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.


Unknown said...

I've always loved hybrid cars, so I guess 'hybrid publishing' will be my next love.

Yeah! Bring on the love! Spread the love people! Spread it! Yeah!

Cyn Bagley said...

I just started reading F. Paul Wilson-- great reading.

Mark Edward Hall said...

I'm a big F. Paul Wilson fan and have recently become acquainted with Tracy through the New England Horror Writers. Good luck to you both on the new book. It sounds great.

Kriley said...

This book sounds awesome and I love the fact that you guys went a new publishing route for the right reasons.

Jude Hardin said...

I finished a thriller a couple of months ago with a similar concept. Not a stem-cell cure for cancer, but a revolutionary drug treatment for neurological disorders with a horrifying side effect for 1% of the patients who take it. It's called SYCAMORE BLUFF, and I'll be self-publishing it in December.

I haven't read Paul yet, but he's a fellow drummer so I know he's a good guy. :)

Haven't read Tracy yet either. Off to buy this one and give them both a try. Looking forward to it.

Tracy L Carbone said...

Thanks everyone. Paul and I worked very hard on this one to get it just right. There's nothing more horrific than how science can promote men to gods, and how easily and quickly experiments can go terribly wrong.

Adam Pepper said...

Congratulations Tracy. Working with Paul must have been a thrill as well as a great chance to learn from a master storyteller.

Best of luck with the book!

Merrill Heath said...

Congrats, Tracy and Paul. This sounds interesting. I'll have to check it out.

I think we're starting to see acceptance of the changes taking place. The stigma or self-published books is slowly being erased. As more traditionally published authors take the indie and hybrid routes it lends credibility to self-published books.

Two years ago when people would ask who published my novels and I said they were self-published they said, "Oh." And that was typically the end of the converstaion. But today they don't react that way. They just want to know when the next novel will be available.

Ryan Schneider said...

Sounds great, guys.

Nice job. I'm certain it'll do well.

Who did the cover?

Tracy L Carbone said...

Robert Barr of Shadowridge Press designed the cover for us.

William J. Thomas said...

Great premise...sounds like an awesome book!

If this novel had been legacy published and traditionally priced for paper or ebook, I promise you I would have waited for a borrowed library copy.

Self-published for $3.99? A no brainer purchase that I can start reading now.

Great choice, and that's what it's really about these days - choice. Kudos to you both for turning down an unsatisfactory advance, proving that the Big 5 don't have authors by the (proverbial) balls anymore!

Eric Daugherty said...

I've bounced a similar idea around about a doctor who comes up with a cure for AIDS but finds out to late that it also "cures" pregnancy. But it kept turning into Mars Needs Women so I never got anywhere with it.

Stella Baker said...

@Mr. Wilson. I don’t read much horror or science fiction, but your name clicked in my old brain, hauling me back to 1989. So I poked around in your Amazon bio, and there was the reason you tickled my brain. Your bio says: “DYDEETOWN WORLD was on the young adult recommended reading lists of the American Library Association and the New York Public Library, among others (God knows why).”

I can tell you why though I'm not, well, you know...God. I was on the YASD/YALSA BBYA committee in 1989/90. (I told you my brain was old.) Dydeetown made the list because it was well written, engaging, creative, a lot of fun and appealing to teens, even some who would otherwise read reluctantly.

So, you got my vote back then…and now (though a different kind of “vote.”) I just ordered The Proteus Cure. Not because Joe said we had to. Not even because of Dydeetown (though it didn’t hurt!)

I bought it because it sounds really good. Best of luck with it.

Margaret Yang said...

Gotta buy this one! I'm part of a man/woman writing team as well. It sounds like your writing process is similar to ours. Outlines are crucial for us.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

My favorite F. Paul Wilson book is a medical thriller called The Select.

I highly recommend it.

Darlene Underdahl said...

Got it, I have a raw, unschooled (no scientific degree) bent, but I love this stuff.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Sounds great! I'll pick it up.

And thanks, Joe and guests, for conducting a rational, clear-eyed discussion about the pros and cons of various publishing routes. We need less bashing and more informative comparisons.

Currently I'm deep in the indie camp, because the speed, the percentages, and the feedback are unparalleled. I just published one book (my own) on Friday and a second (another author's) yesterday, and mine has already sold 144 copies. It's hard to compete with that, when a traditional publisher would still be deciding whether or not to buy the thing... and he wouldn't, since it's only 20,000 words long.

Peter Spenser said...

Ah, yes, F. Paul Wilson. Your book The Keep from… well, way long ago… was one that I’ve never forgotten. I’m looking forward to this new one.

Dale T. Phillips said...

Despite Mr. Wilson's impressive credits, I bought this because of Tracy, a fellow NEHW author. Gotta support our peeps. Although I'll now have to check out the Jack the Repairman books, which look intriguing. Thanks, Joe for bringing it all together-- and adding more to my TBR pile.

Anonymous said...

For all the clowns that claim Joe only sells a lot of his books because of the traffic to this blog; I give you the current ranking of The Proteus Cure a few days after this recommendation:

3,947 Paid in Kindle Store

Anonymous said...

The Proteus Cure is now ranked #5,319 Paid in Kindle Store.

Are you trying to say that it is doing well and so Joe Konrath's promotion of it helped?

Or are you trying to say that it is doing poorly and so Joe Konrath's promotion of it didn't help?

The book starts out with weather, I've read numerous times that you should never start a book with weather.

The first 6 paragraphs don't have a hook either. And the 7th paragraph has a weak hook.

However, I do like the writing style because it sounds natural, not stilted and contrived like some other authors.

The book seems to be sinking fast in the Amazon rank. I'd say Joe Konrath's promotion gave it a big boost when it first came out, but now the boost is winding down.

Joe Konrath says that he thinks blogs don't sell books, but then he also used his blog to promote his recent big 99 cent sale and encouraged all his readers to retweet or reblog the sale.

I would say that the 99 cent sale wouldn't have been as successful as it was without his blog's help as well as the reblogging of his readers.

But I'm just a clown so what do I know?

JA Konrath said...

Proteus was ranked #19,000 before I blogged. It hit #1600 the day I blogged. But that was the ebook launch, so I'm sure it coincided with other promotion by Paul and Tracy.

My blog, and social media connections, can help give an ebook sales. But these sales are brief and not sustainable. In order to catch on and continue to sell, a book needs a big external push (sale, freebie, bookbub, ebookbooster) or it needs to capture readers' attention while on the bestseller lists.

Luck plays a huge part. But ebooks are forever. I'm sure Proteus will do well. It has plenty of time to sell a lot of copies.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for helping me go broke buying eBooks, Joe! Only one suggestion: in the future, could you post a link to (or wherever) when one clicks on the cover? I instinctively click on the cover art when reading book descriptions.

I favor contemporary romance, but other genres appeal to me. Especially books like this one. Now I have to find out what the side-effects are to the Proteus Cure. Best of luck Paul and Tracy!

Anonymous said...

So Tracy's boyfriend is publishing this. Very cool.

Selena Kitt said...

Thanks to Draculas, I discovered Mr. Wilson and have been in love ever since! I even sat through The Keep (the horribly done movie for the awesome book of the same name - I don't get scared anymore when I read horror, but this one really creeped me out in the beginning! Besides, anyone who can write Nazis + Vampires without making it cheesy gets 5 stars in my book!) I am one-clicking this!

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