The Writer Master Plan

Back in June, Nick Cole and Jason Anspach released a military SF novel entitled Galaxy’s Edge: Legionnaire.  I’d been peripherally aware of Mr. Cole for a while, ever since Harper Voyager kicked him to the curb for political reasons.  But what he and Anspach pulled off made me sit up and take notice.

Because Legionnaire, a brand-new, independently-published mil-SF novel, shot to the top 100 on Kindle, and #1 in its categories, and proceeded to stay there.  For weeks.  And they made no secret that they wanted to share how they did it with other authors.  I talked to Mr. Cole myself for a bit, and got the gears turning, even before they released their After Action Report podcast.

Cole pointed me toward the non-fiction work of Chris Fox, who has been studying what works in independent publishing, specifically Amazon, for some time.  I started doing some more reading.

One of the things that came out of my conversation with Nick, reading Chris Fox, and listening to the podcast, was that many of us on the indie side haven’t been working like we’re independents.  We’ve been working like we’re writing for traditional publishers.  That means that two books a year is good.

It’s not, at least not for us.  Because we don’t have the resources or the distribution to make big names for ourselves with only a book ever six to nine months.  Especially not when Amazon’s algorithm is, apparently, based on a 30-60 day window.

“A book every 30-60 days?  That’s crazy!  Even if you could do it, it wouldn’t be any good!”  I beg to differ.  For a couple of reasons.

One: historical precedent.  Walter Gibson, the inventor of The Shadow, wrote 283 novel-length (30-75k words) Shadow stories in fifteen years.  At least one year he turned out something close to 1.6 million words.  And while no one would necessarily call The Shadow “The Great American Novel,” Who Cares?  They were good enough for what they were, and they got Gibson paid.  The Great American Novel is a snooty pretension anyway, and most of those books that claim to be such are the slow, grinding, nihilistic literature of despair.  (Needless to say, my HS English teacher did not like my interpretation of Of Mice and Men.  Which doesn’t make me any less right.)

Two: that kind of production is entirely possible, if you apply yourself right.  Chris Fox (there’s that guy again) has a book out entitled 5000 Words An Hour.  While I’m nowhere near 5k words/hour, 5k words per day, in about 2.5 hours of work, is entirely within reach.  And I’ve been doing it.  Drawing The Line took about a week (with interruptions).  I finished the first draft of Older and Fouler Things on Saturday.

So, what does this mean to you, dear reader?  Well, for one thing, it means more books (perhaps slightly shorter) more often.  Brannigan’s Bastards is coming up quick, and that will be a long-running series (I have 16 planned right now, undoubtedly with more to follow).  Being able to produce more quickly also means that I can introduce more series, in genres that I’ve been putting off for a while.  There will likely be some mil-SF/space opera and heroic fantasy coming up, though not before about three, maybe four Brannigan’s Bastards.  The American Expeditionary Volunteer Group series might just start next year (American Praetorians spinoff).

There are still hurdles to be surmounted.  I’m still putting all the lessons learned together and trying to figure out how to make them work.  One of the keys, Nick told me, was to get 25 reviews on a new release in the first week.  That’s been tough; still trying to find the magic formula for that.  I might be setting something up for an Advance Review Copy Reader List at some point.  Don’t know yet.  Any suggestions on that point are welcome.

Another thing that both Nick and Chris talked about was getting into the fan community of your chosen genre.  Research has shown me, the last few weeks, that for the Action Adventure/Mil/Techno-Thriller genre, there really isn’t that kind of community out there online (or if there is, it’s well-hidden).  So that leaves trying to build it ourselves.  I’m going to be working with some of the rest of the indie thriller/shooter novelists I know, and trying to get that off the ground in the lead-up to Brannigan’s Bastards.  It might start with a Facebook Group (I know, I know.  But you’ve got to start somewhere.).

Stay tuned.  A lot’s going to be happening.

 

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9 thoughts on “The Writer Master Plan

  1. Alex Shishkin

    If you can pull off a full-sized book every 60 days without degrading the quality – more power to you, you will certainly have me buying every one of them.

    However, that _does_ sound a bit unrealistic. But what about short novels in the interim between full-sized books? Things like “Drawing the Line” and “The Canyon of the Lost”? In my view of a dilettante outsider looking in, this is one of the great differences between traditional publishing and Indie: where a traditional publisher could only justify short novels when bundled into anthologies, an indie author can sell them successfully and at (admittedly small) profit as individual units. If Amazon’s algorithm requires a kick every 30-60 days – does it really require a book-sized kick, or will a short novel-sized one suffice?

    1. 5k words per day, six days per week, means a 90k word book in three weeks. “Older and Fouler Things” is at about 85k, give or take a few hundred (and the Jed Horn novels have always been shorter).

      My original idea for the Brannigan’s Bastards series was shorter stories, somewhat more self-contained. Originally, I was thinking 40k to 60k words, but #1, “Fury in the Gulf,” as outlined, is probably going to run somewhere closer to 90k. That’s still about three weeks for the first draft. Even if it goes longer than that, 60 days is easy.

      The process actually hasn’t changed all that much (especially since I abandoned “pantsing” about 3 years ago and started doing a detailed outline for each project). It’s just a matter of managing the time better, and getting more work done with fewer distractions. Anyone who tells you that you MUST take at least so much time to produce a quality novel is either talking out of their ass, or they’re trying to get you to slow down so they don’t feel so bad about taking five years to produce nothing (you might think I’m kidding, but I’ve seen the “articles” out there essentially saying just that).

      With better production practices, even if it goes longer, say 145k, you’re still only talking about five weeks, leaving another four to five to hit that 60-day window.

      1. Alex Shishkin

        I was thinking more in terms of coming up with enough decent stories and distinctive characters (as compared to just revised versions of the previous ones) to tell and build on such a short notice. There is a definite risk, IMO, of falling into a certain set of cliches repeated over and over, when one is working on such a tight schedule. But that’s neither here nor there: writing speed and its effect on quality have historically been radically different from writer to writer, with no uniform rule. So until you try, you will never know whether you are entirely correct in your estimations, or my fears have some basis to them, after all. 🙂

        I will certainly be a happy camper if you end up being correct, and my caution – to have been full of shit. 🙂

  2. Michael Fry

    It sounds like you have a plan that benefits both you as an author, and the reader community. I’m all for that. Craft your plan and work it. Revisit it from time to time and tweak it to incorporate what you learn from it. A couple of thoughts to consider:

    1. Your thought on an advanced reader group to generate those first week reviews is a good one. Run with that. I would be happy to participate if you need volunteers.

    2. In the process of producing these works at the pace that you are planning on I would think that you would benefit from two things:
    a. Having an independent editor that hasn’t been continuously working with the novel since inception.
    b. Maintaining a distinct difference between the worlds / genres that you are concurrently (or sequentially) working in. It should help to minimize confusion and inadvertent crossover between the various works.

    I’m looking forward to seeing more tales from you, and to see how the business side of this turns out for you.

  3. Pingback: Welcome To The Action Thriller Renaissance – American Praetorians

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