Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday 20

Many of you out there are series writers like me. Used to be that a series was like a marriage; the ones that were well-loved, realistically planned and carefully considered could be expected to last longer than the Vegas-wedding types. The writer decided when to call it quits and move on, too.

As competition for slots has increased, and bottom line expectations have escalated, writers are finding that having a series is more like being involved in an illicit affair. If the series performs poorly, the writer is shown the door without ceremony. Publishing doesn't need to mess around with a loser when there are so many other pretty series virgins out there. If the series does well, the writer is praised and immediately put on a very short leash. Publishing doesn't need the writer to mess around writing anything else; it might not perform as well.

Either way it's a creative choke-chain, and if we're not careful, it's going to strangle us.

Writers don't have job security -- we know we're only as good as our last sell-through -- but I think series writers have to readjust the way we think about our novels. Certainly structuring them has become a nightmare. It's almost as if every series has to be open-ended, so that we can continue writing it if it does well, but every series book has to also work as the last novel if we get canned.

Trilogies are the worst. Take it from me: if you're planning to write a trilogy, do your best to sell all three books; don't sign for two and assume they'll buy the third with the next contract. Also, consider what you might write if, after the third novel is published, they tell you that they want more of the same.

I really can't complain too much. As a pro I chose to diversify early on for other reasons, but it definitely helped me avoid the leash. Multi-genre writing isn't for everyone, but if you're up to the juggling act you have a shot at never being owned an/or controlled by one publisher. Writing in more than one genre also flexes your talent muscles, broadens your horizons, and ups the wattage on your resume. There is no better employment insurance than showing that you've got range.

There is no series insurance except success, which can become a trap. There are writers who are happy to keep churning out the series novels for as long as they get contracts, and a few who apparently can only write the same book over and over; these people do benefit from being tethered to a series. However much we series writers love our playgrounds, though, most of us don't want to spend our entire career chained there.

If you're only interested in writing in one genre, then I'd go for writing in different sub-genres and avoid signing away your option to any one publisher. A romance writer who can write historicals, contemporary suspense and paranormals can sell them to three different publishers. You may have to assume a few pseudonyms to keep the powers that be happy, but you'll have three times the playgrounds and three times the store real estate that the one-thing-only writer acquires.

That's all the shop talk I have for you this week. Any questions for me?

34 comments:

  1. Did you know that if you type in "pb" in the browser window and don't wait for it to auto-fill "pbackwriter.blogpsot.com" and hit return to fast, you will go to the pitney bowes website? Not saying how I know this. Also not admitting how many times I've done this.

    I'm happy to be able to write in multiple subgenres. I like them all and I find it keeps my creative juices flowing to have more than one kind of story. I plan to keep on writing this way.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Writing in different genres and/or subgenres is exactly what I want to do. Here's a question, though. Let's assume I can get a contract and I'm signing on the dotted line. Do publishers attempt to keep their writers from taking their sub-genre books elsewhere?

    ReplyDelete
  3. That's waht I was wondering. What phrases or tricks do publishers have that allow them to keep their authors restricted as to what genres they can be published in, or at least published by that one company? No-contest clauses?

    www.jrvogt.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. In the article about series writers you linked to, you mention a paranormal romance series. Is that the Darkyn books?

    If it's not, I may have to start a petition.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A sobering post, with much food for thought.

    Over at Pub Rants, literary agent Kristin Nelson has been blogging about how publishers are inserting no-compete clauses into warranty clauses. So yes, they're onto this idea of spreading your bets already.

    I think my question is, can I please have a time machine so I can travel back twenty years and start a career in writing then...?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Can you address the pros and cons of writing different sub-genres under different pseudonyms, and why publishers prefer this? I've been told recently that if I'm going to dip my toes in all these pools (romantic suspense, paranormal, fantasy, straight contemporary romance, the odd historical) that I need a different persona for each. And a different brand. And a different WEBSITE. The very thought of it makes me want to go back to bed. :p

    ReplyDelete
  7. Charlene wrote: Did you know that if you type in "pb" in the browser window and don't wait for it to auto-fill "pbackwriter.blogpsot.com" and hit return to fast, you will go to the pitney bowes website? Not saying how I know this. Also not admitting how many times I've done this.

    Aha. That explains all those irate e-mails I've been getting from Pitney Bowes. :)

    I know what you mean, though. I get so many phish-mails that my "spoof" prefix file in my e-mail addy book resembles the begotted in Genesis.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I wanted to ask the same thing Selah March did. Why are there some authors can get away with it, and other authors can't? It can't be because a particular author is so very well heard of, because while the ones I've come across are mainstream, they are not widely known. Is the the publishing company?

    Too, when writing in multiple genres I find it harder to shop around my non-erotics, horror, and sci-fi based stuff. But then, maybe this is just me. :P

    ReplyDelete
  9. Anonymous10:44 AM

    I'm sort of freaking out because a writer friend (who has never completed a whole novel) told me she doesn't revise. She doesn't think she has to. What do you SAY to that?
    Jess

    ReplyDelete
  10. I asked this a few months ago, but here it goes again. *g*

    Are you any closer to writing Caine's book? I know you mentioned something about an e-book since JH went OOP. :( I love your JH books. I own about 5 copies of each book. I am dying for Caine's story!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Krista wrote: Let's assume I can get a contract and I'm signing on the dotted line. Do publishers attempt to keep their writers from taking their sub-genre books elsewhere?

    Some publishers, like certain category romance lines, have always put very restrictive clauses in their contracts. They can prevent a writer from even using her own, legal name anywhere else. I've sacrificed basically all my rights to some of my WFH work because of the same type of controlling restrictions. From what I'm hearing from other pros, it's getting worse.

    All this means is that you have to read every single word of any contract before you sign it and make sure you're willing to go along with what they want.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Jess: Never ever volunteer to critique your anti-revisionist friend's work. That way you can continue to be her friend even after she discovers how sadly mistaken her view of her own writing is. Some revelations are best delivered by strangers.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Josh wrote: What phrases or tricks do publishers have that allow them to keep their authors restricted as to what genres they can be published in, or at least published by that one company? No-contest clauses?

    Most major publishers have an option clause in their contracts that allows them to have first refusal on the author's next book in the same genre as the book(s) under contract (which means they get to see it and make the first offer.) If they refuse to buy the book, theoretically the author can then pitch it elsewhere. It's considered bad form, though, and I think most agents argue against it.

    There are some gray areas that aren't written in the contract but are like multi-genre protocol. The publisher may insist that the author pitch in a different genre elsewhere only under a pseudonym to avoid "competing with themselves" on the market or to eliminate reader-shelf confusion. That's why I have more pseudonyms than the average bank robber. From a business POV it's sensible; from an author's POV, it's starting over from scratch because a new pseudonym almost always means losing your established readership. If you're a strong writer, you can always pick up a new readership, but mostly it's a pain for the author.

    There are name-clauses that are pretty infamous in category romance, where the publisher basically "owns" your published name and you have to ask permission to use it elsewhere. This allows them to control whatever else you sell under that name while dodging a guarantee of work from them. They can refuse to publish anything you pitch, and refuse to let you pitch it under your published name, and basically you're screwed.

    In WFH work, the clauses are much, much more restrictive. The author can be barred from publicly claiming the work is their own, publicizing the book at all, or owning the copyright to it (WFH clients like to buy all the rights to the work for a flat fee.)

    Finally, publishers can insist on trademark or series clauses so that if the writer dies, messes up or no longer suits them, they can hire someone else to write the work. That's what happened to the Nancy Drew series, and why books by V.C. Andrews and Gary Jennings continue to be published despite the fact that both authors are deceased.

    ReplyDelete
  14. May wrote: In the article about series writers you linked to, you mention a paranormal romance series. Is that the Darkyn books?

    Actually the Darkyn books were the horror series I mentioned in the article; the paranormal romance series I pitched never sold. Sort of ironic, how that turned out.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Buffysquirrel wrote: can I please have a time machine so I can travel back twenty years and start a career in writing then...?

    Only if you take me with you.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thank you, PBW. Extremely informative, and I enjoy knowing what's going on behind the scenes or between the lines.

    www.jrvogt.com

    ReplyDelete
  17. How old is your dictionary? I just realized mine is dated 1998, I bought it used but I was thinking, do writers really need to update these. I have older ones too.

    I come from a family that doesn't buy a dictionary until the old one has pages falling out. They still have one that was probably hand bound in the stone ages.

    I was curious to if you actually pick up new ones every year? Or do you do hang on to the old ones too?

    Yes, pointless question. :) Thanks for writing about series. I am attempting to do the multi-genre jump simply because I want to.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Selah wrote: Can you address the pros and cons of writing different sub-genres under different pseudonyms, and why publishers prefer this?

    On the pro list for the author, getting more work, having the opportunity to try different things and enjoying more creative freedom are the primary benefits. Also, if one pseudonym doesn't work out, you have other names and through them other opportunities to keep working.

    For publishers, it means less single-name competition on the shelf and less problems with chains ordering to the net. I can write eight or nine books a year, but only two of them are going to be by Lynn Viehl, so I don't flood the market with Lynn Viehl books, and my other novels are judged on their sell-through in their genre, not only on how well Lynn Viehl's name sells.

    On the down side for the author, acquiring a new pseudonym almost always means starting over from nothing. No readership, no name recognition, no resting on the laurels of previous successes. A new pseudonym takes time to establish, which is not a big deal if you do it once of twice -- with the way publishers are I'm probably looking at taking on pseudonym #10, 11 and 12 this year. Believe me, you get tired of it. The publisher doesn't pop the champagne if you do better under a pseudonym for another publisher, either; plus for them there's always the risk that pseudonym success will convince the author to take their business elsewhere.

    I've been told recently that if I'm going to dip my toes in all these pools (romantic suspense, paranormal, fantasy, straight contemporary romance, the odd historical) that I need a different persona for each. And a different brand. And a different WEBSITE. The very thought of it makes me want to go back to bed.

    That sounds a bit paranoid and counterproductive to me. I've done separate name and all-in-one web sites, and the all-in-one was actually more popular. Readers might not like everything I write, but they like knowing about it.

    I'd let the books be the persona and the brand. They're what the reader is buying, not you. You can do different sections on one web site for each and give readers a nice variety to choose from.

    I'm not so sure web sites are the end-all answer for multi-genre author promo. This silly freebie weblog right here has generated more publicity for me than any web site I've had, maybe because it encompasses everything I do plus acts as a discussion board for anyone who wants to talk shop or books, plus gives a little window into my writing life. A single-name web site that focuses on promoting one or two releases a year would be of interest only to readers of that pseudonym; it wouldn't be worth the effort.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Cora wrote: Why are there some authors can get away with it, and other authors can't?

    Some authors will do whatever the publishers want, others won't. I know one thing for sure -- if you use multiple pseudonyms from the start or early on in your career, you have a better chance of avoiding a leash. Later, if you become a big name, the publisher will probably do that "Jane Smith writing as Judy Doe" thing they do with reprints.

    Too, when writing in multiple genres I find it harder to shop around my non-erotics, horror, and sci-fi based stuff. But then, maybe this is just me.

    Or the genres you're choosing to write in. SF is probably the hardest genre to break into and most authors end up out on the keister within three to five books. Horror would be second runner up; it's come back a little since the bottom fell out ten years ago but not much. With erotica being so hot right now, non-erotic romance could be a harder sell.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Jess wrote: I'm sort of freaking out because a writer friend (who has never completed a whole novel) told me she doesn't revise. She doesn't think she has to. What do you SAY to that?

    I'd say that's probably why she's never completed a novel. Seriously, she may be such a marvelous writer that she doesn't need to revise, but I've yet to meet a creature like that.

    It could be that she's still evolving into becoming a writer. Starting out you believe all sorts of nonsense. Or she may feel so insecure about what she writes that she overcompensates by telling herself that it's perfect. I've met plenty of writers who do that. ;)

    When I was 13 I never revised a single word I wrote, because I was very young and so in love with the act of getting the words down and building that great big manuscript. I couldn't see my work as flawed or in need of polishing. Writing was wonderful, therefore what I wrote was always wonderful (I also believed it was okay to use 1/8" left and right margins.) Luckily I got over that phase a few years later.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Casee wrote: Are you any closer to writing Caine's book? I know you mentioned something about an e-book since JH went OOP.

    I have yet to finalize this with my publisher and agent, but I'm leaning toward self-publishing Caine's novel, probably as a free e-book and maybe as a low-cost print novel for people who want a copy for their JH collection (I've never done a print self-pubbed novel, and I've always wanted to, just to get an idea of what the self-pubbed authors out there go through.)

    I love your JH books. I own about 5 copies of each book. I am dying for Caine's story!

    Thank you in investing in them. I promise, I'll have a more definite answer soon.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Katherine wrote to Jess: Some revelations are best delivered by strangers.

    Amen.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Josh wrote: Thank you, PBW. Extremely informative, and I enjoy knowing what's going on behind the scenes or between the lines.

    No problem -- thanks for posting such an interesting question. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  24. Pixel Faerie wrote: How old is your dictionary? I just realized mine is dated 1998, I bought it used but I was thinking, do writers really need to update these. I have older ones too.

    Currently the one I use most in English is a 1997 edition of Webster's Universal College Dictionary. I gave away the one that I kept on my desk since I turned pro to a writer friend who lost everything during Katrina. I thought it might bring her luck.

    I come from a family that doesn't buy a dictionary until the old one has pages falling out. They still have one that was probably hand bound in the stone ages.

    I have about forty or fifty altogether. One is from 1918 and has some really funny definitions in it.

    I was curious to if you actually pick up new ones every year? Or do you do hang on to the old ones too?

    I'll buy a nice theme-specific dictionary if I see one (I recently acquired Roget's Thesaurus in dictionary form, which is pretty cool.) I'm always getting new foreign language dictionaries, I have about a hundred of those. For work, I tend to use online English dictionaries like dictionary.com more often than not for the convenience.

    ReplyDelete
  25. This sounds like very good advice. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Anonymous2:17 PM

    Thank you, PBW and Katherine. It was just such a shock to the system because I always assumed this friend keeps up with the industry as much as I do.
    Jess

    ReplyDelete
  27. Anonymous4:09 PM

    Every time you address the issue of series and how hard it is to keep them going I get very nervous. Any news on the next Star Doc -- typing with crossed fingers for good news!

    Marie

    ReplyDelete
  28. This is not a writer question but a reader question. Are you planning to write more about Jarn and Reever? As you have said in your posts, you have to leave things open and yet finish the novel. You did a beautiful job with "Plague of Memories". Please let us know.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Thanks for the info on the series thing. I am looking at writing a series so I'm happy for any info I can get. :)

    On that subject, I've been seriously re-considering writing a standalone instead of the trilogy I have planned. I am just too afraid that I'll have this awesome trilogy and it won't sell. I would rather write the standalone and save the other stuff for later. The plot is complicated, and alot happens, which is why I ended up with a 400k word monster vs. the 100k book I had planned. ;) Luckily, I think most of it can be shifted to the sequel and subsequent books, but I am mourning the story as it stands right now. I believe the changes will be for the better, but it still hurts. :( I'm sure every writer goes through that --after the blood sweat and tears part of the first draft process, it's gotta be tough to deconstruct and reconstruct your baby from the ground up. Have you ever had that happen to you? And how did you handle it, if you did?

    And...does this sound like a more viable solution? Is there any way I *could* work it so it is a trilogy (or, hell, a duology) and still make it saleable? I just love this book, the potential series, and the world too much to not do it justice.

    Thanks a million in advance.


    Cheers,

    Erin K.

    ReplyDelete
  30. PL wrote: This sounds like very good advice. Thanks.

    You're welcome. Hopefully it will help.

    Jess wrote: It was just such a shock to the system because I always assumed this friend keeps up with the industry as much as I do.

    Maybe she'll find her way naturally from where she is now to where she needs to be. I think sometimes we all have to do stuff like that, on our own, so that it sticks.

    Marie wrote: Every time you address the issue of series and how hard it is to keep them going I get very nervous. Any news on the next Star Doc -- typing with crossed fingers for good news!

    I will not leave you guys hanging much longer, Marie -- my revised proposals for the next two books are going out next week, and I hope to have some good news by the end of the month.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Becky Jo wrote: This is not a writer question but a reader question.

    My favorite kind of question; I get to talk about me! Lol.

    Are you planning to write more about Jarn and Reever? As you have said in your posts, you have to leave things open and yet finish the novel. You did a beautiful job with "Plague of Memories". Please let us know.

    I'm not done with StarDoc yet; I'm working on getting book #8 (Drednoc) and book #9 (Crystal Healer) into print.
    Past that, I can't say. It depends on how well the books do, if the publisher still wants new novels, and if I'm willing to contnue the series beyond the ninth novel.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Erin wrote: On that subject, I've been seriously re-considering writing a standalone instead of the trilogy I have planned. I am just too afraid that I'll have this awesome trilogy and it won't sell. I would rather write the standalone and save the other stuff for later. The plot is complicated, and alot happens, which is why I ended up with a 400k word monster vs. the 100k book I had planned. ;)

    I hear you, lady. And I'm wincing as I think of one of mine, a 500K mountain of a book that would not die, presently gathering dust in yon closet.

    Luckily, I think most of it can be shifted to the sequel and subsequent books, but I am mourning the story as it stands right now. I believe the changes will be for the better, but it still hurts.

    That's the kind of pain that comes from serving the story, not yourself. It never gets easier, but it does take you to a different level with the work. You're doing the right thing for the story, and by extension yourself. It just doesn't feel like it right now.

    Have you ever had that happen to you? And how did you handle it, if you did?

    Well, I gave up on the first one (the 500K gigantor-epic) but it taught me a couple of things. When I had another novel try to swell to 300K on me, I came to a full stop, replotted, trimmed down the first half and rewrote the second half from scratch. It about killed me, but I knew I couldn't turn in a 300K novel under a 100K limit contract. I saved the first draft, and later mined what I'd discarded for ideas, which ended up helping me out in three other different subsequent novels.

    And...does this sound like a more viable solution? Is there any way I *could* work it so it is a trilogy (or, hell, a duology) and still make it saleable? I just love this book, the potential series, and the world too much to not do it justice.

    You mentioned saving what you trimmed away for the sequel and subsequent books, which I personally applaud and think is the best way to go. You're not sacrificing those parts of the story; you're saving them for future installments.

    You can try condensing down, but you run the risk of packing so much into the novel without the proper pacing or development time that the reader may miss things, get lost, feel rushed, etc. Also I find authors who condense alot end up with clunky or lifeless, textbook prose because they're concentrating so much on getting it all in there they forget to pay attention to (or have no room for) things like style and imagery.

    I think it's also an excellent idea to pitch the book as a standalone, but don't give up on your hope for a duology or trilogy -- plot out the sequel(s) and have them ready. An interested editor may want to know what you plan to do after this first book, and if you're prepared, you might land a contract for both/all three.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Anonymous11:54 AM

    Hi,

    I'm a new convert, having just discovered Stardoc and collected all of the series.

    I love this info on series writing. I'm storyboarding an SFR series now, as well as two standalones in different universes. I have several questions.

    Do you do a detailed outline of the series as s whole as well as each book, or do you plot each book just before you write them?

    Re; pseudonyms for different genres. Are SFR, hard SF, and Space Opera with Romance so closely related that you'd have to use one name, or would it be better to use different names to write each? I've read debates saying SF is shelved in SF and SFR/Romantic Space Opera would be shevled in Romance, which seems to indicate you could write under different names and spread yourself out.

    Lastly, if a publisher turns down a proposal and it's 'frowned upon' to pitch to another print publisher, is it frowned on to pitch to an ebook pub?

    Thanks for taking time to answer questions! I wish I was as prolific as you are. :-)

    Anna

    ReplyDelete
  34. Anna wrote: Do you do a detailed outline of the series as s whole as well as each book, or do you plot each book just before you write them?

    Generally I outline a series as extensively as most authors do a single novel, with a timeline of the major events, all the planned characters, plot threads, setting ideas, standalone and series conflicts and resolutions, etc.

    Are SFR, hard SF, and Space Opera with Romance so closely related that you'd have to use one name, or would it be better to use different names to write each?

    Believe it or not, it really depends on the publisher(s) involved and what they want versus what writer wants to do or how closely the SF sub-genres are related. A publisher might want to shelve your SF in SF/F and your SFR in romance, in which case you're going to be asked to use another pseudonym for one of them. That's precisely why I'm S.L. Viehl for SF and Lynn Viehl for dark fantasy; I wanted to keep everything under S.L. but the publisher demanded a new pseudonym because the books were going to be shelved differently.

    Lastly, if a publisher turns down a proposal and it's 'frowned upon' to pitch to another print publisher, is it frowned on to pitch to an ebook pub?

    Whoever is frowning upon it isn't a professional writer, because we often submit proposals many, many times to a variety of publishers in order to find an interested editor. Let's put it this way: if any publisher accepts submissions, you can pitch them with whatever you like -- even a proposal that has been rejected elsewhere.

    What is frowned upon is submitting the same proposal to the same publisher after they've already rejected it once. That's basically you not taking "no" for an answer, and you shouldn't do it unless you're invited by the editor to resubmit after you make some changes to the original proposal.

    ReplyDelete