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March 2017

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bear by san

Wacky Neopro Answers to all your publishing questions, part the whatever part this is.

An email from a friend of a friend arrived today, asking in part--"Congratulations on your impending first novel-Hammered's an awesome title... from what I understand Hammered is the opening salvo in a series, and that you sold not one but three books to Bantam. I'm intensely curious about the dynamics of selling sci-fi series to publishers/agents, as that's precisely what I'm about to start trying to do."



Well, here's the thing. Overwhelmingly, I'd recommend diversity. I have a trilogy (All the Windwracked Stars, The Sea thy Mistress, and By the Mountain Bound sitting in the trunk right now because I wrote all three books before I sold the first one. No guarantee that I'll ever be able to sell any of them.

Other than that, the answer is, you get lucky with an editor who really likes your work and is willing to take a mad chance on you.

What happened in my particular case is that I had queried arcaedia on the first novel of the trilogy and been requested to send her my synop and three. She read that, asked for the full MS, and then contacted me and said, "I'm sorry, but I can't sell this as a first novel. But do you have anything else finished?" (This process took over a year, by the way, so I had plenty of time to work on other projects.)

So I sent her the draft of HAMMERED and also fifty pages of another novel, a fantasy now called BLOOD & IRON, although this was three or four titles ago. And she contacted me back about three months later and said, "I'd like to represent you."

Huzzah! But wait, we're not out of the woods yet. *g*

I did some rewrites on HAMMERED to her request so that she could start looking for a publisher for it, and finished BLOOD & IRON and sent it off to her for comment. And then I started writing the sequel to HAMMERED, which is called SCARDOWN, unless that changes in press. arcaedia sent HAMMERED out to a publisher and we waited for a response.

Meanwhile (there's a lot of 'meanwhile' in this story), I finished two or three drafts of SCARDOWN and shipped that off to her, and started writing another book, called THE STRATFORD MAN, and a YA novel (THE COBBLER'S BOY) with a collaborator, truepenny.

arcaedia came back with some pretty stern comments on B&I (and she was right, as she usually is, but she sent me screaming into the night in a panic of "I can't do this! It's too hard!" for a while), and I back-burnered that while we finished THE COBBLER'S BOY and I kept working on THE STRATFORD MAN. truepenny's agent wasn't interested in representing non-speculative YA and arcaedia was, so we sent _that_ off to arcaedia once we had it finished. (Elapsed time now eighteen months or so.)

Anne Groell at Bantam Spectra called arcaedia with an offer on HAMMERED and "whatever I wrote next." This is where my smart, funny, good-looking, and very sharp agent really earns her measly 15% *g*

Since arcaedia had SCARDOWN sitting on her desk at that point, she told Anne that she'd seen a draft of the sequel, and that it was complete (HAMMERED completes an internal plot arc, but the external arc is left on a bit of a cliffhanger), and, since we had talked about my writing plan, arcaedia also mentioned that I had a three-book plot arc in mind. To make a long story short, Anne made an offer on all three, with an option on a fourth book. (Which will be BLOOD & IRON, or maybe the reworked ALL THE WINDWRACKED STARS.) And arcaedia handed me a bucketload of comments on SCARDOWN, and I finished the first draft of THE STRATFORD MAN and started rewriting SCARDOWN.

(Please note, at this point-- e Bear's score:

Novels completed: 8 (not counting some things that are trunked like an elephant going on a two-month vacation).

Novels sold: 3

Novels in circulation: 1

Novels waiting their turn in the barrel: *cough* 5, which would be 6, except I'm rewriting All The Windwracked Stars and The Sea Thy Mistress into one book.

Novels under contract but not yet written: 1

Novels begun, and waiting time to get them written, or a reasonable excuse to proceed--like selling whatever they're a sequel to--Whisky & Water, One-Eyed Jack, A Treachery of Princes, and two or three others of considerably less urgency even than those. I am unlikely to run out of ideas.

Complete ground-up rewrites (not draft revisions, but gutting the damned thing and more or less starting over) completed on spec, without being paid: 3

Fairly complex revisions of books that sold: 2

Elapsed time: 2 years.)

And that's why it's good to have fallback positions, and to keep your options open. Because the reasons I sold a not-really-a-trilogy aren't necessarily reproducible, and come down to right manuscript, right desk, right day.

Meanwhile, my collaborator, truepenny, sold two books (MELUSINE and KEKROPIA) to Ace about a month and a half before I sold HAMMERED, SCARDOWN, and WORLDWIRED to Bantam. But they decided to wait on picking up the second two books in what's planned as a four-book series.

She's certainly as good a writer as I am--perhaps better--and as fantasy, her work's likely to sell better (numbers on fantasy are usually better than numbers on science fiction). But I sold three books and she sold two. Freak show. Proud to be a part of it. Run while you can.

So really, just luck of the draw--although truepenny's books are starting in hardcover and mine are starting mass market paperback.

Also meanwhile, THE COBBLER'S BOY and its unwritten but planned sequels are still out looking for a home and collecting the flattering rejections--so selling one book quickly is no guarantee that the same fate will obtain for the next book, even if it's well-written, tightly plotted, and features a likeable protag. (Reading off our rejection slips here....)

So, I think the short form is that all you ever really sell is the book on the table, and whatever the editor in question is willing to gamble on your future. Unless you're a much higher-powered writer than any of us, you don't actually sell a series so much as get a lucky offer because an editor likes what he sees. So I would recommend polishing up that manuscript, looking for an agent, and working on something else, just in case that first one doesn't pan out.



Yours for transparency in publishing,

--Bear.

Comments

"I'm sorry, but I can't sell this as a first novel."

What exactly does that mean? It sounds rather qualified -- "I can't sell this as a first novel, but let's go back to it after you've published something else as your first novel." Or something.

Why was that ms. not saleable as a first novel?

Or perhaps this is actually a question for arcaedia, who actually said it?

I say wacky stuff like that all the time, as an editor. And I mean it when I say it, and I like to think I know what I'm talking about when I say it. But I don't edit novels, and so a comment like that makes no sense to me. Help?
I can definitely see how that would be the case. A new author is an unknown quantity, in a very literal sense -- if a publisher doesn't know how well a book from a new author is going to sell, I can understand that they probably wouldn't want to start out with that author's quirkiest manuscript.

But what about the flip side -- what about trying to sell that manuscript as a first novel because it's nontraditional and so different? Wouldn't that be possible at some houses, ones that were willing to take risks? Or is it such an impractical idea that truly nobody would take on a quirky manuscript from an unfamiliar writer? I keep thinking there have gotta be exceptions to any such "rule."

This is all very interesting. Thanks for chiming in.
I dunno. I don't sell novels. I just write them. Jenn sells them. *g* That's why we pay her the big bucks.

As I understand it, it's generally more common to start off with something that suits an established marketing catgory, and save the quirky stuff for when one is established as a 'brand' unto oneself.

The Edda of Burdens (as that series of books are collectively nouned) are really, really, really weird. We're talking cyberpunk noir Norse fantasy that timehops, tackles things nonsequentially, and tells a different story depending on what order you read the three books in--and they can be read in any order. They're not high fantasy, they're not SF, and they're not cyberpunk. And to make it even more confusing, all three books (all both books now) are more or less different genre categories, because they deal with different points in a two-millenium timespan.
This makes me happy, because T and I were talking about how we're kind of sick of retellings and wish people would take folklore and myth and shtuff off in entirely new directions, tell new stories with it. Which is what I'm trying to do in two different ways with Dwarf's Blood Mead and the Not The Moose, but it's always good to hear of people doing what I've been saying more people should.
*Most* retellings bore the pants off me. On the other hand, I use a lot of myth in my work--BLOOD & IRON is an unholy love child of Tam Lin (and a few dozen other ballads), Arthuriana, and urban fantasy. I do love to see the old tropes made fresh. (For example, pegkerr's The Wild Swans, which does some amazing things with that particular fairy-tale.)

I tend to believe that the folk process is about reinventing, not simply making faithful student copies. Or, to put it another way, why bother covering a tune if you're going to perform it the same way the band that did it first did?

So, I guess the short form is, I'm with you 100%.
Oh dear. My current project is the secret history of Greek mythology, by way of sex farce. Sounds likely to bore you, if the farce doesn't amuse.

---L.
Alas, being Swedish and Ukrainian, I have no sense of humor anyway, so farces are wasted on me.
Ah, well. So much for my plan for world domination.

---L.
As above, so below. IOW, I'm focusing more on heroes than gods. Combine outsized sex drives with the whole honor/reputation fetish, add a whipped topping of irony, and you've got narrative gold.

---L.
Hamilton was something of a prude. But then, my premise is that so were Ovid (and Chaucer for that matter), so salt to taste.

---L.
Yeah, I would classify the Kerr as a reinvention rather than a straight-up retelling. But the line between the two may be the same as the line between dark fantasy and horror. (That is, stuff I like is the former and stuff I don't like is the latter.) Which would be lame of me, I know. Hmm.

We're doing a Tam Lin collab, me and Timprov, so obviously I don't think retellings are entirely the work of Satan. But the part of The True Tale of Carter Hall that interests me is the part I'm already working on: what happens after the ballad is over? Can they just skip along, tra la, oh well, I didn't get sacrificed to hell after all? It may be overkill that Puck and Baba Yaga and Death's dumpy daughters have gotten involved, but I guess I don't really care.
cyberpunk noir Norse fantasy that timehops, tackles things nonsequentially, and tells a different story depending on what order you read the three books in

OK, I want.

eBear, you damn well better become a big enough name to sell these because I want to read them. And sooner rather than later, too.
Well, we're doing our best over here in eBear Pimping Central. *g*
When your pub date gets appropriately close, just make sure that we in the eBear Pimp Brigade get all the proper reminders so we can flood the world with your pimpage.
Do not worry about that!
Hi, there... I always think it's kind of interesting to see what gets singled out in a long dissertation like eBear's concerning her first novel sale here. It happens over on my LJ too sometimes.

In any case, what I meant when I said that to her was more of - "it's not time for this book yet." (And, she did somewhat oversimplify my response - heh.) There are a lot of factors that went into my saying that. I liked the writing. I liked the character. I liked the challenges in the book. It was certainly enough to get me to ask for more (which is very telling in its own way these days considering my volume of submissions). But I thought it would be a very difficult book to sell for a number of the reasons eBear mentions herself. The crux of the matter, I think, is that part of an agent's job these days is to balance between art and commerce (e.g. author and publisher) in an attempt to maximize the potential for both. In the case of a first novel, I need to put the author in the strongest position possible in order to beat out the competition. Why take a long shot, when we can take another project out and have a stronger advantage? Just out of curiousity -- I jotted a quick note off to eBear's editor and asked her how many first novels she acquired in 2003, the year in which Hammered sold. She told me in the last two years, she's bought five. I've been in her office, and I've seen the stack of submissions -- and those are just the partials and fulls requested, not the myriad of queries. It's a long shot just to sell a first novel to start with.

Selling something non-traditional and different isn't impossible. It's just tougher. And what you also have to consider is where that author is going to go down the road. If their first novel is something that doesn't lend itself to a large readership out of the gate, will their numbers suffer and will the publisher then find it necessary to not pick up their next novel? Far better, I think, to establish a readership first, in that case.

So, what would have happened if she'd come back and told me that was all she had? I can only speculate. It's entirely possible I might have given it a shot anyway. I'm stubborn. I know what I like. I just have to keep going until I find the other people who like it. It once took me two and a half years to sell a novel. But I knew it had something. I just had to find the editor that agreed. Sometimes you just have to dig in your heels until art wins out. On the other hand, I have a crowded list of clients and I'm competing for a limited number of publication slots with a lot of other agented writers and, in some cases, unagented writers. I have to maximize my potential too. So, I might have left it at -- show me something else when you've got it, let's stay in touch. I did that with someone else once after rejecting their first book, and roughly three years later, I ended up taking on a different book and selling it.

Hmmmm.....rambling.....Did it answer the question?
Everything about Chelsea is gorgeous.

collaboration

BTW, are you willing to talk about how you collaborated with truepenny, the mechanics of how you handled it? I find collaboration stories interesting, for some reason.

---L.

Re: collaboration

I'm not sure you can claim any mechanics. We were talking about Kit Marlowe, and doin some speculation, and one of us said "That would be a cool idea for a YA book" and the other one said "Think we could write it?" and so we did.

We had kind of a very general outline, and whenever one of us got bored, we'd kick it to the other one--meanwhile swapping emails like mad things--and we copy edited each other as we went, using Word's 'track changes' feature to keep an eye on what was new. Then we took a couple of passes through with the fine comb.

I don't think I could collaborate with somebody with whom I felt the need for ground rules. My process is too random and fraught with AHA! moments. *g* Also, I think it worked because neither one of us is particularly wedded to our vision or our words, so we could roll with one another's punches and get joy out of the wacky curves we threw each other.

Also, we were working in a historical time frame we both knew intimately, and we both knew the sort of feel we wanted the book to have.

Re: collaboration

<nods> I call that method "pass the football" — run with it for a while then toss it to the other. As far as I can tell, this works only if both writers outline to similar levels (wedded-to-one's-words levels seem irrelevant — but then, don't-touch-my-prose writers are more likely to get into alternate POV collaborations, or be the polisher of alternating drafts).

For the passes with a fine-tooth comb, alternate passes through or more or less together?

---L.

Re: collaboration

Whatever the spirit moves. *g*
well, that depends if you have 'basket accounting' or separate accounting. All of the books in my series are accounted separately--that is to say, their royalties are only accounted against their own advances.

Which, I agree, is absolutely the way to go.