At book signings, negative people and the idly curious sometimes ask me, “With so many writers out there, what makes you think you’ll be a success?” Positive people and aspiring authors often ask me who my inspirations are in the business. Today I might be able to answer both those questions.
First, we need to define success. To me that doesn’t mean a big name publisher or the New York Times bestseller list or a million dollar advance. It’s a contract with a publisher that earns me enough money to quit my Clark Kent job and requires me to deliver a new book next year. In other words, success for me is a writing career. Oh, and I’d like a wide audience to be familiar with my creation, Hannibal Jones.
So, while I greatly admire Nelson Demille and Clive Cussler, David Morrell and James Patterson, the guys who inspire me are writers like Thomas E. Sniegoski, Jim Butcher and Jeff Lindsay. You may never have heard of any of them, and none of them is regularly camped out on the NY Times bestseller list.
Tom Sniegoski had a cool idea: a young adult series about a teenager who learns he is a Nephilim - the son of a mortal woman and a fallen angel. A publisher called Pulse published “The Fallen” in 2003 to warm enough reviews to give Tom’s series at least 3 more tries. Sales of the novels didn’t make him rich or get him on best seller lists. BUT, somebody saw the beauty in his characters and concept. Last year ABC Family aired a mini-series based on the series that didn’t insult either one.
Jim Butcher had a cool idea: a hardboiled private eye who was also a wizard -sort of Harry Potter grown up, living in a world very much like our own. A publisher called Roc put out “Storm Front” in 2000. Again, no best seller list and no one got rich, but the book found a readership and Roc has kept Butcher working steadily with the 10th book in the series due this year. And SOMEBODY saw the beauty in the concept and the Harry Dresden character because Sci-Fi aired 13 episodes of “The Dresden Files” last year.
Jeff Lindsay had a cool idea: A first person series about a serial killer, from the killer’s point of view. Vintage apparently published “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” in 2001 (although publishing history is murky) to very satisfying reviews but not instant best seller status. Still, everyone agreed it was a great book and two sequels followed. Again someone realized the charm of both the concept and the character. The Showtime drama “Dexter” exploded onto the screen in 2006 and was instantly recognized as some of the best TV of the decade.
In each of these cases, the television shows exposed a much larger audience to the writer’s work than his books ever did, and serve as vindication of both the author’s vision and the faith the publisher had in them. But let’s be clear: These three gifted writers were successes BEFORE their creations hit the screen. And the fact that the world eventually realized how good their work was while they were just journeyman authors holding contracts with smallish publishers and feeding a small cult of an audience, well, that’s what really keeps me going.