Today’s post is the story of a novel’s journey from inception to publication.
This is an excerpt from my new ebook, “The Inner Life of Deadly Faux,” which I introduced (and offered… for FREE) in the post just prior to this one. (You can get it here: PDF DF Inner Life.)
If you’ve published a novel, you’ll relate to this harrowing, nail-pulling tale. If you haven’t, but want to… this is what it’s like for most of us.
This chapter is only one small part of a 114 page ebook that was written for the purpose of decontructing the underlying novel. In other words, as a tool.
So if you read it and want to opt in to the free Ebook, you can just skip this and dive right into the workshop portion, which is in-depth and reflective of the Six Core Competencies and Six Realms of Story Physics models (without seeking to reintroduce or define them, that material resides in my two writing books, Story Engineering and Story Physics.)
If you’d like the free ebook, and you missed the link earlier, click here: PDF DF Inner Life.
Hope you enjoy this little rocky ride down one writer’s memory lane.
Deadly Faux: The Road to Publication
Deadly Faux, the novel, is a sequel. As such, that defines its starting point: the return of the protagonist from the earlier novel in a subsequent story, resulting in what is now officially a series (because there is a sequel).
The book was written – little known factoid here – in 2006, on the heels of the critical (certainly not commercial) success of the preceding novel, Bait and Switch (2004). Bait had been the second of a two book contract with Signet (the first was Serpent’s Dance; that contract was my second two-book contract with Penguin-Putnam)), and for reasons that are complex (see the next few paragraphs), the book didn’t “sell through.” Which means, it didn’t earn its advance back (the drawback of a healthy advance; you’re judged on that particular metric, even if you sell tens of thousands and still come up short… which was the case here). I got to keep the money, but the downside is they didn’t want to opt-in for a new contract.
Which means, the publisher said “no” to a sequel to Bait and Switch… the novel that is now entitled Deadly Faux.
The original title was Schmitt Happens, which everyone involved seemed to like in the beginning, and then a few years later when I took the book back to market, some seemed appalled by it. (My new agent didn’t like the Deadly Faux title all that much, either; she didn’t think people would understand the double meaning of the word “faux,” but the new publisher didn’t agree.)
The no-go on a new contract occurred six months prior to the release of Bait and Switch. Not good. Because it meant that the publisher would do next to nothing in the way of promotion, which turned out to be accurate. While they’d taken out a quarter page add in USA Today for my last novel at the time, Serpent’s Dance, there was no advertising budget for Bait. They had bought premium shelf space in the bookstores for all three ealier novels, they didn’t for Bait.
All of which meant that when the rep for Penguin sat down with the buyer for Barnes & Noble and Borders, the size of the orders for Bait was only a fraction of the prior books.
That’s the whole ballgame at the brick and mortar retail level: the size of the order. Which defines the visibility of the book in the store. Paperback originals do not get major (or any) review coverage, so there is no pull in that regard, you could write a Pulitzer Prize winner and it wouldn’t sell until it actually won the award.
Shelf real estate is everything. And it totally depends on the size of the order, the fame of the author, and the commitment of the publisher to pimp the thing in the market.
Then something really cool happened. Bait and Switch came out to stellar reviews. Publishers Weekly in particular flipped for it, gave it a starred review, named it their lead Editors Choice (July, 2004) ahead of other nods to, among several others, Jeffrey Deaver and Walter Mosley, and at year-end named it to two lists: Best Novels of 2004 (mass market), and Best Overlooked Books of 2004 (the only paperback so-named).
Penguin remained unmoved. Not an extra dime was thrown at it after those critical notices, because I was already dead to them.
The book had its quick run and then it went away.
My agents at the time, alarmed at suddenly having an author with the didn’t-sell-through stigma, dumped me like a worn out shoe (loved me, they said, but they didn’t like the book enough to believe it could latch on with this black cloud over my name… funny, they liked it just fine before Penguin passed on it).
Several years of personal writing hell ensued.
I wrote a novel entitled Whisper of the Seventh Thunder, which a very small press picked up. Again, without major reviews and no bookstore visibility (because bookstores hardly ever – and this is still the case – pay any attention at all to small POD presses, even when they are legit business enterprises), the book didn’t make a dent. It did win the Thriller category in the 2010 Next Generation Indie Awards, which, while rewarding, did absolutely nothing for the book’s visibility.
The people who knew me at Penguin were now history (the company was purchased by an off-shore entity, who brought in new management; they told my agents they were moving toward “chick lit” rather than thrillers, something that was true for about a month), but my editor there (Dan Slater, who had, after being on the wrong end of that transition, caught on at Amazon as a major project development pro) was willing to help me find a new agent. Using the significant industry clout of his name, I received invitations to submit Schmitt Happens to 11 major New York based literary agents, most of whom you’ve heard from.
I went zero-for-11.
Of those, several wrote a note saying, in effect, that both books (Schmitt Happens and Whisper of the Seventh Thunder) were solid, and would likely end up being published (they were right)… but the sales track record, particularly of Bait and Switch, despite its critical claim, had basically made me a pariah in the business. Wouldn’t touch me with surgical gloves.
This is why so many writers become alcoholics. I somehow avoided that… but I understand.
I should add here that I did hook up with a New York agent who really liked Schmitt Happens, and over the next year he leveraged personal contacts to submit the novel to a handful of major houses. No takers, same story. Then the submissions suddenly stopped… he told me we needed to wait this out for a year or so, and/or start writing under a pen name. So I decided to cut those ties (nice guy, he tried) and seek new representation for both my writing craft books (this was in 2010) and the corpse of Wolfgang Schmitt, who was in a coma somewhere on my hard drive.
Meanwhile I ghost-wrote a novel and a screenplay based on it… long story there. I have no idea what happened to them, only that they will never bear my name. Great client, nice paycheck, no upside.
I launched Storyfix.com in 2009. It took off nicely, and using that platform I was able to publish Story Engineering in 2011, and Story Physics in 2013. Both writing books sold pretty well, at least within the limits of such a narrow niche, and suddenly I had reinvented myself as a writing teacher/mentor/guru type, leveraging my 25 years of teaching writing workshops and generally trying to figure this whole thing out.
I now had a platform, a key word for anyone seeking to publish non-fiction… and virtually meaningless for a new writer seeking to publish fiction.
Nonetheless, Wolf wouldn’t let me alone.
I began reaching out to regional agents (which means, they don’t live in New York) with a national client base. Using a personal connection (absolutely the best way to find an agent, bar none), I aligned with my current agent, who jumped aboard with rewarding enthusiasm, both for the new Wolfgang Schmitt novel and Story Physics (Story Engineering was already out there… this made all the difference in this new push for both an agent and a new publisher for Schmitt, because it was somewhat well known).
It took her only a few weeks to land a publisher for Deadly Faux.
My new agent joined a chorus who really didn’t like the Schmitt Happens title. And so I went on the hunt for a new title, landing on Deadly Faux at about the same time she succeeded in placing the book with Turner Publishing, who would also republish my entire backlist (the rights to which had reverted back to me from Signet).
It was seven years from completed manuscript to the release of the book.
And now, as I write, this, all four of the Penguin books are out there under the Turner imprint, with The Seventh Thunder (we shortened the title) set for release in December 2014.
All we really have control over is the manuscript, and the quality of our efforts once it’s done.
The only sure outcome is quitting.
Wanted to share this news, just in: the new edition (May/June) of Writers Digest Magazine announces their annual 101 Best Websites for Writers list. For the third year in a row, Storyfix.com is included, under the “Writing Advice” category (which has 21 sites so-named).
Thanks to all who have been with me on this journey, and welcome to all of you who are new to this community.