Spector's breaking-in story


I'm a sucker for author breaking-in stories and recently I heard a fun one on the [Filmmaking Stuff]1 podcast. The story came from Craig Spector who, along with his writing partner John Skipp, spearheaded the short-lived 1980's splatterpunk literary movement. This movement included luminaries Clive Barker, Richard Christian Matheson, and Joe R. Lansdale.

Before they found success with their first novel The Light at the End (1986), both Skipp & Spector were struggling twenty-somethings in New York. Neither had dreams of being a full-time writer. Their focus was mainly on art and playing punk rock. Between gigs with his band, Spector worked as a courier, delivering messages around the city on roller-skates.

The inspiration for The Light at the End came from a late-night subway ride he took with his girlfriend. While they were hurtling through the pitch black tunnels it occurred to Spector that the subway would be the perfect hunting ground for a vampire. After all, the subway was full of spooky-looking characters – the living dead would fit right in. He took the germ of this idea to Skipp and the two of them hashed out a story outline over a couple of sleepless nights. Then came the actual writing. Spector hadn't written much before but discovered he had surprising faculty for it, exchanging chapters back and forth with Skipp.

Once they'd finished their manuscript neither knew what to do with it. How were they supposed to get published without a publisher or agent? With no worthwhile contacts, they scoured literary magazines for names and addresses they could reach out to. Predictably this approach yielded little success. Then, as now, the gates to the publishing world were firmly closed to outsiders – especially two punk-ish dudes with no writing credits and a love for gory horror.

Skipp & Spector hit upon a plan. Targeting a publisher who'd recently purchased a similarly themed horror novel, the two of them wrote a trailer for their book. This trailer was basically a 2-page treatment designed to hook the reader with short punchy descriptive imagery. They figured they'd stand a better chance of being read this way than if they dropped off their doorstop of a manuscript.

Now came the next stage of the duo's plan.

With their treatment hidden in a plain white envelope, Spector donned his skates and messenger ID and entered the publisher's building as a courier. Nobody questioned why he was there. Couriers came and went all the time. When the publisher's secretary expressed confusion about receiving the envelope with no sender details, Spector feigned obliviousness. He was just the messenger. And as he had all the relevant paperwork and courier ID she had no choice but to accept it.

Later, when the publisher was on his way out to lunch he checked in with his secretary to see if there was any mail. She handed him Skipp and Spector's treatment. As it was a slim envelope, the publisher had no qualms about taking it with him.

He started reading the treatment on the elevator ride down and was so taken by the writing that he nearly walked into traffic upon exiting the building. Shortly after, he offered Skipp & Spector a 5 book publishing deal worth more money than either of them had seen during their entire lives.

Over the course of their joint career, Skipp and Spector wrote 9 novels, edited 2 anthologies and sold more than 3 million books. Not because of luck, not because of raw talent. They had self-belief and a healthy dose of chutzpah. Their story is worth keeping in mind for all aspiring creatives who feel like their chosen industry is impossible to break into. When confronted with a locked door, don't wait for someone to hand you a key. Grab a sledgehammer and make your entrance.


Michael Hearle