Milestones

I apologize for having gone silent on the blog for a month or so. Things have been insane (as you will see below), but in a good way. There are times when creativity grabs you by the throat and won’t let go. I’d complain, but since creativity is my bread and butter, you work hard when it comes easy, and harder when it doesn’t. Most of the time you just hope you can keep up.

The big news is that Of Limited Loyalty came out from Night Shade Books. It’s the sequel to At the Queen’s Command. It picks up three years after the events in the first book and faces our heroes with a new set of challenges. It has another stunning cover by Ryan Pancoast. I can’t wait to see what he does for An Ungrateful Rabble. If you want to buy an autographed copy of the book, you can get one from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore here in Scottsdale, AZ. Amazon also has copies immediately available, though they are not signed.

Perfectly Dead, the second of the Homeland Security Services novels, ran a bit longer than I intended, so I finished it on 5 December. I got down to the point where I expected it to end, but I didn’t find that sequence of events to be emotionally satisfying. I added two more chapters to get the effect I wanted. It ended up around 62,000 words and in rewrites I expect I’ll add another 3-5,000. I need to make sure all the things link up, and that the character arcs are consistent and smooth. Adding Bloodstone in did make the novel a lot more fun, but in the end I had to remind myself this was an HSS novel, not a Bloodstone novel. I suspect that’s a distinction only I worry about, but there it is.

In addition to working on Perfectly Dead, I’ve been working on another movie script with Brian Pulido. Brian and I collaborated on the award-winning script Gone, and penned another script titled The Sickness. We learned a lot doing those, and Brian has learned a lot more about the business over the last several years since he wrote, directed and produced The Graves. (I actually have a speaking part in the movie (I’m Joseph in the credits), but you can only see the back of my head on screen. Just as well, Clare Grant is much easier on the eyes.) Brian and I get together twice a week to plan and write. We’ve just finished the treatment for a new film. In the new year we’ll do the script. We’re both very enthused about this particular project, and I’ll let you know more as things develop.

Michael R. Mennenga and I have revamped Dragonpage Cover to Cover, our podcast about books, writing and digital publishing. We’ve shifted it over to concentrate on how writers can participate in the changing world of publishing. We’re focusing on a couple of things. First, Michael will be rewriting his novel, Mistress of the Dragon. He’ll be taking the same journey all writers do in editing and preparing a book for publication. I’ll be guiding him through that process, as well as mentioning things I’ve been doing with my new novels. In many ways listening to the podcast will be like attending the writing seminars I give all over the place (alone or with Aaron Allston).

That’s half of the podcast. The other half will continue to be news about the industry and interviews with authors who are exploring the world of digital publishing. Because things are so fluid out there, and because folks are trying all sorts of things to make a go of it, we want to pick the minds of the pioneers. And, as always, we’ll be taking listener feedback and answering your questions about why authors do things, or how you might want to proceed with your work. I’ll also be tying my newsletter, The Secrets, into this process—more on that development in the new year.

I hit a monster milestone this year: early in December I broke 400,000 words written. This does not include blogs or correspondence. It’s comprised of stories, novels, articles and other projects which will earn income. This is the most I have ever written in a calendar year, including the early days when I was grinding out BattleTech novels or fifteen years ago when I did those first four X-wing novels in sixteen months. And this is a monster increase over my output over the last couple years—probably more than than any two of the last four combined.

Why the change?

The digital revolution, and the possibilities it has opened up, have made writing fun again. K. W. Jeter has noted that authors have been carrying around the burden of traditional publishing’s overhead and antiquated publishing practices for years. That burden is bone-crushing, since it demands that the author turn out bestselling books without any market direction or any publisher support. It’s like asking a baseball player to do nothing but hit home runs and pack the stands, all without scouting reports or promotion. It’s insane.

Being able to turn out books like Perfectly Invisible or In Hero Years… I’m Dead is incredibly liberating. With those books I don’t have the weight on my shoulders. In Hero Years… I’m Dead was a book that New York didn’t want because there wasn’t a place for it in bookstores—they didn’t have a shelf marked “Non-licensed Superhero Noir Fiction.” That’s a fair cop, but that didn’t mean readers wouldn’t like it. It’s gotten great reviews and is a ton of fun—which is what books are supposed to be.

The Homeland Security Services novels are in a similar position. They’re in an alternate world, so that would make them science fiction, but they’re CSI-style, police procedural crime stories. They don’t fit anywhere. Well, kiwi-fruit didn’t fit in stores way back when (and I can recall when they first tried to market it in the US) because the produce aisle didn’t have a place for hairy, soft, green-pulpy fruit. That didn’t mean it wouldn’t find an audience, it would just take time. Perfectly Invisible is out there, Perfectly Dead will follow soon, and I’ve already got the outline for the third, Perfectly Economical, figured out. These are books I want to do because I’m enjoying the characters and the setting. I think others will, too.

The cool thing is that choosing to work on and publish them means I get to control what’s going on in my career. If I don’t pay attention to the numbers, if I don’t watch trends, if I don’t do all the things that business folks do; and things don’t work out, that’s on me. If I bring Perfectly Dead out in March and see seriously sluggish sales, I might push off writing the third book for a couple of months and try something else. If sales do well on it, and I watch sales on the first one pick back up, then I might push writing Perfectly Economical up a bit. Inside three months to a year, I’ll have data that traditional publishing would have taken years to collect and digest, and I’ll be able to react to it more quickly.

I don’t know how all this turns out. Could be I’ll make the wrong decisions and things will be a disaster. But what does disaster mean in this case? Instead of selling 5,000 copies in a year, I sell 500? Since I can’t get the time back I spent writing the book, and since even 500 a year will generate $1000 or so, where am I losing? Who wouldn’t be happy to have a part-time job that they don’t have to show up for, that will give them $1000 a year?

Back to my point, however: the sense of liberation has really sparked me and my creativity. Two weeks ago I came up with a killer idea for a novel series. I’ve been jotting notes like a madman. It is my hope that by the middle of January the first book will be done. And after that I have other projects about which I am equally enthused. I think hitting 400,000 words in 2012 is not going to be a problem, and I might do even more. Adding 3-4 more 500 a year sellers to the stable can’t hurt. I have fun, readers have fun, it’s all good.

This joy, this enthusiasm, having it hurt when I can’t sit down to write, that’s the way it was over thirty years ago when I used to hammer stories out on an old typewriter. It was what made me write a novel in longhand back when I was in high school. This is what sparks the light in the eyes of students who come to my classes, and fuels the secret smile writers have when alone and an idea strikes them.

It’s been gone for a bit. I am so thankful it’s back.

_______________________

Writing blog posts cuts into my fiction writing time. If you’re finding these posts useful, and haven’t yet gotten yet snagged my latest novels, please consider purchasing a book. Nice thing about the new age of publishing is that you become a Patron of the Arts, letting writers know what you’d like to see more of simply by voting with a credit card. (Authors charge less when they sell direct, so you save, we make more, and that frees us to write more.)

My latest paper novel, Of Limited Loyalty, is out in paper. (I’ll let you know when it’s ready for your Kindle.)

For those of you who haven’t tried Perfectly Invisible yet, now is your chance. I’ve provided three sample chapters here on my website, or you can click on any of the online retailers below and download a free preview of the novel. You can get up to speed on Miracle Dunn and watch how the new story unfolds here as I blog about the writing. (The novel is 50,000 words long, or a five hour read for the average reader.)

The full novel is available for purchase right now from my webstore. Just click on the cover image to the left, or on that link. The novel runs $3.99, and the package in my store has both the Kindle and epub versions of the books, so you’ll have a copy that works with any of your readers. As always, the books are presented without DRM (digital rights management) and I have a note with instructions for getting the book onto ereaders and smartphones.

For the Kindle edition, just hit this link.

To purchase it through iTunes for your iPad/iPhone/iPod, just hit this link.

To purchase it through Barnes & Noble for your Nook, please use this link.

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6 Responses to “Milestones”

  1. Michael
    welcome back to the ‘zone’; ain’t it great. Nothing’s impossible and you have all the right energy.
    Regards
    Ian

  2. So I know I am writing at least 360k next year (1k a day.) But, I want to set an official Challenge for myself. I have been mulling over many different figures. 3k a day is 720k, an awful lot. 2k a day during the week is 520k, still a lot. NaNo every month is 600k. Yikes!

    But now I have my target. 1,100 a day. Or 1k a day, plus an extra 700 once a week. Or 1540 five days a week, which leaves weekends free. Kind of like a weekday NaNo.

    In other words, I’m going for 400k (plus a little extra, natch.) I’m calling it the “Beat Michael Stackpole’s 2011 Wordcount Challenge”.

    That’s right, Stackpole, I’m coming after you. Or your wordcount, anyway.

    Also, I listen to the Dragonpage whenever you put one out. I’m glad you guys are back in production, and I’m looking forward to the new Secrets episodes. So thanks for those.

    I really wish you and Aaron would do a seminar in Austin. Please?

  3. Can’t wait to read Perfectly Dead. Congrats on the 400K year, and much success in the next year.

  4. Mike, congratulations on both regaining that tsunami of creativity and breaking 400,000 words written in a year! I’ve only got a bit over half that logged for 2011, but writers like you and Dean Wesley Smith, among others, are a constant source of encouragement and inspiration. 2012 is going to be even better. 😀

    Thanks so much for the posts you’ve done over the last year; they’ve been by turns enlightening and a helpful kick in the pants.

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