As I’ve set about organising my thoughts and reassessed how and why I write, and how and why we publish, I’ve thought about different ways of reaching an audience. What strikes me about writing is that, even though by the very nature of writing something long-form like a novel, or a screenplay, or whatever, is that not many people view it as a long-term endeavour. I should probably be a little more precise here. I think most authors are guilty at some point or another of fantasising about ditching their Real Life career as they’re making so much money from writing (the fact that so many authors choose to capitalise Real Life indicates just how fantastic these thoughts really are!), and of making long-term gains out of writing. But that’s not a very satisfying (or useful) exercise.
Hugh Howey, the wildly successful self-published author of the Wool series of books (amongst many others) once said on an interview that he had a ten-year plan for writing, which was that he would write solidly for ten years, and then release all the fruits of this labours at the same time. All the while he would build an audience by drip-feeding some works via a blog. Lo and behold , he managed to get a sufficiently large audience that he could publish Wool ahead of his schedule and it went gangbusters. Bully for him, but I do think that his ten year plan is uniquely insightful. You should write as if you’re in it for the long game. So many write a novel, and then spend a long time obsessing over how to publish that book, how to query and pitch that book, whereas Howie’s strategy was to crack on with the next book, and then the next.
I’m feel like I’m somewhere approaching that headspace now. I’m starting to write a new epic SF thriller, but also I’m starting a new straightforward adventure novel. It’s just a bag of ideas at the moment, but having written some pretty weighty books up to this point (and with the aforementioned SF thriller already on the go) , the idea of writing a no-frills, classic adventure story involving shadowy conspiracies, derring-do, exotic locations, and glamourous characters seems very appealing. I even think it could become a series of books once I’ve got the nuts and bolts down. And lo and behold, with those pieces of work in production, that could be five years’ worth of books right there. Add in my other unpublished stuff and I might already be some ways into a ten-year plan without even realising it.
I’ll post about these new stories in due course, as they are buzzing around my head in cool ways at the moment but haven’t quite been pinned down onto the page yet.
The other strand of Howie’s ten-year plan was to build his audience. I said in previous posts that I wrote my early blog as if I was, in some small way, some sort of authority on bits and pieces of the writing process. I’ve become wise to that now, and tend to only post whatever I’ve found to be useful to myself. Despite the astronomical numbers (600 million and counting) of blogs out there, I still think it’s a useful tool. Those numbers probably include all the blogs that started and died a death at some point, or whose authors forgot about them, etc. The number of blogs that are carefully managed and nurtured are probably quite a bit smaller (and yet still incredibly huge). So my feeling is that a blog is still a useful means for slowly building an audience, for those people who are conscientious enough to manage it and keep it updated. Since I’ve woken this blog up I’ve gained ten followers (thank you! I’m genuinely delighted!), because of the regularity of the posts. That’s started to grow a little quicker now that I’ve started posting some actual fiction content on Fridays (chapter 4 of Resurgam coming this Friday, folks!) to accompany my Monday morning meanderings. But it’s also training me to be consistent and to keep disciplined. A blog cannot be an overnight success (notwithstanding somebody saying something sensational / controversial and going viral) but it can be used effectively over the long-term, and build useful discipline for other long-term activities. It’s a slow road, but seeing things at the end of the ten-year plan does make it definitely worthwhile.
Another thing I’ve been trying to organise on the backburner over the past few weeks is a new podcast channel. The numbers for podcasts are far lower than blogs (fewer than a million) so there’s still a sense that they are a new medium, and I’m enthused by the format and structure of the long-form conversations that podcasts allow. I’ve been chatting to my good friend, the horror writer Christopher Bean about setting up a podcast to discuss all things SFFH – books, films, the writing process, the publishing process, and other topics of interest in that realm. We’ve got specific plans on how to leverage it, but won’t drop that just yet. That can come in subsequent posts. We’re still discussing how things would work, but we don’t want to rush in – there are more than enough podcasts organised between mates who simply sound like they’re having a laugh down the pub. The best podcasts seem to be more structured and more serious than that, and that’s what we’re aiming for here. It seems to be a sensible move, though. As my wife said in typically forthright fashion, “Nobody cares about your books. If you want people to care, you’ve got to be part of something bigger than yourself.” And let me tell you, my wife is always right.
Chris and I will think about this in the coming weeks, but I’ll post bulletins here. I think it could be really great, and will bring people together in unexpected ways.
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