I am spending a few hours cleaning out old files and came across the following letter–a letter that could have destroyed my writing career, but instead, inspires it to this day. And there is a lesson in this story for almost anyone.
I went about writing the book I had envisioned: less a history of vampires as much as a 1st person narrative about diving into the world of the vampire and all its nooks, crannies, and subcultures. In the book, the reader would discover vampires along with me.
Well, I spent about two years blissfully hammering away, traveling around the world, researching, and writing. The entire time, I would send chapters to Charlie, who would write brief, supportive words of encouragement “Everything looks great,” he would write. “Look forward to seeing more.”
Then I turned in the final draft…and Charlie rejected it. Not only did he reject it, but said he hated it, and dismissed the entire approach. I should say that getting a first rejection is kinda status quo in publishing. They want you to do revisions before they accept it, so they reject it, give you feedback, and will pay you your remaining advance after you fix it. Usually pretty simple. But not this time, Charlie sent a horrible letter (which I didn’t keep), that tore the thing to shreds.
But what happened? I asked repeatedly. He’d been so encouraging, how come his reaction was so different?
Charlie and I had a long phone call to discuss the book, during which he detailed some problems he saw and encouraged me to change. We agreed no more letters, no more nasty grams from him. Let’s fix it and move forward. I spent four months revising the book and turned in a new draft.
Six weeks later I received this letter from Charlie. No phone call. No explanation. Not only was he rejecting the draft, he was dropping me from my publishing contract. Oh, and I now owed them thousands of dollars in the advance they’d already paid me.
In Charlie’s letter, not only did he drop me, but he called the people I spent years getting to know and interviewing “losers” and my writing “imprecise.” Read it (click on the images to enlarge). Outside of being a spineless tool and sending it via overnight mail without any heads up or a phone call, it’s kind of amazing.
So, after emerging from shock a few days later, my agent put the book out for bid and we got three offers within 48 hours, all better than my original deal with Charlie. I ended up making some great friends with my colleagues at St Martins Press. The Dead Travel Fast sold really well, got quite a few glowing reviews, got me added to the Barnes and Noble “Discover Great New Writers” series, and helped me secure the deal for my current book, Giving Up The Ghost, pretty much on a two-page outline and the faith created by this book.
Here is the lesson: When I got this letter, I had every reasonable excuse to give up and quit. I had failed. Not only had I failed, but I was then seriously in debt to the publisher who dumped me. But I didn’t let that stop me, I kept myself focused and together, forged on, and ultimately came out in a much better place.
I keep this letter as a reminder that when you take risks in life, or even have the nerve to follow your heart and do what you love, often people will try to shit all over you. Don’t let it stop you. Let it be an inspiration. An inspiration to be your true self.