Writing Excuses 9.1: Chronology of a Book Deal with Eric James Stone
Abstract: This episode regaled us with the steps in Eric James Stone’s book deal, from 2008 to the recording of the podcast. We also heard briefly how Howard came to write a novel for Privateer Press.
[Mary] Season Nine, Episode One.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, chronology of a book deal.
[Howard] 15 minutes long, because you’re in a hurry.
[Mary] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Mary] I’m Mary.
[Howard] I’m Howard.
[Brandon] And the part of Dan this week will be played by a field of [addits?] marching through the snow to attack the Rebel Base.
[Howard] Zzzt ka-ching! Zzzt ka-ching! Ting! Ti-ting! Eee-ah!
[Brandon] Also, we have, affectionately known as the fifth musketeer, Eric James Stone joining us. Thank you, Eric.
[Eric] Thanks for inviting me.
[Brandon] Eric’s going to be filling in quite a bit for us in the next few podcasts, as Dan is still in Germany eating sauerkraut. Book deals…
[Howard] This sauerkraut is [atrocious?]
[Eric] I am wearing an I Am Not a Serial Killer T-shirt.
[Brandon] Yes. In fact when I invited you, I asked to come and play Dan for us. But we actually got the [addits?] for that this time, so…
[Brandon] So you can just be a guest star.
[Brandon] Better than the gerbils with the harmonicas last time…
[Brandon] Eric! You just got a book deal.
[Eric] I did.
[Brandon] You have… Yeah!
[Mary] And by just, tell us how long ago you heard the news?
[Eric] About… Two hours ago.
[Howard] Why are we here? We should be out eating and celebrating.
[Brandon] It’s awesome. For those who are not long time listeners, we’ve had Eric on since like the first season, right?
[Howard] Exactly like the first season.
[Brandon] Been all in all this time on Writing Excuses, and has made numerous short story sales to professional markets, but this is your first book deal.
[Howard] There was a Nebula win in there as well, wasn’t there?
[Eric] Yes, there was.
[Brandon] Howard! You just got a book deal.
[Howard] I did. Actually about three weeks ago, I signed a contract with Privateer Press to follow up the Extraordinary Zoology series…
[Brandon] Right. With a novel.
[Howard] That they had me do a novella. Yeah. They want a novel this time.
[Brandon] This will be your first professional novel sale.
[Howard] This will be my first professional novel-length sale.
[Brandon] Mary, you just got a book deal.
[Mary] I did. This… So this is three novels, which is the last one in my series, and then two new standalones. Those were about a month ago.
[Brandon] Awesome. Everybody has book deals. But I’m especially excited for Eric, because we’ve had you on for so long. We all knew it was coming, and now it is here. What we want to talk about on this podcast is… Everyone’s experience selling their first book is different, and what I’ve found is the marketplace changes so fast and so quickly that even my experience of only 10 years ago is now delightfully antiquated compared to what’s happening right now because the e-book revolution hadn’t happened before… When I sold and things like that.
[Howard] Well, it’s not just everybody’s first books. It’s… Mary, this five book deal… Is it three plus two, is that a five book deal?
[Mary] No, it’s a three book deal.
[Howard] Oh, a third book plus two? Okay. That was different than your first.
[Mary] Yeah. Everything is different. Let’s start with, since we’re doing chronology, let’s start with the newest of them.
[Brandon] Yes. Eric, how did this all come about? Tell us the very beginnings.
[Eric] Well, the very beginning is in 2008. I wrote a novel. It was the second novel I’d written. It was only 63,000 words.
[Brandon] Yes, I remember reading that novel.
[Eric] So I shopped around to various agents. Basically, nobody was interested in a 63,000 word novel. So I tried extending it out a little bit. I sent it off to Joshua Bilmes and it got passed off to a junior agent. He had some feedback for me about it that he gave me personally at WorldCon and said he had some more notes that he wanted to give me. But then I didn’t want to bug him about it, so I never got any further notes. Eventually, I kind of gave up on the whole idea that this novel had any possibility of selling, just because it was too short and I didn’t know how to extend it. Then I was nominated for a Nebula and a Hugo for one of my novelettes. I heard back from a junior agent asking if my novel was still available. Okay, I’m getting the chronology a bit wrong here, because actually having decided that it was not going to sell anywhere, I decided to start publishing it on my website as a serial and to have the full novel available on Kindle and Nook.
[Howard] I actually have it on my iPad. Brandon said, “Oh, I remember reading that.” I remember reading that too. I’m pretty sure I still have it in the library, and sure enough, I still do. It’s Unforgettable. We’re allowed to say the name, right?
[Howard] Okay. Good.
[Mary] Good, since you just did.
[Howard and others scrambled – forget that I just said Unforgettable?]
[Eric] So I had published about 11 chapters on my blog and had put it up on Amazon for people to buy if they were interested. I have to say that people were not being down the doors [garbled]
[Eric] To buy it, but I was hoping that it would build up over time. But then… So I answered the junior agent and I said, “Well, it is still available, but I’ve already self published it.”
[Howard] Rights of first publication no longer are.
[Eric] He said, “Oh, that’s okay. No problem.” So I sent the full novel to them, because they’d been critiquing just a partial. I spoke to Joshua at the Nebulas, the morning before the award ceremony. He said he felt it needed some work, but that he would be willing to look at it again if I revised it. Then I won the Nebula. The next day, Joshua said, “You know, I think it’s actually good enough to pitch to Hollywood as is.” Because they don’t care about what’s… The actual novel, they just care about the concept.
[Howard] That’s a hilarious statement about Hollywood, but continue.
[Eric] So he said, “I’m going out to Hollywood this week, would you mind if I pitched the novel to some agents out there. Some of my connections out there.” I said, “Sure.” So one of his connections out there was interested. So I signed on with Joshua as my agent. The Hollywood agent…
[Brandon] Is that Joe Gottler? Or Brian Symes?
[Eric] Gottler, yeah. He, over the course of the next few months, pitched it to a whole bunch of people, had an offer from one place, and I thought we were going to accept that offer, but I guess they were trying to get another offer from someone else and eventually that happened. So we sold the movie and TV rights…
[Mary] What year was this?
[Eric] This would have been 2010?
[Mary] All right. So novel written in 2008 tips is
[Brandon] Sold the movie rights in 2010.
[Howard] With a Nebula win early in 2010.
[Brandon] I’m hearing that’s the big key, guys, win a Nebula.
[Eric] Oh, wait. It would’ve been 2011, because the Nebula award winning story was published in 2010. So then…
[Mary] Okay. So you do have to add in write a Nebula…
[Brandon] Write a Nebula award-winning short.
[Mary] Okay. Great. I’m making notes.
[Eric] Which I also wrote in 2008.
[Brandon] Okay. Nice. So you have to go back in time to 2008. Yeah. Right.
[Eric] So. Then Joshua had basically given the novel to one editor who he thought might be interested at a publishing house. That editor had some suggestions. So I wrote a new beginning to the novel. The Hollywood people had… One of the Hollywood people who didn’t actually end up buying it had a question… I rewrote an outline to fit because they said, “Does the climax have to take place in the Iranian desert? Couldn’t it be an like London?”
[Mary] Like, if it will sell it, I guess.
[Eric] So I rewrote… Reworked the ending so it could be in London instead of the Iranian desert. I actually liked that ending better. So then, after that first editor that Joshua had sent it to looked at the revised version, said he liked it, but he couldn’t get enough support in the company to buy it. Joshua said, “Well, do you want to send this version around now or do you want to revise it?” I said, “Well, I think I should revise it.” Basically he said that’s what I wanted to hear.
[Eric] So I worked on revising it and managed to get it up over 80,000 words. Then wrote yet another new beginning and dramatically revised the ending.
[Howard] So the version of this book that I’ve read is only tangentially related?
[Eric] No. A lot of it is still the same. But the location of some scenes has changed from…
[Brandon] The Iranian desert…
[Eric] To London.
[Howard] Changed time zones and almost hemispheres.
[Brandon] Let’s go ahead and stop for the book of the week. Then we’ll get back to Eric’s story. Eric, you actually have the book of the week as well for us. This is the all-Eric show today.
[Eric] Yeah. The book of the week is Ender’s World, which is a book of essays about Ender’s Game. I have an essay in there called How It Should Have Ended.
[Eric] Mary has an essay in there.
[Mary] Yes. My essay is based on… I can’t remember what I called it, it might have been Breaking the Rules, but it’s based on attending Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp and all of the rules that he taught us that he completely breaks in Ender’s Game.
[Brandon] Oh, I hate it when authors… Err, readers do that to me.
[Mary] But why… It’s about the cost of breaking the rules.
[Eric] I think it was called The Cost of Breaking the Rules.
[Mary] Good. That’s a much better title.
[Brandon] Howard, how can they get this?
[Howard] Speaking of the cost of things…
[Mary] Yes. Tell us.
[Howard] If you go to audiblepodcast.com/excuse, you can start a 30-day free trial membership and download a copy of Ender’s World by various including Eric James Stone and Mary Robinette Kowal and have it read to you, which is just an awesome thing.
[Brandon] Does everyone in the essay thing use three names to match Orson Scott Card?
[Mary] I think that everyone, all of the contributors… I’m pretty sure that all of the contributors… Some of the middle names are silent, but there…
[Eric] Like John silent Brown.
[Brandon] Okay. So. Getting back to it. So you’ve gone through all of this, now your shopping the book around.
[Eric] Yes. I finished the revision, sent it to Joshua, he liked it. So he prepared a very flattering letter that he sent off with this book to over 25 different editors. Then, over the course of weeks and months, we started to hear back from different publishing houses. I was… For the first few, I’m like, “Well, that was kind of a longshot anyway.” We heard back from an imprint of Harlequin that said they really liked the beginning and depending on how the rest of it went, it might be good for one of their e-book imprints but then that didn’t pan out. Then we actually got an offer from one publisher, but it was…
[Brandon] It was not a stellar offer.
[Eric] It was not a stellar offer. E-book only and no advance.
[Howard] You’ve already done the e-book only, no advance version of it.
[Eric] I talked it over with Joshua. I did feel like they could offer promotion for the book that I couldn’t. So if we didn’t find anything better, then my inclination was to go with this.
[Howard] I don’t know what Joshua’s read on that was, but any time I see a publisher offering a no advance deal, they’re not taking any risks, and so they’re not going to spend any marketing dollars on the book.
[Brandon] Yeah, I feel really…
[Howard] I feel like that’s the sucker deal.
[Eric] So then we did get… We did eventually get an offer from a publisher to be named later. Basically, at this point, since I haven’t signed a contract as of this recording…
[Brandon] We don’t want to say a publisher’s name.
[Eric] So then Joshua talked to a couple of other places that still had the manuscript to see if any of them were interested, and we waited… To give them a little more time.
[Howard] On the outside chance that Joshua could light the bidding war fire.
[Eric] Yes. So, then since basically none of the others were willing to make an offer, we decided to go with this offer.
[Brandon] You went with it today.
[Eric] I am very happy with it.
[Brandon] This is a major publisher.
[Mary] Yes. It’s a very good sale. I’m very happy for you. So…
[Howard] Let me ask a question. You had put it up for yourself as an e-book. Or put it up on your own as an e-book. Without Joshua’s help, would you have abandoned trying to sell this? Would the project have languished? Was Joshua really an incentive to… I mean, it… Was having the agent the reason the book is…
[Eric] Yes. Definitely. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t have tried… I wouldn’t have been revising it anymore. I thought, “Well, this is just an experiment. I’m done with it. It’s… It’s out there.” So I would not… This book deal would never have happened if I hadn’t gotten an agent.
[Howard] Okay. Because my takeaways from this, and they’re twofold. One, Joshua’s a really good agent. Because he championed the project after you had given up on it. Because you kind of had on your own. Without Joshua, you would have been done. The second part is, you are really, really good working writer because you have gone back to something that you had kind of given up on and you rewrote it. You’re able to look at the rewrites and say, “Oh. My agent was right. This is better. Oh, that editor is right. London is better than Iran for this scene.” So those are my takeaways. I…
[Mary] Yeah. This is, I think, part of why we sometimes say that if you don’t know what is wrong with a project to put it in a trunk for a while and step away from it, because a lot of times when you come back to it, it’s not just that you had more time to think about it, but that you are better writer when you return to it.
[Eric] Frankly, I… When I had finished it at 63,000 words, I had no clue how I could make it any longer. Other than go in and add more description.
[Mary] I remember having this conversation with you actually at the workshop at [garbled the monthly stead]
[Eric] [garbled – de something?]
[Brandon] I was just…
[Mary] Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Because you don’t have three names.
[Brandon] Yes. I was just baffled when you talked about this, by the way. You need more words?
[Howard] I remember reading it. I remember reading it and thinking, “Oh. Yep, I can see exactly what the problem is, and I can’t solve it either. This is a great story where it is. I can see the beginning, the middle, and the end. I was hooked all the way through it. If you add more words to make it longer, you’ll break that. So I couldn’t help you fix it.
[Brandon] I just can’t conceive of this. Not enough words?
[Eric] I did have at least one editor or agent, I can’t quite remember who, basically say, “Yeah, I can tell this is written by a short story author, because it has an economy of words.”
[Brandon] You apparently needed three codas. That’s what you didn’t realize.
[Brandon] So, Howard, briefly, what was your path to getting a book deal?
[Howard] Oh, goodness. Very briefly. Privateer Press was hunting for authors to launch their fiction line in the Iron Kingdoms setting. Unbeknownst to them, they got sold an author who is in fact a cartoonist. But I turned in a novella that they really liked and the fans really liked it. At GenCon, I talked to my editor, Aeryn Rudel, and he said, “We’d love to have you work on a novel for Extraordinary Zoology and our timeline is… If you could give us an outline in October…” I said, “Oh. Stop. October through December are completely full of other things. I would love to write this for you. I recognize that you have a schedule. But I just can’t. This is when my schedule opens up. If you need to give it to somebody else, I completely understand. I’d love to do it, but this… You guys own this thing.” This would be a work for hire. I mean, it’ll pay royalties. Aeryn, bless his heart, came back to me and said, “Well, we really want to have you do it. So let’s talk about your schedule.” We closed that loop. That was in… GenCon is in August. We were shooting emails back and forth in October, the contract landed in my mailbox in November, and I signed it a couple of weeks later.
[Brandon] So, for you, it was the cons and contacts that were very instrumental in this. In both of these cases, though, you guys both took the… You wrote some short works that really were what got you the attention. Eric, you won awards, you had big publications, and that’s why Jabberwocky and Joshua looked back at the thing and said, “We really should be paying attention to this guy.” Howard, you wrote a novella that they really liked and then you got the book deal. Which… I had never published any short stories when I sold, even though the conventional wisdom says that’s the way you were supposed to go. I think both avenues are still open, it seems.
[Mary] Well, we… I mean, we’ve talked about that before. Like if you look at the survey that Jim Hines did, which we’ll link to again in the liner notes…
[Brandon] Yes. Great survey.
[Mary] It shows that you can do short fiction, but that it really does not make a difference. It’s about 50% either way.
[Howard] The survey probably needs to be run again though because as we’ve said, the industry has changed a lot.
[Brandon] Well, we’ve talked about this for quite a long while. I sincerely hope that this was helpful to you. I believe hearing stories… It’s not about bragging on our part, it’s about you hearing stories about how working writers are achieving their goals in today’s market. I think that’s useful for you to hear. Hopefully helpful to you as you try to navigate this yourself.
[Mary] There is one thing that I wanted to point out before we step away, which is that any time you’re doing is, one of the things that they do not tell you before hand is that there is a period of limbo in which you know you have sold a book, but you cannot talk about it. That’s… Eric is in kind of this weird place where he knows he’s sold it, but because it will take a month to two months to get the contract, he’s not going to be able to have that be an official real thing.
[Brandon] Yeah. Well, let’s go ahead and do a writing prompt for you guys. Why don’t you go ahead and write a story about someone who has had some amazing event get announced to them that they can’t tell anyone about. Something incredible, something wonderful, and they are required to not talk about it and how does that work in this story? All right? This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses, now go write.