If you're one of those sick people who gets a kick out of math jokes--we're watching you. Closely.
Anyway, this post isn't about math at all. So feel free to relax and put the calculators away.
Solving For ne-X-t
|"STORY PROBLEMS RULE!" Mathletes in the wild.|
Photo curtesy of Lisa L. Wiedmeier, WANA Commons
Be you an Indie, traditional, big press, small press, or no press author, there's a modern dilemma you should be wrestling with:
What am I going to try to publish next?
Not that the authors of yesteryear weren't concerned with their next projects. I think most of us struggle to keep the idea bunnies out of our mental gardens long enough to harvest the current crop/story before the little varmints can devour it. But I'm not talking about the artistic desire to start something new. This a practical matter created by changes in the publishing industry, but we'll get to that in a second.
First, some semantics before we begin. You'll notice I said 'should'. That's because I believe forward thinking is an essential part of the author formula nowadays. (Okay, I said this wasn't about math, but you have to allow me a few math terms--it's what makes the title of the post clever!)
You might also notice I said 'publish', not write. I make that distinction, because if you're in the business of writing as a business (see what I did there), I believe publication is the ultimate goal.
If you're writing just to write, and maybe get published--maybe not--this post might not be strictly relevant to you. However, I think most published authors will tell you that once that ball starts-a-rollin, she doesn't slow down easily.
Plus, when even a few readers (who aren't your mother or aunt) suggest they want to read more of your work, trust me when I say it's like freaking writer-nip. You'll go to high places--maybe even spaz out and claw up the furniture--and do pretty much anything to get that feeling back. It's that cool and special.
Times are changing...
So let's assume you're going to be published, and that once you are, you're going to be a junky who'd shank your Gran-Gran for another fix. (Sorry, I've been watching a lot of Breaking Bad lately ... apologies to Gran-Gran.)
Now, this isn't one of those, "YOU NEED TO WRITE A BOOK A WEEK AND BECOME THE PUBLISHING EQUIVALENT OF A PUPPY MILL!" kinds of posts. No, you won't find me suggesting anything but putting your best, most thoughtful work out as consistently as you can.
But here's the somewhat scary reality of what I'm seeing out there in the trenches (i.e., Goodreads and book blogs): Readers are becoming very impatient. They don't necessarily care about the things authors have to care about--like the staggering amount of time it takes to write a good story, the expense of editing and promotion, the publishing house's release schedule, yada-yada-yada.
They want content, and they aren't really compelled to wait for it.
Digital distribution has fundamentally changed the game for all of the consumable arts--music, movies, visual art, and books. Bands are going back to the EP and singles model, because it allows them to provide a steady stream of content without big breaks in between albums. Visual artist aren't waiting to collect a number of pieces to display in an exhibition, but are instead showing their offerings as quickly as they are created on sites like Deviant Art, Pinterest, and the like.
There's also the financial accessibility provided by digital distribution to the creators of the content. You don't need expensive, downtown storefronts to display your art. You don't need the support of a large publisher to find readers. You don't need a million dollars worth of equipment to produce a record or shoot a webisode.
The proverbial doors have been opened, and thousands of talented people are running through them every day.
Couple the steady stream of content being provided with the sheer volume of what's being created now, and you get a perfect storm of production and consumption. And make no mistake, if you're a creator, it's a storm that will churn you under and leave you drowning in its wake if you aren't a strong swimmer.
In this instance, treading water--staying visible--is going to keep your career alive.
That's true for every kind of author. Traditionally published folks aren't immune to it--unless you're the Stephen King, James Patterson, and J.K.R. type of traditionally published folk. In fact, it might be more important to traditional authors, because the time between finished story and publication is typically longer for them. The gaps are larger, and not typically within their control.
I don't think this is a revelation to most authors. We all feel the pressure of needing to move onto the next thing. In fact, most of us are already well into the next thing when the current thing is just crowning its head into the world.
Unfortunately, just like when you're solving for X in Algebra, figuring out what to publish next depends on a number of variables.
What have you done so far/what's your brand? Is it going to tick off your publisher/agent if you want to self-publish short stories? Is it going to tick off your fans if you delay the next book in your series to write something new? Do you have the momentum of an expensive (in time, money, or both) blog tour that needs to be sustained? Can you financially afford to self-publish (it can get expensive, fast)? If not, can you, or are you willing to, write for a market enough to make traditional publication an option?
All things that can factor into the decision.
I'm actually at one of those 'NEXT' crossroads myself. I write an ongoing series, that I plan on continuing, but I've come to a natural transition period. I made a goal last year to see the first three Moonsongs books published. I'm on the cusp of doing that. Now I need to make new goals.
More Moonsongs books are definitely part of those goals. But I've got other projects I want to see get off the ground, too. I'd like to finish this dark-YA-lovestory-thing I've been working on forever. I've got an idea for another New Adult novella series (techno thriller FTW!) I'm so excited about it keeps me up at night. And more...
Anyway, I decided to throw this dilemma of solving for ne-X-t out there, because I think many of you will relate. Maybe you can help me figure it out, or talk me through your process. And as I said above, I do think it's worth some deliberation.