Path to Publication 3.2: So Much Is Happening

After the collapse of my first book deal, I'm back in business—Polis Books will release my debut novel, New Yorked, in June 2015, and has contracted me for a follow-up, City of Rose. This is a monthly column about taking a book over the finish line.

The hardest part of being with my first publisher is that after they signed me, I got nothing but empty promises. No cover, no edits, no check, for six months. Everything would be arriving "soon." It drove me nuts. I like to work. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I'll often peek at my phone to see if I have any e-mails. Sometimes I respond to them. That might not be healthy, but it's how I'm wired. 

That makes this flurry of action with Polis so much more exciting. I've got my cover (see below)! I've got my advance check (blow and hooker party at my house)! The editorial notes should be arriving this week!

Those edits are vital. Not just because they're nice to have, but because I've still got to go out and get my blurbs. The earlier they get in, the better.

And that cover. That's what makes this feel so much more real. This isn't a promise of something to come. Polis had to hire and pay a designer. The design was tweaked. It's a clear manifestation of commitment. Getting this was a rush. And I love it. The title is going to be glossy!

And in a future column, I'll talk a little more about the back-and-forth that brought it to life. But that's for another day, because I've got something else exciting to talk about...

Lights, camera, action!

After my first book deal was announced, we got a couple of bites for film and television. When the deal fell through things paused a bit. Now I'm excited to say that I'm officially being repped by ICM Partners. They'll be pitching New Yorked as a potential television series. 

At some point during the process of writing the book, I decided it would make a terrible movie. The pacing is off, like it would take some gymnastics to get it to fit into the three-act mold. But television could work. The concept of the series is that it's about a dumb kid with a big heart who's looking for his moral compass. Each book takes place in a different location (until the final one, when he returns home). There might be something there. 

So I wrote up a map of the series: an overall view of Ashley McKenna and his arc, and then a brief outline of the five installments. I'm thinking it'll be five. That could change, but right now I feel good about that. I shipped it off to ICM, and we'll see what happens. Their job now is to go out and see if someone is willing to throw their lot in with this. 

Nothing may come of this. I understand that. The TV and film development process is convoluted and difficult, and probably even more frustrating than the publication process. But ICM is a pretty big deal. They've been responsible for packaging shows like Sons of Anarchy, Modern Family, Breaking Bad, The X-Files, and The Simpsons

So at least I'll have a fair chance at this thing, I think. 

The art of the summary

One of the things I did recently, too, was rewrite the summary of the book. Here's the original one: 

Ash McKenna wakes up on the floor of his apartment with a vicious hangover, no memory of the previous night, and three voicemails. The first is from Chell, the woman he loves, terrified she's being followed. The second is static. The third brings news that Chell has been murdered.

Ash vows to track down her killer—whatever it takes. But in the process, he clashes with a drag queen crime boss, uncovers a mysterious USB jump drive, and stumbles into a live action hardboiled role-playing game.

Exhausted, battered, and drowning in conspiracy theories, Ash is forced to face the memories of his tumultuous relationship with Chell, his feeling of displacement from the city he loves—and the consequences of his own violent tendencies.

It's okay, but it feels a little too simple. I actually meant it to be a draft and then my first publisher just started using it for stuff. So I figured, okay, I'll live with it and then refine it down the road. After throwing in with Polis, I figured it was time to rethink it. I want to get a little more personality into it.

And Jason Pinter, the head of Polis, really homed in on Ash describing himself as a "blunt instrument." Ash doesn't think there's a lot of art or finesse to what he does—you point him at a job, he gets it done. I like the simplicity of that. So I figured I'd lean into it:

Ashley McKenna is a blunt instrument. Find someone, scare someone, carry something; point him at the job, he gets it done. He generally accepts money upon completion, though a bottle of whiskey works, too—he's comfortable working on a barter system. It's not the career he dreamed about (archeologist) but it keeps him comfortable in his ever-changing East Village neighborhood.

That's until Chell, the woman he loves, leaves him a voicemail looking for help—a voicemail he gets two hours after her body is found. Ash hunts for her killer with the grace of a wrecking ball, running afoul of a drag queen crime lord and stumbling into a hard-boiled role playing game that might be connected to a hipster turf war.

Along the way, he's forced to face the memories of his tumultuous relationship with Chell, his unresolved anger over his father's death...and the consequences of his own violent tendencies.

I feel much better about this. I think it does a better job of setting up who Ash is, and the clusterfuck he gets himself caught up in. I'm curious to know what you think, dear readers. 

And finally, I'm saving the most exciting news for last...


My deal with Polis is for two books, the second being the follow-up to New Yorked, titled City of Rose. And I just finished nailing out the first draft.

I've been jabbing at the book in bits and pieces, but one recent weekend, with nothing to do and my wife tied up with work and school, I figured I'd dig in. And over the course of two days I wrote somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 words. In a typical writing session I'll do 1,000, maybe 2,000, tops. So this was a big score. 

A couple of things helped. Suddenly, I have a deadline for when a book needs to be delivered (February 1). I feel like I learned a lot about my own technique and my voice over the course of the first book, which helped me get a better grip. Plus, I got two very wise nuggets of wisdom from Chelsea Cain. The first is, in an appearance at The Strand, she talked about the importance of being deluded. 

Writing a book is insane, and it's very easy to look at what you're doing and think it an impossible task. And then someone is going to give me money for it? People are going to want to read it? Bullshit. 

And Chelsea said you just have to delude yourself into believing you can do it. 

The other bit of advice was in the interview I did with her for the site, in which she talked about underwriting; getting stuff on the page and then fleshing it out down the line. So many authors talk about overwriting—that you have to write and write and write and then go in and slice to get things to work. But I've never felt comfortable with that. I like getting the framework down, and then figuring it out. So it was a relief to hear someone else say that. That I'm not the only one who underwrites. It felt like permission to just put my head down and barrel forward. As long as I had the gist down, that was enough—I can refine it and flesh it out later. 

Plus, her new novel, One Kick, is pretty fucking awesome, so clearly it must work. 

So City of Rose isn't done, but it's a thing that exists. 

I'm going to take a quick vacation (last hurrah before the kid gets here; I'll actually be returning the day this runs), at which point I'll dig into the rewrites for New Yorked. Then, with a fresh set of eyes, I can go back to City of Rose. I'm going to be ambitious and say that the whole thing will be done by the end of this year. That makes something like six months on this thing, start to finish. 

It took me four years to write New Yorked

It's amazing how things change when you have a deadline. 

Part Number:

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NotMarilyn's picture
NotMarilyn from Twin Cities, MN is reading Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn October 6, 2014 - 10:26am

Also amazing what can happen once you've finished writing a book, are satisfied with it, and some stranger thinks its awesome. 

REAPER took me 9 months. SACRIFICIAL LAMB CAKE, 4 months. 

And my newest WIP's first draft will be finished this week after only 2 months of work. 

Validation does unholy things to your future word counts.

Again, congratulations on the deal! I'm looking forward to my SIGNED copy. *glares*

herlit's picture
herlit October 6, 2014 - 1:40pm

Great article, Rob! Keep them coming.



L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami October 6, 2014 - 2:53pm

I'm wondering, your old publisher didn't have a clause you couldn't actively be writing anything else right?

With that said, having empty promises is definitely a bummer.

That's the thing that would drive me the most crazy. I'm a writer, a writer is someone who write. Not wait around for edit suggestions.

Suzy Vitello's picture
Suzy Vitello October 6, 2014 - 6:06pm

Dude! I love this. Mazel tov. 

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list October 6, 2014 - 6:17pm

Let me take a moment to gush about the cover. It is one of the best covers I've seen recently. The colors are perfect, the composition of the image is perfect, and the lettering is, you guessed it, perfect. I'm excited for you.

Amazon had the option to pre-order. So... I, um, did. :)

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this October 6, 2014 - 6:53pm

Thanks for the kind words, everyone! And Sammy, thanks for the pre-order!

Sarah--book contracts will often contain some kind of non-compete language. You can write whatever you want, but there are restrictions on what and who you can publish with. 

Some contracts say you can't publish any other books within a certain timeframe, so you're not competing with yourself. Others will say you can't publish a book using the same characters or world. Then there's right of first refusal--many publishers want the right to read your next work and say no before you go to someone else. 

There are a lot of different aspects to that part of the contracting process--that's why it's so valuable to have a literary agent, to help you navigate that. For example, I wanted freedom to explore self-publishing options--like a short story collection.

So part of the negotiating process is finding a happy medium between getting your needs met, and making sure your publisher is happy and comfortable. 

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin October 7, 2014 - 6:38am

Congrats Rob, that's great to hear.

Your second summery is much much better.

And yeah, deadlines are awesome like that :)

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day October 8, 2014 - 5:59am

Good stuff, Rob!

25K - 30K words in two days! That is some epic-level output - like, channeling your inner-Stephen King type mind state!

If I do a session and I bang out 1.2K words I'm please with, I'm usually on cloud-nine with how accomplished I feel for the day (writing-wise)!

How concerned were you with any diminishing utility as you proceeded through those two days? Did you feel comfortable that what you wrote in the first few hours was as legit as the last few hours? Or to your point, per the deadline, was is more about getting that first draft out of your mind no matter what and just dealing with re-writes once the entire story was at least a tangible piece of property?

And maybe more importantly, would you ever want to have to produce so much in two days if the choice was given to you?

Thanks, Deets


Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this October 8, 2014 - 7:24am

Deets--Most of what I wrote is crap, probably. I'm sure that holds true even more for the end, where things probably did get a bit rushed (though I did slow down a few moments and really try to muscle them out). The important thing to me was having everything down on the page, and feeling like I was done with the arc of the story. The magic is in the editing process. 

It's like building a room--first you have to frame it. That's all the first draft is. It looks a little meager and if you mess things up you can always go back and fix them, or put up some drywall to cover it. 

The reason for the marathon was this: I took a five-day vacation last week. I knew I wanted to be done with the draft before I left. This week, I'm due my edits for New Yorked

That means I had the vacation to decompress, then I start NYed this week, then I can go back to working on City of Rose with a bit of distance. So, in part, I was writing toward this goal--having that forced gap between when I finished the first draft and could dive into the second. 

As for whether I would do somethign like this again--I don't know. I'm curious to sit down with the draft and see how it came out. Maybe it was a good idea, maybe not. I'm still feeling out my own process with all of this.

But, too, there is something appealing to me about sitting down for a marathon session like that--it makes it feel bigger and more important, rather than something I'm trying to sneak in between other obligations.