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About this blog: This blog is a place for conversation about books. I post reviews of what I'm reading--lots of contemporary fiction, but also classics and the occasional work of narrative nonfiction. I am always looking for new books to read, so ...  (More)

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It's Now a Series! Story of a Novel, Part 6

Uploaded: Jul 8, 2014
My first detective novel, The Setup Man, was published in March, and I've written a number of posts on this site about the publishing experience, from conception to editing to publicity. I also wrote a post about that strange calm period a few months after the book has launched, after the publicity has died down, when friends and family ask you (and you ask yourself) How's the Book Doing???. This is usually a tough question, full of nuance and based on carefully-calibrated expectations, but not when you're publishing the first book in what you hope will be a series. In that case, the verdict is rendered by the publisher: either they sign you up for book two, or they don't.

Readers' responses to The Setup Man have been strongly positive, with good marks on Amazon/Goodreads and high-profile endorsements from tastemakers like San Francisco Giants radio host Marty Lurie and New York Times Upshot editor David Leonhardt. Since my last publishing-related post, I have learned that Random House (the corporate parent of my publisher, Doubleday) does have a "dashboard" for authors, and I looked up my sales figures. The book hasn't been a bestseller, but sales have been steady, with purchases split evenly between the hardcover and e-book editions. At any rate, the numbers were good enough for my editor to ask my agent when he was going to see a proposal.

When I heard the news, I was encouraged but also a little confused. A proposal? For a novel? I'd never heard of anyone save bankable names like King, Grisham, & Co, selling a novel based on a proposal. Nonfiction books, on the other hand, are routinely sold on proposal, usually a sample chapter and a detailed outline. But not novels. Novels are purchased complete, or so I thought.

I got to work, and in three weeks generated the first thirty-five pages of a new Johnny Adcock novel, plus a fifteen-page plot outline. Writing the outline was a strange experience, more like reviewing a book than writing one, summarizing a plot which did not yet exist on the page. It was also strange to write about Adcock in the third person (The Setup Man is narrated in first person, by Adcock). Writing fiction often feels like playing with dolls, and this felt even more so. I imagine that any screenwriters reading this post will laugh at my bewilderment, because this is exactly the way stories get developed in Hollywood (from concept to treatment and finally to script). Fiction writing is different. We rarely write from outlines (mainly because it precludes happy accidents), and we almost never get paid before we start. Remuneration comes after the work is complete, if at all.

My proposal went to the editor, who suggested a few tweaks before he took it upstairs. I made them, and two weeks later an offer came in. It was for the same terms as the first book, with publication in Spring 2016. I was thrilled, but curious about the timing. With the paperback edition of The Setup Man due out this Christmas, we would be leaving all of 2015 without any new Adcock. My editor explained that the extra lead time will allow the sales team to do their work, and in the meantime we may put out an e-book short, like a Kindle Single, to keep T.T. Monday front of mind with mystery readers.

So there you have it: Johnny Adcock got a contract extension. The working title is Double Switch, and I'm about a hundred pages in, working from an outline for the first time. I promise to write more about the process, and about my progress, as the summer wears on. The manuscript is due New Year's Eve. Wish me luck.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Phyllis Williams, a resident of another community,
on Oct 11, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Just finished "The Set Up Man" and your columns on writing, editing and publicizing your book. I liked your book a lot. It is a good mystery. I felt I was learning about a new culture - baseball, sports, at least a part of it I hadn't understood from watching once in a while on TV while my husband explained or cursed the managers and owners and players. I have to confess I read a good review about the Father Junipero book but it seemed too sad for me to read. Those poor Indians - their culture destroyed and the mistreatment and I call it torture from the missions.
I'm so glad you got a contract for a second book. My advice is that while you should continue with the Adcock series you might want to start thinking of another series - a college coach in some sports (maybe a former NBA player who gets a job coaching in the WBNA.

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