A Bird in the Hand

It’s been an eventful few weeks, but I think things have calmed down enough for me to post an update.

Back in January, I hustled to polish and submit the opening thirty pages of my YA SF novel to a small publisher. They immediately asked for the full manuscript. Then some things happened at their end, and I didn’t hear from them for a while.

Until ten days ago. They offered me a contract!

There was more good news. The Senior Editor felt the book was structurally sound, and didn’t need a lot of further work. They were proposing to fast-track it for publication.

The contract is quite comprehensive: it’s six pages long and it includes some language I’m not sure I understand. Naturally, I contacted some of my mentors for guidance.

The first of my advisors to respond was an established author who has had agent representation for a long time. He wasn’t all that taken with the terms of this direct author/publisher deal. He cautioned me against signing off so many subsidiary rights, and he lamented the lack of an advance.

Next to check in was someone more accustomed to author/publisher contracts. She was comfortable with both the scope of the rights and the lack of advance, but thought some of the compensation was lower than the going rate: foreign language rights, in particular.

Neither of them liked one phrase. I found it confusing, too. In the first section of the contract, it says the author retains any rights not specified. That’s good. But later, when it’s listing those specified rights, it goes on to embrace all other rights not specified. That’s not so good.

Well, I’ve been meaning to consult a lawyer about writing a better Will, with an intellectual property clause, so I found somebody suitable and got in touch. I have arranged to show it to him soon.

I mentioned my concerns about the offered contract to the editor who sent it to me. He said he’d bring it up with the publisher. In the meantime, we did some preliminary edits of the book, and discussed one or two ways to strengthen it.

Long story short, the publisher stands by their contract. They say they worked hard to make it fair, and consulted with people at the Writer’s Union of Canada extensively to get the wording just right. They aren’t willing to make changes for me.

On the bright side, they haven’t withdrawn the offer or anything. It remains in effect while I do research. To my untrained eye, the contract appears to score a pass on all theĀ  basic criteria suggested by the Author’s Alliance. That’s good.

I visited the Writer’s Union of Canada website to get a feel for their stance. They offer extensive guidance on contracts for their members. But there’s a Catch-22. You cannot become a member until you’ve signed a contract. So I could sign the contract, pay the dues, and then ask if I just shot myself in the foot! I’m looking for an ounce of prevention, not a pound of sympathy.

I’ll see what the lawyer says. If nothing else, I’ll learn something about contracts.

In the meantime, I am writing to agents. It feels good to write a query letter and say I have a contract offer in hand. It seems to get results, too. I’ve heard back from one already, and have sent her a full manuscript.

Best case scenario? I get an offer of representation from an agent or two, and a chance at reaching readers in the big scary American market.

Middle ground? I have a contract offer from a small Canadian press that is, I think, trying to play fair.

Worst case? It all blows away like dust in the wind.The contract expires, and agents go back to ignoring me.

Except: I made a new friend. The editor and I hit it off. He liked my work, and he wants to see it published. By his company, preferably, but by someone else if not. I liked the suggestions he made, and loved the results I got when I followed his advice. My book has a crisp new title, Avians, and it’s the best it’s ever been.

I’m going to take a workshop of his this summer. Maybe I’ll be an agented author by then. Or maybe we’ll be working together. Stay tuned.


KeyCon Sunday

If I can write this post in not much more than an hour, I can have it up the same day. We’ll see. Close, but no cigar!

I started with Sherry Peters’ Taming Your Inner Saboteur workshop. It’s based on her non-fiction book of the same title, and it tackles all the things that hold writers back. For me, this meant learning to set manageable goals so that I don’t dread starting big chores. Other people at this workshop spoke frankly and deserve confidentiality, so that’s all I’m saying. Got things that hold you back? Check out Sherry’s book.

After that, all I did was blue-pencils and socializing, so as a guide to KeyCon, this blog won’t help much from here on down.

First, a blue-pencil session with David Weber, Guest of Honour and author of the Honor Harrington series of military SF novels, plus some other hard SF and even a YA or two. For him, I pulled one of my more technical SF pieces out of my briefcase. I didn’t think he’d read all 2500 words of “Ill Wind” given the limited time, but he turns out to be a very rapid reader. He says he likes to mostly write novels, and when he does do short stories, he prefers to work in the 10,000 word range. While my story is largely about technology, it was the character relationships and rather nasty future society that he wanted to see expanded. He thought it could make a nice opening to a novel, or if I wasn’t looking to take it that far, it could grow to 5000 words or so to flesh out those aspects.

Second, an almost last-chance decision to sign up for a slot with Liana K, the con’s toastmistress. If you check out her Wikipedia entry, you’ll see she has a rich variety of qualifications, but I chose to seek her editing expertise to get input on a YA story called “Fermi High.” It’s about changing schools, fitting in, and roller-skating on the moon. Liana spotted a retro feel to it, and I admitted it’s partly a homage to Heinlein’s “The Menace From Earth.” Liana gave me a crash course on YA that left me reeling. Example: “don’t just show teen insecurity- wallow in it!” I’d love to talk to her about my novel sometime, I have a feeling that “eye-opening” wouldn’t cover it.

Which brings me to: Third, a blue-pencil session with Gerald Brandt, not on my novel, but on the query letters I am writing for it. I thought I had the basics about right, but he felt there was entirely too much of it, and he found ways to order it better and make it tighter. He’d like to see my revised version, so I have homework tomorrow.

I finished the day in the restaurant with a table that ebbed and flowed as people wound things up and headed out. Finally got to exchange more than ten words with Karen Dudley, and to meet her family. Last chance to talk to Craig Russell, author of Black Bottle Man. We’d been following each other around all weekend, but never had time to actually have a conversation. He left to tackle the drive out to Brandon before the deteriorating weather made it any nastier. I was also facing a drive, although heading east to Kenora would lead me toward better weather, not worse. Told Gerald Brandt and Lindsay Kitson how much they added to my enjoyment of the weekend. Lucked out in bumping into both Leia Getty and Holly Geely while waiting for the elevator, so I was able to say goodbye to them, too.

Then a chance to enjoy downtown Winnipeg in wind and rain and sleet.