My debut series (the Revivor series, consisting of State of Decay, The Silent Army, and Element Zero) is a trilogy that, as a writer, I am extremely satisfied with. When I was writing it though, I thought of it only as a writer. That is a reasonable thing to do, yet I have learned that there comes a time in the life cycle of your book when this changes. Once it has been written, rewritten, polished, edited, copy edited, proofread and typeset it begins to become something other than the story which is close to your heart. It begins to morph into something else…a commodity of sorts. In its most raw form it is a piece of entertainment, meant to be read and enjoyed by the audience for whom it was written. For that to happen, though, it has to reach them.
This is something which seems simple but isn’t. Even when you’re associated with a house like Penguin which has a very wide reach, bubbling up onto the right people’s radar is still something which requires a certain amount of luck.
This is one of the lessons my book has taught me.
State of Decay is not a ‘zombie book’ – it is reasonably hard SF, but I fear it may retain the zombie label and I’m not sure quite how to change that. If indeed it can be changed. That’s not to say State of Decay didn’t do reasonably well – it was very well reviewed, was nominated for the Philip K Dick Award and actually won the Compton Crook Award – but I’ve always wished it would have been recognized more for its Science Fiction elements which are at its heart. More than that, I wonder if it ever really reached the audience for whom it was intended. Not doing so in the publishing world can be fatal, careerwise.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, as they say. Given the subject matter (which does deal with reanimation) I completely understand the connection. Even from a marketing standpoint, given the trend, I can understand it…yet at the PKD Award ceremony when the emcee referred to my book as a ‘zombie book’, I bristled.
If I had it to do over again, I would question the cover I think. I like it, but was viewing it from an artistic standpoint, not a marketing one. I would fight to have the tagline (which I have always hated) removed. The Amazon reviews in particular suggest that many (if not most) people who picked it up got something they weren’t expecting, and while many were pleasantly surprised, that isn’t the dynamic I think you as a writer want to cultivate. I think many readers went into State of Decay expecting a traditional shambling zombie story and based on the packaging I couldn’t blame them, in retrospect. Instead they got a hard SF thriller that utilized reanimation technology in a non-traditional way. Some were okay with that, and some were not. As a writer then, if you have reservations about something then go with your gut. I can’t promise it will help but go with it even if you’re excited, and green.
This is another lesson my book has taught me.
Of course, the other side of this double-edged sword is that had the publisher not zeroed in on the ‘zombie angle’ (which was and still is popular) then they may not have been so quick to sign me in the first place. There are a lot of contenders out there, limited shelf space, and in order to stay in business publishers have to sell books.
Let me also say that the team at Roc has been uniformly great – my editor believes in my series and that was always evident every step of the way. She has to care about selling units, but it was also clear she cares deeply about story and characters – she cares about writing as an art, a lot, and it shows. Publishing is where art and sales meet though – that’s reality. To sell things you have to market them. Marketing is a tricky business. Even the best of intentions don’t always yield fruit.
Another lesson learned.
Again – I’m thrilled at the recognition the series has gotten, I really am. Honestly, it remains to be seen what the true consequences of all this might be, but if you are an aspiring writer then learn from me. You won’t have control over every aspect of your book once it transitions from being a work of art to being a shiny, competing for shelf space. Even if you did and it was delivered right into the hands of your intended audience that is not a guarantee – but it’s a first step which has to occur before the rest can follow.
So if you a Science Fiction fan who hasn’t read the Revivors series because you saw ‘Fantasy’ on the spine and a ‘zombie hand’ on the cover, consider picking it up, and let me know what you think – I have been trying to reach you.