Saturday, January 28, 2012

How I Got Here

I've wanted to be a writer since I was in fourth grade when I spend every recess scribbling stories and screenplays in a marble composition book.  I wrote an on-going tale called The Dark Man about a detective chasing a serial killer.  My teacher read these entries with concern and, eventually, my imagination earned me a few trips to the guidance counselor.

In high school, I kept writing my brand of horror and read every Stephen King novel I could find--both my writing and my reading furrowed teachers' brows and sent me for yet more professional help.  It seems that part of education is driving out the active imagination.  Adults who have lost the ability to imagine things that don't exist find it particularly troubling when encountering someone who seems to live perpetually in a world of make believe.

There was one teacher who encouraged me to write, to keep improving.  With that little bit of encouragement, I kept writing and wrote two stories that were published in fanzines.  I was paid a dollar for one story and contributors copies for the other.  I couldn't have been more delighted.  I submitted those stories for writing assignments (to a different teacher) and, you guessed it, won another trip to the guidance department.

Against the best efforts of public school, I ended up in college writing my first novel.  Then I wrote another one and another one and another one.  I graduated college with five novels in the fabled Writer's Trunk.  Over the next several years, I wrote several more novels and tried to elicit the interest of publishers and agents.  I collected tons of rejections.  After a few dozen rejections for any book, I put it aside and started another.

Then I wrote a book about a trio of boys and a haunted house.  I wanted to write a haunted house story that was about young kids but was not censored.  I knew it probably wouldn't fly as a Young Adult novel, but I wrote it anyway.  I liked it immensely.  I tried to interest agents and even managed to get a few requests for partials.  Even so, rejections piled up.  I decided to commit myself to making the book better.

Enter Scott Nicholson.  I found him through a simple internet search.  I sent him a sample of my book and he sent back revisions and then I hired him to go through the whole book.  A few weeks later, I received my manuscript back, the pages laden with red marks, and a five-page handwritten critique.  I read through all of Scott's comments and, after a period of depression and despair, committed myself to improving the book.

It seems so obvious now, but that was the first time I had ever seriously revised anything I wrote.  Before, I would write the first draft, reread for typos and occasional awkward phrasing, then give it to a few people to read, and then make a few minor changes based on readers' comments.  With this haunted house tale, I finally ripped a book apart, dissected it, rearranged the parts, rewrote lengthy sections--I honestly and diligently sought to produce a great book.

When Hudson House was as revised and polished as I could get it, I recontacted agents.  A few requests for partials again.  All rejections.  Meanwhile, I had written another novel, a really dark tale of religion and sex and violence.  A published young adult author read the opening chapter and said the book would never be published--far too graphic.

In the summer of 2010, I explained to Scott Nicholson my frustration with trying to interest agents.  He suggested I self-publish.  Before I could balk and declare that vanity publishing was not for me, he told me about Amazon.

Scott guided me through the whole process and in August, Hudson House went on sale.  I sat back and waited for my money to roll in.

I averaged one sale a day.  I experienced a few peaks following a very positive review from Misty Baker and a piece about the book in the local newspaper, but my profit averaged around $50/month.

I took my really dark book about religion, which had been rejected numerous times at this point, and self-published it as well.  The world was not interested.

At the same time, I managed to glean the interest of a couple agents on a different sort of haunted house novel I had written.  A prominent author with whom I had been in contact as a fan, read the book and offered a great endorsement.  I even received an e-mail from an agent that said simply, Call me.

I thought I was on the cusp of publishing greatness.  I spoke with the agent for twenty minutes and came away with instruction to rework the book.  I sought the advice of another author (who has the same agent) and he volunteered to read and critique.  Months and months later, I produced a fully revised book.  The work on this book made the editing of Hudson House look like child's play.  I sent the book to the agent and . . . I'm still waiting.  I contacted him and he assured me he would get to it soon.  

I remain hopeful that the book will lead to professional representation.

While all that was going on, I wrote two more books specifically to be published as e-books.  One has been very positively reviewed (Blood Mountain) and the other (Rampage) very poorly (amusingly, the one with the bad rating tends to sell better).

Then Kindle Select started and I gave away books.  Almost three thousand in a month among the available titles.  I just received my royalty payment for December 2011:  $14.

I did, however, publish a collection of short stories called Sometimes There Are Monsters at the end of last year and while the book has not sold incredibly well, the collection includes the two stories I wrote in high school, the ones that suggested I needed therapy.

Even with the dream of full-time writing far off in the future, self-publishing e-books is the best therapy for an over-active imagination.

I apologize for rambling.  I left a lot of stuff out, including several people who helped me during this process.  I thank them now:  Karla Herrera, LeeAnn Doherty, Neil Jackson, Christopher Jammal, Stephen James Price, my mother, my in-laws, and my wife.



  1. Great story, J.T. I don't mean that it is a great story for you, exactly. What I mean is that it is great for other authors, such as myself, to see life on the other side of the fence. Wishing you every success. In fact, I'd like to be here as the story gets better... I plan to follow along, you see.


  2. I received my B&N tax information yesterday. In 2011, I made $54.44. Not exactly a million. Thanks for the encouragement.