pearls and perils of publishing

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Lost Indiana Jones Novel

cover illustration by Christian Guldager

This is a story about a novel that the publisher forgot to publish...and then never did. It says quite a bit about the state of the publishing industry.

Every so often I get an e-mail from someone asking if I wrote a novel called Indiana Jones and Staff of Kings. As any avid Indy fan knows, that's the name of the sixth version of the Indiana Jones computer game. There is no novel by that name. But there was supposed to be one. I know. I wrote it.

It rests on a shelf behind me in manuscript form. Had it been published, it would've been my seventh Indiana Jones novel.

The novel was written under contract, it was accepted for publication, and I was paid quite well for it. I was even flown out to LucasFilm in San Francisco to talk about the novel.

Everything seemed to be going quite well until the publisher literally forgot about it. The jargon phrases used for such a mistake go like this: 'Someone dropped the ball.' Or, 'It fell through the crack in the floor.' No, it wasn't a ball, it wasn't a crack. It was rigid thinking by the company execs, and an overworked editor.

You see, the publisher was fixated on the novel coming out the same time as the related computer game. The problem was that LucasFilm changed their game platform and that changed their schedule. No one told the publisher about it. Well, actually I did. A couple of avid Indy bloggers informed me of the changes, which I passed on to the editor. Unfortunately, the message never got through. The editor thought I had it wrong. Certainly, she would be informed on such matters, she implied.

Then the game came out just as the bloggers had said it would, but there was no book accompanying the release. The logical thing, it seemed to me, would be to rush the book into print. Nope. Somehow, the powers-that-be felt the book would not sell well unless it was released precisely at the time the game came out.

That's what I call rigid thinking. Do people who buy and play computer games buy a related book? Maybe some do. But I think it's a different audience. If you're spending money on games, you're probably not buying books.

So Del Rey lost money on the project, namely because no one ever had an opportunity to buy the book. An Indy fan wrote Howard Roffman, president of the Lucas Licensing, and asked what happened to the book. The response was forwarded to me. 'Rob MacGregor missed the deadline.'

Oh, yeah. I wrote to Roffman and told him that Del Rey had the completed novel for more than a year before the game came out. He checked on it, wrote me back, and apologized.

From a writer's point of view, it's all part of the business. If you get a contract and get paid, what happens to the book is basically none of the writer's business. It wasn't the first time, I'd encountered a publisher who accepted my work, paid me, then failed to follow through. Years ago, Trish and I wrote for OMNI Magazine and they did the same thing. Repeatedly.

Of course, OMNI doesn't exist any longer, and I'm thinking that many of the major publishers will fall through that 'crack in the floor' themselves...because someone 'dropped the ball.'


Natalie said...

I guess it is a bit like raising children...what happens after they can pay for themelves, is really no longer our business. Still, I was a bit offended that they tried to blame you, Rob! Pfffft!


catch those first few words on the cover art - don't they just tell the story, for sure! ;)

Nancy said...

Just catching up on this blog. Plenty of great information here for the aspiring writer. But I have to admit all the bs that you have to go through in order to publish turns me off, especially when you have to deal with others that don't do their jobs properly. Luckily you were paid for the book.