Saturday, June 5, 2021

Listen Here


 

I can hardly believe that FLASH IN THE DARK is my 25th book produced on Audible. My very first Audible book, Smoky Mountain Tracks was produced and narrated in 2014 by Donna Postel, who has since gone on to narrate eighteen more books for me, including Flash in the Dark. That first audiobook not only changed my life by making my Raine Stockton Dog Mysteries available to a much wider audience than I ever imagined, it changed the way I write.

Before I heard Donna reading my words I was frankly a little baffled as to why people even liked Raine Stockton.  But when I heard Donna’s dry, sometimes self-deprecating and often humorous take on Raine’s character, I suddenly got it.  By George, I actually liked Raine a little better myself.  Since then, whenever I write a Raine Stockton mystery, it’s Donna’s voice I hear in my head.  She has become, in my mind and in the minds of thousands of readers, the voice of Raine Stockton. The same became true when she took over the Dogleg Island/Flash series.  Ryan Grady, Aggie Malone and Flash are entirely different characters and the tone of these books is not at all the same as that of the previous mystery series, but she has managed to put her unique stamp on the voices of Dogleg Island as well.  And I’m not ashamed to say she made me cry with Flash in the Dark.  

These days when I write a book I am acutely aware, not only of how my words read on paper, but how they will sound.  I use more dialogue tags to identify the speaker, because its often difficult for a listener to determine who is talking without them.  I am trying very hard to eliminate my bad habit of writing sentences with long pathetical asides.  After all, there are no parentheses on audio.  I try, although I’m not always successful, not to give characters names that sound alike, because they’re difficult to distinguish on audio.  Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned to keep the movie that’s generated in my listeners’ heads going without interruption by emphasizing the drama and minimizing long narrative sections. I think all of this has made me a better writer.

Personally, I love audiobooks.  They are all I listen to when I’m on a long drive, and I always have one going when I start a big project around the house, like painting a room or finishing floors.  I actually started my local library’s first collection of audiobooks back in the nineties by donating my books-on-tape after I’d listened to them.  They proved to be so popular with library patrons that audiobooks became a regular budget item for the library within a couple of years.   The most common question I get from readers when I release a new print book is, “When will it be out on Audible?”   The second most common question is, “Why does it take so long for the audio version?”  If you really want to know the answer to that question, read on (it’s a lot!).  Here’s how it works:

Audible has set up a website for authors, publishers, narrators and producers called ACX.  If your book is available on Amazon, all you have to do is type in the title and the search engine will find it for you. Obviously, you have to own the rights to the book you’re seeking to produce.   You will then be asked whether you already have a recording of your book, or if you’re looking for someone to record it for you. Most people who come to ACX are looking for someone to produce and narrate their book for them (in the lexicon of ACX, “producer” and “narrator” are the same thing).  Once you click “looking for a narrator” you will fill out a brief questionnaire about your book and about what you’re looking for in a narrator—male or female, young or old, what kind of accent, what kind of storytelling style.  They make it really easy for you!  You will then set your budget.  This is where it gets interesting.

Back in the old days, taking a book from print to voice was a major undertaking that cost publishers tens of thousands of dollars, which is why only very successful books by bestselling authors were regularly distributed on audio. This is still the case with some traditional publishers.  But ACX gives publishers a choice of what they want to spend—which is, in return, tied to how much royalty they’ll be paid. You basically have two options: Pay the producer/narrator either by sharing your royalties when they start to come in or with a one-time payment of her fee.  Most producers charge $200-$400 per finished hour, so if your book is 10 hours long you will owe $2000--$4000.  Or, if that’s beyond your budget, ACX offers the option of allowing you to contract with one of their producers who is willing to take a smaller amount up front to cover production costs, and share the royalties with you 50/50.  If even that is beyond your means, there is always the option of doing a strict royalty share and offering nothing up front.  Be warned, producers who are willing to accept that offer are few and far between, but it’s entirely possible that, if your book is already selling well in print, someone will be willing to take a chance on you.  Audible pays 40% royalty to the author for exclusive distribution rights, and 25% if you want to retain the right to sell your audiobook to other venues.  Your audiobook will be sold on Amazon, Audible and I-Tunes websites.

Once you’ve decided how you want to pay for the production (and get paid),  ACX will calculate approximately how many hours long your book will be and you’ll decide how much you’re willing to pay the producer per hour.  ACX  helps with this, too.  You then submit 1-2 pages from your book for the audition, and the information about your book and your payment offer goes out to all the narrators who have signed up with ACX. There are over half a million of them.  Those who are interested will send you an audition, and that’s where the fun begins!

Once you’ve listened to all the auditions and chosen the narrator who best suits your vision for the book, you will offer a formal contract (prepared by ACX) specifying how much you’ll pay, and when you need your project completed.  Assuming your offer is accepted, you will send the final, as-published version of your manuscript and the audiobook is officially “in production”. Keep in mind that your producer may not be able to get to your book right away, so it’s important that you negotiate a deadline that suits you both.   The best producers can be booked six months to a year in advance (yes, that’s why it takes so long to get an audiobook out!) so if you don’t want to wait, you may not get your first choice.

The narrator/producer will submit the first fifteen minutes of your book for your approval so that you can spot any potential problems with accents,  pronunciations, etc. that might slow down the process.   Once this is approved, the next you hear from your producer will be when the manuscript is completed. For a 10 hour audiobook, 100 hours or more of actual work can go into it.  The producer not only records and formats the book, she also hires a proofreader who actually reads the manuscript as he is listening to it to make sure every word and sentence sounds on audio exactly as it was written. Despite the enormous amount of time and effort that goes into production,  I have never had the process of recording the book take longer than 45 days once work is begun.  The audiobook will then be submitted to the author for approval, and you will have one of the most amazing experiences your life—hearing your own words read out loud.

ACX allows two re-records in case you spot mistakes in your audiobook, but I never ask a producer to re-record something unless the mistake materially effects the story—i.e., a wrong character name is used or an essential word is left out  (if “She was not guilty” is read “She was guilty” I’d ask for a re-do).  I like to take a whole weekend to listen to my book, so it sometimes takes me a week to approve it.  When you’re satisfied with your audiobook, you check “approved” on the web page, upload your cover art if you have not done so already, and pay your producer (assuming you’ve chosen to pay a flat fee instead of a royalty share).  Most producers accept PayPal, but some are members of the Screen Actors Guild or other organizations that have different payment protocols.  ACX will not  release your book until the producer acknowledges payment, so any delay here will keep your book out of listeners’ hands.

But wait!  The process is still not finished.  The good people at ACX will now check your audiobook for technical errors and production quality, and—as I understand it—have an actual human listen to the book all the way through to make sure it meets their standards.  This can take from 10 to 30 days.  This is another reason it takes so long to get an audiobook out, but it is an essential part of the process.    

All told, from the time you list your book on ACX to the time it appears on Amazon as an Audible edition—and assuming everything moves along without a glitch—you’re looking at six weeks (rare!)  to six months.  Having worked for seven years now with the same producer, I can usually count on getting Audible editions into the hands of listeners in 2-3 months after I contact her.   And when you consider all that goes in to producing an audiobook, this is lightning speed.

It is also, in my opinion, worth every minute of the wait.

Now on Audible


Monday, February 8, 2021

Essentially...

Back at the beginning of the 2020 lockdowns, a reader wrote to thank me for the few hours of distraction my latest book had provided (love to get those kinds of e-mails!).  She concluded by saying “You are an essential worker, too.”  I was deeply touched and flattered, then somewhat astonished as more letters echoing that sentiment began to come in.    We all know what an important part of our lives books are, but essential on the same level as groceries and UPS deliveries?  I’d never really thought about it before.

As the global crisis wore on…and on…and on, I came to understand for myself just how essential books, and the people who write them, are.  They provide more than an escape when life spins out of control.  They provide engagement in times of isolation, friends in times of loneliness, hope in the face of despair.  They give us something to look forward to when it sometimes feels as though there is literally nothing else.

I recall a conversation many years ago with the librarian of our small town.  She agonized over having to go to the county commissioners in an effort to persuade them to give her money for the library that might otherwise go to essential services like the fire department or EMTs.  “I know they’re saving lives,” she said, “but I’m trying to save the things that make life worth living.”

I’d like to take this opportunity to salute all the books (and the writers who created them!) that made life worth living this past year. Like most of you, I read many more than can be listed here, but here are a few of the ones that really took me away from it all, the ones that were hard to put down and that I couldn’t wait to get back to—in other words, the perfect pandemic reading.  Maybe you’d like to check some of them out!

Devoted by Dean Koontz

No Exit by Taylor Adams

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

 Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Rumor by Leslie Kara

One by One by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner

Camino Winds by John Grisham

  Which essential books saved your sanity this past year?

 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Finally!




Looking back on previous launch-day posts, I realize that they almost always begin with “Finally!” or “At Last!” I always feel as though I’m making my readers wait too long for the next book, and, according to the e-mails I get, they feel that way too.   This book is no different.  It seems as though I’ve been working on Flash in the Dark forever, but it’s actually only been a year.  The fact that the year was 2020 may have colored my perception, but I can honestly say it was the longest year of my life.

One of the basic tenets of mystery writing is to maintain suspense.  Always keep the reader anxious to find out what happens next, whether it’s in the next paragraph, the next chapter, or, sometimes, the next book.  The downside of this is that when you leave readers wondering what happens next, you eventually have to tell them.

In Flash of Brilliance an evil character is introduced and the suggestion is made that he may be related to our protagonist.  In Pieces of Eight, we come closer to finding out the true identity of this character, and what his motivations might be. Given that there has been an average of 18 months between each book, readers have been incredibly patient waiting to have their questions answered.    In Flash in the Dark,    it all comes together—all the tiny puzzle pieces find their places, all the questions find their answers, nothing is left unfinished.  It took a while to figure out.  It wasn’t easy.  But it’s finished.  Finally.

A lot happens in Flash in the Dark, and in fact, this is the longest of all the Dogleg Island mysteries.  Pete and Lorraine welcome a new family member.  Aggie finally gets the answers about her father she has sought.  Grady unearths a dangerous plot orchestrated by a secret organization with sinister connections to the past. Angelo’s true identity is revealed.  The citizens of Dogleg Island rise up to meet a crisis that will leave each one of them forever changed. And Flash, whose only goal has always been to protect and serve the people he loves, learns new lessons about the state of humanity and its ever-evolving complexity.  It took a lot of words to bring all of this together.  But here it is at last: Flash in the Dark, the book you’ve been waiting so long for.

Gosh, I hope you like it.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

(Don't, please, I beg you) Write What You Know








Perhaps the most often repeated advice to a new writer is "write what you know".  I'm sure that whoever originally came up with this meant well.  Maybe he meant, Don't try to write about the life experience of an African-American street orphan if you are a white suburban housewife.  Or, Don't set your book in the glamorous, high-stakes world of the Milan fashion industry if the closest you've ever gotten to couture is the sale rack at Target. Possibly he just wanted to take some of the scariness away from sitting down in front of a blank page.  Write what you know.  It'll be fine.

The main  problem with writing what you know is that what most people know is boring. 

You know your job, your town, your family, your friends.  You know your experiences, which, on the whole, are probably pretty ordinary.  The purpose of fiction is to take the reader away from the ordinary, or to take the ordinary and to somehow make it seem extraordinary.  As long as you write only what you know, you cannot achieve that.

The second problem with writing what you know is that it's limiting.

When I lived in Atlanta, I critiqued a lot of first attempts from local writers.  Inevitably, they would set their books  in Atlanta.  More importantly, the setting rarely, if ever, influenced the story.  The book could have taken place anywhere, but because these writers were writing what they knew, they were very careful to make sure to describe every stop light on Peachtree Street, every intersection on Piedmont, and no one cared.  Boring. More importantly, because they were so circumscribed by the real life boundaries of their setting, they missed opportunities to move their stories forward or make them interesting. A gunman can't burst out of the bank on the corner if there is no bank on the corner, and adhering so closely to the truth of what they knew stifled the imagination of the writer who otherwise might have simply invented a bank and put it there.

My Raine Stockton series is virtually set in the small mountain town where I live. Many of the incidents portrayed in the books are based on local newspaper headlines.  However, I made a conscious decision at the beginning to move the setting some thirty miles north, in a fictional town in a different state, even though it meant I'd have to do some research to get certain facts about the law enforcement community there straight.  I'll be the first to admit I didn't get every detail right.  But sometimes it's good not to know what you don't know.  Exploring the unknown, asking the questions and sometimes even making up my own answers freed up my imagination to  breathe life into the story.  I was able to surprise myself-- and my readers-- with the unexpected.  Had I adhered literally to the town I know so well-- the people who recognize me on the street, the businesses and services that do and do not exist--  I would have been constantly looking over my shoulder,  pursued by voices that whispered in my head, "That could never happen" or "He would never do that" or "I hope she doesn't recognize herself".  It would have been a disaster.

On the subject of basing your characters on someone you know-- even yourself-- here is my advice:  Don't do it.  Ever.  Please.  The moment you put yourself or incidents from your life into a novel, your mother is going to be reading over your shoulder, literally or figuratively, every word you write.   You cannot help censoring yourself.  Your story will be shackled to the truth-- or worse, a soft-bellied blurred-eyed version of it--from beginning to end.  When you base your character on someone you know, no matter how fascinating a life he may have lived, you will always be bound by your vision of that person, and limited by your understanding of him.  Instead of asking yourself what your character would do, think or feel, you will be asking yourself how the real person, as you knew him, would react.  Two problems with that: 1) you don't know the answer.  2) You will be too inhibited by your perception of the real person-- or perhaps by his reaction to your portrayal-- to make something up.  The only person who knows the soul of a character the way that you, the author, need to know it is his creator.  So create.

You've heard the expression, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing".  Too much knowledge can be even more dangerous, especially when forced upon the unsuspecting-- and generally disinterested-- reader.  The medical doctor who describes his fictional surgery in the kind of technical detail generally reserved for training interns.  The retired detective who takes the reader through twenty-two pages of questioning a suspect-- only to discover that the subject of his interview isn't involved in the case after all.  Of course that's how it happens in real life. But the writer who believes he's doing his readers a favor by enlightening them, in exhaustive detail,  with his unique expertise is usually just deluding himself.

By all means, every writer should use her own experience, background and perspective to add color and verisimilitude to her story.  Embellish with details that ring true.  Use your particular insight into little-known subjects to surprise and inform readers, or even to take your plot in a direction another writer would not have considered.  But don't get so bogged down by what you know that you neglect to imagine. 

When I started my mystery series I brought to the table what I believed to be a unique insight into dog training, dog sports and dog behavior. I used what I knew to add a sense of realism to the stories, and to give readers a glimpse of a world they might not otherwise see.  What I did not know was anything at all about search and rescue, small town law enforcement, or working for the forest service--and those were the pillars on which the series was built.  Learning about these things, and using what I learned to enhance the world I'd already created, gave the books a sense of immediacy and energy I couldn't otherwise have achieved.  And even though the books are written in the first person, the only thing the main character and I have in common is a golden retriever.  She doesn't even remind me of anyone I know.  Because of this, she lives her own life, makes her own choices and participates in her own growth independent of any restrictions or expectations I might place on her.  And for thousands of readers across the globe, she has become as real as the girl next door.
 
Instead of advising new writers to write what they know, I suggest they get excited about what they don't know.  Write about what you want to know, places you'd like to go, life as you wish it could be.  Let curiosity and imagination take you on a journey of discovery and your reader will automatically be swept along with you.  And, for heaven's sake-- in the words of the late, great Mark Twain-- never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
 

Monday, March 23, 2020

From the Beginning

Welcome back!

If you are a writer, a wannabe writer, or just someone who likes to know how writers think, this is the place for you.  In upcoming posts we'll talk about how stories are born, how ideas  translate into words, and how words bring thoughts to life -- among many, many other things.  I hope you'll check in often.

This blog has been dark for--hard to believe!--9 years, and a lot has changed since then.  It's not that I didn't want to reboot it, it's just that I didn't know where to start.  And the longer I put it off, the harder it became to find that starting point.  Kind of like writing a novel.

So you've got this great idea for a book.  You more or less know what happens in your story, you've chosen the characters who will tell your story, and you know what you want to say.  But where do you start?  As a general rule, there are three places to open your book: at the beginning, the middle and the end.  It's up to you to decide which opening is the best one for you. 

The temptation is to take the default position and start at the beginning.   Unfortunately, this is often the most boring place to open a book.   "Johnny was born to an immigrant family of five who settled in Ohio in 1908..."  If Johnny is your main character, how many pages do we have to read before something happens to him that makes this a story worth telling?  If you can't wait to get to the "good part", neither can your reader.  So eliminate everything but the good part.  Start there.

Some of the most interesting books start in the middle.  Think about  Cormac McCarthy's The Road .  The man and the boy are on the road when it opens.  We don't know why.  We don't know how long they've been traveling.  Whatever cataclysmic event propelled them on their journey is in the past; we join them in the middle and we are immediately sucked in.  There's a lot to be said for grabbing your reader and pulling her right into the story.

Some writers shy away from starting with the end because they're afraid of giving away too much.  However, done skillfully, opening with an outcome that's already predetermined will only make your reader anxious to know what happened before that point and how your characters got there.  Think of the classic opening to Love Story : "She loved Beethoven, the Beatles, and me."  The use of the past tense "loved" tells us the heroine is no longer with us; we want to know why.  In Jane Harper's Force of Nature,  something terrible has already happened when the book opens: search parties have been called in for a group of women who disappeared in the wilderness on a corporate retreat. Only as the story unfolds do we travel into the past, meet each of the missing women, and discover through their eyes what went wrong. My book, The Dead Season, opens at the end of the adventure, with our heroine being escorted into a police car after something very bad happened on a mountain during a blizzard.  You don't want to over-use the device, but opening at the end can generate a powerful sense of intrigue that makes the reader want to read more.

Whether you choose to start your tale at the beginning, the middle or the end, all successful openings have one thing in common: they start when something changes.  We'll talk about this more in upcoming posts, so I hope you'll stick around.

I've little doubt that history will look back on 2020 as the year when things changed for a lot of us.  Maybe it will also be the year you finally decide to write that novel you've been thinking about. If so,  you've got a great adventure ahead, and I'd love to share it with you through this blog.

So what do you say?  Let's get started!   

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What They Got Right

This is the first time since December 2010 that I have not had a deadline looming within the next thirty days. I have written, formatted, designed, marketed, promoted, and published four books in the past eight months. Seriously. So that’s why you haven’t heard from me in awhile.


I currently have 18 books under the Blue Merle Publishing logo, and I am finally beginning (and I do mean beginning) to feel like a real publisher. And let me tell you something: it’s hard.

There are people who have been doing this far longer than I have, and who have far more claim to expertise than I do, so I don’t pretend to set myself up as an authority on the subject of independent publishing. However, with all the rockets buzzing around the internet about what traditional publishing has done wrong, my recent experience in indie publishing, juxtaposed against twenty-plus years in traditional publishing, has pointed out to me that there is a reason why traditional publishing has survived for over a hundred years, virtually unchanged. As much as I hate to admit it, they got a lot of things right. Here are a few of them:

1) Give the people what they want

There is a reason why you can’t pick up a book today that doesn’t have a vampire, zombie, angel or wizard on the cover. This used to outrage me, until I was faced with a choice: a solid fan base who was begging for the continuation of my mystery series, or my own literary leanings toward something more daring and esoteric. Suddenly I understood why publishers had declined to take a chance on some of my more creative proposals, and I no longer held them in quite such contempt. Once you have a proven audience for a product, it is very scary—and foolish-- to turn your back and walk the other way. My decision was to go with the proven product, and I don’t regret it for a minute.

2)Know Your Strength

Over the course of my career I have written under seven different pseudonyms and in every fiction genre known to man. Great for the resume; bad for the sales figures. Again, I didn’t understand why my versatility didn’t command the respect that was clearly its due until I was the one who had to reconcile the bottom line. When one series outsells the others three-to-one, it really doesn’t matter how well-reviewed, innovative, or close to the heart the other books are. You publish the books that sell. Everything else is collateral damage.

3)It’s Not Personal, it’s Business

In the “It Only Hurts When I Laugh” category… my pet project was highly praised and ultimately rejected by a dozen of the top literary agents in New York with the inevitable disclaimer: I love this, but I can’t sell it . I finally decided that, rather than turn the book into the shredded wheat that would please the New York publishing community, I would publish it myself, and guess what? I couldn’t sell it either. Well reviewed? Yes. Commercial success? Hardly. Will I continue the series? Not a chance in hell. Nothing personal, fans. But this is business.

4)It’s All About Marketing... and Budget

Not to continue to beat the poor dead horse whose screams we’ve all been hearing for years now, but (to mix another colorful metaphor) it’s not the steak but the sizzle. And yes, that pisses me off now as much as it did when I was Number 11 on the Top 10 Bestseller List in the world of traditional bookstores and traditional publishers… not because my book was any better or worse by merit than #10, but because someone, somewhere had randomly decided to put more money into front-of-store placement, magazine and trade advertising, book tours and promotional spots for #10. (To be fair, next year, the same random decision might be made in my favor and I will be #10…or 9…or 7) This is not a merit-based industry. How many times have I heard that? Yet, until I was the one who had to actually come up with the cash that would make the difference between a book that faded into obscurity and a book that would receive the attention it deserved, I never truly appreciated how brutal and dispassionate was the view from this side of the checkbook. I discovered that I am not nearly the risk taker I thought I was… and that’s while dealing with my own money, on behalf of a product that I passionately believe in. How much less willing would I be to gamble with someone else’s money, for someone else’s book? Suddenly the decisions made by my former publishers about my marketing budget don’t seem quite as stupid as they once did.

5) Timing is Crucial.

When the new Harry Potter, Grisham, or Stephen King is shipped to brick and mortar bookstores, it is very likely in a box marked, “Do Not Shelve Until…” with a date. Years of experience have taught traditional publishers the value of a “crisp lay-down” to build buzz, maximize presence, and yes, inflate sales rankings and bestseller lists. Despite the fact that, as so many indies happily proclaim, e-books are forever, if you want to give your forever-book a chance to make itself known in the e-book jungle, following this simple practice from traditional publishing is the easiest and most cost effective thing you can do. Launch with a bang. Build your product page first and have it filled with reviews before announcing your release to the public. Arrange contests, Goodreads giveaways, discussion groups, blog tours, ad campaigns and reviews all to fall within a two week period of publication (Resourceful authors will plan to repeat this process in a few months, as sales start to fall). The more visible your book is, the more popular it seems,and the more popular it seems, the more popular it actually becomes because its very popularity will nudge it onto Amazon’s also- bought list, which will in turn push it up in the rankings. The higher in the rankings your book goes, the more visible it becomes, which means more people buy it, and so on and so forth. This is, believe or not, pretty much the same process that traditionally published print books have been undergoing to make the various bestseller lists for years. There’s nothing new under the sun.

6)Holding its own is not good enough.

This was perhaps the most painful and difficult lesson for me to learn. I have complained ad infinitum about the publisher who canceled my mystery series while Book #2 was on a bestsellers list, and the publisher who canceled my women’s fiction series while Book # 1 was approaching a 95% sell-through. Their reason for doing so, in both cases, was that Book #3 had failed to live up to the sales numbers generated by previous books. Here’s what they got right: it’s not enough to maintain your readership. Unless your fan base continues to grow, you cannot sustain a series.


What they got wrong (among many other things)

The assembly-line mentality upon which corporate America was built does not work in the Arts. Simply put, when a book fails to live up to expectations in a Big Six house, it is cut, cast off, arteries severed; it is tossed, still writhing with life and screaming protests, into the teeming sea like so much chum. Moving on; next project.

When a book fails to succeed in my house, I want to know why. Did it fail to give the readers what they want? Did it fail to find its audience? Was it marketed incorrectly or not at all? Bad cover? Bad blurb? Wrong price? Did it have enough time to succeed? What can I do to change its fate? If I believe in a book I will do everything in my power to give it a second chance… and a third, and even a fourth, if I have to. I will find out what I did wrong, and I will fix it. I will accept responsibility for a less than stellar performance, and I will correct flaws in marketing, design, pricing and placement. I will beat the bushes for new readers, come up with innovative ad campaigns to draw people in, go for markets I hadn’t considered before. Only when I have done everything that I can do, as a publisher, to help a book a find its audience—and , if necessary, when I’ve done it again and again—will I give up. This is my book, you see. I care what happens to it.

And that, in the end, may be the most important thing I’ve learned from the Big Six. Bad things happen when you don’t care. Good things happen when you do. I’m glad I finally found a publisher who cares.

Me.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Million Dollar Deal That Ruined My Career

Now available at Amazon.com
Before Harry Potter, before Twilight, before the hundreds of thousands of vampire , wizard, demon, zombie, angel, fairy and just-plain-strange books that proliferate the marketplace today, I wrote a book about werewolves. It wasn’t, in my humble opinion, just an ordinary book, and these were not ordinary werewolves. It was at that time the best book I had ever written. Believe it or not, I wasn’t the only one who thought it was pretty good. The Passion (and its sequel, The Promise) sold after a ten–day auction for a phenomenal amount of money (to be strictly accurate, it was not quite one million, but by the time sub-rights were sold the difference was negligible, to me, at least). Within the week, offers for audio, foreign, and large print rights were pouring in. James Cameron and Stephen Spielberg were both interested in film rights. And then it all went to hell.
For reasons I still don’t entirely understand, the publisher abandoned the book. Possibly it was caught up in inter-company politics; possibly the publisher genuinely did not know how to publish it. While logic would suggest that no publisher wants to lose money on a book, the only way this publisher could have lost more money on this book would have been not to publish it at all. I remember screaming at my agent at one point, A million dollars is not worth an entire career! –which turned out to be eerily prophetic. In a desperate effort to save the project, I personally invested a disastrous amount on promotions, which resulted in the development of a small cult following (thank you, readers!) But in terms of the commercial sensation The Devoncroix Dynasty books were meant to be, the project was a monumental failure.

After that, no other publisher would touch me —primarily because it makes no sense to invest in an author and/or a series on which a previous publisher has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also, I think, because what I was writing at that time was crap. I had spent ten years perfecting my craft, publishing anywhere from three to six books, in various genres across the board, a year. I routinely received awards and made lists and, perhaps more importantly, had been pulling in six figures a year for most of my writing career. But none of that mattered at the time. Because when I finally got the break every writer dreams of, the Big Contract for the Great Work, I blew it. My best wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t a writer. I was an imposter. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write. It was that I couldn’t. I was broken from the inside out. I went from writing 500,000-700,000 words a year to not writing a single word for the next five years. Broken.
Eventually, with no other marketable skills and with homelessness becoming an ever-increasing possibility, I forced myself to start writing again and found a publisher willing to take a chance on me—for $8000 a book. Meanwhile, readers were still e-mailing me, wondering where the sequel to The Promise was. My new series was canceled (while the second book was still on a bestseller’s list) and after a couple of desperate years I found another publisher and another series and yet another genre. Meanwhile, reader mail continued to wonder what had ever happened to my werewolf series.
Despite an enormously enthusiastic editor, a fair advance, and an initial display of support from the publisher, I knew in my heart of hearts the new series wouldn’t last long. Every word I wrote was excruciating. I envied my friends with real jobs. I hated my life. And just before the series was inevitably canceled, I started secretly fooling around with an idea for re-launching in the Devoncroix Dynasty werewolf series, and I discovered something profound: it wasn’t writing I hated. It was the business of writing.
Two years later, Renegade was completed, and it turned out better than I thought it would. Because it was a stand-alone book that was not necessarily dependent on the previous ones, I thought it had a real chance of, not only impressing the powers-that-be in New York, but of finding the audience this storyline deserved. And yet the more I thought about surrendering this work to a publisher, the tighter my gut got. I faced the future with bleakness and dread. I kept hearing my own voice screaming, A million dollars is not worth a career! And I think what a meant was, It’s not worth a life.

Fifteen years ago, the breakthrough deal on the original Devoncroix Dynasty books represented what every writer works toward: that moment of sublime validation that will lead to a lifetime of creative freedom and financial security. It led instead to a monumental personal and career crisis, severe depression, and financial ruin. Poised on the brink of doing it all over again, I realized that the price of the Big Deal was, for me, entirely too high.
The only real validation of a work comes from readers, and the only creative freedom I had ever had was when I was not writing for a publisher. So here is Renegade, ten years in the making. I am the author, publisher, and distributor. I wrote it for readers, because in the end, is there any other reason to write? And I wrote it for me, because this story was the love of my life, and it was time to tell it the way it was meant to be told. If you buy it, I hope you enjoy it. If you don’t, that’s okay too. Because now that I am in charge of my own career, I have plenty of projects in the works. And I’ll just bet that one of them is the story you’ve been waiting to read.