How I Sold My Supernatural Thriller, By Matt Manochio

Every aspiring author dreams of that first book contract. I landed one in April 2010 when Dorchester Publishing bought my crime thriller, The Highwayman, for a small advance. Success! I began writing it in 2007, finished it in 2008, queried, and got the usual round of rejections. Rather than believing all of those agents and editors were crazy, I figured there must be something wrong with what I was doing.

I attended the Deadly Ink mystery writers conference in New Jersey and met panelist Chris Roerden, a manuscript editor, and I purchased her book, Don’t Sabotage Your Submission. Her panel discussion and insightful book crystallized why I was being rejected. I used boring words—in addition to using too many! I larded my manuscript with adjectives and adverbs (which have since been largely culled) to amaze my readers with my descriptive prowess. I explained stuff in bulky blocks of text that the late Elmore Leonard advises to keep to a minimum because readers tend to skip over them…

GIVEAWAY: Matt is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (UPDATE: Reynard won.)


Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 12.18.17 AM      Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 12.12.15 AM

Guest column by Matt Manochio, author of THE DARK SERVANT (Nov.
4, 2014, Samhain Publishing). Matt worked for 12 years as an award-winning
newspaper reporter for the Daily Record in New Jersey before leaving to work
at a ratings agency. His work has appeared in USA Today, among other
Gannett-owned publications. He lives with his wife and son in New Jersey.
Follow him on Twitter.



Most importantly, I wasn’t telling my story through dialogue. It’s obvious now, but when you’re starting out, sometimes it isn’t. At least it wasn’t to me. Oh, I had dialogue, but wasn’t making effective use of it. I also killed my prologue. Ultimately, it served no purpose (I thought I was being clever by starting with it). I overhauled my manuscript and submitted it to Dorchester in 2009, and got the deal. Only to see it collapse because Dorchester, unbeknownst to me and authors already under contract, was bankrupt! Nobody was getting royalties or advances. Not only that, Don D’Auria, the editor who signed me, was laid off.

I never was paid my advance so I withdrew the manuscript. It was crushing. I achieved what every author craves and through no fault of my own it vanished. Rather than sulk, I took the view that if my work sold once, it could sell again. I had a taste—I wanted the feast. The most important thing I did in the wake of Dorchester’s collapse was stay in touch with Don. (My advice to any writer: if you make a contact in this business, keep it, nurture it over the years, always stay on good terms.)

(How should you discuss a book’s series potential in a query letter?)

Samhain Publishing, which publishes romance and horror, hired Don in early 2011. I wasn’t able to find a home for The Highwayman there, but I was never deterred. I completed a second crime novel (that I was writing for Dorchester prior to its collapse).

Then something big happened in December 2012: I got the idea for my debut supernatural thriller, The Dark Servant, set to publish November 4. The Dark Servant focuses on a legendary European creature named Krampus. He’s Santa Claus’ dark companion whose single responsibility is punishing naughty kids. I’d never heard of this monster and couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of it. I checked Amazon and Barnes & Noble and saw relatively little traditionally published Krampus fiction. That ignited the fire. I knew I had to write about it and immediately contacted Don. He loved the idea and encouraged me to write. I finished the manuscript in six months and had a deal with Don about a week after submitting it. Not only that, as of this writing I’ve obtained 10 endorsements: four from New York Times-bestselling authors, and another four from Bram Stoker Award-winning writers, among others.

Five years of writing, rejection, rewriting, getting a contract—and losing it—steeled in me the belief that I could get published. Simply put, my two unpublished thrillers taught me how to craft a novel and positioned me to write and sell The Dark Servant.

(Learn how to protect yourself when considering a independent editor for your book.)

Writers who seek a traditional publishing deal can obtain one in a crowded and changing market. But it might, and likely will, take years. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Use that time to attend conferences. Meet and learn from those who’ve had success. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Instead of stewing over rejections, learn why you might be getting them. Read. Always write. And while it sounds corny, you must believe you can succeed.

All of those things helped me emerge from the slush. And now I’m counting down the days until my publication date. Like a racehorse trapped behind the starting gate, aching for it to break open, I cannot wait to start running.

GIVEAWAY: Matt is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. (UPDATE: Reynard won.)


Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton’s guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.



You might also like:

  • No Related Posts

6 thoughts on “How I Sold My Supernatural Thriller, By Matt Manochio

  1. LogansArray

    I really appreciate your insight on this blog and wish you luck in the future. Your words remind me that a difficult path to success as a writer is not the aberration but the rule and that a multitude of failures, coincidences, and heartfelt days of hard work stand between any potential writer and his happy ending.

    As for the advice you received about dialogue and adjectives I will try and take it to heart in my own work and “kill my darlings” in the name of a more readily accessible and hopefully more exciting tale. It is fact that a writer’s words are useless without an audience, and reaching one often requires more pruning then many writers would like.

    In regards to the book itself, I love the cover art and while I’ve never attempted a Krampus book before, I intend to pick this one soon.

  2. RaeNezL

    So I found this blog pretty interesting. The bits and bytes of writing have been narrowed into smaller and smaller bits of text. It seems we make things more palatable for readers that way. I understand that.

    I like the premise for your story, too! I’ve never heard of this down and dirty Santa henchman, but he sounds fabulous! I really want to read your story now. It seems like a very unique premise.

    Congratulations on finally getting published, by the way! I’m sure that feels amazing. 🙂

  3. PDPabst

    What a wonderfully bumpy journey to get to the right place. No? I’m a firm believer in never burning a bridge. Good on you for not turning into sour grapes over the collapse. I’m counting the days until THE DARK SERVANT is published. I’ve never heard of the Krampus and can’t wait to read your story!

  4. nvc

    American commercial fiction has become basically Hollywood minus the visuals. Don’t use long paragraphs: people will skip them! Don’t use adverbs or adjectives: people will get bored! Don’t use dialog tags other than ‘said’: people will get distracted! Does mankind really deserve this condescension and disgust?

    Don’t worry, readers can handle twenty lines of solid text if they are up to reading an actual book rather than Facebook, and no, they’ll not forget what was on the page two words ago if they bump into ‘he whispered’ or ‘he announced’: how much of their attention do you think you are getting? Fiction is about word-painting, that is where the art of writing and the pleasure of reading resides. There isn’t much point in listing made-up facts as briefly as possible and expecting the readers to fill in their own details, now is there? But, of course, now that the Internet has provided everyone with a platform for preaching, everybody parrots the same set of nonsensical rules, and in the upshot, even though a mountain of books come out every day, the ones worth reading have been around for decades or centuries, with a tiny handful of exceptions.

    Have some respect. Chances are people will find a way to digest a comedy that is not about farting and puking, a drama that doesn’t hinge on the universal appeal of boobs, and even a book not based on the assumption of goldfish memory and a six-year-old’s vocabulary.

  5. Reynard

    I heard about Krampus for the first time about a year ago. I was amazed that not many people have used him in more stories. I am excited to read your novel. And thank you for the article- I am just now trying to rekindle my “published writer dreams”- stories like yours help remind me its a difficult but rewarding road.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.