Rick Yancey, on the Monstrumology situation.
Although he's probably been swamped with similar requests, Rick Yancey took the time to answer a few questions for me (and you!). So, without further ado:
Here's the situation as I understand it: You had a three-book contract with Simon & Schuster for the Monstrumologist series. All three books have received consistently strong reviews--reviews that, in fact, have just gotten stronger and stronger--and Book One received a Printz Honor. Despite those accolades, now that the third book is about to come to press, S&S has declined to re-up the contract, citing low sales. Is there anything that you'd like to add or correct there?
That's pretty much it. The manuscript for the third book was late - due January 1st, 2011, and I didn't get the draft in until March. It was an embarrassing situation - S&S already had Isle of Blood in its fall catalogue and I think (okay, I know) there was genuine concern that we weren't going to make it. There was a lot going on in my life at the time - which is no excuse; we all have stuff to deal with - and I simply couldn't allow myself to rush it. For some reason, with these damn books in particular, everything had to be perfect. I wouldn't say my editor was angry about it, just deeply concerned. In February, a very fortunate thing happened: The second book, Curse of the Wendigo, was named a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize. Whew! I thought. This might buy me some time, restore a little confidence in the obsessive-compulsive writer who agonizes over a sentence like, "And then he walked to the door."
I was very relieved (and encouraged), a month later when my editor wrote to say he thought Isle was the best book so far. But he went on to say, "of the trilogy." Trilogy? I thought, my throat closing up. But I clearly say in the epilogue that there are more notebooks of Will Henry's - there's more to the story!
I called my agent. He'd seen the note. "What's he talking about?" I asked. "Why does he say 'trilogy?' I've got at least one more book to finish Will's story." My agent couldn't speak for Simon & Schuster (I actually pay him to speak for me), but he promised to find out.
A couple millinia later (i.e., about a week), my agent called to tell me that S&S would not be offering a contract for any more books in the series. I was surprised. I won't say shocked. Times had changed since S&S had acquired the series in '07. The whole damn world had changed. I understood - even expected - a much lower advance. But no more books? Really? What was the reasoning? My agent quoted them as saying, "We think we've spent too much on these books already. We're not prepared to spend any more."
(As a rather odd tidbit, I've recently learned that the very same month they told me no, they said yes to a multi-book deal with Hilary Duff, who, I think, is an actress or a singer, or both. I don't know; I haven't had time to Google her.)
That should have been the end of it. I've been writing professionally for eight years now and have had two series cancelled, and I moved on. You have to. You gotta be able to shrug it off. Oh, well, it didn't fly, something wasn't right, fix that and make the next one better, etc., etc. That's what a pro is supposed to do. Because if you don't, you're dead. The bloated corpse of your dead story will drag you into the grave with it.
And yet . . . I did not account for the BIGGEST mistake I made with this series. Maybe the biggest mistake a creative writer (or any creative person) can make: I fell in love with my creation. I mean, fell HARD, like Romeo for Juliet, like Bella for Edward, like Nick Cage's character in that movie, City of Angels, for Meg Ryan. Not in the romantic sense, but in the oh-god-this-is-all-I-can-think-about sense.
A beloved writing teacher once paraphrased Joyce, saying, "A writer should be as indifferent as the gods toward his characters' suffering." Oops. Got THAT wrong. Somehow (and I can't exactly pinpoint when) during the course of the three books, I had bonded myself with Warthrop and Will Henry. I vividly remember the night I wrote the final scene between them in The Isle of Blood, and I burst into extremely unmanly tears. I think I knew then this was it; my time with them was coming rapidly to an end - and I remember asking myself if that had something to do with the lateness of the manuscript - in other words, I was drawing the thing out, not wanting it to end because after it ended there would be a huge part of me that would have to end too - and I wasn't ready for that.
Apparently, I'm not alone in my un-readiness. I posted the somber news on my FB fan page, and now a mini-storm has come up over it, and I am deeply humbled by the response. Writing is such a solitary profession; you live so much inside your own head; you don't really grasp how your work affects others, or even if it affects them at all. Since Stephanie started her campaign, I've received an incredible amount of support from the reading community, fromlibrarians, teachers, teens, and, yes, even critics. Even in the age of YouTube and Facebook and instant gratification of the slightest whim or desire, books still matter to some people. Books matter. I am reminded why I dared to become a writer. Books do matter.
Have you heard from S&S since the news broke and the fan-based campaign to save the series started?
I haven't heard from them directly, but I do know they are not pleased. An anonymous source informed me today that they are, and I quote, "pissed." They would like the write-in campaign to stop. I'm unclear about what I'm supposed to do about that.
My friend went on to say he didn't think it made sense to "turn S&S against you" right before publication of the third book. I wasn't sure what that meant. Turn it against me . . . how? Refuse to ship orders? Cancel the whole book? I understood they weren't going to offer another contract for more books in the series. Did he mean turn them against me in the sense I would be blackballed? They would never buy another project from me because . . . why? Because an ardent fan started a write-in campaign? Don't publishers WANT ardent fans?
My friend also made the obvious point that sales - not write in campaigns - drive publishers' decisions. Perhaps, he suggested, I should order my loyal minions to go out and buy books and stop with the useless emails.
Well, that I will not do. I can't imagine anything more cynical and few things more manipulative. Of course I would LOVE for this series to be at the top of every list. What moron wouldn't? But to suggest I now "call off the dogs" and tell everyone to buy my book, it just comes off as the worst kind of cheap marketing gimmick - a kind of bait-and-switch that would deeply offend me if I one of those who stepped forward to voice their dismay at the series' demise.
Buzz-wise, the Monstrumologist series seems to have steadily gained momentum with each successive title, rather than starting explosively and growing exponentially, like The Hunger Games or Twilight. Obviously, no publisher could expect every series to do what those two did—especially a series that is so unapologetically smart—but, do you think, as many have suggested, that the midlist is dying? That, in general, publishers are forgoing high-quality, consistent sales over a long period for books that are meant to make a one-time big splash and then disappear... like, for instance, the Snooki book?
Times are tough. Publishers, like a lot of us, are scared as hell. It is true, I think, that in bad times any risk with an untested or unproven writer seems just foolish. Like Hollywood, publishers look for the "sure thing." Why are there so many Twilight knock-offs? Why are we drowning in dystopia right now? As recently as when I started, publishers were willing to stick with a writer they believed in, even if it meant a commitment of several books before the series took off. There's little patience for that now. "Damnit - BORDERS WENT BANKRUPT! AND EBOOKS! THE EBOOKS ARE COMING!! - Quick, what's Hilary Duff's number?"
If S&S stands firm, do you have any plans for the future? Shopping the series around to other publishers—like, for instance, Candlewick, who seem to proudly publish unusual critical darlings—or self-publishing?
I will do everything within my power to publish the conclusion to The Monstrumologist. The last three folios will be released. At this point, I don't know when (I gotta make a living!) or know if that will be through another publisher, self-published, or posted somewhere on the internet. As I told a friend who thought I was being a little too "oh-woe-is-me," it really isn't about me. If it was about me, I wouldn't have burst into tears at the final scene in Isle. I wouldn't have been gobsmacked when the publisher nixed the possibility for more books.
It isn't about me. The people who are writing to Simon and Schuster don't know me; they know the books. They don't love me; they love the books. They don't care about me; they care about Will Henry and Warthrop and Lilly and von Helrung and that dastardly Jack Kearns. They love the world of the monstrumologist, not the world of Rick Yancey.
Do you have an arc in mind for the series as a whole? (Feel free to elaborate!)
Yes, I do. I'm very concerned about Will Henry. Something not very good is happening to him. Warthrop sees it, and even Warthrop is afraid. The fourth book explores this - and, of course, will answer the riddle of the notebooks and who Will Henry really is. I think readers will be shocked.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I'm not telling people to write to Simon and Schuster. Do I encourage it? Well, I thank people when they tell me they did, but I thank them for supporting the books - the emails are just how they've decided to support them. The vehicles for their angst, if you will. I don't blame S&S. I met some wonderful people there, folks who love books and who love authors and who work very hard and are very good at what they do. It's a huge corporation and I used to work for one, so I understand. The poop, if you will, flows downhill. I harbor no animosity towards them. It's just business. It's my fault I fell in love with my characters and their world.
Thanks again for your time!
Thank you for the opportunity. Long live monstrumology!