Monday, October 31, 2011

The Million Dollar Deal That Ruined My Career

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Before Harry Potter, before Twilight, before the hundreds of thousands of vampire , wizard, demon, zombie, angel, fairy and just-plain-strange books that proliferate the marketplace today, I wrote a book about werewolves. It wasn’t, in my humble opinion, just an ordinary book, and these were not ordinary werewolves. It was at that time the best book I had ever written. Believe it or not, I wasn’t the only one who thought it was pretty good. The Passion (and its sequel, The Promise) sold after a ten–day auction for a phenomenal amount of money (to be strictly accurate, it was not quite one million, but by the time sub-rights were sold the difference was negligible, to me, at least). Within the week, offers for audio, foreign, and large print rights were pouring in. James Cameron and Stephen Spielberg were both interested in film rights. And then it all went to hell.
For reasons I still don’t entirely understand, the publisher abandoned the book. Possibly it was caught up in inter-company politics; possibly the publisher genuinely did not know how to publish it. While logic would suggest that no publisher wants to lose money on a book, the only way this publisher could have lost more money on this book would have been not to publish it at all. I remember screaming at my agent at one point, A million dollars is not worth an entire career! –which turned out to be eerily prophetic. In a desperate effort to save the project, I personally invested a disastrous amount on promotions, which resulted in the development of a small cult following (thank you, readers!) But in terms of the commercial sensation The Devoncroix Dynasty books were meant to be, the project was a monumental failure.

After that, no other publisher would touch me —primarily because it makes no sense to invest in an author and/or a series on which a previous publisher has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also, I think, because what I was writing at that time was crap. I had spent ten years perfecting my craft, publishing anywhere from three to six books, in various genres across the board, a year. I routinely received awards and made lists and, perhaps more importantly, had been pulling in six figures a year for most of my writing career. But none of that mattered at the time. Because when I finally got the break every writer dreams of, the Big Contract for the Great Work, I blew it. My best wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t a writer. I was an imposter. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write. It was that I couldn’t. I was broken from the inside out. I went from writing 500,000-700,000 words a year to not writing a single word for the next five years. Broken.
Eventually, with no other marketable skills and with homelessness becoming an ever-increasing possibility, I forced myself to start writing again and found a publisher willing to take a chance on me—for $8000 a book. Meanwhile, readers were still e-mailing me, wondering where the sequel to The Promise was. My new series was canceled (while the second book was still on a bestseller’s list) and after a couple of desperate years I found another publisher and another series and yet another genre. Meanwhile, reader mail continued to wonder what had ever happened to my werewolf series.
Despite an enormously enthusiastic editor, a fair advance, and an initial display of support from the publisher, I knew in my heart of hearts the new series wouldn’t last long. Every word I wrote was excruciating. I envied my friends with real jobs. I hated my life. And just before the series was inevitably canceled, I started secretly fooling around with an idea for re-launching in the Devoncroix Dynasty werewolf series, and I discovered something profound: it wasn’t writing I hated. It was the business of writing.
Two years later, Renegade was completed, and it turned out better than I thought it would. Because it was a stand-alone book that was not necessarily dependent on the previous ones, I thought it had a real chance of, not only impressing the powers-that-be in New York, but of finding the audience this storyline deserved. And yet the more I thought about surrendering this work to a publisher, the tighter my gut got. I faced the future with bleakness and dread. I kept hearing my own voice screaming, A million dollars is not worth a career! And I think what a meant was, It’s not worth a life.

Fifteen years ago, the breakthrough deal on the original Devoncroix Dynasty books represented what every writer works toward: that moment of sublime validation that will lead to a lifetime of creative freedom and financial security. It led instead to a monumental personal and career crisis, severe depression, and financial ruin. Poised on the brink of doing it all over again, I realized that the price of the Big Deal was, for me, entirely too high.
The only real validation of a work comes from readers, and the only creative freedom I had ever had was when I was not writing for a publisher. So here is Renegade, ten years in the making. I am the author, publisher, and distributor. I wrote it for readers, because in the end, is there any other reason to write? And I wrote it for me, because this story was the love of my life, and it was time to tell it the way it was meant to be told. If you buy it, I hope you enjoy it. If you don’t, that’s okay too. Because now that I am in charge of my own career, I have plenty of projects in the works. And I’ll just bet that one of them is the story you’ve been waiting to read.