by Brenda W. Clough
I kept my own story for the last because I’m sui generis, not a standard product. I can give you good advice, but I’m a bad example. Because I don’t do things the way anyone else does, imitating me may be impossible. On the other hand, my story is not dull!
So: about five years ago I wrote a neo-Victorian thriller. Then I wrote seven (!) sequels. All this was done on spec, with nary a publisher in sight. Allow me to point out right here that this was not the smartest professional decision, okay? Do as I say, not as I do. Practical writers, clever ones with foresight as well as vision, write and then market, the way I described in parts 1 and 2 of this series. They don’t fall down the fiction rabbit hole for years, writing like a crazy woman without knowing whether it’ll ever find a home. But the Muse was hot, the wind at my back was hurricane-force, and nobody has ever called me foresighted. All I have is vision. When you’re in the casino and the cards are all falling your way, it’s not the time to fold. I kept on betting, and wrote two breakneck thriller novels a year without even looking up from the keyboard, easy as pie.
I knew I needed help to get this thing out, so I signed on with the Knight Agency. Everyone there loved the first book. They spent about 18 months trotting it around to every single possible publisher, worldwide. All of us dug them up, big and small, publishers in England, in Europe, everywhere. Lots of editors liked it, but not enough to bite — too unusual, they said. I am not kidding, when I said just now that I am sui generis. I don’t write standard books, and I never write anything twice, which makes me a hard product to sell. So at last my agent threw in the towel and handed the ms back to me in 2017. The lesson: having an agent doesn’t guarantee you anything!
I addressed this disappointment in the only possible way: I went on a long vacation in France and drank Ricaud and Suze. In Paris I had dinner on the Left Bank with Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, and told them all my woes. Ellen said, “But have you run it by the editor at Serial Box? He’s specifically looking for things that are not like anything else!” I said, “Oh honey, if he wants an oddity, I have just the novel for him.” So she put me in touch and I sent him an email query. I got a reply in fifteen minutes. If you’ve been reading this blog series you realize rare that is! I sent them the ms, they loved it and bought it at the end of 2017. It will be serialized online, and also audio book, starting this month.
Here is the cover! You will notice that online serialization and audio book makes paper publication a distant third in the marketing plan. This is fiction designed to be read on a device, not on the page. It looks like I’m going to be a 21st century author with a novel set in 1860, very weird. But having a number of sequels right here on hand is a plus, for a serial publication model. If A Most Dangerous Woman does well, I am well-positioned to follow up fast and hard. So somehow I did it, but in an unhelpfully nonstandard way.