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First-time author nets $1.5 million in publishing deal

Did the title catch your eye? Those words certainly caught my attention when I flipped through the pages of the February issue of Writers Digest. The article goes on to relate the story of how Jack Kerley “went from part-time copywriter to millionaire in a matter of weeks.” I once heard Sue Grafton describe publishing success as a “great claw” that plucks a lowly writer up out of obscurity and takes him or her to the heights of publishing success. Of course, the first lesson to be learned is that writers must be out there. They have to interact with the publishing industry and make their presence known, otherwise no one will ever publish them.

Kerley’s literary thriller, The Hundredth Man, debuts in June and I, for one, plan to read this apparently remarkable book. The story of how Kerley managed, after having written three books and gathered more than a hundred rejections, to snare the attention of literary agent Aaron Priest and win up with $1.5 million–so far–in publishing rights (including audio book rights, movie rights and foreign rights) is fascinating. After agreeing to represent Kerley, Priest–who hadn’t multiple-submitted a book in nine years since Balducci’s Absolute Power–conducted a two-day auction which resulted in the sale eleven days after Priest took Kerley on as a client.

The article goes on to examine why Kerley was successful. One definite attribute is quickly defined: like any good Boy Scout, Kerley was prepared. Having done his homework, he knew what might be required of him and he met the agency’s requests quickly and professionally. He had a potential follow up book ready and had a synopsis and sample ready; he readily made a requested slight revision; and he repeatedly represented himself as serious and professional writer.

I bring this up in part because it’s nice hearing that Cinderella tales do occur in publishing, but even more to remember that although deals like this are rare, they do happen. Earlier today, while watching C-Span’s Book TV, a representative for a state organization for authors made the statement that new writers need to understand that million-dollar deals do not and will not happen to them. While I agree with the spirit and intent of the message, I also know that, as with anything related to writing, “rules” are often broken. While they are rare, Kerley’s story offers a number of lessons writers at any level would do well to remember: be serious about your craft, behave in a professional manner, and be willing to meet the requests made of you in a timely and prepared manner.

If you practice these tips, then you, too, might be ready when the “great claw” swoops down and plucks you out from among the mass of writers, all struggling and clamoring for the next big deal.


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    I’m the person who worked for Aaron Priest and discovered Jack Kerley in the slush pile. The most important thing he did right–his book is great. Send your books to agents with reputations for finding new work and spend as much time as possible revising and have as many people as possible read it. Jack was a dream to work with (I no longer work there)and it was his amazing talent and lack of ego about his work that made him such a success so quickly.

  • Private

    I’m the person who worked for Aaron Priest and discovered Jack Kerley in the slush pile. The most important thing he did right–his book is great. Send your books to agents with reputations for finding new work and spend as much time as possible revising and have as many people as possible read it. Jack was a dream to work with (I no longer work there)and it was his amazing talent and lack of ego about his work that made him such a success so quickly.