Never Let the Corpse Grow Cold

Hi David,
Thanks so much for sending me the ms and synopsis of Malevolent, and please excuse the delay in getting back to you.
I enjoyed MALEVOLENT quite a bit and I think it would make an excellent addition to the Samhain horror line, and so I’d like to offer you a contract.
With that June 14, 2011 email, everything changed. The novel I’d been trying to sell since 1992 finally had a home.

I immediately recognized the name of the message sender. Don D’Auria had been the legendary editor of horror titles at Leisure Books for a decade or longer. But when he contacted me that day last summer, he was writing in response to a manuscript submission journeythat had actually started some eighteen years ago. He was writing as the editor at Samhain Horror, a  new imprint of a small press best known for–ready for this?–romance and female erotica fiction. Whatever. They were also handling horror now. His reply was the one every fiction writer dreams of receiving.

MALEVOLENT wasn’t my first published novel. That honor went to YELLOW MOON, bought by Warner Books and released in 1994, right at the ass end of the horror novel craze brought on by Stephen King, Peter Straub, John Saul and others.  

When I circulated MALEVOLENT in the early nineties, agents shrugged. Editors asked to see a pitch letter and a synopsis rather than actually reading my book. (I  equate the judging of a book by its chapter outline or plot synopsis to  hearing the description of a joke rather than the telling of it. The magic is in the telling, not the describing.)

When I couldn’t sell MALEVOLENT, I went on to write another and even better novel, called BLOODTHIRST IN BABYLON. Or at least that’s what I told Don D’Auria when he asked, after accepting MALEVOLENT, whether I had anything else sitting around the house collecting digital dust. 

Why yes, I replied. I happen to have the best novel I’ve ever written. Don had me send the 120,000-word  BLOODTHIRST his way on June 15, and I had this reply by the 20th:

I’ve read BLOODTHIRST IN BABYLON and, as expected, I loved it.  It’s really terrific and I’d be delighted to have it as part of the Samhain line.
 There’s a lesson here, all ye frustrated writers with unsold manuscripts moldering in your closets or on a clunky old zip drive. Take then out.  Read them with a fresh and more mature outlook. Be your own toughest critic. Maybe that old book really is as laughably bad as you feared it might be. Maybe even worse. Or . . .
Maybe there’s something there. Not perfection, probably, but something that can be revived with a bit of effort. After all, you’re smarter now than you were, say, twenty years ago.More experienced as a writer. More mature. (Not older, God forbid.) When I took another look at MALEVOLENTwith the distance of several years, I could instantly see that my chapters were too long. It was slowing things down. I needed faster transitions. If I cut quicker and more frequently between scenes and character points of view, I could keep things at a breakneck pace. It was obvious…with fifteen or eighteen years’ hindsight.
Also keep in mind that editors switch jobs. Agents die or retire. Whoever wasn’t thrilled with your manuscript at the XYZ Agency is probably long gone. Not to mention the fact that you’ve got literaryagencies and ebook publishers that weren’t even in existence during your book’s first life.
New audience. New possibilities. Try again. Or, if you make the tough call that your old work can’t be resuscitated, ask yourself if there’s an organ ot two ripe for transplant. Maybe an intriguing character, a setting or a plot point you can repurpose.
At least give it a shot. Take that old novel out and, at the very least, read it again. Whatcha got to lose?
Samhain Publishing will release BLOODTHIRST IN BABYLON as an ebook on January 3, 2012. The trade paperback comes out about three months later. MALEVOLENT will see sinister life (finally) simultaneously in book and ebook format in the summer of 2012.
David Searls is the author of Bloodthirst in Babylon, to be released in January, 2012.