Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why I Set Fire to My First Manuscript.

If you are wondering if this is a joke, I assure you on my grandmother's grave, it is one-hundred percent the God honest truth - I set fire to my first manuscript.

Here's the deal...

I wrote my first manuscript in 2007. The book was a non-fiction called How to Succeed in the Handyman Business. It was excellent. It covered all details one would need to start and operate a successful handyman/home maintenance business. It had charts and graphs and details that helped me win 75% of my bids, among many other critical points to craft and customer service.

The book was great as far as the content was concerned.

I wrote the book by hand, because I had a job at the time that allowed a little time to write but I couldn't have a computer at my bench. I later typed it into a doc file. So unlike any of my other works, I actually had both a digital and hand written copy.

I was very proud of it. But then, I threw it in the fire and deleted the digital copy… forever.

Why? Long story short; I ran a home maintenance business called Home Pro Handyman for over four years. We did everything right, had top-notch service, and a professional, clean look. We even had up to seven employees at one point. I loved my job. I loved being the boss. And I loved the freedom, if you want to call it that.

So why burn my baby?

As I said, we ran a tight business… only problem, we had a few jobs where things went wrong and that caused some animosity between my wife and I. One job in particular caused so much stress financially that we never recovered. This was a BIG job we did for an apartment complex. We had several guys working, by the hour, for over a month. I kept paying them, but when it came time to bill the apartment complex, they told me that there home office in San Francisco had put a hold on all their payables across the country. The didn't pay any of their contractors! Me included.

We received some of the money over time, but from that point forward things sort of went down hill and my wife was left with a bad taste in her mouth in terms of that business. Only thing good that came from that job is that we mastered the art of writing contracts.

All to say, I found a great job a couple years later and when I had time to reflect on those years, I wrote the book, How to Succeed in the Handyman Business. Sounds funny compared to where I am now. I've written a bestselling novel for crying out loud! But the truth is, I knew my shit, and I watched many handymen screw up. All I did was watch what the other guys did wrong, and did it right. It was a pretty simple business plan.

Anyway… back to the burning.

After presenting my masterpiece to my wife, I watched her eyes fill up with tears. She didn't say much but I knew that the book brought back memories, and hurt, and I just didn't want to see her cry. Seriously. Although the book had tons of good information, tips, etc, it just stirred up a bunch of old doo doo. So, being the "fix-it-man" that I am, I stood up, threw my hand-written manuscript in the fire. I handed her my memory stick and asked her to delete it. She took it, reluctantly, but I insisted. I didn't want to write something that would be at all hurtful to her… so I canned it.

No big deal now. I've moved on. That was before the indie author movement kicked in anyway. And the point isn't that I wrote a book and burned it, poor me, blah, blah, blah. The point is, we all have a story about what led us to start writing. Some of you, fortunately, have broken out with a bestseller. Others have not been so lucky. But we all have a story. And we all have a trail that led us to where we are. Mine started by burning my manuscript. And it burned so well. It kept us warm for a few minutes actually.

But what about you? You started somewhere. You may have burned a few query letters, or penned ten novels before you published one. I've got a feeling you didn't set your first book ablaze, but you might have a story just as interesting.

Jeff Bennington is the best-selling author of Reunion, Twisted Vengeance, and The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe. If you'd like to hire me, see my Author Services Page.



  1. Hi Jeff,
    Completely off topic.....I receive your blog via email and wanted to stop by to share my thoughts.

    I think you need to revise your book covers so that your name is in a much larger font. You're more well known, so readers will be interested in buying a book based on your name. I'd make it as large as the font size of the title on Twisted Vengeance.

    As for the burning....actually I'm doing the opposite. The most wonderful gift of indie-publishing is that I get to publish the children's stories I wrote so many years ago. Today I'm starting on three new ones. I feel so blessed.

    All the best,

    1. @Suzanne, I hear you on the covers. I struggle with my name ALL the time. The reason it is the way it is, is because My first name is so short and my last name is so long. I don't really like the Pyramid shape name look or the everything to one side look. Not saying I won't go that route one day. But your point is well taken and will continue to be under review!

      And awesome on the chilren's stories.

    2. How odd! I really like your cover designs and I think they've typeset your name rather nicely, considering the length of the last name.

  2. The fact that you set fire to your first manuscript says nothing about your writing. It says a lot about your character. Thank you!

    Patrick Bousum

  3. I agree with Patrick. I wonder how many people would destroy their manuscript for the sake of their Companions. Not many, I'll wager. Would I? I honestly can't answer that for certain, and hope I never have to face it. You're a good man, Jeff Bennington!

    1. @Jim, Thanks, Jim. We as a human race go to great end to avoid pain. I am but one example.

  4. I have a lot to say based off this post.

    I was actually in a similar situation and I don't like to talk about it usually, but I will today. My boyfriend and I went through a tragedy and I came up with a book idea (because as authors we often deal with tragedies through writing about them) and then when I told my boyfriend about it, he got this extremely disturbed and hurt look on his face. Unlike I've ever seen him have before or after that and ever since then, I've been terrified to even mention something vaguely similar happening to a character in one of my books. I trashed the idea completely. He said in the end he understood and that I should write it, but I couldn't. I still feel ashamed to this day that I horrified him for that minute or so with my idea. I wish I had never come up with it. My intention was NEVER to hurt him. I love him.

    I'm currently working on my third novel. The first one, I finished writing the entire thing, but never finished editing all of it before I decided it was awful. The second one, I actually queried with and was rejected several times and decided that I agreed with the agents that rejected me in the end and would not be self-publishing it. I think third times the charm though.

    1. Third time does seem to go much better than the first. Good things usually come in threes. Countdowns, Father, son and holy spirit, tricycles, and three's company! I think when you get around to a third book, you've learned a bit about yourself, the reality of what good writing is, and your style. Best of luck!

  5. I lost my first manuscript—somewhere between file transfers when I replaced one of my Macs. I never had a sleepless night over it, but I would've liked to have to remind me of a time when I thought I knew what I was doing. Technically, I still don't know what I'm doing and doubt I ever will, but I think that's why I keep improving!

  6. Hi Eleni, That's what is so great about the writing life… there is always something new to learn, always a new trick, and the never ending enjoyment of reading beautiful prose. Thanks for reading.

  7. As always, Jeff, you never fail to entertain. I loved this story, both for the self-sacrifice, and the reason behind it. Truly a selfless act. You deserve a medal for that.

    Thanks for the good read!


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