About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

An Anniversary Musing #5 Collaboratively Speaking

For part two of my Elizabeth Moon musings, this is a good occasion to talk about the benefit of doing collaborative work.

There are two approaches here.

One is where you put an author on to a Star Wars or Halo novel, expecting to get the Star Wars or Halo audience to rub off. This NEVER works, in my opinion or experience. People who buy media novels, they might be readers but they're media readers. For the rare thing like when Tim Zahn launched the original Star Wars fiction line 18 years ago, it can be SO big that even a small percentage of carry over is SO big that it can make a visible small dent in the base of sales for a much smaller regular novel. But for the most part, an author should do these things for the money or for the love of the media product, and nothing else. There's no umbra or penumbra or coattail or other benefit to be had, maybe that you're making the publisher happy because the publishers keep seeming to think this kind of thing is so wonderful you really ought be doing it.

The second, represented by the Planet Pirates books, is to collaborate (back then, "sharecrop" was a term often used) in another author's world. And when you have two good authors that are a good match for one another, this kind of thing can work very very well indeed.

SASSINAK by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon was the biggest Baen book to that time, an instant and immediate success and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. And it did indeed bring more people to Elizabeth's own work. [Newer readers may not realize just how big a name Anne McCaffrey was back then, she's still a big name to be sure but was at the height of it 20 years ago.]

But, this worked only because the authors really liked one another, and they had a similar look and feel to their work, so it was a good fit. If not a marriage of equals, Elizabeth was enough regarded in the field that this could be seen as a real novel and not as exploitation. Same thing today with Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson on Wheel of Time, even more so as the two authors and series are all even bigger than McCaffrey Moon then.

However, the trap is this. Most of the benefit of the collaboration is realized from doing it once. There are only so many Robert Jordan fans, only so many Anne McCaffrey fans, and they're not minting so many new fans between books that you'll find scads more who will decide to sample the partner's work between 1st and 2nd collaboration. Grab what you can from doing once, then give your new fans new work of yours.

So In an ideal world to Joshua Bilmes the Literary Agent, Elizabeth Moon walks away from doing GENERATION WARRIORS and Brandon Sanderson walks away from doing TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT unless given a much better deal than on the first book, because their careers are now improved to the point where they are much better off doing their own new book which they own 100% of than doing a collaborative book for a much smaller percentage. In the real world, the younger author knows that the publisher wants them to do more and doesn't see as the younger author that the publisher might if push came to shove pressure the established to give a better deal. And is a fan and enjoying the relationship. And even though the long term benefit is to do solo work the immediate advance will often be bigger for the collaboration than for the solo project.

So intellectually, I know and understand and respect why have little success getting my clients to let me be a mean ogre in negotiating book #2 of these collaborations, same reasons why collaboration #1 works are why author will want a collaboration #2.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Moon said...

True, true, but I had FUN with _Generation Warriors_, especially making up that blue-plush-horse shaped math genius alien. And the sulphur-compound-crystalline one. Not to mention the heavy-worlder's opera.

But in the long run, yes: doing one's own thing is even more fun (and profit.)

Thanks for the memories and the many times your "ogre" saved my bacon (and gave good advice.)