Author John Searles Proves Nice Guys Finish First

Someone once told me, “You can’t get by on just being nice.” But in the publishing world, if you’re nice to readers they will adore you and you’ll sell more books. Here’s proof.

I had no intention of buying John Searles’ novel Help for the Haunted when he visited Colorado recently. I have two shelves full of books by local authors I want to support. But I haven’t read them all. (You’re a reader and writer, so you own these lonely books, too. Admit it.)



Guest column by Katherine Valdez, who blogs about author events and
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Help for the Haunted, his third novel, is about a girl determined to learn the truth about her parents’ murder. The book jacket boasts the teaser “Two Sisters. One Dark Secret.” Even the cover quote – “Dazzling…A novel both frightening and beautiful” – written by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, wasn’t enough to convince me to spend $26.99, even though I idolize her.

But Searles, a Cosmopolitan magazine editor for the last 17 years, spun me 180 degrees toward the book signing table, all because he was kind, bubbly, and told dozens of anecdotes – including one of his late boss, Helen Gurley Brown – that left everyone laughing. He said he’d be happy to answer any questions and would stay as long as necessary to sign everyone’s books.


During the book signing – for which I was first in line – he was sweet enough to write “For Katherine! Best wishes for all your writing! With love, John Searles, XOOX.”

I floated to my car, smiling and clutching the novel as though I were Golem and it was the One Ring. My precioussss….

The son of a truck driver and stay-at-home mom, Searles accepted a job at the DuPont factory close to his home because his parents told him, “We don’t have the money for college [and] you don’t have the grades.”
But Searles never gave up on his dream. “I always wanted to be a writer,” he said. One of his early stories featured a main character who collected wallpaper swatches. And Searles gave the stories titles like “Over The Rainbow” and “Behind the Rainbow,” saying with a laugh that his parents shouldn’t have been shocked to learn he’s gay.

(Can you re-query an agent after she’s rejected you in the past?)

Still, they wanted him to learn trucking “to make a man out of me.” It was on those trips with his father that he read books by Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, and John Irving, whatever paperbacks he found at truck stops.
He eventually spent many years waiting tables before applying to New York University, and was accepted on a writing scholarship. To support himself, he read tarot cards and continued as a waiter. He later moved into magazines, first reading Redbook submissions for 50 cents a story, then working his way up the ranks at Cosmo.

Searles told a story that demonstrates why he’s so kind and encouraging to aspiring novelists (including yours truly). Years ago, he sent a manuscript to Doubleday Books. It was rejected. But the rejection was not the worst part. He found an in-house note inadvertently left in the returned package, which said his novel was “dry, unsophisticated, and trite…I barely made it to page 60 and I feel really badly for anyone who has to go through to page 400, EG.”

He laughs now, but the experience taught him a valuable lesson. From then on, he jotted encouraging notes to writers whose magazine stories he rejected: “ ‘Keep going, live the dream, don’t give up!’ ” he said. “I didn’t want to pull an EG on them.”

Who knows where EG is now. But we know where nice-guy Searles is.

At the top of the best-seller list.


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