Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Writing Lesson #12: The Publishing Contract

At the point at which the publishing contract for SUFFER THE CHILDREN arrived from Lyrical Press last year, I had two finished novels working the submission/rejection circuit: my horror novel SUFFER THE CHILDREN, finished in 2004, and my amateur sleuth novel DEATH SCENE, finished in 2007.

SUFFER THE CHILDREN took ten years to write. I was somewhat dismayed to discover, when I did finally finish it and send it out on the submission circuit, that in those ten years the popularity of horror fiction in the UK had taken something of a nose dive. When I consulted my “Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook” for 2003 (knowing the novel was nearly ready to go I decided an up to date version would be in order), I discovered virtually no agents that were listing horror as a genre they dealt with. I decided to start describing my horror novel as ‘dark fantasy’, and began to send it to anyone who said they looked at science fiction and fantasy.

America still seemed to have a horror market, however, so I also sent it to American agents. I kept my eyes on the independent press market, as every so often a new small publisher would pop up, willing to consider ‘dark fantasy’.

But it kept racking up rejections. At one point I almost got a bite, when I sent it to a new editor, formerly an agent, who was starting up her own publishing company. She was very enthusiastic, and wanted SUFFER THE CHILDREN to be one of her first books, but sadly before her publishing company got off the ground, she became ill and the project never happened.

Eventually, I ran out of people to send SUFFER THE CHILDREN to and I got discouraged and put it back in the drawer. I decided to focus on the amateur sleuth novel instead. I reasoned that with the number of crime novels on the market, there had to be plenty of places to send that.

It turned out I wasn’t quite right on that point. The big market in crime novels - at least in the UK - is for police procedurals and thrillers, featuring gritty alcoholic loner detectives. What I had was a ‘cosy’ crime novel featuring an amateur sleuth.

I started sending it off to agents who said they dealt with crime and mystery novels. The rejections started rolling in. Some agents said there was no market for amateur sleuths, and although they liked the novel, they felt they wouldn’t be able to sell it. At least one agent said it wasn’t actually a ‘cosy’, as cosies are historical, preferably set in the ‘golden age’ of mystery novels (ie 1930s/40s). My sleuth is contemporary.

And then, at some point, horror seemed to take off again, but wearing a new face. In the guise of urban fantasy, featuring kick-ass female protagonists and sexy vampires, suddenly undead beasties were trendy again, and all over the place new publishers were popping up wanting to look at horror novels.

So I hauled out SUFFER THE CHILDREN, dusted it off, and prepared to send it out once more. I can’t remember how I first came across Lyrical Press – I think perhaps it was mentioned on one of the online writing forums I follow. But I took a look at their website, as I always do before I submit something, and was reassured to see that they had a number of horror novels on their list already. And their submission criteria was to send the entire manuscript as an email attachment. So, no queuing up at the Post Office, and no printing out of pages required. Another bonus.

I sent off the email with the required atachment and cover letter, made a note on my submission database, and continued researching other places to send SUFFER THE CHILDREN, for when it got rejected again. I was, at this point, keeping one list for places to send the crime novel and another for places to send the horror novel and my aim was to have at least one of them, preferably both, out on sub at all times.

A couple of weeks later when an email from Lyrical dropped into my inbox, I opened it fully expecting it to be another rejection.

I was at work at the time. I had to read the email three times before I digested what it said. It was not, in fact, a rejection, but an acceptance. With contract attached. There were a couple of conditions attached to the signing of the contract, the most significant of which was the fact that Lyrical wanted me to raise the age of the main character to 18 and not 14, as they felt it was a Young Adult novel as it stood, and they don’t publish YA. But the contract was real. I printed it off and stared at it for quite a long time, trying to digest the concept of what it meant. I don’t think I got much more work done that day.

I had been working 30 years towards getting a publishing contract for a novel. Sometimes the dream had seemed so unobtainable, I had begun to believe it was never going to happen.

But it did. There it was. And I knew that in that moment, life had changed. Not in any outwardly noticeable way – I wasn’t being offered a huge advance, and I wasn’t about to become rich and famous overnight. But in a hundred tiny ways, initially imperceptible ways, life did change.

And that is the subject of the next post in my Writing Lessons series.

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