Some of you may have seen this news on Facebook, but I wanted to share it here, as well: I have recently signed a three-book contract with Baen Books for a contemporary urban fantasy. The series is called the Weremyste Cycle, and the first book, Spell Blind, will be coming out in about a year. Obviously this is big news, and I’m very excited. But the sale of this series is important to me in a number of ways and lends itself to what I hope will be an interesting post.
I first mentioned Spell Blind (or at least the book that eventually became Spell Blind) on Magical Words back in June 2008, in a post titled “The Book I Love and Can’t Sell.” At that time, the manuscript had a different title, a different magic system, a different plot, and a different conceptual core. Which I suppose begs the question, “Was it even the same book?” In many ways it wasn’t — it was something quite different. But the central characters were the same, and so I have always thought of it as one project. I should also say that even at that time, in 2008, it had already undergone one significant rewrite that altered its structure from its very first incarnation, which was written back in 2005-2006.
Still, selling the book proved difficult, in large part, I believe, because that original version had some qualities that made it a) super dark, and b) very difficult to market. The rejections we got on the book reflected that. They all tended to say something along the lines of, “Love the character, love the writing, but don’t really think it’s for us.”
In June 2009, a year after I wrote that post about the book, I had an epiphany for a new magic system and plot. I was so excited about the new concept — I immediately opened up a word file and started writing out all of the new ideas so that I wouldn’t forget them. This rewrite involved tearing the book apart, piece by piece, throwing away huge swaths of prose and entire conceptual underpinnings and themes. Remember, this is a book I adored, a book that already for four years had been closest to my heart of all the books I’d ever written. And I essentially burned it to the ground and started over. But I knew that the new concept would not only be more marketable, it would also just be better in every way. I rewrote it over the course of several months and showed it to Lucienne. She loved the new concept and agreed that it would be easier to sell.
Still, there were problems. For one, by this time the urban fantasy market was getting full — it wasn’t yet glutted, but it was much harder to sell contemporary UFs than it had been a few years before. More to the point, the book was still flawed. The character work was the best I had ever done (still is), but the plotting, particularly in the first 120 pages or so, wasn’t right. I didn’t see this at first, and neither did Lucienne. But I had mentioned the book to a friend of mine who is an editor, a guy named Edmund Schubert, of whom some of you might have heard. He took a look at it for me, and after reading the first 120 pages sent me a demoralizing email that basically said, “Yeah, the writing is good, but I can see why you haven’t sold this yet.” He then went on to read the rest of the manuscript and sent me a second email (and then a third and fourth) that followed up that first discouraging email with, “Wow! After the first several chapters the book takes off and is really amazing; you need to fix those early chapters so that you can get this published.”
So, in August 2011, I began one last rewrite. And that really was my attitude. I still loved the novel, but we’d gotten so many rejections, and I had rewritten and reworked it so many times, that I couldn’t imagine spending any more time on it. I would do one last fix, and if that didn’t work, then I would have to accept that either the book was flawed in ways I couldn’t see, or it just didn’t have a place in today’s market. I did the last rewrite, and in 2012 Lucienne sent it out to the few houses left that hadn’t yet rejected it (or that agreed to take a second look at it based on the fact that it had changed so much). More rejections came in, until there were only a few publishers left that hadn’t yet responded.
And then, in August of this year, just before DragonCon, we received an offer from Baen. It seemed to come totally out of the blue — to be honest, I had given up hope. But even more remarkably, days later Tor made an offer as well. Suddenly, we were able to get better terms on the offered contracts because one house was competing with the other for this book that had gotten more rejections than I did in high school. (–rim shot –) In the end we went with Baen, because for the most part theirs was the better offer, and because it made sense for me to have this series there while the Thieftaker books are still being published at Tor; I won’t be competing with myself for in-house publicity and marketing resources.
The point of this whole saga should be fairly obvious. We’ve all heard stories of the authors who become big hits after enduring one rejection after another. I don’t know if I’m going to be one of those authors. I think this series can do well — I still consider Spell Blind the best book I’ve ever written, and I’m thrilled that I will get to write at least two more books with these characters and this new magic system. But even if this isn’t my break-out project, it is another sale in a market that has gotten harder and harder. And it came because Lucienne and I refused to give up on the book. Or, to be more precise, I refused to give up on the book, and Lucienne refused to give up on me.
I was fortunate, in that I had several friends who gave me lots of support along the way. Edmund’s feedback was more valuable than I can say. Kate Elliott read it for me around the same time Edmund did, and she loved it, which helped me keep the faith. And speaking of Faith, she read the final incarnation of Spell Blind last summer, around the time when we were sending it out one last time, and she assured me that it would sell because she, too, thought it was my best work to date. But even without the encouragement of my colleagues, I would have fought for this book. I love it, and have for eight years. I’ve poured my heart and soul into it again and again. Yes, I had to tear it apart in order to save it. Yes, the rejections were heartbreaking. But the sale was that much sweeter for all that the manuscript endured.
So, if you have a book that you love, that you know is your best work, and that you can’t seem to sell, don’t give up. Read it with a critical eye. Get your beta readers to do the same. It may be that some core elements of the book are outstanding but others are not. You might have to rip the thing apart, rewrite it from first page to last and then do it again. That’s all right. If you love it, it’s worth the fight.
You’ll hear a lot more about Spell Blind and the Weremyste Cycle in the months to come — you know me: I’m not shy when it comes to talking about my projects. But right now I want to hear from you. Is there a book that you have in a drawer (or a hard drive) that you are desperate to sell but just can’t seem to get right? Would you be willing to tear it to the ground in order to save it? Tell us about it.David B. Coe http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com