Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Thrill of the Sale by Robert Vaughan


The Thrill of the Sale
Robert Vaughan
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.


  1. Just a couple weeks ago I read Robert Vaughan's novel YESTERDAYS'S REVEILLE and enjoyed it a lot. It covers the long life of a cavalry officer and also the Indian Wars, 1865-1890.

  2. It's so encouraging to learn "how it all began" from someone with your success. After hearing you speak at the Western Fictioneers convention, I was struck at the thrill you STILL have for the writing life. I want to be just like you when I grow up. :)

    1. Funny, John Grisham told me that same thing at a writers' conference. And look what happened to HIM! I don't want anyone else to 'grow up' and do that to me.

    2. Hmmm...I pray that the Grisham curse continues!

  3. I too listened to you speak at the convention and made a point to introduce myself and shake your hand. Your success is an inspiration to many other writers. I have but a few books in print. That first acceptance notification was tops for sure but I'd have to say, that I still get a big kick out of receiving positive news. Thank you for sharing your uplifting story.

    1. Wow...inspiration? I just read this to my wife and she says there will be no living with me for the rest of the day.

  4. Best read of the day - although it is still morning - great story. Oh my first car was a blue and white 57 Chevy.

    1. I still think that red and white '58 Impala is the prettiest car I ever "owned" if only for three months.

  5. I always love to see your posts, Dick. Sure enjoyed meeting you at the WF Convention, too, and I look forward to the next one. I agree with Jerry--your success IS an inspiration to other writers, and I always look forward to reading your next post! So glad you're blogging here at WF!

  6. Thanks, Cheryl. I'm looking forward to the next WF convention as well.

  7. Great story, Robert. The first time I held a hard copy of my first published novel in my hands - a few weeks before it came out properly - I walked around in a daze. It took me half an hour to recover the power of speech! Almost nothing is as good as that feeling that you've arrived at last.

  8. There is nothing like that first story. I was paid $5.00 for a short story in a regional magazine in 1997. Then didn't write fiction for publication until 2014.

    You did a better job of following up, and I enjoy your work. Looking forward to what comes next. Doris