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Virgin In The Church
June 2002, #12: Endless Beginings

--By Scott Nicholson

(Intro: I sold my first novel "The Red Church" through the slush pile. It will be released as a mass market paperback by Pinnacle Books in June 2002. I'm sharing my experiences in hopes that other writers can learn from my triumphs and mistakes, and, of course, to generate interest in the book. Scott's rule number one: build your audience one reader at a time.)

On Wednesday, May 22, I staggered home from a round of oral surgery to find a box on my porch. I dragged it inside and opened it. Twenty-five copies of The Red Church lay inside, lukewarm off the press. I’d heard a report that someone had bought one in Kentucky the Friday before, so I’d suspected the book was seeping out like cholesterol into the arteries of the distribution system.

Amazon began shipping them the following day, so I suppose the book is more or less officially launched. The day the book began shipping, its sales rank rose from 1.2 million to 80,000. Whatever that means.

The "buzz" is shaping up nicely. Several people have told me it looks like a bestseller type of book. I don’t know. I can’t see it that way. To me, it’s just some words I set down on a series of long mornings and cold evenings. I’ve always yearned for commercial acceptance, but such things seem so remote when it’s just you and the keyboard.

I was pleased to see the cover had been rearranged slightly to include all four of my blurbs. Bentley Little’s was moved to the front, making a brief comparison to Stephen King. The other blurbs were cut into the back copy, replacing a little play on a nursery rhyme which I thought was a bit overdone. All in all, I think the package is great. I just hope the inside can do it justice.

While all this was about to happen, my agent and Kensington reached agreement on a new two-book deal. I had hoped to announce the next new title here, but as of this writing, I am still brainstorming possibilities. My original title was deemed too "sci-fi" sounding for a horror line, an argument which makes perfect sense.

I am pleased that Kensington has enough faith in my potential to sign me before waiting to see the sales figures for the first book. On the other hand, if The Red Church explodes out of the gate, I’ve probably taken an advance lower than I might have earned by waiting. I’ve never been a fan of the "big advance" theory, where you get so much money that your publisher has to sweat over it. I’d rather make my advance back as soon as possible and start earning royalties. Of course, most books never earn out their advances. It seems like the most obvious goal for a writer with commercial pretensions.

With so much happening, I haven’t had much time to reflect on the reality: I’m on the edge of fulfilling a dream. The dream isn’t complete, since it includes being able to write full-time, but I am in a position that I have relentlessly pursued for six years. I might actually have a career. If I continue to improve, and if my stories ring true to you, then maybe you’ll allow me to tell more of them.

I’ve talked so often about the practical side that I often neglect the emotional side. Several people have asked me if I’m freaking out over having a book published. It’s a strange feeling. Since I’ve already published a story collection, it’s not like I’m a "virgin in the church" anymore. And the book seems so remote, out there on the wire racks of America and in Amazon’s monstrous warehouses. It’s still too early to tell.

But soon enough, readers will have time to run their fingers through The Red Church. Pages will be creased, torn, and stained with coffee. Used copies will turn up at yard sales. Untouched review copies will get bartered away on eBay. Reviews will pop up like mushrooms in a sodden pasture. People will join minds with me for the duration of 352 pages.

And that’s the scary part.

I cracked a copy and read the last few lines to make sure my final copy edit went through cleanly. Then I turned to the beginning, read about two paragraphs, and could stand no more. I was afraid that, if I turned the page, there would be some glaring error, the literary equivalent of a booger dangling from the end of my nose.

So I won’t read the book, at least not for a long while.

Besides, I already know the ending.

And I have new stories to tell, new places to go. I knelt in the Red Church for nine months, tossed my prayers onto the screen, put my soul in the offering plate. I did my penance for a year by tracking the novel through the publishing process. I made my sacrifice.

Now it’s yours. Do what you want with it. Pan it, burn it, ban it. Put it on the shelf next to your prized authors. Recycle it. Ignore it if you wish. Hype it if you must.

In the end, the author does not matter.

As long as readers stumble upon the story and keep it alive by feeding it their thoughts and dreams, it will live long enough, no matter how quickly the book goes out of print.

The story is all.

The words are everything.

The feeling is real.

As long as one person remembers, it’s never The End.

(This article is uncopyrighted and may be freely distributed and published, as long as Scott’s byline and web address are included.)

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