Volume

(Hokay. Post going up early because sucker no.1 has offered to go and load a few tons of hay for a friend who has hurt his leg. Normally, it’s two of us, and I’m half dead after, but this will be just be me, so I’ll be LATE home and very tired. And to show what a clever little monkey I am I agreed to go and load cows and catch squid (duh, of course they go together – cows on ferry) at 4.30 AM tomorrow – so if I take some time to reply, just say rhubarb a lot, and make bad puns and multiple entendres for me)

“Everything louder than everything else…”
Meatloaf, Bat out of hell II

Which ends up with now deaf people not buying much music…

Of course, volume might just possibly mean ‘amount’

Or “Pass me the second volume that vaunted tome: ‘Zen and the art of going to the lavatory’.”

Vaunted is like haunted but with more V, or possibly like the new cry being heard a lot in Germany, “You are not vaunted here. Go away.”

Yes, I am being ridiculous, it is what I do best, and I like to keep in practice. Of course I am also of the school of writer that believes that if the shotgun on the mantelpiece is mentioned in the first scene of my story… it will actually be used to blow someone’s head off, by the last scene.

What do I mean? Ah, dearie me. Always the hard questions for the monkey. I should be hard at work typing with the 9999 to produce a hitherto unseen volume of Shakespeare, but for you I will elucidate (which I believe means climb out of a window to elude your date with Lucy. Wonderful things portmanteaux words, with such logical meanings.).

What I mean is that, for me anyway, story universes (and possibly this real one) are too complicated to add too much in the way of meaningless verbiage or description. This is particularly true for me because my plots are quite Byzantine anyway, and I have a very small brain, which makes keeping it all arranged, all logical and interconnecting without too many loose ends free floating quite hard for me. It’s why I find writing voluminous books like the Heirs series very exhausting. I have a theory that for fast readers (who are your high volume readers) these big books — IF a lot happens in them (in other words, if every shotgun you see is used) are exhausting for that type of reader (not relaxing and pleasant). It is perhaps why there are so few Frank Herbert’s out there. That take more skill than most of us have.

There are certainly a lot which are big and fat books, but really the story in them is pretty slim. That’s driven by two things: 1) Sheer verbosity. 2) A demand for bigger books from publishers, who used paying the author the same money for fat book, but charging the reader more as a way of justifying putting book prices up, without putting the costs up by the same percentage. Some people wanted bigger, fatter books. They feel it is more value for their money. It’s a fair point and KOLL works rather like that. At least the author gets paid for the pages.

There is – just like the futility of everything louder than everything else – a need for balance in all of this – both for readers and writers. Padding (adding volume with verbosity) is a losing equation beyond a certain point for most readers, and writers. It’s hard to keep it interesting, when you have 50 pages of story and 500 pages of waffle, angst and dress descriptions. Yes, there are talented writers who can write anything entertainingly, even a shopping list. I do advise against assuming you’re one of them, unless you have the evidence to back it up.

Where volume really comes into its own is when it comes to providing readers with the second and third and fourth and fifth volume and so on in short order… so long as it is what they wanted (possibly not Zen and…) does seem to be the real route to success.

Volume… after volume. And yes, I am afraid that requires some vaunting – in the Merriam-Webster sense: ‘to call attention to pridefully and often’ – otherwise your volumes will lost in the surrounding volume.

The one downside of this is that you are likely to be haunted by any failure to keep up the quality – at which point, seriously, anonymity (a la V) and a new pseudonym are called for. It’s something at least one can do in the brave new world of Kindle. At least there we authors have a choice in the chaos to have careers of own, or return to the chains of traditional publishing (where pseudonyms had to be transparent to your publisher).

The biggest danger for our new revolution in Indy publishing is the sheer volume of new – and often really not very well-written or entertaining books (yes, Tradpub MADE the opening for Indy with really not very well-written or entertaining and expensive books, but there wasn’t much volume, and therefore not much choice.) But we Indy authors face a real challenge – fit in to what the public want, and make it well-written and entertaining… and not drowned in such a volume of drekk that no one finds it, or face ‘You are not vaunted, go away.’

Fortunately, there is a selection mechanism: there are no free benefits. You’re welcome to the successful and profitable country of independent publishing… no one is trying to keep you out – but leave TradPub culture behind you. Indy culture is different. It’s about work, not about connections, and political correctness in this environment. You are unlikely to get a ‘job’ –as so many of my TradPub colleagues have done (because they can’t sell enough to keep going) teaching creative writing at College as a failed Indy author. Nor will readers care about your skin color or sexual orientation or anything else, when choosing your book above another. It’s a harsh new country, as well as a rich one. I don’t believe the freeloaders will survive, and that’s one reason they hate it.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s back to typing my current WIP, a Love’s Labour’s Won…

Oh oh… I think I hear afar the sound of footsteps. It could be Lucy, looking for me, want for an explanation of where I vanished to on our date at the Olduvai club. She probably wants to give me a high volume jawing.

(Yes, I had fun. I hope you did.)

50 Comments

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50 responses to “Volume

  1. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I’m tremendously upset of course. I get distraught at the drop of a hat.

    I just skimmed the latest Weber Safehold the other day. I hadn’t meant to, I’d just intended to read the start and the end. Ended up reading and skipping my way through the whole thing. On this one, I had a sense of tension because I thought he might use deus ex machina to wrap things up and get them moving along. I found the military campaigns a more comprehensible set of self contained incidents. I could read the start and end of each, without losing the overall plot of the book. I liked it better than the last one, but maybe I’m just a lazy bum.

    Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb, celery and marigolds. Don’t over eat, and wear sunscreen. Otherwise a fast way to a really bad sunburn.

    • My problem with Safehold is that it is not a series of books, it is one long story published in a series of separate codices (or EPUBs or whatevers). The early Honor Harrington books had satisfying beginnings, middles and ends. The first Safehold book had the beginning and all the rest to-date are middle.

      Of course, the same could be said for the Lord of the Rings. But LOTR was just three codices, and together they were shorted than some of the Safehold codices.

      I have started using Safehold as one of my ‘filler’ books in my e-reader. I’ll read a chapter and then go on to something else and come back later for another chapter. It just isn’t something that I want to devour in one go when I know that it will not end; it will just stop.

      • I have been catching up with C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series, and it is like that. Stuff happens, more stuff happens, but there’s never a feeling of any volume (or three) being a novel with a beginning, middle, and end.

        Of course, the other problem with the Foreigner series is that the main character doesn’t actually do much. People report to him, other people talk to him, and almost all the action happens offstage. Any onstage action is just a blur. And then the volume ends. It’s pleasant enough to turn the pages, but….

        And I’m not actually sure that it’s C.J. Cherryh who’s been writing these things, to be honest. The writing style doesn’t really sound or feel like her; it actually feels like somebody is ghostwriting it from her outline.

        • Agreed. I stop reading books like that; even though the plan is that when the story is finally done I will pick it up and read them all. The thing of it is I haven’t yet done so.

          There is an art to writing series fiction I recommend Lois Bujold, Jim Butcher and Patrick O’Brien as models.

  2. I’m almost done with volume #6 and yeah, I hear you.
    I’m thinking of taking the numbers off from this point on, and putting a ‘what has gone before’ short synopsis in the front of the books from this point on, because I don’t want people to feel that they have to go read them in order (because they may say ‘that’s too much’ and not buy anything at all).
    And some folks like some books in the series more than others, and then there is the diminishing return of buy-thru, no matter how good you are.
    But it’s a roller coaster that you can’t easily get off of, and I’ve been trying, it’s rather stressful.

    • But if you write something else, they whine about when is the next book in the series coming out. Yeah.

      I’m trying to branch off with new, good, entry points. A synopsis isn’t a bad idea . . . if it’s short, entertaining and short.

      • One of the reviews to a book a wrote in between books in the series was simply ‘It’s not ‘. They gave it one star. *sigh*
        At this point I’m going to see if I can serialize a few stories about some of the other characters (side ones, not main ones) and see if that works.
        But yes, more entry points!

        • That was supposed to read ‘it’s not (xxx)’ and I put the xxx in angle brackets, which apparently wordpress does not like…

          • Clyde

            The last time I checked, wordpress [may they suffer fleas in embarrasing places] allowed square brackets, but angle brackets act too much like html coding, Like this, assuming “this” came out in bold…

          • Alan S.

            John,

            The number doesn’t need to be -in- the title or subtitle for the reader, but please make it appear somewhere, somehow.

            Amazon will often list things like:

            Yet-Another-Title (Series Title and #)

            Yours are titled oddly for that format I think. (I like the books and the titles appearance on the covers etc.)

            Portals of Infinity: Book Two: The God Game … with no (Series Title) portion.

            The God Game (Portals of Infinity 2) makes that clear and gets the number out of the -title-, but let’s the reader figure out “Oh, I read that one and that one, but not that one” if that’s what they’re busy doing.

            No, I have no idea how to -do- it.

            • Honestly, I don’t remember how I came up with that format on the title, I think my cover artist might have suggested it. I may just move to a regular title and put ‘A Portals of Infinity Novel’ at the bottom, and then let Amazon track the series number. I’m going to start that with the next book in the series after this one (Book #6 is coming out in about a week, hopefully).

  3. freddie_mac

    “It’s hard to keep it interesting, when you have 50 pages of story and 500 pages of waffle, angst and dress descriptions.”

    WOT, WOT, WOT? As much as I enjoyed Jordan’s Wheel of Time, there was far too much padding (dress descriptions, braid tugging and sniffing); a good editor could have reduced the series to perhaps half its size, which would have resulted in 6-7 action-packed books that kept the reader on the edge of the seat. Instead, we got 13-14 books, where the exhausting thing was picking out the various plot threads from the dress descriptions, and some books where almost nothing happened. IMHO, Jordan seemed to be from the school that “I must show the reader everything” (thank goodness he left out the bathroom scenes!), instead of giving the reader a few occasional fast-paced chapters.

    • Sara the Red

      Gah, yes, the never-ending plodding pace/cast of thousands/endless repetitive description was the #1 reason I walked away from Wheel of Time and never looked back. (At the time, I had a sneaking suspicion someone was paying him by the word…)

      I always wanted to take Jordan aside and say “Look, worldbuilding is a lot of hard work, and it’s a lot of fun for many authors to do, and they are generally quite proud of the fruits of their labors in that arena. But–BUT, for pity’s sake man, we the readers DO NOT need every last scrap and iota of stuff you put into your worldbuilding!”

      And also: if you have a 1500+ page book, and your principal characters are only present for an eighth of that (or less)…you might want to reconsider your approach. (I actually skipped Book 6 in favor of book 7, then felt like I really *should* go back and read Book 6–though 7 made sense all the same–and discovered that the protagonist–the *protagonist*–spent most of a massive book…locked in a chest. Trying to decide if he was sane or not. It was at that point I walled the book and stopped reading Robert Jordan for good.

      • Feather Blade

        It’s kind of strange to go back and read the first book in that series, because it’s action packed! and things happen! and people go places! quickly!

        Then you look at the later books and think “What happened, Jordan?”

        • Sara the Red

          Bestseller inertia is what happened, I think. Or he got a different editor who was too afraid to say “No, Jordan, this is terrible, tighten it up.”

          • TRX

            On an online forum some years ago, a Modestly Famous Author bragged that no editor would ever *dare* to touch even one word of his writing, which he delivered ready to go to the typesetter.

            Having read some of his work, I could fully believe he was somehow managing to avoid any of those annoying “editing” steps…

  4. I recently decided to stop my series at Volume Four, despite having readers who want more. I realized that I had told the story that I set out to tell and that anything else would just be an extended afterward. I may write other books set in the same universe, but they won’t be part of the story arc of “The Book Of Lost Doors”. That has been resolved.

    It was a very freeing realization, because I had been trying to come up with ideas on where to take the story after the climax of my fourth book. It didn’t come easily, thought, because I had invested a lot of work into the series and have a fanbase that knows and likes my characters. The thought of starting it all from scratch with a whole new world is daunting. It’s easier to work inside a framework that I’ve already created.

    On the other hand, being a lifelong fantasy/science fiction reader, I have read far too many books that dragged a series out past the point where it should have ended. I don’t want to do that, and I’d rather err on the side of leaving my audience wanting more than selling them reheated leftovers over and over again.

    • Thank you for that. As a reader I’m kind of sick of stories that don’t have a clear end but just meander on and on volume after volume

      • I think it’s different with episodic fiction–mysteries, for example. Every book is a new case that features the same character. A lot of action/adventure series can go on for book after book, too, because the characters get into new situations, although there is always the risk of author burnout and self-parody.

        In my case, though, I had particular themes and concepts that I wanted to explore and I felt that I had said all that I have to say on the subject. It was time to build a new sandbox to play in.

    • Sara the Red

      I always figured writing stuff set in the same world/universe seemed like a viable approach. I’ve come across very, very few authors who can maintain the same thread-of-story and keep it fresh and interesting over more than a few books–and most of those went into it with actual plans for many books.

      But building a world and setting different stories in it? That appeals to me. It’s not unlike…writing fanfiction, but for a world you built yourself. 😀

      • I’ve considered that, taking one of the supporting characters from my series and writing a story about her or him, but I am also very tired of the cosmology–it’s a very grim world with the cosmology lifted deliberately from William Burroughs’ “Nova Express”. I think if I’m going to develop a new character I’d rather also develop a world that isn’t decaying into self-indulgent hedonism and idiot madness.

        Of course, my next big story was a heroic fantasy set in the pre-human world of Lovecraft’s “At The Mountains Of Madness” and “The Shadow Out Of Time”, so maybe I want something where the outlook isn’t totally black, just very, very dark gray.

        Baby steps, right? I’ll work up to “happily ever after” eventually.

      • Reality Observer

        I think I’ll probably be doing fairly well at this particular bit of advice. I have four “cycles” planned, all in the same universe, but they are definitely separate. Between five and seven novels each (although those five count series may grow, yet, as I get them a bit more fleshed out).

    • Years ago I came up with an idea for an open ended series that would tell of a characters adventures, but never had a real ‘end’ until he dies (and being sorta immortal, he kind of gets to pick when that is – or rather I do!)
      I put it up for sale last year, and I’ve been rather surprised at how well it has been received. Now if I can just parley that success into writing other stories that they’ll buy as well…

    • Luke

      I have a hard and fast rule: a character can only save the world ONCE.

      This can be overruled by the Rule of Cool. For example, I haven’t walled any Larry Correia’s books over it. But writers who can pull it off are few and far between.
      Speaking of Larry, I nominate him as the poster boy for “Everything Louder Than Everything Else”. But most people try the trick with just one of two notes, and it gets obnoxious very quickly.

      • Yeah, that’s another thing–at the end of my fourth book James’ sister kills a god. That’s kind of a tough act to follow.

        I could not finish the first Monster Hunter International book. I really wanted to like it, and I hear the series does get better, but I just didn’t like Owen. He was too “everything louder than everything else”–he was too much the best at absolutely everything–bigger and tougher and smarter and better at guns and speaks more languages, etc etc etc. I just couldn’t believe in him.

        • Luke

          I can understand that.
          I found him toting around the idiot ball for most of the first book much more annoying than the “chosen one” schtick, but in matters of taste…
          MHI was a first novel, and an unedited one to boot. It has its weaknesses. The series does get better. But I’d point you at the Grimnoir trilogy, instead. Starting with Hard Magic. His early strengths are honed, and his early weaknesses toned down.

          • Agreed. I started with the Grimnoir series and fell in love with it. Much of tge technical craftsmanship sort of weaknesses exhibited in the first series are long gone.

            That said, between the killer opening line of Monster Hunter International and the fact that I find guys like Owen vastly amusing I have a serious soft spot that book.

  5. TRX

    > But we Indy authors face a real challenge – fit in to what
    > the public want, and make it well-written and
    > entertaining…

    It’s not just an indy thing. And… I’m not entirely certain that “what the public want” is always the best indicator. What you’re looking at is “what the most vocal part of your public want.”

    Laurell K. Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” books were a good example of that. Hamilton riffed hard off Robert B. Parker’s Spenser character, and wrote action-adventure with werewolves and vampires. She even hit up Massad Ayoob for gun stuff.

    A big chunk of Hamilton’s early readers were guys; she had a nearly rabid following among the online gunhead crowd, even before that “Web” thing. But her books mostly got shelved with “girlie” books, and they got bought by romance readers, who were very vocal about how they expected the storylines to go. So Hamilton’s novels moved from action-adventure to “BDSM romance with occasional gratuitous violence.”

    Yes, the romance readership was huge. And Hamilton’s sales increased, and she wound up abandoning a loyal readership I’m not sure she ever knew she had. And now, despite her popularity, she’s just another paranormal romance author.

    Hamilton’s early Anita Blake novels… their successors aren’t yet-another-interchangeable paranormal-romances; they’re Larry Correia and Owen Zastava Pitt.

    • Yeah, exactly. I loved the first few Anita Blake novels–it was an alternate world that was well-thought out, the protagonist was a human being facing supernatural foes, the ambiguity of the legal status of the undead, and it was set in my home town.

      There was the feeling that Blake was in real danger and had to walk a tightrope between overreacting and going to prison and being to slow on the draw and winding up dead. She was Harry Dresden without the magic–always outnumbered, always outgunned.

      Then it turned into “which boyfriend is going to rescue Blake this time, and how is she going to thank him?” I lost interest.

      • TRX

        Funny you should mention Butcher; since his Harry Dresden books have almost no worldbuilding (why does this not bother anyone else?) the only was I could choke them down was to mentally overlay them on top of the Anitaverse. It’s not a perfect fit, but at least the WTF-O-Meter wasn’t pegged out all the time.

        • Butcher’s worldbuilding is all retroactive. He wrote the first one as pastiche of hard boiled detective with supernatural creatures thrown in. In later books you can see where he had to include some pretty convoluted exposition to reconcile different parts of the universe. It isn’t until the fifth or sixth book that I started to feel as if Butcher himself had a feel for the world he was writing in.

          • Luke

            Butcher didn’t do much worldbuilding at the beginning.

            As evidenced by the fact that Harry could have solved the first two mysteries in the first chapter by using his abilities.
            (I’m told he got much better. But haven’t quite overcome my distaste of the first two go-rounds to check.)

            • Pick any book after #5 and jump in. Jim Butcher has mastered the series form: You can read any of the Dresden books and enjoy it. Of course, they get better if you read them.

              But I am curious. Could you explain what you mean by “poor world building” and how that makes his earlier books less enjoyable? And, how it compares to Hoyt’s world building in the shifter series I suspect we have a definitional problem here and would like to clarify.

        • Butcher does his world-building as his protagonist learns about his world, an excellent technique.

    • I actually wrote to her once and asked her to bring back more of the early elements. I didn’t mind the sex and romance, I understood that sold books, but I missed the earlier grit.
      But women readers are more numerous, and buy more, than men readers, and they have the power of the purse. That’s why most advertising is aimed at women and not men.
      I put Anita Blake down after the first 250 pages of a 400 page book described an orgy that lasted 2 days. There just wasn’t any story anymore.

  6. Laura M

    But then there are complaints of the story being too short.

  7. Eleanor

    I am a fast reader. And when I hit a book where every detail matters, I slow down and savor. It’s a rare author that constructs a story that carefully these days. It’s a pleasure to find one. The first Heirs book falls into that category btw. Books (or series) with lots of unnecessary exposition anger and bore me. I tend to not finish them. Jordan’s clunker comes to mind.

    • TRX

      If you come across a copy of Tim Powers’ “The Anubis Gates” you might give it a try. It’s one of his first books, and much different from his later work. And in my opinion, vastly better.

      A majority of the people I’ve recommended it to have NOT liked it; I think they lost track of what was going on. Not only does every detail matter, it gets complex to the point where I was going “yeah, pull the other one.” But after bringing up a dozen hanging scenes and subplots, he starts folding them back together like some kind of bizarre reverse origami, until the final reveal when you’re going “Well, of course, how could it have happened any other way?”

      The book would be an archetype of the “weird Victorian London” genre, except it seems to be almost entirely forgotten.

  8. Sara the Red

    My meter test for continuing a book/series usually falls under: 1.) do the first few pages grab me? If so, keep reading. 2.) Are the characters people I like and/or find interesting? If so, keep reading.

    Sometimes, if the characters are interesting enough, I will put up with a plodding plot longer than the first few pages/chapters (unless it’s *really* a bad or boring plot that even good characters can’t save–those are relatively rare, though. Usually, the characters don’t hold up either). Or if the plot is really interesting, I might at least finish the first book in a series. But if, at any time, I realize that I wouldn’t give a damn if a semi truck was dropped on the cast and they all died, I walk away from the book(s). It doesn’t matter how good the plot might be, if I can’t stand the characters, it doesn’t get read. This happened on a couple of YA fantasy books I picked up: the plot was good, and the worldbuilds were interesting…but I got partway through (all the way to the end of first book, in one case) and realized that I couldn’t abide the so-called ‘heroes.’ Mostly because they were whiny, hand-wringing little girls (including several male characters) who spent the entire book hanging onto the idiot ball like it was goin’ out of style. In the case of the one where I got all the way to the end of the first book…I realized I liked the villain better than anyone else, but the author had taken steps to reduce him to a whiny, emo, cardboard cutout of a melodrama villain by the end of the book (possibly having realized he was more interesting than her heroine), and I found I had no desire to continue the series. (The other reason was…if you’re going to promote a series as being inspired by Russian/Slavic folklore and legends, you have to do more than slap a couple of Russian-sounding names on a few characters and hope no one notices. Because we do notice. And that’s the kind of thing that makes readers angry.)

    • Me, too. What it comes down to for me is the characters. Are these people that I want to invite into my home to spend a lot of time with?

      • Sara the Red

        Well, I dunno about inviting them home. I love, say, Miles Vorkosigan and Harry Dresden, but inviting either one to my home would probably result in said home being reduced to rubble. 😉

        But otherwise, yes. Are these people you want to spend valuable time with? If the answer is ‘no’ or a resounding ‘meh’ then it’s time to find another book…

    • TRX

      > My meter test for continuing a book/series usually falls under:
      > 1.) do the first few pages grab me? If so, keep reading.

      That’s the kind of thing I was referring to a while back, with the what’s-on-TV vs. Netflix analogy – just a few decades ago my choices of reading material were so limited I read everything whether it was any good or not. Now, just sorting through my options is a nontrivial task.

  9. Never mind the books… after you get done wrangling cows and squid, I’ve got a house that needs painting and some telephone poles that need moving….

  10. Oh yes on ending the story at the end. I just finished a draft that feels like the end of the story. The characters are ready to live their lives off-stage now, and I don’t have the same itch-at-the-back-of-the-brain for the next story that I did before. Will it change? maybe. But at the moment, as best as the poor author can tell, the characters’ tale is done.

  11. mrsizer

    Jane Auel comes to mind. Every time Aya (Aiya? Aua? whatever) enters a forest I turn ahead 5 pages – and I like the books.

    “The mantle was cluttered with antiques, a shotgun hanging over it all like a dusty crown” Do we now expect it to blow up when fired as the hammered barrel splits under modern loads?

  12. Luke

    Dave, none of us want to hear double entendres about squid.
    Even the Japanese (the perverts) don’t fantasize about natural tentacled creatures more hideous than the octopus.
    Of course, it’s not good for the sanity to investigate the UNnatural tentacled creatures they fantasize about…