I always find myself a little weirded when someone links me for something like a comment I made on facebook, or a blog post, and someone else comes along and says “Oh, I’ve read one or two books of Sarah’s, I think, and she writes the kind of thing she writes very well, but it’s just so girly and not my cup of tea.”
I swear I’ve started like… 20 answers to those, and stopped, staring at the screen. And then I remember the number one maxim: Never argue with readers or potential readers.
I am, however sorely disappointed in all of you who read my fiction, because I’ve yet to see anyone answer as they should. “The kind of thing? You mean books, with words and everything? Because dude, the only thing she hasn’t written is picture books and that is changing, for a given definition of picture books.”
Look, it’s a problem, okay. I can’t imagine anyone who is a massive fan of the Shakespeare trilogy going insane for Darkship Thieves (no link for now. Coming next week for sure. Well, the first one, as reissue.) Or someone who loves Darkship Thieves adoring Dyce Dare. And that’s just in the stuff I was allowed to publish, which yes, is a little girlie because traditional publishing (truly guys when is the last time you saw a newly launched action hero that was male and trad pub?) Though I don’t think DST is girly, not even — particularly not, perhaps — the ones featuring Athena.
And yet, there are a few people who do like all of them, and frankly, so do I, or I’d not have written them. Though I’ll confess that to write the Shakespeare trilogy now would take me a lot of effort to get back into that mind set, and my obsession with Shakespeare. Which is a pity, as I’d planned on 5 books, but barring my becoming fabulously wealthy (I’m okay with that) I can’t see taking the three to six months needed to get back into the mind set and finish the series. Heck, even the musketeers which are easier because they don’t require language stuff are languishing because I don’t feel like doing ALL the research again. (It doesn’t help that I’ve somehow lost — I think in a computer crash) the book I had started.
But I write everything because I read everything. Everything that came into the house got read, partly because I read really fast (concussion and stupid eye tricks resulting from has slowed me down some) and couldn’t buy enough books. So I read the books dad bought, which went all the way from WWII memoirs to high literary, with a heavy deep into mystery. And the books my brother bought: adventure, anthropological research and engineering, tech speculation, westerns, mystery and science fiction. Also a lot of comics. And the books my cousin who is 14 years older than I and was raised with us read: westerns and romance. Including PORTUGUESE romance. Look, the guy is a bullfighter. He and the girl have a fight. He goes out mad and dies. She mourns him ever after. Happy ending. Don’t ask. Took me years to realize that was ONLY a Portuguese thing. Yes, I ran away with science fiction at 11. But I still loved EVERYTHING. So, you know. I still read everything. From which comes writing everything.
Now, I have something like 40 novels started, not counting the “idea jotted down.” A lot of those are probably as dead as the Dodo because they were from the “heavily researched historical novel” phase. And because I’m not sure I have the patience anymore. Or the time. Memento mori and all that.
What was published was a confluence of what I wanted to write and what trad pub would accept. The overlap is not amazing, and I’ll confess for some things they probably have the right idea. Yeah, wait till I finish No Man’s Land. I expect half of you will sit there, jaw dropped, going “I guess Sarah’s gone insane.” The thing is that I’ve gone sane, since that book has been with me since I was 14, and has been written five times in different ways. However publisher bias is a definitely influence. To give you an example of the influence trad pub has/had on what gets published, though, you kind of have to look at the workshop in which I sold the Shakespeare Trilogy (in idea and first page only) you have to know that I had a time travel, mil sf story featuring the red baron ALMOST finished. That was rejected, because the Red Baron fought Snoopy, so people wouldn’t buy it. Also, Shakespeare in Love had just made a big splash, so… there must be a market. Or take the musketeer’s mysteries: they sold at the same time the DaVinci Mysteries were rejected (Yes, I know, but research, so it’s being pushed back till we move and … well, the way things are going maybe hiding in my library with books isn’t a totally bad idea. NM.) because “This is not at all like the DaVinci code.” (Well, no. Because, you know, that would be plagiarism.)
Which brings us, round about and sideways to the subject of our amazingly awkward weekly promo: the Shifter Series.
I had published the Shakespeare series and it had “tanked” by the special definition of tanking that means “it sold enough to pay off an advance that was double the normal first book advance, and they took it out of print the week it earned out, because it wasn’t slated to sell well, duh.”
Unfortunately no matter the reason your series is declared a failure, you learn early that it’s always the author’s fault. But what if the publishing house picked something that was obviously niche market, brought it out hard cover with no publicity, and didn’t even put fiction on the cover, much less fantasy, so 90% of the book stores had a memgrim and never unpacked it from the closet, and/or shelved it in art or theater or history. (I will forever cherish the anti-fan letter from the academic whom I picture turning so purple while typing it that he had a stroke shortly after. He asked if I was out of my mind to think Shakespeare really had met fairies. He seemed to be under the impression I’d written an history book. Even with all the bushwa in Shakespearean biography, I’m amazed he could think so.) If the book fails, or is deemed to fail (as discussed earlier, they actually don’t have a very clear idea how many books they sold) it’s always the author’s fault. Even though the author has absolutely no control over anything, once the manuscript is turned in.
More importantly, it is deemed that if the author failed with one book, the author will fail with all books, not matter how different, or in what genres. This is the most complete and utter bilge to anyone who reads the older authors. Look, Agatha Christie can’t be topped for cozy mysteries, but her thrillers make me cry inside. Georgette Heyer’s regencies spawned an entire genre, but her mysteries…. ah, no.
And as a new writer, you sell what you sell. You can’t ACTUALLY choose what you sell. It’s kind of like applying to all sorts of universities and then having someone judge you because you went to some small, boutique college. “Well, I applied to all of them, that’s the one that accepted me.” (Keep in mind I’m talking of being a new writer in the 90s. Newbies now have so much MORE control.)
In fact, traditional publishers know it too. I mean that it’s bullshit to blame the writer or to assume the writer will never sell in anything else. Why? Because sometime in the oughts they wrote things saying that if any agent submitted a writer under a pen name and didn’t tell the publisher what the real name was, the agent would be banned forever. This was because someone had failed big in “women’s fiction” and then submitted a cozy under a closed pen name, and went bestseller. And her agent kept her secret. Makes no sense for the publisher to be mad at this, except they didn’t want the myth exploded.
Anyway, because trad pub was the only reality back then, what they said was the law. And they said I had failed. To complete the mess I was in, my agent dumped me. (Or I dumped him. I actually don’t remember. Doesn’t mater anyway.) And no one would touch me.
In the middle of this, of course, I was doing what I do: leaning into it. Lots of people were “fired” as writers in 2002 and 2003, when the “worst quarter in American publishing” (then, I bet the covidiocy was WAY worse for trad pub) came home to roost. I had friends far more talented than I that just walked away. I feel a little weird some of them think I stayed on because I had some kind of edge on them. Though I suppose I did. It’s called: stubborn as a mule.
That summer I wrote seventeen proposals and started shopping them to agents first. I was also interviewing agents and forcefully punting all that said “Well, I see you doing a book maybe every two years, and getting a teaching post on the side.” (If I wanted to teach, I’d do that.)
In the middle of it, I was doing a deep dive in “what is selling.” And what was selling at the time was Urban fantasy. Um…. when Urban Fantasy was less sexy time and more action with fantasy.
I’d written fantasy with Shakespeare. And I can write magic and spells and stuff. I just don’t…. like it? My mind doesn’t really bend that way. This has a lot to do — probably — with a fictional tradition scoured clean of the myths of the little people, and where most supernatural is malevolent.
The fantasy author I prefer is Pratchett, and he’s…. not standard.
I got the formula for Urban Fantasy down easily. Kind of like Buffy, with the forever flirting with the monster, thing, etc. And the brave and beautiful girl.
But dear Lord, I can’t do anything the way I’m supposed to. It’s like I came into life spinning sideways and upside down, and I’m likely to remain that way.
Which brings us to Shifters. They came out of a dream. I actually describe the dream in the afterword of the first book, so I won’t repeat it here.
It’s not unusual for me to have these dreams. I will be reading a book I wrote, only I didn’t write it. Normally in the morning I can’t remember the book or story.
This one I made a point of reading two pages and the back and I remembered it. I woke up in the morning — at the time my office was half of the bedroom — ambled over to the computer, and wrote a chapter.
I was up to three chapters later that week, when Jim Baen called and asked if I wanted to sell him a book. I sent him three chapters and a cover page, and went for a walk with my husband. When I came back, I’d made my first sale to Baen.
Of course the book was completely wrong for the house, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m not sure it’s right for any house. In fact, I’m not sure it’s Urban Fantasy as such. For one, it’s not the brave and beautiful girl (though there are three of those to date) it’s an ensemble cast of misfits. The romance is very incidental. The sex is definitely and decisively OFF SCREEN. And there’s jokes like the shifter couple adopting a cat and naming him “Not Dinner.”
But my fans seem to like it. And it think it has legs, and what the heck am going to try. There are 20 books planned, and I really AM hard at work on Bowl of Red and All Hot, as well as on a short novel (space opera) that should be done today.
Right now what I can write and earn is limited by my time and energy, and part of our plan is to make sure I have more of both.
Anyway, that’s your incredibly awkward promo of the week. I think. For a given definition of promo. And now I need to go write (more directly) paying words.
I’ll just say “if you’ve read one or two things by Sarah Hoyt” and you think it’s very good for that sort of thing, but you don’t read that sort of thing, maybe you should download samples of the other things by Sarah A. Hoyt. Heck, I have it on good authority that some people who don’t read cozies like Dyce… And after all, that’s what samples are for.
And now I’ll go work.