Monday, November 15, 2010

Dispatches from the front lines

In the latest from the trenches, we had a delicious rat-atouille, with rat-au-vin and small glass of rat-afia. Other than that the shelling continues. Our attempt at going 'over the top' in the face of heavy machine-gun fire on the orders of General Flint, resulted in the capture of a small beachhead section of enemy lines - which we've called 'Karres' after the late great Sergeant Schmitz who led our platoon. It's unfortunately a very small breachhead, and will depend on re-inforcements being fairly speedly sent, for us to hold it. A small group of volunteer sappers from the Nakedreader (A tribe from South-Western America, famous for their courage, I believe) are attempting to construct a tunnel, or at least shore up the bunkers, and help us to catch more rats...

Well, some of my sense of humor has at least returned, although I am getting rather tired of a menu quite so dominated by rat. The trench warfare metaphor is slightly apt as we've just had Remembrance day (Salute). And a sense of humor is fairly essential there and in the writing game. No, I don't mean to suggest that writing is anything like vaguely as tough as trench warfare, but there are minor echoes. The sheer fatigue, the stupid goals set by people a long way off who have no real idea of the terrain, or problems or foes, the fact that new and midlist writers are considered expendable. The inadequate provisions. Oh and the rats and the mud, which we turn into our delectable dinners and shelter. Eric (General Flint) has got a contract for the next Karres book from Baen, and in theory at least I should get paid the advance by wire. On the down side they've decided that they'll probably bring it out in Trade Paperback so really the advance is small, barely going to buy me time, and means for any of the other deals allow me to write full time - they have bigger targets. On the other hand Eric and I talked through the possibility of putting together the 'fish' book (the Wandle pike etc) with Andrew Dennis most of which is already written and Eric has suggest I write 1632 tie in (which should pay better than the Karres book)I'm less than keen on this, but it would pay the bills...

The other projects I've been thinking about are to take various shorter bits, where I have developed a universe and some interesting characters for various short stories / novellas and to build on them as e-books, writing a sequence of stories and linking them together.

For instance I wrote for JBU a 40 year after Rats, Bats and Vats Universe novella called Crawlspace about an amoral rat-detective and his Mao-ist radical feminist adversary/ sidekick bat trapped in a Korozhet seige inside a huge alien artifact. There was always the intention of writing more, but the time and money dried up. A series of detective stories with the seige, treachery, and the final reason for it all, tied together really appeals to me.

I also wrote a short called 'The Witch's Murder' set in the Heirs of Alexandria Universe, with the saintly Brother Mascoli and the earthy Agent of the Signori di Notte - a crippled soldier - having to solve renaissance crime - which appears magical. A mixture of detective/magic is quite a challenge and appeals. I thought a series of these with mixtures of magic, murder and detection could be interesting. (Yes, I have my next murder thought out).

I was also considering more mis-adventures of my tattooed Pictish dwarf (a Private Investigator dealing with the urban paranormal). He's one of my favourite creations and is so delightfully un-PC and an MCP (at 4'8") with a big gun and the sensitivity of a brick outhouse. He's a lot of fun to write.

Hmm. I realise all of these happen to be detective/murder myster type stories. There is quite a list, not all of which are murder-mystery! For instance the full tale of the Goth Sex Kitten (which involves a feral tom-kitten who has been transformed into human form to serve as the apprentice - read 'slave' - to a dirty and irascible and unpleasant old git-of-a-magician). But the part I wanted to talk about is actually... all of these are things I really _want_ to write. That I feel eager to write. I think one of my big mistakes has been to focus heavily on security. On writing things I could sell - which has often meant shaping ideas around what I think publishers want (and in some cases - Karres and the Heirs books - half my work - that I have been asked to write by publishers.) Fitting in with what they want me to write: I've bent these into books that I can love and am proud of... but that is hard work,draining and slow, much harder than merely letting the inner monkey loose to write. Of course it's a good question as to whether I can find enough readers for these, but I am actually really looking forward to giving it a go. I think as e-books I choose to make them length they want to be, and while they'll still need editing and proofs, well, I can stop stressing about being paid timeously or them being bought at all. Of course where the time will come from is another question. They'll for now have to fit around the contracted work. But somehow that feels do-able.

Some of the shorts I've refered to - and a bunch of others are going to be available as anthology from Naked Reader (so if you feel like proving to me that this could be worthwhile, or want to tell me which stories you think want a whole book - buy direct form NR and I get 60% of the cover price.)

But what do you think? How long is a worthwhile read? Should price and length relate? Are there things you'd like to see me write?

24 comments:

Amanda Green said...

Just so everyone knows, one of you collections from Naked Reader will be out later this week, Dave. As for what I want to read, as a fan, ALL OF IT!

Oops, sorry, didn't mean to yell. Certainly didn't mean to go all fan girlish. Ah, heck, sure I did. I'll do a fan girl squee any time I can read a new Freer title.

MataPam said...

May I have more RB&V please, sir?

The idea of writing to someone elses idea, let alone outline is scary. I have trouble with assigned topic short stories. (Probably shouldn't admit that where Sarah can read it!)

We'll soon see if NR can make it, attract enough buyers to keep professional writers, and not just those of us who haven't broken out into print yet.

Pricing.

How to balance between a low price for the size, to attract readers, a low price because of the length, and being able to pay the bills?

How about a dollar for every 10K words? maybe slow that down as they get into novel range? Keep the price under mass market paperbacks.

I grew up on Andre Norton's work, each about 60-70K words and never thought of them as thin or shallow.
But how to price them? At what point will an e-reader balk? $5-6? Up to $8 for the big fat fantasies?

I like the idea of a series of short stories that combine into a novel length uber-story. Sort of a mini-series. My only qualm would be people who've read the shorts getting ticked if they bought the collection without realizing there was little or no new material. On the other hand, fans will be delighted with a minimal amount of infill. (Oh, look, so-and-so really did wake up and flee the wedding- literally!) We always want a bit more background on characters, just a tad more of the happily-ever-after and in this venue, plugging stuff from the author's bible, without story or plot might be well accepted.

Ben Godby said...

Man... writing is trench warfare. The First World War was just a bunch of moustachioed novelists playing soldier, didn't you hear?

I've got to say that I prefer short books, and that's actually a big turnoff for me with a lot of the books that actually get published by the Big Men and Women in New York. I need an answer to the general dilemma in 300 pages, not six hundred plus!

Reading, for me - unlike writing - is more like Blitzkrieg. In fact, I understand the 1st Panzers were just a bunch of flash fiction authors who-

Alright I'd better stop.

Darwin said...

I think that you ought to write what you want to write whenever your schedule permits.

That sounds stupid, but hear me out.

You know you have the pro-writer burden of writing what pays. That comes out in your post. This is the stuff that must be done.

Regretfully, the stuff that must be done is currently buried behind another person's shadow. This is not healthy for your career.

The thing is, your humor and talent only really shine when someone isn't filtering you. You've done marvelous work, but you do better when you're creating your own worlds in your own voice with your own spirit and working with an editor who wants YOU to stand out.

So, that's why I say write what you want whenever you can. Push that output forward along routes not dominated by someone who wants to fit you into their vision.

But do it in-between jobs that bring in the cash -- unless you're being deliberately indentured to keep you from breaking out, that is.

Amanda Green said...

Pam, it isn't if Naked Reader Press will be able to attract enough readers to keep professional writers. Our sales are increasing with every month. As are our submissions. We've had almost as many submissions from "pro" writers this reading period as we have from unpublished authors. But, like with any new business, it takes time to grow and I'd rather the company grow slowly and steadily than to take off too quickly only to crash and burn later.

Pricing is one of those murky areas that no one has quite figured out. The best I can tell you is that most people are comfortable spending 99 cents for a short story. They'll spend $1.99 for novellas, especially if that novella ties into a novel or characters they are already familiar with. For new authors, most e-book purchasers will risk $1.99 - $3.99, but not more. They'll spend more for an established author. $4.99 - $5.99 is still the optimal price for most buyers for an e-book. although they will spend more for favorites.

Dave Freer said...

Amanda, you can't :-). Not all at once, anyway.

Dave Freer said...

Matapam - more RBV itself may be a little tricky. I still want to write a final book detailing the last stages of the war - all the burning bridges - but I feel, morally, that will have to be offered to Baen first.

NR needs time and nurture. At the moment it's doing good. Quite honestly, as a pro, it's a no lose situation. I get almost exactly what I would get from any other publisher in terms of services - a lot faster and more personally. I lose a little in terms of the publisher's own website advertising, or in the case of webscriptions a list e-mail -- but as most publishers websites are afterthoughts and they don't have much brand recognition, that's not a big hill. And on the payment side: what I 'lose' by not doing this myself and getting Amazon's 70% is easily covered by the fact I don't have quite an expensive time-sink. ESPECIALLY if customers by through NR itself. Quite honestly, at the terms (which are on the website) an author 'going it alone' is just not worth it. And that is good business.

Dave Freer said...

Matapam - I missed the last part.

Pricing - being as mean as cat's wee mysel' I err on the side o' caution here. (Ahm no' mean, Ahm jist caerfu';-) it's in the blood, from an ancestry of living off a wrinkled neep, three oat grains and a salt herring all winter (and 43 gallons of whiskey). You have to have a dropping scale here. No ways is an ebook worth paying more for than the physical paperback. Which to my mind sets the UPPER limit at $7.00. No matter how long it is. And $5.00 strikes me as enough. I'd be inclined to start with the 99 cents short (seeing as we have to)then 10 cents per 1000 words for anything over 10K up to a cost of $2.50 and dropping to 5 cents a word after that, up to the max. If you (the author) want to make it longer and charge more - it better be a lot longer.

My idea with the shorts would be to build on the existing short work and sell the entire thing, and not sell off the pieces, unless as an openly declared serial novel.

Dave Freer said...

Ben, I've long been of the opinion that the longer novel was not a response to reader demand (there is some, but I am very happy with a 50K book that stands well on its own, and I can read in an hour, without too much guilt) but as a cheap way of allowing publishers to put up the prices, at the expense of the authors. A BFF - 2.5 times as long, takes me 4 times as long to write and takes it out of me like five books - and it's still one book's advance, and the increase in cover price does not - filtered through my 8% royalty, translate into paying for 50K extra words, let alone 150K and the stress and effort.

I suspect books need to be as long as they need to be to tell the story. Not 100K on the nose. So I'm looking forward to this excrcise.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dave, I admire your grit.

Trying to write what they want you to write is hard work. If you have something that you are passionate about writing, write it.

If you are passionate, it will come through and there will be people out there who 'get' what you're doing.

Of course that doesn't put food on the table until you sell. If you could just find something small that's regular. That's why I took on the lecturing. I've yet to find the right balance or paid work, writing and running a household (small army).

Dave Freer said...

Darwin, the curious thing is, when I am writing as it were, unfettered, is that it's quite a fast process. RBV took me 3 weeks. I simply couldn't type fast enough to keep up with my mind. On the other hand some of the BFF have taken me the better part of a year. There is a clear and definite relationship between how relaxed and unworried I am about a book and the ease of writing, and of course how much I love the idea and am thinking about it. And one of the factors that really gets me is the endless lag in conventional publishing. If I could kiss that goodbye - at least for these projects - I hope they'll go fast.

MataPam said...

Amanda,

I think a lot of new businesses die because of over extending themselves. Even an internet company has expenses in the way of renting virtual"space" and bandwith from a server, and the necessary people to do everything from the web updates, the proof reading, formatting . . .

All you've shed are the printing, warehouseing and distribution costs. And office space.

I think you're in an excellent position, with Dave and Sarah, to not be just one of the survivors, but one of the larger of the e-presses when the industry settles down to a new steady state. And I do understand that you have to grow sensibly, with an eye on the bottom line.

My comment was more a matter of thinking there will be a lot of competition for the established writers among the e-presses. And sales numbers will be the main ingredient in the bait.

Chris L said...

Hi Dave,

As a newbie, your posts aren't filling me with optimism. While I'm enjoying the fact that my stories are now being accepted, I see that the transition from my old, all-bills-paid-by-the-company life, to the new, $50 bucks per piece existence, may not be a particularly smooth one.

But hey, I guess I knew what I was in for.

MataPam said...

Dave,

I understand about RBV being offered to Baen, where it started, first. And I certain hope their ties to Tor are not going to tangle them in any publishing armageddon.

I was brainstorming about how to make money on short stories and novellas, and then add enough value to them in an anthology to sell it to your fans all over again. The cost of an ebook is low enough that embellishing the collection need not be extensive in order to satisfy the readers. Think, for instance of LMB's anthology _Borders of Infinity_ as an example.

I don't know, might not be a viable strategy.

Dave Freer said...

Rowena, what I've always done is to create at least some of that passion in what I MUST do. It's not easy, and it wears you out. Yes, it would be very sweet indeed to find the balance.

Dave Freer said...

Chris L - it isn't always rough - often though. I have a friend who went from a couple of Wizards of the coast work for hire rip offs, to an 80K a book two book middle grade contract. Another author I know suddenly landed a million dollar contract. Yes. 1 million. from nowhere. (And yes, I have read part of it. It's not 200 times better than any other noobs). There is no way - under natural selection by readers - that any of these books would earn out, but they were in the right place at the right time and good luck to them. The odds are better than the lotto. But with hard work, a little luck and lot of battling one can parley this into a living of sorts, which is all I ask.

Ellyll said...

Okay, it's not directly relevant, but you had me at the tattooed, MCP, Pictish dwarf private investigator. ;)

Kate said...

Amanda... It's not nice to make me drool all over my keyboard. (Dave stories... WANT)

Dave Freer said...

Elyll - he has two genetic conditions - achondroplasia (dwarfism) and abnormal telomeres - he doesn't age - not that he can't be killed or is immortal - but he's been around a long time. He's a Pict (and therefore tattooed from head to foot). And yes, he's as sensitive as an outhouse. Here is a piece from where he visits a werewolf -run beauty salon...
_______
I kicked the bike onto its stand, just in time to hear a shriek of mortal agony from inside the salon. Once I would have kicked the door in and entered swinging a sword around. Now... I just loosened the Glock in its holster and peered in at a window. Someone peered right back at me. Opened the door. She was one of those leggy women who always make me feel even shorter. "Get out of here before I call the cops," she said, looking down at me.
"I thought you might need me to call them for you," I said as I heard another choked-off scream from inside.
She snorted. "That's just Candace. She's such a baby. No real woman yells. So what are you here for blue boy? Nails, feet or legs?"
"Uh. I just wanted to talk to about..."
"Honey, I only talk to customers."
I took a deep breath. I had said ‘and expenses' when I took the job. "Well, I'll have be a customer then. I need to ask you a few questions."
"I need to ask you a few too," she said, leading me inside. "What's it to be? Toenails, fingernails or wax?"
"My ears could use a bit of a clean-out. I guess. Wax, eh?"
She looked me up and down. "Bikini wax?"
"Whatever you want to wear is fine by me. I mean they have topless carwashes."
The little silver salmon between her breasts jiggled. "Full Brazilian or French?" she asked smoothly.
I shook my head. "I stopped at Starbucks on the way over. American, but pretty good."
"American it is," she said, seeming a little disappointed. I like Brazilian but I drink too much coffee anyway. "There's a changing room over there. Get your kit off."
I was beginning to wonder if I'd stumbled onto a vice ring. Yeah well. I wish I had. You know what that woman did with HOT WAX!? And werewolves are un-naturally strong. It did get the wax to blow itself out of my ears.
Finally I got a chance to ask: "Fintan?"
She might have paused, briefly. "Suntan? You could use one."
"No... Fiaaaaaaaargh!"
"You're a baby. Just like most men."

Dave Freer said...

Kate, working on it :-) thanks.

Chris McMahon said...

I like your Pictish dwarf. Place him anywhere sensitivity is required, stand back and watch. . .:)

Ellyll said...

Yep. Pictish dwarf is GOOD. :)

Ori Pomerantz said...

Dave: There is a clear and definite relationship between how relaxed and unworried I am about a book and the ease of writing, and of course how much I love the idea and am thinking about it.

Ori: This might be the critical advantage of your decision not to rely on writing income. When you don't rely on writing income, you should be able to produce more material.

It's weird, but people are generally weird. So are monkeys. BTW, do you get any coconuts down under?

Dave Freer said...

Nope Ori, I'll probably have to settle for throwing gum nuts.

But back when I was a teenager I found a similar thing - when I was really keen on a girl - she wouldn't know I was alive. But if I wasn't... suddenly things would be more promising. Then I'd get interested and she'd back off ;-)... and so on.