As writers, we’re told that we must hook our audience as quickly as possible or we’ll lose them forever, and that’s not wrong. But how far should we go to hook the reader?
I will have a novel completed and ready to sell at LibertyCon.
Yeah, I know. It’s ambitious. Or insane. Take your pick. So let me tell you where this is coming from.
I Am the 95%
I just finished reading Titans Rising, as well as Have Keyboard, Will Type (both highly recommended by the way and TR is reviewed here.), and I joined the 20Booksto50k(r) Facebook group (Also highly recommended.) One piece of advice has been consistent in all three places: You have to finish your book before you can sell it.
It seems obvious, right? But it’s no less true for that. You must finish the book. And by finish, I mean get it out of your writer hands and into the reader’s hands, with everthing that goes along with that. Covers, formatting, book design, marketing and so on.
For me, I need a deadline in order to finish. A drop dead, no-shit, end of the world deadline. One of the things Bill Webb talks about in Have Keyboard is the army of people who “are going to write a novel” or “are writing a novel” that never quite manage to finish writing a novel. AS he says, 95% of the people who start to write a novel never finish. I think he’s optimistic in that assessment and I say that as somebody who fits that definition. I have two different novels “in progress” and a third percolating in my head. The first novel has roughly 25,000 words, the second about 12,000.
I’ve been working on them for years.
That’s bullshit. I’ve been playing with them for years. The LibertyCon Challenge is my way of escaping the 95% trap.
Leaving the 95%
When I was encouraged to submit a story for an anthology, there was a deadline, and that made it real. I worked on the story, wrote a couple of false starts, then found the voice and tore through the first draft in less than a week. I gave it to a couple of alpha readers who made some good suggestions. I revised accordingly, fixed typos, and submitted at the deadline.
This did a couple of things for me. First, it made me squee out loud, scaring the cat. Second, it gave me a sense of affirmation. I can tell a good story. People will pay to read what I write. I CAN do this.
But I need a plan and a deadline.
Taking the Next Step
I have set a few goals.
- Submit a short story to the Baen Fantasy Contest
- Submit a short story to the New Mythology open call
- Submit a short story to Sanderley for the next Going Home anthology
- Have a novel published by CKP, either shared universe or stand alone. (Or both)
- Have a novel published by Baen.
You’ve probably noticed these are not monetary goals. These are what I’m going to call craft goals; they aren’t signs of a successful professional career because they don’t include the ultimate metric for professional success: money. But they are important to me nonetheless as measures of how well I am mastering the craft of writing. If editors and publishers I respect find my work worthy of taking on, that’s confirmation that I am continuing to learn and grow my ability as a writer and a storyteller. (Hmmm. The basis for another post. What’s the difference and why does it matter?)
Now, as important as that is, I also need to pay attention to the business side, and that means looking at revenue. Like I said at the beginning, a book is finished when it is getting into the hands of readers, and that leads to a different set of goals, the first of which is my LibertyCon challenge.
Minimally Viable Products
The mantra of 20Booksto50k(r) is write-publish, write-publish, lather, rinse, repeat. Quantity has a quality of its own. They refer to their books as ‘minimally viable products.” In short, a poorly edited book that’s on the market will sell more copies than a perfectly edited book that’s still in revision. I get what they are saying; a book can’t earn money until it’s published, and editing/revising takes a huge chunk of time, during which you aren’t making money. The model comes straight from Microsoft, which is famous for releases that are buggy as hell. Microsoft uses its customer base as beta testers, fixing bugs after deployment.
Everybody knows this; everybody gripes about how buggy Microsoft products are on launch. Yet everybody still uses them.
Of course, Microsoft has the advantage of operating in an area with a limited number of competitors; books aren’t like that. If I piss off a reader with a poorly formatted, poorly edited book, that reader has a million other options for their next book purchase.
I won’t put a book or story out that’s filled with typos, continuity errors, etc. On the other hand, they aren’t wrong. A tight deadline will force me to work fast and clean in order to have enough time to edit/revise the manuscript, find a good cover, write a blurb, design the book and so on.
The LibertyCon Challenge
LibertyCon is just 9 weeks away. Many 20booksto50k writers generally aim to put out a novel every 5 weeks or so. That’s not a viable option for me right now; I have too many other projects (none of them sold, mind you, but one with a fast-approaching deadline) plus real-life commitments. But 5 weeks to write, then 4 weeks to revise, format twice(ebook/print). then do everything else to have physical copies available for sale at LibertyCon..
This is going to be interesting!
Titans Rising is a manifesto combined with a how-to book on writing and publishing. I am not exaggerating when I say it may be the most important book on how to succeed in today’s everchanging climate. Independent presses are springing up everywhere. Amazon has crashed the gates of traditional publishing and the few major houses left standing are reeling, trying desperately to hold onto control of the market.