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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.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Tachyon's Soul

As a tonic to all of the Night Shade discussions this week, let's talk about something that involves another distinguished sf/fantasy press in the San Francisco Bay area, Jacob Weisman's Tachyon Publications, which is the publisher of the Hugo-nominated novella THE EMPEROR'S SOUL by Brandon Sanderson.

It's an interesting story, to me at least, on many levels.

For one, I'm old enough to have grown up in an era when we didn't have all of these internet magazines like Lightspeed and Clarkesworld and Daily SF and etc.  So just for that reason alone, it's hard to believe that it took a little over a year for Brandon Sanderson's THE EMPEROR'S SOUL to go from non-existence to Hugo finalist.  Unless you really hit the jackpot, writing a story in January and submitting it to the magazines that were pretty much the only places to go for this sort of thing in 1980, having a quick try on the first sale and having the story sneak in to the November of December issue -- it just couldn't happen.  Magazine lead times are so long.

And if anything, THE EMPEROR'S SOUL was compressed even further than that.

Brandon was touring Taiwan in Winter 2012.  He was inspired to write something by some stamps he saw at a museum.  During a break between drafts of A Memory of Light in February 2012, he wrote a few small things that could be fit into the available time.  According to a forthcoming review for one of Brandon's books, he is "inhumanly prolific" so he managed to write this 30,000 word novella in a relatively short amount of time, finishing toward the end of February.  He sent it off to Moshe Feder, the Tor editor who discovered and purchased Brandon's debut novel Elantris, for a look-see, and Moshe e-mailed on March 8, 2012 to say "What can I say? I love it!"

I was jealous Moshe had gotten first crack at it, so I got a copy myself.  As that upcoming review says, Brandon is "inhumanly prolific," so I was able to load up my iPad with an epub file of the new novella, another new novella, and a new draft of his YA debut The Rithmatist, and with a free afternoon on the weekend of March 10/11 2012, I headed off to the New York Sports Clubs on Park Ave. and 23rd St. in Manhattan and spent a few hours on the elliptical reading new Brandon Sanderson.

I didn't just love THE EMPEROR'S SOUL.  I thought it was something special.  It made me feel the way I'd felt a few months before when I'd had a break in my reading pile and read an issue of Asimov's with Kij Johnson's "The Man Who Bridged the Mist," a great novella that was on all the award ballots and winning many during 2012 (that was read on the bike in my building's gym, there's nothing like having good reading to burn the calories).

But what were we going to do with something that I was convinced was an award-caliber novella?

This made for some interesting conversations with Brandon in the next day or two.

Brandon wanted the novella out in 2012.  This is the opposite of the ideal approach for being on award ballots.  Too early in the year, maybe people forget.  Too late, maybe not enough time for people to read and word to spread.  But Brandon was worried that he didn't have a book-length work of his own to come out in 2012.  Alloy of Law had come out Fall 2011, Memory of Light was due January 2013, Brandon wasn't buying my "oh, the paperback of Alloy of Law will be out in 2012, that's a book!" arguments.

That made it very hard to consider the magazine route.

As or more important in deciding against the magazine route, Brandon was itching to be doing some e-books of his own.  Even if a magazine purchased the story ASAP and could have it out, it wasn't going to pay a lot of money, maybe $1500 or $2000, and it wasn't going to allow a separate e-book.

Nor, in all likelihood, would Brandon's regular publisher, Tor.  The big publishers will occasionally pick up something first published in e-book, and maybe be persuaded to leave the e-book rights behind, but as a rule they won't buy books where they don't have e-book rights.

We were waiting on publication that summer of Brandon's novella LEGION from Subterranean, but we didn't like that option here, of trying to have two Subterranean novellas in such quick succession.

And that was when I pushed back a little, and decreed that the novella was simply too good just to be done as an e-book by Brandon himself.  Maybe none of the familiar things we were doing was the right thing for THE EMPEROR'S SOUL.  Maybe, this was going to be my first Tachyon Publications book.

I confess, I was being a little selfish here.

I wanted a Tachyon Publications book so very very badly.

And I never had one.

I'd chatted with Jacob Weisman at the Tachyon table at WorldCon or World Fantasy for years and years.  I'd watched the quantity and quality of books at his table grow.  Not the literary quality, but the physical quality.  The gorgeousness of the covers, the attractiveness of the design, every year he was in business a trip to the Tachyon table had become more and more of a visual feast.

The problem for me was that "literary quality" thing.

For all the success JABberwocky has had over the years, it was somewhat reflective of its owner's tastes.  This is changing, because Eddie Schneider has a more literary bent in his reading tastes than I do in mine, and since adding Eddie to the staff in 2008, he's building a roster of authors with a very different profile.  But I've always been a bit more of a plot person.  I'm the kind of person who usually reads two lines of the fiction in The New Yorker and then starts flipping pages to look at cartoons en route to the "critics" section of the magazine that follows the fiction.  My own tastes have intersected only occasionally with the Nebula Award ballot, and never with the World Fantasy Award ballot.

Which wasn't Jacob Weisman's thing with Tachyon.  The sad fact was, I'd spend years looking longingly at this beautiful array of Tachyon books from all the best authors in sf/fantasy, and then I'd go thinking about the JABberwocky catalog which is usually in my bag just in case there's someone to give to at these conventions, and it was like the Mars and Venus thing.

So, heck no, Brandon Sanderson was not going to take an award caliber novella and put it out himself and deprive me of the one chance I'd had to actually give something to Jacob Weisman that I could suggest he buy -- well, let's not say "with a straight face," let's say "with a sincere and firm belief that he would and should want to buy it."

So on March 14, I e-mailed Jacob, and I told him I had an award caliber novella by Brandon Sanderson, it gave me the same feeling I had when I was reading the Kij Johnson story, and would he maybe want to take a look.  And oh, by the way, Brandon really wants to keep the e-book rights, and he really wants to have this out before the end of the year.

The rest, as they say, is  history.

Jacob asked me to send it along and promised me he'd read it quickly.  He did.  This was very important to me; it was one thing for me to know and feel in my heart of hearts that this was an award-caliber piece of fiction.  Having Jacob Weisman agree to publish it -- that was the guy with the table full of beautiful books by all the authors who kept getting nominated for all the awards telling me it was.

We agreed that it was kind of late to absolutely promise 100% for sure that it could be out in 2012, but we'd all do our darnedest that it would be available by World Fantasy,  Which made things a little more complex, since World Fantasy was in Canada, which meant longer shipping time and tighter deadlines.

He agreed that Brandon could do his own e-book. Not without some concessions at our end; the size of the advance or giving some UK rights to Tachyon were particular areas where I had to fight less zealously.

And by March 23, 2012, we were looking at the artwork that Jacob and his managing editor Jill Roberts were thinking to use.

I'm still a bit amazed by it all, that something so good that hadn't even been a thought in January 2012 had become a brilliant piece of fiction by the end of February, sold to the perfect publisher -- as if fate itself were guiding our hands -- by the end of March, and was sitting at the banquet tables at the World Fantasy Awards banquet on November 4.

And most amazing of all, that on March 30, 2013, around 13 months after it was finished, it was being announced as a finalist for this year's Hugo Award.

Is it the best novella on the Hugo ballot this year?  I'll let you tell me that, and we'll find out together alongside the Riverwalk in San Antonio on Labor Day Sunday.

I will tell you that it is and always will be an award-caliber piece of fiction, and one that deserves reading.

Am I biased?  Well, not as much as you think.  There's nothing that can kill a book faster than bad word of mouth, and if you find me trying to sell you something, I'm going to try and sell you something I think you'll love.  Something you'll tell all your friends you love, not something you'll tell them to avoid.  Because what would have happened if I'd spent the past ten years trying to sell Jacob Weisman things that weren't really right for Tachyon?  I could have, easily.  But I respected the integrity of Jacob and the Tachyon Publications list way too much to do that.  When I finally stopped chatting across the table in some hotel function space or convention center hanger that I sure hoped I'd have something for him someday and finally said "I have something," I think that counted for something.

Which, to digress -- some people say of agents, and rightly so, that we are the people who won't submit your book to all the places you'd send it yourself, that we are standing in the way and working for ourselves when we ought to be working for you.  Well, yes!  Because someday, you may want to be the author who benefits when I put my reputation on the line and say that this is something you should want, and want badly.

So when I write this blog post today, when I spend 1900 words telling you about THE EMPEROR'S SOUL, you'll know how much this novella means to me.

You can check out review quotes for the book on our website.  Many of those quotes have live links to the original review.

You can order the novella directly from Tachyon.

Or you can order it from some big book retailer.

If you buy the print edition from anywhere, Brandon has this thing, he talks about it on this blog post, where he will send you a free e-book edition!

Or, you can just buy the e-book from some different big book retailer.

Hey, listen!  Audio here.

For our friends in the British Commonwealth of Nations:  Kindle (click link to find reasonably priced marketplace used copies, omnibus edition with Legion due this summer), and WH Smiths/Kobo.

There are arrangements made or in process for translated editions of the novella in Taiwan, Spain, Germany and other markets.

Obviously, we owe a lot of thanks to all the people at Tachyon, not just Jacob but Jill and everyone else there, for their work on this novella.  And to Moshe Feder, who so often provides edits for Brandon beyond what he has to do in his role as an editor for Tor.

1 comment:

Seth said...

Lost it at "Hey, Listen!"

I don't know you from Adam, mister Brillig. But that had better the reference I think it is.

If so, well done and well said. Also, your story is nice, and I already have a signed copy of the book. I say only good things about it.