This post is about roller-coasters. Not the kind in amusement parks, but the kind in the writer’s life, where for a while what is usually a too-calm, often repetitive, boring lifestyle suddenly changes. My standard schedule is to get up in the morning and sit down to write, and write all week until Friday night when I get ready to head in to the lab for more work. In between writing and lab, I stuff in laundry, cleaning, paddling, walking the dogs, not-enough-yoga, groceries, and sometimes some jewelry making. Occasionally the birds will do something nice and different either out the writing window or on a paddle (like yesterday, when we paddled through the migratory stop-over of multiple species of water birds from buffleheads to Bonaparte gulls to mergansers to … okay, that’s another post.) But the juggling schedule is always tossing the same unchanging smurf-balls around.
And then the things start to happen. The little-engine-that-could starts chugging up the hill, and I know it means that roller-coaster is about to take me on a ride. I’m not going to share everything about my past week, rather, I thought I’d share a compilation of things that have happened over my career, to give the unpubs out there an example of the short term roller-coaster of a writer’s life. The other regular posters here can add their own version—it will likely be more exciting than my own, but it’s all basically the same!
For me, it usually starts on a Tuesday.
I’ve always supposed it started on a Tuesday, because Monday is an editor’s busiest meeting-day, and phone calls go out that evening or Tuesday morning. So, on Tuesday, the agent makes a phone call or sends an email. “Your book sold in Greece (or Germany or France or Spain or Brazil).” Followed by a flurry of tax forms to be signed and to have my banker fill out.
Followed by a series of emails between agent and writer about the pending US contract. It runs the gamut from: “What do you want?” to “As much as I can get. Can we get a 30% increase?” to “We can try,” to “What will the market allow?” to “Things are bad all over, so don’t expect as big a jump in money as you might have gotten two years ago.”
Then, with our basic hopes in place and clearly laid out, the agent goes to the publisher. And there is a lull. I try to write or paddle a lot when that happens. I try to stay away from the phone and from email, in a place with no cell service and lots of nature.
Finally (this time on the way out of a gorge after a day on the water) there is the call: “We have an offer. They are breaking it down this way:”
(These are not my numbers. This is based a new, 3-book deal, for a previously unpublished author. I hope my math is correct, but the numbers are pretty in line with the market right now.)
“They are offering you $5,000 for the first book, $5,000 for the second, and $6,000 for the third.
$6,000 on signing (attributed $2,000 to Book 1, $2,000 to Book 2, $2,000 to Book 3)
$1,500 on D&A Book 1 (D&A = delivery and acceptance. This is monies delivered *after* you have rewritten a book to suit the editor)
$1,500 on publication of Book 1 (in January, 2 years from now)
$1,500 on D&A Book 2 (in 12 months)
$1,500 on publication of Book 2 (In July, 3 years from now, six months after Book 1)
$2,000 on D&A Book 3 (in 18 months)
$2,000 on publication of Book 3 (in January 3 years from now, six months after Book 2)
“Shall we accept?”
If you want to consider what a seven figure deal might be like, just add the zeros. It’s all just math.
So far, (with the exception of Gwen’s six figure deal in the 90s) it’s never been a jumping up and down moment, but it’s been pleasant, like that glide down the roller-coaster’s downhill slope with arms in the air. Getting paid (not enough, but it is ever?) to do what I love is always joyful.
After basic terms have been agreed upon, then the agent and editor do a little more dickering behind the scenes—the agent usually trying to get more up front, the editor trying to get more on the back-end.
Then there’s the discussion about PR, which many editors will consider for established and growing authors but simply shake their heads at on 99.99% of new authors. (Not counting the very rare seven figure deal for an unpublished writer. That deal gets lots of PR.)
Then the agent calls back with a “We have a deal.” The editor writes an, “I am ecstatic that we will be working together!” letter, followed by, “Can you get Book 1 to me two months earlier than planned? I can get you onto the fall schedule if so.” And? “We have problems with the tile. How about, “Whatever Marketing Came Up With.” And the chugging uphill starts all over again.
When a writer hits the New York Times, it puts her on the publisher’s radar, in ways that I never expected. The publisher becomes proprietary about the writer, the series, and everything that comes out of the writer’s creative mind. Things change. The writer has to start thinking like a political being, being careful of her words, her actions, her plans, and her prospects. It means more phone calls with the agent, more careful wording, more … more everything. That gets added into the roller-coaster as well, and gives a writer an additional ball to juggle. The writing life gets better. And it gets harder. All at once. I am not a political being. I have a big mouth. I say what I think. I have learned the hard way that doing so is not always the smartest thing I can do! And I am still learning. It is a new uphill chug, followed by a brand new downhill rush.
That has been my life for the last 3 weeks. Up and down and all around and all the balls I’m juggling while riding the roller-coaster keep falling and bouncing away. And I love it. And now I need to yoga. And take a nap.
It is never easy, this writing life. But it is fun!