Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Guest Post: Vincent Zandri. From Zero to Hero.

From Hero, To Zero, To Hero: A Personal Publishing History
By Vincent Zandri

A year ago my career was in trouble.
No, that’s not right. A year ago, my career no longer existed. For a career to be in trouble, it’s got to at least exist in some shape or form. And for a period of about 5 years, I couldn’t sell a novel if I threatened to set off a nuke in the middle of Times Square.

That’s not to say I didn’t have agents championing my cause. At one point Suzanne Gluck of the William Morris Agency was in my employ. Arguably one of the best, if not the best in the business, the brass knuckle toting Ms. Gluck was extremely enthusiastic about my new offering, Moonlight Falls. But even she couldn’t sell me.

Why no sale?

Precisely because a few years before that, I had become a major literary success. Yes, that’s not a typo. You’re reading it right. I had become a rock star. My dreams answered, I’d scored a two book, hard and soft deal, with Delacorte Press for a quarter of a million dollars. My first novel, As Catch Can (now called The Innocent and re-published by StoneGate Ink), was so well received, The New York Post called it “Brilliant.” Movie studios like DreamWorks and producers like George Clooney were asking for reads, a record Japanese translation sale was recorded. I was partying like a 32 year old rock star in New York City every weekend and making more money than my dad, a successful construction contractor. The future looked so brilliantly golden that to look directly into it would leave you blinded.

Then it all went south. Fast.

Anxious over a corporate downsizing by the head business pencil pushers at Random House, my editors at Delacorte started fearing for their jobs. My novels were at best ignored by the marketing department while employees looked for new jobs that would keep them paying their rents on their lower east side apartments, and their glasses filled with pink martinis.

As Catch Can slipped below the radar even before the mass market edition was published. Then it was announced that Bantam/Dell was swallowing up Delacorte, and everyone in my publishing house got fired. I literally ran into my acquiring editor Leslie walking out of the Bertlesman Building in Times Square with her desk lamp in hand and tears streaming down her face. “Good luck,” she said to me, but what she really meant to say was, “Rest in peace, Vincent!”

My contracts with Delecorte, while technically honored by Bantam/Dell, were treated with an almost inhuman disdain. Bantam/Dell had originally passed on my work, and now here they were being forced to publish me. They basically tossed the remaining contracted book, Godchild, up against the wall and hoped it would stick. In any case, they showed me the door.

My books were quickly remaindered, yet my rights were not relinquished back to the author. How is it that a publisher can refuse to print, distribute, and sell you books yet not grant the rights back to you? Goes against basic logic doesn’t it? It’s also ethically immoral and a criminal act regardless of the law. You can’t make up advance money unless your books are being sold. In the words of my then editor, “You didn’t hear this from me, but they are preventing you from selling books!”

I thought about a lawsuit.

But being in the unenviable position of zero power, I would have had a hard time suing Random House. In a word, I got shafted.

Fast forward to one year ago.

A traditionally based, small press finally picked up Moonlight Falls and published it in both paper and Kindle. Paper first, and Kindle later on. I was finally back in the game, however humbly. Ironically, the novel was so well received it became my first book to hit the Amazon Bestseller list for Hard-Boiled fiction. What’s that prove? It proved that despite the business devils in NYC, there remained a market for my work. An audience who desired my novels.

What followed was interest by another larger “Independent” press that my agent swore was making lots of noise, especially with bestselling authors whose books were out of print. Curiously, StoneHouse Ink agreed to publish my newest novel, The Remains, in Kindle first and then paper.

I was skeptical. Shouldn’t a novel come out in paper first, followed by Kindle and E-Book later? At the time, I had pretty much no idea what an E-Book was. Only that it was a way to read a novel electronically. That was back in April of last year. Two months later when The Remains would be published in Kindle and E-Book, and it would not only become Hot New Bestselling Release on Amazon, it would shoot straight to the No. 1 spot on Amazon Hot New Bestselling Releases for Hard-Boiled Mystery. It would also chime in on the top ten for Romantic-Suspense. Go figure. Suddenly, this old dog had renewed faith in the system. The independent publishing system that is. The old publishing model that had nearly destroyed me (and it did in fact destroy my marriage!), was not only being overrun by this newer model which not only gave the author more control over his product, it gave him far more money per unit sold. An astonishing 50%.

Bye-bye paper, bye-bye book stores, bye-bye big corporate publishing conglomerates! Hello Kindle. Hello new publisher, and publishing partner!

What followed were several new contracts with StoneHouse Ink and a new imprint set up for noir cats like me called StoneGate Ink. My old first novel in the Jack Marconi series, As Catch Can, was re-published under its original title, The Innocent (Oh yeah, Delecorte made me change the title), and it too went to number 1 in Amazon Hot New Bestsellers. In a few days, Part II of the Jack Marconi series will be republished. It’s called, Godchild. And I can’t wait to see it climb the Kindle charts. As for the paper version, that will be icing on the cake. But I will be sure to send a copy to pencil pushers at Random House.

Do I sound like I’m gloating?
Maybe. But I at least have reason to be pleased and excited. Kindles are here to stay. Despite the belief of a local Albany independent book store owner who refers to the Kindle as a “toy,” a “gadget,” and a “fad,” these reading devices are not going away anytime soon. The only thing that will finish off the E-Book will be Armageddon itself. A lack of power in the grid. And by then we’ll all be back to writing on cave walls.

Not since the invention of the printing press all those centuries ago, has a more exciting period of publishing been at hand. I thank God I’m young enough to enjoy it. Not only has my career been resurrected, it’s just a matter of time until I’m back making my living as a fiction author. The covers of my new books now boast the header:

#1 Amazon Kindle Bestselling Author!

Can a hero ask for anything more?


  1. Hey Aaron, good for Vincent! What a comeback story and well deserved.

  2. What a story! It could almost be a novel ...

  3. Fantastic article. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I read and reviewed most of Vin Zandri's books in 2010 for my blog and because of his pehnomenal writing style, he has pushed out my #1 all time favorite male author and now holds that position. The only thing negative when it comes to his books is this, once you are finished, you want and need more!! KUDOS Vin!!!!

  4. Write it and they will come--thanks to Kindle and publishers with vision (there actually are a few out there).

  5. I am glad to see you survived,Vincent. May 2011 be even a better year for you and your publishing partners.

  6. Great article. Wow! A $250,000 advance. They must have really believed in your book. I think the sales have shown they were right. Did the first publishers ask for the advance to be paid back?

  7. Great piece. And big congrats to you. Putting the story telling back in the hands of the story tellers is a great thing.

  8. Goes to show once again--and near-tragically--the giant schizm between the publishing biz and actual, ya know, READERS.

  9. Excellent article! And very eye-opening.

  10. I have similar story. And if my highs aren't as high as Vincent's, my lows were probably lower :)

    In July 2003 my fantasy novel (Thagoth) was published as an ebook by Ballantine. See, it won the Del Rey Digital Online Writing Workshop First Novel competition. Between the time it won and the time it was published, a regime change of sorts took place at Del Rey, with new people in and old people out, and all us ebook ‘winners’ (I think there were six, total) were sort of left to twist in the wind. Truly horrible covers, absolutely no marketing, nada, as Del Rey shifted their focus, from my purely subjective but absolutely dead-on view, to movie tie-in books. I was basically told in a ‘nice’ way that they were no longer interested in pursuing ebooks, with the unspoken being they were no longer interested in me. I was kinda crushed. My first novel- an award winner! a competition winner!- was in essence consigned to the scrap heap of corporate restructuring. Ebooks were relegated back to afterthought status, ‘also available as’. A bitter pill, because I was never going to get the book in print unless I pulled off major sales on the ebook. And that was the longest of long odds given the sales hurdles I was quoted for ‘consideration’ for print publishing.

    I don't even want to think about the depresion that followed, much less write about it. I've done enough of that elsewhere. Suffice to say there's a reason I've only published one thing since then.
    Now it’s 2011. A few days ago, after reading about Amanda Hocking, I let my facebook friends know that I had a novel out there in ebook format for $2.99 as an experiment. In 36 hours it jumped 353,134 spots on Amazon to #45,093 (yes, I know about Amazon’s weird algorithm issues, but still). It jumped 144k spots on B&N.

    The moral of the story: Times have changed. Electronic self-publishing is a real, viable alternative to jumping through the traditional publishing hoops. It’s certainly not longer odds than finding an agent who will find a publisher etc., because let’s be honest, hundreds if not thousands of damn fine writers out there fail to find an agent or a publisher every day. If they turn their back on the established route in frustration or disgust and self publish, and fail to ‘make it’ a la Hocking, are they any worse off than if they shelve their writing aspirations after the hundredth rejection slip?

    I look back on the changes of the last eight years with a sense of amazement.