Mark Terry

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Haiku--Day III, & Getting IN & Staying IN

December 20, 2006
Just a reminder, the Writing Haiku Challenge ends around noon tomorrow, so get your haiku in--as many times as you want.

Over on PJ Parrish's blog, she (they) have been doing what they call Bookie Noise, which is to say, they post novel leads by anybody who sends one in and the rest of us comment on it. The last one was pretty good.

Now PJ comes clean to let us know that this lead was one she (they) wrote, got turned down by their publisher, then turned down by everybody else. In fact, apparently they went ahead and wrote the entire novel and she writes about how sometimes you just have to write something and get it out of your system.

I commented today that I found this both disconcerting and reassuring. Disconcerting because I know we all have the idea that once we're published, editors will be more receptive to your work--no matter what it is--and apparently that's not the case. (And if I haven't figured it out before this, I haven't been paying attention). I also find it reassuring because I've had some things rejected lately and I was hoping that publishers would view my publication track record as indication I was publishable.

And me and PJ aren't the only ones, of course. If you go over to Joe Konrath's blog, he's posted two e-books of novels he wrote or re-wrote recently that didn't get picked up. I'm fairly sure it happens to most writers, but I don't find that information something to celebrate. A bestselling author like Stephen King or John Grisham might very well publish something off-the-wall and get away with it, but...

For how long?

A couple years ago I interviewed John Sandford for a profile/review I was writing. It was the Prey novel that followed the Kidd novel called "The Hanged Man's Song," a novel I liked quite a bit. His publicist, probably in a way she shouldn't have, commented that everybody was disappointed in the sales for Hanged Man's Song. When I interviewed John I asked him about this, assuring him I wasn't putting this in the article I was writing. He sighed and said, Well, I liked it and it sells well, but the Kidd novels don't sell nearly as well as the Lucas Davenport "Prey" novels, so you tend to have the publishers always acting disappointed in the sales of the Kidd novels.

My guess is that John's such a big author that his publisher would be unlikely to say to him, "John, these just don't sell as well, we're not going to publish it," for fear that he'll say, "Then I'll take my business down the road, thanks."

But most of us aren't in that situation and may never be. If our sales our decent but not spectacular, or even good but not great, publishers want you to continue doing what you're doing and not risk alienating your audience. Nobody wants a dip in your sales to hurt you (or them), and from this POV it's entirely a business decision, not a creative decision.

Which is sometimes where writers, agents and editors come apart, I think. Agents and editors/publishers in most cases want you to make money and continue to make money; they're less inclined to be supportive of your saying, "I was a little tired of that, so I wanted to stretch my wings," or "I had this really great idea that I just had to write..."

Yes, I can attest that "great ideas that I just have to write" is a particular siren's song of mine, in many ways. Only I might phrase it differently: "I've got this really great idea I just had to explore."

I think it's healthy, psychologically and creatively. Now from a business sense, I'm not quite so sure.

Anyway, I was staring at this little slip of paper among all the clutter on my desk and realized it was a fortune cookie fortune I hung on to. I don't remember when I got it, but here's what it says:

"Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment."

Huh. Good advice. I see why I kept it.

Mark Terry

Lucky Numbers: 3, 14, 26, 27, 29, 20


Anonymous Cherye Barta said...

About Sandford's HANGMAN'S SONG. I like it best of all his Kidd series. I understand his latest DEATH WATCH, the publisher's wasn't too pleased with it. So Sandford took it back, tore it apart and re-wrote it. Not a Prey book, but I enjoyed it. Hopefully, it will become another series.
I and Haiku don't get along. Sorry.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I liked Sandfor'ds latest, too. I'm looking over at the shelf to double-check the title. Dead Watch or Night Watch? I'm not seeing it, so it's either behind the TBR pile or behind the photograph of the paddlewheel boat.

7:04 AM  
Anonymous Cherye Barta said...

Just checked my shelf. It is DEAD WATCH, sorry.

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

"...we all have the idea that once we're published, editors will be more receptive to your work--no matter what it is--and apparently that's not the case."

Bingo! This realization has been my biggest disappointment. Knowing what I now know about the industry, I see how naive I was. In fact, you are respected exactly to the extent to which you are at any given moment putting money in someone's pocket. Oh, right...just like any other industry! (Light bulb goes on....)

Mind you, I don't think this applies necessarily to small presses. My impression is that for Poisoned Pen Press (our publisher) the financial aspect comes into it only insofar as they have to generate enough income to sustain the business.

I have complained you you, I guess, about how Mary and I have failed to find any slightest interest in the non-Byzantine mystery novel we wrote last year. Yet I know for a fact it is better written than anything we have in print. (Perhaps not better written than what we're working on now)

It wasn't a big change. We used the same elements people like -- extreme historical detail and accuracy but done with a light touch, lots of quirky characters, a good deal of humor -- but used a setting (late Victorian London) which is more accessible than sixth century Constantinople. The book moves a lot faster than the mysteries and whereas we have a little "woo woo" in each mystery, in this novel we really let our imaginations run wild at the end.

The books we have in print have got awards, starred reviews in Publishers Weekly etc etc. This book would get the same reception. Why wouldn't it? It is better. Presumably, if a larger publisher put the book out, with a good reception like that, it would have a good chance of selling. Certainly it would have a better chance than a lousy book that got a lousy reception.

Plus, the fact that we can turn out another good book (having proven that six times already) would, you'd think count for something. Silly me!

9:39 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I remember years ago Stephen King commenting that his agent was always harping on him to remember that a novelist was only as good as their last book, or 2 books if they have a track record. This was easily 20 years ago. I wonder if King still believes it. For him, probably not, but for the majority of novelists?

My apologies to all aspiring novelists reading this. Some of this stuff can be a real downer (maybe even more so for those of us who finally "made it" and now face an even more tenuous struggle to remain clinging to the cliff face that is publishing.) I've been astonished by just how short the memories are of the publishing world and how fickle the tastes.

I know of one long-time author who had been writing first romances, then romantic suspense, then mysteries, and she had a decent series going and her publisher let her go. Her sales had leveled off and rather than be happy with a strong, level sales figure, they said, "You're not growing sales any more, goodbye."

I know she's done a couple more romantic suspense, but other than that I'm not sure what she's doing. This industry can be brutal. Maybe I'll rephrase that:

This industry is brutal.

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I hate to see writers pouring their lives into books without realizing what the industry is like. A book is a huge investment of time and energy.

But it does sound negative. And I do think that writers who set their sights first on legitimate small publishers actually have a better chance than one might think to break into print and probably that is the realistic goal to aim for.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous spyscribbler said...

You guys are depressing, today. Sounds like one has to be in denial (or insane) to even attempt it! One has to stubbornly believe, against all odds (or because of naivete), or else one would never keep on keeping on.

9:37 PM  
Blogger Rob Gregory Browne said...

Great post as usual, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. Why? Because I've just completed a book and, after letting it sit a few days, will be submitting it to my editor -- and, of course, I'm concerned about the reaction to it.

It's already paid for, which makes it worse. I tell you, once you become a published author you develop a whole new set of anxieties.

6:17 AM  
Blogger zornhau said...

I think "Millenium War" = Joe Haldeman, "The Forever War"

7:47 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

I think you're right.

And that's regarding a post I made over on Paperback Writer blog.

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