Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Players and the Masters

I have always wanted to get into some form of pen-&-paper RPG. It seemed to be right up my alley - a medium where my love of storytelling and performance dovetailed nicely with my love of cooperation, competition and emergent experiences. Combined with a few like-minded individuals I thought this kind of gaming would make for hours of memorable entertainment.

Sadly, I only ever gave it one try, and it turned out that the group of people who'd invited me were not so much interested in the roleplay or storytelling aspects. Rather, they were the D&D equivalent of powergamers. They were after the loot and the experience points, and their Dungeon Master obligingly doled them out. Every character went up one level per adventure, they said. Every character got one piece of new useful equipment.

I tried to mix it up a bit, which weirded them out to no end. When my half-elven fighter tried to fling a bronze gong at an orc, they were pretty stumped.

To be fair, it wasn't really until I met these guys that I clarified what I was looking for in a pen-and-paper experience. I suppose, when it comes right down to it, I would actually prefer a malign dungeon master to a benign one. I don't want a steady flow of loot and treasure - I want challenge, danger and adventure. I want a world that responds to my inventiveness.

No doubt it is my evolving love of storytelling that has led me to think I would enjoy the role of the Dungeon Master more than the Dungeon Delver. I tried to learn the rules of D&D - but frankly, I think they've become too convoluted for pen and paper. They are now native to the realm of computer gaming, which is really where all my familiarity comes from. Lately I've been looking up other rulesets which tend more towards simplicity. There have been plenty recommended to me - Seventh Sea and Burning Wheel being two prominent candidates - but I haven't shaken the feeling that I probably won't be happy until I've designed my own. So I've set out to do exactly that.

I don't know when. I don't know with whom. But someday I will lead a selection of adventurers through a terrible and wonderful landscape. Oh yes I will.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Fantasy Author in a College Creative Writing Course

As some of you know, I am nearing the end of what has been a very, very long journey to a college degree. In that time I have majored in three different subjects and accumulated enough credits to earn a pair of degrees (albeit if those degrees had requirements as eclectic as my own tastes).

However, despite my copious and varied experience in college and despite the fact that I have been writing fairly steadily since I was ten, I have never once taken a creative writing course - until now.

Why? Because fantasy writers do not fit in with academic creative writings courses. Because Science Fiction writers do not fit in with academic creative writing courses. And, to a certain extent academic creative courses are not designed to create professional authors. They are designed to create professional "critics and academics," as the excellent Kathleen Rush puts it. I will let her blog posts (which I just linked) do the heavy lifting on those assertions. Suffice to say that I agree with her on most points in which I have any basis for comparison.

This semester, however, I decided to take a chance on a creative writing course. On the one hand, thus far it seems pretty nice. I get to write whatever I want, as much or as little, and the prof will attempt to grade me based on the portfolio of work I have submitted by the end of the class.

On the other hand, it does not seem that the class is going to overturn any of the preconceptions I had about a college-level creative writing course. After sharing some of my first submission to the class, the professor was upfront about not 'getting' why people read Fantasy. It struck me as an odd question from a college literary professor.

People read their preferred genre for a lot of reasons, but I've always believed that the basis for every genre is the same. Characters that feel real to us, and a story that entertains us.

I should say that he was in no way condescending. I actually rather like the professor; to a large extent because of how honest he was about his lack of understanding. But there has never been a genre that I simply did not get the appeal of. It may not hold that same appeal for me, but I can at least begin grasp why others read it.

I digress. My point is not to say that I think the class is bad - in fact, I think I will enjoy it. Partially because of my little ongoing experiment to see how an author like myself is received in a class like this. (I may even try to stray outside of my own genres, to give them a rest and maybe even to grow a little as an author). However, as I suspected, I'm the black sheep of the class - at least at first glance. And I don't really expect there to be much concern with how to get work published despite the fact that we have several talented writers and at least one whom I know is concerned with publication.

It ought to be an interesting semester. I might even try submitting some things I intend to publish.

Great Article on Army Sizes in Fantasy

I was just pointed to this fantastic article concerned with just how large a fantasy army can get, assuming the usual pseudo-middle age setting. It has some good details, I recommend it. I would add to that this website - which I may have linked before - which has a series of articles about putting fantasy settings on a sensible basis.

It must be the strategy gamer in me that keeps me thinking about these aspects so much. While I was writing Twixt Heaven and Hell I often had to remind myself that not a whole lot of readers are likely to be interested in the logistics of how soldiers are supplied and organized - but I was thinking about it. That's why I was delighted to get an email from one of my very earliest readers asking if I had some explanations for possible discrepancies. I was happy to send him a lengthy response on my reasoning for why Bastion can field so many soldiers at once compared to why Pyre developed the transportation magic before their enemy.

This is one reason that part of the extras included in the first Wandering Tale collection will include what some might refer to as "historical matter." Because while it would be dry and somewhat boring to a lot of people, readers who love the world of the Wandering Tale might love to know more about the history and setting. Maybe almost as much as I love to write about it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A few clerical details

While I mentioned I might not be too concerned with promotion this year, there are a few little administrative details I intend to invest some time in. A self-publisher is basically a small business, and it would probably be a good idea to add a little more method to my madness. So, here's what's on the docket vis a vis organizational improvements:

Set Up a Clear File Structure for Ebook Files
I made a couple quick attempts at this, but I really need to go through and standardize how I store my eBook versions and master copies - for instance, so I don't need to fix typos in multiple versions of a file. This one should be quick once I actually get around to it.

Set Up a Mailing List
After reading one of David Gaughran's posts last year I went ahead and signed up for a (free) Mailing List management service called MailChimp - but I still haven't gotten around to configuring it, or really learning anything about it at all.

Set up an Accounting Spreadsheet
Amazon and Smashwords create large and data-rich spreadsheets on earnings and sales. That's great and all, but I intend to maintain a rather simpler one containing only the crucial data for fast reference.

Improve Existing Ebooks
Not exactly administrative, but related. Mainly I intend to prepare a somewhat longer author's statement to include in the end of my ebooks. The blurbs I have right now seem a bit hasty.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Year Ahead

I do not know - and hold no expectations for - how 2013 will turn out, business-wise. Much like last year, I intend to concentrate on putting good, solid stories down and presenting them attractively.

Immediate Goals:

My projects for the start of the year are really the same projects I had at the close of 2012, which I left largely unfinished.

  • Finish (and find a new title for!) the 4th Wandering Tale novella
  • Release the first Wandering Tale Collection, complete with a nice map and some additional goodies for those that like invented history and world-building.
  • Record Le Morte d'Arthur for release as an audiobook (nearly complete already).
For the year at large, these are what I like to think of as my "realistic" goals. Some less-likely ones may come up in a later post.

Finish that second novel (and with luck, a third as well)
Clanless will be my primary writing project once I'm done with the Wandering Tale collection. I may have missed being the first on the Roundtable Podcast's "Knights of the Roundtable," but I for damn sure won't be far behind! Furthermore, as they themselves made clear to me, Clanless will require a sequel.

Begin recording The Wandering Tale
Though I had grand plans for a multi-voiceactor recording for Swordsman of Carn Nebeth, I see now that I simply don't have the time to orchestrate such an undertaking without putting aside too much else. Thus, it will have to wait - and in the meantime, I'll just do a single-voice recording featuring yours truly. It will require multiple accents and some funny voices.

Release books in print
This only applies to novels or novel-lengths. I do not currently intend to release individual Wandering Tale stories in print (that's part of what the collections are for). It will require further proofing and design, so chances are this will happen later in the year.

It's going to be a good year, methinks.

Monday, January 7, 2013

My First Year in Publishing

It has been roughly one year since I began self-publishing. In many ways that year has been a success. I wrote more than in most prior years despite having a tighter schedule (more on that below); I have learned to attractively present my work to the market (already have some gorgeous covers in my portfolio - I'm as proud as if I'd done them myself); and most importantly, my work has been well-received.

Quite well, in fact. Better than I had expected. I've managed to wrangle some book blogger reviews as well as a number of non-solicited reader reviews (those always feel good). I've been personally contacted by readers who want to know more, and I've had some directly request a sequel to Twixt Heaven and Hell. Chances are I'll end up writing one, even though I'd not originally planned it. Hey, you give the people what they want!

I did experience some setbacks, of course. My sales for the year were, again, better than I really anticipated (I anticipated next to nothing). However, my net income on self-publishing is still in the negative due to the only real expense I have - purchase of cover art. Not that I regret making those purchases. Frankly, they're worth more than I paid.

Then, of course, there was the minor burn-out at the end of the year. I didn't really stop writing, but I certainly wasn't keeping up the pace that I had set. I don't regret it, honestly - I needed the break, and while I do need to get used to keeping self-imposed deadlines I can also remind myself that I'm not in any hurry. Better to lay down a solid foundation than rush the process.

All in all, a good start accompanied by a couple encouraging trends. First of all, my sales are increasing. Veeeeery slowly, but surely. Secondly, whenever my books do gain some small measure of exposure there is a marked uptick of sales - a miniature "press effect" that is so valuable to book sales. This gives me hope that should I ever embark on a real media campaign it might have some real effect. That, however, is still a ways in the future.

Publishing 2012, by the numbers:

Books Published: 5 (3 Novellas, 1 Novel, 1 Short)

Sales Made: ~300 (Sales, not free downloads!)

Reviews Earned (or Cajoled): 22

New Words Written: ~115,000

Old Words Cut: ~40,000 (Mostly on TWIXT)

Drafts Finished: 9

New Stories Started and Not Finished: 7 (1 Novel, 1 Novella, and 5 Shorts)

Tomorrow, we focus on the year ahead...