Something Strange Happened on the way to the NYT Bestsellers List: Fantasy Author E. C. Ambrose

The 400,000 Word Mistake

By the time I sold “The Dark Apostle” series, I had already committed a mistake I always advise newbie authors against: I had written the complete 5-book cycle. I had the time, I had an onerous option clause in a prior contract that prevented me from selling for a long time, and I had this great character I wanted to write about, so, hey, why not? Well. . .once my agent brought in an offer on the series from DAW books, I found out exactly why not.
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They loved book 1, Elisha Barber—and they didn’t feel the other books lived up to the promise of the first. I was excited to have sold 5 books which were already written, only to find that I would need to re-write 4 of them. Not only that, but to re-envision them—to make them bigger, deeper, more epic. Yikes! This is one of the reasons I advise authors not to get ahead of themselves on writing sequels: if something changes in book 1, you’ve got to rewrite the others. Or, in the next 4 books, as the case may be. . .

(The other reason is simply that, if you can’t sell book 1, having books 2-5 doesn’t help—better to spend your time writing an unrelated book, after jotting your notes for the continuing series—then you have a different product to sell if the first series concept doesn’t fly. That’s how I ended up writing Elisha Barber, BTW—I was creating an alternate book to offer if publishers didn’t bite on my other series.)

The idea that I had to essentially trash about 400,000 words of prose did not rest well with me. I stomped around and kicked things, had a few tense conversations with my agent, then tightened my belt and decided to give it a try. My new editor had some ideas about how the series arc would go. I wasn’t crazy about them, but I wrote up an outline anyway. That one didn’t work. So he had some other ideas, and I put them together with my other ideas: still no good. Then I hit on a great approach, and developed a third outline I am very excited about—and the editor is, too. Elisha Magus, book 2 comes out July 1, with book 3 already in my editor’s hands, and book 4 out with my local critique group. By the end of the year, I hope to draft the grand finale—book 5, writing toward that great ending I envisioned and outlined months ago.

The end result of my failure to follow my own advice has been not only a stronger, bigger, and more marketable series concept, but also an improvement to my own plotting and brainstorming approach. I’m no longer afraid of the outline, but can view it as a tool to come up with something better—a tool I can manipulate to make my future books stronger, even before page 1.

About the author

ECAmbrose-sm-199x300As E. C. Ambrose, I’m the author of the Dark Apostle series from DAW books, a dark historical fantasy series about medieval surgery. (Yeah, I know, “dark” and “medieval surgery” is kind of redundant, but I want to make sure E. C. Ambroseyou know what you’re getting into.) The series started with Elisha Barber (7/13) and continues in July of 2014 with Elisha Magus.
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My short fiction has won the Tenebris Press Flash Fiction contest 2012 and is forthcoming in Fireside. You may also have seen my non-fiction pieces “The Romance of Ruins” and “Spoiler Alert!” in Clarkesworld magazine.

When I’m not writing, reading grim and gory history books, or visiting strange museums, I work as an adventure guide, taking teens into the White Mountains of New Hampshire for hiking, rock climbing, kayaking and campfire stories. All of them have come home alive. . . so far.

E. C. Ambrose website
E. C. Ambrose blog
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One thought on “Something Strange Happened on the way to the NYT Bestsellers List: Fantasy Author E. C. Ambrose

  1. I had two books written when I sold them….but had to rewrite almost half of each, so that was 100K or so down the drain. It’s a sad truth of publishing life, isn’t it?

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