Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What Happened Next

by Janis Patterson
I have always been a story-teller. My mother could have vouched for that. I was an expert at giving a positive spin to whatever was under question at the moment, which was usually some mischief on my part. I (almost) never told a direct lie, but could usually twist the truth to my own ends. Mother caught on quickly and acted accordingly – and sometimes vigorously. Still she always said it came from growing up in the family advertising agency and the genetic consequences of being at least a third generation wordsmith. (We aren’t sure about the preceding generations – for all I know, our disposition for hyperverbosity could go all the way back to Chaucer, practically if not genetically!)

However, as I grew and learned the hard way the errors of my ways, my storytelling took a more salubrious turn. Never popular in school and always regarded as somewhat snobbish and geeky, I learned that I could draw people to me with my story-telling. It wasn’t the norm for a fourth or fifth or sixth grader to write, so that made me stand out and become marginally acceptable. I took to telling my ongoing ‘novel’ to my tablemates at lunch (big mistake, as I later learned), always ending on a high note so that they would all exclaim “But what happened next?”

That was a ‘novel’ which – in spirit, at least – would have done justice to Charles Dickens. Every lunchtime narration was full of derring-do, improbable escapes, danger, high romance (at least, what elementary school kids in those days thought of as high romance) and all kinds of excitement and cliff-hangers. That novel kept me semi-popular (at least tolerated) all the way through to spring, when we moved and I went to another school. One, I might add, sadly less interested in literary outpourings however exciting. Sigh. I didn’t play football or cheerlead or have a rich family, so I faded back into unpopular snobbish geekiness.

I did learn two important lessons from that exercise, though. First of all, always keep the reader wondering What Happened Next? No, you don’t have to have a cliff-hanger end to every chapter (though that is effective if not overdone) and you don’t have to keep the emotional burner on high with every word (though that can be effective, too, if used with proper discretion). Now I prefer a balanced effect – lows and highs on every front. Think of a symphony, and how boring it would be if it were played at the same volume and tempo all the way through. You’d lose your listeners pretty quick. It’s the same with a book – vary the intensity and the timing and your bursts of emotionalism/adventure/whatever. Keep the reader asking What Happened Next?

The other lesson learned became one of my personal mantras – Write, Don’t Talk. Every time you talk about your story, you diffuse a little of the energy, the spark, the originality of it. That belongs on the paper (screen?) not in your mouth. Put all that passion and vibrancy into the book itself – don’t beat it to death by talking constantly about it.

And now, in what is hopefully a clever segue, I want to tell you What Happened Next in my continuing quest for the reversion of my books from several publishers. Some of you have been so kind in wishing me well and asking about my progress. I’m happy to say that two of my former publishers didn’t blink an eye. They didn’t even wait out the time I stated in my reversion request letter (these books were all long out of contract) but pulled them immediately and sent me an official letter returning my rights. The third publisher waited to the last day, but on that day did pull the books from their website and from several of the smaller vendors, though the books stayed up on the three big ones. R-day was a Saturday. Knowing that sometimes it takes these behemoth vendors a little time to get things done – and thinking that after ninety days what did forty-eight more hours make – I waited until Monday morning to send an official, excruciatingly detailed and lengthy DMCA once I verified the books were still there. By Tuesday morning the books were down from all but one. I was prepared to wait another twenty-four hours before siccing the legal system on them, but it proved not to be necessary. The books were down by late Tuesday afternoon. Yippee!

I never did get an official reversion letter from the last publishing company, and never really expected to get one. This publisher is notorious for never ever sending reversion letters. I think that’s stinky and unprofessional, but my DMCAs are public record and my books are down, and that’s what really counts.

All in all, this has been a much easier process than what I had feared, and appears to have been better for me than for others who have tried to leave the third publishing company. I am sorry for them, but happy for me. My books are my own again, and that is good.


Danube Adele said...

I'm glad you got your rights back without too much hassle. I've heard that can sometimes be a problem.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Janis,

Rights reversion has been a headache for me as well. I caution writers to be careful of the contracts they sign. Check out Victoria Strauss on Bewares. Absolute Write also has an excellent column on publishers to watch out for. I recently rejected a book contract because the terms were stacked against the writer. It's best to get a contract where you receive an advance--"good faith" money--upfront. You can't depend on royalties.

Morgan Mandel said...

You were lucky it was relatively easy. I had lots of problems, but finally got it all straightened out,some over a year later!

Morgan Mandel

Susan Oleksiw said...

Congratulations on getting your rights back. I had almost no trouble with one, but another one has disappeared, became an imprint of a huge house, and now is nowhere to be found. The legal rights expired years ago after the book went out of print, also years ago, but I have no official statement because I can't find out who absorbed the rights. A mess.

This is an important topic for all of us.

Mar Preston said...

As to "exaggerating" to amp up the story, I once read that nice people who never tell lies seldom write great novels.

Melissa Keir said...

My mom always said if there was trouble to be had, I found it. I love hearing about authors and their past. It's obvious that you are writing stories that appeal to your passion and I'm so glad that you are getting the rights back to books so you can publish them for you.

Janni Nell said...

So glad you got your rights back. It's a minefield out there.

Anonymous said...

congratulations on getting your rights back. I had no trouble with either of my NY publishers, but the books had been out of print for several years. Only recently I asked for and received rights back on a nonfiction book. But another one the publishers refused and reprinted the book and it's now selling again. Hmmm.


Hi, Janis,
Good point not to talk about your story, but write it instead. However, accomplished screenwriter Blake Synder advised telling your concept to people to see if it was intriguing.
Carolyn Rae Williamson
Romancing the Gold, coming from MuseItUp in the fall