PLAYING THE ANGLES released yesterday, which is exciting and frightening all at once.
Several years ago, it was originally released as ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT under the Annabel Aidan name, through a small traditional publisher, both electronically and via POD. It got positive reviews, and the people who found it loved it. When I had print copies for sale at conferences I attended, it was the highest seller of all my books.
It draws on my experiences working backstage on Broadway, and also dealing with Secret Service personnel who are backstage when political VIPS attend the shows. The romance between Morag and the Secret Service agent is pure fiction, on my part; as is a political figure coming to a show to actually perform in it. That’s where the “what if?” and imagination took over from being rooted in actual backstage experience and policy. And it was a lot of fun to write!
It was initially envisioned as a one-off, a complete stand-alone. I wrote it because I wanted to see if I could write paranormal romantic suspense. However, as I worked on the drafts, I felt there were other stories to be told within this fictional world (which is set in contemporary New York City). The readers felt the same way; they wanted to know about Morag’s friends and colleagues.
Several of the authors whose work I admire in the romance genre (such as Mary Balogh, Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz, and Julia Quinn) write clusters of books set around the same characters. Each book stands alone; each has a separate pair of protagonists who fall in love and find their HEA. But central characters from one book show up as supporting characters in other books; supporting characters move forward to become protagonists. I felt that was appropriate for this world and for these characters.
Because the publisher would not commit to more than one book, the next book in the series kept getting kicked down the road in favor of solid, signed contracts from other publishers. In the life of a writer who pays the bills by the work, he who pays most and has the nearest deadline gets first priority. I was still working on Broadway at the time, writing other paid and contracted work, and also writing plays. When my term of contract was up, the publisher and I parted ways.
I figured that was that, moving on, and the series was dead. I’d learned a lot from this book, and I could and did apply what I learned moving forward.
In the meantime, I still took print copies to conferences and appearances to sell them through. And readers LOVED the book. They wanted to recommend it to their friends. They wanted more stories with these characters.
I’d had the rights back for several years when I did a reassessment of how I wanted to shape my writing career, and what was and was not working for me. How I wanted to structure it according to MY vision, not someone else’s.
That doesn’t mean ignoring craft; my goal with every book is that it’s better than the previous book, and that the craft builds from book to book as well as the story telling.
But it meant a business strategy that worked for ME, rather than being part of a bigger machine that didn’t give a damn, one way or the other. It was not about one book; it was about how this book fits into the overall vision for my career.
That’s still a work in progress, but when my team and I sat down to figure things out, we came up with a plan that we’re implementing over the next three years, and then we’ll reassess.
First off, I re-read the book. I knew the title was a problem; I’d thought the publisher would change the title, and I often joked about the book as “when bad titles attack.” The poor choice of title (my fault entirely) definitely hurt sales. The cover art was gorgeous; I enjoyed working with my editor, although I disagreed with a chapter cut out that set up the relationship with Bonnie, who is the protagonist of the second book.
I was pleasantly surprised, when I re-read it, that the book stood up to the test of story. Some craft things could be improved; some references needed to be updated to reflect upgrades in technology and an even harder shift in the political landscape.
But Morag and Simon were still engaging characters, and the development of their relationship, set against the backdrop of a Broadway show that is depicted fairly realistically instead of the whiny, bitchy way non-theatre people tend to write about it, also stood up. I came up with the title PLAYING THE ANGLES, which had the double entendres I wanted in the title, was relevant to the book, and a catchier and more engaging title.
I started reworking the manuscript, and visualizing the series as a whole. I added back in some of the material introducing Bonnie (and cut what wasn’t needed). I started outlining the different books in the series (in Writer’s Rough Outlines), because I realized the subsequent stories would influence the initial set-up in PLAYING THE ANGLES, even if it wasn’t explained or referenced directly.
The larger traditional publishers aren’t interested in picking up a series that’s already in process unless it’s selling a gazillion copies with a headline name. It was possible to sell the second book in the series, but unlikely the first book would ever see the light of day again. While the lure of a larger traditional publisher was enticing, especially in terms of an advance and marketing support, I still wanted PLAYING THE ANGLES out there again, and I knew my readers did, too.
Smaller publishers sometimes take on series in progress, but, again, it would be one book at a time, and on the digital release followed by the POD model. There’s very little marketing support, and the POD model is not working for me right now.
The decision was made to split the re-release. Pronoun (owned by Macmillan) would handle the digital release. A small, new, very traditional publisher who does only print releases will do a small print run with a small advance next year (details will be revealed when contracts are signed by both parties). We’ll see how that works.
So, the business angle of ANGLES (pun intended) was done. Now it was time for the quality of the work.
I worked with the editor with whom I’ve worked on several of the Delectable Digital Delights. She’s good at training me out of my bad habits, even though I keep coming up with new ones. She’s also good at the discussion of “this is a trope of the genre, do you want to play within it or break it on purpose?” so nothing is done carelessly. As I worked on the manuscript, the tone changed somewhat. It was more “Devon” and less “Annabel.” We made the collective decision to release it under the Devon Ellington byline, even though, under that name, I am not known for romance or romantic suspense, merely “romantic elements.” But the tone dictated the byline.
I have a cover designer who ACTUALLY READS THE MANUSCRIPT before designing the cover, instead of simply reading an information sheet. When I worked for a NYC publisher many years ago, that’s what cover designers did; they were required to read the galleys and discuss things with the author and the editor, although the publishing company had the final say. Therefore, the cover was even more relevant and representative of the manuscript. It also meant the three of us could discuss the look of the overall series, and how to tie the covers together while making each distinct and eye-catching. It also meant presenting something to both the publishers that didn’t need a lot of tweaking (although the specs on the print cover will need some re-working).
Add in the copy editor — someone who is committed to the Oxford Comma, someone who is also a Strunk & White devotee (while well-versed in Chicago and AP styles), and someone who respects that, to a theatre professional such as myself, theatre is ALWAYS spelled t-h-e-a-t-r-e. (That is a clause in my contracts, and is one of the few non-negotiables for me. I am willing and have walked away from potential contracts on this matter, because it is that important to me). A copy editor who doesn’t make edits that change my meaning, but when she sees something that strikes a wrong note, ASKS ME ABOUT IT FIRST. Sometimes, it’s exactly what I mean; other times, she’s caught me when I made a careless mistake. Because that is what a good copy editor does.
Add to this, once the book was in final galleys, doing the Series Bible, so that I’m consistent in certain details from book to book. One of the positives was that I had a good chunk of the second book in the series, THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY, drafted, and that definitely contributed to re-committing to the series. If the second book hadn’t also held up to scrutiny (which doesn’t mean it doesn’t need editing, because it does), I might have retired ASSUMPTION/ANGLES permanently and keep it out-of-print.
There were decisions to be made on back matter. I added an article on theatre ghosts that is only available in the book I added the first chapter of the second book in the series, THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY. That was one of the reasons I wanted to go with these publishers – they were willing to include it. I also included the first chapter of SAVANASANA AT SEA, a not-quite-cozy mystery that releases in November of this year, and the first chapter of TRACKING MEDUSA, which re-releases in January. The inclusion of that additional material mattered to me.
Pile on top of that the need for a website just for the series — more work in both design and content. But it’s worth it. I feel good about both the look and the material on the Coventina Circle website. There’s information relevant to each book, and suggestions if the specific premise of each book appeals for further exploration. On the website, I have information about working on Broadway, background information on some of the characters, and a recommended reading list. I will post a facsimile program of the Broadway show within the book in the coming weeks, and also an article on aromatherapy. The website will grow as the series grows.
This more holistic approach to the book as part of bigger whole that then feeds into my career as a whole feels better than the constant knife-edge where so much was dependent on what worked better for others. This is more balanced. These particular publishers are supportive of my vision for the long-term, not just the one-book short-term. Hopefully, it will work out both business-wise and artistically for both of us.
It is exciting and invigorating and a little terrifying. But the creative team and I believe in this book, and we hope you love it.
Below is an excerpt, and below that, buy links. There’s even more information and a media kit in the Coventina Circle Media Room here. Thank you so much for taking this journey with me.
PLAYING THE ANGLES excerpt:
The man’s knife flashed in the glow of the streetlight. Morag kicked at him and scrambled away as he lunged for her. She stumbled, but managed to put more distance between her and the attacker. She grabbed the lid of a trashcan to use as a shield.
A couple out for an evening stroll stopped and watched the fight, mouths open. They stood directly in Simon’s line of fire. “Move!” he ordered. They turned and stared at him, at the gun, like deer in headlights. He saw Morag twist, avoiding the attacker’s next thrust. Simon stepped forward and shoved the couple out of the way. “Get out of here before you get hurt!”
The woman screamed, grabbed the man’s hand, and they ran. “Drop the knife! Drop it or I’ll shoot!”
The attacker and Morag continued their jerky dance. If Simon fired, he risked hitting her. He needed to position himself to get a clear shot. She was trapped between the garbage cans and the iron railing.
The attacker charged again and Morag squirmed to one side. His knife scraped the plastic lid. Morag grabbed the lid off another can and threw it at him, left- handed. It hit him and bounced. He took a step back.
Buy Links here.