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Virgin In The Church
#4, October 2001: Planting Seeds

--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.)

While release of "The Red Church" is still about eight months away, I've already started laying the groundwork to make sure as many readers and booksellers as possible know about it.

I'm also getting a lesson in how the publishing industry operates. My new mantra is "Almost everything I know is wrong." I knew that book production is typically slow, and that books can take two years to journey from final manuscript to bound book. Since my novel will be produced in half that time, the entire process is compressed.

Right now, I'm concentrating on cover blurbs, and here's where it's helped to have been around a bit, interviewed other writers, and helped people along the way. My friend Sharyn McCrumb gave me an exquisite cover blurb that reads: "In a literary and a geographic sense, Scott Nicholson explores the dark legends of the southern end of the Appalachian mountain chain, a nightmare country that ends in Stephen King’s yard. A wonderful storyteller, he is at the top of his game in The Red Church."

Unfortunately, the editor needed something shorter for the front cover, which is where he wants to use the blurb. So we slashed it, with Sharyn's permission, to "Scott Nicholson explores an Appalachian nightmare country that ends in Stephen King’s yard."

Sharyn is wonderful. She is cynical about the literary establishment, she fought her way tooth and nail up the ladder to success, and she is driven by her mission to promote Appalachia as something more than a reel of "Deliverance" out-takes. I'd interviewed her several times and reviewed her books for my newspaper. I saw Sharyn at a writer's conference, and she praised my latest review and said she wanted it carved on her tombstone.

She said too many reviewers don't even bother to try and read the book and get it right. She told me if I ever needed a blurb to let her know. At the time, I didn't even have a writing career. When a regional press agreed to release my story collection "Thank You For The Flowers," Sharyn was right there with highly generous blurbage.

I met Kevin J. Anderson, probably the most prolific writer since Isaac Asimov, through the Writers of the Future workshop. I interviewed him, and he agreed to blurb my story collection. Since then, he has become one of the highest-paid speculative fiction writers. Though he is incredibly busy, he read enough of "The Red Church" to say: "Scott Nicholson writes with a mixture of H.P. Lovecraft, Manly Wade Wellman, and Clive Barker, stirred with a liberal dose of his own originality, to tell an effective and atmospheric tale."

I have interviewed Orson Scott Card twice, and heard him speak on several other occasions. Though I know he's not a big fan of anything labeled "horror," I asked if he'd consider the spiritual elements of "The Red Church." Card believes religion should be treated with respect, and one of the main themes of my novel is a thirteen-year-old boy's search for faith. Card agreed, if he had time, to look at the book and consider writing a blurb.

Other writers whom I've not met but have agreed to read the book based on some prior communication or connection include Bentley Little and Stewart O'Nan. Little released a novel through the same publishing house as mine, and I traded e-mail with O'Nan several times concerning his devastatingly powerful book "A Prayer For The Dying."

I suppose the lesson here is that "networking" can provide benefits in building a career. But I never sought out these excellent writers because I thought one day they might do something for me. I admired them and wanted to learn about them, I wanted to tell readers about these great literary figures and their work, and I still believe that helping others is the best way to live your life.

The next step, at least from the publishers' perspective, is to send the galley proofs to me. The proofs will be marked by a copy editor, who will suggest basic grammatical changes. Since I pored over the manuscript many times, I expect to be penciling "STET" a great deal, which means the suggestion will be ignored. However, new eyes see clear, and every mark will get serious consideration, since the book will go out and live forever with any errors and flaws that survive the galleys.

Galleys are still a couple of months away. But I'm not holding my breath while waiting. In addition to numerous other projects, which include articles and short stories, I've finished my second screenplay and continue with the current novel-in-progress. My agent is optimistic that my second novel "Creep" will sell, which would help publicize "The Red Church."

I've also set up an internship program with the local university. The intern will focus mostly on building a database of regional and specialty bookstores. We'll mail publicity kits to those bookstores (at my expense, most likely) in early February. That's when orders will be taken for "The Red Church." Those orders determine the print run. Either we reach a lot of people and the book has a chance of success, or it's up to the publisher's distribution system. Kensington Books has an excellent reputation for distribution.

But other factors will influence mass market rack sales, many of which I've no control over: cover art, graphic design, blurb placement, public mood, current hot movies, competing titles, and most of all luck.

This is going to be fun.

(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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