This is going to be slightly abbreviated, because I've already written about the creation of this book — originally written as one big fat brassy thriller/SF novel in portal fantasy drag, chopped in half for publication as two thin fantasies, then reassembled as "The Bloodline Trade" for the UK market — in several places. In fact, for the revised, authoritative version of the crib sheet, read this essay before continuing to the footnotes below the fold.
When Tor UK were getting ready to relaunch the series, my editor Bella Pagan asked me if I could write some essays for the Tor UK blog, discussing the books. I am too lazy to cut and paste and reformat everything, so I'm going to deep-link to Tor, and hope they don't drop the files:
Finally, some words that didn't make it into any of those essays: a subjective recollection of the UK sales track of the series.
Back in 2002, when my agent sold the rights to "The Family Trade", she tried (as is usual) to run an auction in New York. We had high hopes for the series: it was designed, near as I could, to go front list, or even (we hoped) bestseller. Alas, only one bidder showed up. When you're in an auction and that happens, suddenly it's a monopsony: which is how David Hartwell scooped up world English language rights for Tor US.
Now, when a US publisher buys world English language rights to a book, this does not mean they're going to publish it worldwide. They don't generally have the sales, distribution, marketing, or accounting infrastructure to sell it outside of North America. So, traditionally, what they do is license the territorial rights to a local publisher.
By 2002, Tor was part of Macmillan, a large English language publishing group which was in turn part of Holtzbrink, one of the big six global publishers (the German one, in case you hadn't guessed). In the UK, their sibling company was Macmillan, whose SF imprint, Pan, was quite successful ... but according to their marketing research, had less of a reputation (in the UK!) than the foreign imprint, Tor. So Macmillan in the UK established a Tor imprint as a sidecar hanging off the PanMac SF publishing side of the operation. In those days, SF and fantasy at Macmillan was run by one of the grand old men of British publishing, Peter Lavery (now retired), and his assistant editor. But I didn't know this at the time — all I knew was that David Hartwell, and his boss (Tor's CEO, Tom Doherty) had the rights to my series and would try and sell it in the UK.
And it didn't sell. And didn't sell.
I kept asking: "any news on the UK rights?" And David kept telling me, "it's really bad. Peter won't take it, so we're doing the rounds everywhere else."
Around 2006, my agent and I were getting fed up. Tor's lock on non-North American rights had a sunset clause; as I recall, if they couldn't publish within two years we had the right to ask for those rights back and try to sell it ourselves. Back in the prehistory of ebooks and self-publishing this wasn't a good idea, but it was better than nothing. So I was getting ready to talk to my agent about getting our rights back when, as happens, I ended up at the pub crawl after a book launch in Edinburgh. It was a first novel by a local writer, published by Macmillan, and while I couldn't make the launch and reading, everyone was converging on a bar afterwards. So I cut out the middle-man and headed out for an evening on the town.
Three half-litre bottles of Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier later, I was chatting with friends when I happened to spy someone who matched a description, standing around in amiable companionship with a bottle of wine.
Now, it is generally stupid for an author to cold-sell to a publisher. It is especially stupid to do so when drunk. (Reduce the stupidity coefficient if the publisher is also drunk.) But I didn't see that I had anything to lose, and in any case, I had a hypothesis ...
"Hi," I said, "I believe you're Peter Lavery?"
Peter nodded at me, only slightly warily. (See, editors have a reflexive response to being approached by random drunken strangers. It's a bit like your reflexive response to being approached by a random drunken stranger.)
"I don't want to waste your time," I explained, "so I'll keep this short. I believe that about eighteen months ago Tom Doherty and David Hartwell visited you and tried to convince you to take on a fantasy series by a hot new American writer. Firstly, it's SF, not fantasy, and secondly, I'm not American. Cheers."
Then he smiled. And that was the sum total of my sales pitch, aside from telling him my name when he asked.
Two weeks later I got a phone call from New York. It was my editor. "Charlie! You'll never guess what's happened! Peter Lavery has changed his mind ..."
Alas, it didn't last.
Tor UK did indeed take on the Merchant Princes series. They put fairly forgettable generic fantasy covers on the first two and pushed them out into the market, where they disappeared, leaving barely a ripple. Then, as they were about to release "The Clan Corporate", disaster struck.
First, Peter Lavery retired. This wasn't unexpected; they'd been planning for it. Indeed, his senior editor, Stephanie Bierwerth, was due to step into his shoes and take over running the shop. And this worked smoothly until, a month later, a rival publisher made Stephanie an offer she couldn't refuse.
Tor UK was without an editor (not just an editorial director, but any editor at all, as far as I can tell) for some months. Then Julie Crisp arrived, in conjunction with a sweeping change of senior management at Macmillan. My series was orphaned (sales figures were poor: both editors who'd been involved had left: the entire Tor UK list was deprecated for a while), and books 4-6 simply never came out.
Fast-forward to late 2011.
My agent and I had been discussing reverting the UK rights to the series when I got an email from my editor at Orbit, Bella Pagan. "I'm sorry to have to break the bad news to you," it began, "but I'm leaving for a job with Macmillan. I guess I won't be editing you any more!"
My email response: "Bella, don't be so sure of that ..."
If you've got an orphaned series stranded with a publisher who haven't even issued the second half of it, about the best thing that can happen to you is for your dynamic, efficient editor from your other publisher to get a job there. Bella blew the dust off Tor UK, and I pitched my idea: that we could try to relaunch the series, in a form factor more acceptable to the UK market. These were originally going to be big (600-700) page books, parallel-universe technothrillers rather than genre fantasy — could she publish them as such if I did the necessary work to re-assemble six thin books into three fat ones?
Well, the answer was "yes" — but with one string attached: Bella wanted to launch the books, for maximum impact, at one month intervals.
The first six Merchant Princes books weigh in at 640,000 words. I had to fix any errata, redraft, and edit them into three books in three months.
Let me give you some figures:
War and Peace (Nikolai Tolstoy) — 620,000 words
The Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkein) — 460,000 words
Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson) — 350,000 words
Yes, I did succeed in redrafting something longer than "War and Peace" — two thirds the length of Stephenson's Baroque Cycle — in under twelve weeks last summer. It nearly broke me. I had to use Microsoft Word, because we were using change tracking, and I wasn't going to trust any other word processor to be 100% bug-compatible with MS Word (as used by publishers) on a job of that size — not if the price of incompatibility was having to redo three months' work. Per Word, I made around 12,500 insertions, deletions, and changes to the series. Note that those were mostly word or phrase sized modifications, not individual characters: it's an average of 5-7 changes per page, as published.
For the final run through the page proofs, in October to December, I surrendered to the inevitable. I am a crap proofreader. I know this for a fact: I've had tech publishing jobs in which management tried to turn me into a proofreader and lived to regret it. It's the author's job to check the page proofs (in parallel with a proofreader paid by the publisher), but, although I wanted an extra pair of eyeballs on the page, I simply wasn't up to doing it. So I paid a local editor and SF writer I've worked with before to do the job for me. Checking the proofs to the Merchant Princes in three months nearly broke him. (The stack of foul paper — marked-up papers: he likes to work it old-school — is more than a foot deep). But we made it, delivering the finished, checked pages only a couple of weeks later than planned, and I believe the third and final book should be in the shops later this week.