The Thrill of the Sale
I sold my first book when I was 19. At the time I was PFC in the US Army, and an instructor in the helicopter crew-chief’s course at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. I was hard at work on a Civil War novel.
The commanding general issued a “request” that all permanently assigned officers should write an article for Aviation Digest, a magazine dealing with army aviation. The lieutenant I worked for knew I liked to write, so he gave me $25 to write an article for him. The article was accepted, won best article of the magazine, which was a prize of $25. To the lieutenant’s credit, he gave me that money as well, then brought other officers to me…and for about three months, I was making more money writing articles for Aviation Digest than I was from my army pay.
It was at the Aviation Digest that I met William E. Butterworth, now better known as WEB Griffin. I learned that Butterworth had actually had books published. I had never before met a published author, and I was thrilled.
“I’m going to have a book published someday,” I told him. (How many times in the last 60 years have I heard those words…spoken to me by aspirant writers with the same degree of hope and determination)
“What are you writing?” Bill asked.
“A civil war novel.”
“We need another civil war novel like we need another hole in the head. Write something like this.”
Bill tossed me paperback book, Hell on Wheels. I read it that night, and said, “Heck, I can write something like this.”
I wrote Girls of Carnation House in about five weeks and took the manuscript to him.
“Why are you showing it to me? I can’t publish it for you.” He suggested that I go to the corner drugstore and find books similar to the one I had just written, get the publisher’s address, and send my story to them.
I did just as he told me, and sent off my completed manuscript…no cover letter, no synopsis, just the manuscript and my address which, at the time was: PFC Robert Vaughan, RA27520287, HQ and HQ Company, USARV, Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Notice there was no zip code…there was no such thing as zip codes then.
Amazingly, I got an acceptance letter back from the very first publisher I sent my manuscript to.
“Dear PFC Vaughan, we would very much like to publish your story. Contract to follow.”
I was walking on air...I HAD SOLD A BOOK! Hemingway, James Jones, Harold Robbins had nothing on me!
A sergeant I knew was about to lose his 1958 Impala. I agreed to take over the payments for the car. Payments were $92 a month, and I was making $121 a month, but hey….I HAD SOLD A BOOK! I would probably just pay the car off as soon as I got my contract from Saber Books.
The contract arrived about two weeks later.
For all rights Saber Books will pay Robert Vaughan, (hereinafter referred to as author) $100.00 advance against a royalty rate of ½ cent per book. Author attests that the work is his, and agrees to hold Saber Books blameless for any lawsuit arising with regard to plagiarism, liable, or any other injury.
It had a place for me to sign my name.
One hundred dollars? This is a book! It will be on bookshelves everywhere and I get only one hundred dollars?
If you are thinking I didn’t sign the contract, you are mistaken. I signed the contract in a heartbeat! I WAS GOING TO BE PUBLISHED.
Oh, and the 1958 red and white Impala? I got to drive it for three months, then I found someone else to take over the payments.
When all the royalties for the book were paid out . . . my total compensation, counting the initial one hundred dollars, was $123.54, which was only about 20% of what I had made writing articles for the Aviation Digest.
And by the way….except for the author’s copies they sent me. I never saw the book on any rack, anywhere. They did, however, publish four more books for me, and the amount paid for each book increased with each contract, and, for the last one I did for them, I received six hundred dollars.
There have been over 400 books since then, including a few six figure contracts…..but nothing has ever quite matched the thrill of that first sale.