Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Where Am I?

Last week I was in NYC.  I don’t get to go to big bookstores where I live so I went into a B&N.  Of course I headed to the mystery section which was fairly large.  I always look for myself first.  I didn’t expect to find any of my books except for the paperback of  This Dame For Hire.  Nope.  Nothing.  Nada.  I tried to tell myself it was because they’d sold out.  It didn’t work.  I knew that wasn’t true.  If they’d sold out why didn’t they reorder?

TDFH was my 18th published novel.  But where was I?  Not among all the other writers, some I’d never heard of, some self-published I was surprised to see.  I wasn’t the only working writer who wasn’t there.  Others were missing, too.  I’m not naming names.  But there were plenty of name brands, and why wouldn’t there be?

It was depressing.  Demoralizing.

I went back to work yesterday and did pretty well.  Today was a mess.  I feel like throwing the manuscript into the water and deleting all copies on my computer and back ups.  I know I won’t.  But I wonder how much of my discouragement is laced with my bookstore blues.

Still, I’m on page 178 and I feel I don’t know what I’m doing, where I’m going or who these people are.  My closest friend just told me she wishes she had a tape to playback to me because I always say these things. 

But this time it’s real.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Authors Earning Back Advances

Westvillageidiot left a comment the other day that a publisher was taking a risk on publishing Donna Leon and Fred Vargas in this country.  I countered by saying I didn’t think it was a risk to publish authors who had written 26 books between them.  Westvillageidiot wrote that Neither author has earned back her respective advances from previous English-language publishers.

Perhaps that was because the authors had been paid too much to start with.  Or none of those publishers had done anything to help the books along.  I say this with first hand knowledge.  Some part of that has happened to me three times.

In 1977 I published a book called Some Unknown Person. It was the first adult novel I wrote.  Putnam published it in hardcover and Bantam bought it for paper back.  They paid me an almost mid six figures.  That’s a lot of money now but it was an incredible amount of money then.

Putnam took out a full page ad (opposite the table of contents) in  the NYTBR.  What a thrill that was. Between that and the Bantam sale I was riding high.  But guess what?  Nothing happened.  When Bantam brought out the book they made the cover look like a modern slut novel.  It was all in pink and it had a young girl with long blonde hair doing what?  Nothing. This was a book that was set between 1901 and 1931.* 

No one knew the book existed.  I had already made back my five figure advance from Putnam so that was not a problem.  But there was no way that the money from Bantam was ever going to be made back.  First, of all, it was way too much money to pay me for that novel.  And secondly, the comany abandoned the book.  You’d think having paid that much money they’d want to get behind it.  You’d think.  But you’d be wrong.

And then it happened again with other publishing houses.  When you’re offered a lot of money (the next two times the amount was nothing like the first) you’re not going to say “No thanks.  I’d prefer you to give me less so I can be sure to earn it back and then you’ll want to continue to publish me.”  At least, I would never say that and I doubt that any author would. 

Of course I didn’t earn back either time. And the third time nothing was done to let anybody know that the books existed.   Was I dropped.  Naturally.   

I’m not suggesting that publishers offer authors impossibly low advances but doesn’t there have to be something in between?  Most writers I know are happy to be published.  They want a decent advance but don’t expect an insane amount.  Giving authors, who aren’t stars, six figure advances is destructive for both parties.

But if they do they should be willing to back it up.  How?  At least a small ad somewhere to let the public know the book exists.  I know that publishers say ads don’t help but I don’t believe that.  One small ad, I say.

I’m sure anyone reading this in the business is thinking that I’ve cut my throat.  Once again.  What do you think, Miss Snark?  Do I qualify for Nitwit of the day?

 *The second time the paperback of Some Unkown Person was published by Carroll & Graf the cover was much, much better.  And the cover of the HC from Putnam was wonderful.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Best Laid Plans

I was planning to start writing yesterday but I got sick over the weekend.  No, I don’t think it’s psychosomatic.  I think it’s annoying.

I’d like to write about a comment that westvillageidiot left yesterday but I don’t have the energy.  It’s about authors earning back advances.  A subject close to my heart.  I’ll do it as soon as I can.

Yes, I know, you’ll be waiting with bated breath.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Good Example That's Bad

I received an email from an old Bouchercon writer friend the other day. When I wrote back I asked her if she’d been writing as I hadn’t seen anything by her for a long time and I always thought she was very good.  This was her answer.

   I've been writing all along, but I haven't been published since 1995 (a non-fiction book) and  I haven't published any novels since 1992. Not that I wasn't writing them--no one was buying. I was at (name of pub. house) and then one day in 1993 my editor left to go to (name of pub house) swearing that I'd be in very good hands with my next editor. I never heard from him, and after five months I found out that he had just taken a job with (name of magazine) by reading one of the trade papers. The novel I was under contract for just disappeared into the void. And anything I wrote after that (about seven novels, I forget how much non-fiction) got a cold shoulder. I think my favorite rejection was "this book is too well-written to be commercially viable."  It's been pretty hard for me emotionally and psychologically--I was/am one of those people for whom writing was/is the be-all and end-all.

   The agent I had long ago retired from the business, and anyone I've contacted since has been willing to consider me as a client, but with one big codicil. I swear, every single one of them has said to me, "Write me the new Da Vinci Code!"  In the first place, I wouldn't know how to go about writing something like that, and in the second place, I can't write that badly. It's a knack, you know.
This breaks my heart.  Not just for her.  I know there are lots of good writers that were making it in the 80’s and the early 90’s who haven’t published a thing for years.  And I’m sure the reasons are exactly like the ones in the email above.
There was a period within that time frame when too many people were being published.  That may sound odd, but I believe it’s true.  This is what publishers do.  They get on to a good thing and then they do it to death.  I think it’s the same in all the arts. 
A lot of mystery writers who weren’t good got published during that second Golden Age. Some were unreadable.  Some were terrific and made it big.  They are, of course, still being published.  And some were good, very good, and there’s no room for them now.
I don’t know how many keep on writing.  I suspect the real writers do.  I hope so.  One day it may all turn around again. 
I do pray that The Da Vinci Code clones will disappear.  They aren’t real writers.  In my opinion they’re opportunists.  I don’t know what to call the agents who want/expect writers to imitate Dan Brown.  Maybe stupid is the word.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Death and Denial

Since my last post I haven’t felt too great.  The first week after Jerry’s death I managed to write a chapter.  But this past week was awful.

On Saturday I had a computer disaster and had to reinstall.  I backup so none of my writing was lost.  But if you’ve ever had to do this you know how long it takes.  Because I have backup drives I was able to reinstall  and recover programs I use.  Somehow this took me all week.

Now I know it was because of Jerry.  I couldn’t have written anyway.  I was far too sad.  I was able to deny this until the computer was back in shape.  The computer horror kept me busy and my feelings at bay.

I probably won’t be writing this coming week either.  I have other things I’m going to do. So when I get back to work I will have been away from the novel for two weeks.  It’s okay.  I don’t feel ready yet anyway.

Death sucks.