Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Query Question: parting out the novel

I've written an upmarket manuscript in four parts (I'd say general fiction, with elements of family saga and historical fiction). I've been getting occasional complimentary feedback from queries . . . but not reaching my goal in the end.

Parts 3 and 4 of the book introduce a story-line involving a 13 year old boy whose mother left him and his father, when the boy was five. It's been suggested to me that that part might make a good middle-grade novel on its own. And it might.

But here's the main question [takes me a while, but I always get to it eventually]: if I succeeded in turning that part of the book into a new middle grade manuscript, and reached the goal of publication, would that preclude ever publishing the original book for adults, which contains that story-line within it?

The adult novel would fall apart completely if I tried to write it without the boy's story within it, so that's not an option.

Neither is going back to a career as a social worker. Just sayin' . . . 

When you license your work for publication to a publisher you grant them the EXCLUSIVE right to publish in this territory and those languages for the duration of the copyright.

There are further paragraphs that set out the terms under which the agreement can be terminated (out of print clauses generally) but under no circumstances would a publisher agree to remove the term exclusive from the license. It doesn't make sense for them to do so.

So, if you license Part 3 as a middle grade novel, you are contractually prohibited from offering it for sale as part of a larger book in the territories and languages covered in the contract.

[ I'm a bit puzzled as to anyone thinking that that middle part of an adult book described as a family saga or historical fiction would be suitable for middle grade.  Middle grade isn't just about age. It's got very particular characteristics of language and story as well.

If I came up on a middle grade novel in the middle of an adult novel I'd be unhappily surprised and start wondering about printing errors.

Here's the best example I can think of: The Thorn Birds (also historical fiction, also a family saga) starts with Meggie as a child. That part of the book where she treks off to school is absolutely NOT designed for grade school readers even though Meggie is about six years old.

Take a look at those first few pages and you'll see.]

And don't confuse this with the right to publish excerpts or first serial rights.  Those are also addressed in your publishing contract and generally have a word limit. Excerpts are limited to 7500-10000 words, and are generally meant for publicity and marketing purposes only.

First serial is an excerpt or a chapter or two maybe, that is published before the book is. Think of excerpts from important books that appear in Time or Newsweek before the book hits the shelves. That's first serial rights.

Publishing a third of the book as a separate book? Not ok, unless you're intent on spending your hard earned money the old fashioned way: retaining legal counsel.

Any questions?


Colin Smith said...

Congrats for writing a novel! Taking Janet's comments on-board (as one ought to since she's usually right and, well, she's QOTKU) perhaps you should think about the tone of the book overall. If that "MG" section sounds like something the average 11-year-old would get into (think HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S/SORCERER'S STONE), then it may well make for a good MG novel... but would it fit with the rest of the novel? If the voice, pace, and general tone of your "MG" section is still adult, then leave it alone. Not only will it not fit an MG market, as Janet indicates, you're asking for a mess of legal complications. Getting published is stressful enough. Why make life worse for yourself? :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

After reading Janet's answer today I realized something...sharks (our shark anyway) have encyclopedic minds. And to think, I thought they just swam around trolling for chum and made baby sharks. Who coulda' known.

Elissa M said...

It does sound like the tone of your novel may be uneven if there are suggestions to turn the part about the boy into a novel of its own.

My thought (knowing nothing more than what's been said in this blog post thus far) is one most writers don't wish to hear. That is, set this novel aside for now and write something else. When you finish a first draft of the new project, you should be sufficiently distanced from the original one to give it an unbiased going-over.

At that point, any disjoint or tonal shifts will be glaringly clear. You then have several options: revise the boy's story to fit seamlessly into the novel, revise the novel to work without the boy's story, rewrite the boy's story into a middle-grade novel, or follow some other inspiration that strikes you.

It may be that there's nothing wrong with the current novel as written and you just haven't gotten it in front of the right pair of eyes yet. Setting it aside for a time will help you see more clearly the path you should take.

Inkworthies said...

Another thing the writer might consider here is taking the opportunity to write a continuation of that character. For example, the first book deals with the initial subject, and the boy is something of a side character or minor character, then the second book gives us a better look at that minor character, possibly through a sequel - what happened to this kid after the events of the original story?

I'm doing something of this myself in my next novel - there's a child who gets kidnapped, and is very much a central plot point, but she's not a "main character" and we only see a small part of her story, since the book focuses on the larger political implications of the kidnapping. I can always go on later and write a sequel that talks about how she deals with the aftermath of the kidnapping, without derailing the current book to tell an unrelated or reused storyline.

A very good example of how to do this can be seen with Orson Scott Card's novels. In Ender's Game, the story focuses primarily on Ender Wiggins and how he sees/reacts to events. There's a boy called Bean who is mostly a supporting character throughout the story and has a limited amount of development within the book, all from Ender's perspective of seeing Bean grow and learn how Battle School works. Card then wrote another novel, Ender's Shadow, that deals with the same set of events from Bean's perspective, as well as adding a considerable amount of history for Bean from before and after the events in Battle School. This might be a workable way for the writer to develop both storylines without simply ripping a chunk of his novel verbatim straight into another book.

(Granted, Card is famous enough to be something of a rule breaker where the rest of us shouldn't/couldn't be... if this is an unfit example, my apologies.)

DLM said...

B. Renard, I LOVE works that do this; have you ever read Donald Harington? He writes about an entire town across many generations, and it is fascinating and sometimes almost unbearably affecting. Latha Bourne is a marvelous character who appears in several of his works. I love her. I love Harington as well.

It could be a very effective choice, letter writer!

Inkworthies said...

DLM, thank you! I'd heard of Mr. Harington before, but I hadn't taken the time to read his books yet. At the rate I go through books however, I'm always in need of more. (I do confess a huge partiality to sci-fi and fantasy since that's what I write in, but branching out a bit is good for me.)

The whole "small town community" vibe of the series kind of makes me think of Lake Wobegone... maybe with a more dramatic flair and less humor.

Another book occurred to me - John Lethem's Girl In Landscape might be a helpful book to emulate for the letter writer. It's definitely a book for adults, as it draws very heavy inspiration from Lolita and the John Wayne film The Searchers, but it's all told from the perspective of Pella, a teenage girl. Is the boy in the story old enough to tell the whole story, or would the book benefit from being told in a more omniscient perspective?

Sometimes having a child as a narrator for a heavier, more adult story can be very effective, because the reader will pick up on cues or things that the child may lack the development or maturity to understand yet. Not a great example of it, but Green by Jay Lake does this in the beginning chapters.

Unknown said...

I don't know when this would apply to me, but I love reading the details about this business I am in, on the level with which you share it. As always, thanks! Don't stop. I am hooked.

DLM said...

B. Renard, Harington can vary somewhat, but the top three "Stay More" novels that leap eagerly to mind are "The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks" (the first, and an essential), "The Choiring of the Trees" and "Enduring". Stay More is a fictional town in, you guessed it, the Arkansas Ozarks, peopled with characters of the most vivid and varied lives, good humor and much pathos, and Harington himself is palpably alive in his works. I was fortunate to correspond with him briefly before he died, when "Enduring" was in the works.

My apologies, Janet and all, for derailing the conversation!

Jane Lebak said...

Middle grade isn't just about age. It's got very particular characteristics of language and story as well.

Janet, thank you SO much for saying that. I've begun to feel as if I'm losing my mind after hearing too many editors and sometimes agents categorizing fiction solely on the basis of the age of the main character. If that were true, Ender's Game would be a picture book.