Friday, June 23, 2006

writing through bad advice and bad choices


My first book came out in 1988, a single title romantic adventure called AMAZON LILY written under the name Theresa Weir. I’ve included a copy of the amazing, campy, vibrant cover painted by the amazing and wonderful Morgan Kane.

First big mistake made right out of the gate: wrong agent. Very wrong agent.

After AMAZON LILY was released my agent advised me to forget single titles and write category romance in order to build an audience. This had worked for people like Sandra Brown and Jayne Ann Krentz, and a lot of agents were jumping on the concept.

Note to self: Chasing trends is huge in the publishing world.

After toiling in category obscurity for a few years, I began writing single titles again, this time for Bantam Books. I also dumped my first agent and found a new one who is still my agent today. Bantam decided to employ the popular technique of putting a ton of money behind one author. I heard through the grapevine that the publishing house was trying to decide between me and Tami Hoag.

Tami got the push, and the editorial department started trying to position me for an eventual later push. But they suddenly wanted a different kind of book from me. I was told they had one person writing suspense and one was all the market could handle. This was before Kay Hooper and Iris Johansen made their switch.

Fearing that I was ready to jump ship, Bantam offered me a fairly decent contract but we couldn’t see eye to eye when it came to plots. They turned down my proposal for COOL SHADE and said they saw me writing books about older women looking for fulfillment in the autumn of life. (WTF?) All I was interested in writing at that time was straight suspense. I turned down the contract offer. My agent wasn’t happy. Walking away from Bantam was probably another career mistake.

Harper bought COOL SHADE and it went on to win a RITA for romantic suspense.

Naner, naner.

I still wanted to write straight suspense, or suspense with a paranormal element. My agent thought I should stay the course and stick with basic women’s fiction and single title romance. This was about 1998 or 1999. I sent out a few proposals that would now be called chicklit, but chicklit wouldn’t happen in the States for another year. After writing 13 romances I found myself unemployed.

I decided it was time to write what I’d wanted to write for so long – a thriller, something a little like Silence of the Lambs. HUSH ended up selling fairly quickly to NAL. They wanted to do a relaunch and came up with the name Anne Frasier. But then with Book 2 there was a shift within the house – and suddenly I was being asked to target female readers and make the books more mystery/women’s fiction. Over four years an unbelievable amount of proposals were turned down (Thirty? More?) because I was having a hard time making that shift from HUSH/thriller mode to some vague, undefined concept of women’s fiction meets suspense. They didn’t want romance, but women were the target audience. They didn’t want intentional murders, only accidental deaths that looked like murders. But maybe they did want murders….

It was like trying to guess a number between one and a thousand.

During that time a lot of books were recommended to me as examples of what they might be looking for -- most were dry, literary British mysteries. A few were dry, literary American novels.

The extremely odd thing about all of this is that HUSH has outsold the books that followed and is in its sixth or seventh printing.

I dug out an old proposal that had been turned down three or four years earlier. It had a vampire element, and vampires were suddenly a trend so I dusted off the plot and it was accepted. Once PALE IMMORTAL was done, my editor didn’t really care for it. I wanted everything to be very real; she was expecting a stereotypical vampire. Sigh. I’m working on a sequel, Book 6 for NAL, but not really feeling that excited about it given the editorial response to PALE IMMORTAL.

I’m seriously thinking of moving into nonfiction. I have three stories I’ve wanted to write for several years and I’ve started one of them. Maybe it’s time to once again to step back and away and tell the story I want to tell. But if PALE IMMORTAL does well.... We always hope.


Helen Brenna said...

Maybe you're writing too far ahead of the market and probably should be targeting a younger market. Afterall, you do listen to the Pixies!!

I know I'm new at this, but it seems to me that editors and agents don't always know what people want to read. They stumble upon hits and then, thinking there's a trend there, chase it down and kill it.

Makes it frustrating for writers like you just ahead of the curve.

anne frasier said...

helen, i think you really hit it. i've always wanted to write for the YA market. but i'd also like those books to appeal to adults. Pale Immortal was really the teenager character's story. when it was finished i had to go back in and built up the adult aspect of the book.

Betina Krahn said...

Making changes in this crazy market requires teamwork-- with an agent who really appreciates your work and can see the potential in it. One who also realizes that writers have to grow and change or stagnate and die. I totally sympathize with you in your quandry, Anne.

I've been working on my own contemporary ideas for several years now and none of them have hit the right desk at the right time with the right punch. I don't mean to kvetch, but nobody wants to buy a midlist book from me. . . they all want something polished and finished and ready for a run at the NYT. So I've had to resign myself to tutoring and mentoring myself and growing a contemporary voice in secret.

Someday I'll spring onto the contemporary scene as the longest-working first time author ever! And I very well may have to take a pseudonym to do it! But I'm determined that some of my beloved contemporary ideas will make it into print!!

So-- Anne and everybody-- keep writing and keep trying. Breaks do happen and you want to be ready when they do!

amy*skf said...

Anne, I read HUSH when it came out--could not put it down, and frankly I was expecting you to do a farely big burst on to the charts with more books of the same.

You're one hell of a writer and I will certainly read PALE IMMORTAL.

But most certainly, you should do what is in your heart. Except, is suspense in your heart? Because it sure is in your writing.

anne frasier said...

betina: seems like a lot of writers of our...ahem...age hit a place where we have to reinvent ourselves or sink. but with the market so crazy it's hard to know what direction to take.

in pub rants today, the agent was blogging about how it's not enough to be able to write well. you have to have a high concept.

amy: hush did really well, so i could never figure out why they wanted me to go a softer direction. just didn't get that. the reason i was given is that they thought the thriller market would collapse at any second.

anne frasier said...

oh, and amy -- i think suspense is in my heart. i think anything i write will probably have some suspense in it, even non-fiction.

Kelly Parra said...

Anne, I love HUSH. It's one of my favorites of yours. I'm sorry it's been difficult giving the editors what they want. I'm so new I'm just winging it with my books.

I am extremely hopeful PI will do well, because I really want to read more of your thrillers. =D But I do feel you'd do awesome in NF too.

We'll just have to push the buzz for PI and see what happens. Because this is one awesome book and it's going blow some socks off. Did everyone hear me? PALE IMMORTAL is the bomb. Buy it! =D

Kathleen Eagle said...

The cover is great, Anne! I'm so glad she's wearing sensible shoes.

I remember this book--remember enjoying it and then, for some reason, forever associating it with an author pictured with a big tropical bird on her shoulder. You've never had a pet...not sure what it was...toucan?

anne frasier said...

kelly, thanks so much! :)
note to self: put kelly on my permanent ARC list.

kathleen: that just cracks me up about the bird on my shoulder. are you sure it wasn't a cat? i have a cat. hehehe