Saturday, May 27, 2006

Reputation is All We Have

Elisabeth asked about how my Alias books came to be. It's a long story, and not one I even know all the answers to. But the one-word explanation is simple: Reputation.

That sounds so simple, yet it covers so many tiny details of a writer's life. It isn't just your writing ability, though that has to be good, but how you manage the business of writing. Can you meet a deadline? Do you know the subject? Can you produce an outline, and then stick to it (within reason)? Can you take editorial suggestion? Are you willing to rewrite/edit to editor or licensor requirements?

All these things, and more, go into a writer's reputation. And it is that reputation that makes someone offer you a job.

For me, that offer came in the form of an email invitation to pitch ideas for Alias novels. I don't know how I happened to be on that invitation list; someone asked someone else for suggestions, and my name came up. I have a few guesses - editors I had worked with in the past - but I don't know specifically. However it happened, the invitation was extended, with a warning that the books would need to be done quickly.

Now, here's my shameful secret. Up to that point, I had not watched the show. Not because I wasn't interested, but because I ration the number of shows to which I can be addicted at any one time, and my list was pretty full. But I had heard very good things from people whose opinions I trusted, and it sounded like fun. I wrote back immediately, saying I was interested, and ran to the video store. For a solid week, I watched every episode I could get my hands on, read online episode summaries, read the two outlines the editor provided for books already under contract, and basically immeresed myself in the show.

At the end of that week, I knew I had to write for Alias - the character, her family and friends, had me hooked. I had some ideas, some things I thought would be fun and interesting to do with the characters, and I bounced them off the editor. He liked one idea, and I set to work writing an outline. Within a very few days, he had a complete outline on his desk.

So, there's the first parts. I produced an outline, showing that I knew the property, and I did it in a short time frame, showing I could work under deadline. I also committed to write the book in a few weeks, if the outline was approved.

This is where the courtship rituals of tie-in fiction come in. Your outline must be approved by the editor, and then by whomever owns the property - in this case, ABC. For my Star Trek work, it was Paramount; for Mage Knight, it was Wiz Kids. Steve has been through this ritual with Wiz Kids, Marvel, Conan Properties, Paramount - the list is long and varied.

Anyway, there were changes from ABC. I rewrote the outline, it went back through channels, and eventually I had an approved outline for Strategic Reserve -- and 10 weeks to write the complete novel, while working a full-time job, and with the RWA National Conference (a story for a different time) in the middle, along with a long-planned family reunion. I spent nights and weekends in my office, and I wrote while traveling, and I turned the manuscript in on time.

When the inevitable edits came down through channels, I did the rewrite and sent it back. On time, and without being difficult. The result is on bookstore shelves now, and I am proud of what I accomplished.

The second book didn't go quite as smoothly, at first. ABC didn't like the outline the editor passed on, but they liked a minor sub-plot. It took a while, but I managed to take that sub-plot and make it a novel, which will be out in December. once again, I ended up doing the writing in a couple months, still with a day job and the usual distractions. But I did it on time, on target, and I tried very hard to be easy to work with.

Now, with ALIAS off the air, there are no plans for additional books in that series. But I have my reputation, and some time in the future, when an editor is looking for a writer for a project, my name may come up again. And when it does, the editors I have worked with, will have good things to say.

In the end, that reputation is the most important thing we, as writers, have.

2 comments:

Piper Lee said...

Hey Chris,

What a cool story! I have to confess that I've never seen the show Alias. We don't have reception on our TV. It's used strictly for movies and XBox. LOL

Your book sounds great and I need to pick up a copy before they're all gone! I'm sure I don't need to have watched the series to enjoy the story in your book. Right?

Okay, off to check out Steve's blog now.

Ciao baby!

BlueBugTDI said...

Chris,

Read the review on Amazon for the upcomming "Fantasy gone wrong" and your story was mentioned. Congrats, although they called it Cheaky.

Tim