Thursday, June 9, 2011

501 Is A Good Number For An Announcement

This is my 500th blog entry, which sounds like entirely too many, but over 4 years, that pretty much averages out to 2 a week, a socially acceptable number (or at least so I tell myself).

I had thought I'd hold off on Number 500 until I had an official announcement concerning The Shade Of The Moon, but I'm pretty much in control of when the official announcement will come, and I'm not quite ready to announce.

My publisher, the mostly lovable Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, made an offer for The Shade Of The Moon on Monday. It was, as offers go, only slightly insulting, which, my agent assures me, in this market is to be expected. So okay. I was only slightly insulted, and heaven knows, in my multi-decade career, I've been a lot more insulted on many more occasions.

The real problem (and it is a real problem) is that HMH, having taken over two months to read my two sentence synopsis (not even two sentences with big words, since I don't know any big words) thinks it would be best to publish The Shade Of The Moon in Fall 2012. And to do that, they'd need to have the manuscript in by September 1, 1011.

In other words (not the shrieking cursing kind of words, just the quietly sardonic kind), they take 2 months to read 2 sentences, and then expect me to write 300 pages (at more than 2 sentences per page) in less than 3 months.

A woman could shriek and curse. Both of which I did.

Here are the two problems with writing a 300 page book in less than 3 months. The first is I had other plans for this summer. I was going to read movie star and TV star memoirs (okay, I can probably do some of that, although I always read less when I'm writing). I was going to clear out the outside storage closet (forget that; I never do big jobs when I'm writing). I was going to wean myself off my beloved sleeping pills (totally forget that- writing gives me really serious insomnia). In other words, there goes my summer.

The other problem is that if I'm going to write a 300 page book (all right- maybe 270 pages) in such a short time, I have to know exactly what I'm going to write. It was a lot of fun doodling about with The Offering (which my agent hasn't finished reading, so don't ask where that fits into all this because neither of us know), but I wrote The Offering to distract myself from things I needed to be doing, and it didn't matter if I wrote page 116 thirty seven times (or page 37 one hundred and sixteen times- I've lost track). But with an actual already looming deadline, page 116 had better get written once, and then polished once or twice, and that's it.

Now I admit I've given The Shade Of The Moon a great deal of thought over the past couple of months (not enough thought though on what to nickname it- I guess Shade will do for the time being). I don't lack for material. Indeed, the problem is too much material, too many possible storylines, and way too much backstory. The book takes place 17 years after This World We Live In, and while I may be intrigued by every social and political development of those 17 years, that doesn't mean readers will be. Because they won't. I've learned that much over my multi-decade career.

So I have to clear out the backstory, but weave enough in so that what's going on makes sense. An incident that Juliet experiences at age 8 (to be arbitrary about it) becomes an incident Juliet witnesses at age 16.

I also have to figure out how much of the stuff I just love but doesn't really have anything to do with the book, I can use. My brain has come up with dozens of pages about Gordon Industries (one of the few businesses that has made big money off the end of civilization), but since Mom would never ever let Juliet work at Gordon Industries, what difference does it make?

And we won't even go into which important character is going to die 2/3 of the way through the book and how, because I simply don't know yet. Just that one will.

So all the material has to be absolutely clear in my mind before I agree to the slightly insulting offer. If I don't have absolute control of the plot and characters before I begin writing, then I'm not going to begin writing.

What I have been doing, to determine my control level, is writing out summaries of scenes I have in mind. I did a bunch yesterday and a few today, and intend to keep working on it, before I let my agent know whether the answer is going to be yes or no. I know some of you hate spoilers, but I figure if you go to the effort of reading any of these pages, then you deserve to be spoiled.

As it happens, Scooter loves spoilers. He takes after me that way.

So that's where things are or aren't. I'm going to do some more thinking work today and tomorrow if I need to and the weekend if I need even more time. I think I'll also start reading Sheldon Leonard's memoirs, since I may not have a chance to this summer.

When I'm ready, I'll tell my agent what I've decided. You and my publisher will find out from reading Blog Entry Number 501!


Elaine Marie Alphin said...

I'd tell them you accept their slightly insulting offer as long as they accept a later delivery date for the manuscript. You might also point out that the delay is due to their lengthy consideration of your two sentences (or your earlier encyclopedic summary). Had they responded more quickly, you might have been able to deliver the complete ms. ny September, but that's not possible now in only three remaining months. Let them take some responsibility! Now we can all simply sit back and look forward to the new book! ; )

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hallo Elaine Marie Alphin-

Apparently to get a Fall 2012 pub date, they have to have the manuscript by Sept. 1, 2011 (and as you know, a one year turnaround from submission to publication is very swift).

I kind of like the idea of the entire process being completed by fall of 2012. It's just the swiftness of the writing that has me a little concerned.

Anonymous said...

If you absolutely can't do anything else to do the plotline justice, you might have to divide the book into a Book 4 and a Book 5.

About Gordon Industries, maybe Juliet could learn about it second-hand, from one of the others who MIGHT work there?

Just a thought.

Anonymous Santa Fe

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Anonymous Santa Fe-

One more book. That's it. No book five. Four is more than enough.

And everyone in the town (which remains unnamed) would know about Gordon Industries. It's just the readers who don't need to know all the fabulous details my mind's come up with!

Elaine Marie Alphin said...

I agree that it's an unusually swift turnaround to get the ms. transformed into the book in one year, but that's only possible because clearly your turned-in mss. are so clean and well thought out. Can you force the writing so swiftly that you can accomplish such a clean and well thought out ms. in three months?

Good luck!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi Elaine Marie Alphin-

Well, that is the question, isn't it.

I'd feel a tad more optimistic if I'd worked this afternoon instead of falling asleep for an hour!

Nina said...

Oh the fun it can be! It's lovely thinking about it :*)

Tez Miller said...

Aye, cats love paper, so I hope you numbered those pages in case Scooter messes up your order ;-)


Lizz said...

Oh my goodness. You used the chart.

That's all I am going to say, but I'm curious if you remember an email sent to you from a bubbly seventh grader asking for you to email her teacher, and what was in the p. s. section.
That seventh grader (now a ninth) got a job because of a book review of a certain book involving a moon-meteor collision and a reccomendation from a dedicated teacher.
She also recently received her own book column, and when a certain (BW) arc arrives from, ahem, 'other sources', it shall have its review published in September.

Dawn M. said...

Oooo, I'm so excited! :0) I can't wait to see what you come up with.

As for those fabulous details, what doesn't make it into the book you could always put here on your blog as extra background information. I'm one of those people who love all the details that I can get. Give me a map or chart and I'll happily flip back & forth while I'm reading. Heh.

Susan said...

Keeping my fingers crossed that all will work out well for everyone involved ... Cannot wait to read SHADE!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hello to Nina, Tez Miller, Lizz, Dawn M, and Susan-

I've decided I haven't decided yet, so I emailed my agent to tell her I'd let her know on Monday.

The funny thing is while I'm still flailing around a little in the plot (and a lot in the sheer mechanics of writing a book by Sept.1), I could actually draw maps of the entire area the book is set in. Usually I have no visual sense of anything I write and very little interest in geography, but for this one, I know the locations of just about everything.

I'm pleased Lizz if I was of any help at any time. And I certainly look forward to seeing the review of Blood Wounds!

Sydney Lakewood said...

I'd be interested in knowing about Gordon Industries. Just sayin'...

About the cruddy offer--maybe it'll earn out more quickly and you'll get awesome royalties???

Another Susan

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

My goodness. It's an abundance of Susans!

Now, Another (and far superior to me but not necessarily to any other Susans) Susan, I never said it was a cruddy offer. It isn't a cruddy offer, just mildly insulting.

Trust me. I've had my share of cruddy offers. I know what they look like!

Bridget Higdon said...

I'm so excited Susan! I really hope you take the offer. You are such an amazing writer and I hope someday my stories will be just as popular as yours!

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi tigerlily* and thank you-

I'm still undecided about the offer, but I'm convinced one day you'll be every bit as popular a writer as I am (and quite possibly a lot more popular!).


I think you should do it. Lisa Should probaley die. But what ever you do will be great. The person to die should NOT die Just saying.


should not be Miranda i mean!

Jarvis said...

YIKES! Tough deadline! Hope you don't have a full-time job on the side...

Susan Beth Pfeffer said...

Hi YourYoungestBiggestFan! and Jarvis and thank you for your suggestions and your concerns.

I'm relieved to report in none of my versions does Miranda die, and thank goodness, I've never had a day job!