Sunday, January 18, 2009

Consider Yourselves Lucky.

In this particular business, the standard components of a novel pitch are the first three chapters plus two, maybe three pages of synopsis for the rest of the story. The pitch I just sent to my agent— the latest iteration thereof, at least— contains 36 pages of prose; 27 pages of "synopsis"; a two-page bullet-pointed executive summary of thematic arguments; and proposed jacket text, to be splayed across the dust cover if/when this fucker actually sells.

This is easily ten times the word count of the supplementary material usually attached to these things. My agent originally tried to get me to keep it to the usual three pages, and I complied, I really did. It's just that when one tries to synopsize one of my novels in three pages, the result is utterly incomprehensible. (The smart-asses in the audience may now point out that this only proves that such synopses perfectly capture the essential nature of my writing.) So, our experiment complete, the dude let me off the leash and dear God is he about to pay for it.

The rest of you get off easy. I'm only quoting my proposed jacket text here, because I think that it actually does do a decent job of hooking the story in the time it takes to run your eyes down a dust-jacket. (I've been writing my own jacket text for a while now; remind me to show you, some day, some of the fortune-cookie hack jobs Tor tried to slap on my books before I got involved.) So here, in 400 words or less, is the thumbnail for Dumbspeech:
A Different Kind of Singularity.

The eve of the 22nd century. A world where the dearly-departed send postcards back from Heaven, and Jainist evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically-engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline Humans, and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off their own self-awareness during combat. A world under blatant surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.

Daniel Brooks is a living fossil: an old man in a world of immortals, a field biologist in a world where all biology has long since turned computational, an unwitting catspaw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he turns his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he isn't hiding from anything; he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that's about to turn all of history inside-out.

Now he's trapped in a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier with a zombie switch in his head, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son half a lightyear away. To his right is an autistic hacker who hasn't quite discovered that Dan Brooks is the man she's sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call "The Angels of the Asteroids".

But whatever they encounter, there in the blinding maelstrom above the sun's north pole, is the furthest thing from anyone's vision of divinity. By the end of their pilgrimage the whole world is coming apart at the seams— and Dan Brooks, the fossil man, is face-to-face with the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought itself.

The Singularity's here. It's too late to go back. And all those starry-eyed optimists, the extropians, the transhumanists, the rapture-nerds and technophiles who sang the praises of technology=magic — somehow, none of them realized there'd be no room for humanity in a post-human age …

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Blogger carnifex said...

At least you didn't insist on providing it as a programmatic series of instructions for the controller of some sort of high energy cranial electromagnet. Sure, it'd be fun, but who has time to shop for one?

January 18, 2009 4:15 PM  
Blogger Kisama said...

Tell your agent that I'll pre-order a copy as soon as they're up for sale somewhere.

January 18, 2009 5:18 PM  
Blogger Olman Feelyus said...

I'm intrigued.

January 18, 2009 5:26 PM  
Blogger ken said...


Yes. Yes. Yes. Count me in for a pre-order copy as well.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your proposed cover jacket ideas? Can you show us pics?

January 18, 2009 5:45 PM  
Blogger Zachary C said...

I'm in like Flynn.

January 18, 2009 5:51 PM  
Blogger David B. Ellis said...

Hell, yeah. This is exactly the sort of novel I want.

I'm with Kisama on this, this's a book I'll put on preorder.

January 18, 2009 6:00 PM  
Blogger Matt McCormick said...

Kick ass. Get that thing done, dude and distributed to the hungry masses.


January 18, 2009 6:28 PM  
Blogger Wolf said...

Looking forward to that one. I hope it all fits on the dust jacket, with all the honors from the press you have accumulated with your last few books. They sure want to stick those up there too. And a big photo while they are at it. And the story of your life. Suprising how much information one can squeeze on a dust jacket... I'm digressing...
One more thing. Dumbspeech is a joke? That's not really the name, is it? Please, let it be a joke and not a neurological disorder I have never heard about. Even if it's both that's okay... I just don't want to be caught by my friends reading a book called "Dumbspeech".

January 18, 2009 7:07 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

Sorry: "Dumbspeech" is only the working, in-house title. The official name is "State of Grace".

January 18, 2009 7:14 PM  
Blogger Soren said...

Arguably, it was HP Lovecraft who invented the Singularity. Certainly I think his existential horror is a better match for the probable reality than nerd-rapture.

January 18, 2009 7:27 PM  
Blogger Rosy At Random said...

I like the sound of that, wifey!

I would suggest that the last two paragraphs of the synopsis might be better replaced something like, "It might herald the dawning of a new age - an age with no room mankind." or, "The new age it heralds may not have any room for us."

And my suggestion for a title is 'Glossolalia'. Or maybe, a bit cheekily, 'The Living Dead'....

January 18, 2009 7:31 PM  
Blogger Rosy At Random said...

@ soren:

Hmm, that and makes me wonder what a Peter Watts/Charles Stross colaboration might look like....

January 18, 2009 7:33 PM  
Blogger Finster Mushwell said...

But shouldn't there be beavers? After all, you are Canadian.

January 18, 2009 7:36 PM  
Blogger Raja said...

I'm in.

I was already in, but still. I'm in. Speaking of which, the Maelstrom reprint hit shelves this month. My copy came in the mail last week, ready for me to dive in as soon as I polish off The Children of Men.

January 18, 2009 7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When can we buy this?

January 18, 2009 8:03 PM  
Blogger Brenda said...

Hello again. I agree with Rosey on her suggestions and the title 'Glossolalia' sure is better than Dumbspeech. Will you have some say in the cover? Dear God anything would be better than Blindsight's official one, as you well know. If you get some control over it I would suggest having a nice sexy pic of the Sun since that seems to figure in the novel. Maybe encased in some kind of grid to imply control/mastery over Nature. Which seems to be where your headed with this.

What? No BSG aftermath? Looks like the Angel of Death lived up to her expectations. I enjoyed how she freaked the living f*ck out of Leoben. The ChiTrib has a good interview with Ron Moore, spoilers, but you've seen it right?

January 18, 2009 8:28 PM  
Blogger Rosy At Random said...

It's 'Rosy' (the adjective) rather than 'Rosey' (the girl's name). As Peter has already discovered.

As to a cover... I just had an idea: on the left side we have the traditional March Of Evolution, and on the right... something marching the other way. Something strange, inhuman and decidedly bad for us.

January 18, 2009 8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where can I pre-order?

January 18, 2009 9:38 PM  
OpenID eriko said...

You write it I buy it. That's the deal. Maybe some more food for the cats too.

The verification word is "unonh" someone needs to be named that.

January 18, 2009 11:39 PM  
Anonymous Madeline Ashby said...

Are the books still fun, after all that prep? Is there anything left to discover along the way? (Do I still know how this book ends?)

In any case, I think congratulations are in order. And that perhaps your agent should carry this pitch in its own special Samsonite sample case.

January 19, 2009 12:15 AM  
Blogger Seth said...

Man the fiblets left me with the impression that the journey to the island was going to be trans galactic or interstellar in the very least. Still sounds really cool.

I think glossolalia is a terrible name, the reek of pentecostal snake handlers and babble breath alone carry too much negative connotation.

I LOVE the suggestion to have the evolution of man in one direction and the evolution of . . . whatever in the other that RaR suggested but that might give too much away.

As always I'll be buying also though I'll probably do my rereads online once it's posted.

January 19, 2009 8:23 AM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

Seth: those fiblets were from a whole different work— a story for a space-opera anthology coming out from Gardner Dozois. "State of Grace" is the sidequel to "Blindsight"

January 19, 2009 9:43 AM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

Rumor control:

In answer to those of you asking about pre-orders and suchlike: folks, this book hasn't even been sold yet, and may never be. Tor made an offer months ago, but it was far too lowball to take seriously. Since then the publishing industry has melted down along with the rest of the global economy; there may not be another publisher out there who even wants to buy this thing, much less offer a decent buck for it— and at this point I'd rather get a real job than settle for another publisher who dealt with me like the last one did.

This not only isn't in the bag, but it hasn't even been pitched yet. So, you know. Don't get your hopes up.

January 19, 2009 9:56 AM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

Madeline Ashby said…

Are the books still fun, after all that prep? Is there anything left to discover along the way? (Do I still know how this book ends?

Yes, the books are still fun— or rather, if they're not fun, it isn't the prep that ruins the experience. All plots and punchlines are liable to change, depending on what I read (and what new research comes down the pipe) while I'm writing. Also, the very act of writing transforms and redirects the novel; things you thought would work don't, or one of the characters starts talking to you and taking the arc in a whole different direction, and that's all good. This is why I kinda loathe this whole plot-outline thing; the finished product is almost guaranteed to go in a whole different direction than the outline, and everyone knows it, so why am I jumping through these fucking hoops?

And to answer your last question: not really. That spider paper I cited a few days back has already torqued the ending away from what you read. Case in point.

January 19, 2009 10:05 AM  
Blogger TonyC said...

Sounds excellent. I hope we'll see a UK edition.

January 19, 2009 12:35 PM  
Blogger Keith David It's-a-Taylor-Series! Smeltz said...

Honestly, we need to skip the publishing step and just funnel money from the fans to the artists with no middlemen involved. Not getting to read State of Grace at this point would be... bad. We need an indie/co-op publishing house. How much does it cost to buy/sponsor/commission a novel, anyway?

January 19, 2009 12:37 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

Agreed, Keith...if this book isn't written, that'd be Really Bad. As much as I try to be a fan and patron of my favorite authors via the established publishing industry, it's becoming more and more apparent that this (like so much else) Just Ain't Working. After all...who am I a fan of, anyway? Tor, or Peter friggin' WATTS?! It's disintermediation time, folks, if there's even a chance that I'm not going to be able to read this damn novel. To arms!

January 19, 2009 2:49 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

These 400 words hooked me hard. Write it now.

January 19, 2009 3:07 PM  
Blogger ken said...

I'm in agreement with KDiaTS!S and the other Ken. If TOR screws the pooch on publishing, you should just release it yourself.

You might use a service like to create "on demand" print versions, or simply release a PDF on your website (for free, or for a nominal fee). Isn't that how Doctorow landed his first book deal for 'magic kingdom'?

Please don't give up on us now. We NEED this book.

We're happy to make as much noise as necessary to convince TOR to do the right thing. I've got a bunch of pitchforks and torches laying around - a Peter Watts Posse can be a terrifying thing.

January 19, 2009 3:27 PM  
OpenID philrm said...

Enough with the frakkin' romantic comedies, man! Write something thought-provoking for a change!

January 19, 2009 3:59 PM  
Blogger Nick Sullivan_NZ said...

I'm completely fracking sold on the dust jacket text.

So sold that if you posted a pre-sale link I'd get a debit card and order it, and pay for the humongous shipping cost to NZ. With nary a complaint, despite being (well, about to be again) a poverty stricken student.

Peter Watts said...
And to answer your last question: not really. That spider paper I cited a few days back has already torqued the ending away from what you read. Case in point.
Neat. I'd guess it has something to do with the closing comment on that post about hooking the spider up to a life support system right?

January 19, 2009 7:15 PM  
Anonymous Brian Prince said...

Normally I try not to lay it on too thick, lest I lapse into slavering fanboyism, but man, reading that pitch ...

You're accelerating beyond the facile, wanky Wikipedia transhumanism of Stross/Doctorow/Vinge so fast that your ass has reddened straight down through the far IR.

I love nothing more than seeing the feel-good singularity gooshing between your tank treads, and I will buy the fuck out of this book, whatever shape it takes.

January 19, 2009 7:43 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Is that a typical length for a dust jacket? Seemed a bit long to me. The only thing that struck me as being 'off' was one sentence:

To his right is an autistic hacker who hasn't quite discovered that Dan Brooks is the man she's sworn to kill on sight.

For me that's a plot point I'd rather not know in advance, even if it turns out to be not really the case.

January 19, 2009 8:47 PM  
OpenID mrteufel said...

Ok, you've sold me.

After all, I loved your last one.

January 19, 2009 8:59 PM  
Anonymous Madeline Ashby said...

I'm glad that there are some exciting bits left in the process; for me stories die a little if I know the end when I start working, and I like hearing that I'm not entirely alone in that.

Also, I'm excited for this new ending, whatever it may turn out to be. The other ending, as much as I enjoyed it, did happen to share a lot in common with Kurosawa's Ran. (That's not bad, and I've only realized the similarity just now, but perhaps publishers don't have the affection for Ran that I do.)

I think if people want to start commissioning writers, they should just start making bids. Worked for Caesar and Virgil. There should just be a stipulation about allowing the work to be shown online, too, so the rest of us poor plebeians can enjoy it.

January 19, 2009 11:49 PM  
Blogger Wolf said...

I've got a bunch of pitchforks and torches laying around - a Peter Watts Posse can be a terrifying thing.

A Posse? Pitchforks? Torches? The only thing we are missing is a vampire to be REALLY terrifying... But I doubt that the torches and pitchforks would be necessary then.
Conclusion: A vampire is needed in order to scare some publishing house into submission. Can anyone provide one?

Anyway, bloody publishing fantasies aside, cutting the middleman seems like an at least mildly attractive, though somewhat risky alternative, considering the nature of the typical Peter Watts fanboy/girl.

In whatever form, I'd really love to see that book finished and published.

January 20, 2009 12:19 AM  
Blogger Keith David It's-a-Taylor-Series! Smeltz said...

Publishers provide three important services, near as I can tell.

1) They get the book (and most importantly its cover) onto book store shelves for j random reader to discover an author he/she/it has never heard of before.

2) They often help the author polish and better his/her/its prose. Two instances come to mind: My dad, who went the self-publishing route, is not making money from it. Meanwhile Neil Gaiman is worried that he can now sell bad books on name recognition alone. This sucks because he doesn't /want/ to sell bad books.

3) They spread the risk between authors. Writing a book is a significant time investment with unknowable payoff. If you know you have ten authors and each has a 30% hit rate, you can afford to spread the lucky's wealth among the unlucky, keeping them in rent and food until they can write their next big hit. That is, of course, assuming all ten are equally deserving.

But Lulu! I'd never heard of this before. So... publishing is the easy part. How do we get Lulu books onto the shelves of Barnes and Noble? How do we assure Mr Watts that his Big Damn Fans can even afford to commission this novel sans a major publishing house? Can we, in fact, afford to do so? Publicity/marketing might be easy - send Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, and Charlie Stross copies. It worked for Blindsight. If they like it, everyone on earth will know in short order.

January 20, 2009 3:11 AM  
Blogger Martin Sommerfeld said...

Sounds indeed great! Please don't give up!

January 20, 2009 8:30 AM  
Blogger skm said...

earlier: Enough with the frakkin' romantic comedies, man! Write something thought-provoking for a change!

No! what a great idea. a Wattsian comedy of manners.

January 20, 2009 3:30 PM  
Anonymous Madeline said...


I've been trying to sell him on a satire regarding vampire reproduction. You know, a sweet little story about a doe-eyed sixteen-year-old girl who falls hard for a vampire and gives birth to his baby...after it slowly dissolves her insides and emerges, smiling and hyper-sapient, and says: "Hi, Daddy." What say you?

January 20, 2009 4:29 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

Teresa said...

Is that a typical length for a dust jacket? Seemed a bit long to me.

'Tis, at that. It would all fit, but it would be a bit tight. Which is why I've made the first and last paragraphs optional; the synopsis could survive without either or both, if necessary.

January 20, 2009 8:09 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

To those of you gathering pitchforks and lighting torches: I am touched. Truly. And I would be the last one to dissuade anybody from resorting to violence, which I think has been vastly underestimated as a means of solving problems.

But do keep in mind, Tor is completely out of the picture here. Hartwell made an offer, my agent turned it down, we're moving on. I've not been forthcoming with details of my relationship with Tor over the past few months, because I've promised to be on my best behavior while my agent tries to find me another home. (Think of me as the cute puppy on the Humane Society poster, or the sociopathic animal-torturing toddler featured in "Today's Child" that Child Services tries to spin with phrases like "needs lots of love and understanding".) So mounting an assault on Tor would do squat: that ship has sailed.

You might want to send threats of violence to various other publishers at random, though, to demonstrate grass-roots support for my work. What could enthuse an editor more than to receive enthusiastic death threats from fans over a manuscript she hasn't even seen yet?

January 20, 2009 8:28 PM  
Blogger razorsmile said...


January 20, 2009 9:51 PM  
Blogger banzai cat said...

How about non-corporate publishers like Nightshade? They sell guys like Iain M. Banks. Your books would be perfect there. (And the fact that they do nice covers is an added plus.)

And yes, let me add to the chorus of calls: that synopsis was undoubtedly fantastic.

January 21, 2009 3:25 AM  
Blogger Kisama said...

Hey, banzai cat, I like Iain Banks. :p

January 21, 2009 7:18 AM  
Blogger Strannik said...

Damn! I want this book.
Any chance of a ransom model? You know x amount of dollars (to cover editing and publishing costs and feed the author and cats) then you take it to Lulu or whatever POD house you like.

January 21, 2009 11:19 AM  
Blogger Rosy At Random said...

Well, I've gone and bought myself Starfish (it arrived today) so that should let the publishing world know how hot you are right now!

January 21, 2009 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I read that jacket text on a book I would buy the book.

It has a wonderful sense of urgency.

January 21, 2009 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What could enthuse an editor more than to receive enthusiastic death threats from fans over a manuscript she hasn't even seen yet? "

Oh, I get it. So we should put a hold on mailing out those brownies full of ground glass, then?

January 21, 2009 2:27 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

Peter Watts said...

Seth: those fiblets were from a whole different work— a story for a space-opera anthology coming out from Gardner Dozois. "State of Grace" is the sidequel to "Blindsight"

Doh! This is what I get for trying to comment on something I read with near zero sleep for a few days previous. It's a little depressing just trying to WRITE, with all the pitfalls and patience that demands. And then to PUBLISH is a whole new minefield.

Guess I just have to stay on the pogo stick and hope I get lucky.

January 21, 2009 3:26 PM  
Blogger Bahumat said...

I'd buy it.

Well, I will buy it.

Mmm. Hard sci-fi. Don't suppose we could get your production rate of these babies up to a steady one-or-two a year, eh?

January 21, 2009 11:29 PM  
Blogger Severian said...

I'll be buying, can't wait

January 22, 2009 7:11 AM  
Anonymous Madeline said...


January 22, 2009 11:42 PM  
Blogger Solare said...

Les Technopères...?

January 23, 2009 7:12 PM  
Anonymous Madeline said...

Also, this news.

(The Turing word is "nasty." Hee hee.)

January 23, 2009 7:48 PM  

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