Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lessons learned from the trenches: Part 4

My first sale

While I was waiting for word from Houghton Miflin I was frequently visiting Spenser’s Mystery Bookstore in downtown Boston, and I got to know the owner pretty well, and he would tell me about publishers I should be looking into, how they supported their books, stuff like that. Early on he told me that Serpent’s Tail was one of his favorite publishers—both with the books they put out and how they supported their writers, and that stuck in my mind. During one of my visits to the store, Andy gave me a flyer for a call for stories for a new crime fiction magazine, New Mystery. What they were looking for were tough hardboiled stories, stuff like “bourbon with a splash, not Maalox on the rocks…”

When I got home later I spent hours typing away in a feverish pace trying to write the type of story they were asking for. This turned out to be A Long Time to Die, 6000 words of pure hardboiled noir. I sent it out, and not too much later I received a call from the editor, Charles Raisch, that he wanted to publish it. Since then I’ve sold stories and novellas to Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen, among other places, and have sold six books, including 3 to Serpent’s Tail, but I’ve never had a bigger high than from that first sale. I think that first sale is something that will always stand out with an author—probably because it’s our first real validation as a writer, the first time we’re told we belong. Anyway, I’ll always hold a soft spot in my heart for Charles and New Mystery.

The story came out in their second issue, and it looked great with a terrific illustration provided by the famous artist, Lucien Freud (grandson of Sigmund Freud), and among the company of some very talented writers, including John Lutz, Paico Taibo II and Bill Crider. I couldn’t have been more thrilled. So there you have it. The first story I sent out I actually sold. Made me think things were about to take off for me. Yeah, well not quite. It was mostly downhill from there, at least until 2003…

Jeremiah Healy once told me the three most important rules for a writer. (1) never give up (2) never give up (3) never give up. There’s a lot of truth to that—at least for most of us, or at least for me it was a lesson I kept having to learn over and over again, as will be evident in future notes.

4 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

You're working your way into a useful interesting book here, you know.

Dave Zeltserman said...

thanks, Patti. hey, it's fun writing this, and if provides some inspiration and helps new writers skip some of the mistakes I made along the way, all the better.

Keith Rawson said...

but does it get any easier as time goes on? Do you ever have a story or book rejected at this point in your career. I average at least 2 rejections a month since I've started sending out my stories again (I took a 4 year hiatus from submitting, and from writing.) and to be honest, it's pretty damn discouraging.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Keith, like you I took several hiatuses, last one being a 5-year one from 1997-2002. Right now I am at the point where I'm getting more stuff accepted than rejected, but I still get my share of rejections--as do probably most writers, other than a handful of the biggest names. With stories the key is understanding the market you're trying to sell to--if you're trying to sell to Alfred Hitchcock, read past issues, understand the type of story they buy and be honest in evaluating your own work. Books are much more of a crapshoot, and there can be so much damn luck involved as I'll talk about later.