An experimental trilogy
At the urging of my wife, whose work is familiar to readers of these pages, I’m trying something new in a couple of weeks.
Last December, I was noodling over an idea for a new military science fiction series to expand my portfolio. My Maxwell series has reached five books, and has at least as many left to run; my Laredo War trilogy is overdue for completion of the third and final book (health issues got in the way); and I have a Western series (currently at two novels, with the third due this year) and a stand-alone fantasy novel as well, with a fantasy trilogy on the table as a more distant project. I felt the need to add another string to my bow – hence the noodling.
Dorothy challenged me to try something different.
She pointed out that in the romance genre, it was not uncommon for authors to pre-write a series of books – a trilogy, or even more – and then release them in quick succession, usually every 30 days or so. This helped each new book to build on the publicity generated by previous volumes in the series, and boosted reader interest, so that sales for the series were usually much higher than they would have been if it had been launched at longer intervals, as is usually done. She wondered whether that might not work for science fiction as well. I researched the subject, and found that a few authors have done so already, usually with shorter novels (for example, the very successful Galaxy’s Edge series by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole).
I decided to give it a try. Since December, I’ve been working on a trilogy titled ‘Cochrane’s Company’, about the founding and growth of a space security company, and its conflict with a criminal organization that is stealing asteroids from a star system it’s been hired to protect. The conflict grows into full-scale war, which only one organization will survive. The first novel will be “The Stones of Silence”, the second “An Airless Storm”, and the third “The Pride of the Damned”. Here’s the cover for the first novel.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons writing 285,000 words in 5 months (including a break of several weeks for reasons beyond my control). I thought you might be interested in some of them.
First, as I’ve discussed on my blog, I tried writing these books in a new way. Instead of plotting them out beforehand, I developed an overall scenario for the series (literally, less than one page long), and then just sat down and wrote. I tried to “pants” rather than “plot”. This is a relatively new thing for me, and I was rather dubious about whether it would work: but, to my astonishment, it did. That’s not to say that the results don’t need polishing, of course, but overall, the work flowed very well. I had little trouble maintaining a production flow of 3,000 to 5,000 words per day, including editing the previous day’s work each morning before getting into that day’s effort. I’m still surprised that this works for me, but I won’t argue! (Of course, the fact that I don’t have a day job, and can afford to put in eight to ten hours every day, has a great deal to do with this.)
Second, writing three books in such rapid succession means that I didn’t look at any one volume in isolation. I had to write to a series outline rather than a book outline – and, as mentioned earlier, that outline was sketchy in the extreme. That gave me tremendous flexibility. Very often I’d find my mind going off at a tangent, writing a chapter, or inserting a plot change, or inventing a new character, that had nothing to do with what I’d had in my mind the previous day – but since my perspective was a much broader one than just the book du jour, I was able to make the new element fit into the work in progress, and into the wider series outline, without much difficulty. This actually made the creative thought process easier, somewhat to my surprise.
Third, I found that writing three books together has forced me to change the way I edit them after alpha and beta reader input. Because I’m looking at the series as a whole, corrections or improvements suggested for the first book have a natural impact and effect on the second and third books too, because all three involve the same story arc, the same characters, and the same universe. I’ve therefore deliberately postponed applying alpha/beta reader input (already received) for books 1 and 2. I sent out the alpha draft of Book 3 to readers last night. Tomorrow, I’ll begin going through their suggested changes to Book 1; but instead of just applying them to that volume, I’ll be making notes for the next two as well, because if there’s a persistent issue in one, it’ll almost certainly affect the others as well. I think this will help to improve the whole series.
Now comes the hard work of getting “The Stones of Silence” ready for launch (in e-book format) within a couple of weeks. I’ve set myself a target date of May 14th for the launch, “the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise“. “An Airless Storm” is penciled in for publication on June 11th, and “The Pride of the Damned” for July 9th. The intervals are deliberately chosen. Amazon’s “Hot New Releases” lists retain a book for up to 30 days, if its sales warrant. So far, all my books have hit that list within 24 hours of launch, and most have stayed on it for the full 30 days. A lot of prospective readers consult those lists for potential reading material, so the visibility gained is important. It’s my hope that before each book “falls off” the list, readers who’ve enjoyed it will find the next one, and push that up the rankings to maintain visibility for the series. With luck, I might have all three on the “Best Sellers” Amazon list for a few weeks, even a few months. Here’s hoping!
I’m going to delay the print editions for a few weeks, while I learn Vellum and use it to format them for publication. (I’ve bought an iMac for the specific purpose of running it, thanks to strong recommendations from Sarah Hoyt and others.) I’ll also produce new, better-formatted e-book editions once I’m comfortable with the program. I decided that it was better to get the writing done first, before fiddling around with production software. Being a “one-man shop”, I have to pick my battles, and writing comes first! By the time the next book or series comes along, I should be in a position to produce a better-looking version, in both e-book and print formats, right from the start.
In theory, the three releases in rapid succession should keep the series in the public eye, earning much more overall in the short term than would be the case for each book in a normal release pattern. My hope is to double, for the series, what I’d normally get from the individual books during the first three months each was on sale in the usual way. That may be over-ambitious, but “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, as they say in the classics. I’ll post an update here once the results of this experiment are known. Wish me luck!