Over on his blog, John Scalzi offered his readers a peek of sorts behind the curtain, revealing how he came to sell the various books (fiction and non-fiction) he’s written over the course of his career. As with just about any job or other endeavor, his story is one combining talent with opportunity, and after a point reputation and a proven track record. Check it out, if you’re of a mind to do so:
Whatever: How I Sold My Books
Naturally, reading the post made me think about my own backlist and how my various books came to be foisted on an unsuspecting reading public. My writing path isn’t as varied as Mr. Scalzi’s, but it was still interesting to go back and review the origins of this or that novel. And because I hate to see such effort wasted, I saw no reason not to dump all of that navel gazing here (Or, should that be “novel gazing?”). You’re welcome.
Artwork: Isaac Salazar
Let’s take a look, shall we?
In the Name of Honor – My first novel, this came about because John Ordover, at the time overseeing not only Pocket Books’ Star Trek novel line but also the still fresh Star Trek: Strange New Worlds writing contest, called me in the fall of 1999 to tell me he was about to buy my third SNW tale. I was now ineligible to enter future contests, but John asked me if I was interested in writing a Star Trek novel. Having never written a novel, I of course said, “Yes.” So, blame John for everything after this point.
The Last World War – Not long after finishing up Honor, John told me he was starting up a line of original science fiction and fantasy novels, and was planning to use writers from the Star Trek and other tie-in lines to get things started. I was one of the writers he approached, and he said, “I want you to write about Marines fighting off an alien invasion. Go away, think about that, and show me what you come up with.”
A Time to Sow/A Time to Harvest – The A Time to… series was in development for a time when one of the original writers attached to the project had to bow out. Kevin and I, now working on a fairly regular basis as a writing team on the Star Trek: S.C.E. e-Book series, basically were “called up from the minors” to work with several of Pocket’s “starting lineup” of Star Trek writers. So far as Trek is concerned, I suppose you can call this our “big break.”
The Genesis Protocol – Having left Pocket to pursue an opportunity as an editor for Phobos Books, John Ordover started putting together a program of marrying writers he knew to various high-concept ideas he wanted to pursue. For me, John said, “I have this image in my head of Marines or special forces or whatever fighting genetically-engineered monsters. What can you do with that?”
Summon the Thunder – Our involvement in the Star Trek Vanguard novels came when editor Marco Palmieri, at the behest of Vanguard co-creator David Mack, asked us if we wanted to write for this new novel series. OH HELL YES, we did. We read the series bible and Dave’s manuscript for the series’ first book, and we were hooked.
Age of the Empress – Margaret Clark, also an editor of Star Trek books for Pocket, was pointed in our direction by Marco. She asked if we were interested in doing a bit of “pinch-hitting,” and co-writing a follow-up to the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “In A Mirror, Darkly.” We’d be working with the episode’s writer, Michael Sussman. How do you say no to something like that?
Wet Work – Margaret apparently liked working with us on Empress, because she soon asked us if we were interested in writing an original novel based on the TV series The 4400. Yes. Yes, we were.
Open Secrets – Marco: “It’s time for you to write the next Vanguard novel.” Us: “Okey-doke.” After Summon the Thunder, Marco made the decision that Kevin and I would work in tandem with Dave Mack, alternating writing duties on the series from book to book. That ended up being more fun that should be legal.
Counterstrike: The Last World War, Book II – After a handful of years with a proposal/outline for a sequel to The Last World War languishing in e-Mail boxes and file folders and shuffled around as editors came and went at Pocket, I got a call out of the blue one day from a new editor, asking me if I was still interested in writing a second LWW novel. Well OF COURSE I was.
Paths of Disharmony – Editor Margaret asked me if I was interested in participating in a four-book miniseries event, featuring a possible new Federation rival, the “Typhon Pact.” She specifically wanted to me to write a Picard/Enterprise-E tale, so that I could channel some of my then-new father feelings into Picard, who in the books was now a new daddy, himself. Oh, and she wanted me to do that thing you’ve heard about with the Andorians being total dicks to the Federation.
What Judgments Come – Margaret: “It’s time for you to write the next Vanguard novel.” Us: “All righty, then.”
That Which Divides – Margaret: “You want to write a TOS novel? Do anything you want?” Us: “Indeed we do!”
From History’s Shadow - Margaret: “You want to write another TOS novel?” Do anything you want?” Me: “Indeed I do! I’ve got this crazy idea, even!” Margaret: “Hang on. I think I’m gonna need a drink.”
Peaceable Kingdoms – Margaret: “You want in on this miniseries thing? I need a Picard/Enterprise-E book.” Me: “Didn’t I already do one of those?” Margaret: “No Andorians in this one. Well, not really, anyway.” Me: “Can I answer the whole ‘Picard’s gonna retire/get promoted/be an ambassador/become a professor at a school for mutants thing?’” Margaret: “Sure. Don’t go crazy.”
Point of Divergence – After Dave Mack, Kevin and I conspired to pitch “a spin-off of the Star Trek Vanguard novels” series, we had to make good on actually writing a couple of books for what is now called Star Trek: Seekers. This is the second book, and our first foray into this new corner of the Trek literary sandbox.
TNG novel for 2015 – Margaret: “You want to write first TNG novel set after Peaceable Kingdoms?” Me: “If you’d asked me that six months ago, I might’ve ended Kingdoms a bit differently, and set up some things.” Margaret: “Is that a no?” Me: “Hell no, it’s not a no.”
Seekers novel for 2015 – Our second go in the new series, and what will be the fourth book overall. Our editors seem confident that this Seekers thing is going to work.
As you can plainly see, I’ve been riding a rather lengthy streak of good fortune these past several years. Don’t think I’m not fully aware of that. I’d like to think my work and how I (tend to) conduct myself should get at least some credit along the way, but there’s no denying that I’ve benefitted from opportunity. It’s something I try to keep in mind everyday, if for no other reason than to avoid becoming one of those entitled assholes we all love to mock.
(You: I see you over there, spinning up an asshole joke. Pipe down.)
Anyway, I hope it’s obvious that the road I traveled isn’t typical, and nor is it one I’d recommend to a new writer trying to replicate (at least on purpose) “success” with a first novel. Being able to sell a novel based solely on an outline (or less!) usually only comes after you’ve proven yourself. Whatever you do, don’t for the love of all that’s holy use me as your role model. I’m an idiot. That way lies madness. There be dragons, and so on and so forth.
As Scalzi states on his own blog post, it’s a good plan to have a completed manuscript, ready to show an editor. After they read your cover letter and your sample chapters and they decide they want more, if you’re an “unknown,” they’re going to want to see if you can finish what you start, and the best way to alleviate that initial doubt is to be able to go, “BAM!” as you hand over the full deck.
Okay, enough shameless rambling. We now return you to your lives, already in progress.