This blog post is brought to you by the recent, and very gratifying, reception of the electronic Advance Reading Copy (eARC) of Dragon Ship, by frequent offenders Lee and Miller.
Dragon Ship is the Fourth Book of Theo Waitley, but it is not the last book of Theo Waitley. I believe that I may say without spoilage that it is an exciting read, and some of those who indulged in the eARC came out of the experience, um, eager to find out What Happens Next.
Now, it’s a sad fact that readers, even very slow readers, read faster than writers, even very fast writers, write. It’s also true that Traditional Publishing, even in these days of e-pubbing, takes some time.
How much time depends on a number of factors that are only vaguely relevant to the discussion of Books Between, so let’s just say, barring eArcs, and things like a manuscript falling behind an editor’s bookcase and remaining unmissed for a decade — between six and and 18 months.
All of us here are savvy and sophisticated Persons of the World, so I’m not going to be popping anybody’s balloon by stating right up front that professional writers write for money (cue Samuel Johnson).
Because we write for money, we don’t write a book, wait for it to be published, gauge the critical reaction, if any (cue laugh track), before deciding what our next project will be. If we did that, we’d starve. (I speak here of those of us who are attempting to approximate a middle class living while standing freelance, not of the superstars of the field.)
So, what writers try to do, is that we pitch several books at once when it comes down to submitting proposals. Of course, nothing says the publisher will accept any particular proposal, all or any of the books proposed.
Sometimes, though, the publisher takes the whole deal, as offered.
This happened to us, in 2010. We proposed three books to Baen — all of them Liaden Universe® novels; one that was wanted (and requested) by the publisher (the sequel to Ghost Ship), one that had been requested many times by fans (the sequel to Balance of Trade), and a story that one of the team (that would be me) particularly wanted to write — and Baen said yes to all three.
Yes, there was dancing in the streets — it’s a good thing to sell three books on proposal (“on proposal” means that the books have to be written — I know you all know that; just making sure we’re all on the same page), and to get half of the advance money for all three upfront. I am not complaining that we sold three books on proposal (in fact, I’m not complaining at all, really — just explaining why it is that Between Books are necessary, and perhaps inevitable).
However, as we’ve discussed here previously, one of the realities of books purchased on proposal (as opposed to books written “on spec”) is that contracted books acquire constraints. Delivery deadlines, that’s one. Word count limits, upper and/or lower — that’s another one.
The order in which the books will be delivered — that’s another one.
For this contract, the publisher wanted Dragon Ship delivered first, thus preserving the momentum of Ghost Ship. This is perfectly reasonable. We made sure that it was known that Dragon Ship wasn’t the last Theo Waitley book, and asked to deliver the Weird Book — working title George, now titled Necessity’s Child, delivered at the end of March and scheduled for publication in May 2013 — we asked if we might deliver that book first, which would, yes, have put a book between Ghost Ship and Dragon Ship, but would only put one book between Dragon Ship and its sequel — Books Between; that’s what we’re talking about, after all.
The final decision was that Dragon Ship would be delivered first, Necessity’s Child second, Trade Secret last. Again — this is perfectly reasonable, in fact, more than reasonable. I was extremely happy that Baen took a chance on a “side” novel, because, let’s face it, I would’ve written it anyway (cue Samuel Johnson, rolling in his grave).
To recap: We had three novels under contract, with a contracted delivery schedule of: Dragon Ship, Necessity’s Child, Trade Secret. We have, as of this writing, delivered two of those three books — Trade Secret being due in July.
Now, you’ll notice that the discussion between the publisher and ourselves didn’t revolve around us immediately writing the Fifth Book of Theo Waitley after submitting Dragon Ship. It was purely in the realm of how the between-books ought to be distributed. In other words, there was a tacit agreement that there would be books between.
But why? ask the folks who want the Rest of the Story right now. How could you possibly leave us in such an exciting place and go off and write something else?
Well, the answer to that is. . .multifaceted, but simple.
First — contract, remember? Three books, in an order determined by the publisher (see above to refresh yourself on the books and the submission order).
Second — While writing an exciting novel is, sometimes, exciting (though possibly less exciting for the authors than for the book’s eventual readers), what it mostly is? Is tiring. You — or, say, we — have to rest up a little after such an outpouring of effort — but — see above — writers don’t make money unless they write.
The answer to the conundrum, the balance between have to write and have to rest is? Anybody? You there in the back — Yes, thank you.
A busman’s holiday.
You write, because you want to eat, but also because you want to write. Trust me, you’re not a writer unless, at some level which is, yes, sometimes rather deeply buried, you want to write. You can, however, write something a little less…fraught, something a little off the wall (in my case, with George) or something that you’ve been meaning to write for some few years now (in Steve’s case, with Trade Secret). This gives the story brain some time to. . .play. . .to revivify, to generate new ideas, and to rev on up to speed for the next exciting! installment! of the so-called “mainline” series.
Now, yes, there are writers who write their series, Book One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six! They’re awesome, and I’m in awe. But the truth is that Steve and I have never yet done that — I mean, look — we wrote the second book first at the very start, and we’ve continued in that vein ever since.
What that means for our readers is that — you guys don’t always know what you’ll be getting next, and you won’t always get the direct sequel directly — though chances are good (see Mouse and Dragon, see Trade Secret) that you’ll get it eventually — and you’ll be getting our best work, written not only because writers write for money, but because we’re writing what we want to write, pretty much when we want to write it.
That’s pretty awesome, too, in this day and age.