Friday, May 19, 2017

Let's talk for a moment about sequels

I'm in the middle of writing a new young adult novel that Amulet Books will release in Spring 2019. My editor and I have decided not to officially announce any details about the book until the publication of Odd & True in September, but I want to get something out of the way before that point:

The new novel is not a sequel to Odd & True. 

I know that the cover of Odd &True looks like it's the beginning of a series, and I know that people who read it might wonder if there will be either a sequel or a prequel (more on that topic in a sec). And I also know that the title of the 2019 Secret Project might even have people questioning if it's a sequel to In the Shadow of Blackbirds (another bird is involved in the name). But, no, like all my other books, Secret Project is a standalone, and I'm extremely excited about it.

So, why don't I ever write sequels? 

There are two main reasons.

1. I really like standalone novels. As a reader, I prefer them.

2. My books aren't quite successful enough to merit sequels. They haven't yet made it onto a bestseller list. Moreover, I write historical fiction, which isn't necessarily associated with series in the world of YA publishing (unless you're a bestseller). To be able to convince a publisher to buy my historical series, even one that involves monsters or ghosts, my books would need a stellar debut.

My novels have sold well, largely because of library sales, awards, and word of mouth (thank you readers, award committees, and librarians!), but those types of sales, while wonderful, are more gradual, less flashy. The chances of my books "breaking out" and achieving bestseller status are much slimmer than the odds for novels with major publicity budgets supporting them.

I do often consider writing sequels. In fact, I've written the first chapter of a sequel for In the Shadow of Blackbirds, but I quickly tucked it away, realizing I'd put my protagonist through enough in the first book. I preferred to leave her story on a note of hope.

I've thought about writing a sequel to The Cure for Dreaming set ten years after that novel ends, but that particular book, despite gathering a strong feminist following, has been my least successful one financially. It would be a struggle to convince anyone to publish a second book.

I have proposed the idea of an Odd & True sequel to my agent, but again it all comes down to sales. I don't yet know how Odd & True will do. Right now it's safer for both me and my publisher if I write another standalone and put the idea of a sequel on the back burner.

I'm certainly not the only author in this situation. I've talked to novelists whose publishers originally asked for a three-book series, but sales for the first books were so low (there are many factors that contribute to both high and low book sales) that the series were cut after the first or second book, sometimes leaving readers with dangling cliffhangers.

Yes, self-publishing the second or third book is an option, but when writing is an author's full-time job that puts food on the table, taking a year off to write a book with no publisher backing it is equivalent to you working your job for free for a year, with the hope that someone might pay you eventually.

What can you as a reader do to help your favorite authors release their series? For starters, buy the authors' books. Pre-order sales are crucial to a book's success; they count for bestseller lists. If you can't afford to pre-order, then request the books from your local library.  Library orders do help immensely. And leave reviews for books on online ordering sites like Amazon.

Don't stock up on free ARCs (advance reading copies) if you don't have the means to promote your reviews to a wide audience (see this Twitter thread from bookseller Nicole Brinkley and this thread from Justina Ireland for more info on this subject). Most importantly, don't download free books from sites offering illegal copies. Every time you do so, you're decreasing your favorite authors' chances of being able to continue writing more books.

Publishers look carefully at sales, and if an author's books aren't selling well enough, even though the books are popular in the online community, the publisher may stop buying the author's books or at the very least lower their advances.

The bottom line: publishing is a challenging business, and competition is fierce. Becoming a published author does not guarantee that every book an author wants to write will get published.

If I do decide to create more Odd & True books, and if the first novel does find success, I will certainly share that news as soon as I can. Until then, rest assured Odd & True can stand on its own.

More info on that 2019 Secret Project to follow this fall. I think fans of dark literature will be excited about the subject matter . . .

Odd & True is coming 
Sept. 12, 2017, from Abrams.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Monster Sightings That Inspired ODD & TRUE

Evening Star (Washington, DC), January 24, 1909 (Library of Congress)

A real-life monster hunt in early-1900s New Jersey inspired the creation of my newest novel, Odd & True.

During one bizarre week in January 1909, terrified witnesses throughout the Delaware Valley claimed to have seen a creature rumored to have haunted the Pine Barrens of New Jersey since the 1700s. They called this strange beast the "Leeds Devil," or the "Jersey Devil," and the newspapers from the era referred to the thing as the "Flying Hoof," the "Flying Death," the "New Jersey What-Is-It," and a "monstrosity."

The Sun (New York), January 21, 1909 (Library of Congress)

A museum owner in Philadelphia offered a $500 award for the Devil's capture. Huntsmen in New Jersey formed posses to conquer the creature.

And then, as quickly as the Leeds Devil had arrived, he disappeared.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 1909
What happened to the monster? What was it that the residents of New Jersey and Philadelphia actually saw? Were the January 1909 Devil sightings a case of mass hysteria? Or did something sinister genuinely run loose across the Delaware Valley that cold and snowy winter?

My imagination craved answers.

In September 2014, I visited my sister down in San Diego to celebrate her birthday. I told her some of my newest book ideas, and I mentioned the Leeds Devil as a possible topic for a novel.

Me and my sister, Old Town San Diego, 2014.
Oddly enough, my sister said that she happened to have a friend who was descended from the Leeds family that had inspired the centuries-old legend of the Jersey Devil! She promised to one day introduce me to her.

That conversation, as well as the rest of my time spent with my sister in Old Town San Diego—during which we searched for spirits on a ghost tour, drank tea in a haunted Victorian house, and chatted about other intriguing tales from history—led to my sitting down on my couch in November 2014 and suddenly knowing how to write my Leeds Devil novel . . . which is how Odd & True came to be.

Manchester Township, NJ
Another peculiar twist in this story-behind-the-story: 

One year after my visit with my sister, a high school English teacher from none other than the Pine Barrens of New Jersey invited me to come speak at her school. Eager to travel to Leeds Devil territory, I accepted, and while there, I learned from the students just how much the legend of the Devil is alive and well to this day. Perhaps the Leeds Devil himself played a role in bringing me to his home. 😲

In future posts, I'll discuss other legends, historical sites, and personal experiences that inspired the creation of Odd & True. 

Odd & True is coming 
Sept. 12, 2017, from Abrams.


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