The CYA Later, Alligator conference offered an excellent opportunity for targeted (and paid) schmoozing. I paid my fee (which includes having the publisher read the synopsis and beginning before seeing me) and chose Publisher J, based on their small size joined with respectability.
They have a bit of a literary bent, which doesn’t tend to get on with fantasy, but the handful of fantasy novels they published were clearly beautifully written, so I thought mine would suit them.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.*
One of the first things she said (after, “This is really well written” – to which I said, “Thanks” with a silent, “So what else is new?”) was, “We really don’t publish fantasy.”
It was at that point things got weird.
She carefully explained to me that fantasy is terrifically difficult to sell. She also said that the title, “The Monster Apprentice” would cause booksellers to stumble due to its length, and had I realised how similar it was to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”? (In fact, “The Monster Apprentice” is a deliberate twist on the many “The . . . . Apprentice” books out there – it tells fantasy readers, “I’m writing something you know about. . . but this time, there are MONSTERS involved.”) She also said she was confused by the pirates, and had thought the character was dreaming the entire story, since pirates aren’t real (“Well, they’re SORT OF real,” she said) – and that I should maybe call them something else in order to indicate that they were a genuine threat to the hero’s home island. Maybe I should call them “attackers” or “invaders” so people could understand what was happening.
I wrote the book five years ago. In the years since then, a lot of people have read it or heard me talk about it and told me what they think. Here’s what I’ve learnt in five years of YA fantasy obsession (plus, you know, the rest of my life reading it):
1. Adult fantasy is notoriously hard to sell, since the books are often 200,000 words or more. “The Monster Apprentice” is 30,000 words, and written for children (who rarely have any issues with magic – see J.K. Rowlings, Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Sandy Fussell, and a third of all children’s books).
2. A lot of readers love the self-aware title.
3. When I describe the book, the word “pirates” is always, always the word that makes people say, “Ooh! That sounds fun.” No-one has ever had the least difficulty understanding that a pirate sighting at night means Horrible Danger (and is really happening).
So I spent most of the pitch listening to someone who, in this instance, came across as a complete moron. The worst part was that I was the real moron, for picking that company to pitch to.
The experience bordered on surreal. I was smart enough and polite enough not to engage, and I held myself together. She did say some potentially-useful things about setting and the name “Boy” that deserve thought (I’ll think about changing the title, but I doubt I will). She also reinforced my view that the first sentence/page was instantly involving, and that my voice and imagination are great. The one good moment was when she applauded my characterisation – which was why it was rejected last time.
I exited with dignity, and (astonishingly) didn’t cry.
A few minutes later, during morning tea, I rallied and walked up to her to ask if I could send my realist novel, which she very tepidly agreed to (“when submissions reopen”). I don’t mind a tepid agreement – my writing can and should do the excitement-mongering for me.
When I mentioned that the book involved Christianity and homosexuality, she didn’t think it was a problem (one of the points of appeal of Publisher J is that they don’t seem to know much about market – which I’d observed before I got there, and which suddenly becomes a plus). The realist novel also has a lot of song lyrics in it, which could be expensive due to copyright and thus off-putting. She said her company just gets their authors to deal with it. Which is great, because it means they’re much more likely to say yes, and I can get an agent to deal with right (and edit out the ones we can’t use – songwriters often charge $10,000).
Having partially redeemed an epic fail, but still inwardly quaking and red-eyed from not quite crying, I thought about going and sitting in Brisbane airport for the eight remaining hours until my next flight.**
And it’s a good thing I did.
I’ll tell all tomorrow.
In the meantime, here’s the beginning of many pics from the VERY special site http://www.geekologie.com/2008/05/killer_robots_abound_at_maker.php
Do doomed humanity a favour and click on it.
*Well. . . I could have been. I could have sent a book to a defunct company (again. . .). Or attempted to pitch my opus to a duck (haven’t done that yet). That would have been more wrong.
**At least I wouldn’t miss it this time.