29 March 2010

The Hardy Boys and the Case of the First Sale

Three months. I had waited long enough. How long does it take to read a one-page query and two sample chapters? I'm not an impatient fellow, but THREE MONTHS? I could have written the whole book and started another in that amount of time.

The Hardy Boys
The Hardy Boys could have solved this mystery in two seconds.
I called information in New York City for the phone number of Mega-Books, Inc., the packager who was responsible for publishing the new Hardy Boys Casefiles mass market paperbacks.

A woman with an accent distinctively not Oklahoman but otherwise cheery answered the phone, and after I explained my concern, she put me on hold. A few moments later, a man who identified himself as Mark asked if he could help me. His accent also was distinctively not Oklahoman but his tone was sleepy or perhaps indifferent or perhaps overwrought.

I told Mark I had sent a query with two sample chapters about a Hardy Boys Casefile in which the Boys bust an international drug ring run by a mysterious character called The Colonel, and I was concerned because I hadn't heard a reply concerning my idea in three months. 

I was nervous but determined and hoped I sounded assertive and professional and not like some desperate psycho writer.

I heard a shuffling of papers through the earpiece. A few moments later he said, "Oh, the drug story. We can't use it."

A pause. A pregnant pause. A pregnant pause from which no birth was forthcoming!

Running on Empty
First novel: Hardy Boys Casefiles: Running on Empty
I was hoping I hadn't audibly gasped at the news that my great idea was rejected, and if I had gasped, I was hoping he hadn't heard my breathed disappointment. A thousand questions went through my mind, the foremost of which was, "Why?"

So I asked it.

"We stay away from certain topics: sex, drugs, you know, adult themes."

Wait. I had done my homework on the new Hardy Boys Casefiles series. Before sending off my proposal, I had bought the first three in the series (only five had been published at the time of my phone call three months later), and I had read and re-read, noted and denoted, underlined, highlighted, and scribbled marginalia in, about, and for each one. I had inscribed upon pages and pages of yellow paper analysis of characters, settings, sentence structure, themes, plot devices, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I had done enough research to complete a Hardy Boys Casefiles master's degree . The series had been started to keep high school boys interested in the franchise. I knew that. The series was a bit more serious than the middle reader series. I knew that. In the new series, the Hardy brothers used guns, fist-fought evildoers, flew jets, had credit cards, and used rougher language. I knew that. Frank and Joe actually kissed girls in the Casefiles series. I knew all of that.

Hardy Boys' Running on Empty
Hardy Boys Casefiles: Running on Empty--Was "run" gonig to be in all the titles?
My first proposal was to make the series even edgier. After all, in the very first Casefiles novel a car bomb planted by terrorists had blown up Joe's long-time girlfriend (since the 1930's!). So why not have the brothers destroy a drug cartel that had infiltrated Bayport?

"We stay away from certain topics: drugs, sex, you know, adult themes."

My mind raced with and then erased completely all the ideas and dreams I had of being a published writer, or being able one day to tell others I had gotten my start ghostwriting Hardy Boys mysteries.

I was opening my mouth to talk the editor into reconsidering his decision when he blurted out, "If you'll send me another idea, one we can use, I'll consider it."
There was hope.

Hardy Boys Flesh and Blood
Originally called "City of Fear", the only time I have been asked to change a title and come up with a different title in my 14 novels.
I wrote another query, wrote two chapters for the proposal, and sent it all off within ten days. This time, I had the editor's name and addressed everything to him with a reminder about and a thank you for our conversation.

Another three months! Egad and golly gee! Frank and Joe could have defeated all the world's terrorists, cleaned up the environment, and brought The Beatles back together by that time!

So, I called again and asked for Mark personally.

I again heard the shuffling of papers through the earpiece.

"We can't use it. It doesn't fit our needs."

Two personal rejections. I was hurt, and then I was mad. With both queries and sample chapters, I had sent the prerequisite SASE return envelope and had not received the perfunctory rejection form letter. Instead, I had been rejected verbally—twice.

I was set to tell Mark that I didn't appreciate NOT getting my rejection form letters when he said, "You know, we can't use your ideas, but you write well. I'll tell you what, I'll give you an idea, you write up a précis, an outline, and the first four chapters, and I'm sure we'll use you."

He threw out an idea, and I said, "Okay" and then "Thank you", and got to work.

Hardy Boys: Strategic Moves
This was fun. It came out just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and everyone thought I was a genius prognosticator!
One month later, I returned home from teaching and heard the following message on my answering machine, "Mike, I've sent your précis and sample chapters to Simon and Schuster. Give me a call so we can discuss the story in detail. There're some things about it we want you to be sure to include. You should be receiving the bible in a few days and a contract."

First sale. Case closed.

Epilogue:
One year and four more sales later, I was in New York City, having been invited by Bonnie, the new editor of the Hardy Boys Casefiles series. I had only worked with Mark on that first book, and he had since changed roles within Mega-Books. During that one year, I had sold Mega-Books more Hardy Boys Casefiles stories than any of their other ghostwriters, and Bonnie wanted to meet me.

I arrived in New York City in the afternoon and Bonnie took me to dinner. Mark came along also.

Hardy Boys' Foul Play
Foul Play was inspired by my nephew's baseball card collection.
Feeling confident, I told Mark of my anxiety and disappointment about the rejection of the first two ideas and how upset I had been and how my SASEs were never used. I then thanked Mark for giving me the idea for the first book and having confidence in me as a writer.

Bonnie laughed and said, "Mark was just trying to get rid of you."

I was stunned. I looked at Mark. He turned a bit red.

"He thought you were just some nut because you kept calling him and pestering him. No one does that in this business unless he's crazy. He thought if he humored you long enough, you'd give up."

I was flabbergasted and couldn't say anything.

Hardy Boy's Fire in the Sky
I became ill while writing this and couldn't finish it. I wrote about half and another writer finished it.
"What Mark didn't realize is that you are crazy, but you're persistent. And it doesn't hurt that you're a good writer."

I didn't know at the time it was against the rules to hound an editor with phone calls. I didn't know there were any rules at all. The Internet wasn't around then, and so no websites putting forth do's and don't's of submissions and follow ups.

I wouldn't do that now. I know better. And I'm wiser. And I'm more confident and not as anxious. I have plenty to keep me busy while waiting for the editor or agent to get back to me.

Whether you get your foot in the door, slide in through the basement window, sneak in the backdoor, or climb the ivy to the second floor window, it doesn't matter. Just get yourself into the House whatever way you can!

See you on the bookshelves.

Larry Mike Garmon

1 comment:

  1. So glad to hear of your success. Great post, Mike!

    ReplyDelete