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.


Mike Fook said...

I think you should have been exceptionally clear on what was desired to begin with. I didn't submit anything, but I could see being pi&&ed off if I did and now you come out with all these additional criteria.

Dave said...

I don't read these as additional criteria. He's just pointing out some things that really should be common sense if you're writing in someone else's universe.

Unknown said...

Well said. Writing a rejection message always puts me in a bad mood, for the same reasons you've mentioned.

Anonymous said...

I got about halfway through with writing my short, and realized I do not know Jack well enough to include her as a main. I pretty much assumed Joe would want equal face time for his IP, as his name is going on the cover.

So now, I can reduce the role to fit the story better. I believe the story will be better for it.

If the clarifications anger you, just remind yourself that Joe got you to write something else. He is taking nothing from you. He inspired you to create another story, and in some cases, he may have gotten us to move away from our safe little niche, to share in his.

Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

I will admit that I selfishly said that if I could pull off a Jack Daniels story that I would be better off creating an entire universe of my own.

As for rejecting stuff, I recently got out of a project that I should have rejected at the very beginning; it would have saved me an entire year of grief.

Ken Lindsey said...

Being the gatekeeper has got to be hard, Joe, and I feel for you. I also feel for the folks that wrote a story that you couldn't use.

But we know you have to protect your IPs, and although this franchising might bring you in boatloads of cash, it could also be a huge mistake. You're sticking your neck out to give other writers a chance, and I think that's pretty damn cool of you.

You can't pass a chalupa off as McNuggets, and you can't turn Jack Daniels into Temperance Brennan (or any other random female protagonist).

Can't wait to see all the great stories that come out of this!

JA Konrath said...

I think you should have been exceptionally clear on what was desired to begin with.

I think I was pretty clear. And no one is wasting their time writing a story for me. If I reject it, it's theirs to self-pub.

As Dave said, I hold some truths to be self-evident.

JA Konrath said...

Being the gatekeeper has got to be hard, Joe, and I feel for you.

It's not a role I like, but it's not a bad role either. The problems I have are quality problems.

I used my wife as the acquisitions editor to be a buffer between me and the submissions. But even when she rejects something, I've been reading the story anyway, because I feel responsible.

As I expected, I've agreed with her assessment. I've passed on some good stories, but I need stories that are good AND fit in my universe.

If it doesn't fit in my universe, why try to hammer a square peg into a round hole? There are other universes that readers enjoy.

I hope everyone I reject gets so big they can franchise their own characters.

I also hope everyone I pick gets so big they never need to write in my universe again.

I can't make everyone happy. But I'm trying hard to.

Anonymous said...

You shouldn't feel bad.

Rejection isn't and never was the problem. Gatekeepers selection of who to go into business with isn't and never was the problem. Art is subjective.

The problem is when you go into business with someone and then treat them like shit, through bad contracts, poor execution, or broken promises.

Go into business only with the writers whose work you love no matter how much rejection that means for the rest. Just treat your new partners well.

Tricia Ballad said...

I haven't submitted a story to you because I don't write cop stories (You're welcome - I saved you the hassle of rejecting another story!), but I'm watching your experiment with great interest. I've played with the idea of doing something similar in my own universe sometime in the next decade or so, after I do the whole rich and famous thing, of course. Good luck with this!

Monica Shaughnessy said...

I'm just excited to learn that it can be 100% your characters because I don't have any of my own that would work with yours. It may be months, however, before I can get around to writing it. (my WIP takes priority)

I'm sure at some point you'll stop accepting these, but does the submission call end any time in the near future? Or is it open-ended?

P.S. - Your wife needs a raise. A *monetary* raise.

DED said...

I'm an indie author/small press book reviewer, but I'm also an indie author who's had to deal with his share of rejection. We get about 30 submissions/month (when we're open) and there's no way we can review every book. I hate having to send out the rejection letters but it goes with the territory. The one positive I can take from it is that it helps me deal with the rejections that I receive as an author.

Kriley said...

" why try to hammer a square peg into a round hole?" indeed. That's why I didn't submit a story. I feel I'm a pretty god writer but I don't know Jack or her universe well enough to write such a story.

Leighton Buzzard said...

Killing Floor* by Lee Child.

Killing Time, by Leighton Buzzard, was part of the 8 Hour Story challenge, and is available in the Kindle store now. Completely understandable mix-up, tho ;-)

Unknown said...

Another aspect is the ability to write humor. When I first read a JD story, I laughed out loud in a number of spots and read them to my spouse who said, 'sounds like the way you write.' That gave me hope that I might capture that aspect of your style. Excited!

Kay Bratt said...

Just think of it like this, Joe. These writers are stretching their abilities to meet your qualifications. That is making them better writers. Perhaps some of them will set their sights on writing for Kindle Worlds once they'd experimented with Joe's World! You are doing them a favor.

JA Konrath said...

Or is it open-ended?

Yes. I have no plans to stop this anytime soon.

Josh Brown said...

Protecting your universe is a crucial thing, Joe. I'm not sure I could do what you do, risking the reality of my greatest series to someone else's ideas about it. I'd want to protect my series with everything I've got from something I don't see working well.

The gatekeeper of a publishing firm is only trying to protect profits and a company's name. Not to say some submitted works aren't total garbage, but as you point out over and over, too many rejections hit good ideas.

You on the other hand, are trying to protect an idea. You would love to see all your submissions and the writers succeed regardless of your opinions. Publishing companies don't have that same value because a rejected book succeeding elsewhere is less profit for the company. I see a phenomenal difference between the two.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

I think Joe was pretty clear. He did also say that you need to read Jack Daniels.

It helps if you love the Jack Daniels universe. If you love it, it's not even a question that his characters take a major roll in the stories.

Joe is ultra cool no matter how you slice it. Who else would open their characters up to unknowns like he is? It doesn't happen.

Alistair McIntyre said...

Honestly, my assumption was that Jack would be 70-80% of the story, with author character playing a sidekick role.

I haven't read any of the Jack Daniels series, so it would be pointless for me to attempt this.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Everyone should read the Jack Daniels series anyway. They're fun as hell, which is why they net Joe so much $.

Garth Perry said...

I read "Floaters" to get a feel for what kind of collaboration Joe's done in the past w/ an author (Henry Perez) who brought a character of theirs (Alex Chapa) into the JD universe. That was my model, at least. (BTW, a PDF of 'Floaters' is still free at Perez's website.)

So the practice in writing such a story, like others have mentioned, is helping me grow as a writer (apart from Joe's role as a gatekeeper). Because of that challenge, I'm now writing more stories with my character, AJ Rakowski, a psychic detective, so I'll have something enjoyable (hopefully!) to offer future fans.

Jill James said...

Joe, I think it is great what you are doing. Great that you have your wife to help.

Michael Alan Peck said...

A new idea is always worth trying (a good one is, anyway), but the process will always require tweaking—that's to be expected, I think.

This reminds me of the advice a longtime TV-producer friend of mine used to give when I was trying to break into that game: If I hire you, your job is to write the script I would have written if I'd had the time.

It's not a perfect match, but not a bad approach to start with.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. For those interested, I’m one of the writers who had his story rejected. Below is the letter Joe sent me with some of my own thoughts added afterward in parentheses.

Hi (potential writer)—

Sorry, but my wife and I are rejecting your story. (Obviously I was disappointed but pleased that Joe got back with me instead of letting me figure it out on my own. In the business world where I occasionally reside, there are many who hate to give bad news so they simply don’t).

It is a good story, engaging and well written, but we feel the bad guy doesn't seem like Barry Fuller. If I may ask, was this an older story that you tried to change into a Fuller story? You've obviously read Bloody Mary. But it doesn't quite seem like my character, and the Jack Daniels references seemed added as an afterthought. (Good eye on Joe’s part. Yes, this was part of a story I had rewritten. Part of my thought process was that I believed a story I already had would save me time in writing an entirely new tale which, in retrospect, probably wasn’t a good idea. Another reason though, was that it mirrored what Joe had done with Bloody Mary. If I remember correctly, he’d written that story as a different novel but later rewrote it for his second JD novel. I thought it’d be fun to rewrite one of my older stories about one of the characters featured in a rewritten book that is engaging and still growing in popularity with readers. Didn’t pan out, but we learn by doing.)

You also do some POV head hopping, which isn't my thing. I like it to have one POV character per section, but you pop into both Barry's and Ben's heads at the same time. (Nothing to add here. Guilty as charged).

Ultimately, I'd have to do too much rewriting to make this work for me. (Understood. This is a business after all. I should have gotten it right the first time).

It's so weird writing a rejection letter, since I've gotten over 500 like this one I'm writing to you. I know how much it sucks. (Empathy. Not sure everyone likes or appreciates it, but I do).

My advice would be to change Barry Fuller's name, take out all the Jack Daniels references, and self-publish this.

Thanks for sending it.


Old pros like Dean Wesley Smith tell of editors back in the day who used to add notes about what they thought worked or didn’t to their rejections. Smart writers learned from such advice. The rest, well, my guess is that they remained frustrated, cursed the messengers and remained unpublished. Personally, I’m grateful for the feedback.

I’m omitting my name since I don’t want this to come across as a promotional tool, though won’t rule that out in the future. Others have paid attention, learned and grown from what Joe has taught over the years. Frequent contributor, Jude Hardin, comes to mind. I’m finishing up one of his books now. I have a feeling that Joe’s latest experiment is going to be win/win and that his readers are going to be introduced to many talented writers for years to come.

Joe had, what, 500 rejections before he got published? I’m nowhere near that. Time to get off the Internet and get back to work.

Like Joe and others have said--It’s a great time to be a writer.

P.S. – For anyone who may still doubt Joe’s business acumen or his idea-generating ability, one of his earlier books involved a character who was dying of cancer that an editor rejected since he didn’t see any potential in it. I’m not saying anyone from Breaking Bad stole his idea, but if any of Joe’s neighbors see me sifting through his trash bins by the curb at night please know I’m only looking for ideas he may have prematurely discarded. Just saying.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Joe: I self-publish and publish other writers too, and I keep asking myself if it's worth the effort of doing so. It takes so much time to take a promising draft and coach the author through improvements, without doing the writing myself (and I'm better off writing my own stuff with that time, since so far only my own work is bringing in the money). Rejection is no fun for either the rejector or rejectee... but neither is wasting time and frustrating both parties. I feel your pain.

I also think it's awesome that you are doing this experiment. When a book works, it will reflect well on both of you, and presumably keep spreading the gospel of Jack Daniel, that guy you write about. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Harry McGlade's cameo in LOST HOMICIDAL MANIAC (ANSWERS TO "SHIRLEY") is the greatest moment in the character's history.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Jeff, Harry is my all time fave character. I adore Harry.

Joshua Simcox said...

I'm one of the lucky few so far that wrote an accepted submission. I can't wait to see what Joe does with my story (I'm particularly excited to see cover art), and hopefully my share of the royalties will help me purchase that Quarter Pound with Cheese I've spent the last year and half saving up for. :)

When writing the story, I really didn't even consider how much face time Joe's character should have versus my character. It just so happened that the story I wanted to tell required pretty much equal screen time for each character.

I feel fortunate that I got just right during the process to break through.

- Joshua

C. Purcell said...

Joe, it is posts like this that really speak to your humility. You have nothing but my respect.

JA Konrath said...

Harry McGlade's cameo in LOST HOMICIDAL MANIAC (ANSWERS TO "SHIRLEY") is the greatest moment in the character's history.

But it doesn't rival Andrew Mayhem's cameo in Banana Hammock...

Geraldine Evans said...

Joe, I'm having a go at writing for your universe with both sets of characters.

It's a bit more of a challenge for me as I'm a Brit. But at least I have the advantage that I write a lot of humour/humor in my books, too. Okay it's Brit humour/humor. At least it is for my characters' dialogue.

I've just finished the first draft, having taken your advice on board.

What does Mrs Joe think of the idea of Jack and Herb taking a trip to England chasing after a new bad guy?! Could be a nice vacation/spending spree for her (see, I'm getting the lingo already!). Do you still use the word 'Limeys' over there? Just checking. :-)

Unknown said...

Joe you made my day. Open ended JD story acceptance. Hooray!

1st - As distasteful as rejection letters are for you to write, you do us writers a great service pointing out the "why". There will be other rejections in their future. They benefit from your efforts, again.

2nd - Of course JD must be a major part of the story. Part of the franchise. (She's the Golden Arches-recognizable, ever present.) Reading Cherry Bomb now, my 5th JD novel. Read many of her short stories too.Love 'em. Love all your characters. May take a stab at Harry McGlade, if I can keep to the point. Trying to do them justice as they interface with Hunter-K9 Detective and his handler.

3rd - Thanks for head hopping comment. POV consistency is a weakness of mine when I'm telling the story. But I'm learning your style. It's better. My challenge is I have 12,000 words. Gotta trim it and send it. (These pesky 8 hr WINNER challenges keep interrupting. Now a series.) But some trimmings could be used in the novel story, if... when...

Joe, I sure appreciate your unselfish efforts to help us become better at crafting our products.

Jeff Ezell -
Copy just this ASIN # into blank Google search. See what you get
Then try your own book.

antares said...

Joe, Wow! Kudos.

When I began to read this post I imagined you would retract your offer. I am still gobsmacked that you made the offer and took on more work. That you keep the offer on the table leaves me gobsmacked squared.

I have read one Jack Daniels story. I would need to read many more to get comfortable enough with her to write a story that featured her. For now, I shall stick with my own worlds.

But if we ever meet, I'm buying the beers.

Tim Tresslar said...

I never was ‘OK’ with rejection. But it’s a lot more palatable when the editor was polite, dealt straight with me and didn’t waste my time. Sounds like you’re doing all those things, Joe. Good for you.

JA Konrath said...

Do you still use the word 'Limeys' over there? Just checking. :-)

I dunno if Jack or Herb would use Limeys. They'd say Brits.

Geraldine Evans said...

Great! Thanks for that, Joe. Okay. Limeys out. Brits in.

Christina Katz said...

I appreciate you writing this post, Joe. I know you don't hate all gatekeepers because you still have your agent, right?

I think it's important to remember, in these evolving times, that we don't know who the enemy is. And we don't know, with role shifting and rotating, who we will be working with in the future, or how, or why.

Thanks for showing writers how to be brave and stand up for number one. It's getting easier for the rest of us thanks to brave folks like you.

Unknown said...

I like the content of this blog. Nicely managed blog. i feel happy to see such kind of amazing place from where i can bought a good furniture for my home.
Express Bedz