Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pencils Down

Pencils down!  We've all heard the phrase, especially in school at the end of a timed test.

When one of my bosses at the law firm announces either verbally or in an e-mail pencils down, it means that all work on a deal is to stop immediately until further notice. It means the deal hit a snag and until the parties work it out there is to be no further activity from the team working on it. Sometimes the deal dies completely and sometimes it's a temporary bump.

This last week when I received a pencils down e-mail about a project I was working on, it struck me that often authors hear the same command.

It's not uncommon for an author to be writing the next manuscript in a series and get the news that the publisher has decided to kill the series. Usually a publisher will honor the books under contract but announce they will not pick up any more after that. It doesn't matter if the next book is partially written or completed. That publisher has decided not to publish any more.

Sometimes an author will have a two or three book deal, but if the sales numbers on those already out aren't good, the remaining contracts may be killed.  That's what happened to me with my Madison Rose Vampire Mysteries.  After the second book came out and before I could deliver the manuscript for the contracted third book, I got the hook and everything came to a halt.

It's part of the business.

Business - that's the key word here. Writing is a business. We authors might be bleeding on the page, but in the end it's just so many widgets being sold.  Publishers are in business to make money, and part of that is making tough decisions when an author's sales numbers aren't where they want them to be. Even if an author doesn't write a series, he or she is in danger of pencils down on future book contracts.

Hmmm, I guess that would be more like keyboard down these days.

Being cut can be very tough on an author. For one, it's rejection. It's like being on a date and having your date go home with someone else because he has a fancier car. Two, it can throw a strip of nails in front of the creative process. All of a sudden you have to put on the brakes and switch the creative juices to something else, all the while dealing with the emotions that come with rejection. It can also be damaging to an author's career.

I was very fortunate to already have one established and successful series (Odelia Grey) and a second one (Granny Apples) well on its way to a solid footing when the Madison Rose series bit the dust. My writing career could take the hit and survive just fine. In fact, it has been thriving in the few years since then.  But if an author has not yet built a foundation of successful hits, then getting a series yanked for performance can be quite damaging going forward. 

Publishing is like an elephant - it never forgets.  Bad sales numbers can follow an author like a rotting stench. When pitching a new book or series, authors are also combatting their history, often making it difficult to get back into the game once they have been cut from it. It's one of the reasons some authors change pen names. A publisher might be willing to give a new book or series a chance, but with a different name on the cover. And it's not hopeless. Many authors recover nicely and even go on to be very successful with a different publisher. Even that cut series might get picked up by a different publisher and thrive. You just have to stay your course and keep plugging away.

And that's the secret to staying published - plugging away no matter what is thrown at you.

If you hear pencils down from a publisher, break the pencil in half, stomp, swear, cry, and get it out of your system. Then pick up a fresh pencil and keep writing.

Butt in the chair.
Word after word.
Keystroke after keystroke.
That's the key to success in this nutty business.
It's not for wussies.
It's for Ninjas!


Christopher Hudson said...

I noticed no mention of the series during your 'Go Curvy' interview. Go ninja!

Mark Baker said...

So what project got the "pencils down" notice? Enquiring minds (or nosy fans) want to know.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Chris, nope. I don't waste my time promoting it since I don't see royalties from it. Although I love it when people discover the series and read it.

Mark, since that's a project at the law firm, I can't tell you. I can't even hint.

Mark Baker said...

I misread it. I was thinking you'd gotten that on a writing project. Since it's at a law firm, I'm not as interested any more. ;)