Way back in October of 2005 I began writing the series of articles for Blogcritics.org called NaNoWriMo Notes. The NaNoWriMo of the title refers to something called the National Novel Writing Month competition in which participants attempt to write 50,000 words towards a novel in the space of thirty days, or the month of November. NaNoWriMo Notes started off as a record of my efforts to make the deadline in 2005, and then evolved into a record of taking what I started that November to completion and my continued efforts to find a publisher for the final manuscript.
It's been getting more and more difficult for unpublished authors to find a publisher, and I was no exception. So I put the manuscript aside for a bit and focused on writing as much as I possibly could, because it's what I liked doing. Then the strangest thing started to happen: people began approaching me to buy my work. It started off with the German edition of Rolling Stone magazine asking me for permission to reprint an interview I had done with American singer/songwriter Willy DeVille (I ended up providing most of the copy for a special feature they did on him for their February 2008 issue) and continued that fall when the web magazine Qantara.de approached me to contribute articles on a freelance basis.
Finding my work in demand, I decided to re-visit my manuscript and began the process of going through it again with an eye for making edits and re-writes to prepare it for publication. I had come across a new publishing house whose website said they were actively seeking new authors, so I figured it was worth the effort to polish it up and send off the standard query letter. I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that if I wanted people to read it that I was probably going to have to go the self-publishing route, but it couldn't hurt to make one last effort at having somebody else publish it for me.
Much to my surprise, and delight, not only did they respond positively to my query letter, after reading a 50 page excerpt they requested the full manuscript. That was at the end of January 2009 and although they said they would get back to me in a week or so, I'm still waiting to hear from them as to their final decision. I'm not sure whether that's a good or a bad sign that they're taking longer then they said they would, but for the time being I'm not all that disturbed by their slowness, for as it turns out I'm going to be a published author anyway.
The day after I received the e-mail requesting the sample pages from the publisher I had sent the query letter to, one arrived in my inbox from Ulysses Press in California asking me if I would be interested in writing a short book, 50,000 words, predicting what would happen in the fourth book of Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle. It seems they had experienced great success with a similar book they had published for the Harry Potter series, MuggleNet.com's What Will Happen In Harry Potter Seven, and felt there was a good chance of repeating that success with Paolini's series.
To say I was taken aback is an understatement as it felt like the equivalent of winning the lottery. Needless to say the first thing I did was follow the link to their website in order to make sure this wasn't one of those congratulations you have just been selected by Bill Gates to receive a chunk of his money things, and discovered they were for real. It turns out they had read — among other online work of mine — my reviews of the first two books in the Inheritance Cycle and been impressed enough by it to think that I'd be a good fit for what they wanted.
Needless to say I was, and am still, immensely flattered and thrilled, but that didn't stop me from having some hesitations. First of all there was the whole issue of legality – I didn't feel comfortable with writing something like this if it wasn't with the approval of the original work's author. I had genuinely liked and appreciated Ergaon and Eldest, the two books of the series that I had read at that point, and wanted nothing to do with something that was being done behind his back and that didn't respect his work. If I was going to do this, I wanted to be sure it was more than just an exploitation of another person's creativity.
The letter I received in response to the one I sent them expressing those concerns was very reassuring as they told me they were in the midst of negotiations with Paolini, his publisher, and their representatives in order to make certain there were no problems. For although they obviously wanted the book completed as quickly as possible, my deadline is April 1, 2009, and they didn't want it to be some quickie exploitative thing that diminished the original. Not only did the content of the letter make me feel better about the project, but the way in which the corresponding editor addressed my concerns also convinced me that they were sincere in wanting to publish a book that honoured the original more than anything else.
Now everyone knows how popular the Harry Potter series was, but the other concern I had was whether or not there really was an audience for a predictions book about the Inheritance Cycle. I hadn't been keeping up with any of the news surrounding the series, as is obvious by having to ask that question, so I didn't know that Paolini had originally planned to write a trilogy. It was only when he started writing Brisingr, the third book, that he realized he wouldn't be doing the story or his characters justice if he stuck to his original plan. About a year before Brisingr was due to be published he and his publisher announced that a fourth book was going to be necessary, which when you think about it was quite a risk. People could as easily been turned off by the fact the series was being extended as they were excited by the prospect of another book. It turned out that it was the latter, as Brisingr sold around half a million copies in North America on its release date, a record for a young adult title published by Random House.
Needless to say once I found that out, and began checking out the Internet and seeing all the blogs and various web sites devoted to discussions and analysis of the series, I saw why Ulysses Press figured there was a market for a book predicting what would happen in Book Four. So since the middle of January I've been immersing myself in all things Inheritance Cycle, and began seriously writing in the second week of February. This means I've not had time for much else since, and probably won't until I've finished. I'll still be writing the occasional review, and I hope to write a few articles about the experience as it happens (no spoilers though as the publisher has requested I don't talk about the content).
If I'm really fortunate, once I finish with the predictions book for the Inheritance Cycle, my own novel will be in editing and final preparations for publication. Maybe that's a little too much to hope for, going from unpublished author to having two books published in one year, but all of a sudden it's a very real possibility. This could be a very interesting year.