27 June 2020

What Went Wrong – (and pass the Scotch)

My friend and colleague John Floyd has inspired me many times, but this time for a singularly bizarre post:  Things that go wrong in the life of an author.

WHAT WENT WRONG:  The Publisher Version

1.  The publication that never was.  John, you mentioned in your recent post Strange but True, that you have received acceptance letters from publishers who then realized they sent them to the wrong person.  I can do you one better (if you really want to call it that.)

This year, I received a very public congratulations from the Ontario Library Association for being a finalist for their YA award.  I was thrilled!  It was my first YA crime book, after 16 adult ones, and they don't usually give awards to crime books.  I basked in glory and excitement for about five minutes until I realized the title of the book they mentioned was not the book I had written.  There ensued a very public retraction.  Everywhere.  And apology.  I am not sure there is anything more embarrassing than receiving a very public apology for an honour snatched back from you.

2.  It isn't often a publisher buys ads for your book and we all celebrate when they do.  The publisher of Rowena and the Dark Lord was out to create gold.  The first book in the series was a bestseller.  So they decided to throw money at book 2, advertising it at more than two dozen places.  And throw money, they did.  Throw it away, that is.  Unfortunately, the ad company misspelled the title of the book in all the ads.  ROWENA AND THE DARK LARD might be popular in cooking circles, but it didn't make a splash with the epic fantasy audience to which it was targeted.

3.  Back in the mid 90s, I was making it, or so I thought.  Had some stories with STAR magazine.  Broke into Hitchcock.  And later, big time, with Moxie magazine.  Remember Moxie?  Up there with Good Housekeeping and Cosmo? No, perhaps you don't.  I was really pleased when they offered me a 50% kill fee of $750.  Not that I wanted to collect it, but it was a status symbol back then to get offered kill fees in your short story contract.  Unfortunately, if you story is killed because the magazine goes under, ain't nothing left for a kill fee.  Big time becomes no time.

WHAT WENT WRONG:  The Event Version

1.  It's always tough when you are shortlisted for a prize and you don't win.  It's even tougher when you are actually at the gala event, and all your friends are waiting for you to be named the winner.  Tougher still, when you are shortlisted in TWO categories, and you don't win either.

But that doesn't touch the case when you are the actual Emcee for the event, you've just finished doing an opening stand-up routine to great applause, you have media there and a full house, you are shortlisted in two categories, and you don't win a sausage.  And still have to run the rest of the event from the stage.

This is why they invented scotch.

WHAT WENT WRONG:  The Agent Version

1.  No fewer than THREE big production companies have approached my agent about optioning The Goddaughter series for TV.  This has gone on for four years, and included hours of negotiating.  "Really excited - back to you on Friday!" said the last one.  That was last summer.  I'm still waiting to see any money.

2.  My first agent was a respected older gent from New York.  Sort of a father figure, very classy.  Like some - okay many - agents, he wasn't the best at getting back to us in a timely manner, particularly by email.  We kind of got used to it.  So it was with some shock that I got a phone call from another author, who had discovered that the reason we hadn't heard back from J is because he had died two months before.  Nobody had gotten around to telling us.

I have a really good agent now. She's still alive, which I've found is a huge advantage in an agent.

Here's the book that was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award last year, along with that short story that also didn't win (pass the scotch):

Remember the A-Team?  We're not them.  
But if you've been the victim of a scam, give us a call.  
We deal in justice, not the law.  We're the B-Team.
At all the usual suspects including....


  1. I think you should get ALL the Scotch. I'm sorry I drank some of it tonight.

  2. I want to read Rowena and the Dark Lard. It sounds tasty.

  3. It's always something. Nice posting. Still shaking my head.

  4. Great post, Melanie. And painfully nostalgic.

    My first publisher didn't promote my book and--my accountant is positive--shorted me on sales after I signed an awful contract.

    My first published book has been turned into a screenplay that nobody has picked up. It has gone through so many changes I don't even recognize it anymore. One of the male leads had changed ethnicity and both of them have changed names. I'm waiting for a gender switch next.

    Glad I'm a bourbon man so we don't have to share. This is the stuff no non-writer believes happens, but it's common.

  5. Hey, I think you've topped me, here, especially with the YA award.

    I'm convinced these things happen to all writers. You and I were just willing to admit it. (Besides, it gave us a topic for a post, right?)

    Stay safe, up there. I always love your columns!

  6. As my old dad used to say: "Keep your chin up, you're easier to hit that way."

  7. Kaye, I'm planning to order a booze delivery today. I'll save some for you. Thanks for commenting!

  8. Paul, you should see the taglines we came up with for that book: Rowena and Thane return to Land's End and start a pig farm, was the most popular.

  9. O'Neil, Thanks for commenting!
    RT - I love that expression! I'll remember that.

  10. Steve,your bourbon isn't safe. I was out to dinner with my late husband Dave a few years ago, and I said, "This Coke doesn't taste right." He said, "That's because there's no bourbon in it."

  11. John, I've heard similar stories from Linwood (Barclay) and other Canadian writer friends. I just get such a kick out of the innocent vision I had of what it would be like to reach some success, and how the reality whomps you right back in the face like one of those weighted blowup clowns.

  12. Ouch, ouch, ouch and ouch!
    The only story I have that even comes close is that, back in the late 70s, I made the finals for new play contest, and I went down for the public reading of all 5 plays. Now, I'd submitted the play under the pen name M. V. Fisher. When I arrived, the person in charge looked at me, and said, "We thought you were a man." And sure enough, all the other finalists were men. I didn't win.
    Bourbon is a great solace...

  13. Oh Eve - I can relate to that. In the 90s, I went under the name Mel Campbell. That's how I got the gig at ComputorEdge. After my 9th story was published with them, I got a phone call to clear up a cheque problem. Shock, at discovering I was female. That was the last story they published. Times have certainly changed for the better.

  14. Mel and Eve, your sexist experiences are appalling. I want to kick someone on your behalf.

  15. Barb, I'm definitely one of those gals carrying the sign: "I can't believe I'm still protesting this shit." grin. That said, I wouldn't go back to those times for a minute. It's still better now.

  16. On no… the Dark Lard. What a collection of weird tales, Melodie. The good news is your misfortune definitely entertains us! Ouch, that didn't come out right. I mean…

  17. Amazing stories, Melodie. You should write a book. Oh, wait, you have--several! And keep on ticking through all the weirdness.
    Back in the nineties I had several conversations with different authors, such as John Floyd and Earl Staggs about how we were in the same last issues of several short story publications. They seemed to go out of business every two months or so. It was funny, in a way, but sad, too.
    But the story of your book's cover is over the top for being the most appalling, to me. You are amazing to be able to joke about it all and come back for more. Keep on ticking!

  18. Leigh, I don't write comedy for nothing.( I actually hope to get paid!) Ooh, too many word-plays.

  19. Jan, it got crazier. Someone in a review called it Rowena and the Dork Lord. I still have that book to write.


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