I thought I’d write about the realities of the publishing business today – and not the good stuff. Yeah, I’m cranky. For good reason. I have a mystery-writing friend—someone I worked with a long while and introduced to her agent and celebrated with her through her first books. She just called…
She just found out that her numbers on the first two books were not high enough and the publishing company is not picking her up after book three (which isn’t even released yet). They will not be buying more books from her, under that name, with that character, ever. Her career is dead in the water. Which just gripes my goat. Or would if I had one.
Apparently this happened last week and it just hit her. Hard. She just emailed me and I … well, I am still shocked. I had hoped she would make it. Really hoped she would, because she has become a good friend and is a kind, good, person, and her writing makes me laugh. What more can you ask?
Now she has to make some tough decisions. Does she stop writing? Write something else? If so, what? Under another name? With another agent? Is she stopping and quitting or starting over? What more can her heart-of-a-writer take? These are the decisions that plague writers whose books do not earn enough to make them viable to their publishing company. It is worse than being orphaned (losing one’s editor to attrition, downsizing, pregnancy, new better job, whatever.)
How it works: Most publishing houses offer a three book deal (average) to an unknown writer, though there are exceptions (waves to Misty,). They then give that writer two books to make a name, build a fan base, sell through, and earn royalties on the third book of the three book deal. Some few houses will go more books. Up to five. After that it is sayonara, baby. It hurts.
My first two books (two book deal) with a co-writer, sold under the name Gary Hunter, and was planned to be a six book series (per the editor who so enthusiastically purchased the first two books) about an undercover cop in Washington, DC. Then Rodney King happened. Cop books disappeared from the market almost overnight. Only Joseph Wambaugh survived the ensuing list purge, and he reportedly took a *huge* cut in his advances for the next few books. Gary Hunter was purged. My writing partner gave up. And I had to decide who I was, what I was going to write, and if my creative heart could do this again.
I took a year off to decide and experiment with fiction and voice and character, and sent in four or five proposals to my agent. Each proposal consisted of a five to ten page single-spaced outline and at least thirty manuscript pages. I had huge publisher interest in a *lady cop* book but could never find the voice. I also couldn’t find a voice for fantasy. And my agent, who was less than excited about my career at that point, did not represent fantasy.
After a year of grieving, I reinvented myself as a mystery writer. It hasn’t been an easy ride – more like taking a river at flood stage, over a cofferdam, in a leaky kayak. I have survived. So far. But my friend’s pain is my pain. What will tomorrow bring? It is dang scary. At times like this I really hate this business. Almost as much as I love it.
So. I guess my question is this. If you got canned and had to start over, (either at the beginning of your career, for our not-yet-published fans/writers, or now, at whatever point you are at, career-wise, for my co-bloggers and other commercially published writers) how would you handle it? What would you do? Would you give up? Pick a new name? Start drinking? *smiles* What?