Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Plan - Part 2: The Writing

Yesterday's post about "Who Am I?" really just hit some high points. Most of us have a complicated identity, and if you try to talk too much about it, you tend to blather. (Or at least I do, and if you thought yesterdays post kind of wandered and blathered, you should see the rejected drafts....)

Taking a Look A The Big Picture: What Do I Want My Mature Body of Work To Look Like?

The first step in a marketing plan is filling the reservoir, as I mentioned in the Physics of Water post. And now I know the flavor of what I'm filling it with, but now it's time to talk in specifics. How am I to fill that reservoir, and with what?

My first overall rule for my career is this: I won't write to a schedule and I won't just churn out another book in a series because people want one, or because I think that's the way to make money. (Lawrence Block had a great post on this, explaining why people should stop asking him when the next Bernie Rhodenbarr book will come out.)

The Mick and Casey Mysteries:

Mick and Casey are the cornerstone of my writing career. That series is the most commercial thing I've written so far, but it's still out on the fringes in many ways -- it's cross-genre (mystery and western), and it tramples on expectations in ways that people don't seem to expect. (I know that sounds silly, but honestly, people do expect you to trample on certain expectations. And if you don't do it the way they expect, that tramples on their expectations of expectations.)

My main problem with Mick and Casey is a lack of momentum. I started the series a long time ago when I was trying to break into commercial publication, and I put a heck of a lot of work into it, only to be shut down. "Love it, but nobody wants westerns, and cozy mysteries are poison." So let's just say I burnt out before I even got started.

Still, even though there is only one book, two short stories and a novelette out there, you could say that Mick and Casey are a "mature" series. I may not have momentum, but I do have a bunch of partly written novellas. In every case I started them thinking they would be a marketable short story, and when I realized they would be way too long to publish (but too short for books) I would move on to another "short" story.

The novella is, I think, the natural length for Mick and Casey, just like it was for Nero Wolfe. There might be a few short novels in there, and probably more short stories, but even the short stories are likely to fill out to novelettes. The main, natural length seems to be 70-150 pages -- or 20,000-50,000 words.

In the modern world of e-publishing, there is no reason to abandon novellas. And they are quick to write. So I hope to have 3-6 new longer Mick and Casey stories in the coming two years or so.

The Starling and Marquette Mysteries

The work-in-progress (The Man Who Did Too Much) is the first book in this series. While it is quirky and probably tramples a few expectations of its own, it is the only series which is solidly in a particular, modern, commercial genre. Mostly. It kinda blurs the lines between some sub-genres. It probably borrows as much from P.G. Wodehouse as from Agatha Christie, but nobody is going to mistake it for something other than a traditional mystery.

This first book is going to come out somewhere near 90,000 words. As the "origin" story it might be a little longer than subsequent stories, but I don't think so. And this was much harder to write than I expected, probably because of the influence of both Wodehouse and Christie -- complex, intertwining subplots and psychological threads.

So I think all these books are going to be full length, and they're all going to be a bear to write -- because I am not P.G. Wodehouse -- but I don't think they're going to take years to write each.

I have at least four, and probably five books in mind before I get to the point where I feel it is a stable and mature series. I may be able to do a book a year on it, but I'm not counting on it. My goal is to have the first one published in November... and maybe keep publishing in November each year. I would really like to get the next two done, at least, to make me feel like the series is established.

"The Serial"

This is where I'm going to let it all hang out. This is going to be a repository of full-blown Camille-ness. Here is where the rubber hits the road in terms of personal branding. The mysteries at least have a genre, regardless of whether they fully fit or not.

But The Serial is, um, well, er,... I think it won't even be an actual serial, in the sense most people think. But there will be people tied to railroad tracks and spies and locked-room mysteries and nosy detectives and sword fights, and bandits, and secrets, and flights through the dark of night in the forest primeval. So far there are no aliens, and very very limited magic (just what's necessary to set up the world for the reader)... but there are giant carnivorous roly-poly bugs! (Or at least rumors of them.) Maybe ghosts.

But for the most part this is not a fantasy or speculative fiction. Magic and imagined technology emphatically do not drive anything here. I call it "Jazzpunk" -- since it driven by the culture of the early Jazz Age, and not the technology the way cyberpunk, steampunk and dieselpunk are.

So this is really where the branding comes in. And most particularly, this is where the ART comes in. Genres and brands need a look.

For right now, though, I'm just in the development stage: I'm researching and working on art, and creating a series bible. I'm collecting magazines from the period, etc. I probably won't do much in terms of writing or publishing this in the next two years, except....

I WILL be playing with it on the blog, and may even publish some of it here as I work through that larger development.

(NOTE: I did end up playing with it on my blog, and it did end up being a serial -- you'll find the first episode of The Misplaced Hero here.)

Short Fiction

Short fiction is where I think I can move my career along faster -- before I've finished filling the reservoir, so to speak. Especially very short fiction. Flash stories, jokes, poems and anecdotes are easy to read, and show people you can tell a story.

My short fiction doesn't fit a hundred percent into my branding plans, though. I write a wider variety here. I sometimes write very mainstream, fit-the-genre kind of stuff, or even literary stuff -- but that's why it helps with the overall plan. Short fiction is a way for people to sample my writing, which (unlike samples) actually shows how well I pay off on the setup. They also are something you can spread far and wide.

My main plan for short fiction write now is to write a lot of it -- as much as I can without slowing down production on my main books. I'll be submitting to some of the major magazines out there (most notably Ellery Queen and other Davis publications), which will slow down the actual publication of these stories. Not only does traditional publishing take a while, but it also delays doing anything else with the story. I will also be looking for guest posting homes for some stories, and publishing some here, as well as in small ebook collections.

The other thing that short fiction does is allow me to develop other series (or even existing ones) in a limited way. I have some really fun other series, including a quirky almost-hard-boiled young detective named Max. Even Starling and Marquette have their first short story in the Pink Snowbunnies In Hell flash fiction anthology.

Miscellaneous Other Novels

I don't intend to write any more novels for a while which don't relate to the above plans. However, I have completed drafts of various books which I might well publish if the mood strikes me. Some of them kinda fit into "The Brand" -- like the sequels to The Wife of Freedom. Like The Serial, it's an alternate world without any fantastical elements -- built from a different era of melodrama and swashbuckler.

(And, like The Serial, the sequel to Wife of Freedom -- Test of Freedom -- will soon be serialized on this blog, Mondays and Thursdays, starting October 15, 2012.)

But the other stuff -- like Harsh Climate and The Scenic Route -- fit mainly via a quirky point of view. I have no plans to follow those up yet, but I do have ideas.

But Wait, There's More!

Even though I am not doing any real marketing efforts, I am doing some actual traditional marketing:

*The Blog -- If I am my brand, my blog is the obvious and natural place to build it. It is important enough that I will have a whole post just about that tomorrow.

*Announcements -- I don't break my neck to do this, but when I publish something new, I do announce it. Twitter, here, maybe on Kindleboards or Mobilereads. But honestly, sometimes -- okay, most of the time -- I forget to even tell my mom.

*Review Copies -- Every so often I will send out some copies to reviewers who have an easy set up on their blog for submissions. I am not currently, however, going around looking for reviewers. I am collecting URLs for interesting book blogger sites for later, though.

*Blog tours and guest posting -- I will probably do a miniature blog tour in January for The Man Who Did Too Much. This will be more an experiment and learning experience than anything. I hope to do enough to let me know how it might work best for me, and how I might want to use such tours in the future. (I'll talk about this more in tomorrow's post about my blog.)

*Advertising -- yes, I use advertising. It doesn't work well for my books most of the time -- at least not with the main venues most indie writers tout. I have found that the right ad on the right site at Project Wonderful sometimes has a minor effect -- enough to break even maybe if you squint.

The most important result you get from advertising -- exposure -- is intangible. It's not about getting a return on investment. It's a black hole into which specifically budgeted money disappears. So a good idea is to treat it like gambling: set a budget for it and forget it.

IMHO, the best reason for advertising is to support the site where the ad appears. Be a real sponsor. (More about this in tomorrow's post, too.)

*Website -- I neglect my website because I'm not actively marketing. But I do update now and then. And I will use it more extensively when I am actively marketing.

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about how my blog fits into my career and marketing plans. It's something I'm doing now, and it is a "mature" effort. I don't intend to change what I'm doing there much, in future.

The key thing for me about a blog is that it isn't a marketing tool, it's a product.

See you in the funny papers.

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