Come to the Light
Well, I think I'm seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and this time it may not be the A train.
To the phone booth's worth of readers who still come here on a regular basis, you know about Tatterdemalion, the novel that tied me up all year last year and is continuing to tie me up in the revision phase. It currently weighs in at close to a Caleb Carr-class quarter of a million words. First novels by unknowns like me have zero chance of finding agents let alone homes at major publishers if it's more than 100,000-120,000 words.
And perhaps I should've trimmed the book to something more closely approximating camera-ready status before I'd sent it out to over 225 literary agencies across the English-speaking world. But it is what it is and, despite its size, Tatterdemalion has gotten the attention of one agent who stands head and shoulders above the rest.
I'm not going to mention this agent's name before I've even decided to hire him, if I do. But on the first day of spring last month, I'd sent off the file attachment of the book to him at his request and, amazingly, he didn't grab his head and run screaming for the hills when he saw how large it is. His assistant tells me he'll be on the road for the next week but he'd not only brought the book with him, word has it he's actually enjoying it. His assistant is also reading it at his request.
This is the light at the end of the tunnel... possibly. While I've said that Tatterdemalion is a special kind of special, if this guy (a big fish in the big pond of literary agencies) sells this book to one of the Big Five, it could put me on the map forever. Since he also handles film rights, there's also a chance he could get a production company to at least option the film rights, if not sell them outright.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. If he likes the book now, I'm confident he'll be wild about it when he finally reads the unimaginably brutal and powerfully harrowing ending. Maybe it's just wishful thinking but if I wind up hiring this guy, I think he'll manage to sell it. If you saw who's on this guy's client list, you may agree.
And hope is just a glorified way of putting the cart before the ox, imaginary seed fed to a starving bird. And, while I've compared myself to Job at least once, keep in mind that Job eventually found his way out of that whale's stomach after countless crucibles testing his faith and will. I think my time in novel jail and the disrespect and ignorance shown to my work and talent is coming to an end.
Still, things often happen at a glacial pace in the publishing world and even a best case scenario (say, him selling the property for a good advance sometime this spring) isn't going to help me out in the short term. From the time the publisher gets a property from a literary agent, it could easily take months before anything is actually signed. They first have to do a P&L, or a profit/loss statement, which is their sales people looking into their foggy, cracked crystal balls and reporting back to them how big a seller it'll be. Then, based largely if not entirely on the level of excitement of the bean counters, they decide whether or not to offer a deal and, if so, how large the advance against royalties will be. In the meantime, the agent will have already done their own P&L to determine whether or not they stand a good chance of selling this to an executive or acquisitions editor.
Assuming an offer is made to both the agent and client, it would then take the publisher's contracts department an average of three weeks to draw up the contract. Agent and client (and any intellectual property rights attorney who may be retained to consult) then review the contract and if all clauses are agreed to, the client then signs it, sends it back to the agent who then co-signs it and mails it back to the publisher.
Half the agreed-upon advance is then sent directly to the literary agency, which then extracts its standard 15% and sends the balance to the author. The other half of the advance is then withheld pending receipt of a camera-ready manuscript. Then the turnaround time (except for Bantam, which is about eight months) is typically 1-2 years before the book even sees a bookshelf.
All told, it could very easily, and likely will, take until well this summer before I see even a nickle from this novel. Ask any published author and they'll corroborate everything I've said here.
Obviously, if this book sells even for a mid six figure advance (as when he signed one of my friends back in 1999 to a three book deal with Mira in Canada), which is about as lucrative as one could hope for a first novel by an unknown, it would put my begging days behind me and I could finally stand on my own two feet like a man for the first time in five years.
But exactly 24 hours from now I'll be standing in a Small Claims courtroom in Marlborough, Massachusetts trying to get back $190 that's rightly due to me. For a little while there, it looked as if the case would be arbitrated in Hollywood by Judge Judy after a call to my house from CBS last month. Obviously, that didn't go anywhere but for a while, CBS saw the merit of my small claims complaint. But I fucked up. I loaned $150 to some grifter hillbillies here in town who then burned me at the first opportunity. And even if I prevail in court tomorrow, there's no telling when I'll get that money back. If push comes to shove, I'll have to notify the court as to the default and have them send the Middelesex County Sheriff's department to his house to summons him in again and even seize his assets until the settlement is paid, which could take several more months.
And the $190 I'm seeking is still a drop in the bucket compared to our monthly expenses, which about a grand a month.
So right now I'm grasping at straws trying to keep a roof over our heads, the car running and the utilities on and we really need help if we're going to survive even next month let alone later this summer.
As I said, I think my penance for whatever transgression I've committed in either this or another life may be coming to an end. But we just need a little bridge to tide us over until I can finally bring Mrs. JP, Popeye and myself into the Promised Land, the blindingly bright other end of that endless tunnel.