Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Proteus Cure

Joe sez: F. Paul Wilson is my favorite author. I've known him for years, and have had the pleasure of writing with him on a few occassions (see DRACULAS for an example).

When I heard about his latest project, co-written with Tracy L. Carbone, I asked them about it. My thoughts following the interview.

What’s THE PROTEUS CURE about?

TRACY:  It’s a medical thriller that’s hard to talk about without spoilers.  It’s about a brother and a sister, Bill and Abra Gilchrist, who’ve developed a cure for cancer – all kinds of cancer.  That sounds impossible because there’s a cancer for every tissue in the body, but–

PAUL: Tracy came up with an idea for an omnipotential stem-cell therapy that replaces tumors with non-cancerous cells. Since omnipotential stem cells can become any tissue, they can overcome any tumor.  The hitch in THE PROTEUS CURE is that they don’t stop there.  And this is where the spoilers begin, so this is where I stop.

TRACY:  We could have gone lurid with people turning into mutants–

PAUL: Like a third eye and all that–

TRACY: –but that wasn’t the idea.  I think where we went is much scarier, because it can’t be laughed off.  It’s deeply unsettling and disturbing because you can see how it might happen.  The issues we address are about parenthood and identity.

PAUL: The Gilchrists aren’t evil.  They’re curing people of cancer.  There’s just this one annoying side effect, which they’ve found a way to mask.  But Murphy’s Law is inescapable and something goes wrong during the clinical trial.  They’ve got to scramble to cover it up–

TRACY: –because, depending on your personality, some side-effects are acceptable and some are not.  Some people will be okay with the side-effect because they’re now cancer free.  But others will be calling the FDA and malpractice lawyers. 

PAUL: One of the Gilchrist’s will do anything to cover it up.  After all, it’s a cure for cancer.  You can’t allow someone to derail a cure for cancer!  And that’s when our oncologist heroine gets caught in the middle.

Why are you indie publishing THE PROTEUS CURE?

PAUL: We had an offer from my publisher that I thought low.  In the past my collaborations have never sold as well as my solo novels.  I don’t know why.  The reviews are just as good.  Maybe my readers don’t like to see someone else’s name of the cover.  Whatever the reason, the sales figures never match up and the offer reflected that.

Tracy and I talked it over.  In the old days (like five, six years ago) we’d have been on the short end of a take-it-or-leave it proposition.  That’s no longer the case.  But this was her opportunity to be published by one of the Big Five.  If she said yes, we would have done it.  (She has a big emotional investment in this book – she came up with the seminal idea, after all – and I wasn’t going to pull the Big Five rug out from under her.)

What was your reaction, Tracy?

TRACY: I asked Paul if he thought we could make more going the indie route. 

PAUL: I said I did, and sooner – the indie will have it published and selling before my hardworking agent would be finished arguing contract commas with the publisher’s rights department.  Plus all rights remain with us.

TRACY: I said, Let’s do it.  And so it’s coming out under Robert Barr’s Shadowridge Press imprint.

Are you pissed at your publisher?

PAUL: Not at all. Submitting a book is the start of a negotiation.  We were asking: What are the rights to our novel worth to you?  After the dust had settled we realized the hardcover, softcover, and ebook rights were more valuable to us than to them.  So, no deal.  No rancor on my part (and I hope not on theirs).  Simply… no deal.

I’m not doing this out of spite.  Life’s too short for that.  They offered what they thought THE PROTEUS CURE was worth in today’s thriller market.  I love my publisher; he’s a stand-up guy, always accessible, one of the savviest in the business.  And I’ve known my editor forever.  There’s no emotion involved here.  It’s purely a business decision. 

Will you indie pub your next book?

PAUL: Frankly, I don’t want to be a publisher.  Controlling all the rights is nice, but with that comes all sorts of busywork that keeps me from writing.  So I’m willing to surrender those rights for an adequate advance and let the industry pros do their thing while I start the next book.  As I said, my publisher gets first look.  After finishing FEAR CITY, the last of the Early Years Trilogy, I’ll start on a thriller that’s been percolating for years.  I hope they’ll love it. I hope they’ll offer an advance we can both live with.

How about you, Tracy?  Will you indie pub you next book?

TRACY: Though my views were different several years ago, I’ve come around to seeing the advantage of using an Indie publisher. I like having say over the cover art, and the royalties are a lot higher. The quick turnaround from manuscript submission to seeing the book in print is the driving force for me. I published RESTITUTION, a dark psychological thriller, and THE COLLECTION AND OTHER DARKTALES, a group of horror stories, through Indie publisher Shadowridge Press and was pleased with the result. My next thriller, HOPE HOUSE, about genetically modified infants being sold through a black market adoption agency, will be coming out in June.

How did this collaboration come about?

PAUL: It started with Tracy so I’ll let her begin, but I want it clear from the git-go that THE PROTEUS CURE is a genuine collaboration.  Not one of those phony deals where the newbie does all the work and the established writer simply attaches his name.  Tracy would do a few thousand words and pass it to me and I’d do a few thousand and pass it back. This is a definite 50-50 project, and it's not some lightweight toss-off either: it weighs in at 115,000 words with virtually no fat.

TRACY: Couldn’t have said it better. I approached Paul at a conference for his opinion about a medical thriller I was starting. His first reaction was, “No, that couldn’t work.” I argued it could. We went back and forth and finally he said something like, “Okay, maybe, just maybe, but the story is all wrong.” He explained it from a science and story standpoint. A couple of hours later we were brainstorming this great new novel. Within a few days we’d decided to write it together. I was thrilled for his mentorship and to know the book would be that much better for his involvement.

PAUL: I realized I was thinking more about PROTEUS than my own next book.  When we came up with the final twist I was psyched.  I had to get involved.

What was the process?

TRACY: Before writing a word of prose, we created a fully formed outline with subsections denoting POV changes. For example, Chapter One might have sections one through eight showing four characters’ actions. Paul would say, “Okay, you take the odd numbers and I’ll take even.” This way we took turns writing the characters’ POVs and neither of us had a character that was all our own. Except for the technical medical scenes which are clearly Paul’s, our styles are blended together throughout the story.

PAUL: I've found that an outline is vital to collaborating on a tightly plotted thriller, where certain events have to take place in a certain order for the story to build suspense and make sense.  The sequence has to be arranged in advance so that nobody's blowing the reveals.  Both authors need to be able to anticipate those reveals in their sections. 

Kindle for $3.99.
Trade Paperback for $16.99

Joe sez: I believe it was Bob Mayer who coined the term "hybrid publishing." This is a catchall description for those authors who are diversifying, doing some self-pub and some legacy or Amazon pub.

I've got five ebooks with Amazon imprints, and last month sold about 14,000 copies of those titles. For me it's a no-brainer. Diversify the portfolio, get alternate revenue streams, and reach new customers.

As much as I rant against legacy publishing, the fact remains that it treats some authors well.

Publishing is a business, not an ideology. Writers need to set goals according to their needs. Different projects can lend themselves to different ways of publishing. 

If you are an author who has been given a choice of how to publish, think long and hard about it. How important is an advance? Royalty percentage? Control? Speed to publication? Validation? Getting into bookstores and libraries? 

This isn't "us vs. them". It never has been. It's simply about finding the formula that you're happy with. Once you do that, it doesn't matter what anyone else says.

Now go buy THE PROTEUS CURE, or I'm going to quit blogging forever.