2016 Features Outlook
Saturday, Jan. 2, 2015
Happy New Year! This week's article consists of four parts, so let's get right to it!
After the Prelude: Not So Special?
The Curious Tale turned sixteen years old last summer. The Draft 10 Era alone turned five. 2015 was the year that I finally published my first Curious Tale book, and long was the road to get there.
Because that road was so long, and so personal, ever since the initial Prelude publication back in August I've felt a twinge of entitlement. "This is it. I made it. I'm finally here. Now the audience will roll in, sales will soar, and the future will get a lot brighter."
But of course that's not how it works at all, not unless you're either dumb lucky, or are already famous, or you've got that magic formula for making a blockbuster right out of the gate—which I'm not, I'm not, and I don't. Even now that I'm a "published novelist," I'm still not actually all that special as far as the world is concerned. (I mean, I think I'm pretty special, but I have yet to find a way to mindwash everyone else into agreeing with me.)
Publishing the Prelude was a huge step forward for me, that's for sure. Only a small percentage of humans—even if we just count literate humans—ever write a complete novel. (And on that point there's room for debate as to whether the Prelude actually is a "complete" novel, since it is after all just a prelude, but I'll give myself the benefit of the doubt.) Nevertheless, even with a book under belt, my sixteen-year journey has been mostly an internal one. Nobody else can be asked to abide by the gravity of my personal journey, to flock to buy their copy and swing from the rafters to hawk my work to anyone and everyone. That's just not how it works.
Talented artists (and untalented ones) publish books, or other art, every day. And they have to keep doing it to earn their living, week after week, month after month. They have to keep writing, keep drawing, whatever. They can't stop, even if they wanted to, because they're not rich yet and their only choice is to keep producing art or else take an ordinary job. There are artists who work harder than me, who publish more consistently and more often than I do, who create art that in some way or another is better than mine, and who nevertheless struggle to earn a living from it.
The cold truth is that except for a handful of lucky stars, the life of an artist is just another kind of economic trudge—and less profitable than becoming a corporate hack or a rapacious lawyer or financier. For all the sixteen years behind me, publishing my first book means my work of earning a living this way has only just begun.
You probably won't be surprised when I say that's disappointing. In faerie tales, a great labor followed by a great victory is rewarded commensurately. In faerie tales, this is the part of the story where my financial hardship ends, where an audience gathers before me and I spend the rest of my days creating work I love and conversing about it with interesting people. But here in reality, there's a good chance that 2016 will be a lonely and lean year. No reward is guaranteed. Nothing is guaranteed.
In 2016 I plan to focus on building my audience, but will I succeed? Because I'm not your Captain, I can afford the luxury of confessing the truth: I don't know. I have no idea if I'll succeed in 2016 at building even a small audience. It's my major goal for the year, but it's also completely uncharted territory for me. That entire region of personal skills is a huge weakness for me; on my personal map of competencies it's simply marked with question marks and "Here Be Dragons." Wretched marketing, I call it. It's not my forté.
(Aside: Did you know that "forté" is an exoticism? Its French etymon is pronounced "fort." It was confused with a different word that does have two syllables. But oh well; I think "forté" sounds niftier. At least I'm not one of those lost souls who pronounces integral by stressing the second syllable. Gah!)
The aftermath of the commercial publication of the Prelude on December 19 has been a learning experience. For one thing, reactions have been light. Any of my personal friends who would have given me a reaction, had already done so after the world premiere in August. Nearly all the reactions I've gotten so far to the commercial publication have been by virtue of the fact that one of my fans has a reasonably large following of his own. Without his signal boost, it's entirely possible that the commercial launch would have been met with crickets.
Of course, I expected as much. One generally has to promote their work to be noticed, and that's the catch of self-publishing: You're on your own. And when it comes to me I have no talent for self-promotion and no promotional budget to work with, so all my marketing for the time being is going to have to work within these rather noteworthy limitations.
Having said that, publication weekend was exhilarating! Watching my first sales come in was like riding a roller coaster—exhilarating!
And there has been a nonzero amount of Internet commentary on my work. It's a lot of fun, and flattering, to see any amount of discussion of my work from strangers on the Internet.
It's also very surreal. It feels otherworldly. These are characters who have been mine, and now they are under discussion from people I've never interacted with. That's quite a sensation, and hard to compare to something else.
One person said that they couldn't remember if Galavar's title is "king," which made me squee because it's not, and that fact must have gotten caught in the person's subconscious. Another person particularly praised the Vardas Council scenes, which I find particularly gratifying. Yet another said they found all the talk about pursuing worthy ideals to be inspiring. Another person said DeLatia was their favorite, while acknowledging she deserved to get her head slammed on the table. Still another person suggested that Galavar and Silence would make a great ship—a kind of ship that I don't have a word for, where one person is a firebrand and the other is the calm type. And somebody said they were already invested in the characters.
In fact, every single piece of feedback was positive. The worst thing that anything said was from someone on Facebook who decided not to read the book because of what he prejudged it to be. (Fair enough, though. I mean, we all do that.) I suppose the explicitly negative chatter is inevitable as my exposure increases, but even that is going to have a powerful novelty when it comes. (If only for a little while!) And if I'm getting enough exposure to attract negative comments, that really just reaffirms that I'm getting exposure at all.
Moreover, none of this commentary was directed specifically at me. It was just out there on the Internet—specifically on Tumblr—and I saw it after the fact. To have people talk about my work without me whipping them to do it is simply delightful.
Anyhow, I hope for a lot more such chatter in the coming year. And I hope, if you're reading this, that you'll help me get there by telling your friends and followers about the Prelude, and about this site. Remember, I'm more interested about getting people to read the Prelude than making money from it, so do feel free to point to the free native version on this site. (For whatever it's worth, I think that people generally tend to take book-length new works more seriously when they're not free. But if you're making the recommendation, that's your call.)
2016 Stories and Features Outlook
Ever since the Regular Features began, I have occasionally revisited my production schedule and adjusted it to suit my energies and priorities. Here now is the Curious Tale 2016 New Year's Outlook. I anticipate the next outlook will be as early as the spring, or as late as the end of Season 2 in the summer.
The Great Galavar
We're halfway through Season 2, and due to a number of issues I still haven't gotten new episodes of The Great Galavar off the ground. Nonetheless this will technically remain an active weekly feature, to publish on Sundays. I have no intention of putting it on hiatus. Season 2 will premiere as soon as it can.
Curious Tale Saturdays
This, my best feature, will of course continue.
By fluke, the biweekly Community Service feature got preempted several times in a row. But even had that not been the case, I have decided that the energy isn't currently well-spent, and therefore I am suspending the feature. (It may return at some point.) In its place I'm going to try and build a presence for The Curious Tale on Facebook. I'm also thinking about trying the same on Tumblr, though I haven't decided yet.
There will be no feature on this site to discuss my progress. Instead, I hope you'll simply visit The Curious Tale on Facebook. (Tumblr page TBA if I go ahead with it.) I'm going to try and post a little something there most days, but I really would love some interaction with fans, so please check it out, and please comment on the posts that interest you! Just clicking that "Like" button isn't enough, nor is "Liking" the page itself. Posting comments is where it's at. Discussion invites participation from others. I hope to see you there.
More broadly, a big part of my plans for self-promotion is going to be to try to generate some buzz on Facebook, so this is really important to me. If you're curious about The Curious Tale, please check me out there.
Empire on Ice
I said this feature would be monthly in Season 2 but have yet to produce a single episode. To reflect reality I'm reclassifying this feature to an "irregular" schedule, which basically means that it'll come out whenever I want it to, and you shouldn't expect more than a handful of episodes in all of Season 2.
Wiki Weekends will increase from biweekly to weekly, and will serve as an aggregator for pages that I've worked on in Encyclopedia Reluria or in the dictionary, Lexicon Reluria. This will usually be a small feature, and some weekends (like last weekend) there will be nothing at all.
Mate of Song
This is a big announcement. (Though it's not the "Big Announcement" in the title. That's coming next.)
Mate of Song is over halfway written, and most of the core structural planning is done. Section I itself (out of five sections total) is more or less completely finished. Moreover, I have a lot of creative energy for Mate of Song. I'm "digging it," as it were.
However, now that I've published the Prelude and have had several months to lay out the road ahead of me for the coming year, I've encountered a problem that some of you already saw: Mate of Song is an Interlude, set chronologically somewhere in the area of ATH Book II. It doesn't make sense for me to publish such a work without ATH Book I. I think it would be asking too much of readers to go from Prelude to After The Hero: A Curious Tale to Mate of Song: A Curious Tale with no actual After The Hero: A Curious Tale in between.
Therefore, I am indefinitely postponing the publication of Mate of Song. Notice those italics. I will continue development on it, even up to the point of finishing it completely. But I won't publish it for the time being. I'm also not going to be giving it the front-burner development status that I was planning on doing at this time.
This of course leaves a huge gap in my marquee projects, which leads me to my big announcement:
Announcing After The Hero:
Book I Chapter 1
Here's the Big Announcement!
Book I of After The Hero will begin development immediately. In fact I have already started. It had been on hiatus from the time I began Mate of Song, but now it's moving back to the front burner.
To be clear, I in no way feel that Mate of Song was a distraction or a diversion. It was a wonderful and I think necessary step along the way, and as a book in its own right it isn't going anywhere. It'll just be publishing a little farther down the line than I thought.
As for After The Hero, I'm going to begin Book I by working on Chapter 1 specifically. There are already a number of scene rudiments and notes that I've created over the years—much as was the case with the Prelude when I put it into active development a year ago.
I've always maintained that After The Hero should be told in just five books, but looking at Mate of Song and the Prelude (and The Great Galavar for that matter) has been instructive to me in helping me realize how long those five books would be. And to be honest, for over a decade I've wondered if five books was feasible. I've just never said anything about it.
But now, therefore, in order to keep my goals attainable, I'll be focusing more or less only on Chapter 1. And at this point I can foresee the distinct possibility that Chapter 1 will actually become an entire book of its own, probably longer than but comparable to the Prelude. This isn't certain, but it's certainly a possibility.
For those who don't know, Chapter 1, which in the past I have called "The Battle for Soda Fountain," tells the story of Gala's conquest of the desert metropolis of Soda Fountain. It introduces us to many important characters, and shows us the earliest precursors to the development of the Resistance.
Someday farther down the line I'd like to publish the five "Books" as intended, but for the purpose of building my audience in the meantime I might create more publication milestones simply by breaking up five huge books into a much larger number of moderate ones.
And now for some Real Talk: When will Chapter 1 be complete? Well, when it came to the Prelude, I issued a completion date right from the beginning, and I only missed that date by one month. It was a promise I made to keep, and I more or less did keep it.
But things were different then. I had a healthier living situation and many other factors going in my favor that I don't have now. Moreover, After The Hero is a much larger beast, and I don't want to issue a completion date unless I feel that I can promise it, and at the moment I don't feel I can make such a promise. So here's what I'm going to give you instead:
Josh's Uncomfortably Personal, Heartfelt Plea
I need to get my Patreon fund up to at least $100 a week. It's currently at about $15 after fees and charges. If I can earn $400 a month from my creative work, then I think my freelance editing and handful of Prelude book sales can make up the difference and I can afford to live independently. I'm willing to do anything legal to make this happen, provided it does not directly undermine my ability to do the actual creative work itself. I am open to all suggestions.
Alternatively, I need somebody to offer me a place to live for low or no rent. I'm a good roommate. I'm tidy; I like to cook; I don't have raucous parties; I don't do drugs. I don't care where you live, and as long as we have a rapport I don't care who you are.
But I need to get to one of those benchmarks, either one. I either need $100 a week on Patreon, or I need a place to live for at least a year—and two years would be better.
If you haven't pledged to my Patreon fund yet, please consider doing so. If you're already a patron, consider whether you can afford to pledge more. Tell your friends. Get them to support my work. Even a dollar a week per head will get me there if we can find a few dozen people to chip in individually. Challenge your comfort zone. Make yourself uncomfortable on behalf of building an audience for a struggling writer who (we hope!) deserves his work to be seen. Hawk my book at your school or workplace. Tell me about things I can do to improve my own marketing efforts. Join me in the great struggle for recognition! Become a part of the Curious Tale hype right at the beginning.
Or, if you have an extra room in your home, or would be willing to get a larger place so as to squeeze me in, get in touch with me. Let me know.
If I can stabilize my living situation by meeting either of those two benchmarks within the next month or six weeks, then I can commit to working on After The Hero like a full-time job. And if I can do that, then I think I can finish Chapter 1 within the year. If nothing else I promise can get a first draft written, but I can probably do better than that.
So why should you help me? What's in it for you? I can't answer that. Even if I am special, I'm still just one artist of thousands, or millions, trying to make their way. If you support me, you would have to justify your patronage to yourself. Do it because you like my work. Do it because you like what it stands for. Do it because you like me personally. Do it because you like a world where struggling artists can still succeed even without becoming big celebrities. Do it because it's a good talking point to tell your friends that you're a patron of the independent arts. Do it because you're young and you want to be part of something bigger than yourself, and it's subversive and delightful to spend your money on an artist. Do it because you're filthy rich and don't have a place to store your vast towers of cash. Or do it for some completely different reason. Only you can say what your money is worth.
All I can say is that I'm passionate about my work: I'm clearly not giving up on The Curious Tale; I've been working on it forever. I love these stories. I love these characters. Relance is my home. My ability to get the Prelude published more or less on-time as promised, and my consistency with the Regular Features on this site (especially in Season 1 before all these new problems landed on me), I think collectively offer proof that I'm serious about my work and am at a point in my life (finally!) where I can deliver on my promises. And I'm accessible. I'm easy to contact by e-mail on this site. I have the Curious Tale page on Facebook. I'm an accessible person. I would like nothing more than to interact with people on the subject of my work. If you support me, you'll have my ear for sure. Of course, you already have that anyway if you want it; it's just who I am. So consider rewarding my accessibility!
Now, what about if I don't hit either benchmark? Well, my current living situation is unpleasant, unsustainable, and temporary. And the problem is that I don't know where I'm going to live next. I haven't been able to raise the money that I need to buy a used car, and, wherever I do end up next, I don't know how I'm going to get there until I have personal transportation. I'm working, but in terms of saving money I'm really spinning my wheels here, and it's frustrating.
If I can't hit either one of those benchmarks in a reasonable amount of time, then here's how it'll work: I'll develop Chapter 1 of ATH anyway, but I won't have the time or the mental energy to do it full-time or even remotely close to full-time. In 2015 there was a space of about two months where I was working on the Prelude for the equivalent of much more than full-time, and it was incredibly demanding. I don't know if people realize how hard it is to do that much creative work. For as satisfying and enjoyable as it was, it was exhausting and grueling too. Full-time writing is a full-time commitment. I can't stress that enough.
Now, added to the inherent challenges of the work itself, are the hardships of my mysterious health problem, bad living situation, and financial insecurity. Just looking back at the past three months, and my creative work output during that time, I can get a rough sense of what I'd be able to do under the same conditions moving forward. And that forecast is not encouraging. I honestly have no idea how much I'll be able to do on ATH in 2016 if I'm also sweating over where I'm going to live and what I'm going to eat.
Look at this way: Imagine you had no money, no savings to draw on. Now imagine you were asked to work for a whole year for about $4,000. And it had to be good work, and it'd be the kind of work that takes a lot out of you. If you can imagine what that's like, you can understand the adversity I face.
I'll do Book I anyway even if I don't meet my benchmarks, because that's who I am and that is the price of passion. But there's no way I'd be able to finish the first ATH book in 2016. 2016 is looking to be a very difficult year for me if something doesn't change soon.
So there you have it. If you want After The Hero sooner, you can literally pay for that to happen. If enough people want it, it'll happen. My thinking is that, by the end of January, I'll know whether or not I'm going to hit those benchmarks or not.
If you have any questions, comments, ideas, anything, get in touch with me!
And that's the Outlook.
Tune in Next Week
Tune in next week when I continue my miniseries on plot development. I'll be talking about what exactly plot actually is.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!