Selling the Past

For most of my early writing career, the seven most pernicious words I encountered came from the same place: agents and publishers. I heard them so often I came to view them as a defense mechanism, a fight-or-flight response that just spilled from their pens/keyboards when confronted with something alien. What were those words?

“I don’t know how to sell this.”

To this day, I confess I do not fully understand this reply to a manuscript set in Antiquity. You can sell dragons, barbarians, elves, weird sorcery, toxic love triangles, sparkly vampires, post-apocalyptic zombies, and Umberto Eco, but an war novel set in ancient Egypt just rocks you back on your heels and makes you doubt your abilities? Really? Really?

Egyptians, Persians, and Greeks! Oh, my!

I imagine “I don’t know how to sell this” was just code for “it’s not awesome enough for me to care.” It was a rejection couched in faint praise, as if to say “if I could figure out the audience I could make us both a great fortune!” But then, Medallion Press came along. They weren’t much, but they never said those seven dreaded words. In fact, they figured out how to sell it and made bank, at least for a while. How did they do it?

They emphasized the mystery of ancient Egypt. The iconography. The lexicon of words and phrases that evoke the timelessness of the Nile. They had a good cover and plastered that sucker everywhere, from the cover of Publisher’s Weekly to a giant banner inside the Javits Center in NYC. That eye staring out from the dust-eaten Greek helmet was everywhere, that year. Nor did it hurt that the book gathered some good reviews early on, from PW and Library Journal to Romantic Times and KMT (a magazine by Egyptologists for Egyptologists). They got it noticed, but they could never capitalize fully on that notice because they lacked market penetration. Book stores were still slow to stock their wares, and the big locations like B&N never really gave them a chance.

Medallion is long gone, now. The book has been drifting around in electronic format, a relic from an earlier, perhaps more elegant age. The book, of course, is Men of Bronze. And if you follow this blog, then you know that, after seventeen years, it has finally landed at a major publishing house.

It’s new home is with BAEN BOOKS.

That’s right! The publisher who brought us the incomparable David Drake, the Robert E. Howard collection with the silver spines, and who will be bringing forth Howard Andrew Jones’s tales of Hanuvar!

“Why Baen?” you might ask. The answer is rather simple, really: because they were interested in me as much as I was interested in them. They have a track record for mass-market paperbacks, which is how I envision both Men of Bronze and Memnon, and they dabble in everything from straight-up fantasy to military SF to alternate history. In short, they also don’t understand those seven words: “I don’t know how to sell this.”

Icing on the cake, of course, is the news I shared my post from 28 August: Men of Bronze is getting a rewrite from the ground up. Read that post here. When will all this happen? Well, the contracts are signed on my end, so at least initially both books will be released as-is in electronic format; if they performs well, they could be moved into the mass-market paperback program and the audiobook program. And once I’ve finished Men of Bronze: The Mythic Edition, it will go through their editorial review process and I should know more after that.

For now, though, the Goddess is poised to sing, once more, of the Ruin of Egypt . . .

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