Thursday, November 15, 2007

What Would You Do If You Were Me? Part I

(Or rather, if you were I? which sounds incredibly awkward. Or, were you I? which is stilted to the point of being bad imitation Shakespeare. Who We Would Be Were You I and other collected poems, by Jonas J. Scribbler.)

So, to put it into Americanese, What Wouldja Do If You Was Me?

No wisecracks, please. No plastic-surgery jibes, no suggestions that I take the cloth, no observations about the eternal rest that can be achieved in a warm bath with the assistance of a sharp blade twisted under the veins in the wrist. Or at the minimum, keep them to yourself and anybody else in the room with you as you read this. Please don't share your merriment. ;-} (Don't you loathe smileys?)

Hey, I never intended to become a thriller writer. I haven’t read many thrillers, and most of them I’ve read were experiences I could easily have lived without. I adore Graham Greene and John Le Carre, of course, and some of Lee Child is exhilarating (if nothing else to see how many sentence fragments can be squeezed into a paragraph without being distracting. Plenty. Many frags. All over the place. Lots. All you need to accomplish Lee Child’s purpose. And then some.) But I’ve probably read less in the thriller genre than in any category apart from romance.

But the topics I needed to grapple with in Shock and Awe only amounted to a story in a thriller framework. So I wrote it that way. And now it turns out I’m a Thriller Writer.

No, really. I’m now a dues-paying member of the International Thriller Writers with my own page, right next to Susan Isaacs in the list (whom, as it turns out I have read, starting way way back with her funny novel Compromising Positions--hi, Susie!). And I’m now a member of the UK-based Crime Writers Association. (And they're a good bunch; they quite justifiably shortlisted Brian McGilloway’s Borderlands on a very short list for best debut novel, which shows damned good taste.) Crime Writer? Thriller Writer? I’m okay with it.

I have any number of things I want to write that fit into the thriller genre in some approximate fashion, though it's the kind of approximate that might result in a starfish on top of your Christmas tree. But Thriller Hotel isn’t an address I mind checking into. These days, I consider being allowed to sleep indoors with the humans to be a big step up in life. (Though the fellow who led me to my room said I could call him Procrustes. Name seems familiar somehow…Did he used to be on TV?)

It’s not that I can’t write thrillers (I hope). It’s not that I dislike writing thrillers. It’s just that I already have these other non-thriller books lying about the house, and they don’t fit with the persona/brand/expectations of a book by that "David Isaak" guy. They aren’t a logical follow-on to Shock and Awe. They’re the sort of thing someone might take as a debut novel…but I’m no longer a debutante. (Male form “debutant”, but no one has ever used that word outside of the dictionary.) I’m not a deb any more. I’m a—well, what the hell do you call me after my coming-out party plus forty-five seconds of mad passion in the back of a Ford Cortina? (That was rhetorical. Don’t answer that question or I’ll punch your lights out.)

So, here’s the question for y’all: If I have these books Macmillan won’t want because they don’t fit my brand (and because I’d have to be an even bigger nutcase than I already am to want them to publish them under my name), what do I do with them? Forget them? Sell them for firewood? Publish them in a small way under a pen name? (I’ve already had an editor at a small press ring my doorbell about one of them.) Try and get a new agent and create a parallel career (which Roger Morris has done with resounding success as RN Morris)? And, if I’m going to go back to agent-seeking, should I look for an agent in the UK or in the US? (And are you aware that most UK agents have adopted a policy of charging 15% for UK residents, but 20% for us wogs? [The wogs start at Calais, or so I’ve been told.])

More on this dilemma (Trilemma? Quadrilemma?) soon.

I’m sure you’re just a-quiver with anticipation. Us thriller writers know how to build the suspense, don't we?


Anonymous said...

Wow, David -- I'm sorry I said I was looking forward to being thrilled by your thriller. Didn't mean to give you a completx about it!! But, I must say that before buying it I DID run a check on it to see if it was any good !!! and what came up time and again was "a dazzling debut thriller" kind of comment. So hey, looking forward to the thrill!

Sandra ;o) ;oD

Janet said...

This is probably so obvious that you've already thought of it. What does your agent think? He/She would certainly have an opinion on the matter.

That's where I would start with my questions anyway. Seeing as I have no expertise, you follow my advice entirely at your own risk.

Jeremy James said...

That's a great question. I don't have an answer, unfortunately. My gut says, use a pen name for each genre, but I could change my mind very easily.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Sandy (can I still call you that?)--

If it thrills you, of course, it's reward enough.

Problem is, I have no idea what the hell I'm doing when I sit down to write. Sort of like a farmer saying, "Yeah, I'll bring you some produce this summer. Tomatoes? Potatoes? Rutabagas? Hell, I dunno. Some kinda plants. Whaddaya want--insurance policies?"

I hope you're thrilled, even if my aim was way off-center.

David Isaak said...

Ah, Janet-you raise an interesting question. Unfortunately, my agent and I parted company, amicably, when she told me that no one in Europe would be interested in my novel because it was "too American." Which is how I (astonishingly quickly) washed up on the shores of Macmilan New Writing. So I'm in the somewhat odd situation of being published, and getting along quite well with my publisher, but also unagented.

Which might no be the worst of situations. The real question is, should I seek an agent for the books I have that don't fit my current "David Isaak" mold. And if so, hither or yon? (I gather you're in Canada, so neither hither nor yon but somewhere in between, so perhaps you have a clear perspective on this.)

I've liked being unagented, frankly, as I think the writing is best served by the relationship between the editor and the writer. But now I have unsold books that aren't appropriate for my editor or press...


David Isaak said...

Jeremy, my gut is telling me the same thing. And Iain Banks/Iain M Banks and Roger Morris/RN Morris may be able to get away with these sorts of things, but with a surname like "Isaak" I don't think initials are going to cut it!

Tim Stretton said...

If I were you (i.e. applying Tim Stretton’s value’s, not David Isaak’s, which may or may not be helpful):

-publish the existing work under a pen name
-think about whether you want books 4 and 5 to be thrillers or whether you'll find that too restrictive
-write what you want to write next as "David Isaak"

If you stick with the thrillers your career can only grow (but maybe "career" isn't what interests you). There's a market for books which "do the thriller thing" while being animated by an underlying intelligence. Shock and Awe is a hell of a claim to that territory. It's also the form you happened upon to explore an idea that interested you. But if you can't see yourself carrying on in that genre, or being restricted by it, then all the career good sense in the world is missing the point. One of things about being a writer is that we get to write what we want to write. If you can see yourself carrying on with the thrillers, but maybe not exclusively, then the pen-name route gives you an outlet.

As for agents, sooner or later you’ll need to handle the esoterica of foreign language rights, etc. By the time the MNW deal has expired you may have a better idea of where your work sells best, which will be a factor in deciding whether to have a UK or US agent. This is an area where procrastination is good!

Janet said...

I'm not sure if my perspective is any clearer or not, but if I were you, I would consider looking for an agent. If your non-thriller manuscripts are more appropriate for an American market, then look for American agents, but ones with good connections across the pond. Having a solid publication credential under your belt should make it a little easier to be selective. Perhaps even your former agent could recommend someone. I'm not sure how having an agent would impede your relationship with an editor either.

As for pen names, future thrillers can come out under the David Isaak name; other genres perhaps as Isaac Davidson or whatever.

Neil said...

Hey, David. So it's not just me and the Pootle then?

How about Isaak David? ;)

David Isaak said...

Yeah, Janet, you're probably right. But I hate the whole agent-search process.

As it happens, I have an ancestor named Isaac Davidson. Great granduncle, I believe.

David Isaak said...

No, Neil, it isn't just you and Aliya. Although unlike the two of you, I don't write short stories, or it would probably be even worse.

No short stories for me. Nope. I deliberately take months and years to write novels that are out of step with each other. Pretty crafty, huh?

Jake Jesson said...

Obviously, I'm the last person to go to for Professional Advice, but here's my $0.02 anyway.

If I was you (as they say) I would put out something different (i.e. non-thriller-y) for your next book, else "David Isaak" runs the risk of being truly typecast under Thriller Central. I don't think it'd be a huge stretch to publish anything you wanted under your own name - after all, you've got a very distinctive style, which crosses the genres of your work. (IIRC it even showed up in that play you wrote.)

It seems to me that the main reason you'd *need* a pen name is because you want to switch personas. Classical wisdom will tell you to go for that every time. But it's a new era, isn't it? If you get famous enough for Mass Name Recognition - or at least for a minor Cult of Personality - people will figure out quickly (just by Googling you and finding your blog) that there's more to you than the thriller-y-ness, which will spoil the persona-split you'd have ostensibly created through use of pen names. And if you've not achieved Mass Name Recognition, then your books are gonna be shelved separately anyway, and no one's going to notice the discrepancy between the genre of each David Isaak. (At worst: they'll think it's a different DI.) Unless they go looking for you, in which case you move back to Case A, Cult of Personality. Because if what you have surprises them, they'll be more inclined to like you more or like you less, and either way remember you more, which doesn't seem like it could be a bad thing.

So, fuck that logical follow-up. A brand in its infancy is a brand that can modify its definition. Or at least, it should be.

As for agents: Even I know I've got no useful ideas there.

Rob in Denver said...

I don't know shit from shinola, David, but I'm inclined to agree: keep your name attached to your unpublished work.

For an added twist, then give them away for free... as downloads, a la Cory Doctorow. JA Konrath also gives away unpublished novels. There's marketing value with this, too.

Meanwhile, write your next book---in whatever genre that happens to be---and get another agent. You've got a track record that'd seem to open doors a little more than if you didn't, no?

David Isaak said...

Jake, Rob, you leave me with much food for thought.

I hate that.