Just so we’re clear, I’m not insane.
I know that might come as a surprise to some people, given the enormity of the task I’ve chosen to take on. After all, I’m endeavoring to produce a series of long stories/short novellas (the first of which can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Vacant-Forge-Heroes-Gracia-ebook/dp/B008A9RHTA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1340089559&sr=1-1&keywords=vacant+forge) at a rate of one per week and then put them up for sale. I’ve already had a couple of writers I know ask me if I really know what it is that I’m trying to do. They ask me if I understand the creative burnout I’m likely to face, and the disappointment from my readers if I should fail to produce what I’ve said I will in the time that I ‘ve indicated. And how do I justify the price, by the way?
I’ll start with the pricing issue, because it’s the easiest one to address. A lot of e-books, full-length novels, are up for sale online for very cheap or even free. The vast majority of these are from first-time authors who are “just trying to get the word out” about their work. Usually when I read the reviews of these books, I see a number of comments about poor editing, uninspired plots, and bad characterization. I’m not saying they’re all like that, but the harsh truth is that if an author feels the need to give their work away for free then they probably believe that their material isn’t up to standards, and they’re probably right.
So how can I justify $2.99 for a story? Well, to start with, I’m a professional. I’ve been bringing in a paycheck writing various things for twelve years now. My last writing gig was a two-year stint working as a staff writer for a triple-A rated video game. And this isn’t ego talking. If you knew me in person, you’d think I was a humble quiet guy who usually keeps to myself, gets my work done, and doesn’t bug people too much about it. The second point related to price is that I’ve written tabletop RPG products for other publishers that have less than half the wordcount of the stories I’m producing, but get priced a dollar or more higher… and they sell!
Now, on to the creative burnout issue… As I mentioned before, my last writing gig was a full-time job, and my responsibilities included writing dialogue and other documentation, not to mention that I also helped maintain consistency within the IP for the portions of the game I was working on, and I helped the Content designers script gameplay. What does this mean in terms of output? The stories I’m writing are averaging about 10,000 words each, and I’m releasing them on a weekly schedule, so I’m actually writing less material than I was before. But then again, I’m making up for some of that since I’m also acting as art director, promoter, and copy-writer. I’m taking on job responsibilities that I haven’t had previously, and I think that makes up for the difference between the amount I’m writing now and what I was writing as a staff writer.
Alright, so we’ve established that I’m a professional, and that the output of 40,000 words a month (the size of a short novel in itself) is reasonable, but what about the format? Why not just write twelve novels a yes (like another writer I know and respect is doing). The answer to that is that I’ve always been interested in episodic storytelling. A novel is one long story that’s broken into a lot of smaller parts (chapters). Typically, the storytelling structure of a novel doesn’t work like the other popular episodic media, namely television series and comic books. A novel follows the typical storytelling structure over its entire course of hundreds of pages.
Episodic storytelling works more like a collection of short stories, each one self-contained, but fitting together as a whole over time. In some cases, all of the episodes of a series are one-offs. They’re self-contained, and once they’re over, you don’t run into the minor characters again, or if you do, the links to the original stories they appeared in are quickly explained and easily forgotten. In other cases, the episodes all fit together to tell one much larger story. Each story makes sense on its own, but it really helps to have watched the previous episodes in order to understand the significance of what’s happening now. An example of the former would be the show (one of my favorites, actually), Star Trek the Next Generation, while an example of the latter would be what’s probably my favorite television show of all time, Babylon 5.
Well, I’m not working on a TV show or a comic book series, but I’ve always wanted to play with that format, because I feel like it really has the potential to make for powerful storytelling. I like how sometimes you see a character in one episode, and you don’t think much of them, but half a year later they turn out to be important. Or you think you understand how the world works in that universe, but then something happens later on that proves to be a total game changer. Minor characters appear, disappear, and come back with frequency, and some of those characters end up being fan-favorites (Bester, for instance, in Babylon 5). Speaking of Babylon 5, one guy, Joe Michael Straczynski, wrote the majority of the scripts for the entire show. Think about that – he was the creative mind, the show-runner, and the chief writer, for five years’ worth of television. This. Can. Be. Accomplished.
Alright, so what about the threat of cancellation? Television shows and comic books get canceled regularly. Sadly, this project isn’t immune to such a fate. The fact is that I’m doing this because I’m between jobs. Now, there are three things that can happen from here: The first possibility is that I land another job. The second is that I do this and it doesn’t sell. The third is that I do this, it sells, and I’m able to start supporting myself off of its sales. Realistically, number three would be awesome, and I might just get there, but it’s going to take time. Number two is a possibility, but I’d like to think that if I stick with it long enough, it’ll pay off. Number one will result in cancellation. After all, if this is a full-time effort then adding another full-time effort wouldn’t be sustainable. I believe that I would crash and burn if I tried to pull that off. If the second possibility happens then I keep it up. After all, at least I’ll be able to point to what I’ve been doing between jobs and show that I haven’t been slacking. If possibility one happens then I’ll definitely bring the series to a close.
The final question I’ve gotten is regarding my second novel, The Pearls of Atlantis. Am I still working on that? The answer to that is that yes, I will be returning to work on it soon enough. At some point, I will put this project on a temporary seasonal hiatus during which I’ll get back to my other projects.
In future blog posts, I’ll talk in more detail about some of the themes I’m working with, as well as thoughts on the creative direction I’m going with the series.