Friday, April 27, 2007

Signing with the Enemy

I have good news: Last night I received a contract for my next book, tentatively titled Deliver Us from Me-Ville. I'm pretty excited about it; I've had some of these ideas biding their time in my brain for years, so now I get a chance to free up some mental space. I've started writing but currently I'm mostly gathering material.

Here's the touchy part: I signed with a publisher other than the publisher of my first book. Not only that, I sent it to this different publisher before I showed it to the publisher of my first book. Not only that, I'm employed by the publisher of my first book. In a sense, I suppose, I've signed with the enemy.

Now let's be honest: enemy is a bit, shall we say, grandiose a term for the relationship of Cook (my new publisher) and InterVarsity Press (my [hopefully still] employer). Both are known in the industry as Christian publishers, which means that even if they were enemies, they'd be commanded by their Lord to love each other, which by default sort of makes them friends. Still, it's a little awkward for me, and potentially awkward for all my friends at both publishers.

Nevertheless, I feel good about the decision. I actually worked for Cook for about six days in the 1990s, after they bought the company I was working for but before they moved said company across the country. They gave me as nice a severance as an entry-level goofball with no marketable skills could hope to get, so I was fine with it. But if any healing needed to begin, with the offer of this book contract it's certainly begun.

I met the book publisher at Cook while he was an agent, and I always liked the book ideas he sent me and enjoyed him immensely the one time we met. My initial plan was to ask him to represent me, but then he stopped agenting and started publishing, so I had to regroup, to rethink.

In the interim I met the woman who would ultimately become my editor and found her delightful. At the same time I caught up with a former intern of mine who now worked for Cook; she was delightful too. That's three for three delightful people at one company: pretty good odds. So I swallowed my fear and sent my friend the former agent my proposal, and he sent it on to my new friend the delightful editor, who sent me several delightful e-mails that culminated in "Sure, we'll publish it." Delightful!

Meanwhile, I was thinking, Hey, wait a minute. Don't I work for a publisher? Didn't they publish my first book and give me my first blog? Don't they deposit money directly into my bank account every month? Aren't they delightful too?

And they are, don't get me wrong. Some of my most meaningful conversations and significant friendships over the past ten years have been with my coworkers. And they did great work on my first book and were willing to take a risk on an unknown author in the first place anyway. So yes, they're delightful.

Meanwhile, all the authors I have been inviting to write books for my employers are saying things like "Say, I notice you published a book with InterVarsity Press. Do you have plans to write any more books?"

"Yes, actually. Yes I do."

"So that must be delightful, getting to publish another book with your employer, where so many of your significant friendships and conversations have been forged over lo these many years."

"Well, actually, my next book isn't going to be with InterVarsity Press. It's going to be with Cook."

"What?!? Why?!? Do you hate your employer?!? Are they not delightful?!? Should I be talking with Cook instead of with you?!?"

And here's where my rationale sounds thin but, to my ears, makes perfect sense:

"It's not IVP; it's me."

Check back for part two to get my rationale.

12 comments:

Craver Vii said...

Sometimes I hear it from coworkers for wearing another Christian company's logo at my current employer who is otherwise pretty easygoing with the dress code. I always insist that they're not competitors, but allies. There's a big difference.

Plus, isn't it usually good for an author to have more than one publisher doing their books?

David A. Zimmerman said...

Whether it's good for an author to have more than one publisher depends on who you ask and a variety of other variables. What does everybody else think?

Pete Juvinall said...

Honestly, I was suprised and didn't know you could do that. :) I'm looking forward to the book though.

With that said, your official 'day job' really isn't 'Author' right? I would look at it as what you do with your own time is really just up to you and who you communicate with is up to you as well.

I also wouldn't think there would be any ethical issues either considering the products of publishers are, at some level, mutually exclusive; combinations of words are unique and if you end up copying them verbatim, there's legal recourse that can occur and a whole other set of problems.

My .02...congrats on the new book!

Al Hsu said...

Actually, in most general market New York publishing, editors don't publish books with their own houses. Most of the time there are longstanding unofficial (sometimes official) rules against publishing at your own house. All the IVP employees writing for IVP tends to be the exception to the rule, but it's a precedent set by Jim Sire way back in the day with The Universe Next Door.

There are certainly pros and cons either way in terms of staying with one house or publishing amongst various publishers. Often an author will want to do a range of books that doesn't necessarily fit one particular publisher, so it makes sense to take a particular project elsewhere. There are also synergies of building a track record with a particular publisher - when HarperSanFrancisco signed Frederick Buechner, they also signed up his entire backlist so that HarperSanFran would be known as Buechner's home. Some authors disperse their writing too widely, but others do this without much harm to their careers.

Ultimately, it's a matter of doing what's best for the book, the author and the various publishers in question. The best books will have an alignment between book, author and publisher. Some authors are single-publisher loyalists, and that's okay. Others are more wide-ranging, and that can be okay too.

Llama Momma said...

I have no insight into the publishing thing, but just want to say congratulations on your book contract. Yeah you!

And if you need to do any research on your "Me-ville" book, come to the Llama Momma. Oh, yeah. I've got a lot to say about me! :-)

David A. Zimmerman said...

Today Loud Time hit one thousand profile views. Boy is my mouse tired.

Christianne said...

Once again, great post. I enjoyed reading through the history and the conflict of this decision for you, complete with all the "delightful" explosions all over the place. Congratulations on your new book deal. I'm pretty much with Al Hsu's take on the publisher-to-author rationale.

Stacey said...

CONGRATS!!! I'm so excited for you. And I just hope you sell tons and tons of books and I can be counted as a friend (who knew you when).

Jenn said...

Congratulations, Dave!

Also, thanks for the educational post (and comments, everybody else).

Anonymous said...

Congratulations!!!
We have been waiting for 2nd book. With the second in progress, the third can't be far behind.

gifter

Charity Singleton said...

This is such a helpful post for so many reasons. These sort of behind the book stories aren't always available (I don't think they'd do as well on MTV), but they really explain a lot about the industry and people's choices. I am a total novice, so I never knew why published authors ended up with different publishers. But, I did wonder.

CONGRATULATIONS! This is great news.

Becky said...

I'm a little late on the uptake, but let me be the 12th commentor (er?) to say congratulations on the book deal. It's about time for the sequel to Zimmer-man to show up! Too bad you didn't get it out sooner so you could get swept up in all the triology craziness this summer. . . can't wait to read it.