With the imminent (that is, two weeks from today) publication of the seventh Haunted Guesthouse mystery GHOST IN THE WIND, E.J. Copperman and I have been getting a somewhat disturbing question in emails from readers for a little while: Is this, they ask, the last in the series?
Well first of all, thanks for caring. Everyone who has posed the question has expressed the hope that GHOST IN THE WIND will not be the last adventure for Alison Kerby and her friends. And the answer I can unequivocally state is that this will not be the the swan song for the Haunted Guesthouse series because I have just finished the first draft of the eighth in the series, which I've titled but you never know (see below) so I won't mention it here. I knew there would be an eighth book because my publisher contracted for two more after the sixth in the series came out, so there will be eight. That much I can state for certain.
But that's all I know.
Readers assume--and I did much the same before I started writing books--a number of things about the author's control over his/her work. The fact is that unless one is self-published or decides independently to end a series, there is no guarantee beyond the end of the contract. If the publisher asks for more, there will be more. If not...
But the fact is we authors don't really have as much influence--beyond what we write--over the product you see in a bookstore or library than you might think. We write with some impunity, in that editors rarely demand storylines or even suggest what the next plot might be about unless the writer asks for some suggestion. We write what we write and the editor finds out what it might be when we submit it. There is no coordinated plan.
Once we hand in that manuscript--something I intend to do very soon for Book #8--the work is out of our hands. There are people who have labored tirelessly over my work whom I have never even communicated with directly, let alone met. I've been astounded and awed by some of the work they've done for my books. Yes, there have been some disagreements--don't make me tell the black cat story again--but overall I am amazed at what goes into taking my Word file and turning it into that paperback or hardcover you might have on your shelf.
Still, in ceding control (which is necessary since said control is never offered to begin with) over many aspects of my work, I leave myself open to questioning and sometimes criticism from my readers, the very people I am working to please. Sometimes an author wants to scream, "It wasn't my fault!" while in other instances, we want to point out to every reader that we appreciate how well that thing was done, but we didn't do it.
So let's examine things that the author absolutely does not control in a book or book series:
- The cover: Authors don't get to design the covers of their books. That's probably a good thing, as we would opt for only one layout--the author's name in enormous lettering. Oh, like you wouldn't. There are illustrators and designers. Sometimes the author is consulted for concepts or input, which in my case is asking for trouble, since I am awful with such things. Any suggestions I have should be completely ignored.
- The typeface: It was too small? It was too large? It was frivolous when it should have been ominous? Don't even begin to blame the author. We get to see the words in type only when it's too late to make anything but crucial changes to a few words here or there. Personally, typeface, size and style don't really make much difference to me, but some people are obsessed with them, and that's their thing. I like the Yankees. (Pitchers and catchers report in 91 days.)
- Sometimes, The Title: I'll let you in on a trade secret. Sometimes the book you hold in your hand isn't the book I (or another author) wrote. That book had another name. But someone in the publishing company--and that can be anybody from the editor to the marketing team to... others--finds that title unacceptable or simply inadequate. It happens. GHOST IN THE WIND was once called THE MACHINE IN THE GHOST. Last December while plane-hopping from city to city to promote INSPECTOR SPECTER, I was emailing frantically about titles once the marketing team decided that wasn't going to work. Title ideas in the triple digits were suggested. I hope you enjoy GHOST IN THE WIND. I don't even remember why I liked the first title anymore.
- Advertising copy. The little synopses on the back of the book? No. I didn't write that. I'm not saying I dislike it--sometimes I think it's terrific. But good or bad, I didn't write that. Are there occasionally errors in it? Yes, but if you're reading them it's partially my fault because I get to read it and make suggestions or edits before it shows up. So, at least somewhat my bad.
- Publication date. "Write faster!" Readers email me. Well, I write pretty fast, but speed is not the issue here. From the time I send in the manuscript to the time it appears on shelves, you're looking at about a year. And the publisher decides when that year will come to an end. Ask Terri if I get to decide when my books are available to readers.
I'm not trying to deflect blame for things, but am merely pointing out what an author can or can't control. If you don't like my writing style or think my plots are silly, that's on me. If the cover is a color that doesn't match your drapes, keep in mind that: 1. I most likely haven't seen your drapes and 2. I didn't design the cover. That's all I'm saying.
Of course all of us at DEAD GUY are horrified and revulsed by the hideous events in Paris a few days ago. Even though we revel in fictional tales or murder and mayhem, at least some of that enjoyment comes from our knowledge that it is fiction. When a cowardly, pointless act like this is carried out, we wish we could pretend it hadn't happened. But we do live in reality and escape to fiction. Our hearts and minds are with the people of Paris and the people of the world who stand up against this atrocity.