The Agony Begins

The trouble began with the next novel.
Let’s recap: Novel A never found a publisher. That was my Apprentice Novel.
Novel B got my foot in the publishing door.
Novels C and D: a two book contract. I was Established.

This was Novel E; the Option Clause Novel.

***An aside for those who might not be entirely clear on what an option clause is. An option clause is the clause in your publisher’s contract that gives them the first right of refusal on your next book. This means that you cannot submit your next book to any other publisher until your current publisher has either let the option period lapse, made an offer, or passed on the book. An option clause is standard in nearly every publishing contract you will ever see.*** (From BookEnds blog)

All of my published novels – ie, B through D – to date had been set mostly in India. I loved India and Indians, had lived there for a total of maybe three years at most, and loved writing stories set there. But now I felt like a change.
A story set in my home country, Guyana.

So I started to write, and very soon I had 100 pages. I was pleased with those pages; once again, a story was growing out of nothing. I passed them on to my editor.

She said no.
She told me that Guyana was too obscure a place to set a novel in, whereas India was totally in trend. Publishing lives by knowing the trends, present and future, and India was going to be it for many years to come. Write India.
She sent me a big fat book, “White Mughals” by William Dalrymple, the true story of an Indianized Englishman who fell in love with a Muslim princess in 18th century India.
She wanted something along those lines: set in India, historical, a great interracial love story with a rich, exotic, perhaps royal setting. A big book, an epic story.
Okay, I said, and started again.
I wrote a chapter or two and sent them in. “How’s this?”
“Wonderful! More of that, and let’s have a synopsis so we know where it’s going.”
My heart froze.

If you’ve been following this story you’ll know that I don’t work from outlines. The story comes to me as I write it. I never know where my story will take me.Sounds weird, but it works.

I had never worked to a plan before.The idea of writing a synopsis in advance of the story froze my brain. I knew I couldn’t. I confided my insecurity to my agent.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “That’s just for the Aquisitions team. You need a new contract and they want to be sure of what they’re getting.”
“But… I thought she (editor) liked my writing?”

Again she reassured me. “Of course she does. But she has to appease Aquisitions. They’re a bit cranky. You see, sales haven’t been as great as they’d hoped and so they need this. They really do. Don’t worry about it;. You’re a writer. Just do it. Give them what they want to keep them quiet, and write your story the way you want to. Play the game.”

Back at my desk, I tried to get that synopsis going. But try as I might, I did not know the story. I could not know unless I was myself involved in it, writing it as it came. I could write neither an outline nor a synopsis; and forcing myself to do so, I felt sure, would drain all the energy form my story, It just wasn’t the way I wrote.

I decided to try another tack. Instead of a synopsis, I simply continued to write my story. I’d show then that I COULD write without an outline; reassure them that that they could trust me as a writer.
I climbed back into my story and simply wrote; and as I wrote I began to see, very vaguely, where it was going. Hope budded in my heart. I knew I had a story, a real story, a good one.

I sent it in.
A week passed, a second week. No reply yet from my editor.
Meanwhile, HarperCollins invited me to their annual Summer Party at the Serpentine Gardens in London. My agent invited me to go along with her. She also hadn’t heard back from my editor; but, she reassured me, all was well. Just play the game, she said, play the game. It became a mantra to me. Play the game.
I knew my editor would be at the party; I knew she’d give me her verdict.
That fourth contract was vital. I needed it. If I had to play the game to get it, well, so be it.

* * *


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