Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I Have Seen the Enemy

I have seen the enemy, and it is me.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post explaining how I was willing to franchise my intellectual properties. In short:

1. Test out new writers by having them do a Jack Daniels short story, teaming Jack up with a character from their series.

2. The writer writes the story, without input from me. If my wife likes it (she's my first reader and knows my universe better than I do), I'll do the rewrite and editing, pay for the cover art and proofing and formatting, and then publish the story through my agent, Jane Dystel. Jane will pay us monthly and provide royalty statements. She'll also seek out interest in audio and foreign rights.

The author and I split the profits 50/50, and then do the same thing with a novel (novels sell much better than shorts.)

3. If my wife doesn't like the story, the writer can self-publish it without me, changing the names of my characters. So Jack Daniels would become some other female cop, and the writer would have full rights to the story.

I've gotten over twenty stories in response. 

And I've rejected roughly half of them.

And I hate it.

I know what rejection feels like. I've been rejected over 500 times. And many of those rejections were for books that went on to make me rich, so I know that the gatekeepers were indeed wrong.

Now I'm the guy saying, "Thanks for the submission, but it's not for us" and it makes me feel shitty. I also may be wrong, passing up some good stories. In fact, I hope I am wrong.

If I rejected you, here's the best revenge: self-publish the story and get rich and famous with it. Then you'll be happy you didn't have to share any royalties with me. And I truly hope you do get rich and famous.

That said, it makes me wince when I send a rejection email. Especially since some of them were close calls.

Here's the deal with close calls: A close call means I have to put in more time on the rewrite, and I simply don't have time to do that. That's why I said, in my original blog post, to send your best work the first time, because there will be no resubmitting the same story to me. 

I'm not a publishing house. I can't spend a lot of time turning every story I get into something I think my fans will like. As it stands, I'm putting in lots of hours on the stories I got that I loved. I can't put in even more hours on the stories I only like.

So I feel like a bully and a jerk, and maybe I am, and maybe I'm dead wrong, but it is what it is.

For the record, a lot (not all) of the rejections fall into one of these categories:

1. Not enough of my IP/characters are in the story. They seem added as an afterthought, or just so they're part of my universe. 70% your characters and 30% my characters won't work. Readers are going to buy these stories to read my characters. If the story is all about someone they don't recognize, the reader is going to write bad reviews. 

Joe's advice: Try to make it at least 60/40. Better still is 50/50. I've also gotten a few that were 100% my IP, and I accepted them.

2. I don't think it'll work replacing a character from one of your older works with Jack Daniels. It might, but my hopes aren't high. If Jack Daniels was such a sterotypical character that a simple Find and Replace could turn any cop story into a Jack Daniels story, then my writing sucks worse than I fear it does.

Joe's advice: I think I write unique books, with humor, scares, charm, and memorable, idiosyncratic, unique characters. If you want to be a part of this program, read as many of my books and stories as you can, and start from scratch. Don't cut and paste.

3. Pay attention to my style. I write from various POVs, using a particular tone. I have plenty of action and dialog. There is plenty of white space on every page, and not much description. I use a lot of suspense, and humor, and twists. 

Joe's advice: If you wrote KILLING TIME by Lee Child and instead had Jack Daniels as the hero, I'd reject it. Lee's a great writer, and that's a great book, but that isn't how I write or the kind of book I write. Jack Daniels is not Jack Reacher. Ditto if you write like Evanovich, or Grafton, or Patterson (thank you everyone for not sending me a 20 page story with 65 chapters), or Clancy. Please don't attempt to write one of my IPs unless you not only have read it, but are a fan of it and understand my tone. I'm not simply searching for good writers. I'm searching for good writers who can write like me.

I will say this: I've worked with some terrific writers, but no one can write my character Harry McGlade like I can. It's okay to use Harry in a story and then put (JOE PUT A HARRY LINE HERE) instead of trying to write it yourself. But if you do that fifty times, maybe it would have been better just to leave Harry out of the story. 
To wrap up this blog entry, I'm surprised to see I've become the very thing I hate: a gatekeeper. And it gives me a little more respect for the gatekeepers, because it isn't pleasant rejecting someone.

But I'm not a publisher, or an agent. I'm a writer who has made over a million bucks writing these stories, and has accrued a nice-sized fanbase, and is willing to share that fanbase with other writers so we both make money. 

And to that end, I should have the collaboration agreement from my lawyer soon, and I'll blog about it to get feedback. 

Until then, keep those stories coming.