Monday, March 19, 2012

Publishing history of the Aud novels, part 1

From: Kate

1) I always wondered why the three aud stories came from different publishing houses? it breaks my heart to hear that this is one of the reasons there won't be a new aud novel anytime soon... [This question is from a comment on a recent blog post which I've elected to answer here, in full. Or, er, in part. I'll continue in another post.]

In 1995 I wrote the outline for the first Aud book, The Blue Place (working title, Penny in My Mouth--"Who's Penny?" my agent asked). It was to be my third novel. My contract with Ballantine/Del Rey, the publisher of my first two novels (Ammonite and Slow River), included an option clause: Ballantine had the right of first refusal of my next science fiction novel. The problem was, Penny in My Mouth wasn't science fiction, it was sleek, unreliable-narrator literary crime fiction. My then-agent and I decided we'd see if Ballantine wanted it anyway.

They didn't--it didn't fit their notion of a mystery. This wasn't surprising: it's not a mystery. So then my agent approached HarperCollins...who snapped it up, along with a collection of mixed short stories and essays (working title Women and Other Aliens). I was delighted: not only was (still is--even more so) it almost unheard of to publish such a strange collection, HarperCollins were offering a terrific amount of money: four times what I'd been offered for Slow River. And I hadn't even written the whole novel: just an outline and three chapters. The collection, at this stage, was still purely imaginary.

But then the acquiring editor resigned to become an agent, and my agent and I weren't convinced that anyone else at Harper was enthusiastic enough about the novel and collection. So we pulled them, and tentatively approached Avon. They, too, were wildly enthusiastic--about Penny, at least. They didn't want Women. I thought about that, then shrugged. I'm a novelist first and foremost; novels are more important to me.

So I made a deal with the Executive Editor at Avon, for not quite as much money as I would have got from HarperCollins (though still a lot, compared to SR) but lots of flattering enthusiasm: bouquet of white roses, handmade chocolates, big fat cheque. For a kid from the sf ghetto, this was heady stuff.

I set to work on finishing the novel. I finished it on time. I thought it was pretty good. The editor thought the ending was all wrong. She asked me to change it. I said no. She asked me if I'd be willing to stop the book just before the ending so as to leave the ending in doubt. I said no. She asked me if I'd change the title. I said no. She passed me along to the Senior Editor.

The Senior Editor and I went through the will-you-change-things dance: no, I said, no, and no. SE sighed and bowed her head--over everything but the title. We went at it hammer and tongs. By this time it was spring of 1997. Time was getting short (publication was set for spring 19998). Marketing was brought to bear. My agent was dragged into it. "We need something with more movement," said marketing. "Who is Penny?" my agent still wanted to know. On and on and on. And then one day I had an idea, a way for everyone to get what they wanted (I thought): "Let's call it Thaw!"

Ringing silence.

Thaw, it turns out, wasn't what they had in mind. Well, what did they have in mind? I asked. The Blue Place, they said. I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard. But they told me they could sell it, and, besides, it would make an awesome cover. So, for the first time in my publishing life, I gave in. For the record, I still wish I hadn't.

The Blue Place, with a blue cover depicting a woman nothing like Aud, was published in April 1998. It got stellar reviews. It sold pretty well. I got angry letters from dozens of readers about the ending--but asking when the next one would be out. I was already hot on the trail of Aud II, working title Red Raw...

[to be continued]

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