Years ago, I was a recovering romance writer looking for a new genre, and I wrote a proposal for an urban fantasy series that I felt was exactly what I should be writing: A comedy series set in New York City and featuring Esther Diamond, a struggling actress (I was also a recovering aspiring actress) who gets involved in supernatural misadventures via her career. The proposal included a brief description of the series, synopses for the first three books, and the first three chapters of book one, Disappearing Nightly.

As readers of the series already know, in Disappearing Nightly, Esther is performing in an off-Broadway flop called Sorcerer! when the leading lady really vanishes during the disappearing act. After several more performers around the city mysteriously disappear during their magic acts, Esther joins forces with Dr. Maximillian Zadok, an elderly mage who specializes in unraveling mystical mayhem. She also butts heads with Detective Connor Lopez, a skeptical NYPD cop who finds Esther attractive in green body paint—or anything else.

Max and Esther would become partners in paranormal crime-solving as the series continued, and Esther’s relationship with Lopez would become more serious and more conflicted. Structured like a mystery series, the books would mostly (though not always) be stand-alone stories, and the series would be open-ended. That is, the characters confront Evil as a day-to-day job that someone’s always got to do; there is no specific entity or master-enemy who can ultimately be defeated or destroyed to remove all Evil from the world (or from New York City).

However, neither urban fantasy nor comedy was popular in the fantasy genre when I wrote the Esther Diamond proposal. This meant that selling the series would take some persistence. But, alas, I was letting my work be represented by literary agents at the time, and too many agents (including all four of my former agents) approach selling books with all the enthusiasm and commitment that I bring to thinking about cleaning my oven. In a pattern that typifies my experiences with literary agents, my then-agent sent the Esther Diamond proposal to three editors, they all rejected it, and the agent promptly declared the series unsaleable, refused to send it out ever again, and thereafter bit my head off whenever I raised the subject.

 A few years later I fired the agent, and then I sent out Esther Diamond on my own. Within weeks, I got a good multi-book offer for her.

Unfortunately, though, that publisher did a poor job of publishing the first book, including a terrible cover, bad pricing decisions, and no marketing. This happens a lot. (And lest you think, “Ah! A literary agent would have known not to sell there!” Actually, the agent I’d recently fired placed other writers with that same publisher while refusing to send Esther Diamond anywhere.) As you’d expect, the book sank like a stone (which also happens a lot). Responding exactly the way most publishers usually respond to their own publishing mistakes, the publisher canceled my contract. So this series, which it had taken me years to get aloft, was shot down and lying dead in the water once again.

Meanwhile, in a fit of “conventional wisdom” idiocy, I had hired my new/fourth literary agent to “represent” me after I got that book deal on the table by myself. This was a very expensive mistake on my part. She collected 15% of that deal and never took the slightest interest in my career again. From then on, it became progressively harder to get my calls returned or my emails answered. And now that I had been dumped by the publisher and my career was in trouble, she made it clear that I was as welcome at that agency as a corpse at a vegan banquet.

Technically, I fired that agent; but that’s a lot like saying, “I filed for divorce after discovering my spouse had left me.” Then I (foolishly) queried some other agents. They were all negative about my plan to find a new publisher for Esther Diamond and even more negative about my writing. (If you were thinking that 20 book sales protects you from agents telling you that you can’t write–hah!–then think again.) Before long, I realized that it was well past time to give up on agents and concentrate on getting another publishing contract. So I once again researched the market and submitted Esther on my own… And, once again, within a few weeks, I got a good multi-book offer for her.

(Sidebar: Giving up on literary agents proved to be one of the very best business decisions I’ve ever made. I’ll talk about this more in future posts (and I’ve talked about it often in my Nink column and on other people’s blogs), but my career has improved so much since I quit working with agents that I regret not making the decision years before I did, and it’s difficult to think of a scenario in which I’d choose to go back to working with one.)

The editor who took a chance on this canceled series was the inimitable Betsy Wollheim, publisher of DAW Books—who won a well-deserved Hugo Award for Best Editor in sf/f in 2012. (Her co-publisher, Sheila Gilbert, got a long-overdue nomination for the same award in 2014.)  DAW Books, which is a small independently owned house (distributed by the Random Penguin empire), is very different from any other publishing house I’ve ever worked with, in that they treat me like a respected professional associate and treat my work as a valued asset. My experience with other publishers for many years was consistently that I was typically treated as something between a necessary nuisance and a crack whore, and my work was treated as anything from filler for holes in the schedule to street garbage. So, needless to say, I have been very happy at DAW Books and hope to keep writing for them for a long time.

I could tell I was finally at the right house with this book early on, when DAW (in an example of how differently they work than all my previous publishers) asked me what cover artists I was thinking of for this series–and it turned out we both had the same top pick: the brilliant Dan Dos Santos, who has done all but one of the the DAW Esther Diamond releases to date. (Dan was not available to do the reissue of Disappearing Nightly, which dropped into the schedule on short notice after I got the rights back. The DAW cover for DN was done by the talented David Palumbo, who was very professional and great to work with.) I also worked well together with DAW editorially and on production, and this is a better series as a result of being at that house instead of any other. So things have really worked out for the best, despite the long hard road that Esther Diamond traveled to get here.

The first book we did together was Doppelgangster, Esther #2, followed by Unsympathetic Magic and Vamparazzi. By then, I had rights back to Disappearing Nightly and the original, doomed edition was no longer in print; so I did a few minor revisions to the manuscript (it’s a luxury to be able to do some continuity fixes on book #1 of a series after you’ve written book #4). DAW repackaged it with the Palumbo cover and released this reissue the same year it released Esther #5, Polterheist, which was followed by The Misfortune Cookie a year later, and then Abracadaver in November 2014.

I’m now working on Esther Diamond #8, Goldzilla, set on Wall Street, and ED #9 & #10 are under contract with DAW. (That doesn’t mean the series ends with #10; it just means that’s how far we’re contracted at this time.)

Deep into writing this series now, after years of trying to get it off the ground, I still feel that this is exactly what I should be writing (though not the only thing that’s exactly what I should be writing), so I’m in this for the long haul. And I hope that readers will be, too!

Esther Diamond: Disappearing Nightly by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: Doppelgangster by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: Unsympathetic Magic by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: Vamparazzi by Laura Resnick
Esther Diamond: Polterheist by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: The Misfortune Cookie by Laura Resnick Esther Diamond: Abracadaver by Laura Resnick

 

Esther-DiamondThe next Esther Diamond novel–in which Esther, Max, & friends confront Evil in its natural habitat, Wall Street–finally has a title: Goldzilla.

Quick refresher, the previous series titles are, in order: Disappearing Nightly; Doppelgangster; Unsympathetic Magic; Vamparazzi; Polterheist; The Misfortune Cookie; and Abracadaver.

And frankly, coming up with a fantasy pun for every Esther Diamond title is a bitch. There are times I could hit myself with a brick for having started this pattern in the first place. But by the time I realized around book #4, Vamparazzi (and I am embarrassed to admit how long it took me to come up with that one), that this was going to be hard to sustain, it was too late. The pattern was already established, and my publisher-and-editor Elizabeth (Betsy) Wollheim of DAW Books was by then adamant and exacting about it.

I spent weeks (maybe months) flinging titles at Betsy for books #5 and #6, all of which she kept rejecting as not clever enough (and sometimes deplorably lacking in even the faintest glimmer of cleverness). At one point, frustrated by how long the work was getting stalled by this problem (because the ED plots arise from the premise implied in the titles), I blurted, “I can’t be clever all the time!” To which She Who Must Be Obeyed replied, “Yes, you can. We pay you to be clever all the time.”

(And, well, speaking from experience, that’s still easier than being paid to clean kennels, wait tables, clean houses, make cold calls, take orders from martinets, or deal with the public during the holidays.)

I finally thought up Polterheist and The Misfortune Cookie during the World Fantasy Convention one year, which Betsy and co-publisher Sheila Gilbert were also attending. So I hunted them down, said each of these titles, and got the right reaction–a quick laugh. (And, finally–thanks be to Fortune!–got title approval.)

That’s how I know an Esther title works, or at least has potential to pass muster with La Wollheim: When I say it to someone, they laugh. (The real challenge, then, is to make my editor laugh.) If I get a puzzled frown or a politely wan smile from my test case, then I know I have to keep searching for a title.

That’s also how I know if someone is a potential Esther Diamond reader: When they ask the title of something I’ve written recently and I tell them, they laugh. That’s someone who might go look for the books now.

In contrast, there are people–including a few dear friends of mine, so this doesn’t mean they’re “bad” people or dumb or anything like that–who look puzzled and say, “What?” And I say, “Doppelgangster” or “Vamparazzi,”  or whatever. And they again say, “It’s… what?” And I repeat the title, and they say, “It’s what?” And when I explain (ex. “it’s the word doppelgänger combined with ‘gangster,’ so the story is about mobsters who are dying mysteriously soon after seeing their own perfect doubles–which is what a doppelgänger is”)… they look at me with pity and doubt. Experience has taught me that that’s someone who’s not likely to become an Esther Diamond reader. (Humor is very individualistic, and the author’s own notion of what’s funny isn’t ever going to hit everyone’s sweet spot–not even the sweet spot of every person she counts as a true friend.)

Anyhow, Abracadaver proved to be an even steeper hill for me. I spent weeks sending titles to Betsy, who never cracked a smile (phosphorically speaking). And after a few weeks, I kept hearing this title in my head, but I didn’t know what it meant, and it had nothing at all to do with the plot I’d been working on, so I ignored it and ignored it and ignored it… Until eventually, in weary desperation, I sent it to her–and got a prompt response indicating, That’s it! That’s your title!!

Which was great, except that… I had no plot idea for the phrase “Abracadaver,” and I had a plot started that didn’t go with it. Arrrggghh!!

However… the exact same thing had happened with The Misfortune Cookie, and I actually wound up with a much better story, as well as a better title, by going along with Betsy’s exhausting standards. Which is why she’s the editor and I listen to her. Every time she has insisted a title wasn’t good enough, then after we finally settle on a title… I look back and see that, yep, she was right, my previous suggestions weren’t very good, and this is the right result. I also don’t even really remember the story ideas I was working on for Misfortune Cookie and Abracadaver before getting final titles, so probably those story ideas weren’t that good, either.

But when it came to Esther Diamond #8, I was really stuck. Even I hated all the titles I was coming up with, most of which I never even showed to Betsy. Finally, since I had to get a move on, I started sending her a few titles, none of which worked. Aware of my ill-concealed desperation, she asked me for details about the story, in which Esther and Max get involved in a Wall Street caper and encounter greed, riches beyond the dreams of avarice, greed, bankers and traders and brokers, greed, corruption, greed, gold and loot and money, greed…

And it was Betsy, praise be upon her name, who came up with Goldzilla, which perfectly fit the still-vague vision I had for this book which is pretty much about (in case you didn’t catch it) rapacious greed–and where it leads. So this, too, is an example of why it’s good to have an editor who really gets what you’re doing. (Compared to some publishing houses I’ve dealt with, where I worked with editors who didn’t even know who I was or why I was bothering them when I tried to discuss my contracted projects with them.)

So that’s where we are–we have a title! And I’m working on the book. I hope that the brilliant Dan Dos Santos will again do the cover (he’s done all but one of the previous Esther covers), but I don’t have information about that yet. I also don’t have a firm release date yet–will post it when I do.

Meanwhile, in related news, I’m very happy to say that Abracadaver made SciFiChick’s Best of 2014 list! Sci-Fi Chick is a reviewer who reads an extraordinary number of books each year, in addition to interviewing authors and maintaining a cool website.

The 7th book in the Esther Diamond series, Abracadaver was released in November. I’m grateful to DAW Books for acquiring the series from me after it was dumped by its previous publisher after one badly-published book (DAW subsequently reissued Disappearing Nightly, the first Esther novel), believing in this series, and doing such a great job with it. And I’m so happy that readers enjoy the books–which I love writing!

So, my thanks to everyone who has been enthusiastic about Esther Diamond!