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FORGE OF THE ELDERS: OKAY, HERE’S THE DEAL March 16, 2007

Posted by Administrator in : Politics , trackback

As most of my regular readers know, I’ve been involved — it seems like forever, now — in the effort of finding myself a new literary agent who can actually do something for me, and with whom I can get along.

I’ve had two agents before this, and it didn’t work out very well. I don’t want an agent eager to rewrite my books. There are already too many editors and even a number of “fans” who want to do that. I don’t want an agent anxious to “mold my career”, either. I’m 60 years old, the author of 27 books, and my career is already moldy enough, thank you.

The principle point of all this hoohah is to find a worthy home for my “Ngu Family Saga”, a collection of four big novels, two written and two planned, that begins with Pallas, continues with Ares and Ceres, and concludes with Beautiful Dreamer. By “worthy”, what I mean is a truly first class New York house (not necessarily a science fiction publisher; I flatter myself that these books have some of the same mainstream appeal as Dune) and a genuine shot at Hollywood, as well.

A secondary but important objective is the resale of about a dozen of my “properties” that are currently “O.P.” — out of print. This includes most of my early work, and in many instances I have to write to the original publisher and “revert” the rights, so my hypothetical future agent can offer them to somebody else. This kind of thing is essential in the career of a full-time writer — not only does it generate income, it also keeps your name before the public as you’re working on big projects that may take a long time — but I’ve never pursued it myself, because I’ve always been too busy writing the next novel.

During this reversion process, I was surprised and delighted to discover that my novel Forge of the Elders (Baen Books, 2000) is still technically in print. I have no idea what the original printings were like (it appeared in hard- and softcover) but Baen still has 1500 copies warehoused somewhere that I suspect it would like very much to sell.

In today’s book marketing terms, I have never measured up to my “potential”, and I’m certain I’ve been a disappointment to many a publisher. The hardcover edition is supposed to be like advertising for the paperback, and the paperback, once it starts appearing in rack pockets, is supposed to sell out at once, as if it were a monthly magazine.

My books sell slowly, and they keep selling steadily for years — decades, even — but that isn’t what today’s publisher wants. You sell like that, you’ve got a respectable future as a literary figure, but they don’t really want you. Some of them are even fairly rude about it.

Not Baen. Never Baen. They — Toni Weisskopf, specifically — have been uniformly kind and polite to me all through the seven years that Forge failed to become a bestseller. I’m very sad about that for a number of reasons, but the pertinent one here is that it’s my favorite — and, I firmly believe, the best-written — of all my books so far. (Ceres is better, but you won’t know that until I finally have an agent.)

If you haven’t read it, here’s what it’s about:

After most nations rejected Marxism in the late 1990s, the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Empire collapsed, the United States soon embraced Marxism wholeheartedly and eventually dragged the whole world backward, into the pit of collectivism. Now, as its “planned” economy inexorably disintegrates, the American Soviet Socialist Republic desperately lays claim to the newly-discovered asteroid 5023 Eris, and sends a ragtag expedition there, composed of the incompetent, the overly-competent, and a handful of obsolete heroes. But somebody (or something) is already there! The giant, molluscoid Elders are from Earth.

Sort of.

But they aren’t human.

And they’re individualists — and capitalists!

The book also offers three love stories, a little sex, a whole lot of interesting weapons, and hints at a connection to some of my other works.

As we sit here, the damn novel is coming true, right before our eyes. But Forge of the Elders has what you might call a checkered publishing history. Divided arbitrarily into thirds at the insistence of my agent at the time, who believed the public doesn’t like “big books” — think of the ways he might have benefitted J.K. Rowling’s career — it was originally published by Warner Books in 1990 as Contact and Commune and Converse and Conflict. When Time-Life bought Warner, they unilaterally cancelled the third volume, Concert and Cosmos; it was already finished and sat on a shelf in my office for ten long years.

Forge of the Elders was finally issued a full decade later, with its original title, as the single epic work it was always meant to be. It won Free-Market.net’s May, 2000 “Freedom Book of the Month” award, the “Freedom Book of the Year” award for 2000, and the 2001 Prometheus Award.

It also features one of the best cover paintings I’ve ever had.

I will always feel grateful (and a bit guilty) toward Baen. The only way I have of expressing my gratitude — and maybe alleviating a little of my guilt — is to make the final 1500 copies sell out fast. At that point, they can decide on one of two courses. They can reprint Forge of the Elders (very unlikely, I think) or they can let it go and, after a “decent interval” my hypothetical future agent can resell it.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I need your help, and I’m willing to offer you an incentive. The day Baen informs me that the last copy of Forge of the Elders has been sold (provided that it’s sometime in the next six months), I will publish, online and free for the downloading, a short story based on the novel. Forge of the Elders is basically a detective story — three of them, actually — featuring a human named Eichra Oren, his sidekick, a sapient dog named Oasam, and their employer, a Volswagen-sized nautiloid entity named Mr. Thoggosh. I’ve always wanted to explore their world more (we get just a glimpse of it in the novel) and write The Casebook of Eichra Oren.

This would be a beginning to that.

But wait — there’s more!

If Baen decides to reprint — or on the day I learn that the book has been resold — I will publish another free Forge of the Elders story. From then on, whenever a printing sells out, I’ll publish another story until there are enough to make a nice, big, satisfying collection.

How can you help? You can help me sell those 1500 books. Recommend the novel to friends, mention it wherever you go online (regrettably, it’s more than a little pertinent to today’s crappy politics), buy several and stock up on gifts for family, friends, and especially for enemies.

If you can’t bring them around and make them see the light of freedom, at least you can mess with their digestion, cost them a night’s sleep, and reduce their actuarial life expectancy by a few minutes.

That’s better than nothing.

But remember, there are only 284 shopping days till Xmas!

Comments

1. al perez - March 17, 2007

Would you believe you caught me in the middle of re-reading Forge? I’ll start plugging to friends right away.

2. Bill St. Clair - March 17, 2007

Baen is selling the Forge of the Elders hardcover for $25, the paperback for $8, and the ebook for $4.

http://www.baen.com/author_catalog.asp?author=lnsmith

Has it really been six years since this was published? Time flies.

3. Perry E. Metzger - March 17, 2007

Amazon has both hard and softcover available new. Which is it that you need people to buy? (And could you update your original blog entry to say?)

4. Derek Benner - March 17, 2007

Haven’t re-read Forge for some time now. I’ll have to go back and start it up again. ;-)

5. Ken Holder - March 17, 2007

Added to lneilsmith.org a direct link to the Baen “by Forge” page to help speed things along. Oh, that’s also right here:

http://www.baen.com/author_catalog.asp?author=lnsmith

to help speed things along :-)

6. Ward Griffiths - March 17, 2007

Actually, I thought the cover art for “Contact and Commune” and “Converse and Conflict” were the best any of your books had gotten to that point, much better than the Eggleton cover (though I love the tableau Eggleton used, the execution was not great). I blame the crappy art on the Del Rey releases for my ignorance of your work until I read “Embarrassment Box” (and then busted ass to catch up). Alternate history can be fun — I’d like the basic framework from the first printing of TPB redone by the artist who did the cover for the reprint (Deejay is beautiful, Ooloorie is neat, but Olongo is much more impressive if done right). And anyone involved with the art for HB and PB releases of “Bretta Martyn” should simply be taken out and shot. Do it now.

7. Frank Bieser - March 17, 2007

I bought my copy of “Forge of the Elders” from Amazon a few years ago. Still seems to be available there too. A gripping read to be sure.

Also, speaking as one of the few privileged to read an advance version of “Ceres”, I agree it is your best written work. The pacing and story flow is well done. The characters are nicely flawed, making them believable and accessable. And as the momentum of the story holds well throughout, it could easily translate to film. Many of the space scenes could be quite stunning. The zero gravity stuff would be the biggest production challenge, but the whole story could be done for a modest sci-fi budget.

8. Administrator - March 18, 2007

….Thank you very much, Frank!

….I confess that I’ve never quite understood what “flawed” means in this context. Each of the characters in _Ceres_ has a backstory, to be sure, and their lives are variously complicated. A couple I know who are both writers and famililar with my work say the characters in _Ceres_ are more “layered”. Quite honestly, I can’t wait until it’s published.

….Funny thing about the movies. Back when I had an agent, he gave _Crystal Empire_ to a producer to read. Whoever it was returned with the verdict, “This thing would cost sixty million dollars to produce — and nobody wants another _Dune_.” Funny thing is, I wrote the book to be cheaply filmable, with the grand prairie scenes shot in Alberta, and the San Francisco scenes doable by what passed for CG in those days. Scenes in Rome were meant to be shot in Barcelona. But my agent never told him that.

….Ward, the various covers for _Bretta_ are part of a larger story. There’s yet another cover that you never saw — I have a proof copy around here somewhere — that was almost as bad as the hardcover edition.

….Here’s what I think happened. You may recall that Brad Linaweaver and a friend of his put together what was to be the first purely libertarian collection of science fiction stories. I had a piece in it, and it was dedicated to Virginia Heinlein.

….The project was handed over to a leftist dweeb for editing. He wanted to strip half the stories out (including mine and a poem by Robert Anton Wilson) and run in a bunch of people who get _called_ libertarian occasionally, but who are not. Turns out he’d done that sort of thing before, raping a collection of “nuts and bolts” skiffy stories and inserting two by Ursula K. LeGuin. When Brad and his partner refused, the editor held onto the book and left it in limbo for two years.

….Something had to be done. So I wrote to Tom Doherty, the boss at Tor, explaining what had been done to Brad’s collection, asserting that it had been done for political reasons (the guy ran a big nasty newsletter, so that charge was easy to back up) and so that the editor could then be said by his dweeby leftist friends among the critics to have “redefined the genre” — by butchering it and running in ringers.

….Virginia wrote a letter, too, that basically said, “Let my people go!” and the next time Brad saw the editor in person, at a convention, the guy threw the manuscript at him and snarled bitterly, “I wash my hands of it!”

….An extremely short time later, I got the worst cover on a novel that I had ever received. Cathy says that the figure on the cover — which is supposed to be a very healthy 15-year-old girl who resembles Bridget Fonda at that age — looks like a 70-year-old woman in the final stages of chemotherapy.

….I permitted myself a temper tantrum. The artist was a very popular and famous one, who knew perfectly well how to draw pretty girls, so I knew this rancid cover had to be deliberate. They then offered me a paperback cover that looked like … well, just say it looked like a spacegoing Baby Ruth with running lights and no wrapper.

….When they tried again, it was a detail from a piece of “stock art” they had in a storeroom somewhere. The truth is that I kind of like that cover because it reflects the mood very well of a particular section of the book.

9. al perez - March 18, 2007

A little bit of advice:
Try to buy/order Forge or any other titles (new of course)from ma and pa book dealers if possible.
Besides the obvious support for small and local business they are more likely to support small and one off orders than corporate big boys like Barnes and Noble, to name an example.
Also corporate and employee bias against libertarianism, liberalism, conservatism or other political incorrectness is less likely to block your order/ keep interesting titles out of stock.
Besides, how many of us are cosidering starting a small bookstore in the next few decades? It would be nice if such things still existed by then.
Uf course if you can’t find ma&pa store there’s always Amazon.com.

10. Administrator - March 18, 2007

….Actually, we have a Mom and Pop of our very own, in the form of Pat and Ken Holder. They will benefit (and it’s the only pay they get for having maintained my personal website and running _The Libertarian Enterprise_ for more than a decade) if you do the following:

….Go to The Webley Page and find “My Books” in the lefthand column. Click on that, scroll down to _Forge of the Elders_, click on that, and after admiring the cover painting (or not), click on “Buy the Paperback” and it’ll take you to Amazon.com.

….When you buy a copy that way, Mom and Pop … er, Pat and Ken get a small commission.

11. John Dougan - March 20, 2007

How will Baen selling out all of the paper copies affect availability of the ebook edition?

12. Adam Tuchman - March 21, 2007

I got my copy autographed by you at the Libertarian Futurist Society’s piggy-backing on the Macon convention several years ago. Bob Eggleton is the artist; as I know him I got him to autograph it. You also had mentioned that it was one of your favorite cover; at our next meeting I’ll relay to Bob that it is still a favorite.

13. al perez - March 22, 2007

Does this work for all your titles?
Also does tghis work for other authors’ work?
Finally if yes to question 2 do you get a piece of the action? It would give fans and other supporters a chance to support your work.

14. Pete Nofel - March 23, 2007

Neil,

I’m both saddened and dismayed that you haven’t got an agent. Being naïve about the book publishing business, I’d have thought that once you’d made several book sales, you’d have no trouble.

I’ve been a reader of yours since I found The Probability Broach in its first paperback printing back in 1981 while on a business trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul. I’d found Uncle Hugo’s science fiction and mystery bookstore and thought I’d entered heaven.

How the author of Tom Paine Maru cannot find an adequate agent, while Spider Robinson is commissioned by the Heinlein estate to complete Variable Star, is beyond belief.

Not that I’m knocking Robinson, but after struggling through 75 pages of Variable Star – and thinking at almost each paragraph “Heinlein would have NEVER written like this” – I gave up on it.

Either you or John Varley would have done so much better at creating a “juvenile” hero true to the tradition of Rod Walker, Kip Russell, or Matt Dodson [extra points for readers who can identify the books from which they are taken without Googling].

Arran Islay, Whitey O’Thraight, nor Lysandra Nahuatl would be as wimpy and as prone to fainting [!] from overwhelming emotions as the Robinson wrote Joel Johnston.

Again, Robinson is a journeyman writer, and probably one of the greatest supporters of Heinlein, but his estate made a grievous error not picking you to do Variable Star.

No need to “bribe” me to purchase Forge. I’ll get another copy to use as a gift.

15. Ward Griffiths - March 23, 2007

If you use the TLE portal to Amazon, it applies to any and all purchases there. It’s the only way I’ve used Amazon for years. (Generally once to twice per annum, when La Esposa lets me get hold of one of my credit cards).

16. Matt Lust - March 26, 2007

I don’t realy do print anymore for my pleasure reading. Its either audio through auidble.com or ebooks like Baen offers. (its not personal its professional. I spend to many hours pouring over the printed word in scholastic pursuits (graduate school is hell) that I need a break.)

So long story short does it make Baen moderately pleased to do the ebook thing?

17. al perez - April 6, 2007

Be prepared to buy multiple copies ot L. Neil’s work, Had to break down and replace my copy of The Mitvah today as the person I loaned it to said their mother (who lives out of town) loves it. Make sure you leave instructions on how to order through TLE on the fly page so that people who acquire on permanent loan can order their own stuff and forge more links.

18. Curt Howland - April 10, 2007

El Neil, I was impressed with the Print On Demand service that Mises.org is using. I asked them, they said they use Lulu.com. Just in case something like this would work for your “free as in unencumbered” works.

19. Walt Rorie-Baety - April 13, 2007

I’m a long-time fan, and recently (six months or so ago) picked up “Forge of the Elders.” I think it’s nicely done, and would like to see more of “Mister Thoggosh” in action. As soon as I was introduced to him in the story, though, I couldn’t help but keep saying to myself, “Why didn’t he call this thing ‘Margin Call of Cthulu,’ it would’ve been so much more fun that way?” Maybe one of those future stories can be about some of the ASSR folks sneaking back to homeland…and start up a Cult… ;)

20. RDB - April 20, 2007

Baen also makes *Forge of the Elders* available in electronic formats, which I purchased shortly after they put it out.

Y’see, even though I’ve got copies of the first two volumes in dead-tree format and I bought the Baen paperback edition when that hit the stands, my eyes are a bit wonky, and I wanted to be able to audit the work in MS Reader format, monotone and mispronunciations notwithstanding.

Is it likely that your earliest stuff – particularly *Their Majesties’ Bucketeers* – is likely to come available in a form that us cataracted customers can get our hands upon? Thanks.

21. Michael B. - April 23, 2007

Hmm..Favorite covers?
I must say the trade paperback versions of both TPB and TAmerican Zone are two that I have long wished were in poster form that I could put on my wall.

I find Henry Martyn to be such a good book, that I believe the cover art to be superb.,..though that may just be my bias talking…

Um. I thought The Gallatin Divergence was a very interesting cover. Well done and full of fun details.

Hm. The other covers are favorites in some jumbled mass of ranking into which I wish not to delve.

22. Bryan - April 25, 2007

I guess I’m just too modern…

I have Forge as a Baen Ebook. I carry my thin-hardback sized subnotebook PC everywhere, and it’s just easier to have access to my entire Baen library on a single SD card…

At least you still got your residuals from me, right Neil?

23. bob - May 10, 2007

I love any and all of LN Smith’s books…I keep re-reading them and looking to get the new one CERES as soon as its out…just got done with re-reading Mitzvah

24. al perez - June 8, 2007

Reaction to Pete Nofel’s comment:
Publishing houses are idiots. One of the science fiction houses should have set Neil up with a suitable agent long time ago and then committed itself to making sure that his books got the exposure they deserve in bookstores and other venues. Ace lost a mint back in the Sixties when they lost contact with H. Beam Piper. OK so his agent died and kept lousy records, but Ace should have been ready to support one of their cash cows better.
Publishing houses need to keep after Barnes and Noble and other large book dealers better. I saw hardback copies of 2 titles from one of Baen’s cash cow series being sold at discount. These are titles from five or more years ago. Yes people buy through Amazon.com and get there through TLE. This does not expose new readers or attract new friends.
Finally in defense of Spider Robinson, you’re right, he didn’t write a Heinlein novel. He wrote a Robinson novel based on an idea and outline notes provided by Heinlein’s estate. He was told to write the best Spider Robinson novel he could based on those notes. He carried out his commission. It’s a great Spider Robinson novel. It may not be the novel our esteemed administrator may have written and it doesn’t completely share the libertarian point of view.
Back when (ca. 1979-80 or so) when it was fashionable among a wide variety of semiliterate critics and some who didn’t have that excuse to bash the Grand Master (Heinlein wwas officially recognized as one of SF’s GM’s) Spider wrote Rah, Rah, R.A.H, a long essay defending Heinlein, effectively and in detail. He also reviewed and plugged in Analog the books Heinlein wrote when he made his return to writing. That’s how he got the job.
May we all have as loyal defenders from any detractors and as grateful friends.
Of course a good stock of Bushmill’s 1607 to drink without tobacco and a good supply of bourbon with some realy nice Maduro torpedos pour le difference and a stack of Neil’s, Spider’s, and Robert’s works to read while enjoying them would be nice too.

;

25. Powell - July 20, 2007

Why not publish online? eBooks, or something to that effect. I don’t know how well your one e-book sold. But I know I would have bought a copy had there been some other way besides PayPal, whom I detest. [Of course it has been some time since I checked.]

Then I see little need for an agent.

26. Sean Roach - September 7, 2007

I just discovered your literature by way of the webcomic that was done of “probability broach”. I have a trade paperback of that on order, the original, I hope, not the comic book, (I want more detail.) When I get that read, along with it’s sequels, “Forge” is definately on my list…but very likely electronically.

I should have picked it up when it came out. I already have reason to know Baen produces good stuff. The world will miss him.

27. Gary Lewis - March 17, 2008

I found “Forge” at a Barnes and Noble about two years ago when I was looking for more of your work after reading PB and FOTE. Of all your work, my favorite character is Eichra Oren; it strikes me that he could be the younger brother of John Galt, at least philosophically. I’m also fascinated by his mother and would like more insight into the family. Since FOTE, I’ve read Pallas and The Galliten Divergence, both of which I highly admire. Great story telling with a serious point!

It looks like it’s been 6+ months since the previous post so I hope by now you have an agent.

On another front, I’m looking for a weapon for personal protection and can’t think of anyone better to ask for a recommendation.

28. Larry - June 16, 2008

Signed first editions available?

Thanks.

Larry Farrell

P.S.

Handle an XD; you’ll be amazed! A Hi-Cap .45 that feels like a P-35.

lcf