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Not Your Usual Writing Advice




Negotiating with
the Muse


“Sometimes Muses are open to negotiation.”

Karen Harbaugh

Last month’s column discussed different ways writers decide which of the always numerous ideas to flesh out into the next story. Part of the discussion revolved around whether to follow the Muse or silence her.

Karen Harbaugh recommended following the Muse. She offered the example of her book Night Fires (Bantam/Dell 2003). She’d chosen to write the Muse-inspired book instead of the Regency her editor wanted and was glad she did.

Okay, so Karen followed the Muse — but how did she negotiate with the Muse?

“At the time, my husband was on strike, we had no income,” Karen told me. “I hadn’t worked outside the home for seven years. We were getting pretty desperate, and here was the Muse telling me I had to write this book that everyone told me would never sell. That was in 2000, when everyone was saying that vampires were a no-no, and that setting a romance during the French Revolution was the kiss of death, so to speak. Night Fires had both. And here was my editor, offering me easy money to write a Regency. Even my agent at the time said [writing Night Fires] was a bad idea.

“So I literally shook my fist one day and said, ‘Fine. If you want me to write this book, you had better make sure my family is financially secure, and that book sells and sells well.’ Crazy, right? But honestly, I felt pushed to the wall.

“A week and a half later, I got a technical writing job making good money. My husband’s union negotiated a good contract. We made enough money not only to pay our debts but to get my son orthodontic work and me a newer used car. To top it off, the book sold to Bantam/Dell within six months of my “negotiating” for twice what I would have received for a Regency. Then it was a finalist for the Rita award.

“I’m not saying that this kind of thing will happen to everyone, but sometimes figuring out what you can work out with the Muse (I did take that day job, after all) is worth it.”

Karen’s advice was originally offered to NINC member Edie Claire. Edie was working on two projects — a proposal two-thirds complete and a rewrite of a finished book she hopes to sell to a specific “picky editor.”

Then the Muse interfered. “The wench has a Glock to my temple, and she just won’t let up,” Edie said.

I asked Edie whether she’d followed Karen’s advice.

“I did follow the Muse and write the $#@# project. Whether or not that was a mistake is hard to say. I never did sell any of the three projects to traditional publishers. After I put my backlist up as e-books with some success (five years later), I decided to self-publish the books in question. Both the ‘picky editor’ book and the ‘two-thirds finished proposal’ have done very well, and I’m glad I was able to write them the way I wanted. As for the $#@# project, I tried harder to sell it to NY than any other book I’ve written, but as I expected, no one wanted anything so weirdly cross-genre. I plan to self-pub it and would have done so already except that I recently brought in a co-author to add nonfiction commentary and he’s not finished.

“I can’t say the $#@# project was or will be a success. But I did get it written. I’m quite certain I would not have written it if I hadn’t done so when the Muse had the Glock in place. If faced with this situation again, I think I’d base my decision on the importance of finishing the current project. If under deadline, either a    

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