|An early book cover with one of my working titles, a play on "Ports of Call." I wasn't certain that it would be clear that planets weren't called "Call" though I liked the title.|
In my previous post I discussed what inspired me to write The Bright Black Sea. In this post I’m going to discuss the nuts and bolts of how it came to be.
I began thinking about the stories that would become The Bright Black Sea soon after Amazon’s lending library, Kindle Unlimited was introduced. At that time authors were being paid whenever their book was borrowed. It was a flat rate payment per book, so that short books paid the same as long ones. Authors quickly took advantage of this, and started publishing short stories and novels as serial stories, to get paid many times more that a single novel length book would bring in. It was in this economic atmosphere that I conceived the idea of writing a series of connected space ship adventures. My model was Guy Gilpatric’s series of short stories featuring Mr. Glencannon. the chief engineer of the tramp steamer Inchchiffe Castle. Using a tramp freighter space ship sailing between the planets would not only allow me to set my stories on a variety of planets but to write a variety of stories, from comedy to spooky stories, intrigue, romance, and adventure. I intended each story to follow one after the other, so that I could weave some sort of over-arching plot into the series, if needed. And, indeed, this is the formula that I have followed, though I never released it as a serial story. For quite a few reasons.
|A never published cover|
First was that Amazon changed the way the Kindle Unlimited program paid their authors. It is now the number of pages “read” that determines payment amounts, rather than just if the book is borrowed. Serials, or installment novels no longer offered any economic advantage.
Secondly, I was very leery of having to produce a story on any sort of schedule, much less a monthly one. I feared running out of ideas. Which, as it turned out, is a real issue with me. I suppose that I could crank out some sort of a story on demand – but it would be work, not fun, and probably not very good. And as I have said already, I don’t like to work. So the idea of having a monthly episode seemed too daunting a prospect to pursue.
Thirdly, I don’t write short stories. And, for the most part, I don’t read them. Even in my heyday of reading science fiction, I read mostly novels. I never subscribed to any of the SF magazines. And the episodes that I ended up writing reflect this anti-short story bias. All were novella length pieces of between 20,000 to 40,000 words. It would have been pretty impossible for me to keep up a monthly pace at that length, unless I had a hundred stories to write already in my head. Which I didn’t.
Fourthly, as I have already mentioned when writing about A Summer in Amber, I became aware that I did not write tight, fast, thriller type of stories, or as Sargent Friday might say, ‘Just the story ma’am.” My pace is wordy and leisurely, which is not the type of writing that would lend itself to writing old fashioned Saturday matinee adventure serials. To write a story that would keep readers on pins and needles until the next episode, not only would I need to write differently than I do, but I would have to write in a way that I didn’t care to. Episodic serials usually involve ending with cliffhangers. Which is to say, one writes the first ¾ of the story in one episode, but only the finished the last ¼ in the next episode, along with the first ¾’s of that nest episode… to be concluded in the next, as so on. In short, I would have to forego telling the whole story in the hopes of hooking readers by making them wait for the conclusion in the next episode. As a story teller, I didn’t care to do that. It seemed to be to be unfair to the reader. And as I said before, I don’t write stories that lend themselves to that technique anyway. Nor do I want to.
|The Nine Star Nebula in color|
So in short, the incentive to write serials went away, and the episodes I could see myself writing would be too long and too complete to insure that people would keep coming back for the next one. And I wasn’t confident that I could keep to any reasonable publishing schedule for a serial story.
Yo get around these qualms, my first plan was to release the first three episodes, Captain of the Lost Star, The Mountain King, and Lontria, as one book. Story wise, the end of Lontria was a good story break point, as we were leaving the familiar Azminn solar system astern, and together the three episodes ran well over 100,000 words, making it a good sized novel. My thinking was that by making the first three episodes available to be read without any time gap between them, I could hook the readers into reading the first three episodes, and then they’d be so invested in the characters and story that they would read those that would follow, even without cliffhanger endings.
However, it was such a great theory, that it could be applied to every other episode I would write. Why not wait and release the following three episodes as a novel as well, since it too, had a good break point – which is not surprising since I was, by now, more or less plotting the episodes to make them novel sized installments. Indeed by that time I was writing these episodes, I had abandoned the release by episode idea and was all in on releasing novels, or just a novel.
Now, given how they were written, I could’ve easily released The Bright Black Sea as a trilogy, with three 100K+ word novels – basically how I wrote them. If my goal was to at least try to make money, this would’ve been the best route to take. It is the strategy that almost everyone recommends that a writer should do – especially if you have all three books written and ready to go. However, since I was always intending to release my books for free, maximizing profits wasn’t something that needed to be considered. It wouldn’t matter if I released one book or three books. Except to my ego.
The thing is, not everyone who opens a book is going to like it. That’s a given. And that means that the second book in any series is going to sell less than the first book, as all the people who didn’t like the first one aren’t going to buy the second. The second book may still attract readers on the fence, but by the third book, the readers are either engaged in the story, or they’re out. Quite candidly, I didn’t wish to see that inevitable decline. I don’t need that sort of heartbreak. So, by selling the complete set of episodes in one volume, I would see only the numbers of people who tried it, not the number of readers who liked it enough to read it all the way to its end. Of course, in the end, I did write a sequel to it, so I do see that number, but well, The Lost Star’s Sea came out two years after The Bright Black Sea and is a different sort of book, despite having continuing characters, so it’s a little bit different. And well, maybe I can take disappointment better now. Not that I am disappointed. Like my characters discover, one should be careful what one wishes for. Wishes sometimes come true. I’m happy with my writing, and I don’t think becoming a best seller author would suit me very well. With that comes responsibilities. I try to avoid those as well. So, I’m planning to be famous only after I’m dead.
To the left is the mock up of a cover for what would have been volume 2 of a 3 volume paper release that I considered doing given the size of the complete book. In the end, I abandoned the idea. The titles would have been The Captain of the Lost Star, The Ghosts of the Lost Star, and The Secrets of the Lost Star.
Hmm… It seems that this post has run on long enough, but since I still have more to say, there will be a third episode of Origin Stories – The Bright Black Sea, in which I’ll talk about actually writing the story. What I wanted to do, what I wanted to avoid, and how it evolved as it went along.