Whistling in the Dark-On The Pace of Publishing

As a writer, part of my job is to answer questions about my current, past, and future works and what I was thinking when I wrote this or that. We do this for interviewers, classrooms, talk audiences, and fans. If you happen to notice that I or another writer pauses for a long beat before answering some questions, there is a reason for that: we don’t know the answer. Or, at the very least, we have to dig deep to get there.

Like most other writers the first book I sold was not the first one I had written. It was in fact the 4th. It sold with a sequel, which I wrote shortly after getting the contract. That book was my 9th. It was followed into print by my 11th, and my 12th was next published.

At the time of this writing I had written 12 novels and portions of 5 more. Of those, 5 complete books are out being shopped around along with 9 proposals. I currently have three books that I am actively working on, none of them sold. In all I have roughly 4 years worth of potential future work spread across seven different series that is out under consideration and that could land in my lap at any time. 2013 update: now working on my 20th novel, with nine in print and three forthcoming (not counting book club and foreign editions), of which 1-1/2 are written. I have six completed novels out looking for homes, possible extensions of current series to think about, various editions out of sequence, etc. That gives me a bit over a year’s work contracted and 2-5 hanging in space that may or may not ever land.

This is occasionally nerve wracking, to say nothing of confusing. Both because I don’t know what among my various projects should be priority one, and because of things like the interviews I am doing as part of the promotional effort for book 11, CodeSpell.

When I am asked questions about my latest book and my next book I always have to remind myself that they are talking exclusively about the books currently in print or announced. When I am asked about process stuff from WebMage, I have to reach back past 15 complete novels, umpteen proposals, something like 25 worlds, and several dozen plot outlines to try to recapture what I was thinking at that time. That ignores the complications of short stories, major life events, and stuff I’ve read in other people’s novels that may also be blocking the spigot of authorial knowledge.

This is not a complaint. I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk over my work with people who are genuinely interested. It’s just that, as an author, it can be a little bit intimidating to know that person asking me a question is often more familiar with the  book they’re asking about than I am.

(Originally published on the SFNovelists blog June 11 2008, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)