If you learned everything you know about authors from watching TV or movies, you might think we’re all wealthy, that we just send off a manuscript and then get a check in the mail almost instantly, and that we become famous and live like movie stars after publishing one book. Even when you know more about what it’s really like to try to build a publishing career, there’s a lot you may not realize behind the success of a bestselling author.
I’ve known Rachel Caine, author of the bestselling Morganville Vampires series and the Weather Warden series, among others, for many years, but I hadn’t realized just how much effort and even failure came before her success until I heard her give a presentation on her career. If you’re thinking about becoming a writer, this story may be scarier than any of her books, but it can also be encouraging because one failure doesn’t mean you’ll never be successful.
Her very first novel was a role-playing game tie-in. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” she confessed, but the editor liked her style. She decided to join a writers group, and one member told her she sucked, while another told her she’d get better. That wasn’t exactly encouraging. She wrote her second book, a vampire novel, on a lark, then a friend bought her a membership to a science fiction convention, took her to the convention and told her to talk to people. She talked to an editor, who ended up buying the book. The novel, called THE UNDEAD, did okay for a vampire novel at that time, before vampires were the hottest things in publishing.
After that, she decided to write a hardboiled crime novel, which didn’t do so well. Then she wrote another vampire book, which had an awful cover and sold only about two thousand copies. She thought that what she needed was to be more edgy, and she wrote a book that was “so edgy that even I didn’t understand it,” she said. It involved hookers, spontaneous combustion and dry cleaning. After that book, her publisher fired her.
Her next move was to write a mainstream romantic suspense novel. “They put a cactus with a giant flower on the cover, when chapter one was about a woman and a child dying of heat stroke in the trunk of a car.” Then she tried a murder mystery, in which a woman and a dog died in the first chapter and were reincarnated. “It was a total failure,” she said.
“I was starting to think I wasn’t cut out for this,” she said. But then she realized there was a common thread in her work — it all had paranormal elements, and paranormal was starting to be a hot trend.
She had an idea for a series about the weather, but it got rejected everywhere, mostly because it had a difficult element in it: the main character had cancer. “You couldn’t do that,” she said. So, she changed the cancer to a demon mark, and everyone loved it. “As long as you don’t call it cancer, it’s fine,” she said. This time, she didn’t get fired. She started with a three-book deal, then the publisher asked for three more books, and three more. The series came to an end last year with TOTAL ECLIPSE. She started a spinoff series, and the next book in that series, UNSEEN, will be released in February.
Meanwhile, she was asked about writing a young adult novel. She said no because she didn’t think she’d do it very well. But then in a talk with a friend, she mapped out Morganville. “I had to write it because my friend dared me,” Rachel said. The Morganville Vampires series got off to a good start, but it kept building and building. The ninth book, GHOST TOWN, was issued in hardcover last fall, and the series sold to thirteen countries in one year. “It’s been fun watching that,” she said. “The spread in young adult is exponential. Entire schools will write to me at the same time with questions, and I’ll know they’re doing reports.”
Her next adult series will be called Revivalist, about a funeral director who discovers that his bosses are reviving the dead in the basement. It’s a scam, with the victims having to pay every week to be kept alive. WORKING STIFF, the first book in this series, will be released this summer.
Until next month…