Ever wonder why authors are such a disillusioned lot? Ever ask yourself why so many of them resort to self-publishing what is obviously some really good stuff . . . often better than the stuff garnering traditional publishing contracts nowadays? To those who are fans of tragedy, drama, woe, and misfortune I offer up this very instructive tearjerker. You are hereby forewarned: Get out that box of tissues before getting to the dénouement.
The year was 1995. My second novel, The Kai Tak Cataclysm, was represented by Christina J. Brady at the now-defunct Anita Diamant Literary Agency (Ms. Anita Diamant Berke passed away in January of 1996 at the age of 78). Christina greatly believed in that novel and worked diligently trying to find a home for it at the traditional New York publishing houses. Alas, Christina moved on to other things, the job of marketing my novel fell to another in-house agent, and that agent did not have the same enthusiasm for the project. Anita Diamant and I parted company shortly thereafter.
Then came a new agency, and a new agent. I shopped around for another agent and found one later that same year. Henry Morrison read and fell in love with The Kai Tak Cataclysm, and he agreed to represent me despite the book having already been shopped around the various publishing houses by my previous agent. We changed the title to The One That Wasn’t There and Henry started sending it out in early 1996, but after a few rejections Henry opted to go on a different tack. Instead of attempting to sell the novel directly, he decided to offer up the dramatic rights first knowing that publishing houses would come knocking on his door once a movie studio was firmly committed to the project. So, with my concurrence Henry passed along The One That Wasn’t There to the team of Howard Sanders and Richard Green at the United Talent Agency.
Within a matter of days Henry and I were call-conferencing with Howard and Richard, who were incredibly enthusiastic and supportive and very sure they would have little difficulty finding a studio willing to purchase the movie rights. It was Spring by now, sometime around mid-April in 1996. The manuscript went out to twenty-two studios, three of which came back and told Howard and Richard they were definitely interested . . . but there was a problem. The One That Wasn’t There is a story about the sabotaging of a Gulfstream IV business jet that subsequently collides with a passenger-carrying Boeing 747 in the skies above Hong Kong. The crew of the Boeing 747 is incapacitated. The jumbo jet crashes into an apartment complex, resulting in the deaths of nearly 18,000 people (bear in mind that this story was written some six years before the attacks of September 11, 2001).
So, what was the problem? Control of Hong Kong was slated to transition from Great Britain to the People’s Republic of China on July 1, 1997—not enough time to film on location. The studios asked if I could change the story’s setting. “Not a problem,” I replied. “How does Sydney, Australia sound?” Why Sydney? Because I like to write about locations I’ve actually visited and with I am thus familiar. Howard, Richard, and Henry were all in agreement that Sydney would be perfect. And so I began a three-month rewrite that entailed not only changing the locale, but also much of the plot. Now, instead of an apartment building in Hong Kong, Sydney Centrepoint Tower and the Hilton International Sydney were ground zero. Bad guys changed. New motivations were devised. Old plot elements were discarded and new ones added. Finally, in mid-July, an almost entirely new manuscript titled And the Games Begin was shipped out to both New York and California. Calls came back about a week or two later and Howard gushed that the revised story was even better than the original. And the Games Begin would go up for auction in early September.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the auction. Another author, very famous and whose books were frequently the basis for blockbuster movies, decided to change genres and dabble in the field of aviation. His novel was slated for publication release in December, but the movie rights were being auctioned three months earlier, sight unseen, to an ever-eager Hollywood set. So powerful was this novelist that no studio, even those that bid unsuccessfully for the rights to his much anticipated aviation thriller, dared to acquire the rights to anything deemed to be in competition lest that studio be barred from bidding for the rights to his future works. At least that was the word from a dejected Howard when he called me with the bad news. Oddly enough, our books really weren’t in competition, but nobody knew that because they were bidding on a project they hadn’t even seen and which wouldn’t be revealed for another three months.
The dramatic rights for that movie went for an (at the time) unheard of eight million dollars. But don’t waste your time trying to figure out who this author is, what book I’m talking about, and then try to put the movie into your Netflix queue. It was never filmed. But by the time this project died, so had interest in mine. Yes indeed, tragedy on an unprecedented scale . . . at least for me.
I may eventually get around to putting this book out—Book 2 in the Ian Drake series on aircraft sabotage investigation, but it will require yet another reworking before I do.
10 responses to “A Tale of Woe and Misfortune Unlike Any Other”
Wow….that explains the resentment that I often hear from some of my writer friends toward big name/celebrity authors.
Oh, no resentment here, Don. At least none toward the author. As for Hollywood and those who asked for the rewrite, then backed off . . . .
Gut-wrenching; that is what this story is.
I am so glad the story will be out soon. Thank goodness for indie publishing, huh?
Gut-wrenching it was, indeed. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!
Man, I was just describing the episode to a friend, although I didn’t recall many of the details.
Yeah, I had to go back through my old correspondence to get the time line correct. But I still have records of the whole sordid affair.
Love this chronicle of the shopped-around novel. And gee wiz, how nice to see I had a role in the initial trip your manuscript took through the punishing editorial halls of NYC publishers.
Funny thing, I remember your novel like it was yesterday even though it was 15 years ago. Why? Maybe because it reminded me of a Michael Crighton tale, and for me this was a good thing. It sailed along with movie-quality scenes and a natural feeling of suspense. At the time, I read through a slush pile about 30-50 book proposals per day and then dug into the chapters of four or five promising manuscripts per week and usually recommended one for shopping around. Three books chosen by me eventually sold over the course of one year. So for all of the really great material that crossed my desk, only a small portion actually ‘made it’ into contracts. Sad thing really.
Tell me Doug, is it the Hong Kong or Sydney version you’re publishing as an eBook?
Hello, my former agent Christina! When I publish this thing, it’ll be the Sydney version. First I have to finish my current work-in-progress and get it out to my agent (Henry Morrison still reps me). After that I’ll be resurrecting my three completed Ian Drake novels, the second of which you represented. The first of the series will require some really major reworking, though, because quite frankly it sucked. But, then, it was my first attempt at a novel.
Reminds me of my own bad old days of publishing. I’ll second the “thank goodness for indie publishing.”
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