The Bestseller That Never Was


Darlington WoodsBack in early 2010 I was getting ready to release my third novel, Darlington Woods. I’d released The Hunted in 2008 and it enjoyed some moderate success, enough to land me another contract. Then in 2009 I released Scream and that did even better, almost doubling the sales of The Hunted.

So in preparation for Darlington Woods I planned for a big release that would net big results. I truly felt it was my best writing to date, both in style and storytelling. The plot was engaging and fast-paced, the characters were interesting and unique, the theme was right from the heart and I knew it would touch many lives. It was the first full-length novel I wrote after battling colon cancer and so much of myself, my journey, my emotional roller coaster was poured into every page of the story.

To launch the book, I’d scheduled a handful of book signings in Pennsylvania and Maryland and a fairly comprehensive online book tour I called the “Light the Darkness Tour”. Emotionally I knew, just knew, that this one was going to be big, this was going to be my break-out novel, the one to “put me on the map.” I spent a lot of time in prayer, dedicating the book to the Lord for him to do whatever he wished with it.  Then, just a month before the big release Publisher’s Weekly reviewed the book. Here’s an excerpt:

No shortage of vampire books stock bookstore shelves today, but few combine Christian themes with ghoulish vampire villains like this headlong rush of psycho-spiritual suspense . . .  Never indulging in long boring tangents or fussy character descriptions, Dellosso’s pacing is perfect and passionate. Even though the choice of setting and parts of the plot mirror the popular novel The Shack, readers familiar with that book will find this new combo of Christian vampire fare a quick and breathless read and will scream for more.

Now, remember, this was when the Twilight saga was at its prime. Vampires were the in thing. And the fact that Publisher’s Weekly not only called it a vampire novel but also compared it to The Shack . . . well, I was sure that would seal the deal. And why wouldn’t it?

The big day came and to make a very long story very short . . . the book flopped. Sales were mediocre but worse than both Scream and The Hunted. I couldn’t understand it. I’d prepared more for this release than either of the other two. The book had gotten more exposure than I even planned for. Publisher’s Weekly had given it a glowing review. And both vampires and The Shack were still very hot. What went wrong?

You know, three years later I’m still asking myself that question. I still think Darlington Woods is my best book. It’s my favorite of all my titles. I look back on that release and the subsequent trip and can’t understand it. I think part of it is the environment of the Christian fiction industry. One, supernatural suspense as a genre was on the downslide in the Christian market (and still hasn’t recovered) and horror was never a hit. And two, maybe vampires were hot in the secular market (and still are) but in the Christian market there was (and is) little interest.

Funny thing is, never once in the book are the creatures referred to as vampires. They’re called darklings and though they act like vampires I didn’t even think of that while writing it. But it seems that Publisher’s Weekly comparison turned out to be at least one stake in the book’s heart.

The other truth I need to face is that it just wasn’t God’s time. I don’t know why and may never know but I have to accept it. So much of this business of writing is skill and talent and marketing ability, but so much more is reliance on God and faith in him to do what he knows is best. It’s a walk of trust every day.

And isn’t that so much like the rest of life?

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About mikedellosso

Mike Dellosso is an author of wide-eyed suspense. He writes stories that not only entertain but enlighten.

Posted on August 6, 2013, in Christian Fiction, Christian Horror, Darlington Woods, Writing craft, Writing Life and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Mike, thanks for sharing this. Had a similar experience with a book release — promotional ideas lined up, good reviews, but just didn’t gain the traction I would have hoped for. But, looking back on it, the process of writing the book actually led to some big changes in our family’s life down the road (the theme was foster care/adoption, we’ve ended up becoming foster parents), so I can see writing the book was as much for me as it was for any readers. It sounds like Darlington offered you a way to poor out your emotions and experiences and allowed God to work through that. I think as writers we can sometimes put too much of our identity on whether our projects gain traction with readers/sales (even though we know better) rather on the joy of creating itself.

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  2. Nathan Houchens

    I thought it was an excellent book. I don’t know why there is such a pushback against this type of story in the Christian market. Eric Wilson had an awesome biblically based vampire trilogy that unfortunately had poor sales as well. I don’t understand why there are multiple best sellers from less talented authors while some like you and Eric don’t get the attention you deserve.

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    • Nathan, I’m well aware of Eric’s trilogy and frustration with the lack of interest in that genre. I can hope that someday the Christian market will be more open to this type of story.

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  3. I am looking forward to reading Darlington Woods! Sounds mighty interesting to me!

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  4. Mike, perhaps the message is just what you said in your conclusion. Maybe God was and is testing you to make sure you stay focused on Him and not on worldly success. I know where your heart is, so this is not an accusation. I’m speaking more from my experiences where I’ve been able to look back and see that my focus may have shifted. So, rest in the peace of knowing God has your best interest at heart, and He will always do the right thing. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure we’re all learning from your message.

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  5. I finished Darlington Woods not too long ago and enjoyed it very much. I’m not sure which of the books that were referenced here I liked the most, but I read for entertainment purposes and enjoy the message that comes with each book. I wish there were more authors who happen to write with Christian themes that would go the route of suspense and intrigue.

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  6. Jill Potts Jones

    I enjoyed Darlington Woods. In fact, it was my first exposure to your writing and it prompted me to go out and buy The Hunted and Scream. And I never once thought of the darklings as vampires. It never even crossed my mind.

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  7. I loved reading Darlington Woods it is one of my faves you wrote by the way.
    I admit when I checked out the books content pre read, I thought ugh more vampires (they were in media so much)? But I read it and I really liked it, and they weren’t exactly vampires to me. I think the world was so infiltrated with vampire creatures that Christians maybe just pre judged ? Its a shame because it was a great read, well written 🙂

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  8. So far, I’ve only read “Darlington Woods” and “Frantic”, Mike. Both stories were excellent. Though I enjoy various genres, I seem to gravitate toward supernatural, physiological mysteries coupled with bucolic settings. It might have something to do with the old TV series “Twin Peaks” by David Lynch and Mark Frost. Did you ever watch it? It’s been marked as the breakthrough show that made others like “The X-Files” possible.

    Anyway, concerning “Twilight” and such, I think a bandwagon effect is to blame, where, if a certain book or movie is being watched or read, people think they need to read or watch it as well, and end up missing other gems, such as yours. It’s like food: one assumes not to like it, even before tasting it, and instead settle for what’s familiar. I often suffer the same symptoms, albeit with weirder categories.

    Your other stories are on my list, by the way. Once I fulfill my own deadlines, that is.

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  9. Thank you so much for sharing your journey here. Feeling depressed today, like the words are just dust in the wind. But your thoughts have encouraged me to keep trusting God to use me and complete me. Funny thing is, I’ve never been to your site before, but God knew I needed this today. You and I can thank Mike Duran for pointing me here. Blessings to you.

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  10. Mike, I would find that hard, too! But you persisted and accepted what this outcome was! I need to re-read your books, it has been a while. I did not consider darklings as vampires at all. I have read Eric Wilson’s vampire trilogy, and I found it a difficult read, not due to the subject matter of vampires, the author explained this very well, from a Biblical POV, it was just his writing style that I found difficult.

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  11. Carol Holdefer

    I had no idea your third book didn’t meet with success, Mike. I’m so sorry, but as you said, God obviously had other plans. Perhaps in the future you could rename it and try again. Maybe it will be God’s timing then. Wishing you well in all your endeavors. Love to you and your sweet family.

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  12. I loved DW. Mike, I can understand how hard it must have been for you especially after that horrible season with cancer. Great that you continue to write & believe.

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  13. Hello, Mike, I prayed for you to have peace about this. I want you to think of how many people were blessed by Darlington Woods, how God used it to draw people to Himself through TDS and how the prayer ministry was started. Remember these verses from Jeremiah 29:11-13: For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” This book may not have been all you wanted, but I think God used it in a mighty way. I believe that when you enter heaven, He will say to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” I also believe that when your new book is published, many people will read it and will say, “I wonder what else he has written?” and will seek them out. I loved DW, my first of yours I read. I never once thought of the darklings as vampires, but as demons!

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  14. It’s been good for me to read this. A non-fiction writer, I’m just starting out in writing children’s books. I believe this is what I’m supposed to be doing, and I have big dreams, but I need to remember to do my best, commit it to Him, and then be content. Thank you.

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