What Goes Around

By John Gilstrap

It’s launch day!

Okay, technically, it’s day-after-launch day.  Yesterday saw the arrival in stores of Nick of Time, my first stand-alone thriller in over a decade.  Here’s the publisher’s blurb on book:

Nicki Janssen’s days are numbered, but she refuses to accept her fate lying down. Defying her father and doctors, she hits the road with a pocketful of cash, a bus ticket—and a romantic fantasy of riding off with her childhood crush . . .
Handsome, dangerous Brad Ward is facing a different kind of sentence. Sent to prison for felony murder, he has escaped and rekindled his relationship with Nicki. But when Nicki’s father joins forces with a deputy sheriff, the search for the runaways ignites a manhunt—a blistering chase that accelerates with every stolen car, every act of violence . . .

As much as I love writing the Jonathan Grave series, it was nice to return to my writing roots in Nick of Time to tell a story where the stakes are personal rather than global.  I hope the world likes the story as much as I do.  (Note: The e-book version of the novel was released in five parts, beginning last April, as a run-up to the release of Friendly Fire in July.)  There’s an interesting story behind the story, as well . . .

My writing career can be best tracked on a severe sine curve.  I started off with runaway “success” with my first novel, Nathan’s Run.  Big advances (in 23 countries!), movie deal, the whole nine yards.  Warner Books bought my second book, At All Costs, before Nathan’s Run was published, for even more money and Arnold Kopelson was going to make an even bigger movie.  I was set for the big time.

Then reality arrived.  Both books sold reasonably well—especially for a freshman writer—but I didn’t come close to earning out my advances.  When it came time to sell Even Steven, my third stand-alone thriller, my agent had to break fingers to get a two-book deal from Pocket Books for a tiny fraction of what the first two books sold for.  Then the real nightmare began.  Pocket became Atria, my editor left, and then the editor that replaced him left.  Even Steven tanked, and then Scott Free was essentially remaindered in place.

My next book was at the time called Living Wil, in which a terminally ill teenager named Wilhemina Janssen runs away with her childhood crush.  Sound familiar?  I couldn’t give it away.  The book wasn’t big enough, they said.  Since my other books didn’t meet sales expectations, everyone told me that my career as a writer was over.  That was 2003.

I thought they were wrong.

I believed that I needed to write something completely different.  That’s when I stumbled by happenstance onto a guy named Kurt Muse, whose real life story became the subject of my nonfiction book, Six Minutes to Freedom.  My agent at the time refused to represent it for political reasons, so I turned to my good friend and current agent, Anne Hawkins, who had all kinds of difficulty selling SixMin because I am not a journalist.  But then the folks at Kensington Publishing decided to roll the dice, and the book did pretty well.  In fact, it continues to do pretty well.  (Wait till the movie comes out!  But that’s a topic for a later post.)

The research I did for SixMin opened doors and provided me with the access I needed to write the Jonathan Grave series, which I’m happy to say seems to have found some traction among readers.  I just finished the 9th book in the series, and am under contract for two more.

Meanwhile Living Wil sat in the drawer, where it had resided for a dozen years.  On a whim, I took it out one day and read it.  Much to my surprise, I loved it.  It was a little dated, and my writing style has evolved, but the bones were all there.  I sent it to my editor and she loved it, too.  So, after a significant rewrite that changed Wilhemena to Nicki and tightened the action, it was ready to go.  Parts of Nick of Time still make me cry every time I read them.

I hope you give it a shot, and if you do, I hope you like it as much as I do.

More than that, since TKZ is primarily a writers’ blog, I hope you embrace the big take-away from this peek beneath the book’s kimono: Setbacks are only as important as you allow them to be.  What “everybody” says is irrelevant because failure cannot be inflicted on anyone.  Failure can only be declared by the individual who decides to give up.

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About John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of Lethal Game, Blue Fire, Stealth Attack, Crimson Phoenix, Hellfire, Total Mayhem, Scorpion Strike, Final Target, Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies, End Game, Soft Targets, High Treason, Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Nathan’s Run, At All Costs, Even Steven, Scott Free and Six Minutes to Freedom. Four of his books have been purchased or optioned for the Big Screen. In addition, John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris. A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution. Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, weapons systems, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. John lives in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

7 thoughts on “What Goes Around

  1. Great to see you back with a stand alone, John. I read all those early ones, up to and including Scott Free.

    You were not the only brand new author to get unreal bucks in the crazy, giveaway 90s, and then, when sales didn’t meet make that back (how could they?) the author finds himself, and not just his books, remaindered. Or with proposed movie deals (“Hollywood is the only town where you can die of encouragement”). I followed several of these as I was making my way up. Some quit writing altogether. But look at you! A great story of writer resilience.

    I have a question: how did that serialization strategy work out? Would you do it again?

  2. Great story, John.

    Beginning writers, here at TKZ, need stories of inspiration. I love your last line: “Failure can only be declared by the individual who decides to give up.”

    I look forward to reading Nick of Time.

  3. I recall a conference session where a midlist author asked a Big Name author whether she should look for a lower advance to increase the odds of selling through. Big Name said “Go as high as you can because then the publisher will be motivated to do everything they can to sell your books.” I don’t think we live in that world anymore.

    If one of my indie titles doesn’t do as well as I’d hoped, at least I’m the only one who can drop me.

  4. Were we twins separated at birth?

    It seems your experience parallels our own. Which is an object lesson to anyone here that you must be willing to be in this fight for the long haul. It is not a straight trajectory to the top…it is crests and troughs. Unless you are extremely lucky and even then, the pressure after that to perform is immense.

    Thanks for your honest post, John.

  5. Congratulations, John! You were a brave soul to go back and look at that in-drawer book. And look how it paid off. It *almost* makes me want to go back and look at some of the stories I’ve shelved.

    Good for you, sticking to your guns, and taking your book to another agent who would rep it. I’m wildly impressed.

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