Tuesday, June 19, 2007

FAQ: Book Five Edition

I started a new project last night that I think will be a lot of fun. I'll probably have to re-start it later because I don't think the opening scene really sets the proper stage for the story, but I need to write more to figure out exactly what that stage is. In a way, I feel weirdly unfaithful to the characters in my series for cheating on them with new characters, but I'm also having fun meeting new people instead of just hanging out with the same old folks.

Because my creativity is all tied up in that work, I've decided it's time for an FAQ, since I've had some questions in e-mail and comments, and this is as easy a place as any to answer things that keep coming up. So ...

I just finished Damsel Under Stress. You aren't going to end it that way, are you? That isn't the end of the series, right?
No, I'm not that evil, just slightly evil. There is another book coming. I just turned the final version in last week. Book 4 is called Don't Hex With Texas and is currently (as in, the last time I heard) scheduled for publication in January 2008. When I first submitted the proposal for book 3, they only wanted to buy that one, but I held firm and said it was both books or nothing, since I didn't want to leave people hanging that way (and it's a good thing, too, since they probably wouldn't have bought book 4 if they'd waited until now to make a decision).

Is Book 4 the end of the series?
It's not the ending I planned for the series, but if that is the last book, I think it has a satisfying ending that wraps up a lot of things. It just doesn't complete the story the way I want to. Unfortunately, though, the sales of the earlier books in the series have not been at the level my publisher is happy with, and bookstores decreased their order of the third book in the series, so the publisher said no to my proposal for a fifth book. As things stand now, book 4 will end the series.

Does that mean we'll never get book 5?
Not necessarily. If sales for Damsel Under Stress pick up or if book 4 suddenly does really well, or if I sell something else and it becomes a hit, which then boosts the sales of everything else I've written, they may come back to me and ask me for that book. There are also some other people looking at the possibility of doing that book. I haven't yet given up, but it's definitely going to take a stroke of luck.

I really want to get book five. What can we do to help? Is there someone we should write to?
The main thing to do if you want book 5 is help boost sales of the first books in the series. Tell lots of people, post about them online in various forums, talk about the books to people who work in bookstores and encourage the stores to stock them. Suggest them for book clubs. Make sure that people who buy the first book then go back and get the next books. The challenge here with word of mouth is that the books aren't being well stocked at a lot of stores, so it takes getting people motivated enough to ask for them or order them online. Writing letters to the publisher won't do a lot of good. They know exactly how many copies have sold, which gives them an absolute measure of popularity and profitability. They make just as much money from a book someone passionately loved as they do from a book someone liked okay, as long as the book was bought. The only thing that will matter to the publisher is the number of copies they sell.

If we want to help the cause by buying books or getting other people to buy books, where should we buy them to help the most?
Really, any sale is a good sale and goes to the bottom line, as long as it's not a used book sale (those don't count to the publisher or to me -- they're invisible and don't give me or the publisher any money). One issue in the decision by my publisher not to buy more books from me was the fact that a certain large chain dramatically cut the number of books they ordered. That then created a chain reaction, so the books weren't in a lot of stores, which made them less visible, which made people even less likely to buy them. So, depending on how you want to look at it, you might want to "punish" that chain by buying at other stores, or you might want to show them the error of their ways by asking for the books or special ordering them at that store. If a store gets enough special requests for a book, they may start carrying it.

If you were one of those people who marked the release date on your calendar, and then couldn't find the book in a store anywhere, especially if you were told the store just wasn't going to be carrying the book, or you otherwise had a frustrating shopping experience, then you might want to contact the customer service departments of the stores in question, letting them know how frustrating it was to not be able to find a book you really wanted to buy. For your convenience, here's the contact info for the major chains (and be polite, but specific, please):

Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Customer Service Department
122 Fifth Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10011

telephone: (800) 422-7717
e-mail: customerservice@bn.com
fax: (212) 352-3660

Borders Customer Service
100 Phoenix Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48108

What about a TV series or a movie based on these books? What's happening with that?
That is a long and sordid story that's apparently not unusual in Hollywood. Last year, we negotiated a deal to option my books for a TV series. And then after the deal was finalized and agreed upon, but before anything was signed, the executive who struck the deal left that company and nobody else in the company returned calls. So we were back to square one. There is a fairly prominent writer/director who would like to do a movie, and he even has an actress attached, but so far hasn't had a studio cough up the money. And then just a couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from a representative of a major studio asking if the rights were still available. So there is a possibility of something happening, and that would certainly help book sales, which then might lead to a book five.

Why are your books shelved in general fiction or fiction and literature when they're fantasy novels?
The books are a hybrid of chick lit and fantasy, and the first book in the series was really a send-up of the standard chick lit novel about a young woman in the city with an awful boss and a lot of bad dates. At the time, chick lit was the hottest thing in the market, while urban fantasy was mostly below the radar, or at least wasn't even being talked about as a unique subgenre. So, my agent positioned the book as a paranormal chick lit novel and sold it to a mainstream publisher. Since then, though, chick lit tanked, urban fantasy became one of the hottest things in publishing, and it seems that my books are more popular among fantasy and paranormal romance readers than they are among chick lit readers. I think the stories themselves have become more fantasy than chick lit as the series progresses. I'm no longer trying to write to any particular genre. I'm just writing stories about these characters. But publishers are really reluctant to change classification in mid-stream. One thing we are looking at, if we can find a willing publisher, is reissuing the first books in mass market paperback format and shelving them as fantasy, which then could lead to a book five if sales are good enough. For now, I guess you just have to make sure people know where to find the books in stores and tell your fantasy fan friends not to be scared away by the covers.

Any other questions? Ask them in comments, and I'll do another FAQ if warranted.

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