I got this comment here yesterday regarding my new book THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE:
I noticed in the comments on Paul’s site that it two years of wading
through rejections and the like, to the point you wondered that it may
just sit in your drawyer for all of time – I would be most interested
to hear more about this journey from you, what your thoughts were on
why it didn’t find a home in the beginning, what obstacles you faced
with it, etc. I think many have the idea that established, published
writers don’t have to deal with that once they’ve broken in and gotten
Succeeding with a book or two doesn’t mean everything you write from now on will get published. The publishing business today is brutal. There are many well-known authors who wrote a book outside their established series or genre and, as a result, either had to fight to get it published, had to switch publishers for the title, or couldn’t get it published at all. And there are many acclaimed, mid-list authors who have had their long-running, successful series dropped and are fighting to get back in print again (often having to resort to using a pseudonym to avoid being damned by sales figures of their last few books).
THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE is about a guy who learns everything he knows about being a PI from reading books and watching TV shows. It’s about the clash between fictional expectations/stereotypes and reality. The book is something of a spoof…and yet, at the same time, a straight-ahead crime novel full of explicit sex and violence. That shifting tone made the book a hard sell…because it didn’t fit into a particular marketing niche. Is it a satire? Is it a PI novel? Is it a thriller?
Most of the editors who rejected the book praised the writing but didn’t see where it would fit in their publishing line. There were two editors at major houses who loved it and wanted to acquire it…but couldn’t convince their superiors. Another wrote a LONG rejection letter, saying how much she loved it, that it was the best PI novel she’d read, and how it pained her not to be able to publish it. (In the mean time, I wrote a screenplay version of the book, which landed me the gig writing the DAME EDNA movie. It never got made, but it was a very big payday for me and my first solo screenwriting job outside of episodes of TV shows I’ve produced).
It was frustrating not being able to sell the book because I felt it was the best novel I’ve ever written. I loved writing it and I very much wanted to write more about Harvey Mapes, the main character. At the same time, I couldn’t whine too much, because I have been doing well with the DIAGNOSIS MURDER books. Of course I approached my DM editors about BADGE…but as much as they like me, and my work, they weren’t willing to take the gamble (I’m hoping they will consider the paperback rights now that the book has been so well reviewed).
Finally, after two years of shopping the book, we took it to Thomson/Gale/Five Star, which has a reputation for putting out fine mysteries…and for being a place where published authors can find a home for their "dropped" series and unpublished works. It’s an imprint run by writers (like founder Ed Gorman) and editors (like legendary book packager Martin Greenberg) who truly love books and appreciate authors. They produce handsome hard-covers that are respected and reviewed by the major industry publications. I had a great experience with them on THE WALK (another book that was a hard sell) and I knew they would treat THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE well.
The downsides with Five Star are that they pay a low advance, they primarily serve the library market and have very limited distribution to bookstores (though they are stocked in most independant mystery bookstores). The only way to get your title in a Barnes & Noble or Borders is to have an event in one of their stores. Still, it’s possible to win wide acclaim and impressive sales with a Five Star title, as my friend Robert Levinson proved last year with ASK A DEAD MAN, an LA Times Bestseller that won a starred Publishers Weekly review.
The hope with a Five Star title is that it will be well-reviewed, sell big within Five Star’s limited market, perhaps get an Edgar nod (or the equivalent from RWA, WWA, etc), and get enough notice that a larger house will pick-up the mass market paperback or foreign rights.
Success can open a lot of doors, and make the experience smoother, but unless you’re at the Stephen King/Janet Evanovich/Michael Connelly level, it by no means guarantees a free ride.