Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Print

This is partly publishing business and partly life, and it occurred to me that you guys might want to know what sometimes happens as a novel winds its way between writing and publication. And how it changes.

So, a little chronology and history on what happened to my novel Darkship Thieves, which comes out from Baen on Jan.5

1 - April 1996 - After one of the worst times in my attempts to break in, a time when great effort led only to a flurry of rejections, and after retreating into Austen fandom for six months, I realized I couldn’t take anymore just writing things that would never sell. So I rejoined my weekly writers’ group and sat down to write a story for it. Only the story ran to twenty thousand words, giving me exactly two markets: Analog and Asimov’s, neither of which I’d cracked at the time.

The novelette started with a guy – yes, you read that correctly, guy – in the hospital, trying to figure out how to rescue someone else, ina profoundly unpleasant future Earth. All noblesse oblige and stuff.

2 - rest of 1996 - wrote the novel, since I couldn’t sell it as a short. Over the time writing it, I realized it was the first time I was consciously wondering if I was giving the reader enough clues, etc. Up till then, though I’d been writing for nine years, I’d written mostly for me. Honestly, I consider this one of the big hah hah moments in my writing career.

3- Just before Christmas 96, send out a bunch of queries to agents. One answered. We’ll call her Ms. B Lister. She said she liked my idea, could she see the opening. Of course she could. I think I beat all records at getting those first chapters mailed.

4 - Ms. B Lister liked it – to my shock, by then – and wanted the rest. I sent her the rest. I didn’t hear again till April, when she told me my story was hampered by two enormous coincidences being used to propel the plot, and also she didn’t like that my guy woke up with amnesia. Right. So I went back and rewrote it over a week. This caused the incident of the Shrodinger fish (Younger boy was supposed to feed the class fish. I went into deep re-write seclusion. NOTHING else happened. The fish were okay, but until we got there, they could have been dead or alive. And I didn’t even know fish could look happy to see you!)

5 - It is October 97 before Ms. B Lister got back to me. She was slow. OTOH though she had a couple other suggestions, she liked the novel, she wanted to sign me on, and she was sure it would sell. Around this time, first twinge of doubt, since she told me sometimes things didn’t sell for inexplicable reasons. Take, for instance, something she represented, a fantasy about the young Lenin. Yes, you read that correctly. She couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t sold.

6 - at a less frantic pace do rewrite, send it back in and we’re now in 98 and I’m selling a few short stories. My friend Rebecca Lickiss (look her up if you’ve never read her) is planning to attend the Oregon Writers’ Workshop that spring. I won’t say she bullied me into going – she might have. I honestly don’t know who thought about it first, but we both applied, were accepted and ended up going. The instructor for the novel weekend (as opposed to general course) was Ginjer Buchanan and we were supposed to bring a proposal for a completed novel. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that after finishing the rewrite and between waiting for agent’s reply, I wrote Hall of Judgement, the first novel of the Red Baron. So I outlined that, and tried to make it a selling outline and all that.

7 - Went to workshop. By means I’m not allowed to divulge, they ensured everyone wrote a new novel outline the day before Ginjer arrived. It had to be an idea we’d never even thought of. I’m stuck in a little house by the sea, far from the internet on which I’d already come to depend as a fast research tool (even if I verify things on books/primary sources if available, afterwards.) How in heck could I do this? Mostly I wrote historical sf or space opera, both of which required research. Okay, okay, tel you what. I just wrote this short story about Shakespeare being a robot, and I did a massive amount of research – besides having been a Shakespeare buff for years. I’d do a novel involving Shakespeare. It’s not like it would sell – I mean, in twenty four hours or less? Right.

8 - I’d make it fantasy – no time to really think through time-travel or anything else. So... elves. And having recently watched Shakespeare in Love (Yes, they did threaten to throw me out of the theater for mumbling. How did you know?) I decided to solve the fair boy/dark lady thing by making an elf a gender changer. (Look, it was late at night, okay?) Plot kind of came from that.
9 - Meeting with Ginjer who liked the Red Baron novel but was afraid people would think he had been a Nazi (She might have been right. Yeah, I know, but she MIGHT have been. Trust me.) However, she’d also seen Shakespeare in Love and she LOVED the other one. The fatal question was asked "How soon can you have this to me?"

10 - Next six months consumed getting novel to Ginjer who bought it in three days. During this Ms. B Lister did everything but physically whine and snivel, because – I guess – this is not the path she saw for my career. By November I’d had enough. I went to my first convention – World Fantasy – and came to an agreement with another agent. We’ll call him Mr. Hot Shot.

11 - Mr. Hot Shot, perhaps reasonably, told me to forget that space opera and write more in the hot, hot, hot Shakespeare series. We sold two more books in 99.

12 - I finally gave the space opera to Mr. Hot Shot to read. Worldcon 2000, he told me he’d read it and it was pretty good but he had some revision notes. I was used to this, no prob. However when we met, he had no revision notes and had decided it was NOT good enough to submit. This solidified other suspicions I had that he actually did NOT read my stuff but got his receptionist – six months out of college – to read it, and he only read her notes. Um... Okay then. It would have been okay if he’d told me up front, but he didn’t. I gave him one more shot.

13 - November 2000 I send Mr. Hot Shot an outline for what was to become Heart Of Light. Unfortunately, since I’d signed with him, he’d developed a "One Right Way To Write A Successful Book" theory. This had already caused problems with the second Shakespeare book, but now he told me I’d written the wrong book and wanted me to put in all this formula stuff. (That book too underwent a massive revision before publication, but formula it was not.) I called a friend and started negotiations with her agent.

14 - First Shakespeare Book comes out a month after 9/11. I think it tanked so bad it cratered. Hard cover, unknown author. Nothing on the spine, not even "fiction" which works fine with push but without push... ah well. There were people hurting a lot worse at that time, but to me it felt like my career had also just died. I had two books in pipeline, still, and I thought I could make it, though.

15 - Of course series entered death spiral. Meanwhile I had new agent. I’d rewritten the space opera yet again, realizing that for a man to have that level of aggression he came across as psychotic. Well, a woman did too, but it wasn’t THAT bad. You weren’t afraid of her. So, Athena was born. New Agent liked her, but she seemed at best lackadaisical at sending it out. (Actually at sending anything of mine out.) Mind you, we got along FINE other than that.

16 - World Fantasy 2003 it looked like my writing career was completely dead. A month later, I got a chance to write a project for Baen with Eric Flint (which needs to be rewritten and will now be called The Shakespeare Gambit.) Now, you know, going from "dead" to "someone wants me" was exhilarating. I told Jim yes over phone. (At any rate he was a man whom it was very hard to say "no" to.) I told Ms. New Agent. She didn’t seem happy, but went along with it. Contract arrived. She didn’t like this and that and the other, which was amazing since Baen contracts are ONE or two pages, and written in English. She finally told me it was her or Baen. Well... I’d had her for two years. And she had yet to sell anything for me. Yeah, it was a REALLY hard choice.

17 - Having muddled through and managed to fire Ms. New Agent – hard that, truly ;) – I started working on project with Eric and trying to sell a house. Somewhere in the middle of this, and I’m sorry, I don’t even remember the year, there was the famous phone call of "Sarah, do you have anything to sell me?" I had the space opera on Jim’s desk, so I thought he must be asking for something else. Well, he wanted the book in a month and I’d just started a book because of a dream I’d had. Also at that point, I was brow beaten into thinking I was a fantasy author. So I sold him Draw One In The Dark and he bought it in twenty minutes (beating out my three day record.) From here on, chronology gets fuzzy, since I’ve been busy as heck and often lost track of time.

18 - Somewhere along the line I hired La Agent. La Agent took me on for two reasons – the Magical British Empire and the Musketeer Mysteries. At the time I had an offer from "Mr. Way Up THERE" agent, but he wanted me to do a book a year or maybe every two years, and get a job teaching in college the rest of the time. Look, might be great for someone but not me. So, I took La Agent. She quickly sold the Magical British Empire and the Musketeer Mysteries. I didn’t even try the space opera, now convinced there was something fundamentally wrong with it. Oh, yeah, Sarah’s Diner – my conference in Baen’s Bar – was born soon thereafter.

19 - I was now writing and on the hook for three or four books a year. So the logical thing happened: I wanted a challenge. (G). While recovering from crud, I was reading my old stuff. I agreed with Jim my latest incarnation of the space opera was no-go. You see, I’d workshopped it so much, and tried to explain EVERYTHING that the first three chapters were molasses. But I remembered that the book USED to be decent. So I went to first version, and there was a light there. Purely for fun, since I knew NO ONE would buy space opera from me, I sat down and wrote a first chapter, with Athena but putting the old "life" back in and Heinleining the details, in the way I knew now, with almost ten novels below my belt. The response of the dinerites shocked me. They practically threw their greasy cloaks in the air. They did threaten my life if I didn’t give them more.

20 - I posted another few chapters in diner. At this time, it was not unusual to get emails saying "I read 80 pages of Darkship Thieves. WHERE is the rest? Mail me the rest, please!" Right. You know who you are.

21 - Toni informed me that though she was looking for fantasy, she was buying DST. So I stopped posting it, and started making with the finishing.

22 - And that, children and babies, is the glorious story of Darkship Thieves. Which opens thusly:
I never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in discovering the truth about the darkships. You always get what you don’t ask for.

Which was why I woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in my father’s space cruiser.

Before full consciousness, I knew there was an intruder in my cabin....

Okay, now... what about the above surprised you? I confess this book has had a harder road to publication than most, but others are often convoluted. Did you know things could take that many turns? Does it make you see any of your own stuff – or even stuff you’ve read – in a different light? Talk to me! I’ve been ill, it’s almost New Years and I need distraction!

Oh, yeah – and may the new year bring you everything you need and some of what you wish for!
Edited 12/31/09 -- Welcome Instapundit readers. Look around for a look at the mad, mad world of publishing and writers. Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link.


Anonymous said...

That is what I call persistence. Good for you, Sarah, for continuing forward no matter the direction. I'm a huge believer in momentum. It's one of the basic rules of the sales business, and sometimes authors forget this is ultimately a sales business. Never give up and never give in.

Linda Davis

Da Curly Wolf said...

2 things.
1. I know who 'where is the rest of it was..I think. that was probably my flopeared brother in Albequrque.
2. We did NOT threaten your life We simply said 'more. now. please' Where's the threat in that?
3.Okay I'm done with DST. Next Please. all of it.

No I'm not a greedy demanding wolfie. I just play one on the internet. :P *hugs*

C Kelsey said...

No 'flies threatened. We just whined really loudly. Now then, is Noah's Boy finished? ;)

Amanda Green said...

And we're whining now...and begging...and offering bribes. Noah's Boy! Darkship Renegade! Dragon-kittehs and Kitteh-dragons! Please let us have them. Puhleeezzzzee!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I know just how you feel. My career road has been as bumpy and full of momentous moments that went nowhere.

Maybe we should do a series of posts about our writing careers.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't realized DST had such a long history. The end result is excellent, and, umm, no doubt it was a learning experience.

I've been going back and rereading some really old stuff I wrote.

Damn I'm good. Why did I have to discover that just as the economy tanked and the whole industry had a "needs a major shake up and is going to resist as long as possible" type crisis all it's own?

Oh well, by the time I start selling, I'll have this backlog of manuscripts a mile deep.

And I may have learned a thing or two about run-on sentences and commas and homonyms and . . .

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Sarah? I hope you stayed healthy enough to get your work done, and NOW it's about time you stayed healthy enough to take some off time and relax. Sheesh.

Merry Xmas and Happy New Calendar, everyone!

Michelle in Colorado Springs said...

I got an email yesterday saying that is on its way to me via Amazon.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Well, I don't know how to stop. I've actually tried giving up writing several times. I think the longest was two weeks. It's not so much persistence as probable mental illness.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


ONE of them was Basset. Okay, I'll admit my LIFE wasn't threatened, but people threatened to come over, tie me to computer chair and take my cats hostage!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Let me finish Sword And Blood. Noah's Boy is next. Yeah, I should have finished S & B already, but there have been... physical issues. (NOTHING respiratory. I swear.)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


I think I've had some forward momentum on the bumps, is about it. But we must forge on.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


You ahve my timing. And this is why we keep old manuscripts. Sometimes, though we see the mistakes, we find a spark in there that has disappeared since. And we remember to have fun again. :)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


One thing I like about baen is their non-fanatical adherence to publication day. Also, their e arcs which let the readers know the book before it's out, so there's buzz.

The two things I like about baen are their non-fanatical adherence to publication date, their earcs and the instant fan base of the bar.

The THREE things I like about Baen...


Happy New Year, everyone.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


I say this as a friend who appreciates you deeply...

Valium, please. I only have ONE set of fingers, and three names using them! Okay, three plus a secret one. Chill.

evmick said...

The old trucker looked up from reading on the computer screen.


"Hmmmmmmm." He mused "maybe I better work on my interpersonal skills. But how would that affect "Noah's Boy"....and DragonKitties?".

I must think on this.

ErikZ said...

Sounds interesting. However, when I got my Kindle I shed over 8 moving boxes worth of paperbacks.

Once you have a Kindle/ebook version I'll buy it. Heck, I would have already bought it.

Kindles make great impulse buys.

Orion said...

Oh, Good Lord. Most writers have at least one manuscript tucked away somewhere with multiple REJECT notices stamped on it and tons of scribbled red ink in the margins from well-meaning agents/boyfriends/elder sisters/etc. The trick isn't editing; it's almost always timing: getting it to the right publisher when he's in the right mood (ie., drunk enough) to buy anything. That's how most pulp fiction gets published. They needed something *right then* and if it doesn't sell they'll just pull it off the shelves in 6 months and recycle the paper as pulp - hence the term, "pulp fiction". That some of it is actually quite good is more a Happy Accident as not.

The point is that all the rewrites in the world won't fix a truly broken story. If it's a good one it almost never needs major surgery to save it, usually just a 2nd set of eyes to spot obvious holes or poorly worded paragraphs. Best thing to do with a manuscript you're overall happy with but won't sell is just stick it back on the shelf and wait a bit to resubmit. Sometimes you just have to wait until your name alone will get it published - "Honey, do you have ANYTHING in the files for us? You're a hot commodity after your last book!"

Amanda Green said...

ErikZ, if you go to you can buy DST for your Kindle. The cost is $6.00. I've had the pleasure of reading DST already and highly recommend it...and, yes, Kindles do make for great impulse buying. I love mine.

Mike said...

Psst? EricZ? Take a look at for help on how to read webscription and baen free library books on your kindle. Bunch of stuff ready and waiting, including DST...

Da Curly Wolf said...

"but people threatened to come over, tie me to computer chair and take my cats hostage!"

Sarah, as you may..or may not recall I actually threatened one or two of them with bodily harm if they didn't stop nagging so much. One person in particular comes to mind.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Absolutely right, and most of the time I dont' edit to publishers' requests. But I was young and stupid. (Also, I'm not sure there's such a thing as a pulp market, anymore.)

However, this was ten years ago, and what I can do now in writing dwarfs what I could do then, so, I wrote it to improve it. And it is MUCH better, trust me. The final form has more to do with what I've learned and with my own exacting standards than with the editors/agents request. Note I dropped Mr. Hotshot because everything I wrote MUST be edited to his formula. (rolls eyes.)

I'm glad it's out there at last. Even if the future Earth is dystopic, my characters are NOT fainting violets and they're fun.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Yes, Sean, I do remember -- and it did make them pipe down a little. OTOH I'm not complaining TOO much. Enthusiasm is a good thing.

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