Today (April 16) is release day for book three of The Last Oracle series, The Book of Mayhem (previously titled The Book of Death, more on this name change later). It comes nearly ten months after the second book in the series, The Book of Peril. This is a really long time between releases for me, and led to people wondering why the delay. Here’s the story.
Last year, I was having trouble with the company that published some of my books (the Extraordinaries series and The Last Oracle specifically). Royalties were late, emails I sent were ignored, and I was gradually becoming more concerned about the state of the publisher. In July or August, I submitted two books for them to accept or reject: The View From Castle Always and The Book of Death. While I waited on their decision, my relationship with them continued to deteriorate. I ultimately decided not to publish Castle Always with them, but agreed to review the new contract they claimed would resolve many of the issues.
Unfortunately, the contract didn’t satisfy me, as it contained no clauses that would hold the publisher’s feet to the fire when it came to meeting deadlines. So I told them I would not be publishing The Book of Death through them, but would release it under my own publishing imprint.
But I had a lot of other books I was dealing with, in particular the new Company of Strangers series, and I was still writing The Last Oracle series, and releasing the third book in a series under a new imprint is complicated. You have to make sure people understand it’s still the same series, even though the cover art and design are different, and I didn’t have a new cover artist lined up. (Cover design is not my specialty. I do the covers for Company of Strangers, but those are based on a template a very talented designer produced for me.)
In October, I reconnected with a friend who is also an award-winning cover designer, and having seen her work, I knew I wanted her to take over for The Last Oracle. I’d also decided if things with the publisher weren’t resolved by November 1, I would start proceedings to get the rights back for the five books they’d published. The plan was to start designing the cover for The Book of Death in mid-January, and to rebrand the first two books to match right after that. This was important because The Last Oracle is nine books long (they’re all written!) and I needed to confirm that this designer was on board for the whole series.
November 1 came and went with no change to the problems I had. A few weeks later I started nagging the publisher about rights reversion. I knew several authors had already received theirs, which reassured and worried me: reassured because that suggested they weren’t likely to fight me on it, worried because it confirmed my suspicions that the company was circling the drain and I needed to get out fast.
It took them two months to respond and send me the rights reversion letter. I’m still tangled up with them in terms of back royalties and the insanely complicated situation with the audio rights, but I had control of the two series and I could move forward.
I received the rights reversion around the same time the cover design process started. At this point, I was planning on a late February release for The Book of Death. The designer and I were both so excited–she’s a fan of the series and loved the idea of being involved in its creation. We talked initial plans and she went to work.
And then I didn’t hear from her for a month.
When she finally got back to me, I understood why it had taken so long. We’d originally wanted to do a design without a model on the cover–finding suitable poses for NINE BOOKS is incredibly hard, and I prefer the abstract style anyway, like the US covers for Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series. But the designer takes her work very seriously, and before she started designing, she did research on contemporary fantasy. And what she found was that most covers in that genre feature a model on the cover.
This was a major bump in the road, because the designer wasn’t as experienced with working with human figures, but we were both willing to give it a try. I pushed the release date back a month, and waited again.
This time, when she got back to me, she was discouraged. None of the designs she’d tried worked well, and it was looking like she might not be able to do it at all.
But I really liked her work, and the idea of finding someone else to do the covers–someone who would be around for all nine–was wearying. So we made some new decisions. She would go back to the original idea of an abstract design with a central image, and if she couldn’t make it work within a certain time period, we’d call it quits. I pushed the release date back again and settled in to wait.
But it turned out this was the right decision. She came up with the new design almost immediately, along with rough sketches for the first two books (for branding purposes). The problem was, the cover for The Book of Death looked like a horror novel. It was beautiful, and it was clearly the right approach, but everyone I showed it to agreed it said “horror” instead of “contemporary fantasy.” Which is when I realized the problem wasn’t the design, it was the title. The Book of Death was never not going to sound like horror no matter what we did to the design.
With the new title, The Book of Mayhem, slapped into place, the final cover turned out perfect. The designer used the thorny branch as the focal image (when you read the book, you’ll see why it’s appropriate) and that was it. I had a cover.
At that point, I had to choose whether to release the third book immediately, or wait until I could relaunch the series. When I looked at the calendar and realized how long it had been since The Book of Peril, the choice was clear. And today, the payoff from the ending of The Book of Peril is finally available to readers. I hope The Book of Mayhem is worth the wait.