On Decision Making

When I began writing, my sole objective was to create the kind of story I wanted to read. That meant a world with depth, history, airships, and some light fantasy elements. It meant relatable characters born my own life experience. It meant an adventure story with cruel realities and misguided expectations. I wanted it to be fun to write and fun to read. I managed to convince Josh to help me with this and for some reason he included me on what *he* wanted to write. It took some discourse over many drinks, but it quickly became *our* book.

Though the product is wildly different from our initial 2012 outline, I regret nothing when it comes to the development. Josh and I have endlessly debated and tweaked the narrative based on our own ideas for what *our* story should be. Though I find we’ve easily discovered compromise within the broad strokes, we often haggle over nomenclature and each make unreasonable demands on what should not – nay, cannot – be altered. Some debates are kicked down the road time and again, the resulting line item looming in perpetuity inside the NextJam file. Only when the shame becomes unbearable, and self-imposed deadlines lie within sight, that we force ourselves to blunder into a resolution. I hope our tens of eventual readers never come to know how much time has been spent unearthing cogent names of irrelevant landscapes.

Sometimes the topic of marketability comes up. Who is our audience? Are we marginalizing X? Are we forgetting to include Y? Who will this even appeal to? Most of these questions still hang in their air unanswered. We stare at each other in silence before shrugging to continue writing the story we want to write. It is inevitable someone will stumble upon our work and wish it was something else. We cannot either cater to, nor please them all.

At the outset I wanted to shop our book to the traditional publishers. It’s respectable, I argued. The grand institute of validation. Josh had his reservations, but gave a silent nod of reluctant assent and entertained my ambitions. And so we dipped our toe into query letter writing. The idea of distilling your work to under 200 words, without spoiling key plot points, is a task unto itself. Josh did the brunt of the work, with me chirping unhelpful, distracting critique. The fruits of that labor can be found here and all praise should be heaped upon my co-author’s dark altar of broken PSUs and hoarded coax cables. The querying field is littered with mines, intended to whittle sparse wheat from the frequent chaff put before agents and publishers. Feedback we received from the query letter writing community provided us with some key advice that pushed us towards making some important decisions trending towards self publishing.

1. Our book is too long. For first time writers, a 300k word book is unlikely to be considered by a literary agent, much less a publishing house. Getting someone to read your query letter is a chore in itself. Having an agent digest two unknown’s lengthy manuscript might be a near impossibility.
2. We would split our book. Book 1, as it was intended, was outlined and constructed as three distinct acts from the get-go. Each act still comes in around 100k words, a healthy book by itself. The editing to smooth the transitions has been comparatively minimal, thanks mostly in part to our initial construction for narrative arcs.
3. Marketability. Because we are splitting the book into smaller pieces, we can price our work more competitively. This might just be my instinct, but buying an unknown author’s $9-10, 300k word book is a risky proposition, particularly with the minimal-marketing self published approach. But three books averaged out at $3 apiece might entice readers to actually take a chance on the first volume. Once we have established a body of work, using Volume I as a loss leader into the greater series might work in our benefit.
4. There are existing champions of self publishing. While success stories like Hugh Howey and Andy Weir are encouraging, we by no means accept it as the norm. But the available data is trending in the favor of self publishing.
5. Edit. Perhaps this is low-hanging fruit, but before we shit our first book onto your Kindle, the work needs editing. And then more editing. It needs to be honed, sharpened and reforged again. If we fuck up here, we’re perpetuating the stereotype that self publishing is for amateurs.

And so we take our time. Josh and I have been working on this project for over four years now, and while we do not have a definitive date to foist this upon the cold, unfeeling world, it *will* make its way out there. We’ll stumble and make some mistakes. But we’ll already be working on the next installment, so our fervent, insatiable eight readers will not have to wait long for Volume 2.

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