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Former Richmond Writer Uses Word-of-Mouth Publishing For "Judith," A Dark Debut Novel About Revenge



When writing his first book, Zack Budryk wasn’t taking any chances.

Aware that legend says the elder Alexander Dumas lamented on his deathbed that dying meant he’d never know how “The Count of Monte Cristo” ended, Budryk wrote the conclusion of “Judith” early on.

“Knowing that ending kept my nose to the grindstone because I hate to leave something unfinished,” he says. “And I knew I wasn’t going to orphan that ending.”

A native Richmonder who now lives in Washington, Budryk interned for Style in 2010 while attending Virginia Commonwealth University and spent the next few years writing opinion columns. It was during the spring of 2012, with anti-choice legislation on the rise and an uptick in stories about unpunished violence against women, that he felt himself becoming radicalized. That gave him the drive to write his first book.

His first inclination was to do a traditional rape-and-revenge story, a genre mined with varying degrees of tastefulness in books such as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Last House on the Left.”

“I started thinking what if someone did a take on it that wasn’t about how someone ought to just start killing all these creeps, but how it would affect third parties if that happened,” he says of his dark thriller about women tired of waiting for the law to handle abusive men.

“Not just law enforcement, journalism and organized crime, which provide the three main perspectives I split the book into,” he says. “But how would it affect our culture if rapists were perceived as having targets on their backs?”

But an idea isn’t a book, even if it’s an idea that the writer really likes. Plots must be developed, beat-by-beat, scene-by-scene, from the original idea. Once characters were developed, Budryk recalls the process getting significantly easier.

“It was a lot of fun just writing their dialogue, their turns of phrase,” he says, “but the story still needs to actually go somewhere and even if you know the major plot beats, you have to write the dialogue and individual actions that get things to that point.”

Convinced that the finished book would be right up their alley, he took “Judith” to some of his co-workers at FierceHealthcare in Washington, a group he characterizes as women who are extremely smart, snarky, funny and feminist.

“I knew they were the last people in the world who were going to bullshit a white male author to spare his ego,” he says. He was thrilled when they liked it.

Because a big part of what spurred him to finish the book had been encouragement from friends, he used a similar model when it came time to find a publisher. Inkshares publishes books through crowd-sourcing, so if an unpublished book gets 750 pre-orders in three months, the company publishes and promotes it. Books that make it to 250 are published, but it’s a smaller run and promotion duties fall to the author.

Crunching the numbers to figure out how many he’d need pre-ordered per day to make 250, Budryk contacted those of his friends most willing to humor him, he says, asking if they’d flog it on social media and bug their other friends. In a slow accumulation rather than an instantaneous avalanche, orders began arriving day-by-day, week-by-week from friends of friends and friends of friends of friends.

“I think it’s a great model if you’re willing to put in that kind of work or if you’ve built some kind of pre-existing network so that kind of work’s unnecessary,” he says. “Enough people have actually read it now that positive word of mouth is building.”

Amazon availability has simplified things, as has reaching the pre-order goal because before, many people were reluctant to order a book that might never get published. Unsurprisingly, getting his first book published only made him more excited for the next one to come out. Reality set in when he realized he’d have to write it before that happened.

“There’s a hell of a lot of work that’s only going to get done if you force yourself to do it,” he says. “It’s all worth it though.” S