Friday, January 16, 2009

Beginnings, endings, and the turbulence of emotions by proxy

On Tuesday, I finished After The Fall, and on the whole I'm pretty pleased with it. It turned out to be longer, darker, and sadder than I'd expected, especially towards the end, which made me cry as I wrote it. I can only hope that if readers cry at that part, it will be with sadness at the characters' predicament, not with laughter at the quality of the writing.

So, I was feeling quite emotional on Tuesday. Satisfied, because the book was finished, and happy with the way it turned out. But also still very worried about how it will be received, cyberpunk being a new genre for me and one I'm still not sure I've fully grasped (it might fall more into the futuristic/post apocalyptic category). Not to mention anxious that it might suffer the same fate as the Naked series. And still quite wrung out from the very emotional finale.

It was in this mood that I received an email from my editor at Samhain, telling me she'd decided not to buy the fifth Sophie Green book. I'm still not entirely sure why; if she'd said that the first four didn't sell well (I haven't added it up but I'm not sure they've all broken even yet) or that the series didn't fit with Samhain's new focus on romance, I might have understood. As it is, all I know is that she liked the story, and that I write very well, but she's still not buying it. I think that comes under the category of killing with kindness, doesn't it? I'd rather have been told that the story sucked and I couldn't write at all.

Which pretty much means goodbye to Sophie. I originally wrote six books in the series, and then a seventh more recently, and started on an eighth last year. But if the fifth book isn't published, then the subsequent books are rendered completely pointless; especially since the events of book five have a pretty large effect on Sophie's character and relationships (was this a factor in the rejection? Dunno).

I've never heard of a publisher picking up a series halfway through, unless it's a Big Name Author with a very canny agent who's managed to get a better deal. A series that sold very badly in the first place is even less likely to be bought by anyone else. And besides, having been rejected by the original publisher, the book's got a bit of a bad smell about it anyway.

But here's the interesting thing. Had this news come a few days later, or even a bit earlier, when I wasn't still fresh from After The Fall's super-turbulent ending, would I have been so upset? (We're talking crying-into-the-cat's-fur-all-night upset). Bad news heaped on bad news is one thing, but this was bad news heaped on emotions experienced, as it were, by proxy. I remember being quite shaken and depressed when I wrote the ending of Sophie book seven (forever destined to live on my hard drive now).

This might have been exacerbated by the fact that in that case (and in this one, with After The Fall) I was writing in first person, so it's even more involving. Added to which, Sophie's books are quite personal to me, being the first things I wrote that I actually considered publishable, and I've always been quite emotionally invested in them. I saved a bottle of champagne for three years to open when I sold I, Spy?.

Does anyone else experience this emotional turbulence by proxy, or am I just going quietly mad?

And does anybody, at all, know what to do with a series that's been dumped halfway through?


  1. How long would you have to wait before submitting Sophie book one to other publishers? Can you even do that, or do Samhain have the rights forever? I'll admit I don't know much about these things, so this could be a stupid question... But if you were able to start submitting the first book, it might be easier than trying to submit the fifth.

    And yes, totally with you on the emotions-by-proxy thing. I usually wander around in a daze for a few days after finishing a novel because I'm so exhausted by everything my characters have been through. Because of me. Yeah, it's just madness.

  2. Seven years, I think, until I can be released from the contract. (Which is better than some contracts that seal you in for life). This is the sort of thing where an agent comes in really handy!

    Unfortunately, pretty much every agent and editor in the land rejected Sophie out of hand when she was first submitted. I'd pretty much given up when a friend suggested Samhain.

    Looks like Sophie'll be back on the shelf, at least until I'm ridiculously famous and my backlist is repackaged.

  3. Ah, that's a shame. Still, roll on the ridiculous fame!

  4. I'd say the emotional fall out thing definitely had an effect. Like when you're really run down from work or exams or suchlike and THEN the cold germs hit you. Something you might shrug off turns into full-blown flu.

    I think it would be worth querying Sophie with your editor. After four books you deserve a little more in the way of explanation, (if only so you can tell future publishers why the series ended a tad abruptly).

    The other alternative is to e-publish it yourself. Set it out as a proper document-thing and have all the money for you!

    ((((Hugs)))) and for goodness sake get a warm towel for the poor cat.

  5. Kate, I am so sorry to hear about the Sophie books. I loved them and I hope they find a new and better home some day.

  6. Jan, that's not a bad idea to self-publish. I might consider it. And I think I will query a bit more with my editor, but I'll need to calm down a bit more first.

    Michele, I'm so glad you loved them. I did, too! I'm sure I'll work something out for book five. In the meantime, book four, Still Waters, is still due to come out in paperback in March.

    And the cat spent the rest of the night curled up on top of my sweater, on the floor by the radiator. I think she'll survive.

  7. Hugs, hugs, and more hugs, hon. And I completely agree with everyone else--you do deserve more of an explanation after four books. Is it actually the sales, or is it something that's different about this book and therefore, possibly fixable? For example, did she find the tone significantly different from the prior books? Does she want more humor? More action? What about the plot--knowing how world events change between finishing a book and submitting/publishing it, is there something with the plot that is awkward with current events in mind? How about the spice level? Does she want more sex, less sex, a sex change? Really, these are fair questions, and ones your editor shouldn't have any problem answering.

    Here's hoping you get the clarification you need soon, even if it still winds up being "thanks but no thanks." It's just like breaking up with a guy--yeah, it still sucks, but at least you should get to know WHY.

    Many, many hugs from Texas. And next time I see you, tequila shots are on me.

  8. Ooh, tequila. Actually, ack, tequila: remember I hate it!

    All I got was that she 'didn't connect with it'. I've had more useful form rejections on unsolicited queries.

    The thing is that the last book I sent her (actually the only other book I've sent her: while she edited Sophie book 4, it and the other three were bought by my previous editor) was rejected with a reasonably helpful revisions list. Things like character and plot points. I could see exactly what she meant and it gave me pointers on what to fix.

    Now? Picture me confused.

  9. No, actually I'm picturing you asking for another editor...

  10. Well, eventually I heard back, and apparently it was based on sales: she doesn't have enough slots in the schedule for books that won't sell well (as, admittedly, Sophie hasn't in the past). Other editors, apparently, have more slots and can take more chances.

    I'm trying not to read it this way, but I can't help thinking Sophie is dead in the water because I was reassigned to a rookie editor.