After Diane, my agent, dropped the bombshell on me that HarperCollins didn’t want to give me a separate contract for the conspiracy thriller books, I wrote back immediately voicing my concerns.  They had not ruled out a third book in the Alex Sedaka series, but whereas before it was a definite, now it was only a maybe – and I had already been working on the book in accordance with the previous understanding.

I pointed out to Diane that the time-frame was tight. The deadline for the third book was August whereas No Way Out was due to be published in June.  It was not clear whether the deciding factor for the publisher would be the actual sales figures of the second book or simply whether or not they managed to place it in the supermarkets.  This was one of the points that I asked Diane to clarify.

But in any case,  they told me last time (regarding Mercy) that the supermarkets only decide in the last few weeks.  So regardless of their yardstick for success of  No Way Out, I wouldn’t even know which book I was supposed to be writing until June and would then have to deliver it by August.  I pointed out to Diane that I could write a first draft in three months – yes, I am that good – but it would be cutting it fine.

I was being a bit mischievous here, as Diane had already implied that the deadline could be extended.  But there was a genuine underlying problem.  Diane had made it clear that if the publishers decided to go with a conspiracy thriller, they would aim for publication in February or March 2011.  Whereas if they wanted a third Alex Sedaka thriller, they would publish it in May 2011.

From my point of view, the other way round would have been better.   I had already fully developed the plot of the the third Alex Sedaka book and written some 15,000 words.  Also such a book required little or no additional research.  In contrast, I had yet to agree on even the plot/synopsis of the conspiracy book, let alone written a word of it.  Furthermore, the conspiracy thriller would require a fair amount of research.  Indeed, if it was to be the “end of the world” Mayan prophecy book, it would require a lot of research, as I knew virtually nothing about the subject.

This was the other point I wanted to get across to Diane – and to the publishers.  If the conspiracy thriller was to be the third book in the existing contract then there was no guarantee that it would go any further.  I wanted such a book to succeed.  But that meant that it had to be 100% the book I wanted to write – not the book I had agreed to write as a reluctant compromise.  And, as I explained to Diane, I was far more enthusiastic about a book centering on the Moses theme than anything about Mayan prophecies.  I put this in the most forthright terms:

Of the other two ideas, I infinitely prefer the MOSES TABLET to the DOOMSDAY LABYRINTH.  I only reluctantly came up with the Doomsday Labyrinth idea and haven’t even got enough material for it.  I would have to do masses of research into Mayan prophecies to flesh it out into a full length book, whereas with MOSES I could hit the ground running.  Furthermore, no matter how much research I do, DOOMSDAY LABYRINTH will come over as a rip off of several movies and just one more of an overworked fad, following the flock but totally lacking in originality.  It is the sort of project that I would happily write as a visual/action screenplay (it would take me all of two weeks),  but it is too “thin” in terms of content to be a book.

All this drama, I should add, was being played out against the backdrop of the volcanic cloud over Europe that was wreaking havoc with the airlines and had caused be to be stuck in Israel – at least for an extra day.  In any event, I was back the following day, and two days after that (24/04/2010) I followed up with a request that Diane obtain a formal agreement by the publisher to postpone the deadline.  I also took the opportunity to reiterate my firm conviction that if there was to be only one guaranteed conspiracy thriller, then it should be the Moses book.

If they DO want a conspiracy thriller as the third book, it should NOT be the Doomsday Virus.  Whilst the storyline has great Hollywood potential, I have – upon reflection – zero confidence in it as a book.  It will not sell.  I have discussed modifications of MOSES with Kate and incorporated some of her ideas into the story (e.g. finding the original ten commandments).  The other possibility is to take the third Alex Sedaka story, reset it entirely in England (except the opening scene) and have the SAS man on the run in the UK.  The emphasis would then be on the SAS man and the government trying to track him down.  At base it would be a chase-the-widget story, with the widget in question being the undeveloped film that the SAS man took off the photographer.

Whilst I continued working with my editor Kate on the final proofs and cover copy of No Way Out, I was still unsure of what I should be doing in the meantime regarding the third book, and indeed had  not been given any formal extension of the deadline.  I wrote again to Diane asking if I should be holding off until we got a firm decision from the publisher.  She told me that I should wait and that the publishers would decide on a basis of the early sales of No Way Out.  Specifically “they would really need to sell in 20,000 copies in order to consider Alex Sedaka worth continuing with.

The figure was clear enough, if not the time-scale.   But then again, they could probably tell in the first couple of weeks if it stood a reasonable chance of making that target.  Of course, there are such things as slow burners, at least for books sold through Waterstones and independent book shops.  But when the books are sold through supermarkets, it is different.  Supermarkets simply do not have time for slow burners.  If a book does not fly off the supermarket shelves, it will simply be returned very quickly and so any prospect of it becoming a slow-burner are effectively destroyed.

This was not a very comforting thought.  But at least it meant I would know my fate very quickly.



4 Responses to How I came to write THE MOSES LEGACY – Part 5

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