As I consider the avenues for publishing my new novel, I often find myself looking back on the start of my career forty years ago. I am amazed when I think of all the factors that combined to make my dream of being a published novelist come true.
The call from Susan Schwartz of Doubleday & Company was the last thing I expected that day in June of 1975, when I was on my way out the door to pick up my young son from swimming lessons. Yet, my good fortune had begun long before Susan offered me a contract on the novel that would be entitled, GALVESTON.
Around that time, the renowned novelist and short story writer, William Goyen, was being published at Doubleday. Bill took time away from his busy schedule in New York and returned to his native Texas, to lead workshops at the annual summer Writers Conference at the University of Houston. If memory serves me well, he came down for several years in a row. I was an avid fan of his workshops, and wrote down the address he gave when he told us that writers had to help one another in getting publishers to pay attention.
Bill eventually read my manuscript– I was calling the novel AVENUE L at that early stage. He felt enthusiastic, and showed it to Susan who was then Editorial Assistant to Sandy Richardson, Bill’s Editor at Doubleday. Susan would become not only my Editor, but my lifelong friend. Incidentally, I will admit– and I think Susan would agree– that there are times when balancing these two relationships becomes a high wire act.
That Susan was a native of Fort Worth certainly helped. This gave me two sympathetic readers from my home state, right from the start.
Yet.... Around halfway through reading the manuscript, Susan thought my epic story was “nice,” but not all that impressive. She asked Kirk Kelso, a copywriter at Doubleday, to take a look. Kirk was a native of Galveston.
Kirk’s advice to Susan a few days later: “Keep reading.”
By the end of the novel, Susan was sold.
So a romantic period novel, by an unknown writer, set on a small island off the Texas Gulf Coast, improbably captured the imagination of a major publishing house in New York.
And there were more lucky breaks to come.
The Galveston community was then on a major public relations campaign to redefine its image as a tourist destination, emphasizing the city’s intriguing history and unique architecture. When I approached the staff at the historic Ashton Villa on Broadway with the news that I had written a novel using the J. M. Brown family residence as part of my setting, I was put in touch with Director Judy Schiebel.
To my amazement, Judy offered to launch the book with a huge gala at Ashton Villa. She quickly recruited a committee of volunteers who devoted many hours to the project over the next year, and soon the whole Galveston population seemed to buy into the idea of making a big deal out of this book.
Doubleday launched a major national advertising campaign, with a full color centerfold in the trade magazine, Publishers Weekly. Paperback and foreign rights and book club rights were negotiated.
And as if all this were not enough, around the time the novel was published, recording star Glen Campbell released a new song entitled, “Galveston,” which was being broadcast on radio stations all across the United States.
Since GALVESTON, I have published six more novels and a serialized history of Ashton Villa. I have enjoyed my share of good reviews, and these have helped me weather those that were less than favorable. I have enjoyed appearing before a wide variety of audiences, all over Texas and beyond, to talk about my experiences writing novels. I have had the good fortune to meet many of my readers face to face. And I treasure the scores of personal notes, letters, telephone calls, and emails I have received from readers all over the country, many of whom have only recently discovered works published years ago.
I have encountered a number of fine people who have put time and effort into supporting me in my work– writing reviews and feature articles whenever I had a new book out; inviting me to speak, and hosting those all important book signings. Given the unpredictability of the book publishing business today, I have a feeling the journey to publication will be long and arduous, with many setbacks and some hard choices; and I hope those who enjoyed reading this brief overview of my experience as a novelist will wish me good luck as I set out.