It’s first sale week here at Genreality and it’s my turn to tell you how I managed to get that first big break. So let’s step aboard the wayback machine and turn the dial all the way to the left, back in the dark ages, you know, before they had electricity and running water? Yep, all the way back to 1988.
I was in college at the time, getting a degree in Soviet Studies at Fordham University in New York. (Yeah, I know – Soviet Studies? Don’t ask.) As most of my classes that semester were independent studies I had some free time on my hands and I did my fair share of reading. After finishing the latest book by a hot NY Times bestselling mystery writer I was so disgusted that I wouldn’t shut up. The entire novel had been so damn predictable that I was actually insulted that it had been published, never mind that my fellow readers across America had bought enough copies to make it the author’s Nth bestseller. It seemed like such a travesty to me.
Apparently not to my roommate, who quickly tired of hearing my tirade. In his usual laconic way he calmly suggested that if I thought I could do better maybe I should give it a go. He even put a case of beer on the line, a case of Bass Ale no less, betting that I wouldn’t even finish the book. Forget whether it was any good or not – all I had to do was actually write one that made some coherent sense and was long enough to qualify by current publishing industry standards.
That was all I needed. He was dangling liquid gold in front of my face and I was enough of a cocky sonofagun to think I could pull it off. So that afternoon, never having written much of anything else before that, I sat down to write a novel.
I had no idea what I was doing. I had never taken a fiction course. I was a voracious reader but I’d never had any thoughts of being a writer. I probably never would have either, if I hadn’t been dared to give it a try.
I quickly settled on a genre (horror, which I had been reading a lot of at the time) and got to work. I wrote long hand on yellow legal pads, working during the day and often at night. I worked several days a week at campus security, sitting alone from midnight to seven am in a little booth on the far side of campus, and it proved to be a godsend for getting some writing done. It took me three months, but by the end of that time I had four hundred some odd pages of hand written manuscript and pronounced it done.
My roommate and I consumed that case of beer rather quickly and I soon forgot about my little experiment as a writer. Like I said, I really didn’t have the drive to want to do that for a living; I was just curious to see if I could do it at all.
Fast forward twelve years. I’m on the other side of the country, married, and my wife and I are moving into a new house. I’d been carting boxes of junk around with me ever since college and we finally decided that this time we were going to get rid of some of it. At the bottom of one carton, nestled in an oversized shoebox, my wife discovers that original, handwritten manuscript. She begins to read it, finds that it isn’t half bad, not half bad at all, and suggests that maybe I might want to do something with it. After a bit of hemming and hawing, I agree.
I knew a bit more about writing by then, having had some passing interest in it in the years since college, and spent some time knocking that old manuscript into shape before typing it all up on my computer. Once I was finished, I set about trying to find a home for it.
As fate would have it, I lucked out. One of the publishers I discovered was a small indie publisher out of Florida that was just getting started. Another writer I knew had mentioned my name to the publisher and she wrote to me, introducing herself and her company. She asked to see the manuscript, which by then finally had a name – RIVERWATCH – after a family estate that plays an important role in the story – and I promptly sent it off.
Three weeks later I had an offer of publication. It was for trade paperback publication and was royalties-only. Knowing the publisher wanted to make a legitimate name for herself in the horror and dark fantasy genre, I negotiated with her to pay me a few thousand dollars advance so that she could meet the novel requirements that the Horror Writers Association (the world’s largest organization of professional horror writers) expected publishers to meet. She agreed and I soon had a check in my hands.
I had done it. I had made my first sale and gotten some decent money out of it in the bargain. I was pretty darned pleased with myself.
But that, as it turned out, was just the beginning. The members of the Horror Writers Association went on to put that little book that could on the preliminary ballot for
the Bram Stoker Awards, one of the highest honors given in the genre. Figuring it would end there, given the competition I was up against, I was pleasantly surprised when it made it to the final list of nominees. In the end, I didn’t win the award, but as they say, being nominated is an honor in itself. And in this case, it truly was, as that nomination led to my landing an agent (who still represents me today) and in selling the rights to RIVERWATCH to Pocket Books, the mass market paperback division of Simon & Schuster.
My career was off and running.
So there you have it. Eight years after that initial sale I’m still writing. In fact, I’m about to sell novels ten, eleven and twelve. And it all started with that lousy book and a case of beer…