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. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal. Also note that Matt's novel comes out later this year, so he will mail the winner's book once his author copies come in.) (UPDATE: Reynard won.)
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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.)

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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.)

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