Mark Gilroy is a 30-year veteran of the publishing industry, beginning with his time as a sports writer for a local newspaper when he was a college student. Through his company Mark Gilroy Creative (LLC) he currently serves publishers, business organizations, ministries and non-profits, retail chains, and authors as a "book packager" (think freelance publisher), content manager, literary agent, and consultant. On April 3 of this year Gilroy fulfilled a longtime dream to publish his own novel, when Cuts Like a Knife (Worthy Publishing), hit the marketplace. Gilroy is a graduate of Olivet Nazarene University (B.A.) with a double major in Biblical Literature and Speech Communications. He also holds two graduate degrees, the M.B.A. from Baker University, and the M.Div. from Nazarene Theological Seminary. Gilroy and his wife Amy live in Brentwood, Tennessee, with two of their six children still at home.

Author By Night

Suit Yourself

Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it;
write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it.

                                                                                                       Jesse Stuart

That I have made a living in the publishing industry for some thirty-odd years is proof that I have acquired, written, edited, published, and sold what others wanted and asked for. I have helped publish a number of very successful books and series that were not necessarily what I might be looking for as a reader myself—a devotional for mothers, for example—but I knew that the material would meet a strong need for many others.

I believe in focusing on others and will continue to do so for my day job. So don’t get me wrong. I believe in the discipline of marketing as applied to writing and publishing, especially when studying what people are looking for and buying, trying to spot new interests and trends.

But having said that, there came a moment in my publishing career that I decided to ignore everyone else and write something for me—to go with my gut feeling and instinct that if I like it, others will too. No way was I going to revert to form and gather focus groups or put out surveys. I decided to go with a jury of one. Me. My first step was the rule of the obvious. I asked myself the simple question: What do you like to read, Mark?

I can tick off a small library of all the devotional, historical, political, theological, and biographical books I’ve read, but many times I read those because they were assigned to me as part of course work, or I was attempting to exercise personal discipline for personal or spiritual growth or to keep my mind challenged. The reality is when I read for pleasure I have always defaulted to character-driven mysteries and suspense thrillers: detectives, spies, and a few bad guys.

That’s where I started with Cuts Like a Knife. I wrote something I would go out of my way to buy. I didn’t throw marketing out the door and do something crazy, like kill my main character in the first novel. (The second is about done and she’s still alive and kicking.) But even my decision to write Detective Kristen Conner as a series character was selfish. Again, I went with the rule of the obvious. What authors do I come back to repeatedly—even if my only option is the more expensive hardcover release? Series authors. Those who have created fabulous personalities that keep us hungry for their next adventure over years and even decades, like Spenser (he’s been solving crimes and eating doughnuts for almost thirty-five years and still hasn’t put on a pound), John Rebus, Jim Chee, Richard Drury, Gabriel Allon, George Smiley, Jack Reacher, Eve Dallas, and too many others to name here.

I was conversing about this topic with a group of friends when one of them challenged me: “If you were writing for yourself, why did you pick a woman as the lead character? And why in the world did you write her in first person? That seems like a marketing decision to me.”

I can get into a lot of trouble with my answer, but I can stay consistent with my assertion that I was writing for myself. I don’t think that the gender of the hero is what has made me or others love certain characters more than others, though no doubt I have gravitated more toward male heroes in my own reading. But what really has made me fall in love with a character is the mix of strengths, weaknesses, successes, failures, commonalities, peculiarities, self-awareness, self-blindness, relationships, and more that make the character step from the page and become real.

I might also add that as the father of six children, my three daughters have provided me with more “dramatic” material to write my lead character than my sons. See—I told you I could get into trouble with my answer.

The long and short is I wrote what I wanted to read and have been delighted to discover that reviewers and readers have liked my debut fiction offering. Stuart was right. “Write something to suit yourself and many others will like it.”

I’m sure some don’t and won’t love reading Kristen Conner as much as I enjoyed writing in her voice, but that would always be the case with anything I write.

I’m writing to writers so many if not most of you are so far ahead of me on thinking through this topic. I’ve been around the publishing industry as long as or longer than most of you, but the question of who to write for\is top of mind as this was the first time I took on a project while consciously identifying myself in my mind as an author, not a publisher or marketer or editor or ghost writer. I can only speak for me, but to develop my novel required a shift in my thinking away from others to me.

Rather than running to friends and peer evaluators to see if they like something you wrote, it might be a good exercise to take a couple days to ponder your answer to this question: Do I like it? Don’t get me wrong, I carefully listened to peer reviews and submitted to a rigorous editorial process where I didn’t get everything I wanted, but I am talking about the inspiration stage. What would you read? What do you like? What do you think?

If you’re not absolutely comfortable with that approach, think carefully about the wise words of King Solomon:“The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps” (Prov. 16:9 NASB).


Cuts Like a Knife