I'm currently sitting on 8 manuscripts - two of them are actually 1400 norm pages each. I'm writing on my ninth novel now and will one day give away all of them for free. The problem is that correcting and finalizing them into book form (e.g. typsetting in LaTeX) takes too much of my spare time.
I'm just writing this as a friendly advise. At least for smaller markets like the German one, do not ever expect to be able to make any substantial amounts of money from your writing hobby. The trend is against it, and it's much cheaper and less risky for publishers to get a successful US writer translated than to accept a new local one. People are also reading way more English originals than they used to. Besides, agencies are looking for urban fiction, "novels for young women", gift books, etc. (Before you ask, agencies have attested me that the quality of my writing is fine, but what they say and what they think are two things and this may also play a major role.)
Of course, it's still my favourite hobby. Once you start you cannot stop. I don't think that any particular lessons can be learned, because everybody writes in a different way and under different circumstances. The bottomline is that it's not hard to write a lot. ;)
I think they should really force themselves to start with short stories first; focus on finishing a story. That avoids a sunk cost, avoids people beating themselves up for what they believe is their life's work getting rejected by publishers (for e.g. being too long), etc.
Same with software development; it's easy to write big chunks of code, it's hard to get that to production.
Writers are also told it takes two or three failed novels to write a good one.
And on top of that, there are plenty of writers whose primary motivation is vanity. They care more about seeing their name on the spine of a book - as if that proves they're Someone Important. They also think the more words there are, the better they're doing, and don't understand the value of understatement or editing.
Writers who view it as a business - willing to learn the required skillset, realistic about their potential, and with a product plan, a marketing and customer engagement plan, and a realistic assessment of sales outlets and likely income - are not common.
I am a pretty avid reader and would never pick up a novel by a first time published author that is 800+ pages; the time (and potentially monetary) investment is just too large. On the flip side, I do pick up books by new/unheard of to me authors that are 250-400 pages long.
I also remember there are companies that allow you to publish and sell your work, and handle the printing and shipping. I don't remember the exact companies, but that sounds like a good fit for the poster.
I commend you for your dedication to your craft but I presume some readers would please you so have you considered self-publishing, writing short stories or serial publishing, like Scott Alexander did for Unsong with http://unsongbook.com/
Wildbow did with Worm?
Long answer: Good question. I typeset the print version of the one book I've self-published in LaTeX, because I love books and didn't want to contribute to the abysmal typesetting of KDP and bulk self-publishers.
Converting to LaTeX is not that hard, the problem is that unless you write everything in Markdown or Orgmode in the first place, you'll you have to maintain two sources - one for the ebook and a LaTeX version. I'm using some special word processing software, though, so I cannot write in Markdown.
My biggest conundrum is that of many hobby authors, I presume. I don't like Amazon and don't want to aid them in destroying the print book market. At the same time, for German self-publishers there are not many realistic alternatives to Amazon. So thanks a lot for the links. I am definitely looking for ways to distribute my works (for free) in alternative ways.
Short answer: Yes, in the future I'll probably not typeset my books by hand if I self-publish them. It's too much work.
But the decline in typesetting quality caused by self-publishers bothers me a lot. And don't even get me started on book binding, cover design, etc.
A lot of great writers had trouble getting published using the traditional system. Nietzsche, or HP Lovecraft, or Marechera, for instance. The traditional publishing industry had a purpose - to turn manuscripts into print, with a side of helping people discover good books. They're now irrelevant for printing, and they were always terrible at the discovery thing.
(I'm not affiliated with www.Lyx.org. But I wrote my PhD and masters with it.)
The printed book you have self-published but without KDP or bulk self-publishers, can I ask how you went about it? Did you take your LaTex / pdf file to a book printer, use some other self-publishing service...?
Hah, this brings memories. Coming from an even smaller language market (Croatian), I've decided to learn HTML as a way to publish my writings to a wider audience. Skip 25 years and now I'm working as a senior/lead developer, without publishing anything significant in my life... :D
As there is no humblebundle and storybundle for german books (yet), have you thought about releasing your stuff via crowd funding? Just use a crowd-funding platform and "demand" some (arbitrary) amount of money total before you openly release something on the web. I like this "payment" strategy because it does not depend on DRM.
Bigger in asia than they are here, these are very long stories published in serial on novel publishing platforms like webnovel.com (english language).
Sometimes the publishing platforms lock new chapters to paid users only and share out the proceeds spotify style. Sometimes authors use patreon with early access to chapters as a reward.
Maybe look into something like this and, if it doesn't exist in Germany, be happy and use your own writings to seed a platform like that?
Andreas Eschbach is one of the very few published german authors in the (somewhat) SciFi space. And he's also a fan of Papyrus. On his web page he has for over decades a large subsection of Q&As about writing and publishing on the basis of his personal experience.
Have you considered publishing the works yourself/making them available (as ebooks) online?
In summary, the author originally self-published to get around problems with publishers.
If it weren't for this software, I'd definitely use Markdown and Emacs.
If the second book in your trilogy sucked, it sinks the 3rd.
That doesn't mean I don't like reading series, but they do seem stressful for the author.
It's become so much of a trope that it's become a pet hate. I actively avoid buying any that is "first of..." now, no matter how famous you are. The few times I break this rule, I generally regret it. Most trilogies are just a book, heavily padded. So I simply won't buy unless all are written, and well reviewed. Then, do I buy all or none.
There are just a tiny few that deserve it. Archer's Clifton Chronicles, Follett's Century Trilogy, Stross' own Merchant Princes (1-6 anyway, skip the new ones) were all marvellous and fully deserved a series. Yet most are unworthy. Song of Ice and Fire - great idea, so much padding and so little direction. Good book, awful series. I forget where I gave up. Cornwell's The Saxon Stories was mostly great, but I preferred the battle by battle progression of Sharpe without having to achieve perfect continuity or care much what order I read them.
Much prefer the random peeks into a universe approach of Sharpe, Discworld, or Follett with the Kingsbridge series where there's hundreds of years between the books. Or Adam's HHGTTG leaping all over the galaxy with continuity that can leave Marvin in a car park for a millennium. Even Charles Stross reads far better if simply ignoring Laundry Files as series. Lots of unconnected episodes and forget the underlying destination or continuity. It's the only way I can carry on when there's been two books that really didn't work. Well, more one book and one ending that failed hard.
Atrocity Archives and the other Bob books were some of the most entertaining, delightfully observed comedy fiction I've read. Nightmare Stacks didn't really join up, but was a rollicking good tale, and some interesting new characters.
Labyrinth Index on the other hand, was disjointed and unfinishable (The only book from Charles, one of my favourite authors, I can't finish). It should have been a book of Alex, Bob or Cassie. Anyone but Mhari, who might have worked here if given a red shirt to die spectacularly in chapter 2. She's not even anything like the Mhari as created in previous books.
The only way I can react to that is simply ignore as series, tuning out continuity, or stop buying.
That being said, I very rarely get into series unless I'm familiar with the author / director.
I've just gotten tired of slogging through to the end when a book / movie / TV show series should have ended a long time ago.
It occurs to me that a modern publishing deal for a new author isn't entirely unlike the VC deals we talk about here on HN. Yeah, the publishers might sign you for 2 books in a trilogy, but you just promised to be a unicorn in the process. The startup world is probably more friendly to serial entrepreneurs than the publishing world is to those authors, though; I haven't seen many discussions of this but I bet you basically get one chance at that deal before they move on to the next author.
That's a fair point, and I should have phrased it that way in my post. Too late to edit now, but I agree, it's not all on the authors.
With quite a lot of them they have larger worlds, but you can read the first book and enjoy it stand alone, the trilogy, or one of the other trilogies out of order within the larger world. You usually just miss minor appearances of known characters, or nods to earlier events.
It immediately reminded me of this great (and short) sketch by The Onion :) https://youtu.be/qXD9HnrNrvk
The first noble truth of Buddhism can either be rendered as "suffering is inevitable," or "life is unsatisfactory." In my limited understanding of Gnosticism, The other three truths are that suffering is caused by a misunderstanding of our essential nature, that liberation from this suffering is possible, and that there's a path anyone can follow to attain this liberation.
In Gnosticism (per Wikipedia) that all matter is evil, and the non-material, spirit-realm is good. There is an unknowable God, who gave rise to many lesser spirit beings called Aeons. The creator of the (material) universe is not the supreme god, but an inferior spirit (the Demiurge). Gnosticism does not deal with "sin," only ignorance. To achieve salvation, one needs gnosis (knowledge).
Look kinda similar, do they not? While there's no evidence that Buddhist thought directly created Gnosticism, Buddhism had been around for a few centuries by the time Gnostic Christianity appeared, and even though there weren't many Buddhists in the Roman empire, there were Buddhists in Afghanistan by around the time of Alexander, and some of the monks were known to be Greek. I'd also point out that Mani (creator of Manichaeism) cited both Jesus and Buddha as inspirations. Anyway, long story short, these ideas were percolating throughout the civilized world in later classical times, so I'm not surprised that some Christians tried to incorporate them in their practices. Same thing happens today, for instance with the "Jubus" (Jewish Buddhists).
A couple things to add, as a writer and publisher:
* There are all kinds of tools to help writers get going. I have twice used NaNoWriMo (https://www.nanowrimo.org) to force myself to get fiction and nonfiction ideas from outline to rough draft. I also found the writing program Scrivener (https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener/overview) to be very good for organizing fiction chapters, characters, spinoff short stories, etc.
* Short science fiction is unsurprisingly far easier to write but difficult to find a market for. The remaining publications and anthologies are swamped with quality submissions, and no one goes to Amazon to buy short stories. Some people publish to Wattpad or their own blogs, but there's a chicken/egg problem to contend with and Wattpad requires constant effort to curate an audience.
* The Kindle store, especially Kindle Unlimited, has tons of scifi series, many from new authors. Unfortunately, I've found some of them to be lacking in depth and character development. I'm not sure if that's because they aren't properly edited, or they are "writing to market," i.e. giving people what they want (lots of series with keywords stuffed into the title, like "hard science fiction" or "space opera"). This is a matter of personal taste; I see that many of the same series have hundreds or even thousands of positive reviews which seem sincere.
I strongly disagree with this statement on both counts. Short fiction is not easier to write than long fiction, especially in science fiction where an established setting change from modern defaults must occur. There is less space to explore a thoroughly designed world and often the author is forced to pick and choose for purposes of the plot. It’s not harder either; the challenges between the mediums are often quite different and shouldn’t be compared.
Secondly, it is much easier imo to publish short fiction than long fiction, self publishing aside. There are dozens, maybe even over a hundred of pro and semi-pro short story markets(at least in the us market). The biggest award winning magazines still compete with Kickstarter anthologies and semipro zines, alongside markets that normally cater to nonfiction but have occasional fiction like MIT mag. Statistically if your fiction is good enough to publish for money, you will get published eventually. This is much less said for novels, whose publishers must most strongly weigh market forces and for a while and would deny good quality work because the publishing company didn’t believe it would sell (see: the dreamblood duology). There is a significant investment in the publishing of novels traditionally compared to the publishing of short fiction, and often the most well known long fiction markets do not have open calls (eg. Accepting submissions from anyone).
Of course self publishing is an entirely different game and an author in this space has to often run their work as a business, including advertising and social media to keep and curate a loyal enough fan base to continue buying new work, along with a consistent production of new work to purchase. It’s not necessarily an easier path than traditional publishing, from what I understand.
I'm the reverse: I only know his sci-fi, and wasn't aware he wrote nonfiction. What would you recommend?
I really enjoyed it.
> In some cases the decline is much steeper—30-40% from episode to episode: I speak from experience. This isn't just theoretical: it's why there won't be a third book in the series beginning with "Saturn's Children" and "Neptune's Brood": they sold okay in the USA, but then I changed US publisher—and the British sales took a 40% dive between book 1 and book 2, so I couldn't fall back on the UK market.
> A series where the sales figures of book n are the same as book n-1, n-2 .. 1 are flat is worth persisting with, because it's bucking the market trend and not stagnating. And a series where the sales figures actually grow from book to book is a prize beyond compare.
I don't quite agree with this. Of course there will be a falloff between entries in a series, but that does not mean that writing an additional book is a wasted effort. The potential sales of n+1 book get added to all the books coming before n, with corresponding % loss of readership between books. So, one should also add the increase in sales in all the books coming before the new release.
You might of course still drop it after the 2nd or 3rd (or even during the 1st) book due to various reasons (you didn't like it, found something better, were busy, family emergency etc..), but the nth+1 book still influenced in that first sale.
A tiny percentage of the most popular writers gets reprints, new editions, and shelf space. For new writers, the process is more like a sales audition.
And it's a very short audition. If a new title doesn't show serious sales momentum within a few weeks, most copies will be returned, and the odds of a follow-up title from that author go down rapidly.
Virtually all of the n-ologies you see in the bigger stores are already best sellers, and the publishers and the store buyers have both said "Give us more of the same" because previous sales were strong enough.
Some markets - like romance, and sometimes fantasy - have more complicated rules. Store buyers typically buy a consignment from a publisher, and authors can sometimes find themselves sneaking into a consignment without being anyone's first choice.
Completely understandable, obviously.
Very interesting article, thank you for sharing.