What it’s Really Like, Part 3: The Cover

Yesterday, I received an email from my editor.

Yes, I still love to say “my editor.”

Anyway, I thought it was going to be my edits, but no–it was cover design ideas. He presented me with two, told me his preference, and asked for mine.

I’ve thought about this moment a lot, even before I made the sale, and I’ve always known it would be a stressful thing.  For one thing, I’d been thinking about possible designs for a while.  Most of my ideas were, I knew, unobtainable. Further, while some publishers will ask the author what they think, the final decision is the publisher’s.  More than one author has hated their book cover.  I was prepared to join them, but hoping for better.

So it was with some trepidation that I clicked on the files. And then I smiled, because both designs were fantastic.

I really loved the artwork on one of them, but it doesn’t quite fit this book’s feel or themes as well as it might.  But the other design is thematically perfect, and dynamic.  It’s eye-catching and has a great tagline.

I’m happy. The design may change, in small or even large ways, between now and finalization.  But for now?  I’m totally pleased.


The Importance of Silence and Downtime

I’m not silly enough to assume this is true of all writers, but it’s certainly true of me: I need silence.

Not true silence, the absence of noise, though that is also beneficial.  What I really need is a sort of mental silence–time in which I don’t have to be thinking too hard about other things, like work, or whether my child is screaming for good or bad reasons, or if I remembered to feed her.

The reason I need that time is so my brain can work through story issues.  I can sit, in a hammock, let’s say, staring at the trees above me, blinking but doing nothing else–and in my brain, ideas are being sifted through, sometimes consciously, but sometimes in the “background” of my mind while I’m just processing sensory input consciously.  It’s a weird and hard to describe process.  So here’s an example:

Saturday night, my daughter and I stayed in a motel in Placerville, about a half-hour drive from my home, because we were going out to watch the Perseid meteor shower and I didn’t want to have to drive all the way home from our star-watching spot at the Ice House Observation Plateau to Sacramento at oh-dark-thirty in the morning.  When we woke up Sunday, we got dressed, packed up, and went home, where an hour later, I realized I’d left my pillow–a non-standard, kinda expensive pillow that is literally the best pillow I’ve ever had–in the motel room.

Figuring the gas to get there and back again was less than the cost of buying a new pillow, I went back for it.  I went alone, which was useful.  As I drove, I started asking myself some tough questions I’ve been having a hard time with about The Remembrance War around some of the events in book 2 and some stuff I’m building toward in book 3.

Namely, I had two major questions:  First, instead of getting into a protracted street fight in book 2, why don’t the Zhen simply blast the rebels into the dirt from orbit?   Second, why don’t they shoot Tajen dead when he begins [REDACTED]*?  And, bonus question, why ARE [REDACTED] getting involved with the whole mess in book 3?

As I drove, with nothing to do but let the music on my crappy car radio be white noise while I thought (and steered), I found all three answers.  So I committed them to memory, and then spent some time refining the concepts and pre-composing a few scenes that will help make it all clear–scenes that will fit into the already-planned story arc and scene structure.

That kind of downtime, you see, is precious.  And I don’t get a lot of it in my daily life.  Between work, ten year old child, and spouse, there’s a lot of talking, and a lot of doing, in my day.  And I need the quiet to be able to figure out what’s going on with the story.

Fortunately, once I know what’s supposed to happen in a given scene, writing does not require silence.  I wrote one of the best scenes in The Widening Gyre while sitting in a room with 300 chattering parents and their kids at my daughter’s school, waiting for an event to begin.  I wrote several other scenes in the middle of restaurants or coffee shops full of noise.

So while it isn’t necessary to actually write down words, it is super necessary to figure out what the general shape of those words should be.

And now, it’s time to get back to the writing.  Tajen’s about to make an idiot of himself before the Kelvaki High Council at the worst possible moment.

What It’s Really Like, Part 2: The Contract

A few days after I sent my acceptance of the terms the publisher was offering, they sent me the boilerplate for their contract.

boilerplate is standardized language used in contracts.  Every publisher has their own.  It’s essentially the same thing you’ll see in the contract.  This is where the negotiation happens.

So I read over the boilerplate, and googled like crazy for a couple of days.  The contract lays out what you’re paid, when it happens, and how royalties are calculated. It isn’t the same for all formats–there’s separate rates for hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook, and then rates for remaindered books, and book club editions.

It also lays out how much the author gets for the sale of translation rights, film/tv rights, audio play (as in radio) rights, etc.  Most of those, I imagine, will never be used, but they’re enumerated in the contract.

The contract lays out what happens if I don’t live up to my obligations by delivering the book by the due date (I’ve already turned it in, since it was complete when I submitted it for consideration), and how any disputes between the publisher and I will be dealt with.  I don’t foresee any of that being an issue; it’s all pretty straight-forward.

It all looked great, so I signed it.  I’m sure in the old days this was done primarily via mail, but because the 21st century is amazing, I signed it just like I signed a lot of my mortgage papers–online, via DocuSign.  Thanks to the iPad’s abilities, my finger-signature even looks like my actual signature.  Within half an hour of signing, I got a copy in my email, signed by me, my editor in New York City, and the head of the publisher in London, UK.  I love the future.

Of course, what I know now is that I should have at least tried to hold on to the tv/film rights.  When I signed it I didn’t really care, because in the unlikely event of a film rights deal, I’d get the majority of the money.  But after signing, I learned from a few sources, most eloquently Jen Udden and Bridget Smith, in their podcast Shipping & Handling, Episode 47, that I should have asked for those rights to remain with me, partly for monetary reasons, but also for reasons of control.  Udden and Smith also recommend keeping the rights to graphic novels, and merchandising. They also suggest that if you must give up those rights, try for more than 50% (which I got without haggling, because my publishers are good people). Again, this will likely never come up.  Film deals are exceedingly rare.

I’m not sure how my publisher would have handled that–my understanding is that most of the big houses just grumble and give up the grab at those rights–but, in my case I don’t think I was harmed in giving up those rights even if there is interest further down the road. But it’s a data point new writers should have.

In any case, I don’t actually regret giving those rights up, mostly because the odds of it ever becoming an issue are pretty much against me. But it’s something I’ll keep in mind going forward.

And finally we come to where I am in the process: Waiting. I expect the first-round edits and copyedits in the next 2-3 months.  Publication is tentatively scheduled for March 2019.  I’m working on book 2, which has not yet been signed, and will send off the proposal for it when I’ve got a couple of chapters done (it’s already been plotted and a synopsis has been written).

I’m also doing a lot of research on conventions and other avenues of writerly book promotion.  All while trying to give my kid a fun summer and also plan for the next school year.

Space Opera: Why I Love It (and some examples!)

I read a lot of SFF books, but Space Opera is my go-to genre.   Hard science is nice, but give me star-spanning civilizations, weird, wonderful, and plentiful alien life, and overwhelming stakes any day, and twice on Sunday.  My love can be traced to James P. Hogan’s Giants series.  I read the first book, Inherit the Stars, in 8th grade, and fell in love with it.  I found out there was a sequel and read it, too.  Then I went to high school, where I discovered from our SFF-loving librarian that there were, in fact, three more books in the series.  I soon exhausted the supply.

From there, it was a quick tour of 1970s and early-80s space opera, from Landis’ A Planet Called Camelot to Asimov’s Foundation and onwards.  While I read fairly widely across the SFF genre, as well as outside it, I have never loved anything like I love a good Space Opera. Part of my love for the subgenre is that it’s often based on characters rather than technology, where the personal growth of the heroes is as important to the book as the plot.  The key to why I love this genre above all others, however, is these three facets of the genre’s tropes: the variety of alien life, the epic scale (including bigger-than-life weapons and tech), and the adventure.

In the real world, science is showing us that it’s pretty likely a fairly barren universe out there, and any life besides us is probably so far away we’ll never meet them.  This depresses the crap out of me–I spent far too much of my youth dreaming of alien contact to be happy with a universe in which humanity is alone. A Space Opera universe, on the other hand, is teeming with life.  From aliens who look mostly like us to aliens who look nothing like us, Space Opera gives us lifeforms in abundance.  Some of them think enough like us that we can work together, but others are so unlike us that any contact is rife with the potential for disaster.  C.J. Cherryh’s work, particularly in the Alliance/Union universe, occupies the knife edge between these two extremes, with parallel cultures that can only interact in the most tangential ways.

What really makes me happy, though, is the vast canvas on which so much of Space Opera is drawn.   See, I love epic stories.  And how much more epic can you get than star-spanning civilizations, spread across hundreds or thousands of light-years, working together–or against each other–to survive in a hostile universe?

Peter Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn series is one of my favorites.  In the first book, The Reality Dysfunction, an accidental rip in spacetime allows the souls of the dead to come forth and possess the bodies of the living.  A war begins, pitting the various factions of far-flung human space against the dead, forcing alliances among people who used to be enemies and spurring a few men and women to grow up, fast.

The trilogy (sold as six books in the US, though ebooks may have changed that) doesn’t disappoint on the tech front, either.  The Confederation has pure-tech ships that jump through space, and living ships that tunnel through and are in constant telepathic contact with their captains.  They have neural computers that allow a form of technological psionics in the Adamist nations, and genetically-engineered telepathy and consensus-building among the Edenists.   The aliens are even more advanced, including matter-creation and planetary engineering (one of the alien empires is based on a series of planets arranged in a giant ring around their primary star, all sharing the same orbit).  I WANT TO GO TO THERE.

Above all, though, is the adventure.  Groups of people (not all of them human), coming together to defeat a common enemy, or helping each other to survive in a hostile universe, confronting unfathomable threats… it’s the stuff we humans have been hardwired to love since the days when we sat around talking about how great it was we’d all escaped the sabre-toothed cat that day.

In addition to the books I’ve already mentioned, good space operas to try out would include E.E. Smith’s Lensman series (which I’ve sadly only read part of; I’d love to find more), Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, Frank Herbert’s Dune saga, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos (which I really ought to write about soon), and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.  There are MANY others.  Should you be so inclined, here’s a link to get you started.