Tom Clancy and his Hunt for Red October are widely credited with launching techno-thrillers into the stratosphere of popularity among book readers and movie-goers. So obviously he must have been a brilliant writer who was destined for success from the very beginning, right? Well . . . maybe not.
Hoping to go into military service, Tom joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps while he was in college. But he was so near-sighted that it became clear he would never get accepted. So he took his English degree in hand — and started selling insurance to make a living. This was not really what he had seen as Plan A.
Thirteen years later, he was making enough money telling people, “You need this,” that he was able to spend some time writing on the side. He loved everything related to the Navy, and immersed himself in the technical details of submarines and war games. The result was a massive book which was so tech-heavy no one in the publishing industry was interested. In one of those strange quirks of fate, however, the Naval Institute Press — which only published nonfiction books — decided to try publishing a work of fiction. They looked around, and the only manuscript they could find that was Navy-related and tech-heavy was submitted by an unpublished insurance salesman. So they took a chance and offered him $5,000 for it. Even so, the book was too weighted down by techy details for Navy readers, if you can believe that, and they had him trim about 100 pages of all that stuff from the book. The result? They published Hunt for Red October in 1984 and it sold 45,000 copies. The end.
But wait! Then President Reagan read the book and called it “my kind of yarn.” So more than 2 million copies of Red October instantly flew off the shelves. That put Tom Clancy on The New York Times bestseller list. It was a place to which Tom would return often as book after book was churned out by his old electric typewriter.
To make a long story short, this is one more testimony that there is no guaranteed way to get published. So you have to try all the ways. It takes talent, yes. But also a willingness to try many different paths to get there. It’s a method that worked for Tom Clancy, so it might work for you.
The Hunt for Red October