Thursday, March 10, 2011
The Book in Question
My feeble attempts to condense as much info into the fewest amount of words have led to some misunderstandings during my "running for the hills" posts. A number of people have contacted me asking when the book that I had been discussing with the Publishing House would see the light of day. My short answer: I don't know.
The long answer is more complicated, so you may not want to read any further. I'm about to ramble.
When "The Editor-in-Chief" contacted me about bringing a book to his Publishing House last August I was quite excited by the prospect. But we had to find a project that suited not just my interests as a writer, but the specific interests of the House as well. In other words, we had to find a good blend of what they want to publish and what I want to write. This is not always as easy as it sounds. The Editor was a fan of my previous books, but those are in my past and I, like all of you out there, change a lot from year to year. My current interests are not the same as they were seven, fourteen, or twenty years ago. We had to sift through about a dozen works-in-progress before we decided on a project that looked like it could suit not just each of our individual interests, but the needs of the Publishing House, the marketing department, the Big Box chain stores, and - wait for it - the readers at large. (Yes, they do eventually factor into these equations.) Since the publication of my last book in 2006 I have been wrestling with many story ideas with the hopes of shooting an arrow through all these moving rings at once. It's a daunting task.
Now, anyone familiar with my past work knows it can be difficult on some readers. My last four books have been peopled by unsavory characters doing unsavory things. These are not Airport Bestsellers. I seem to have a small, loyal cult following, but many of them won't be out on parole for quite a few years. I have about fifteen projects in various forms of development and abandonment. The one I felt was the closest to completion - and which would have more mass market appeal than my previous works - was a piece about Beverly Hills bodyguards. The Editor liked this piece, but he liked another one even better. For our purposes here I'll refer to it as Project X, or X for short. And I'm going to call the Editor "Ed" from here on in to keep this post from eating all your bandwidth.
Now X was only a few thousand words long when Ed read it. But it had the scope and scale that he was looking for. It is a book that takes place over a forty-five year time span and deals with the development of the Special Investigations Section of the L.A.P.D. as a backdrop. The book is a private eye story, a cop story, a political intrigue, a family saga and a historical novel all rolled into one. It's ambitious. And it will take a long time to write. Thus we were discussing the "Big Advance."
I've never liked the idea of taking advances on incomplete works. You are always in a stronger position to make a deal when you have a finished book to shop. And it's good to know that you have the ability to actually finish the work before you make a deal you can't honor. But if I was to abandon my current project to work on this one it was understood that a deal would have to be in place. So we talked money and came up with a floor that we were both comfortable with, a minimum that Ed thought he could get from the Publisher and that I could live with to help bring the project to fruition. It would be up to my agent to try to improve on that number when we all entered the squared circle part of the negotiations.
So, we had the book and we had the concept of the deal. (This was after a few months of back and forth on the various possible projects.) Now I had to generate sample pages that could be taken to the Publisher so that the deal could be approved. I had already written the beginning and end of the book and a number of sections in the middle, but now I needed to generate at least fifty pages that began at the beginning. It took me a few months to kick out the first 68 pages of the book. Ed read them, liked them, and was about to work on his editorial notes so that I could tweak the pages before he presented them to the Publisher. It was at this point that we had the unfortunate discussion that led to the e-split reveal that made me walk away from the deal.
Now I know some of you hard-asses out there will say I wasted a lot of this editor's time. It could be said he wasted mine as well. But these are the risks that both sides take when they try to go into business on a project that is not at least 90% there when negotiations start. I think we were both disappointed that it ended up this way, but I bear him no ill will for the "wasted time." I hope he feels the same way, but only he would know that for sure. We still exchange friendly e-mails. But that's not always the truth of things. I know I still like the guy and hope he and his imprint does well.
The bottom line is, I now have about 30,000 words of a book written that I had no intention of tackling at this time in the first place. I like what's there. But the idea of completing it in the immediate future doesn't seem reasonable now that I am embracing the self-publishing e-world. Now that I can write exactly what I want and know it will see print - and then find its own level of success, no matter how minor a success that is - I no longer feel the need to fire that arrow though all those hoops. The only people I need to satisfy now are myself and whatever reading public I can attract with a cover and a synopsis and a daringly low e-price. No more reading boards, marketing boards, big box chain store purchasers who buy your new book based on the sales of your last book (an idiotic law-of-diminishing-returns policy that helped kill the mid-list). No more rules about story length or lowest-common-denominator thinking or marketing. This is incredibly liberating. I dig it.
But now what do I do? I have to go back to the files. Figure out what story I want to write most. And then write it. I can tell you two things: It won't be the book I was working on for Ed. That book is going back into the pot to simmer for a few years. And whatever I do write, it won't be ready any time soon. It takes me a long time to write a book and then, once I do, I rewrite forever. I'm going to try to break those two habits, but I can't promise anything. And I won't be talking in detail about any of the projects until they are ready to see e-ink. I don't like doing that. (I've already said more about the above two works-in-progress than I usually feel comfortable doing.)
In the meantime, I'll be bringing out my first two published books and a short story collection. It's not much to offer, but I want to dip my toe into the e-pond and see if I get any nibbles.
But for now, X, The Book in Question? "Mistah Kurtz - He dead."