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7/27/16 12:59 pm

See, this is why I'm not great at blogging. I can go weeks without thinking of anything I care to share and when I do think of something worth talking about briefly it takes me a week to finish talking about it. Anyway, the more that I think about all those other bullet points that were on my mind, they mostly tend to boil down to this:

*People aren't going to buy a book if they don't feel like they know what it is.

There's a lot of fear in profit-motivated self-publishing circles of not giving people exactly what they want and expect. I'm not that profit-motivated, but even if I was I'm starting to think that the real enemy isn't just "doing something different." It's doing something people don't immediately understand. You can do something different, but you need to be able to explain what it is that you're doing differently in one quick burst. If someone scans your cover and skims your blurb and still isn't quite sure what the hell this thing they're holding is, that's when they're almost certainly going to move on.

This has definitely affected planning for my future projects. It hasn't even been a conscious decision on my part. Ever since I first had to sit down and try to write cover letters for literary agents, I've found myself trying to plan my elevator-pitch in advance before I even start writing something. This means that I probably won't be using the messy "start working and figure out where this wants to go" method that produced White Rabbit Society again any time soon, for better or for worse.


So, what's the plan at this point? Here's what I have in the trunk of my car:

The next installment of "The Orphan Fleet" (entitled "The Hidden Lands"), all ready to go with a release date (this October) and a commissioned cover and everything.

Part two of "White Rabbit Society", all ready to go with a release date (January) and a commissioned cover and everything.

Almost enough short stories to fill up another collection. One or two more stories should do the trick.

One and a half Charlie Harmer novels with no particular release plan, with plenty of ideas for more installments.

A couple of ideas for new series, basically living in the same dark fantasy/horror kind of space as "White Rabbit Society" and the Charlie Harmer stories.

And of course I'm still producing.

If I had all of this to do again with perfect knowledge of the future and the ability to fly and turn invisible, I'm still not sure how I'd handle all of this. I've deleted this paragraph a couple of times in the process of writing it. I can think of a couple of good courses of action, but the course of action I went with the first time sounded pretty good too. Looking back justnisn't going to help that much.

Moving forward, I still have some time to figure things out, just because my release schedule for the next six months is a done deal. But the short story collections and "The Orphan Fleet" seem to be the things that people are most excited by right now. So for the near future, those are the things I'll be focusing on, and while "White Rabbit Society" had the possibility of being a series, creatively I'm totally fine leaving it where it is, and launching the Charlie Harmer series can wait until the series that I've already got going are each a few books long.

Finally, when it comes to ideas for new series, one of the main things on my mind is that if all goes well I might end up with kind of a fractured fan base. Coming up with something that would sound good both to people who like the weird short stories and people who like the adventure fantasy stories might be a good move. It'd also be kind of a challenge to come up with, but that's the kind of challenge that puts a smile on my face and gets me excited.

So there we all are. Thank you as always for reading- I'm always surprised at how many people tell me that they're interested in this kind of shop talk. Also, if you're interested in seeing what happens when my hand is freed up a little bit, I hope you'll think about swinging by Patreon and becoming a subscriber. Two bucks a month gets you all the paperbacks I'll be putting out, and if you haven't noticed there are going to be a lot of those. There's going to be a lot of neat things happening.

Be well everybody,
Brendan
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7/24/16 06:32 pm - Regrouping part 3

So like I was saying, the problem with my book sales is that I desperately hoped they would look something like this:

______X
____X X
__X X X
X X X X
X X X X
X X X X
X X X X
X X X X
B M O W

And was willing to live with it if they looked something like this:

X X X X
X X X X
X X X X
X X X X
X X X X
B M O W


They have instead ended up looking like this:

X
X
X
X _ X
X X X
B M O W


(Ignore that little underscore there, it's the best that the sophisticated suite of tools Livejournal provides could offer.) So what lessons can we take from this merry little surprise? We'll start with reasons to be optimistic, move on to things I might not like but need to expect moving forward, head over to things that still confuse the hell out of me, and conclude on Things I Would Have Done Differently If I'd Had Perfect Information.

*Beasts has a great cover.

This was one area where working the dealer's room at the convention in Indianapolis was really helpful. Watching people float from one book to another and then eventually arrive at Xavier Nuez's awesome photograph over and over again really cleared this up. All the art I have for my book covers are things I'm really proud to be associated with, but there's apparently a distinction between "great piece of artwork" and "piece of artwork that makes people want to buy a book".

*There's a bigger market for creepy short story collections than I thought.

Hey, it's no Amish romance, but people like different lengths for different genres, and for "funny/creepy/surreal" people like short stories. I happen to be well equipped to produce funny/creepy/surreal short stories, so this is good news. It also seems like the "new book in a series promotes previous books in the series" effect works on series of short story collections just like it does in other genres. This all means that you can be expecting a new collection from me, and maybe subsequent collections, a lot sooner than I'd originally planned.

*All readers, even people who are really into what I'm doing and support me, are not equally interested in every genre that I work in.

There are people who like Beasts who are patiently waiting for me to get this other stuff out of my system so I can give them another collection. There are people who liked The Orphan Fleet who aren't really going to tune back in until they get the sequel (coming in October!). And Millersville had admirers who have no interest in getting anywhere near anything that smells like fantasy or science fiction.

I think this is also the reason my Patreon didn't do as well as I thought it might. This was part of why I was in a bit of a funk a few days ago, but I wasn't sure if I should bring it up, because I didn't want the people who did decide to support me to feel like I didn't appreciate them, which is not the case at all. I also didn't want people who are into what I'm doing but didn't do the Patreon to feel like I didn't appreciate them, because that's not true at all either.

Basically, the big P is for people that want ever single thing I'm putting out, irregardless of genre, and want it right away, which is kind of a lot given the release schedule I've been going ahead with. If that's you (and I'll just go ahead an include that link here), it's a great delivery service that's a little cheaper and much faster than Le Zon. But it's not everybody, and that's totally cool.

And I've gone long again. I'll try to wrap up tomorrowish. Thanks again for being lovely human beings.

-Brendan
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7/22/16 08:21 pm - Regrouping part two

So picking up where we left off, I've released four books since I first decided to start taking self-publishing seriously. In order of their release:

Beasts, my second short story collection, released in print and in e-book.

Millersville, my standalone social technically-science-fiction-but-not-robots-and-jetpacks novel set in a maximum security prison for teenage girls, released in print and in e-book.

The Orphan Fleet, a fantasy novella that is the first of an open-ended series, released in e-book only for right now.

and White Rabbit Society Part One, a very odd and hard to explain horror/dark fantasy story, first of a two-part series (that almost could have been released as one extremely long novel), released in e-book form only for right now.

Of the three, Beasts has been far and away the most successful in terms of reviews and sales. I did lots of things to promote Beasts that turned out to not be cost effective. The particularly expensive one was mailing out lots of print copies to prospective reviewers: running the numbers later showed that reviewers who got a print copy were actually less likely to follow through and leave a review than the reviewers who just got an electronic copy, which was free to make and distribute. If I hadn't given away so many print copies of Beasts it would have just about broken even by now. This is very strange because short story collections are supposed to be non-starters commercially. At the time, I figured that the sales that Beasts got were going to be my floor and that I'd do better with subsequent releases.

Instead, Millersville tanked almost completely, The Orphan Fleet sold a few copies but not nearly enough to pay for the expenses involved in putting it out, and White Rabbit Society completely zeroed. Millersville was never a commercial proposition (as many kind rejection letters from small publishers were kind enough to explain), so I can take the hit there. And even The Orphan Fleet's modest success was promising even as it cost me money, given that it was a genre shift even by my genre-agnostic standards. But I honestly thought that WRS had more going for it than either of those. I mostly have a reputation as horror writer. It's a big old horror novel. Not a novella, not a short-story collection, not a weird literary exercise. It was a big fat coming-of-age story with monsters in it. And nobody bought it.

So what's up? Strictly in terms of sales, I've been losing momentum over the course of the last year, when I expected to be gaining it, so I'd better figure out what's going on. I'd be lying if I said I knew for sure, but I've got some ideas. I'll post again in a couple of days.

-B
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7/21/16 05:40 pm - one more on the pile

Something that's been on my mind a lot lately. The relevant section starts just before the two minute mark (although it's all interesting):



If you're not familiar, DJ Shadow is essentially a collage artist. The majority of his work consists of pieces of other people's work arranged together. The clip is him exploring the gigantic secret basement of a New York record store, full of gigantic piles of old vinyl squeezed next to each other. He has this to say about it:

"Just being in here is a humbling experience to me because you're looking through all these old records, and it's a big pile of broken dreams. Almost none of these artists still have a career, really. So you have to respect that. If you're making records, and you're DJing and putting out releases, you're adding to this pile whether you want to admit it or not. Because ten years down the line, you'll be in here. So keep that in mind when you start thinking I'm invincible or I'm the world's best or whatever, because that's what all these cats thought."

There's a lot to unpack from this quote. It's a little depressing at first glance, but there's more to it than that. I think that the only sane way to justify any kind of creative activity in the long term is to think of yourself as contributing to something bigger than you are. The novel I'm working on will probably be forgotten, and probably sooner rather than later. That's not cynicism, it's statistics. But there should be new novels, and they should be good, and maybe even important, and good important new novels don't exist unless people try to write them. So if you think that's a part of the larger cultural that is valuable, it's worth trying to contribute to it, even if you understand that there's a good chance you might not be the one that gets struck by lightning.

If all of the above sounds to you like the reflections of someone whose books are not selling very well right now, you're not mistaken. No worries, I'm good, I'm still swinging, but it's safe to say that I'm in a regrouping phase. There's part of me that wonders if being candid about the trouble I'm having is a good idea, but one success I can point to in the past year or so is that I've learned a lot about the publishing business, and one of the things I've learned is that an awful lot of the people in it are full of shit an awful lot of the time. I don't want that to be me, especially since I know some of my writer comrades are keeping track of how my little experiment is going. I don't want to be putting bad information out into he world.

So here's the situation. I've put out four books over the course of the last year. The plan was to put out the books I thought would be less commercial first, and have my releases get gradually more commercial as I put them out, which in turn would generate some kind of momentum. It hasn't worked out like that. This is getting to be a longer blog than I'd anticipated writing today, so I think I'll stop for right now. More on this in the next day or two.
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7/13/16 01:33 pm - "White Rabbit Society Part One" out in two days!

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Getting right up to it now, folks. Here's a few more things about "White Rabbit Society".

*There are monsters! Boy howdy are there monsters. In addition to our cover girl Shadow (who folks who read my short story collection Beasts will have met already), we've got a lot of much less friendly critters running around, knocking over buildings and occasionally eating people's faces. My general design guideline for these things was "deep-sea creatures crossbred with geometry problems" and I think it worked out pretty well.

*One of the recurring themes of the story is people figuring out that their family situations are a lot more complicated than they thought they were, with Consequences for their own lives. I think this just short of being a universal experience, and people in the genre realm deal with it too often by having someone turn out to be the heir to something. Being fifteen and suddenly having to make conversation with the uncle you didn't know existed while everyone around you is trying to be polite feels more true-to-life for me.

*A famous bit of writing advice from Raymond Chandler (paraphrased) is that when you're not sure what should happen next, have a man with a gun walk into the room. On the surface, this is silly but still-not-half-bad advice for many genres. You can also go deeper with it. Long story short, many characters in WRS eventually become able to do things normal people can't do. It's a story about magic. Magic needs to be explained enough to not be transparently something that lets the author do whatever they want, but I'm not inclined to explain it so much that it ceases to be dangerous. My ground rules for "things human beings can do supernaturally" in WRS were:

A- A man walking into the room with a gun is still a problem.

and

B- Everything has a price. If it doesn't seem to have a price, it just hasn't come due yet.

And that's it for now. TWO DAYS. TWO DAYS.

7/11/16 11:06 am - "White Rabbit Society" out in four days!

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I just sent out the e-book of "White Rabbit Society Part One" out to my Patreon backers very early yesterday morning, and as of today it's available for preorder on Amazon. So we're getting pretty close.

Because this story is such a big hodgepodge of different genres and styles, I've had trouble nailing down landmarks to use when I'm describing it. There's a lot of "this one specific aspect of this one obscure thing, ripped out of its original context and welded together with this other specific aspect of this other obscure thing also ripped out of its original context". But there's one solid predecessor to many of the characters and themes in WRS, one I wasn't super familiar with when I started writing the story more than a decade ago but which quickly became a really big deal.



John Fucking Constantine. Created by Alan Moore, perfected by Garth Ennis, and executed terribly by a zillion other writers. Don't even get me started on the movie. Mention television if you've got some furniture you need destroyed.

I can't help but be a snob about this subject. If Urban Fantasy is a concept you think sounds good, you need to read every issue of Hellblazer written by Garth Ennis. Every other version of the character, and really every other treatment of the general concept, is weak tea in comparison.

That concept being "scary magic in the real world". HB by GE reaches the heights that it does by hitting every part of that statement as hard as it can. People look and talk like real people. They want things that real people want and have all the limitations that real people have, and they live in places that you could go and visit if you wanted to. When the magic comes in, it's not a convenient superpower or cheap power trip thrill. It's unpredictable and scary, and it's made only more unpredictable and scary by it's interaction with the aforementioned flawed human beings.

None of the characters in WRS are exact John Constantine analogues, but a couple come awfully close, and really the majority of the cast could be related to him in a second-cousin kind of way. If you need a good general description of WRS, one of them would be "scummed up Harry Potter with no safety net". Another would be "a dozen different variations of John Constantine get locked in a closet for a few years and then we open the door to see who survived."

That's it for now. More tomorrow. Love you all.

7/8/16 10:39 pm - Countdown to "White Rabbit Society" part three

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Hey folks! This post'll be a little shorter than I planned for Life Reasons. I talked a little bit more about WRS yesterday for my Patreon backers, who'll be getting their hands on the e-book this weekend. It'll be on sale for everybody else on the 15th.

The core of "White Rabbit Society" is a response to something that is new and old at the same time. There are many, many, many stories about young people coming of age, and there are lots of stories that mix various kinds of supernatural metaphors into that process. WRS is one of those, but there's one thing that makes it different than most of the modern incarnations of those kinds of stories. The main character isn't the goddamn Chosen One. He doesn't have a Destiny. Initially, he is who is because of circumstance and luck. He only slowly becomes able to take control of his only life, and he does so in a world that isn't sitting still while he tries to figure things out. He doesn't have a Hogwarts to hide out in, and no one offering to help him is doing so purely with his best interest in mind. Just this one change is enough to move the bookmark from this story from fantasy part of the way towards horror.

And that's it for right now. More to come soon.

-B

7/6/16 10:32 pm - Countdown to "White Rabbit Society Part One"



New book is coming out on the 15th! Very excited about this one. I always am, but this book has more history behind it than anything else I've written. It's also the first book I've released since hitting the giant mad-scientist "It Lives!" switch and activating Patreon, which I'm hoping is going to play a big role in my writing career going forward.

Accordingly, during my "countdown to White Rabbit Society" blog series over the next few days, I'm going to be switching off between making posts here and making posts for my backers on Patreon. If you'd like in on the party, Patreon. A buck a month to get all my e-books as they come out (two bucks for paperbacks), and anybody who signs up before the 15th gets a copy of WRS to kick things off. It's a good deal.

A few facts about White Rabbit Society to get the ball moving.

*As a few clever folks have figured out from the cover (which is fantastic and by Wesley Wong, an amazing artist you should all go check out), White Rabbit Society is a psychotically long continuation of the short story "Shadow", which appears in the Beasts collection. At one point "Shadow" was actually the first chapter of the novel. Things are a little more complicated now but that's still basically the idea.

*This is "White Rabbit Society Part One", which is an e-book. The "White Rabbit Society Part Two" e-book will be coming out in a few months, simultaneously with the White Rabbit Society paperback. One and two together will tell a dandy and fairly epic complete story. My first impulse is to leave the universe alone at that point, but if people want more there are a couple of directions in which I could keep going.

*You might have notice I've managed to go on for a while now without actually talking about what the story's about. I'll be getting to that soon. For right now, here's the cover blurb:

"Andrew is fifteen years old. He's been sent to stay with his grandmother for the summer while his parents finish their divorce, but the summer's up and he's still stuck up in Wisconsin. And his best and only friend is a monster.

Shadow lives under a gazebo in the park. She has a body made of spare parts, she seems to be omnipotent, and she likes to play chess. Andrew doesn't tell anybody about Shadow. Nobody listens to him anyway.

Andrew's Uncle Paul comes to town. Andrew didn't know he had an Uncle Paul. Paul knows about Shadow. Paul knows lots of things. Some of them are things he shouldn't know; some of them are things no one should know. And he's interested in teaching.

Unfortunately, Paul isn't stopping by just to say hello. He's being pursued, by people interested in his secrets. People interested in Shadow. And soon, people interested in Andrew."

And that's it for now. I'll be talking more about the story tomorrow on Patreon, and circle back around here in a couple of days. Hope your fourth was awesome. See you all soon.

6/3/16 10:32 am - Patreon rough draft

So I've been giving Patreon some thought. Here's a rough draft of what I was picturing.

Backer rewards:

$1 per 10000 words- All the new e-books, before they get released to the general public. You get listed in the dedication for all the new books as they come out (for as long as that remains practically possible), and receive access to all the behind-the-scenes stuff I’ll posting. Some of it will be stuff you get to read before anybody else, some of it will backer-exclusive forever. You also get my profound gratitude. Anyone who’s chipping in at this level is making a real contribution to my ability to continue being a writer. You’re doing more than you had to and I appreciate it.

$2 per 10000 words- All the new paperbacks, and get listed in the dedication for all the new books as they come out, plus everything at the $1 level.

$5 per 10000 words- Everything above, plus I’ll be able to sign and personalize the books, PLUS I’ll shoot you a few extra copies of my paperbacks around holiday time to deploy as stocking stuffers.

$10 per 10000 words- Book club! I’m going to be talking a lot about writer friends of mine, from Bad Grammar Theater and elsewhere. Backers at this level will also be getting some free print and/or electronic copies of the books I’m talking about. Plus everything at lower tiers.

$25 per 10000 words- Everything at the lower tiers, plus an annual framed print of one of my photographs, probably something story-related, with a handwritten thank-you from me.

$50 per 10000 words- If you’re interested in this level of support please drop me a line and we can discuss. Me doing a reading for you and your guests sometime over the course of the year, short-story requests, something else? At the very least I’ll be sending something unique your way once a year.

Goals:

$250 per 10K words: At this level, I’m able to break even with my books as soon as I release them, which is a Very Big Deal. If we can get to here, expect my new books to start getting a lot weirder and less constrained by market forces. In that spirit, I’ll also start putting out a little once-a-year mini-book of short stories, all based on suggestions from my patrons.

$1000 per 10K words: This is firmly in pipe dream territory for now, but if we can get here then I’m a lot less worried about other employment and spending a lot more time at my keyboard getting weird. Definitely there would be a celebration, online and off. I’ll start talking to you guys about specifics if it looks like we’re in striking distance of this goal.


Still fiddling with the details. Feedback very much appreciated.

4/14/16 02:17 pm - "The Orphan Fleet" comes out tomorrow!

Book’s coming out tomorrow! Very excited, very nervous. For those of you just tuning in, it’s called “The Orphan Fleet” and it’s a fantasy novella, which is not a genre I’m known for at all. I’ve talked a little bit about the kinds of fantasy that I like and which I wanted to emulate. People who know me will not be surprised to hear that I also take issue with a lot of contemporary fantasy, and that there are certain aspects of TOF that are meant to pick a fight.

For starters, most fantasy novels, series, and stories are way too goddamn long for the stories they’re telling. This is a matter of taste, because I’ve come to understand that the sheer size is part of the appeal for people who like those kinds of books. Even physically, some people just like hauling a giant brick around with them. A comparison that helped me get my mind around the situation is Bollywood movies. Most people don’t want to watch a three hour film without much of a plot where the male and female love interests never kiss, but there is a specific audience who expects that and likes it. So if you like doorstopper fantasy that spends entire chapters exploring the genealogy of the noble house of the main character, then you might read TOF and wonder why I didn’t expand it to a trilogy or something.

But a quick examination of my other work will tell you pretty quickly that that isn’t my thing. Genre-hopping aside, all of my work is meant for a general, intelligent audience. (Not that the door-stopper fantasy audience isn’t intelligent, but it’s not really general either.) My horror short stories or my other longer work might have different wallpaper, but if you like my writing style in other contexts I’m pretty sure you’ll like it here too. My standing assumption is that my audience is smart and willing to figure things out, but easily bored if I go too long without giving it something interesting to do. If that describes you, rest assured that I’ve gone to great lengths to take care of you here, just like usual.

One thing that is different about “The Orphan Fleet” compared to my other stuff is that TOF is meant as a straight-up escapist fantasy. I wrote it at a time when I needed a back door to the real world, and that’s the spirit that it’s written in. It’s a fairy tale playing dress-up with grown up clothes, not a simulation of how I think politics, warfare, or anthropology work. There is some world-building going on (and things are already getting a little more complicated in the sequel I’m working on), but the level of detail scales up or down at different times depending on how well it happens to serve the story, and that’s not an accident.

Lots of fantasy adventure stories that are meant to be escapist fun don’t really do it for me. I don’t want to be a king, or take orders from one. I like the idea of fighting in the same way that little kids left alone in the woods will grab sticks and start running around and pretend to swordfight, but I know that the real thing has consequences that I’m happy to live without. And I like my love interests a little more prickly than some chick in a dress waiting to get saved. “The Orphan Fleet” is meant to take me to the kind of place I’d actually want to go and hang out.

And I think that’s a good stopping point. There are other things I could bring up, but I’d rather wait and see what you all think of the story I wrote. Thank you as always for your support— I have way too much fun doing this. More soon.
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