Books Read in 2011

Tessa's books-read-2011 book montage

Clockwork Angel
The Hunger Games
Catching Fire
Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer

Books Read in 2011 »

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Derivative and Series

The Harry Potter Series
As many of you know, I'm writing a trilogy. It was supposed to be one book, but I realized early that I would never fit the whole thing into one book. I'm even wondering if I should write four books instead of three. I'm not so overly hung on advances if I'd get a deal, but the one thing I would absolutely insist on would be to keep the rights of all derivative works. 

I'm not sure how common it is to negotiate the derivative rights, but according to Morris Rosenthal, it's very common that authors loose those rights. In the section about Grant of Rights, he says:

"Here the author grants the publisher the right to publish the work, as protected by copyright law. For most authors this means the exclusive worldwide rights, including all derivative works, etc. While it's not in the interests of the author to give up anything without negotiation, the publisher is frequently in a better position than the author to exploit these rights (such as publishing translations), which will result in further payments to the author. If the author believes the work is likely to become a smash TV hit or the next big Christmas toy, the derivative rights could be the plum of the book contract." 

Now, I'm not really thinking about Myrkvera action-heroes or stuff like that, but I want to be able to write more books in the fantasy land I created, even if the publisher doesn't want to publish more. I want to use the characters, creatures, and towns. I also want to be able to put deleted scenes and such on my website after the series have been published. The thought of someone owning my creation in a way that denies me the right to play with it without the consent of a publishing house just scares me. Cut the advance, cut the marketing budget, but let me keep the rights to the derivative works.

Okay, I sort of lunged into that, but it wasn't what I was going to write at all! This is what sometimes  happens when my fingers touch the magical keyboard. I meant to write about standalones in series. The Lord of the Rings are not standalone books. You have to read the first before you read the second. A month ago I thought my series would end up that way. I mean, I have four teenagers trapped in another world, and they don't get home at the end of first book (I'm not really giving away any spoilers by saying this). How can that be a standalone book?

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the whole concept of standalone books in a series. The way I understand it, it's like the Harry Potter books. Harry goes to school in each book (except for the last one), follows the plot thread, completes the task at the end, and then goes back to the Dursley's. They all have a solid ending. You don't get the whole details and hints from the first books if you haven't read them, but you generally get the idea if you start by reading The Goblet of Fire. 

Then there are books like the House of Night series, where Zoey goes to a school for fledgling vampires. At the start of every single book after the first, Zoey lists up things that have happened in the past books and it irritates me so much. Possibly because I read the first five books in one sitting. Still, it bugged me. Will I have to do that to make my books standalones? I mean, who picks up a book in a middle of a series and reads it before reading book nr. 1?

Michelle Zink, author of Prophecy of the Sisters, wrote an article for WriteOnCon on the subject. She has the same kind of thoughts I've been having about ending each book. She even talks about Lord of the Rings and how her books had to be a continuation of the book before. Exactly like my musings. 

She talks about how some readers send her an angry email because of an unsatisfied ending, even though many readers just take it as it is. She says she's come to terms with it and it doesn't bother her so much anymore. That gives me time to prepare and expect the expected, since she ended the article with this:

"And honestly? If I have to choose between giving a reader an ending that makes them go, “ Wow. Cool,” and one that makes them go, “WHAT?!”, I will take the latter every time. I guess you could say that with books – as in life – I will happily choose the mysterious and winding road over the straight and narrow path. Even if it means the occasional angry email."

When I was at the conference, I kind of held my breath while I was reading that article. I thought she'd preach about how you have to have a satisfying ending to each novel in the series. I had no idea how to have such an ending (don't get me wrong: it has an ending, a good one, but at the very end I leave the reader at a bit of a cliffy - nothing huge, but it left my editor wondering if she'd gotten the whole manuscript or if there was a chapter I'd left out). I was so relieved when I read what she wrote.

How cool is it to be able to learn from published authors?

Anyway, in case the future agent/publisher would prefer the House of Night style, I did weave important details from the first book into the first chapter of the second book (Book of White). It didn't turn out too badly. It was fluent. It made sense. I'm going to keep it until I've made a final decision on how to deal with this matter.

One last note, completely unrelated: I pre-ordered a Kindle reader! I'm so excited, but I have no idea when I'll get it. I also bought a leather case - that way it'll be protected and have a booky feel to it when I flip it open to read.

I decided to purchase a Kindle because it costs so much to order a book from Amazon and have it shipped to Iceland. For a normal paperback costing $7, they'll add roughly $8 dollars for shipping and handling. Then there's 10% import tax, and 7% VAT (they're considering raising it to 25% on books to try to get us out of the recession. Hello! Common sense here. Higher VAT = less buying). That makes one measly paperback a little under 18 dollars! If I buy more books in one shipping, I have to pay extra $4 for each book. Compare that to buying the same book for a final price of 5-6 dollars.

I bought a Kindle for $140 + roughly $8 for shipping and handling. 10% tax + 25% VAT (for electronic products) makes $204 the final price. I'm taking English (BA) at uni and there are a lot of old books to read (all of whom are free for Kindle!). This semester alone I have to read Jane Eyre (already read it - looooved it) and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. That's $16 saved :) There are even more old books to read next year.

It'll pay off in no time ;)


  1. I've been thinking about this a lot too. When I started writing Zombie Rabbit, I thought it would be just one book, but then I thought of other stories I could tell with these characters. What I wound up doing was writing a dual ending. That way if agents/editors/publishers only want to invest in one book, it comes to a complete conclusion. On the other hand, if they say, we can make more money from Milo, don't "kill" him off, there's an ending that does that too.

    But I think there's a difference between a series and a sequel. For instance Each of the Chronicals of Narnia are sequels. If the Pevensie children had never returned to Narnia, LWW would still have been complete. And then books like The Silver Chair had different characters in the same setting.

    With some series, you're left hanging at the end. If the book is great, I'd be anxious to read the next book. If the book is just so/so, I'd be ticked off to have to keep reading to reach the end.

    Now I'm rambling, but this is a really interesting topic. I'm about half way through B of B and it's looking really good to me. But as to your earlier issue with retaining rights, very important. A good reason to have an agent, there are over 400 rights that can be sold for any intellectual property.

  2. 400? That's a lot! And yeah, if I couldn't get an agent, but would get a publishing deal, I'd pay a professional to have a look. But then unrepresented authors are probably at a disadvantage...

    An agent could negotiate back and forth while a writer might be too scared to ask for something to be changed. A fear of the My-way-or-the-high-way if you don't accept the deal as it is.

  3. Good point about series vs. sequels.

    I find it interesting that Hunger Games was sort of a stand alone (except for the Peta/Gayle issue) then Catching Fire was more of a cliffhanger. Melissa Marr did the same thing with Wicked Lovely (more of a stand alone) then Fragile Eternity (total cliffhanger).

    My hunch is that it's probably more important to have your first book in the series be more of a stand alone because then it's an easier sell for your prospective agent. The publishers take less risk, even if they sign you for a multi-book deal, if they can have you write something totally different if the first one in the series doesn't sell as well as they hope.

  4. The next book set within my 'world' is stand-alone. It has hints and characters from the first book, but there's nothing that would trouble a reader who had never read my first book.

  5. But your characters are from the world you write in, right? If mine were original residents of Mira Fir, I don't think I'd have a problem. The thing is that they won't find the portal until the end of the series (not really spoiling anything by saying this, "getting home" is sort of the end goal, but not the main thread).

    Still, maybe it would be a problem after all, since the reader needs to know what happened in book one to be able to follow book two :/ I'll just keep the weaved in info in chapter one of Book of White until I land an agent who can advise me on how to handle this.

  6. Okay, so the overall goal of your characters is "getting home", and it will take four books to get there. You could still have them finding a comfortable spot in the new world by the end of the first book. They make some friends, learn the rules, get some info on how they can get home and overcome some big obstacle/enemy as the climax of the first book so it ends with them feeling safe for now and even thinking that they like some things about this new world they've found themselves in.

    I think that would be enough of a resolution to not scare off an agent who might have trouble selling a series vs. a stand alone book.

  7. As for backstory in the second book, that can be done in various subtle ways, just like the needed backstory of any stand alone book. You just don't want to hit the reader over the head with it or go on for paragraphs at a time explaining things.

  8. Yeah, I definitely don't like the first chapter being nothing but a run down of what has happened. I hate it when authors do that. In my version, Eva is going back to a place in Mira Fir, and when she sees this, she thinks about important detail A. Later when she talks to Richard, she thinks about important detail B. I made sure that all the important details were out before the end of chapter three. It's not a lot, really, just the very important things that the reader must know to grasp the basics of what has happened.

    As for the ending of BoB (Book of Black), it really is a good ending. Decisions have been made, we know who's going to where, everything regarding the plot thread in BoB has been solved (not everything in the series as a whole though), etc. It's just that one thing at the end that looks cliffy to me, but it's important. I'm going to see what my critique partners say about it. Maybe it's not as big an issue as I seem to think it is ^.^

  9. Carrie @

    Hi, Tessa! I stumbled upon your your insight. Im working on a nonfiction book, and am almost ready to submit a proposal. Im looking for an agent so that I can hopefully be traditionally published.

  10. I agree. I also hate when the first chapter of a sequel is basically a "what you missed" because I always read books in order. Who doesn't!? :)

    I found some good examples of weaving backstory into sequel plots in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments and in the Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld (though I did *sometimes* get annoyed with his recapping...but I read that series all at once so that might be why).

    Neither of these authors crammed all the info into the first chapter. They just sort of explained things as they came up, which made it seem much more natural.

  11. Tessa, actually in my first book there are characters who are originally from earth, but I wrote it as a stand-alond fantasy. In the prequel that I am writing I deal with the characters while still on earth, so it stands alone as a sci-fi story.

  12. Carrie: Cool! It's always nice to watch fellow writers's process to getting published.

    Madame Duck: Cassandra did do a good job there, I agree. Thanks for pointing it out, I might see if I should distribute the information a little more when I edit the first draft.

    Ted: I didn't know your characters were from earth! It's so cool that you figured out a way to write the sci-fi part of it after all. Neat idea to put it in a prequel.