Tuesday, February 1, 2011

First Novels and Micro-Runs, Part 1

As I mentioned last week, I get email from young writers looking for advice. Some of them have even done their homework. Meaning, they know that back in 1994 I published my first novel, Slippin' Into Darkness, in the small press with a fairly new outfit called Cemetery Dance.

Of course, I was a pretty new writer back then, too. By '94, I'd been publishing short fiction for five years, with my first story appearing in a magazine called (you guessed it) Cemetery Dance. CD publisher Richard Chizmar and I had built our resumes on parallel tracks, Rich moving from doing a dot-matrix magazine to slick hardcovers by the likes of Joe R. Lansdale and Ed Gorman, me graduating from publishing my stories in small press magazines to cracking anthologies out of New York and scoring a few sales to Year's Best compilations while I was at it.

For me, the next step on the ladder was publishing a novel. For Rich, the next step was publishing a book that wasn't a reprint, and he had his eye on a few young guns he'd been working with looking for an original project. (And just so you know -- I had already taken my own advice from last week's entry and tried to market Slippin' in New York; I had more than a few rejections from agents and publishers; most of them mystified concerning the prospects of marketing a very dark novel that mixed noir and horror. I'm sure on his side of the fence, Rich had been trying to get an original novel from an established name, which would have been a surer thing for him -- at that point, he probably just couldn't quite afford it yet. So it was time for both of us to do a little thinking outside the box.)

Anyway, doing Slippin' Into Darkness with CD seemed like a natural. Rich liked the novel a lot -- it was exactly the kind of "dark suspense" story his magazine was becoming known for. Plus, CD had already built a solid mailing list of customers (in those pre-internet days), and a lot of folks who followed Cemetery Dance followed me, too -- my stories made regular appearances in the mag and were popular. We figured we had a good shot at selling out a limited run, which in those days meant doing 500 copies. Doing a run that size, Rich figured we could keep the price at $35.00 for a slipcased hardcover, plus toss in some extras -- the book would be signed by myself and artist Alan Clark, who'd also do interior illustrations. Not a bad deal, even in those days.

Of course, we both had our worries. Rich had to front the production and printing bills -- not a small investment, and a risk considering I was a first novelist who hadn't proven myself in the limited market. From my side of the fence, I had to worry that the limited market would put a straight jacket on my novel -- no one would notice it outside the small pond of horror fans, and (if those fans didn't like it) it could easily tank... meaning I'd probably have a much harder time selling my second novel than I had selling my first.

So, going in it was a toss-up. There were more than a few unknowns, but we did our best to make sure we'd have at least a shot of making Slippin' work for both of us. Of course, we had to hold our collective breath a little bit, too... which is what I'm going to ask you to do right now. But tune in tomorrow, and I'll let you know how we made Slippin' Into Darkness work, and how we sold out the print run in just under three weeks.

I'll also let you know why you probably won't see something like that happen today.