As some of the old folks on this board know, I had a runaway hit on my hands as an indie back in 2017.
While things were getting insane, I had a no-sh*tter conversation with an acquiring editor at the fantasy imprint of a Big 5. He told me I'd have to be nuts to sign with his company. He said 5000 sales of a debut, for them, was a breakout hit. Most first-time authors on a Big 5 don't sell one-tenth of that. I'd already sold twice that. He couldn't promise me better sales than I was already getting, and he noted--correctly--that I'd take a serious blow to my receipts.
I found an agent who specializes in working with successful indies, primarily negotiating rights deals. She got me some very nice advances and a distribution deal, and is now shopping the first book of my next series to Big 5's, because she thought it was saleable. (Between you and me, she's right.)
I finished the manuscript in 2021, and one major publisher has now had it for TWO YEARS, "under consideration." Wonderful reply emails gushing about the writing, the characterization, the suspension of disbelief, the cross-genre potential. Two more publishers have had it for over a year, also gushing. So much gushing.
All this time, it could have been money in the bank. I say this because the last time a major held a manuscript of mine this long, I self-published it and it's now sold 20,000 copies, the last few thousand at $9.99 a pop for ebooks and I'm keeping 75% . Find me a Big 5 who'll pay you $7.50 on every ebook sale. I'll wait.
The only reason we're still pulling at the majors' sleeves is that indies, at least in SF/F, don't get considered for awards. This is super big-headed and gauche of me, I know. However, my second novel ended up 23rd on a Goodreads list for the Hugo Award the year it came out. As an indie, it never made the official longlist--it couldn't, because as I understand it, the award shows were (are still?) funded in large part by big publishers.
I don't expect the book we're shopping right now to win, and I'm not saying it will; I want just one shot at the title.
That said, this is the only point in my life where I've said to myself, "You know? It'd be okay to have less money." I'll willingly take a bath on this book if it means I get my shot, and I'll go back to being an indie after this, because I really like money. Realistically, I'm probably self-publishing it this year, though, in which case, screw 'em.
Well, it just got intriguing over here at Forward Operating Base Malik. I have to be vague, but an A-list VFX producer has expressed interest in a film option for the new manuscript. There's no formal deal, but we shook hands on it last week. He's getting a team together and talking to my agent.
It'll be interesting to see what effect this has on the publishers who are holding it when my agent reaches out to them with the news and starts naming names. Should they pass on the manuscript and we ink the film option, this guy's studio is big enough that the deal would be in the trades, and to quote Jayne Cobb, "Well, that'll be an interesting day." An option deal would generate the capital I'd need to self-publish it at a level I'm comfortable with, and please, come make me an offer when I'm already holding 75 points on the back end. Just know you're flying my agent out and buying the Scotch and the oysters.
There is work to be done, now: my next project is to cut the synopsis and outline down from a 460-page novel to fit into a 90-page screenplay. He's hiring a screenwriter as part of his team (assuming the strike ever ends); rewriting the synopsis and outline is for my own sanity handing my baby over to a stranger, and probably also so that I don't show up in his front yard with a flamethrower five years from now screaming "SUBTEXT, MOTHER****ER! SU-U-U-U-B TE-E-E-E-EXXXXXXXXT!"
Realistically, this doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. Five thousand books a year get picked up for film options; a thousand of them by people working at his level. Maybe ten make it to film or series. Another dozen become Hallmark Movies of the Week or whatever. Also, he could fail to find people interested, it could languish for ten years and never get greenlit, the industry could change again--or collapse--there are any number of ways it could die on the vine. I'm still excited, but after a couple of dinner meetings, I already know too much about the process to be optimistic. Still, a pretty good week.