The Law of Diminishing Returns

Distinguished Author Guy

Distinguished Author Guy

Before actually publishing myself, I always assumed that when an author turned their hand from a series I loved, quite often to something I would never especially care for, it was because they were behaving like those actors on television shows that, having achieved a certain amount of success, began to believe they were destined for greater things–completely abandoning the hand that fed them.

The problem in my case is that, while my first book seemed to find some real fans, as soon as I finished my second book, which was also the second book in the series, I realized it was a better book. To really drive the point home, the reviewers that have read both books make a point of saying the second book is better. Obviously, this is a problem as only people who liked the first book would ever be likely to read the second (and the third is even more problematic).

In line with this, I’ve sold fewer copies of the second book than the first, despite it being the better book.

What could I do?

It being an ebook (and print-on-demand), I have had the luxury of making any number of improvements to the first book. Like a huge skyscraper, however, there are limits on the changes I can make without tearing the whole thing down and building a new one that sits on the same site.

For example, if I were starting it now I would do the industry standard of showing the hero in the present for a time, then drop back several years for a chapter or two that show how the protagonist became the person he is, or developed some of the relationships that figure in the later story. Instead, I initially tried to show him go from zero to hero (more in the Belgariad style than in the animated Hercules style). That was a problem because anything resembling a movie style montage scene in a book tends to look like “telling-not-showing” to the reader. I eventually hacked all that out but it’s really kind of late to go back and change the entire structure of the book.

It’s a conundrum. It certainly encouraged me to shrink the planned series from five books to four. Since I don’t require the revenue to live on (like nearly all writers, I do have a “real” job) I may eventually try another somewhat shorter series. The difference being I would write all three books in advance of publication of the first.

John D. MacDonald did this when he rolled out the first three books of his Travis McGee series. He believed, apparently correctly, that it would give the new series a big boost and get readers more invested in the series right at the outset.

If I did this it would ensure they were all of relatively similar quality and, timed properly, sales of the subsequent books could be boosted by people still being fresh from the first. I know I’m much more likely to finish a series if I can read them at my rate, rather than wait years in between.

Looks Out of This World

25PercentDSCN1506Looks almost like a setting for something in Tethera but in actuality it’s the rocks near the base of Niagara Falls. Beautiful and otherworldly for sure! Went there for the weekend and it was all just so amazing. Having never been I was kind of expecting it to be overhyped but it was an experience.

 

We also got to visit Niagara Falls Comic Con and on the way back home we drove through Wales . . . Wales, New York that is. We are a still a go to see the real Wales in September. After I have a chance to check a few locations for last minute veracity, book three of the Chronicles of Tethera,  The Queen of Deceit, should be about ready for me to click the publish button.

How Did You Get Started on This Stuff?

Two_birds_300px_1Aside from Tom Swift books (which I read alongside the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew in third grade) and Silverberg’s Revolt in Alpha C that I got through the Scholastic books program at school (and recall liking a great deal), I did not start reading a lot of science fiction until the summer after fourth grade.

That was when my dad was in Viet Nam and my mom insisted that, for every two Hardy Boys books I checked out of the library, I had to get and read one book that was something else. When she called me away from the Hardy Boys shelf at the library to check out I panicked and grabbed the nearest book I could find. This turned out to be Danger: Dinosaurs! and I became thoroughly hooked on science fiction.

I don’t believe my mom was too thrilled by this, at least not up until the point that all that reading got me a perfect score on the vocabulary portion of my SAT. For all of that I was still a pretty ignorant kid and snubbed most fantasy (with a few favored exceptions such as Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, and the first six books of Narnia). This continued until I got hooked on Dungeons & Dragons my freshman year of college at Auburn and then started “researching” source material—it was only another two years before I met Gary Gygax and got him to sign my Dungeon Master’s Guide.

It probably helped that my absolute favorite author at the time, the epitome of hard science fiction writers, Larry Niven, also wrote fantasy. Another two years saw me at a tiny convention in Columbia, Missouri where I got to talk with him and, very briefly, with Jerry Pournelle. Also there was Glen Cook (not as guest of honor but running a used paperback booth!) who was (and remains) one of my favorite writers of fantasy even if it does tend to be darker and grittier than my own. I recall we (by which I mean mostly I) talked a bit about how very cool the scene where all of the Ten Who Were Taken started bursting out of their imprisonment in the wildly frightening Barrow Lands. The passage isn’t very long but the buildup over the course of the book makes it absolute soul-chilling when it finally happens. In his reserved way, he seemed fascinated by my enthusiasm at it and it wasn’t long before I started seeing more of the Black Company books from him (granted, he undoubtedly had a lot of other fans urging  him on).

Sidenote: I still love hard science fiction, too, but it’s hard to find these days. Most of what passes itself off as that is actually space opera (a kind of fantasy, with gadgets in place of magic, and aliens in place of elves and giants and trolls and goblins and such). A lot of that space-opera these days is a sub-genre called military sci-fi. I enjoy it, too, but in moderation. The same way I like pizza but don’t want to eat it every day, or even on the majority of them. There is definitely room for more hard science fiction. I’m eager to write one myself, but not until Tethera’s tale is done and (hopefully) done right.

 

Meanwhile, deep in chapter five . . .

Just to reassure folks that George R.R. Martin I am not. Progress is being made and I should have the book out in plenty of time for inclusion in the mini-series. This has not even been proofed yet so don’t judge me too harshly; the ink is still wet.


Ver-4---Cut--200x300---The-Queen-of-Deceit-CoverHe had just passed the outer barbican when he saw the returning patrol. They were eleven riders, lightly armored and armed, and at their head rode his twin sister, Llewellyn.

Llew started and almost panicked before he realized he had little to be concerned with here. If she recognized him then he had nothing to fear, but if, as seemed almost certain, she did not, then that was only as according to plan. He would be just another nameless stranger on the road. With his head up, making no attempt to hide, he made to ride boldly past her as closely as possible, given the patrol following her.

The princess had evidently been deep in thought for she only looked up as he was already fairly close. Her eyes widened in shock when she saw him and Llew got a bad feeling. She stared a moment longer at him while he endeavored to hang on to his anonymity, even going so far as to dip his head and tug a forelock at her.

Then she found her voice. “Seize him!” she screamed, and drew her sword. Llew’s heart quailed in his chest. Never mind the patrol that accompanied her, there were few things in life he was willing to admit, even to himself, that he was frightened of, but Llewellyn’s blade was certainly one of them.

And Survey Says?

ToT-Alt-Cover-Cut-400x600pxFinally deciding less is more, this is the one I went with. My original thought was to have vast numbers of opponents on both sides (at least a dozen) but not only is that hard to show in silhouettes (and I wanted to keep to the same style as the The Forged Prince cover) but, on a cover, it seems like simplicity is more important. More than three elements plus the background is confusing and most often seems jumbled.

A cover should state genre and attract interest, or so I am told. An armored figure with undead should say epic fantasy and the simple Welsh valley backdrop should betray the setting somewhat. As always, the protagonist is accompanied by a black bird, denoting nature, armed combat, and mystery.

In the end I even took away Helgar. The barrow warriors are naked skeletons–although one is wearing a helmet and another is wearing boots (which got cut off)–rather than armored zombies because silhouettes of zombies would have shown little of their supernatural nature.

A lot of books these days just put a sword or medallion or something on the cover and call it good to go. There may be something to that. If I finish the series and sales don’t pick up to where I feel they should be, I might have to give it a try and purchase or commission some.