Thursday, April 21, 2011

Interview with John Passarella (Part 2 of 2)

Thanks everyone who stopped by last week to read the first part of this interview. I hope you enjoyed last week and are ready for part two. Take it away, John!

What’s the selection process like for a media tie-in? Is it easier or harder to get a contract that way than an original work?

I contacted Lisa Clancy about writing a Buffy novel after WITHER came out. Then she asked if I'd like to do an Angel novel. Years later, her successor called and asked if I'd like to do another Angel novel for a particular slot they had open. For Supernatural: Night Terror, I was contacted by Cath Trechman at Titan Books in the UK. She asked if I'd be interested in writing a Supernatural novel and told me when it would be due. So, I inquired once, but had to prove I could write in the Buffyverse and submit a complete outline before I got the job. For the other media tie-in books, the editors came to me. For the Angel books, the editors either had experience with me or knew I had done previous books in that world. For the Supernatural book, I think my credits and visibility on the Web helped me get the offer. I wrote supernatural novels and had media tie-in experience.

For my original novels, I followed an unusual course. WITHER had a big movie rights sale before we sold the actual book. The book rode the movie sale news east to New York (it was reported in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter) and we had editors asking to see the book faster than our literary editor could get it to them. Without a movie deal, it's much harder, especially when you are an unknown. The media tie-in books come with built-in interest and a fan following. As an independent author, you don't have any marketing or name recognition behind you. Much harder to crack. On the flip side, having published books under your belt gives tie-in editors confidence that you are a professional and can produce a professional manuscript.

Is it faster/easier to write one than the other?

It's definitely faster for me writing a media tie-in novel. First, they are shorter than my own novels. My shortest original novel is about 90,000 with others going over 105,000. That seems to be my comfort zone for length. My media tie-in novels have ranged from mid 50,000s to 80,000 for Supernatural: Night Terror. I wrote Angel: Monolith in 45 days. I wrote the first draft of Supernatural: Night Terror in 57 days. For my own novels, the first draft usually takes 4 to 6 months. Second, for all the media tie-in novels, I've had to write a detailed outline and, for contractual reasons, I stayed close to those approved outlines. That meant I never wrote myself into a corner. I always knew how the story ended. For my original novels, I've only written loose outlines, sometimes at the halfway point. I've been trying to convince myself to write more detailed outlines for my own novels. I'm sure it would help. Third, the media tie-in novels have tight deadlines and release schedules. You usually don't have a lot of time once you get the green light. That forces you to stay focused, to meet the deadlines. For my own novels, I've never had a tight deadline, even when I was under a multi-book contract. The deadlines are more general guidelines. If you become a big-name author, those deadlines become more serious because the publisher wants to release your books every year around the same release month. As far as easier, each type of novel has its challenges, as I've mentioned earlier. But generally, the tie-ins keep you on track and efficient. For original novels, the freedom to write what you want when you want can lead to procrastination and experimentation and endless rewrites. I've met quite a few authors who have been writing their first novel for years, but never seem to get to the end. You have to find a middle ground if you want to be productive.

Have you noticed that fans of your work-for-hire buy your original works?

While I haven't taken a poll, I believe there is some crossover for me, mainly because my tie-in work exists in the same genre as my original novels, modern-day supernatural thrillers with some humor. Humor was a big part of Buffy and it's a big part of Supernatural. At the same time, the horror and thriller aspects are taken seriously. I've had a few of my original novel readers try my tie-in work as well, even if they haven't watched the show the tie-in is based on. One reader said he wanted to watch the show after he read my tie-in. I think all writers of tie-in novels hope to bring some fans from the tie-in universe to their own books.

Juli says, I'm one of those who became a fan of John's because of an Angel novel.

How do you juggle both writing and running a web design company? Any advice for budding writers who can’t afford to quit the day job?

When I had a so-called day job, I kept a better writing schedule because I forced myself to write during lunch and in the evenings. Running my own web design company ( has become a challenge, as far as finding time to write. The company keeps growing and the Web design field is in constant motion, so there's always more to learn. For me, it's not a question of taking my work home, I have a home office, so I never leave my work! That makes it hard. I use the same computer to design Websites that I use to write novels, so there's never any getting away from my "work" station. For Supernatural: Night Terror, with the tight deadline, I wrote a lot of the book after midnight. My average time to turn in each night kept drifting later and later until I was going to sleep around 4 AM. That became my norm. I've always been a night owl, but that was getting a bit ridiculous. The challenge for me is to keep up with the Web design world's changes while writing my own novel on spec, with no contract and no deadline. It's always easier to focus on the work that pays immediately rather than on the work which may or may not pay off six months to a year in the future. I read articles about taking back some of the "life" part from the work/life balance. I've made an effort to work less on the Web side on the weekends, but I know that to be an effective writer, I need to write almost every day of the week. I can't put a novel-in-progress aside for five days, then pick it up on Saturday and say, Now where was I? For my own writing routine, I need to be plugged into the story everyday, because the work isn't all done at the keyboard. I think about the story when I'm away from the computer, I think about it before I go to sleep, when I wake up in the morning, etc. If I set it aside for five days in a row, all the subconscious processes go into hibernation. So, I'm still learning.

Thank you, John! I appreciate you being so open and candid with us about being a writer. Appreciate him yourself by visiting his author website and checking out his books.

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