The Aristillus books are off to a writing coach who will be reviewing them (or, rather, Act 1 of book 1) over the holidays. I hope to have actionable feedback to guide me in the fifth and final draft within a few weeks. I’m still aiming for a mid 2014 release.
For a year or so now, @mr_archenemy has been suggesting that I should write short stories set in the Aristillus universe, not just to flesh it out as a work of art, but to hook readers.
I agreed, but wasn’t super eager to do so – mostly from exhaustion with the universe. Recall, in two weeks I will have been working on these two novels for three years, and will have written almost exactly one million words.
Recently, though, I read Write. Publish. Repeat. which is a how-to-build-your-writing-career book by a trio of e-book writers. The interesting thing is that all three of these folks have their background in SEO, e-commerce, and ad-copy writing. Which means that they think in terms of experiments and metrics.
Lots of writers give you advice. These guys give advice based on stuff they’ve tried and gathered stats on.
And the point they make dovetails with what a lot of the indy folks say (and some pros like Kristine Kathryn Rusch say): that modern writing is a volume game. Your sales are a function of something like the square of your sellable titles, because of “discoverability”: if you have ten different baited hooks out there, you have ten times the chances to acquire new reader X…and once you get him or her, there’s a good chance that he or she will buy a lot of your stuff.
This advice has rankled me, to some degree, because I feel like the modern e-book writers prioritize volume over craft. They publish their first drafts. They publish their first books – the ones that should stay in locked drawers forever and ever. I read the “write, and write a lot” advice as saying “write, and write a lot of crap“. This goes against my nature: I have high – sometimes very high – standards for myself. I go to farmers markets and crafts fairs and I see people selling hand turned wooden bowls for $40 that are not as good as the stuff that I create and then throw on the firewood pile. I suppose, at some level, my motivation is that I don’t want to embarrass myself. A crappy bowl can fool someone who has no developed aesthetic sense or appreciation for form. And a crappy novel can fool someone who likes low-tier Baen “I shot the bug twelve times with a my laser rifle then cracked open a cold beer” extruded soy-sausage.
…but there’s a name for people who see what works and refuse to do it. Several names, actually. None of them flattering.
So: if I want to have any sort of success, I need to do what works. There is, perhaps, a trade off between my desire to write high quality stuff and a profit-maximizing story-of-the-week-pablum strategy (some anarcho-capitalist libertarian I am, huh?).
Thus: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. I will write more. I will write more short stories. I will end each short story with a “call to action” asking people to sign up for alerts, the opportunity to get free stories, links to for-sale novels, etc….but I will not lower my standards too much.
I wrote a short story recently, “Firefly Season Two”.
No, it’s not fanfic; the reference is actually a MacGuffin of sorts.
It needs another draft or two, but I like it. It’s sort of the opposite of the Aristillus series: one plot line, minimal number of characters, close to zero back-story. It’s “cute”.
I’d like to give it another draft ASAP and then maybe upload it to Amazon (and sell it for free). The goal in doing so would be to start seine fishing for readers, by putting up some free content and putting a CTA (“call to action”) at the end where people can submit their email addresses to get alerted to new stories.
I’ve shown “Firefly Season Two” to a few people and some of the feedback I’ve gotten is “I’d read more in this universe!”…which is good, because it’s a fun little comic-book-colored universe where it should be fun and easy to write further stories.
Untitled Post Apocalyptic Series
There’s a second universe I’ve got in mind that I’d like to write a few short stories in: it’s set about two years after an apocalypse. Specifically, it’s in a world where a nanotech plague has destroyed all the oil, as in John Varley’s Slow Apocalypse or John Barnes’ Daybreak series (see also S M Stirling’s Dies The Fire series). I posit that the breakdown in transportation networks, electricity, and heat in the middle of a particularly cold and rainy winter leads to a 75% population die off. Within a year the surviving population manages to get some of the lights on and some of the trains running again using nuclear and coal, but the damage has been severe, and the political response has been even more severe. During the worst of the starvation, those with guns – federal agencies, state police, etc. – grabbed the food in warehouses, ostensibly to “prevent looting”. In fact, “they and theirs” survived, and others starved. Now, two or three years after the great die off the corn imports from Iowa are good, but not enough. Major American cities have authoritarian regimes, all pretending to tug a forelock at Washington and pretending to be legitimate governments, but in fact serving as nothing but protection rackets that feed themselves and their vassals.
Country dwellers – and those suburbanites who fled the burning cities and managed to get jobs as field hands out in the country – have been thrown back into the 19th century – or the 16th. They’re plowing their fields, hoping for good rains, cursing hail storms, and fearing the day near harvest when the “tax assessors” arrive: the state police, in their MRAP vehicles burning producer gas.
It’s a weird feudal world…where short wave radio (and digital packet switched radio!) still works. Where the internet is still up…and parts of the NSA are still functioning and spying. Where people use their Kindles to read old books on how to forge horseshoes.
And then, one day – in New Hampshire, ‘natch – one man gets pushed too far when the authorities confiscate the grain he needs to keep his family alive through the winter… and he puts his finger on a rifle trigger.
I don’t yet have a name for this universe. Suggestions? After The Peak? Live Free or Die? Droit du Joint Terrorism Task Force? (That last one is a joke. I think.)
Other Life Events
I’ve sold my Massachusetts home of the last 18 years.
I’ve bought a 50 acre farm in New Hampshire.
We move in 41 days.
(I note that this will probably derail writing for a few weeks…as my current bout of pneumonia (no, really) has already done.)