The Business Rusch: Story Demands

 Business Rusch logo webI am currently writing three books at once. I know, I know, some of you believe that’s not unusual for me, but it is. Usually I focus on one thing and wrestle it to the ground before moving onto something else.

These three books are one thing. They’re in one of my series, and for a few weeks, I was struggling to write the next book in that series. No, I’m not telling you which series because for all I know, these three books might end up as five or they might become two books.

What I do know is that they are not one big honkin’ novel.

It took me a while to figure that out. And if this series was still being traditionally published through a big New York publisher, I would be in a hell of a mess. I’ve seen it with others, and I’ve experienced a version of it myself.

If this next book in the series was the last book in the contract, I would have no guarantee that the publisher would want the following two or three books. In the past, I’ve had to cram too much information into a single book because there was no guarantee that there’d be another. I could try to negotiate a new contract from a position of weakness—in other words, the publisher would know that I needed room to expand, and couldn’t really bend on that or go to another publishing house, given the current climate. Or I could write all of the books and hope for the best.

In the bad old days of publishing, that last thing would have been a very bad idea for a writer who needed to make a living at her craft.

There are other problems with these three books. At least two of them feature minor characters in major roles. Elizabeth George has done this sort of thing successfully in the mystery genre, but she did get some flak from readers. Connie Willis’s latest two-book arc, Blackout  and All Clear are really one honkin’ book split in half.

George R.R. Martin ran into this problem with book four in the Song of Ice and Fire series (or the Game of Thrones books, to those of you who are only watching the HBO series).

On his website in 2005, George discussed the problem that he had. The Song of Ice and Fire books are very long. The first clocked in at 1088 pages in manuscript, the second at 1184, the third at 1521, which caused all kinds of production problems.

What problems you might ask? Well, paper book bindings can only handle so many pages before they won’t hold the book together. Not to mention the cost to produce each copy at the larger size, and the fact that big honkin’ books really don’t fit well on bookstore shelves.

As George realized that the fourth book was even bigger than the third, and he wasn’t even close to done, he discussed the problem with his publisher.

He wrote:

…after much discussion and weighing of alternatives, have decided to split the narrative into two books (printing in microtype on onion skin paper and giving each reader a magnifying glass was not considered feasible, and I was reluctant to make the sort of deep cuts that would have been necessary to get the book down to a more publishable length, which I felt would have compromised the story).

The next idea batted about was to do what the same publisher eventually (later) did with Connie Willis’s magnum opus. They could have cut Book Four in half, at exactly the middle point, so that readers would get two books of equal length that would end up being one story.

George fought against this option as well—wisely, in my opinion. He wrote:

It was my feeling — and I pushed hard for this, so if you don’t like the solution, blame me, not my publishers — that we were better off telling all the story for half the characters, rather than half the story for all the characters. Cutting the novel in half would have produced two half-novels; our approach will produce two novels taking place simultaneously, but set hundreds or even thousands of miles apart, and involving different casts of characters (with some overlap).

And that’s what they did.

Yeah, there was some bitching about the lack of favorite characters, even in reviews. Publishers Weekly said, “This is not Act I Scene 4 but Act II Scene 1, laying groundwork more than advancing the plot, and it sorely misses its other half.”

I doubt the complaint would have been as strong if the other book had been on the schedule, but it wasn’t. Fans had to wait six years for the next book. In the case of Connie Willis, the second half of the Blackout/All Clear saga appeared about six months after the first.

It was tougher going with Elizabeth George. She excised an entire novel’s worth of material from With No One As Witness, ending on a shocking, upsetting moment, one we might have been prepared for if she had left in the other material.

That material came out one year later in a book called What Came Before He Shot Her. That book was a struggle for me, and I’m a huge fan. It was filled with unsympathetic characters who were about to do something truly horrible. Elizabeth George often writes about unsympathetic characters, but in this case, there wasn’t the mitigating factor of the characters we love, so the book became difficult to read.

If the books had been combined, the resulting book would again have been too big to read. And there was another problem, as Bookmarks Magazine noted, “There are, of course, no surprises about how the novel ends: Elizabeth George has already told that story in With No One As Witness.”

Yeah.

These things have been on my mind as I prepped to write the next book in my series. I knew that I had too much story for a normal-sized book—too much, really, for a honkin’ book as well. I mentally started cutting subplots—and immediately froze.

It took me weeks to remember that I no longer had to work within traditional publishing confines.

I can publish this “book” as three or maybe four stories, complete in their own right. I agree with George Martin on this: I think it’s better to tell all the story for half the characters than half the story for all the characters. I also think that readers need to be entertained by what happens—in other words, you can’t spoil the ending of one of the books by putting it in the middle of the first book.

I have a flexibility now that I didn’t have before. Even Connie’s two books, which were published relatively fast by traditional publishing standards for hardcovers, came out about six months apart. In 2009 or so, romance publishers started publishing major series books one per month as a sort of experiment. The publishers would publish three or four paperbacks with the final book in hardcover, to try to “train” readers to pick up more expensive editions.

I have no idea if it worked, but it was presented as a gimmick, and it felt that way. Things have changed since then—a lot of things, even in traditional publishing. Now publishers know that readers will buy books in a series, appropriately priced, at more than one per year. The higher the price point, the less likely the reader is to pick up the book.

So if you only want to be published in hardcover, the thinking goes, then you should publish at most twice per year. That’s why you see two Nora Roberts hardcovers every year, and the rest of her Roberts books get published in mass market paperback.

Some big writers, like James Patterson, have enough clout to force their publishers to break that rule for them. But you’ll note that the really big names, with few exceptions, rarely publish more than two books per year.

As I had been worrying about what to do with this next book, I’d been mulling all of this. You’ll see me groping in some of my blog posts. I had a realization earlier in the summer after a writer friend of mine posted on her Facebook page that she now knew her writing schedule for the next three years.

She’s still traditionally published and is running several series. She had just sold several books in each series, and those books had come with set deadlines. In order to meet those deadlines, she had to have a strict writing schedule. She had to have Book 5 of Series 2 done in December, Book 7 of Series 1 done in March, Book 3 of Series 4 done in June, and so on.

I remember that. About ten years ago, I had a May in which I had exactly one day between novels—and I was going from a dark, dark, dark Kris Nelscott to a light Kristine Grayson. I’m not even sure my moods could switch that fast. Plus, I had promised some palate-clearing short stories, and I had to cram them in before the Grayson novel. I started that novel late, then wrote fast to get to the pace I needed to hit my deadline.

I loved the fact that publishers and readers wanted the books, but I hated the stress. My memories of that May include writing in my office while friends and family visited. The only time I had to spend with them was at meals, and even then I was only half present. I was thinking about the next chapter, the next page, the next few paragraphs.

I’m happier now. I’m actually writing more rather than less.

When I saw that post, though, I realized that I no longer had that kind of schedule, and I didn’t have a publisher waiting on my deadline. I didn’t have to worry that I would screw up book placement by being late, nor did I have to edit a story myself so that it would fit into a contractually agreed-upon length.

Even then, it took me a few more weeks to realize I could write as many books as I wanted to finish this story. My readers would forgive me if  I told them how many books I would use to finish the story and if I gave them those books in a timely fashion.

I didn’t consult with readers, though. Instead, I looked at George and Elizabeth George, and Connie, and consulted with my own inner reader. When I finish a book that’s part of a bigger story, I want the next book now. I’m willing to wait a few weeks, but I get unhappier the longer I have to wait. I loved getting some of those romance novels one per month. I had the time to read other books in between, but I didn’t feel like I had lost the thread of the story.

So, I told myself, I would write the end of this story—however many books it took—and not turn the whole shebang into WMG until I was done. My agreement with WMG is simple: they can’t put anything on their schedule until I’ve finished, so I’m not racing to meet a deadline.

I can be flexible.

I did warn the publisher, though, that the next series book would probably be three or more, and she needed to think about how we could best market those books when the time came. She promised to investigate other methods—because I am all about input once the project is done—and then when I’m done, or really close to done (everything at first readers), we would figure out the whole publishing side to things.

That freed me up to write.

I’m now about 56,000 words into the first book. I say about because I write out of order and I have some chapters that aren’t in their proper places yet. The first book is about characters we’ve never seen in this series before and I can tell you that had I not written this book, I wouldn’t have known the deep dark details of the world I’m writing in. I think the story will be better because it has room to grow to its proper length, whatever that is.

Every day now, I find myself exclaiming out loud about some future plot twist I wouldn’t have considered at a shorter length. I’m startling cats, but I’m much happier with this story now than I was in July.

George paraphrased Tolkien by saying that the story makes its own demands. Both men are right: the story is the story, and it’s best for the storytellers to tell the story as it wants to be, not as publishing lengths and artificial deadlines demand it should be.

Yes, we writers could make those decisions in the past, but often we got screwed up by contracts and the sales force and the fear that we might not have a contract for the final book in the story. Now, though, we can control what we write and how we write it.

I’ve been talking about freedom in this blog for some time, but I don’t think that freedom has actually had an impact on my storytelling until now. I knew when publishing changed and indie publishing became possible that I could finally write the next book in a bunch of my series, and finish novels that traditional publishers thought were not commercial.

But I don’t think I ever felt the impact of the storytelling opportunities before. If I had this series under contract with a big traditional New York publisher, I’d be doing what George did, consulting with my editor, talking to the sales force, figuring out if I should cut or divide or get a new contract or somehow compress the story.

Now, I can stretch to the proper length.

It feels fantastic.

And I’m going to stop typing on this blog now so I can get to the next chapter of the series book. Because I have a lot of ground to cover and I’d like to do so by the end of the year—not because I have a publishing deadline, but because I know myself. By then, I’ll want to be thinking about a different series or a short story or a new book.

So, I’m writing as fast as I can, and enjoying the heck out of it. And, honestly, I’m pretty stunned that I have this opportunity.

I would have had such problems with this storyline as little as five years ago. And I’m free now to be the writer I want to be—without angering either my publisher or my all-important readers.

I am aware that I have a weekly blog obligation as well. I’ve outlined several blogs ahead and I’ve actually finished a few, but I’m vetting them before I publish them. (Sometimes the fact blogs are harder than blogs like this one.)

I appreciate all the good comments, emails and support I’ve received from readers, particularly over the summer. You all have been great. Thank you!

And remember, this blog costs me about two novels per year, so please, help me fund the weekly nonfiction piece. If you like what you read here or if you’ve learned something, please leave a tip on the way out.

Thanks!

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“The Business Rusch: Story Demands” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.




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31 Comments

  1. it’s best for the storytellers to tell the story as it wants to be, not as publishing lengths and artificial deadlines demand it should be.

    Exactly. Someone asked me how long a particular chapter was going to be and I said something like, “As long as it needs to be.” Same for novels and anything else.

    I wonder which series it is… I’m sure that whichever one it is, your fans ::raises hand:: are dying to get their hands on the next book or three or whatever. :-)

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  2. We still do have constraints, even when we self-publish, though. I wrote a novel in real-time, serializing it online, only to discover that when compiled the thing is a doorstopper of a paperback. I was in the unpalatable position of making the choice between splitting something that had never meant to be split into two separate paperbacks that wouldn’t break your wrists to read… or trying to fit the whole thing into a single book. I went with the latter and I’m not really happy with it. So the next time I ran into that problem, I split it into two volumes, and readers didn’t like that either–one or two of them wondered if I was trying to make more money off them. I had to explain that if I hadn’t done it that way, the paperback–the paperback! it wasn’t even a hardcover!–would have had to be $25 just to cover costs.

    *shaking head*

    Then there was the challenge of turning a book I wrote without chapter stops into an audiobook. The producer and I had to go over it scene by scene to make sure it was all in order. :,

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    • In the beginning I was trying to force all of the books into the same size book block, 5×8, or 6×9, etc… I was ending up with some books that were too thin and others that, with page count, would have cost $25. Then I realized that 300 pages cost the same no matter what the book block size was.

      Since they cut the actual book block from a ream of 8 1/2 by 11 paper, the cost per page is always the same, so I chose the size of the book block to fit the amount of prose.

      Example, 300 pages:

      - 5×8, from 70k to 145k depending on font and spacing.

      - 7.5×9.25, double column, 130k to 280k. (This actually works great at small font, double spaced. Perfectly readable.)

      Play with different book block sizes and you will see what I mean.

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      • I do, yeah. I had to make my doorstopper 7×10, which is an awkward size for a paperback. Most of my books are 6×9 or smaller.

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    • If it weren’t expensive to produce, I’d say make individual volumes AND an omnibus edition.

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      • It’s not that it’s expensive to produce, it’s that it makes things very awkward for readers and retailers from a meta-data perspective. A reader comes to a site and says, “I want to read the latest MCAH book!” and finds three copies of something called “Spots the Space Marine.” One of them is the whole book in one volume. The other is the same book, but split in two. Now they have to examine the descriptions to see: “Are they three different books in the same series? No, wait, this one is the same as both of these? Why do I buy it that way? Does it have special edition material? But wait, I have the e-book edition, and the e-book is just one single file. Does it correspond to the big paperback, or did I fail to find book 2 of the e-book edition? And do I get the bundling discount on the e-book if I buy the single half paperback volume? Or do I have to buy the omnibus to get the discounted e-book version?”

        Etc. etc. As a reader that would drive me INSANE. I hate it when there’s confusion about a series and no one way for me to clear it up. I’m trying to avoid that as much as possible (while at the same time learning just why publishers do it).

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        • I admit, I’ve never had difficulty when I see a clear series then this big book saying OMNIBUS with the series name. But I would think you would want your book titles to be significantly different then.

          I prefer to wait for/buy omnibuses myself just because, but if I only have a bit of money, I’ll go for the one book in the series I really want.

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  3. I had something like this come up recently. I’ve been working on what was going to be a 5-book western-fantasy series. When I finished the draft of book 4 and started planning book 5, I realized the story doesn’t finish with the 5th book and there really needs to be a book 6. I had a moment of panic, wondering if there was really enough story left for a 6th book, then figured out yes there is, adjusted my schedule accordingly, and went on from there. Since I’m self-publishing, I didn’t need to get anyone else’s permission to add this extra book onto the series (though I did check with my cover artist to make sure he was on board for a sixth book; fortunately, he said Yes). I’ve also scheduled it so that all the books are drafted and have been through the major revision and the test readers before I start releasing them, so I can get them out with hopefully only a month or so between each book. (I hate waiting years between books of a series!)

    Another thing this reminded me of was a review of my most recent book where the reviewer said they wished the book was a trilogy. I’d thought about that before, but I just don’t feel it as a trilogy – fleshing it out to three novel-length books instead of one would have involved going into a lot of things I wasn’t interested in exploring. But I did get the idea of sometime (when my current schedule lets up) doing a collection of supplementary short stories addressing the things that this reader (and, I assume, others) wanted to know more about. I don’t have to get anyone’s permission; I can do it whenever I have time and ideas.

    Contrast this to something an author I enjoy said, I think on her blog, after a conclusion of a trilogy she wrote. People were asking about a possible follow-up book to the series, to follow up on some characters and unanswered questions, and she said she could only write it if her publisher was willing to publish it. I thought that was sad and frustrating. She wants to write it, her readers want to read it, but it’s the publisher who gets to decide if it happens or not. Something’s wrong there, and I’m so glad I’m not stuck in that position, that *I* get to make the decisions about what I write and how and when.

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  4. Well, as far as the big honking novel issue? Yeah, I’m facing that issue right now with my third book in a series.

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  5. I tend to think in trilogies (or very LONG individual books, as I’m learning right now). And these aren’t “average” trilogies, either.

    The first book of my current set came in around 58k. The second book is at about 111k and will grow with editing (namely, the addition of several scenes I couldn’t write when I realized I’d had the wrong freaking ideas for the third book), so I expect it to top out around 120k. Book three? Just started, and if it inflates on a similar scale, I expect it to be between 150k-200k.

    I realized about halfway through the second book (around the same time I realized I had to redo scenes, actually), that it was a very good thing I was planning on Indie pubbing these books. I hate to imagine what a trad publisher (if I somehow managed to sell the series) would have me do to the books.

    I’m stalled on the third book right now with planning the meat of its torso out. At the same time (so I have something to make progress on, ’cause I can’t seem to go without writing fresh words for long if there isn’t some sort of real-world drama holding me back), I’m working on what’s turning out to be a long individual book. It’s already at 87k and has far to go before completion. This is another book trad publishers would have me murder to fit their preconceived notions of appropriate word length. I will be Indie pubbing this as well.

    I wouldn’t have had the courage to write any of these novels if I’d been thinking, “I need to make these salable to a Trad publisher.” I would have had emaciated, pathetic, shadows of what the stories could have been if I’d been doing that. If I’d even embarked on the writing of them at all. I may have gotten to a certain point in the second book and realized “This thing is too long! Woe is me! I can’t publish this!” and given up on the idea of publishing at all and, I don’t know, maybe simply given my book away to friends and family who expressed interest in it.

    None of these books will be ready to be published right away (I want the trilogy done before I start publishing the novels, for obvious reasons), but I feel very lucky to be alive in this era of publishing. It’s given me the freedom to do what I want with my stories, without having to worry what someone else will want me to do to them.

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    • What genre are you writing your long trilogy in?

      I’m writing a mainstream novel which works best in three parts – and is getting very long; similarly, I don’t want to publish until the whole thing is finished.

      There seems to be a distinct subset of people who take about this much space to tell a story.

      I’m always curious about the others.
      Alicia

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      • All these books are fantasy novels. There’s quite a bit of leeway in what length a fantasy novel reader will find acceptable, which is why I’m not so worried about the length even with the plan to Indie publish.

        I think a Trad publisher (if one accepted my books) would be far more interested in my books having a more similar page/word count than they’re turning out to have in the trilogy. I wouldn’t object to it, either, except the places where I’ve “cut” the books into their individual parts (all three books are on one outline) seem to be the best I can find. Though I suppose I could add stuff to inflate the first book, I don’t think it would get very far, and I do think it would ruin the book–and it works best as is; all it really needs is a decent edit run (and a prophetic dream sequence) which I won’t be doing until all three books are complete.

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  6. A similar situation is forcing me to self-pub my next book (which is fine – I’ll learn a lot!). I have a series where we sold two books, and then a third. I wanted a fourth and suggested to my agent that I fit it the rest of the story in book three. She said no, it would be fine as book one was doing great. Book two came out the week of doom in 2008 when the economy crashed and we never did sell book four to New York. So here I am now finishing it (the story does need to be done for readers and for me). And I don’t have the rights to the first three back, and am not likely to get them soon.

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    • I don’t know what your situation is like vis-a-vis trying to get your novels back (or even wanting to get your novels back), but publishing a 4th book indie will make sales of the first 3 jump — making them that much more attractive to your publisher and much less likely to let them go if you request a return of rights.

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  7. More story is better for us readers as well. And I love getting deeper into the world and the characters when you’re several books into the series.

    I got a free e-copy of the first JD Robb “In Death” book, which I hadn’t read in maybe 15 years. On the re-read, I was really missing all the secondary characters we now know and love. Can’t imagine how boring it would have been to only focus on Eve and Roarke — which is undoubtedly why La Roberts wrote it that way and the series is still running.

    And of course it doesn’t matter how long an ebook is. I will keep swiping those pages.

    But I do really like it when the author has everything written (or mostly written) in a trilogy before it goes on sale. I HATE WAITING. I need my binge. I don’t want to forget about it and miss a book when it comes out three years later. And I don’t want publishers to do that either. I deliberately waited to read “Blackout” until just before “All Clear” was published.

    (And honestly, we all worry about Author Existence Failure.)

    But we still need editing. I read a generic epic pseudo-Celtic fantasy where the author directed us to her website for more stuff b/c “otherwise the book would have been way too long!” Headdesk It was already 950+ pages, and the first of the obligatory trilogy. And GRRM this person is not.

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  8. I didn’t think what you wrote in your blog pertained to anything I was or had written (although interesting as always), but then I had an ‘ohh’ moment when I remembered a series I never wrote because I knew it was going to be too difficult for trad. pubs. to print (too big with small stories needed to explain big stories, etc.).

    It wasn’t like I ever forgot the story (it’s in one of my favorite worlds), but I had long ago stuck it into the not worth losing time writing it category and for some reason it didn’t budge – until now.

    So thank you for that.

    PS ‘I’m startling cats…’ I laughed at this. I hope you keep startling cats, btw.

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  9. On marketing a series: I have noticed lately that Barnes and Noble send me e-mail reminders when the next ebook in a series comes out, especially if I have bought the previous books from them. Although this can be irritating, it also works for me if I liked the series and want to continue.

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  10. Oh, interesting! I was just talking with an acquaintance who is reading the George R.R. Martin series. Or was. She finished that fourth book and realized that she really didn’t find it as compelling to follow only half the cast of characters. She’s not certain she’s going to keep reading. I wasn’t aware of the story behind the story, so to speak, until you shared it here. Repercussions!

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  11. German media is currently griping and moaning about self-publishers (aside from the usual enemy No. 1=Amazon articles) and how the lack of control via publishers will diminish and reduce the richness that is the German book-market (cue sarcastic laughter from me here).

    Every time I hear that I end up scratching because I know several writers (in Germany and in the rest of the world) who are successfully self-publishing things they wouldn’t have been able to publish without self-publishing. And all of them are saying that they now can write the books they always wanted to write without having to worry about what publishers consider marketable or not.

    I can see self-publishing only as something that will enrich the market because suddenly there will be stories available that follow the writer’s vision without restrictions by publishers. That will take new approaches, dare different things, or just go against anything that might be viewed as fashionable or sellable at that moment.

    Often these restrictions from publishers aren’t based on artistic considerations but on business considerations. So many people always seem to forget that publishers are companies selling a product and that they have to meet a bottom-line.

    I can also see how unhappy my writer friends who are still trapped in the ‘have to publish with a publisher’-mindset are, especially when they can’t write the books they want to write.

    I’m happy that self-publishing is making it possible for me to write short-stories and if the stories suddenly demand more room and want to become novelettes or novellas I can go with it and don’t have to worry about the need to cut them down to meet a specific word-count.

    Not to mention that Germany doesn’t really have a pro-short-story market and I can actually make money by self-publishing them (most anthologies especially in SF/F only pay in contributor’s copies).

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    • Book publishers aren’t the only ones who feel the pinch from this re-centralization of control – news papers do too. The griping about publishing is just another way for them to complain about their own problems, but less obviously :) .

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  12. I love the freedom of Indie.

    I’ve had problems similar to yours, and found I can remove whole subplots that distract from the main. And with a little work, turn them into short stories. Unless I get a better idea and they grow into novels, themselves.

    But that’s my decision.

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    • I like this idea. Speaking purely as a reader, I really hate big honking novels.
      I saw the first fifteen minutes of Game of Thrones (tv show) on the Internet and bought the first two seasons, only to find myself buried under hours (and hours) of meandering political intrigue and an overstuffed cast of characters and subplots. Meanwhile, the promise of that opening languished. I finally gave up. I can’t imagine wading through all that mess on a printed page.

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    • Me too :-)

      I do the same thing. I’m currently working on an erotic romance novel and there are a few erotic encounters between the MCs that don’t fit into the novel, so I’m turning them into short-stories and will publish those as a kind of sequel/add-on to the novel.

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      • The short story has the advantage of coming out quickly, or even simultaneously with the novel, so you “fix” the main problem with cutting a story down like this.

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  13. Fascinating post, Kris. I really enjoy your blog. I’d love to hear more about your writing process sometime. You say you don’t write scenes in order? I’m wondering if you outline? I started as a total “pantser,” but have slowly been moving to general outlines in an attempt to write faster. (I’ve been stuck in rewrite hell for quite a while now…years, I’m embarrassed to say. Trying to find a new way.) good luck with this latest project. You’re an inspiration!

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  14. That is a huge epiphany you just shared, Kris! :) It illustrates how career writers have to deal with the relentless annual pace of the publishing industry, usually without even thinking there could be another way.

    When I resumed the Irene Adler series after four novels and a hiatus of seven years, I wanted a “big” topic. This was a chance to address my feminist irritations with most Jack the Ripper books and films, and thriller novels in general–glamorizing and sexualizing the female victims, with males only capable of pursuing sexual predators, thus women are always needing them as rescuers and avengers.

    So I set three very different Victorian women on the trail of the Ripper in Paris, after Whitechapel. The Adler novels are long, complex books, and when I reached the end of the novel, I realized I was only halfway there. A likely suspect had been identified and captured, but, while researching and writing, I now had a more original and daring ultimate identity of the Ripper in mind.

    Luckily, Tor/Forge Books gave me complete leeway on what the books would be about. Yet, writing two novels (one Adler, one Midnight Louie) on contract a year, I didn’t have a lot of time to make a decision. I now needed to let readers know the story in Chapel Noir would continue in the next book. So I put a main character in danger with some hint of eventually eluding it in the next novel. This was the narrator, so it was very likely she would survive!

    But, yup, a cliffhanger. Readers say they hate them, but they also love series because of them. And serial novels are a historic Victorian tradition. Since a fictional academic is editing these historical diaries by a fictional character, in both forward and afterword I put clear references that this was the first installment of a longer story.

    Who knew some people didn’t read those framing bits? Not me. I got much unhappy backlash from annoyed readers. If I’d had longer to think, perhaps I could have made the break go down better. Maybe not. I wouldn’t change plot and characters in either novel. The break was just a very long pause.

    A year later the second half, Castle Rouge, came out and I breathed a sigh of relief.

    It was really the WAIT that annoyed readers. And that was 2001. As you point out, Kris, annual release is still a tradition in hardcover publishing, but faster delivery is being tried in other formats, just as limited TV series are now being streamed all in one big gulp. And with eBooks, sequels can come out much sooner.

    The beauty of indie publishing and eBooks, is that writers can now choose to hold back the first novel in a duology within a series until both parts are written, or serialize the first installment while writing the second, so we’re not frustrating our readers. Or can write a trilogy and publish it all in short order, as some traditional publishers have already done.

    That’s really changing how writers think, and we’ll now have freedom going forward to let the writing direct us more than the production of it. Huge sense of liberation!

    Reply
  15. I have to say, I’m very thankful for how much self publishing has evolved to help authors actually realize their own creativity. It’s not longer a game of trying to fit into a publishing puzzle, but of making that puzzle up yourself. You can make the pieces as small and complicated as you want, and you get to decide the picture that they make up.

    Reply
  16. Man, I wish I had read this post a year and a half ago ago. I have a book that ran to 230k that I’m about to release in paper, that I looked for all kinds of ways to split up. If I had thought then about doing a GRRM-style storyline split and done a little revising to resolve some pacing issues it would introduce, I could have done that, but it never occurred to me.

    Oh well, live and learn. I’m on to the next book in the series now and can’t go back and tweak anything or I will screw up my continuity.

    Great post, Kris, thanks loads. It’s got my brain churning :-)

    -Dan

    Reply
  17. (Enter the Voice of Pragmatism)

    “Write shorter books. Don’t skimp on story structure; instead, shorten descriptions and dialogue. You can publish twice as many books in the same amount of time. And e-readers encourage us to keep hitting next page anyways, so nobody lingers over exquisite sentences anymore.”

    (Exeunt)

    Reply
    • so nobody lingers over exquisite sentences anymore

      Except those of us who love literary SFF. Like me.

      Reply
  18. Are the latest Honor Harrington books from David Weber and Baen another example of this book splitting issue? If I remember correctly, they book seemed to be split by location. A hardback came out going over what Harrington was doing in one set of star systems, while at the same time a large trade paperback was released describing what another set of characters were doing in a distant set of star systems.

    I’ve wondered about why they felt they had to do the trade paperback since they almost always do a hardback in that series. If it was the book buyers who refused to take another hardback? If Baen couldn’t because of commitments to other authors? If they decided to do the second as a trade so that readers could have it at once in stead of waiting for the second half to come out in hardback six months later?

    Reply

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