Timeline of a Published Novelist
By Dave Terruso
Each author’s journey to publication is different.
There is something to be learned from each of these unique journeys.
I don’t really know.
But, my hope is you’ll learn something from it.
Here’s my journey, culminating in the publication of my novel Cube Sleuth, published by Full Fathom Five Digital, in timeline form.
1990: A SPACEBAR ODYSSEY
Eleven-year-old Dave finds a black 1970s electric typewriter in his basement. He plugs it in and stares in awe like it’s the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. He inserts a blank piece of paper and types the letter F for fifteen minutes because he likes the sound.
When this gets boring, Dave writes a 1000-word short story about vampires. He tears it from the typewriter, brings it upstairs, and reads it to his parents. When he finishes, they clap for him, and he decides this will be his lifelong career.
1991: First Published Story
The typewriter runs out of ribbon, and no one makes that ribbon anymore, so Dave needs a new typewriter. His parents refuse to buy him one, certain he will get bored with writing in a month.
To prove he deserves a new typewriter, Dave writes another vampire short story and submits it to The Philadelphia Daily News, which is having a children’s fiction contest.
The Daily News apparently decides to publish all the submissions they receive, because even Dave’s crappy story is published. Dave’s parents buy him a typewriter for Christmas.
1992–1995: Machine Guns and Martial Arts
Dave writes a series of practice novels. His first, A Prescription for Death, is inspired by his love of Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme action movies, and features a thirteen-year-old male protagonist who kills over forty people throughout the course of the novel.
1996: High Anxiety
In his junior year in high school, Dave gives his fifth novel, a supernatural thriller, to his Algebra teacher, whose daughter is a script reader for an Oscar-winning film producer.
The film producer tells him in a letter that the story shows a lot of promise and that he is very interested in reading Dave’s next novel.
The anxiety associated with actual success gives Dave a case of writer’s block that lasts for several years.
2002: I Have to Wear Pants? EVERYDAY?
After studying creative writing under Justin Cronin (now a New York Times bestselling author) at La Salle University, Dave tries unsuccessfully to find an agent to represent his sixth novel by sending out one-page query letters.
He buckles down and gets a job as an editor at a nonprofit company.
Because of the time constraints of a 40-hour work week, Dave abandons novels and starts writing screenplays (a typical novel is 80,000 words; a typical screenplay is 20,000 words).
2003: We Called ourselves “Elaschtick”
Dave joins an improvisational comedy troupe in Philadelphia and discovers his love of comedic performance.
2004: One Angry Frenchman
Dave and some improv friends form the sketch comedy troupe Animosity Pierre. Sketch comedy writing supplants screenwriting as his focus.
2007: MURDER CAN BE Funny
Dave decides to write his first novel in five years. It will be a murder mystery set at a thinly-veiled version of his actual office. He calls it Cube Sleuth.
He realizes for the first time that he needs to combine his comedy writing and his literature. Cube Sleuth is his first dark comic novel.
He writes all of Cube Sleuth in his cube during his two-hour lunch break.
(No, he wasn’t supposed to take a two-hour lunch break.)
2011: Form Rejections
Dave queries many literary agents about Cube Sleuth, to no avail.
2012: The Ending is Everything
Agent Liz Trupin-Pulli reads Cube Sleuth and tells Dave that she loves the book, but the ending is too dark to sell to a mainstream publisher. She suggests he rewrite the ending, but Dave realizes he can’t do that without ruining the integrity of the narrative.
Liz recommends that Dave self-publish Cube Sleuth and send her his next novel, which she hopes will have a happier ending.
2013: Snagging an Agent
Dave quits his boring office job, unwisely cashes in his retirement money, and self-publishes Cube Sleuth.
He sends Liz Trupin-Pulli his next novel, another dark comic murder mystery called Lost Touch. Liz loves the book and agrees to represent Dave.
2014: Low Anxiety, then Triumph
Dave runs out of retirement fund money and gets another sad job in another cube farm.
Liz submits Lost Touch to all of the major publishers, and all of them reject it. Most of the rejections are glowing reviews; the publishers love the book, love Dave’s voice, but don’t know how to market it to a mass audience (the novel involves a psychic detective, and that genre is not selling). The publishers say they are very interested in reading Dave’s next novel.
Dave is sad. He no longer has the anxiety about success that he did at sixteen. Now he has anxiety about failure.
One of Liz’s clients is approached by a new e-book publisher called Full Fathom Five Digital. Liz decides FFF Digital would be a good fit for Dave, and submits Cube Sleuth and Lost Touch to them.
FFF Digital loves both books; they offer Dave a publishing contract for Lost Touch and acquire the rights to Cube Sleuth.
2015: The Ending IS Everything
FFF Digital publishes Cube Sleuth on January 7.
Dave is happy. In just twenty-five short years, he’s achieved his childhood dream.
From 1990 to 2015, my dream evolved with the constraints of reality and the changing publishing industry.
At eleven, I figured I would sell a novel by age 18, get a huge advance, do a nationwide book tour, become a New York Times bestseller, and then live off my writing millions with my wife on a wooded estate surrounded by our kids and dogs, like the guys on most of the ABOUT THE AUTHOR pages I’d read.
At thirty-five, I realize that literally none of that is going to happen. I had to go to college and get a 9 to 5. The days of huge advances are all but gone — they happen rarely now, and mostly to celebrities who are already rich…but I got a 50/50 royalty split, which is sweet.
In the eternal words of whoever wrote the theme song to Perfect Strangers:
It’s my life and my dream/Nothing’s gonna stop me now
(brief harmonica solo followed by synth flourish)
Dave Terruso is a novelist and screenwriter who lives in Philadelphia. He is also a stand up comedian who has opened for Maria Bamford, Gilbert Gottfried, Dana Gould, Richard Lewis, and Colin Quinn. He is also-also a sketch comedian praised by TIME Magazine. He is also-also-also co-founder of Philly Sketchfest, an international sketch comedy festival. His debut novel Cube Sleuth is available from Full Fathom Five Digital, and his sophomore novel Lost Touch will be available March 29.
You can find him online at: www.daveterruso.com