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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, January 30, 2012

Latent Ability

Today's the day, the official on sale for Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole, first in a three book deal with Ace.

Today's the day, the official on sale for the mass market edition of Kings of the North by Elizabeth Moon, the 2nd book in a 5 book Paks World arc.

It's safe to say that these two authors represent very different paths to writing and selling a first novel.

Elizabeth Moon sat down some thirty years ago to write a short story. She wrote, the short story grew, grew into the three book series known as The Deed of Paksenarrion that is one of the most enduring fantasy series of the 1980s. How many fantasies published between 1985 and 1990 have been continuously in print since? I don't know, but it's likely not more than in the dozens. She didn't have to look for an agent, I liked her early stories in Analog and wrote a letter asking if she had a novel, and if it wasn't the sf novel I was expecting we can stipulate that it was good. It wasn't all super-duper easy, I did have to get Jim Baen to change his mind on publishing the series, using the fact that his editor in chief Betsy Mitchell was one of the only people I actually knew and had a relationship with at the dawn of my career. But nonetheless, she wrote a first novel, it found an agent, it was published without too much editing, and was on store shelves within two years of my first reading it, and hundreds of thousands of readers have explored the world of Paksenarrion in the 25 years following.

Myke Cole's path is a wee bit longer, and very instructive.

First, if you are an aspiring writer, you do need to try and get out there and meet people. Myke put in the time and effort to do that. I first met Myke and his Professor X, Peter V. Brett, at a SFWA NYC reception, we believe whatever year it was that it was held at some bar a tad south of the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan. Myke and Peter have better recollections of this than I. I met them for good at Philcon in 2003. the first of the three years that this convention was held at the Marriott in downtown Philly in the dark pre-holiday days of December with such cheap hotel rates that it was impossible to resist. I'm not sure the move to mid-December was a great thing for Philcon, but it was certainly a good year for me. Peter, Myke and I hung out at the bar until the wee hours one night. The travel was good for all of us. You can sell a book by sending us a great query letter, but it sure doesn't hurt to rely on other tools and weapons and to invest in opportunities to network and meet and find what opportunities you can to get yourself out there in a good way.

So I probably read the first draft of Shadow Ops: Control Point, then called Latent in 2004.

Only, I hate to even call it that. That first draft bears so little resemblance to the book you're reading today (this can also be said of the first draft I read of Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings) that I hate to even say I read a first draft of Latent. I didn't read the whole thing, I didn't come close to reading the whole thing. But there's this basic image that's stayed in my mind all that time, an image that's core to the concept, which in my mind is of a young magic user standing in ranks in the center of the Pentagon entering the Army's corp of magic users. The writing was good enough (I'm not even sure I'd even call it good, at that point, but the chapters I read weren't written to where they tripped over themselves) and the basic concept powerful enough that I felt it appropriate to offer encouragement to Myke to run somewhere (not in the run and hide way, the good kind of running) with it.

And after that? Well, nothing much really happened for several years. Myke and I kept in touch somewhat, it helped that he lived in DC, and I liked to visit DC, so we could hook up every so often when I was down there. We could talk, I could encourage, he could tell me about himself, he could help me paint my apartment, just about anything and everything except that there wasn't anything at all happening with this nifty concept he had for a novel. Myke was very involved with a lot of different things, had his tours to Iraq starting with the private contractor he was working with, very involved in thinking about different aspects of counterterrorism and the history of Islam, he seems cured temporarily of his big thing then of recommending everyone in the world read The Sling and the Stone. The only thing I read of his was a portion and outline for a fantasy novel that was deeply steeped in the things he was interested in at the time, so deeply steeped that it sunk and was a real step back from what I was wanting and hoping and expecting. But I liked Myke, we were becoming bona fide friends, and I kept trying to push him back in the direction of Latent. The idea still had some real pull on me.

Professor X was also trying to get him to focus on the task at hand.

And finally, right before one of his tours to Iraq, the new version of Latent finally arrived. And it was good. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it was a fully embodied realization of the concept I'd first encountered five or six years before, better written and better plotted and singing out that it was a book that I needed to be working with.

I couldn't tell this to Myke.

He didn't want distractions during his tour in Iraq, so standing orders were to say nothing about the book until he returned.

I was much relieved when he returned safe and sound from his tour.

Now, the real work could begin. As is often the case, the fact that I liked a book enough to want to work with it was somewhat distant from saying I wanted to represent it. There were problems, issues, suggestions, things to be revised, and we went through another draft of two over what has to have been a year, maybe more.

Finally, in was July 2009, we went out to market with Latent. This has to be five years after I'd first read the first thing called Latent.

And then...

We've spoken about the importance of networking, let me also say here how important it can be to heed editorial advice from a committed agent, at least to a reasonable degree. Because one of the things I've learned time and again and which I learned again with Myke Cole and Latent, is that we can work through five drafts improving a manuscript, and I do mean improving it, and then we send it out to market and we find out that it needs to be improved some more.

That's what happened here. Multiple editors came back loathing and detesting what was then Part 2 of the manuscript. Nobody wanted to publish it as is. So Myke had to go back to the drawing board.

This was not an easy time for Myke and it wasn't an easy time for me as Myke's agent and friend. Myke may not want to use this word himself, but I think the experience was a little deflating for him. He'd done all of this work, I'd vouched for how good it was, I was excited and enthusiastic, and all we had was this stack of rejections.

I didn't see it that way, at least not entirely. We had a stack of rejections, but we had some editors who were willing to look at a revision and other editors who were willing and eager to look at another novel of Myke's, a foot in the door, a calling card, all those kinds of things you have but only when you don't have what you came for. I would try and remind Myke of this, I'd tell him that 99% of the authors who contacted our agency would be quite happy to be where Myke was in the fall of 2009, but still, where we were was kind of back to the drawing board to redo the manuscript with an entire large section of it needing to be replaced and almost every page of the novel otherwise needing to be looked at for any changes necessary for consistency.

But Myke did what he needed to do, and as much as I'd liked the manuscript I'd sent out in July 2009, it was hard not to think that the new version that went out in June 2010 to a handful of editors was genuinely better.

And it did the trick.

Come the fall of 2010, we had offers from two publishing companies.

But even then, things weren't easy. Myke had a strong preference to work with Anne Sowards at Ace. There were editors who were open to seeing a revision, but Anne was the one who went a little bit further than that, really pushing and prodding and going a little beyond being open to really radiating a bone fide want, but the company was starting to make a strong push to get rights that we hadn't historically sold to them, and I had to explain to Myke that we couldn't say yes without really pushing back on those demands. Which meant another week or two or three of anxiety while we did that.

But even then, the process wasn't done. There were the requests from Anne and the sales/marketing people at Ace for changes to the author name and changes to the title, and we had to kind of decide that we were very firm that the author was Myke with a Y, but that we could try and come up with some different titles. So it was that Latent became Control Point, and Riven became Fortress Frontier, and Union became Breach Zone.

And the writing wasn't done, Now that Anne had actually acquired the book, it wasn't just "I'd love to see the book again if you totally junk the entire 2nd part of the book and replace it with something else," no, now it was pages of actual editorial notes, broad points and then the line-by-line.

I think that this long story has a happy ending. I think that this book that Myke Cole first started writing in 1998 and that I first kind of read five years after and which finally went to market five years after that and which finally sees print thirty months after that is going to be a success. The reviews have come in fast and furious over the past month, all of them good and most of them great. A common theme is that we're just into January but that this is going to be one of the debuts to beat for the rest of 2012. Myke has been busting his but doing guest blog posts and interviews and interfacing with reviewers. As we pass the witching hour and officially arrive into launch day, the book is in the top 10K in Amazon's Kindle store, the top 16K in books, These are quite respectable, more than that for a first novel since those generally don't see a lot of preorder activity. We have sold audio rights and UK rights and Czech rights, and the publisher has sold book club rights.

And you know, I've read this book four or six times in multiple drafts over close to a decade, and I still like it. It's better than good, it deserves the reviews it's gotten, and I think the people who are buying it this week are going to encourage their friends to buy it next week and next month.

And I've even now read Fortress Frontier. There's no sophomore jinx here.

If you've read to the end of this post, then you ought to find out what it is you've been reading about.

You can obtain your copy of Control Point here.

You can visit Myke at his web site here.

You can follow along on Twitter here.

FInally, most importantly, if there is one thing you take away from this post that you didn't know when you started reading a half hour or three hours ago, you can find out what kind of cake Myke wants on his birthday here.


Paul Weimer said...

I love the Peter v Brett as Professor X comparison...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I am appreciative of the honesty that it displays. I think beoyond speaking to the hard work that all involved parties put into seeing this product through to completion, this evokes a sense of patience in those of us who are today where Myke was in 1998. That itself is worth its weight in gold.

Again, many thanks for the honest and direct blog!

Karen Davies said...

Candid, heartening, thanks.

Elizabeth Moon said...

Fascinating comparison; I hadn't known that much about Myke's Progress to Publication. It's clear he did a lot of things right...possibly explaining why his first novel sold earlier (in his life) than mine did. If I'd had his knowledge and ability on the networking side, would I have had sold fiction sometime before my 40th birthday? Maybe. Doesn't really matter now.

What I see the same in both our paths--aside from having the same agent, which is huge--is that we both persevered. Things didn't go perfectly right from the start for either of us. I had rejections on the DEED before I had an agent; I'd had rejections on short fiction (almost enough to cover the walls in here) before the first fiction sale that became the first story of mine Joshua read--and thus the path that opened for me.

But Myke and I both kept writing, through rejections, through deployments, through (in my case) raising an autistic kid. I suspect it wasn't the choice of which path to take, but the choice to keep writing, keep trying, that got both of us to the starting gate of publication date.

I'll be cheering Myke on.

Anonymous said...

Very inspiring story. Thanks Joshua.

djinn24 said...

As a person who befriended Myke I have been watching for this book to come out myself since I received an ARC of his book. So far I am blown away at how well things are going, I knew (probably more then Myke) that is was going to do well but right now its top 2000 at Amazon in books and keeps going up. I am not much of a writer but my friend is and this is great inspiration for people like him as well.

Griffin said...

Always fascinating to hear the path taken. I am sure it helps that both he and Peter are very good people.

Myke is a special guy, well-deserving of his success. The book is outstanding.