Sending out In His Shadow
After Houghton-Mifflin turned down In His Shadow, I bought a copy of Jeff Herman’s ‘Insider’s Guide to Book Editors, Publisher & Literary Agents’, which was a great guidebook back then. It listed agents in each publishing houses, with the type of books they were looking for, and the same for literary agencies. This was the end of ’92, and it was a completely different world as far how publishing houses dealt with unagented material. Back then the Internet was in its infancy, and because of that PCs were costly and were mostly being bought by hobbyist and software engineers. Writing a book or short story using a typewriter required a far more serious effort than writing on a PC, and publishing houses weren’t yet being flooded with manuscripts. Once the Internet took off and PCs got cheaper—sometime around ’95-’96, all that changed, but back around ’93 when I started sending out query letters to publishers and agencies, what I found was a large number of the editors at the large NY houses that I contacted responded to my query letter and requested my book, maybe 10 in total over the year I spent sending out queries. Not too many agents did—only 2. Both agents ended up telling me the same thing—that they enjoyed my writing and the book, but I needed to write a different book, that I would never sell “In His Shadow” as a first book, that it was too different and too dark for the publishing houses. Over the course of a year, the editors I heard back from told me basically the same thing—that a book with the private eye as a psychotic killer would be too hard to sell, that I needed to write something more conventional.
I should’ve listened to them, but I was too stubborn. At the time, Jim Thompson was making a reemergence, and in my heart I knew In His Shadow was a good book and that noir readers would like it. Also—and I think this is a common problem with a lot of first time writers—writing that first book was hard, the thought of writing a second book without first selling the first book seemed insane. But here’s what I’ve learned over the years:
1) Writing the second book gets easier, and writing the third gets even easier.
2) You only get a chance to be a first-time novelist once, and you have to make the most of it—and that has to be writing a book that a large house can sell. A first novel gets treated differently, there’s more excitement for it, it’s eligible for different awards and reviewers look at it more enthusiastically. But that’s only if your first book is getting into a house that people pay attention to.
So it turns out both the agents and editors I heard from were right, as were my gut feelings. In His Shadow eventually did get published as Fast Lane, and the reaction to it from the readers who found it was what I was expecting—but I would’ve been much better served writing something more conventional that a large house would’ve been able to take on.
Anyway, at the end of 1993 with a large pile of rejection slips for In His Shadow, and having just joined new computer network startup where I was going to be working over 60 hours a week, I quit writing to focus on my career.