James, Eliza, Frances and Gary and a number of readers who have e-mailed me over the last week, have all asked whether or not the Secret War series will continue. The short answer is “yes”, but it gets complicated, as it often does when it comes to getting the books from a writer’s laptop to you, the reader.
The rights issue to the Secret War books is a tricky one. Currently, Pan Macmillan has the rights to The Secret War and The Hoard of Mhorrer, in terms of language and media rights (encompassing foreign language rights and film/TV/audio/digital rights). The contract stipulates they will retain these rights until they stop printing the books. (Electronic rights is a separate issue, but there’s an on-going debate about it that goes beyond this blog). It is unlikely that a major publisher will take on the Secret War series without the rights to the previous two books. I am in the process of clarifying with Pan Macmillan when the rights will revert back to me, and these discussions are on-going.
However, that doesn't mean The Fortress of Black Glass, or even The Traitor of Light, won’t see print due to the rights issue. There is still plenty of mileage left in the series, not only because of the continued interest from Random House for the German language editions, and La Factoria de Ideas for the Spanish versions, but more importantly because I still love writing these books. It’s quite possible that an independent publisher will take on the remaining two novels as an opportunity, publishing them on a limited basis based on sales and the foreign language-rights sales, thus completing the quartet (or trilogy if it’s decided to leap straight to The Fortress of Black Glass).
I may even self-publish them because at the moment I don’t think any of us in the UK industry are under any illusions of this being “a good time” for publishing. You only have to look at sites such as Bookseller or read the Society of Authors magazine to see that mainstream publishing is not in a good place at the moment with too many authors finding their contracts ripped up for minor infractions or cancelled without any excuse at all. Something that is exasperated by the recent news of a 52% drop in sales for the usual Christmas staple, the celebrity non-fiction book. As one commentator pointed out, we may well just see publishing implode in the near future.
It might be that the future of the mid-list author is in the independent market or self-publishing domain, encompassing both printed works and the less costly e-books. The advantage of going through this route is there is more creative control for the author and there are no secrets: you know how much you’re selling; you know what to do to sell more.
Another advantage of going down this road, either self-publishing or through an independent, is financial. Even if I sold a quarter of the books I sold through my previous publisher, I would make the same profit, and again the foreign language sales would be mine entirely (which is where the money is). With the rise of e-book reading, the fact that you can create apps for the i-Phone for a negligible cost and the profits are greater than you would get going through a publisher, then the self-publishing route is quite an attractive one. Sure, it will mean more hard-work, but also more freedom.
One downside to this approach is that I'll be selling without the backing of a major publisher and while Macmillan didn't throw thousands of pounds on a publicity budget for the Secret War books, they relied on their name and had a dedicated member of staff to get the word out as far and as wide as possible. If I took this on, I won't have the same success publicity wise. I would largely have to rely on word of mouth.
The other downside - especially to many other authors who believe it to be the holy grail - is that there is no advance. Advances are a topic I’m passionate about and one that may well see another blog entry after this. The fact is: I don’t need an advance. I have a day-job, I can make ends meet, and an advance is simply that: an advance on your royalties. You don’t make any further money until you’ve earned that back for your publisher. It might be an indicator of how much money a publisher intends to spend on publicising you, but I would rather they saved the advance and put that into the publicity budget too. I don’t want to be given money I haven’t earned. Earning a 40-50% royalty rate is better that 20% of the net and a small five figure advance, and one that you’ll be clobbered on in the short term by the taxman. That's just my view and one that may change in the future if I make a fulltime career of it, but I'll be honest - I think stupid advances for fiction as well as celeb books, are crippling the industry. They're simply not realistic enough.
Back to self-publishing or going through an independent publisher... another immediate financial considerations is the costs incurred by having the finished book professionally edited. All authors need to be edited at some point during the life of their book, from new writers like me to established ones. The trick is to find someone who is enthusiastic enough and is cost effective. As mentioned before, I would also need to factor in time and resource into publicity too - such as this blog, the website, interviews, and then letters to magazines/websites/blogsites, not to mention providing reviewers' copies to those same magazines and internet reviewers. It would all take time.
But it would be worth it.
Does that mean I will say no to an agent or to getting a major publisher on board for the series if approached? Not exactly. I'll never turn down an offer from a major publisher to continue the series, though I'm doubtful this will occur with the rights being split. I’ll certainly look to mainstream publishing for other projects such as for The Black Hours, Smith and Stranded Rooms.
But ultimately, this isn’t about the money. The money is nice. The money means I can spend more time doing what I love: writing. But if I stop enjoying what I do, then why do it? I have a day-job that fulfils that side of my life, and pays a steady wage. A career as an author is an uncertain one, and too uncertain to worry about whether you can draw on enough enthusiasm to write a book you don’t particularly wish to write, for a return that is less than the day-job per year.
So at the moment, my options are open. As Eliza said, it sounds exciting, and I’ll be the first to admit that the uncertainty of not having a home immediately is a little scary, but yes, it is also exciting. There’s still much to be gained from writing the Secret War series, and I have not tired of it one bit, but I feel I need a short break of a year or so before I embark on the next Secret War book so that when I do, what the reader gets is the best of my abilities and for the right reasons.
Hopefully this will be The Traitor of Light, but I may even jump straight to The Fortress of Black Glass. Whatever it is, and whenever it may happen, I can categorically state now: the Secret War series is here to stay, folks… so watch this space.
UPDATE 18:25 9th November:
Half a day is a long time in publishing. So it might come as a surprise after blogging the above that I've made a decision to write the first draft of The Traitor of Light (the Secret War book 3) in the new year - probably around Feb/March. I've looked at all the reasons to write it, and I can't see any reason why I shouldn't. It's a book I've been wanting to write since I finished the last words on The Hoard of Mhorrer, but felt restrained from writing. Now I think is the best time to take a risk and write it. The research should take about two months but the plot and the characters are already there in note form. In other words, Traitor is ready to roll.
Before then, I'll be looking at the next draft of The Black Hours while doing research for Traitor. And I guess, I'll be looking for a publisher/agent too!
Busy times ahead then...