January 2009 will always be notable for me as the moment when my aspirations of being a published author were finally realized. True , it wasn’t going to be quite how I imagined it, but my name would be appearing on the cover of a book on bookstores across North America. I had been approached by Ulysses Press and asked if I would be interested in writing What Will Happen In Eragon IV?, a book predicting what would happen in the fourth and final instalment of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance cycle (Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr)
They had had remarkable success with a similar book about J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and although Paolini has yet to duplicate her popularity, he’s been pretty close. Brisingr, book three in the series, sold a half million copies the day it was released in North America, a new record for its publisher, Random House, for a young adult title. Another reason why Ulysses figured there would be interest in our book, was the fact Paolini had originally intended to only write a trilogy, but halfway through the writing of book three a press release was issued, announcing that he wasn’t going to be able to finish the story properly without creating a fourth book.
The cynical among you might think that this was merely a ploy to try and milk a golden goose by either the publisher or the author, but if you’ve read the books as closely as I have (and, believe me, I’ve read them closely in the past few months), you’ll know he really didn’t have much choice in the matter. The story had become so large that for him to wrap up all the loose ends he had developed over its course the third book would have needed to be close to 1500 pages in length to cover everything. Even before the third book was published speculation about how the series would conclude has been rife in forums, blogs, and social networking sites, so there’s definitely a market for a book on the subject.
My initial contact with Ulysses Press may have been in January, but I wasn’t given the go ahead to start writing until the end of February. Initially I had been told that my deadline for submitting a first draft — they asked for a minimum of 50,000 words — was May 1st, 2009, but by the time I signed the contracts that had been shifted back to April 1st. I ended up handing in 55,000 or so words by the end of March. That very rough draft was sent off to some readers whose comments were passed back to me, and I was given an opportunity to make any changes I wanted to the text before it was sent off to the editors. So, roughly two weeks later, I handed in a second draft — this time closer to 57,000 words — and sat back to wait.
Now, I’ve heard plenty from various authors who I’ve talked to about the challenges a writer faces in getting his or her book published. However, I don’t think anyone can really appreciate any of them until you’ve worked through them yourself. Obviously, I didn’t have to deal with the first hurdle of having to find someone to publish this book, but there were specifics associated with this work that I don’t think many other authors have to face. Of course, the first thing I discovered is probably something all first time authors experience; handing in the manuscript is only half the battle.
Now, in most cases there is the whole editing process where your pearls of wisdom are picked apart and put back together by the editors assigned to your book by the publisher. I know editors get bad press, but I have to tell you in this instance these people were saints. You have to remember what I submitted was at best a clean first draft which I had had very little time to check for typos and continuity. So when they sent me back their edited version of the text with changes marked via the word processing software’s “show changes,” I simply checked the box marked accept changes — and then proceeded to deal with the questions they had on content. However that process was remarkably easy compared to what came next, the lawyers’ draft.
Obviously, I had referred back to the original books on many occasions, and for each reference I had to make sure that the page and book they came from were cited. So to ensure that Random House, Paolini’s publishers, had no reason to accuse us of any sort of intellectual theft, I had to scour the pages ensuring that all references from the books, no matter how oblique, were properly cited. One of the more tedious things that I was forced to do was count the number of words directly quoted from the books. It seems that only a certain percentage of your total word count being quotes is allowable under the fair uses laws of copyright. I had quite the headache after that was all said and done.
Finally, it was time for the proofs, normally the last stage before a book goes to press. The author is sent a copy of the book laid out in its final form, told to scour it for any mistakes that might have been missed and take this last chance to request any changes he or she might want. In my case, though there was still one more stage for us to got through — due diligence. We had to send off samples of the book to Random House for approval, so if they decide to sue us at some point in the future we can stand up in court and say, “Hey, they had their chance to object before we went to press, and they didn’t.”
I had finished with the proofs back in July ’09 and the days gradually ticked by closer to September 1st, our publication date. Near mid-August, I heard from Ulysses’ publicist as she was preparing for the book’s launch, so I assumed everything was still on schedule. I decided that it couldn’t hurt to do some local publicity and contacted the local branch of Indigo Books, Canada’s biggest chain of bookstores, to make inquiries about a publicity appearance. I also got in touch with the book’s distributor in Canada to see what they would be willing to do to help out with that event. Happily, I’ve written quite a few reviews for them in the past, and they were great, promising not only to ensure the store had enough books on hand for my appearance but to also create posters for the event.
Then, on September 2nd, the day after the book was supposed to have gone on sale in the United States, after I’d already set up a web site for the book and announced its publication, I heard from the publishers that the book was not due back from the printers until September 8th and wouldn’t be in book stores until the first week of October. Talk about your false climaxes. Now I have to post an announcement on the web site telling everybody not to bother looking for the book just yet, contact Indigo and let them know we might have to reschedule the event, and be grateful that I hadn’t mailed out the press releases that I had planned on to the local media.
It’s been a long strange trip this whole experience, one which I’m extremely grateful to have experienced, but I was still looking forward to its conclusion. However, at least now there’s a definite end in sight, and soon enough I’ll be finding out what will happen with What Will Happen In Eragon IV? Yet, until I actually see it sitting on a bookshelf in a bookstore with my name along the bottom of the cover, I won’t truly believe any of it.