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Contract closure


I signed the contract that, in bits and pieces, I typed in over the course of the last month or two (thank you for your restraint vis a vis typos <wry g>. And then I waited.

A lot of that waiting, in this business. Nothing is read quickly, unless for some reason you're pressing up against a production deadline, in which case there's severe anxiety and a sense of doom and dread that properly belongs in a Lovecraft pastiche. But I digress. After the book was sold, I was then asked to edit it. Which I did. The editing was much easier for me than the initial writing had been. This has always been true, with the single exception of my third published novel, which was a "pitch out and start over". Edits finished, I sent it back. And waited.

I discovered the joys of line-editing. As in, being line-edited. My editor at the time said I was difficult to line-edit because she wanted to make certain what she did didn't work against my voice. She was fabulous, but I found it very disconcerting to read the manuscript through those edits. To wonder why a sentence had been cut (sob) or rearranged; to wonder what it brought -- or took away -- from the book that she thought it needed to be done in the first place. I went through the first chapter that way, and then asked why -- for one chapter's worth; I learned a fair amount from those discussions. (I remember, most clearly, her point that my syllabic rhythm was often the same when things were intense textually; the sentences themselves were completely different, but she wanted to vary the beat of the language.)

I discovered the joy of copy-editors, up to a point. I had one neutral one (as in didn't notice or catch or change anything at all, which was unfortunate, as I'd blocked a river name as an 'XXX' which I hadn't bothered to look up, and it was in the galleys), and a very good one (he did three of the four books; he made one inexplicable mistake, but other than that, noticed a bunch of things that were slightly off in his queries, which had a lot to do with the less than crystal clarity of things like stated character ages.

And I discovered, later again, cover art.

I will be fairly blunt: I hated the first book cover. I understand what they were trying to do -- but I had been in the bookstore for long enough to know, instantly, that it wouldn't sell. Which is to say, I looked at it dispassionately as a cover that had been presented to me and, given the unknown factors involved, and the cover itself, I would have gone low on the book. Period. (The cover type was, otoh, good).

Was this bad? Yes. It was bad. On the other hand, there wasn't much that could be done about it. I wasn't the lead title; I was the third of four titles published that December, and while in theory December is a good month to be published, it was still a first book by someone who had no track record. The reps managed to get the chains to "increase their stand", by which the editor meant they ordered more than they normally order of a book in that position for that line.

And the book didn't sell well. For whatever reason, it just didn't. The returns were too high, given the numbers that were shipped, and the reorders too low. The second book had only a slightly better cover, and it came out six months later, and it shipped just slightly less -- but it certainly didn't ship more.

No foreign editions exist of the book; it wasn't picked up by anyone. All of the contract provisions which had so worried me? They ended up meaning almost nothing. Or nothing, really. The book was published in 1991, and by sometime in 1994, the last of the stock that had been printed disappeared (or the second printing did), and it wasn't reprinted. My only moment of slight unhappiness (yes, that's an unusual and not entirely correct use of the world slight, why do you ask?) was that I was promised that all three of the first books would be in print while the fourth book was published; the third of the three was out of print in about six months, and it was never reprinted.

I still get email about those four books.

All of which was happening when I was at home with my first child for the first year of his life. I was hysterical with lack of sleep, and a woman who was used to being in control of pretty much everything about her life saw all of her life as an impending disaster over which she had no control. Type A personalities do not do well in these situations. I'm just saying.

So in the panic, in the rising worry that I would not, in fact, have the writing to sustain me intellectually while I tried to figure out what the hell I was doing as a mother, I hit upon a Clever Plan: I would, because I could write a novel in six months (<cue laughter here>) start another set of books, with a different publisher, and that would be DAW because Tanya loved them, and I loved the fact that they were capable of standing behind the books in a way that editors in a much larger organization were not allowed to. So I wrote 4 chapters and a single page outline for three books (I've mentioned how good I am at outlines, so I won't bore you with the whining again), and sent that to DAW, while I finished the first of two new books for Del Rey.

And when the third of the four Del Rey books was demonstrably not in print as promised (it was OSI, or Out of Stock Indefinitely), I thought about my options for a few days.

We pulled the two novels sold to Del Rey from them (this being the Agent and I we, rather than the royal we <g>); we sold them to DAW instead. You will note that this meant that DAW now owned 5 of my books. One of their authors was a wee bit late on a deadline, and it was a bit of a pressing deadline, and they had a finished manuscript of mine, and the art, so they slotted my book into his slot. That was HUNTER'S OATH. DEATH followed.

Then, instead of writing the Shadow War trilogy, I wrote the duology I had planned next for the Hunter Universe. <cough cough cough>. Well, yes. Six books of it.

And here we are. It's ten years later. Books have been written since the failure of that first book, and published since said failure; the world didn't end. I didn't stop writing. I didn't feel worthless. I did feel enormously stressed, but I tend to do that at the midpoint of almost every novel I've ever written <wry g>.

The novel clauses that cause stress and worry didn't actually last for long enough to bite me in the back -- and I can say with a certain grim cheer that the books I loved best in my class of '91, some written by new novelists, such as I, and some written by somewhat more established authors, are mostly out of print. That three quarters of what I see on the shelves now will, in a year or a year and a half, be mostly out of print.

The important thing for me to remember during the early years was this, and it was a mantra (and yes, zhaneel69, you brought back memories): I have control of the writing, and only the writing. I have control of who I submit to, but not control over what's done with the book while it's there; the only research I can do is to look at the publisher and their treatment of previous books or series that are at least similar -- but even that's not control, it's just some shade of knowledge.

And hell, Gene Wolfe's books went out of print. I mean -- GENE WOLFE. In any universe in which that can happen, anything can. (For the record, Tor eventually picked up and reprinted, in Trade over-size, almost everything I can think of, so there's some balance in continuing to soldier onward <g>.)

Now? I have 8 books that are in print with DAW, a short story collection with FiveStar; the next DAW book will be out in hardcover (and I owe them two). I've three Sagara novels coming from Luna over the next couple of years. I'm working on a Young Adult novel on the side, something that's grown out of a YA novella that Julie Czerneda asked me to write for Summoned To Destiny, a YA anthology she edited (we have it at the store. We had a launch for it at the store. It was very, very crowded, and fun up to the point at which my socializing energy petered out; I don't remember what happened much after about 4:30, except that I hit Ed Greenwood several times). That's not sold yet <g>.

And the first of my novels, ever, will be reprinted by BenBella Books in 2005 as well; the intent is to bring all four out, publishing one every six months starting in September of 2005.

And everything could change, because so much often does. I try to take joy in the stories, in the fact of the books (but I'm a bibliophile, so that's easier), in the fact that they did exist, and that I have them. That other people read them. That some of them liked or loved them. (And didn't).

So: learning about the industry: good. Getting enraged about the industry: bad. Getting bitten by the industry and getting bitter: reasonable, perfectly understandable -- but in the end, it doesn't really help you. You've got control of the words, and the words are precious in that regard; they're what you have. If it doesn't work once, you can try to figure out what didn't work, and you can always try again.

Any questions?


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 18th, 2004 05:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, but Michelle, we love the six novels that came out of that imagined duology. I forced them onto someone I know, and he now loves them too. I don't think he's read the Hunters books though... Must remedy that.

This was very informative. Thanks for writing it up. :)
Oct. 18th, 2004 07:06 pm (UTC)
Out of curiosity, what's your opinion of FiveStar? A coworker just got an offer on his novel from them.

Oct. 18th, 2004 07:22 pm (UTC)
This is Michelle working. See Michelle Work. See Michelle avoid work. (I finally hit a stop in the attack novel, which I'm hoping to thump. Unfortunately, it requires a working brain).

Out of curiosity, what's your opinion of FiveStar? A coworker just got an offer on his novel from them.

I love the cover they did for the book that I published with them. I love the book, in that I love having it (did I mention bibliophile?). But in order to get the book at the bookstore we had to jump through phone-rings with special codes. FiveStar is part of the Gale Group, and it sells direct to the library market.

I was told that they were trying to enter the retail market with the trade paperback release which is in theory coming in November of 2004, but... I still have no clear idea of how to get from there to the bookstore without some difficulty. I know that Ingram was originally selling the book -- to retail stores -- at it's cover price.

I worked with Russell Davis there, but I believe he's left. So, it would depend a bit on how things have changed.

I wanted the stories in one book for me, so I'm not unhappy. But it was made clear initially that those stories wouldn't be bookstore accessible with any ease.

I think they're trying to change this; I don't know how well it's worked. I would probably try to shop the novel around a bit to a more mainstream publisher solely for the distribution -- but a distributor may have picked the FiveStar line up for the trade, as opposed to the libraries, since my book was turned in and published.

How's that for not much of an answer?
Oct. 19th, 2004 08:08 am (UTC)
Useful. Thanks.

Oct. 18th, 2004 07:15 pm (UTC)
BTW, I recently acquired said first four books (thanks to a lucky break on ebay). Haven't read 'em yet, though, but I know what you mean about the cover - if I didn't already know your work, I doubt I would have picked it up. But I readily admit to being a cover art snob. :)
Oct. 19th, 2004 06:55 am (UTC)
BTW, I recently acquired said first four books (thanks to a lucky break on ebay). Haven't read 'em yet, though, but I know what you mean about the cover - if I didn't already know your work, I doubt I would have picked it up. But I readily admit to being a cover art snob. :)

The point is that almost all of us are cover snobs. While we might fundamentally be certain that the quality of the book and the quality of the cover are not related, it's the cover that usually draws our eye first.

From the bookstore perspective, covers do matter; it's why I had an automatic numeric reaction to the cover. The cover's part of what we buy on. It's all of the book (usually) we'll see before we make our initial order. We have upped orders in the past based on ARCs, but those usually arrive a bit later.

So... in my case, I think my automatic reaction had some merit -- but as it wasn't going to be used to change anything, there wasn't much point in having a great, hairy fit.
Oct. 18th, 2004 08:31 pm (UTC)
Simply said, "Thank you."

Not so simply said, "Thank you for your patience in transcribing the whole contract and explaining it to us. Thank you for writing such insightful stories of whatever length. Thank you for being willing to talk to and write about writing, publishing and selling. Thank you."
Oct. 19th, 2004 06:56 am (UTC)
Not so simply said, "Thank you for your patience in transcribing the whole contract and explaining it to us. Thank you for writing such insightful stories of whatever length. Thank you for being willing to talk to and write about writing, publishing and selling. Thank you."

Thank you <wry g>. Umm, and thank you for the Chocolates, cookies, and company at the Summoned to Destiny launch, or, in fact, at any of the other signings you've come up for over the years. We offer support in different ways, but the source is similar, I think.
Oct. 19th, 2004 01:15 am (UTC)
Thank you for doing this. Just wanted to say it.
Oct. 19th, 2004 11:34 am (UTC)
Huge thanks for doing this.

And I still get jolted out of your writing when my name comes up. There's a part of me that just goes "Gah! She reads my stuff!" and whatnot. Something about a pro author noticing a non. Anyhow, the personal bit aside.

I enjoyed reading this. I'm reading Mary Anne's journey through her first collection that is coming out, though she's had a slightly less bumpy road [due to a large short story library and established readership] but the process is very simliar for a first book.

Oct. 19th, 2004 11:44 am (UTC)
I think that Mary Anne's journey probably has a viscerality to it that mine lacks; mine is a hindsight journey in many ways. I'm looking back on things, but I don't remember with the same clarity the things that made me nervous or crazy at that time.

I just have a sense that nothing is really over unless you close the door, and that's pretty much what I learned from the experience. That there are things to strive for, and things to let go, and the tricky part is deciding which is which.

I mentioned you because you were making the point to yourself that I think bears making over and over: That we control the words, and everything about them. And not a whole lot about the rest of the process. But controlling the words does count.

(And yes, I read your LJ; I sometimes catch your blog, but I confess I usually sit down and try frantically to read my flist, and everything else falls after. I have RSS feeds linked for many outside blogs, like John Scalzi's Whatever, or tnh's Making Light, or pnh's Electrolite, and I like to read Rivka's Otters (yes, I'm forgetting the actual name, and yes, lazy).

When you're my age (I know, I know, but humour me, my mother gene was activated in 1993), you'll probably do the same thing; the divide between pro and non is just not that great, except in the eyes of the non, if the words & the work are obviously there. I tend to think "only a matter of time" in those cases, because I've been there.
Oct. 19th, 2004 11:55 am (UTC)
I never expect anyone to read my blogs. I'm constantly surprised that people do and comment. Gives me a thrill.

And thanks for the vote of confidence.

I'll allow you the mother gene... just this once. ;-)

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )