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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

Literary Agent Rachel Vater on Why it's a bad idea to jump genres unless you can manage to write two books a year, every year.

What she said.

(And yes, somebody is saying, but Bear, aren't you writing for five different publishers in four different subgenres?)

Yes. I'm publishing science fiction with Bantam Spectra, heroic fantasy (with truepenny) for Tor, urban fantasy/secret history (You know, that Tim Powers subgenre) for Roc, an alternate history collection for Subterranean, and a short fiction collection with Night Shade. (And Sarah and I are peddling a YA historical mystery, but those are just fun to write.)

Charles Stross is another good example of a relatively new (where pro for the last decade is still kinda new, in publishing terms) writer who's doing the same thing (He's got his more-or-less hard SF, his Laundry books, and the Family Trade series going on.) I also know several other writers who are writing two or three subgenres under different names. (y'all could identify yourselves, if you wanted.)

I'm also writing two or three books a year, and I was doing it for long enough before I broke into print that I had a convenient backlog. And I wouldn't be writing for more than one publisher if my publishers weren't each so interested in maintaining a brand.

This is how it worked. Spectra bought the Jenny books, option on the next F or SF novel. The option novel I sent them was B&I. They passed for a complex of reasons, one of them being that Anne-my-wily-editor thought it would be smarter to keep the science fiction coming.

...now, at this point, my contract with Spectra was officially terminated. Neither one of us owed the other a damned thing. And if I were the type to get huffy, I could have stalked off and taken my business elsewhere. All well and good, sure. And we did take B&I elsewhere--to Roc, which bought it.

But instead of the huff, Jenn-my-agent-Jenn and I decided that, well, if they want science fiction we'll give them science fiction. And I wanted to write Carnival anyway, and had finished a hundred pages of that, so we sent that in as a proposal.

...Suddenly, I have two publishers.

A year later, repeat this process with A Companion to Wolves, which was first submitted to Penguin (which publishes both Sarah and me, in its respective corporate persons as Ace and Roc), rejected there, submitted to Spectra, rejected there, and bought by the lovely people at Tor.

...as the previous itinerary post would tend to indicate, I don't currently plan to terminate my relationships with Spectra or Roc unless they invite me to seek publication opportunities elsewhere. So, at this point, I have three mainstream publishers, and two small press publishers. This means I have three different option clauses (none of which can contradict each other), and it also means that my publishers have to be willing to coordinate publication schedules, because it does nobody any good if three eBear novels hit the shelves in the same week. That is what we call a glut on the market.

It's no good.

I think this tale demonstrates several things, though. (1) Persistence is good. (2) Publishers reject books, not authors. (3) Unless that author's a complete pain to work with (4) or her numbers are bad, in which case if you come back with a good book, you can always change your name. (5) It is possible to be quite successful while playing within the rules. (6) I still make what Rachel Vater would consider pretty sucky advances. *g* (7) On the other hand, I'm also getting to build a reputation faster than most new writers do, and that's pretty exciting. (8) No matter how fast you write, you can only publish so many books in a year (9) but if you have more than one publisher, they will most likely each expect a book each year and (10) there's no joy for anybody if you overproduce, and write crap because of it.

Nor is there any joy for anybody if you underproduce, and nobody remembers your first book by the time the second one is out.


I'm so hosed.

(she said miserably.)
what makes you say that?
I have two very distinct professional writing lives, both under my own name. I write both non-fiction political commentary and journalism and historical fantasy.

I've been having trouble selling my novel and now I think I see why.

Pen name!

Really? you think it could be that simple?
If the problem's not the marketability of the book, sure. It's what everybody else does when they're trying to jump genres.

(long exhale)

well it's worth a try anyway. :D
An important thing to note is that as far as I know Ms. Vater either mainly reps fiction, and reading through her post there's no mention of non-fiction, just different genres within fiction. In other words, I wouldn't assume that, to whatever extent she's right, it applies to you.

My advice would be to talk to your agent about it, and if you don't have one....ummmm....then getting one might be a good plan.
well, yes. I'm sorry; I was assuming.
Eeek. No need to apologize. I wasn't disagreeing with your reponse, I just have this fear of people making big changes because of something they've read on the internet (in this case Vater's post) that may not entirely apply to their situation.
I have one. He says that NPR is sexy and I shouldn't worry.

He is, however, reluctant to sell my fantasy as fantasy and I wondered why (besides the entire lower-advance thing). I think I get it now.
Well, there are certainly agents who are more comfortable on one side of the non-fiction/fiction divide than the other. I'm not sure how what Ms. Vater wrote applies to whether your agent markets your novel as fantasy or general fiction (or whatever) though, unless you've got other ideas for novels that aren't also fantasy.
grr. argh. I don't know either, you see.

I also don't know if I'm not freaking out prematurely. It hasn't even been a year yet. I don't know anything. I've never tried to sell a book before. I'm used to newspapers and wire services and twice daily deadlines. My agent is great and a fabu editor but he's not very warm and fuzzy, if you know what I mean, so I'm trying not to freak At Him, but I may be playing it so cool that he thinks I don't really care about the manuscript at all ...


Okay, breaks over, back on my head.
I expect he assumes you care a lot about your novel, even if you don't express it all that often, just because writers usually do. And a year really isn't all that long in publishing time, especially if he's going the slow and steady route rather than using the shotgun approach. Some editors are notoriously slow when it comes to actually reading something, even when they quite like the agent who submitted it. So it may be a bit early to panic.

I suspect you are right. It's my own general sense of ignorance that gets to me. Like perhaps there's this Very Important Thing that everyone knows about the process that I've missed, and I'll wake up one morning and figure out I should have sent it out on neon green paper or something. But it will be too late, because everyone else knew about the neon green thing ...

Nor is there any joy for anybody if you underproduce, and nobody remembers your first book by the time the second one is out.

Oh, look, there's me, nattering about fast writing again.

:: agrees with the bear in every particular ::
Although I'm comfortable writing 2-3 novels a year with a fulltime non-writing job, I'm starting to wonder, in recent years, if I've hit that "overproducing" bug. IE. Sure, I could write 2-3 good novels (publishable? Dunno, but better than current novels have been) before, but things have changed in my life, and I think I'm too busy trying to keep to my standards as the quality of the novel goes down.

Part of the problem is boredom. If I stick to a product (at a stage, like first draft or revision) for more than about 3 months, I get bored. So I usually end up writing fast first drafts which needs varying amounts of revision.

Anyway. My plan, someday, after I'm selling, is to write YA fantasy, adult fantasy, and maybe paranormal romance (but I'm rethinking this one). It won't happen overnight, but all these discussions are good for my dream career planning :D I want to write 2-3 books a year because, um, otherwise, I'd get bored. Someday I'll learn how to make them all good and balance them. But I don't think I can sell them all in the same market.

*end babble*
This is kinda why I don't (yet) write SF.
Nor is there any joy for anybody if you underproduce, and nobody remembers your first book by the time the second one is out.

Unless it's a series.

Every writer is different. A book a year with the full-time dayjob broke me after three books. It works if you're naturally a fast writer. If you're not--and I most definitely am not--you may need to consider another path. What that path is--no clue as of yet. But I didn't learn that the grind wasn't for me until I was in the middle of it, and it scared the hell out of me. Because I was starting to hate writing, and if I reach that point, there is no point.
amen to that, sister.
I have one question: how the f*** did you write all that in...what? Less than ten years? Five? It's f***ing crazy!
I think you may be confusing some of your readers. Vater is pointing to difficulties that can arise in trying to simultaneously pursue careers in two different fiction genres. You're not doing anything particularly comparable. The "subgenres" you describe may be important distinctions to you, to your readers, and to some reviewers and critics, but the commercially pertinent fact is that, for now at least, all your books get shelved in the same section of the bookstore.

I'm sure you know this perfectly well, but I spell it out anyway.
Good point, and thank you.
I'd like to add that anyone who hasn't been in a room with you, Lake, Butcher, Murphy...well, it ain't the same energy as being in a room with George RR Martin, for example. Ya'll have a fire in the belly...and you ooze the stuff from every molecule.