Confusing headline, huh? I’ve been holding onto this news since early November (although some of you I’ve talked to in passing know about it).
Here’s the nutshell: Tor has decided not to publish The Ultra Big Sleep, the sequel to The Ultra Thin Man. Why? I mean, my first novel’s main page on my site shows it garnered some pretty damn good reviews. It sold okay, but not great, or even well, by big publisher standards. Ebook sales, were not so good, and as of yet, I don’t know about the trade paperback sales, since it only came out the end of July. But the powers-that-be at Tor would know them. There’s a very, very slim chance the book might be published in the small mass market paperback size. Maybe it does well there. Maybe ebook sales pick up. But I was told that any whisper of consideration for a 2nd based on those results would be a year to 18 months out…definitely too long to wait or to have them hold onto the manuscript.
I turned in the sequel this past summer, and I believe in many ways it’s a much better book. But it didn’t even get read.
And that’s the reality of New York publishing these days. These days, you’ve got to make a splash first time out, or it’s almost always a no-go for more. You don’t get to string along your career anymore, waiting for a breakout novel. This doesn’t include authors lucky enough to get get a 2- or 3-book deal up front. And believe me, I know a lot of them who have had their 3 books published, and then have been dropped. A lot of them are Tor authors. But this isn’t limited to Tor, or Macmillan. It happens a lot, everywhere in the biz. Bottom line: I was told it was all about the numbers. To the folks paying the bills there, the numbers didn’t add up. They weren’t close enough to even consider (or read) the second book.
Certainly, I was quite sad and depressed about this news. I heard about it from my agent one week before The World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY. I was on the ballot for the World Fantasy Award for my work with Fairwood Press. My table in the dealer room was right next to the table run by my editor! That was not awkward. Okay…yeah, maybe a little. But we eventually chatted about it. I should also state that I am eternally grateful for my editor taking a chance on me and publishing my first novel. I have no animosity toward anyone who worked on my book and did what they could to position it in the marketplace, because that was all valuable, regardless of the monetary bottom line. The book was a much better book with my editor’s input, and I had a publicist who helped every way she could, and another editor who helped out big time.
Life long dream, achievement unlocked.
Immediately, I started bouncing around ideas. What to do, what to do? I had a completed novel that had gone through multiple drafts, and I’d received feedback from strong first readers. (As I type this, a few more writers are reading it.) Options very limited. No large, traditional publisher will take on a sequel to a first novel if they don’t own the rights to it (unless said first novel did really well, and in that case, why would they be passing on the sequel?). And this is a sequel, make no mistake. A very direct sequel. I believe it stands well enough on its own in that most folks could catch up without reading the first, but there’s definitely an interconnected tie-in to the first book that can’t be denied.
Most smaller, independent book presses are going to have the same difficulty with publishing a sequel without owning the first books’ rights. I had a few publishers mention some possibilities. Perhaps try re-branding the series, or take the sequel and mine it for smaller stories. Write something new in the world. (Even my editor told me to write a story set in my world as a way to promote the first book–which, by the way, I’ve been doing).
Many writers asked what I was going to do with the book. I flippantly said, “Well, I do know someone with a small press,” thinking about my own press I’ve run for 15 years, publishing many other writers. They said, “Yeah, why don’t you just self-publish it?” A fair number of writers actually said: “Publish it yourself. Do it.” Thanks to a fellow editor, I discovered a bunch of copies of the hardcover of The Ultra Thin Man on a site dealing with book remainders, selling them for about $3 a piece. I didn’t get any notice about this (although I think I was supposed to), but fellow editor said “Buy up a bunch of them. Use them as promo for your next book when you publish it.”
A number of writers and editors (and my agent) said there just isn’t the stigma attached to self-publishing that there used to be. Don’t even worry about a special imprint under the Fairwood banner, a number of them said. Even five years ago or so, I would’ve continued on my own philosophy that No…money should flow to the writer, and you shouldn’t self-publish and pay for our own costs, and …
Well. To be fair, a few other writers said not to self-publish. Or do it under a separate imprint at least. I want you to know I heard from both sides.
The Ultra Big Sleep will be published. It will be a summer 2016 book, forthcoming along with five other Fairwood titles that will premier (at least domestically) at the Kansas City Worldcon. I have a wonderful friend and editor who will be doing a hard-nose edit that I would’ve received from my editor at Tor otherwise. I have the talent and the know-how to put out a good-looking product. I’ll have input from writers in the know about other things that I don’t usually worry about on my end as a publisher. I’ll do my best not to shortchange myself when putting it together, heeding the advice of an editor who said he’s seen that sort of thing happen. I still need to be cognizant of my press’s other authors, whose books will have to get out on time, with no less fanfare on Fairwood’s side of things.
So watch this space. Website, blog, social media. There will be another book to add to my books section on the website, and at some point soon, a fresh cover image will grace the spot under “THE LATEST BOOK.” I’ve already got the ball rolling on this as well, and secured cover art after much searching and thinking about it. I hope that when it eventually goes up for pre-order, you’ll consider supporting this latest adventure in my Union of Worlds universe, and perhaps, if you’ve not read the first, you’ll consider both books.
Meanwhile, I plug along on a prequel novelette featuring my main characters from The Ultra Thin Man, Crowell & Brindos, when they first had their own detective agency. There will be another novel in the works (or two). I always planned at least a 3rd book in the Ultra series. While The Ultra Big Sleep does stand alone, like The Ultra Thin Man, there are threads there to tug on and unravel. There’s nothing in the rule book that says I can’t publish another book with Tor down the line. I’ve had interest from an editor and my agent about me doing smaller, single point-of-view potboiler mysteries in my world. Also, there’s a dark fantasy murder mystery with music and mysticism that I’m 20,000 words into. Never a dull moment!
I really would appreciate your comments, here, or on the social media site you saw the announcement.
Oh, and Happy New Year!