I sold a new project yesterday. I’m still more than a little bemused to be involved with the project – it’s not really mine at all – so I thought I might blog about it because I’d like to get it clear in my head, and maybe give you some idea about what goes into my getting to do a project.
To start, we need to go back at least three years. I don’t have the specific details anymore, but it was probably sometime in 2000 or 2001 that I began talking to my friend Terry Dowling about doing a project together. At the time I’d just finished working with Eidolon Publications, was busy with Locus, and had nothing much else on my plate.
The conversation would have taken place at a convention somewhere. Let’s say it was at a Western Australian state SF convention, so it was probably April in Perth, and it was probably warm and humid. After a coffee or two, or if the sun was over the yard arm, a drink or too, one of us would have said, let’s do a book together. At certain times, this sounds like a good idea. If you ever want me to, I’ll fill in my entire history with Jack Dann, which circulates around this same conversation.
Anyhow, after a lot of talk, we decide we’d like to do a tribute anthology to one of Terry’s favorite writers. We sketch out the details, figure out who should be involved. We then go home. Over the following months we get a title, and even write a proposal. Nothing happens at all.
The mists of time then close over events, parting in early 2004. Somewhere in those intervening years there have been more conversations – at conventions, over dinner and so on – and we have begun to discus a different project. While my earliest accessible email on this places things in early 2004, I suspect it was actually a bit later in the year. Anyhow, when events resume the tribute project has changed into a best of volume. Let’s, we agree, co-edit a book that will bring together the very best stories by this one of Terry’s favorite writers. It will be a single volume argument for why this writer is important and wonderful, the book that you give to someone approaching their work for the first time. It sounds like a good idea, a noble thing. We would get the chance to work together on something, a good book would result, and all would be right with the world.
In July of 2004 Terry sends me a draft table of contents, a rough reading list if you will, for the book we’re discussing. All well and good. Just to give you some additional relevant information: while this is one of Terry’s favorite writers, I’ve not read a lot of their work. The thinking goes something like this: Terry is a fan of this writer’s work to the point where objectivity could be questioned. I have some growing experience with recognising a good story. We think that if Terry makes a broad selection, we can the both re-read everything to winnow the final contents down to something that’ll work well with new readers. Also, to be honest, I have some experience with driving a project, getting it towards completion.
Anyhow, in August of 2004 I fly to the United States to spend some time in Oakland with CHARLES and the Locus gang, before heading off to Boston for the WorldCon. I’d been charged with moving things along, talking to the writer’s agent. Well, in the first week of September I was in Boston for Noreascon IV attending a publisher’s event at an aquarium. There was a wonderful exhibition about squid – it was damn special actually – and I was talking, drinking, and meeting people, when the writer’s agent emerged out of the dimly lit gloom. I’d emailed this person just before leaving Australia, and suddenly we were face to face. It lasted minutes: a smile, a shake of the hand, a promise to talk some more. If nothing else, we seemed to be on track.
I flew back to Perth, called Terry and updated him. We were going to do it. We emailed the agent a draft table of contents, hit a rights problem, and there things sat for another year. Terry visited the writer again during 2005, and we discussed advancing things, but the rights problem seemed insurmountable, for the while at least.
During one conversation I suggested to Terry that we might do a small press limited edition of the book now, and then a trade edition later. This might allow us to progress, as we had pressing reasons for wanting to get on with it. The writer’s agent agreed and went off and solved the rights problem. This was a fantastic thing: the rights were tangled and awkward and the agent did a great job.
Cool. So suddenly it was October 2005 or so, and we were now really ready to go. Nothing happened. Just last Christmas I emailed the agent with a rough table of contents to check if there were any other obstacles to moving ahead.
Skip ahead, now, to Monday of this week. It is thirty months since I wrote the first email regarding this project, and somewhere close to five years since it was first discussed. For the sake of economy (!) I have not gone back to discussions on how wonderful the writer is, encountering and reading a book by this writer in a tiny second-hand bookshop in Denver, Colorado in September 1993, having Terry take me to the writer’s home where we discussed jazz for hours, nor my experiences reviewing a related book for Locus. Time has passed and it’s Monday.
On Monday I email the agent with a polite query just to say should we maybe get on with it. Within 24 hours it was sold! Terry and I would be co-editing a 175,000 word retrospective collection, just as we’d imagined. Yay! The publisher asked is we could deliver it in six weeks. I nearly fainted.
I’ll write more on this soon. The publisher should be making an announcement soon. In the meantime, you now know how long it takes me to get a project up, and that I can’t tell you who the writer is yet. And I will carry you through the fun coming months where stories are selected, introductions written, manuscripts delivered and so on. This one is due in February 2007, so it’s going to be a fast, bumpy ride from here!