J.A. Konrath, LOST, and A Grand Plan For E-publishing

A few years ago at a local author fair, I met novelist J.A. Konrath. I’d heard about the suspense writer for some time because he lived in the Chicago suburbs like me and he was far more prolific at booksignings. After the event, I talked to him for a few minutes and he invited me to hang out and have a beer with him.

For the next hour or so, I spoke with and listened to someone who knew far more about the publishing industry than I did. I was surprised, to be honest. As someone who had worked in publishing over thirteen years along with being a full-time novelist, I rarely encountered someone with more experience and knowledge than myself. Granted, I also rarely hung out at author conferences or book fairs. But speaking to Konrath was a revelation.
This was a few years ago before he would become a posterchild in the publishing industry as “the e-book guy”. I began following him online and noticed things he said and did regarding this coming wave of E-publishing. Konrath didn’t say it was coming but announced that it was already here. He detailed in long posts on his blog “A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing” about his forays into publishing ebooks. He was very frank and honest, especially when it came to talking about publishing.
It took me a while to believe what Konrath and others were talking about. Sometimes his gloating got on my nerves. But I couldn’t discount what he was talking about. I agreed with many of the things he said about traditional publishing, even when he openly mocked or bashed the people or the process. He’s had an amazing amount of success diving into the waters of self-publishing & ebooks.
So why am I talking about Konrath and giving him more publicity? It’s to share a little about what my plans were in 2011 and heading into 2012.
For some time now, I’ve had this Lost-esque series idea. I actually began to talk to a major publisher about that idea in the summer of 2010. We emailed back and forth and I would go on to shape and hone this idea as we communicated. The questions that came out of the conversations and emails resulted in a much better premise.
By January, 2011, the prospect of publishing this series with this house looked very promising. After sending them a revised overview of this very ambitious and very dense series, the publisher sent my agent and me this response: “It was like Christmas opening this long-anticipated overview. And wow–Travis delivers.”
Following that were familiar expressions I’d heard over the years in publishing like “break Travis to a new level” and “will require a publishing partner more strategically focused than Travis has had at this point”.
I was on board and very excited.
So by March of 2011, after many hours spent on this series idea, I felt like it was really going to happen. Then after one of those wonderful publisher meetings, this publisher came back to me with a different tune. My sales (the only thing that tends to really matter in those meetings) were low. My brand was non-existent and needed “re-launching.” The sample chapters I’d turned in lacked a distinct voice (as if all the other books I’d published in my lowly career weren’t worth even checking out since they underperformed). And most of all, I needed to stay in ONE genre and ONE box and couldn’t have any other books released. No collaborations, nothing.
After a conversation on the phone at the end of March, I had a choice to make.
It didn’t take me long to realize I wasn’t going to partner with this publisher. They wanted me to risk everything for a low advance (one that would require getting another job), for high restrictions (no more collaborations or anything other than books with them), and for no guarantee. This publisher guaranteed they’d take me to the next level, but they seemed to forget that I had spent 13 years listening to publishers tell that to authors. It rarely happens, and if it does, many times it’s just blind luck.
The conversation had been to make this a three-book trilogy and to release all the books in one year. To make it feel like a publishing event. I was all for it and was going to get started. It might have even been able to come out in 2012. But I told them that the deal-breaker was not being able to collaborate. I wanted to do more books with people like Jimmy Wayne. What if another huge name in music or the entertainment industry was suddenly interested in having me write a book for them? It was a no brainer and I said thanks but no.
Suddenly, my thoughts shifted toward E-publishing. I brainstormed and planned and schemed and I decided that I was going to plunge into the deep end of the ocean with this series. I expanded the story back to my original idea of five novels and I was going to publish them all in 2012. I wrote four very different novels from January, 2010 to September, 2010, so why couldn’t I write five novels in a series and release them in the same year?
This was the plan. For those who read this blog, I began to detail about this under the header of THS. Look at the blog labels for posts on that. I began the story that was already mapped out with detailed character sketches and timelines and everything. I wrote 10,000 words.
Then something happened.
I guess I’ll say that I woke up and smelled the coffee. But I believe it was more than that.
I think it was God answering a prayer of mine asking for wisdom and guidance when it seemed like a bunch of doors were shutting. I woke up the morning after some very earnest prayers the night before and the thought of publishing FIVE books in one year seemed ridiculous.
I thought, Nobody wants five novels from me in the same year! It’s hard to get people to be interested in one novel of mine!

I also thought, Do I want five Coldplay albums in the same year? Or five David Fincher movies (kill us all now)? No way.

So I put that project on hold. I still hope and plan for it to happen, because it’s an amazing story. I traveled down to North Carolina this summer to research and brainstorm. It’s my version of Lost. It’s my version of Stephen King’s The Stand. But most of all, it’s my magnum opus.
I realized that if this was indeed my magnum opus, then it deserved more than rushing it out and releasing it as ebooks simply because I could. Doesn’t mean I won’t self-publish it, but I just want more time to build the story. The 10,000 words I initially wrote felt stale. They didn’t live up to the story’s full potential.
Since I decided to step back and rethink things, a few things have happened. I’m going to share them this week since this blog post is almost 10,000 words itself! But the things I’m going to share wouldn’t have had the opportunity to happen had I signed up with that publisher limiting so many career options.
God opened a few doors at the very end of this year when I least expected Him to. I’m extremely thankful about these opportunities and I’m excited to see what will happen with them.
If that Lost/The Stand idea sounds compelling to you, it should. It sure sounds compelling to me, and I’ve spent so much time working on it. I know where it ends and how it ends and the answers to the questions I will ask. Maybe, God willing, I’ll write that series. We’ll see. But there are some other really cool things I need to do first.
I hope those of you who have come this far with me continue to stay along for the ride. There are some fun places we’ll be going very soon.

2 Comments

  1. As usual for you, Travis, a heart-on-your-sleeve blogpost here. This one is long and topsy turvy and fun to read.

    Five books, wow. Call me a classicist (an antique?), but just as there's only one King's "The Stand", perhaps you can walk atop the fence rather than coming down firmly in one lawn or the other.

    Consider writing your Lost-esque novel as one big, hearty and fully developed epic (a la "The Stand", "It" and "Under The Dome"), and perhaps you can write it alongside your other current projects.

  2. I've thought of doing that! Thanks for the reply. That idea won't go away anytime soon. Maybe it will be published in the traditional way (by then maybe traditional won't even be traditional anymore!). Take care.

Submit a comment