agreed,” I said with false heartiness. “I shall telegram Professor Bell at once. As today is Saturday, I do not expect a response beforetomorrow or perhaps not until Monday. The lodgings are quite acceptable; I assume the daily stipend begins now?”
“It does,” replied Wilkins.
“Then I have a telegram to compose andbags to unpack. How shall I contact you when I receive hisanswer?”
“The doorman of the Club has three street Arabsthat he uses as couriers, and he will ensure any messagesyou have for me are sent straight away. Mr. Gladstone prefers not to meet with you until this matter is concluded. Please understand, his enemies have already made far too much of his Christian charity towards these women over the years, and he does not desire to detract from the current investigation by drawing attention to you.”
“Very well, then,” I replied. “Expect my message within the next forty-eight hours.”
Wilkins departed,and I applied myself to the wording of my telegram to Bell. I finally settled on the following:
GREETINGS FROM LONDON STOP IMMEDIATE CONSULTING OPPORTUNITY THREE POUNDS PER DAY STOP UNABLE TO DISCLOSE DETAILS HERE BUT OPPORTUNITY TO SAVE SEVERAL LIVES AND SERVE JUSTICE STOP REPLY SOONEST WITH RESPONSE AND ARRIVAL TIME AND PLACE IF AGREED STOP DOYLE
I felt as though I had been sufficiently faithful towards my potential new employer and with a clear conscience, I spent the remainder of the day walking through the buffetof sights and sounds which isLondon. Although in later yearsI found London wearisome, on that day I agreed with Doctor Samuel Johnson that when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. Thus,it was with a light heart I returned to the Club in time for dinner, to be stopped at the door with a reply from Bell:
INTRIGUED STOP MUST WIND DOWN MATTERS HERE STOP ARRIVING MONDAY THREE O’CLOCK KINGS CROSS STATION STOP BELL
I read this several times, brief as it was, but no matter how I analyzed, it there was only one possible explanation: Bell was coming. I was in for it now!
I reluctantlysent a message to Wilkins that Bell had agreed, ate a dinner that I do not recall in the slightest, and went to my room. Shortly before retiring,I received Wilkins’ reply:
Excellent! Will meet with you for breakfast at eight tomorrow to arrange introductions. J Wilkins.
I feared I would have littleappetite for whatever breakfast had to offer, and spent a restless night pondering how Fate and a single flight of fiction had led me to this moment.
Click here to get a copy of A Knife in the Fog.
A Knife in the Fog by Brad Harper – Reviews
Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Chamber, says A Knife in the Fog is ingenious in its premise and plotting, impressive in its unique forensic precision, and infectious in its overflowing passion for the subject matter.
Mary Roach, bestselling author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, says the novel stands apart, both for its nuanced, sympathetic portraits of the victims…and for its informed medical and forensic detail…that it’s crafted a deftly paced, expertly plotted work that transcends genre and speaks to the heart of every reader, mystery buff or not.”
Laurie R. King, author of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and Island of the Madsays, “Ardent feminism and cerebral detection face down the Ripper in the fog-shrouded streets of London: a feast for lovers of historical crime!”
Gordon McAlpine, author of Holmes Entangled and Woman with a Blue Pencil says, “The dark streets of London’s East End have never felt more real or more dangerous.”
Kirkus Reviews says, “Delightful chemistry, plummy prose, and believable period detail lift Harper’s debut above the throng of forgettable Baker Street imitators.”
Brad Harper – Biography
BRAD HARPER is the author of A Knife in the Fog, a crime/mystery novel. Think Jack the Ripper meets Sherlock Holmes’ Arthur Conan Doyle. Brad is represented by Jill Marr with Sandra Dijkstra & Associates, who got multiple publishers interested. Brad ultimately signed a two-book deal with Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books, located in New York and distributed by Penguin Random House.
Prior to becoming a writer, Brad was an Army pathologist. He has more than 200 autopsies to his credit and, like most physicians, he’s a big Sherlock Holmes fan. Brad is Board Certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology, and he served thirty-seven years of active duty. During his Army career, in addition to his clinical experience, he had four commands, beginning with the 67th Combat Support Hospital, in support of the Bosnian peacekeeping mission, and culminating as Commander with an Army Health Clinic in Italy.
Brad has received more than half a dozen awards including the Legion of Merit, with Oak Leaf Cluster, and an award from the Knights of Malta (the only non-Italian to ever receive this award) for his support of the Italian Army. When Brad served as Command Surgeon in support of U.S. Special Forces in Colombia, he had a $1.5 million bounty on his head. I bet his wife is happy those days are behind him
Dr. Harper and the love of his life, who he met in Junior High, have been married forty-five years. They live in Virginia, have two grown daughters, and Brad dresses up as Santa Clause in his hometown each Christmas. You’ll see why when you visit his website.
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