Looking for a good vampire story? Have we got a story for you.
Steve Perlow earned his MBA from the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business ten years ago. But while most of his peers from the Class of 2008 are no doubt in the midst of varied and exciting business careers, Perlow keeps busy with words. He’s just released his sixth book, Choosing A Master: Vampires and the Life of Erin Rose, a new addition to his works dealing with the romantic fantasy world of vampires.
Born and raised in Bridgewater, New Jersey, Perlow trekked to Washington, D.C. for his undergraduate education, studying computer science at Georgetown University. Post-graduation, a long-time interest in tech led him to pursue life as a web application developer. Still, B-school and getting an MBA were always high on the list of things to accomplish.
“I did computer science in undergrad because I knew tech was where I wanted to be. But I also wanted to get the base business education and experience that I intentionally didn’t get during undergrad while I pursued tech,” Perlow, 35, tells Poets&Quants. So he set his sights on the MBA. Specifically, a McCombs MBA.
AUSTIN: ‘A GREAT CITY FOR SO MANY THINGS’
“UT was really high on my list in large part because of Austin,” Perlow says. “It’s such a great city for so many things; culturally, it’s great, but specifically tech, entrepreneurship, and small business. It was a really good fit for me. I like the East Coast a lot, but I was excited for a change.”
About his McCombs experience, Perlow says, “It was terrific. It’s been a little while ago now, but I really enjoyed it. I remember the professors were challenging, but also down to earth and nice people. I have similar feelings about my classmates. Definitely a great group of people to spend two years with.”
Besides making up for the lack of business courses taken during undergrad, Perlow’s goals for attending business school were to return to tech at the end of it, allowing his newly acquired business knowledge to complement his computer science skills and ultimately increase his overall value as a professional.
“A lot of it was just to get that business education since I took no business courses in undergrad and then I think my hope was to work with a young company or a startup. I did an internship with a young company then tried to do a small startup with some friends after school.”
Little did he know at the time, though, there were other — far different — plans that he was getting set to walk into.
MOBILE APP IDEAS: SIMPLE TO STEAL. BOOKS, NOT SO MUCH
After obtaining his McCombs MBA, Perlow returned to Washington. While working for a think tank there, his frustrations with D.C.’s Metro system grew as he traveled to and from work. Those frustrations led to the development of a new mobile app.
“In D.C., you never know what the problem is, or that there is a problem, but there were a lot of problems,” Perlow says in reference to train delays, mechanical issues, and the like. “I would search Twitter and I could find the problem there because other people who knew would tweet about it. So I wondered if there was a way to search all of Twitter and get an alert about subway problems before you go to try to catch a train.”
With that, Perlow got busy. He developed the idea into a working app that would search Twitter for results pertaining to D.C.’s Metro. If there were a high number of results in a short time period, users would be alerted.
“For maybe six months, it worked well,” Perlow recalls. “As I’m sure you can imagine, there are a lot of subway time arrival apps for mobile devices. In D.C. there were plenty. I sold some — not millions — but I sold a bunch.”
Things were looking up until he began noticing other apps integrating the same features and functionality of his app. “I can’t do anything about that. Apple or Google aren’t going to come to my defense. There’s nothing to be done about it.”
Then, as fate would have it, it was on the DC subway where he was reading a blog post about publishing books. “What I noticed is if you self-publish on Amazon for a digital book, you get the same royalties as publishing an app in the Apple or Android app store. So I kind of figured, ‘Well if I wrote a book, no one would be able to copy it and I wouldn’t have the same problem as with developing a mobile app.’ That started the process where I went on to write books instead.”
NO WRITING EXPERIENCE NECESSARY
With no prior background in writing or any intent to become a full-fledged author, Perlow set out to work on his first piece: a short story that ended up being the opening chapter to his very first novel.
“I always knew I was creative and that I really enjoyed being creative. Once I started writing, though, I realized how much I enjoyed being able to be completely creative. As a web or app developer, creative freedom is there, but there are still constraints. With fiction, the constraints are very few. In writing my first story, I realized how good a fit it was with me and how much I enjoyed it.”
Perlow’s genre of choice: dark fantasy and he likens his stories to that of Anne Rice. “She was most famous for Interview with the Vampire. Honestly, I like to say my books should be familiar to her fans. But I think there are also elements of the underworld movies and even some parts of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
Since 2011, six books have been published by the McCombs MBA, five of which are part of his “Vampires and the Life of Erin Rose” series. The latest installment is a new first entry into the series called Choosing a Master which was released in January.
“When I started, I hadn’t written before 2011,” Perlow says. “The first book was a good story, I liked it, and I thought it was well written, but — to be frank — I became a better writer over the course of the series. I always wished that the absolute best work was at beginning of the series, not at the end. So a year and a half ago, I decided to write book one and move everything else in the series over.”
This creative and entrepreneurial freedom, says Perlow, is one of the joys of self-publishing. “For me to write a new book one, was a decision that was completely my own. In traditional publishing, I don’t think that would’ve happened.”
WHAT’S WITH ALL THE VAMPIRES? ‘AT THE END OF THE DAY, THEY’RE LIKE HUMANS TO EXTREMES’
Though Perlow’s books center around fictional blood-sucking vampire characters, he says his stories are very human in nature. “Vampires are fun. At the end of the day, they’re like humans to extremes.”
Perlow further explains, “A human might crave companionship in terms of a husband, wife, or good friends at the very least. Vampires, since they need human blood, they need that connection so there’s an extreme there. Another thing I like to think about is that, as humans, our decisions we make are important but we only have 80 years, 100 years, or however long we live and then we’re done. For vampires, if they’re going to live for 1,000 years, the decisions they are going to stay with them during that time. It’s another way that they are humans to an extreme.”
Readers seem to appreciate it. One review of the latest release reads: “This genre-reviving inaugural entry is cleverly paced and plotted with serpentine flourishes and enough action and romance to satisfy fans of Anne Rice as well as fantasy readers. A solid, enduring, addictive vampire epic.”
Though Perlow wouldn’t disclose how many books have sold, he says he’s pleased with sales and with his reviews. “It’s mostly good things readers are saying which is good. Once you start getting reviews, the positive ones are good, but even specific things they say they didn’t like is all really informative and can help you craft subsequent books. Some of my favorite reviews are the ones with three stars that are thoughtful and really explain why some things worked and some things didn’t. I’m not changing everything to respond to reviews, but on the other hand, the feedback is incredibly valuable.”
B-SCHOOL LESSONS AND WHAT’S NEXT
For others who may be thinking of pursuing a writing career or B-schoolers wondering if it’s possible to deviate from business to pursue other passions, Perlow says the answer is simply to stop wondering and do it.
“Think about valuing a company or negotiating a deal. You can sit around thinking about it forever or open up the spreadsheet and try to value it. When you think about writing, and what the opportunity might be like, you can size the market and think of best case or middle case or worst case. It’s the same kind of thing. You sit around wondering or open the spreadsheet and come up with projections that are interesting to make you motivated to write. It might be the case that you write just because you love it — which is wonderful — but this is an alternative way to look at it.”
Next up for for the McCombs MBA/author is more writing, more tech freelancing, and possibly going back into a more traditional full-time role.
“I’m not sure what’s next,” says Perlow who loved the Austin area so much that he returned about five years ago. “Writing-wise, I’m planning to do more. I’m sure I’ll write another book, I don’t know if it’ll be right away or later, but eventually for sure.”