Let me back up.
In 1997, I wrote a novel. After a lengthy period of writing in the SF/F genres exclusively (though I didn’t think of them as genres back then but just as Shit I Wanted to Read and Therefore Write About) I entered into a period I think of as my Faux Literary Period, where I thought I should be writing about Velly Important Stuff and eschewing things like robots and magic. So I started writing about a bunch of alcoholic losers who rob an office where one of them works, thinking it would change their lives. At first it was titled Lie Down in Our Graves after a Dave Mathews song I’ve never heard, because my titles always suck.
I renamed the novel Lifers and in 1999 started sending it out, and sold it, unagented, to a tiny publisher out in California. For money! A microscopic advance and a standard royalty rate. I figured I’d made it and began purchasing rare whiskies in bulk.
I wish I’d had an agent, however, as it was a terrible contract I was saved from only because the publisher went out of business in 2004. I will never know how many copies of Lifers sold back then since I never received any sort of statement from them. Lifers got reviewed in The New York Times Book Review and The Philadelphia Inquirer but that didn’t amount to much.
So I started working on new novels. I wrote a few that shared a universe with Lifers because I thought it would be cool to do that. In 2001 I wrote a novel titled In Sad Review which I thought was pretty good, and a few years later I started sending it around – this time to agents, because my experience with Lifers had taught me that I needed someone who knew what they were doing on my side. In 2004 I got a response from an agent. She was just getting started, but she loved the book, and she signed me up, although she required me to ditch the terrible title and re-christened it Chum. I figured I’d made it, and began purchasing furnishings for my future mansion.
A year or two later we hadn’t sold it, and I embarked on the first of several revisions, deleting material, adding material, sharpening it. Then we sort of accidentally sold a science fiction book called The Electric Church. I figured I’d made it, and began having all my underwear custom made in Italy.
Let’s fast-forward over the next nine years or so. Nine years. Occasionally we’d take Chum out of its jar and poke at it. I rewrote it a total of five times, I think. When we were bored or depressed we’d have a Chum party. My agent had smart people in her office read it and give me notes. Every now and then I’d ask her if Chum was a dead letter because it had been on submission for so long. She’d always assure me that Chum had a special place in her heart and would never be abandoned.
And this week, nine years later, I signed a contract to publish this book.
If nine years and five revisions isn’t inspiring, I don’t understand you. It underscores how much of the publishing business is about the right time, the right editor. All you need is someone who reads your work with the same level of enthusiasm that you have when you wrote it.
Chum isn’t exactly a sequel to Lifers. It shares a universe and some characters, but the story is wholly independent. In Chum you can also glimpse scenes from other novels I wrote around the same time, all unpublished. But after this, who knows? You may see them after all.