4 down. 6 to go.

I’ve just finished the rough draft for HOUSE OF CARDS. It came in at 473 pages, longer than I initially expected, but still with plenty of room for revisions without worrying about going too far over.

That’s my fourth manuscript for delivery this year. I’ve got one more due, and if I am extremely, extremely talented and give up sleep and Christmas, I’ll turn a sixth one in right at the very end of this year or very early next year.

This ties in nicely to ‘s recent post regarding literary agent ‘s post about writing in more than one genre, in which Charles Stross also discusses how he got in over his head. Ebear and Charlie, whom I regard sort of as my very specific contemporaries in this whole publishing gig*, are both also neck-deep in novels, and anyone with a modicum of sense would take none of us as reasonable role models on how to approach publishing. Their comments and posts cover what’s happened to them; I’m going to, right now, take a look at what’s happened to me.

Just slightly less than 3 years ago I got an offer for URBAN SHAMAN and two sequels. I was, at the time, about halfway done with the second book, THUNDERBIRD FALLS, and had two other books, HEART OF STONE (urban fantasy, first of a planned trilogy) and RIGHT ANGLES TO FAERYLAND (young adult fantasy, stand-alone but with others planned in the setting), finished and waiting to have something done with them. I also had two soft SF things with 50K written on each of them, and a couple other proposal-length things. I told about them, and while we were discussing my career I outlined my plan to conquer the universe. It went something like, “In the long term I’d like to get into writing straight mysteries too, and be doing three or four books a year under however many names are necessary to make that work.”

Jenn said, “Uh-huh.”

I mean, she didn’t really. She was much, much politer than that. But in essense, uh-huh. All first-time authors say that sort of thing. Everybody has big plans to conquer the universe. Just wait for reality to hit, kid..

About five months later I emailed my editor a paragraph-long idea for a Bombshell series, got a, “Let’s see a proposal,” on it, and sold THE CARDINAL RULE and THE FIREBIRD DECEPTION on spec. I’d never sold anything on spec. That was exciting, in a nail-biting way, and it did something I honestly didn’t expect: I went from being a 1 title a year writer to a 3 title a year writer without leaving the umbrella company I was writing for in the first place. This was, frankly, way the holy living hell faster than I expected to accomplish the “writing three or four books a year” thing. (Fortunately, for some value of fortunately, I also got laid off that month, so I suddenly had the time to write that much.)

This was enough to keep me busy. This was enough to keep most people busy. But I still had HEART OF STONE lying around, and after made me do a rewrite on it (and then another), we sent it to Luna, because my contract specified that anything appropriate to the Luna line went there first. Now, Luna’d *turned down* HoS before I sold them SHAMAN, so I figured they’d turn it down again. So, in fact, did Jenn, especially after the feedback we’d gotten from the editors–basically, they loved the idea, couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it.

So, feeling pretty safe in my expectation that Luna was not going to buy that series, I pitched it to Betsy Mitchell at Del Rey when the opportunity arose. She wanted to see it.

Two days later Luna offered on it.

Jenn said, “What do I tell Betsy?”

I, ever so brightly, said, “Ask her if she’d like to see something else!” and we sent her one of the 50K sf proposals.

She bought it.

Let us now step back and regard what I had gotten myself into.

The Walker Papers (3 books, 2 of which had been turned in)
The Strongbox Chronicles (2 books, both of which had been delivered)
The Old Races (3 books, all due before the first one is published)
The Queen’s Bastard books (which needs a series title; 2 books, 50K of one of which was written)

So I had 6 books due over about 30 months, really. Not so bad.

Then Bombshell bought not only the 3rd Strongbox Chronicle, but the *entire* next trilogy. _Four_ books.

10 books. 30 months. OMFG.

Ok, ok, let’s not panic. It’s not as bad as it looks: HEART OF STONE needed revising, but not *writing*. COYOTE DREAMS was 2/3rds done at that point. I turned both of those in in the first quarter of 2006, leaving me with 8 books in 27 months. QUEEN’S BASTARD is a third written, so that’s a hell of a head start.

This is more or less the point at which I throw up my hands and can say nothing except, “I swear to God I know it looks (and is) insane, but I wouldn’t have gotten myself into it if I couldn’t do it,” because trying to convince anyone that I’m not insane is, well, insane. Jenn said a lot of soothing things like, “Just because they’re throwing themselves at you doesn’t mean you have to say yes to it all,” and, “Are you *sure* you can do this?”, as well as used words like, “Unprecedented,” and, “This doesn’t happen.” (I had _one_ book on the shelves when this all went down.)

I do not actually recommend this course of action. I write fast and I had a fair bit piled up, or I would never have done it to myself. But I have .certainly. accomplished what I set out to, if in a considerably different manner than I expected. I’m going to have 3 C.E. Murphy books coming out a year for the next couple years, which is really, really not what I imagined. I figured there’d be one C.E. Murphy book, one or two Cate Dermodys, maybe a Catie Murphy (which is what I intend to write YA under), not _three_ under C.E. and a couple under Dermody. Buh. But one of the truly astonishing things was that we discussed the Del Rey books coming out under a slightly different name, maybe Catherine E. Murphy, and Betsy decided to go with C.E. because she was buying the brand.

Now, don’t get me wrong: my whole *reason* for writing under multiple names was the branding thing. But having one book out and having somebody decide that yeah, that’s enough to establish the brand and make the name worth keeping, is … holy moly. And I’m happy about that, because part of what this mad rush in these first few years is about is the shelf space. I’m *delighted* things are going out under the Murphy name, and I’m trusting my publishers recognize how to deal with branding and that the urban fantasy bent of 2/3rds of what’ll be under that name and the soft SF for the other third isn’t going to be a problem. (It’s certainly working for Charlie and eBear so far.)

So, yeah. There I am. That’s how I ended up where I am. It is an actively different manner of getting here than either eBear or Charlie took, and there’s unquestionably lunacy involved in it all, but to summarize, yes, you should probably be *extremely* confident of your ability to write at least two books a year before you start trying to jump genres. And even if you are confident, be careful. :)

(Actually, the part I think is probably *insane* is that I’m writing and soon to submit a *comic book* as my *hobby*. I need *help*, don’t I?)

*I have no idea how eBear and Charlie might feel about this. We all three of us write very very differently, and Charlie’s a couple years ahead of my curve in publishing novels (he’s a short story genius and has been publishing *those* for ages), and eBear’s about a year ahead of me in the timeline. But that’s not very much time, in the publishing industry, and we are all three working our way through avalanches of books, so I feel a sort of cameraderie there. :)

ytd wordcount: 283,300

19 thoughts on “4 down. 6 to go.

  1. Jeepers. I mean, I’d heard it all before, but seeing it laid out in one big post like that really brings home just how….ummm….unprecedented your writing career is. *grin*

    I’m glad you ended up with an agent who could work with that, rather than one who tried to push you to just write in one narrow genre, either because they thought it’d be best for your career or because they didn’t trust you when you said you could handle doing so much at once. In other words, an agent who could help you take advantage of the great opportunities you’ve had, instead of holding you back. While I don’t disagree that ‘s post is good advice for how many writers should plan their careers, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution that’ll work for everyone.

  2. For my part …

    I’m in over my head. I’ve got a three month extension on HALTING STATE, and I need it. On Monday I’ve got to put the galley proofs of THE JENNIFER MORGUE in the mail. By September 1st, I have to email a final draft of Merchant Princes #4 to David Hartwell. And I still have to pull a rabbit out of the hat vis-a-vis HALTING STATE, which is 60% written in first draft (but I think I unfroze it a little while taking time off in Australia).

    The novel I really want to be writing is THE FULLER MEMORANDUM (sequel to THE JENNIFER MORGUE and THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES), but my editor at Orbit will probably murder me if I don’t hand them a space opera instead.

    And I just don’t have the bloody energy to write 3 books a year any more. One and a half is pushing it, and I should be doing two. Sometime in the next year I am going to be way overdue on something, I just know it. But by then I’ll have about 8-10 books in print and I can begin slowing down.

    Useful hint: nothing puts the brakes on faster than using the phrase “close to burn-out” in the direction of your agent or editor. And, y’know, after turning in four books a year nobody will be surprised if they hear you use those words.

  3. I’m fortunate enough to have a one-book year this year and another one-book year next year, but there’s going to be a buttload of revisions.


    (And we love you, Catie. Just saying. *g*)

  4. I find that all both inspiring and a little terrifying. *laughs* Right now I’m comfortable writing 2-3 books a year while holding a full-time job, but not all of them are getting revised to a pro level (at least I assume, since I haven’t managed to tell anything :D)

    But what it shows me is that if I could do this gig full time, I’d need to write 2-3 books (assuming they go to pro level and all sell), to, well, not be bored.

    In order to do that, I think I need multiple genres. But we’ll see.

    Gotta sell the first book first ;) Er, and find an agent.

    Thanks for posting this–it’s good to see how another prolific writer handles things :D

  5. Yes, well, don’t forget that I didn’t even touch on needing to deal with revisions, line edits, and galleys. :)

  6. Oh, well, you’re still going great guns, and every time I look at your blog I tremble in fear at the 2343098670 things you’ve got going, so it’s easy to assume you have nineteen books due this month. :)

  7. hee. it just feels like it.

    I’m trying to get rid of the stuff that’s written.

  8. but I think I unfroze it a little while taking time off in Australia

    Excellent. The holiday was good for you, then. I’m really glad to hear that.

    But by then I’ll have about 8-10 books in print and I can begin slowing down.

    Yeah, I hear you there. That’s a definite part of what’s driving the madness. Once that hump’s been gotten over there’ll be massive slow-down.

    I recall you mentioning that “dangerously close to burn-out” turned out to be alarming words for an agent to hear. :) I spent a lot of time in the tech industry, too, so I’m more of the “give me a weekend to recover and I’ll be ok” mindset about burnout, too, but so far I haven’t pushed it quite that far. (Honestly, this is why I just drop my jaw at the number of conventions you go to. They wipe me out for a week.)

    after turning in four books a year nobody will be surprised if they hear you use those words

    I told Jenn that if all those book sales went through, not to be surprised if she didn’t get any more proposals from me for a while. Possibly years. She said, “I should think not.” :) So that’s good. I have *no* intention of doing this to myself again–I have a kind of rough idea of how I’m going to have to stagger schedules after this insane two-year burst here, and when I get a little closer to the end point on it I’ll broach that with the agent and editors.

  9. You have a Massive Backlog. I’m envious of it, really; I’d sort of hoped/planned to be in that position myself, except, er, things got out of control and everything went nuts and sold before I had time to get the backlog properly in place.

    Ongoing goal: to get far enough ahead that the backlog *is* in place. Or, hell, even far enough to just be able to revise ANGLES, which I want so badly to have on the shelves. Wah!

  10. Oh, I know. And I also know that in many ways I look through this all with rose-colored glasses and can only theorize based on other examples.

    But I figure if I can write 2-3 novels a year (with some revisions) with a full time job, if I got those 11-12 hours of the day back (which is what my day-job plus commute takes up), I could also handle revisions, line edits and galleys :D

  11. I’m glad you ended up with an agent who could work with that

    I have an insanely good agent. She’s been dedicated, spot-on about revisions, genuinely concerned about things like, oh, me signing on for 10 books in 30 months and not burning myself out, answers all my dumb questions with patience and fortitude, and is just generally everything you could possibly want an agent to be. I am so very, very glad to work with her. :)

  12. You’ll probably handle it just fine, yeah. Although I have discovered it’s far easier to screw around when you don’t have the rigor of a day job forcing you to write during certain hours Or Else. Mind you, that’s a Catch-22 I can live with. :)

  13. *laughs* Poor Jenn. We’re one of those embarrassment of riches things when it comes to throwing manuscript after manuscript at her, aren’t we? She said something along the lines of, “It’s great, but AUGH,” when we met in March. :)

  14. I think if she gets one more email from me asking “so when do you want to start marketing X?” she may send me a letterbomb, or some bad cheese, or something.

  15. *laughs out loud* Bad cheese sounds right up her alley. “Oh yeah? Oh YEAH? Watch it, buster, or you’re getting a mailbox full of STINKY CHEESE!” That’s what you get for having an agent who is also a foodie. :)

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