Friday, October 4, 2013

Reaper Report: Tom Clancy: Dead

As readers of this blog know, Thriller Guy is always happy to speak ill of the dead, so, he would like to announce that it is well known in the book world that Tom Clancy was, personally, an insufferable ass. Before you chastise TG for being cruel, be aware that many in the Publishing Bizz also think that TG himself is an insufferable ass. And TG would like to state right up front that Clancy’s early books were favorites and that he has reviewed the books over the years and has always admired the work, even if the middle years were sort of boring. But the guy could be a real mean, arrogant bastard. Many are the stories, and if one goes back into the thriller Guy archives one would find this one by my friend Kathleen Ewing but TG will not report any of the better ones here because the people involved are all afraid that somehow this will anger the book gods and go against them the next time they’re trying to peddle a book or manuscript. Today’s Washington Post is the first to touch on this touchy subject with a piece about an interview Peter Carlson did with Clancy years ago. If anyone would like to chime in with one of these stories TG would be glad to put it on the blog.

Clancy lived just down the road from TG. When his first book, The Hunt For Red October came out and was beginning it’s phenomenal rise up the bestseller lists, TG went to the local bookstore in our small community. TG can’t remember what this bookstore was, but it was a small version of one of the big chains. It was always an odd store, with books piled haphazardly on the floor and scattered carelessly across the shelves. The manager and seemingly only employee was a gray-haired frazzled woman who always looked like she was in way over her head. On the day of TG’s visit, he noticed a pile of Clancy’s Red October book on top of which the woman had written in ballpoint pen on a piece of shirt cardboard: Local Author. I commented on the book and sign and she said that since she had put up the sign Clancy had become a bestselling author. TG asked a couple of questions, but the woman firmly believed that the sign was the single cause of his success. TG went home and wrote a little note to Clancy to tell him this mildly amusing story and sent it off. Of course he never wrote back.

But TG has a more important reason for bringing up Clancy, besides the fact that he enjoys speaking ill of the dead and saying things that everyone else is too polite and afraid to say. Here’s a lesson in the business of writing.

The story of Clancy selling his book to the Naval Instituted Press has been told over and over again for years. How they gave him $5,000 for what was the first novel they had ever published, having done nothing but non-fiction before that. How Ronald Reagan plugged it and the rest was history. So skip ahead to the day Clancy wanted to dump the N.I.P. for a Big Time Publisher, Putnam, in this case, where he could make even more millions than he was currently making. Turns out that the first contract he signed with N.I.P. – he had no agent – gave all the rights to all his characters to them. In other words, they, not Clancy, owned the rights to his series character, Jack Ryan. Clancy had to go to the mat with the N. I. P. and in the end had to pay them a bundle -- TG heard at the time it was a million dollars -- to get the rights back. Think this sort of thing is rare? When TG signed his first contract for the first book in the Pastmaster series (available for Kindle here) his brand new agent pointed out that the same clause was in his contract. TG only wishes he could go on to say that after the Pastmaster book and a couple of more came out that he had to pay a million bucks to get his character, Alex Balfour, back. No such luck. TG’s agent, the Nedster, Xed out that pesky clause and made sure it never crept back into the contracts of the many books that were to follow.

Oh, did TG remind everyone already that all of these wonderful books can be found on Kindle here?

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