Sunday, 5 September 2021

Quo vadis?

With Burn this City done, where will I go now?

I've spent some time working on concepts for a couple mainstream trilogies (non-M/M) I'd describe as historical fantasy - the leads will mostly be female, but minor characters will most certainly be drawn from diverse backgrounds and sexualities, because the last thing the world needs is more fantasy with straight white cismale leads set in heteronormative worlds. I'll now spend some time reading in the new genre to see what's going on and to make sure that my ideas can stand up.

The first new project will be that WWII novel I've had in my head for years and where the leads (one apparently asexual and the other gay) wouldn't have worked out as lovers, which stalled me for a long time. I'm still pondering whether there's a way I can turn that book into a trilogy or series because the concept is huge and might simply not work out as one book.

The second project will revisit concepts and ideas I had in the Memory of Scorpions trilogy and which I never really fully developed to their full potential.

And to be perfectly honest, I'm still trying to find a way to weasel my way out of the genre switch. It goes like this: "But my readers will be disappointed, and I shouldn't disappoint people who've supported me for that long", "What if you throw away a career that didn't work out for another career that also won't work out?", "Maybe you could make it all work out okay if you managed to write a book a month, too, can't be that hard because so many people are doing it", and the classic, "But what happens if you get another M/M bunny?" and "But what about those fragments of M/M books you have on the hard drive and that you've kind of been promising people?" (There's pages and pages and PAGES of that stuff in my journal.)

And yeah, I have a beautiful M/M concept I've been itching to write. There's also Franco's story and Julian's story and both guys deserve some kind of closure. I have another Witches of London romance plotted out completely. I have a 20k fragment of an enemies to lovers/secret baby romance with a decidedly lighter tone that would only need a couple months to make work. That's five M/M books that are in various stages from concept to 30-50% written, and I'm not even talking about that really painful WWII romance that has 50k written and that I promised a friend (who didn't live to see completion - I'm sorry, R). Six novels in total. Hundreds of hours of work already done, thousands of hours of work still to do.

Basically, I have no idea what to do. I might reactivate my Patreon (asleep for lack of time for the time being) to share the fragments, or even to complete the books just to get them out of my head. Any funds raised on Patreon would go towards paying for editing and covers. Not sure a Kickstarter for those funds would work - nothing is more embarrassing than asking for money, and it takes significant energy to promote a Kickstarter.

I could publish those books on AO3 as original fiction - at least that would be a completely free - since it's non-commercial work, my standards regarding editing are lower, so I could just clean them up as best as I can and put them there for free.

What I definitely can't afford is to go on the way I have - burning money on books that just won't earn the money back. I already face pretty large investments on getting those fantasy books edited and covered. I have to have a trilogy ready before I can even make a start in that market, which is very much driven by trilogies and series. It's very likely I'll need two or three trilogies before I even get anywhere there.

So, yeah, I don't know. The rational mind tells me to write off all the work I've already put into the M/M books and not hurt myself by putting out subpar, unedited work or spending thousands of hours on a mission to get those books out there at a financial loss. My rational mind knows what the sunk cost fallacy is. My heart is still in love with those concepts and ideas and characters and wants to give those characters a happy ending.

Nobody said writing was easy. 

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Burn this City - ARC stage

I've spent the past few weeks working through the various drafts of Burn this City - all thanks go to the beta crew and my editors who've really done most of the heavy lifting. Rhis book is now as good as I can make it. I hope to fit in a final proofreading pass reading it on a tablet on a ereader, just so that the text appears "new" to my eyes, but ultimately, we're there.

I'd call this the ARC stage, except I'm not organized enough to do ARCs. This is roughly the stage I feel comfortable with handing out if people want to read review copies; except I don't really do review copies - we're two weeks from release, so it's way too late for those anyway.

At 104k words, it's a beast, and, from a writer's point of view, I never again want to write something his long because the editing hurts. But the boys wanted and deserved that much - enemies to lovers needs space - they spend 50% of the book being enemies and the rest of the book they become lovers. So yes, it's slow burn, probably he slowest burn I've ever written. Basically, you'll need to trust me a lot that I'm going to fulfil the various promises - this isn't a fast book or even a very simple one. It'll take work to read.

Below the cover, I'm going to talk about the "warnings" ("content words"), so stop reading before the cover if you don't to see the "warnings".

First though, if you liked Silvio Spadaro from Dark Soul, he's making an appearance, killing people, having fun and looking great doing it.

I consider this my m/m swansong, so that's the standards I've applied - I've worked through themes and characters and dynamics that attracted me to the genre in the first place. There's lots of plot and back story, there's a few nods to other books (a couple Easter eggs). I feel it's a great closing bracket to Dark Soul, which kind of started my journey in the genre in earnest. 

I've deleted some rambling about what I plan to do next, but that should really be its own entry, so I'll publish that next week. For the moment, I'm happy it's done, and I'm exhausted, too. 

The content words are: suicidal ideation, organized crime, threats of sexual violence, dubcon, mental health (depression), minor character death (past, off-page), murder (mostly off-page), grief, bereaved spouse, drug use (voluntary and involuntary), corruption, domestic violence (off-page), bisexual rep, demisexual/graysexual rep

If you react strongly to any of those, chances are, this won't be for you. Personally, I think it's one of the lighter "dark romances" out there. It starts kind of dark but lightens up a lot as the guys find their stride with each other. 

But then, my perception might be completely skewed. What's mild for me, might be triggering to others, so fair warning, all of that plays that role and I'm not adding these lightly. I think that's the first time I have actually provided content words like that - one of my friends in the space recently suffered the loss of a spouse and since Sal in the book is lingering quite a bit on his grief, the last I wanted to do was to toss people into emotions that they can't or don't want to deal right now. But again, it's a HEA in my head and at the very least a HFN on the page. 

Friday, 6 August 2021

Burn this City - cover reveal

 Just popping in to reveal the cover for Burn this City - as usual by the amazing Tiferet Design.

The book can be pre-ordered here and will be released on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited on 13 September. I'm still working on some edits to polish the text. This is most likely going to be my final M/M book (I might wrap up some manuscripts that are half-written, but there are no deadlines attached to that and I might just publish them on my A03 account when the time comes) before I embark on a new journey in historical fantasy. I'm really quite proud of it and think it'll be a great swansong. In any case, I hope you'll enjoy it. 

Monday, 2 August 2021

Burn This City - it's a big book

The official second draft of Burn This City is weighing in at 106,531 words. It's been pretty intense "self-edits" - really a misnomer because those were both my edits and I've also gathered feedback from the betas, and some of the feedback had a major impact on what is now the second draft. 

The first draft had about 101k words, and I know for a fact I've cut short scenes and multiple paragraphs to the tune of 7-8k, but ended up with a longer book, so I've probably written around 10-15k new words, and this is before the editors have even touched it. I'm expecting a cover concept in the next few days too. 

I'm still laughing when I think that this  was meant to be a "simple dark romance, no more than 50-60k because I don't really have much plot". You'd think I'd know how this will go by now. 

With the book sent of to the editors, I'll now focus on some translation work and research for my mainstream fantasy trilogy and the WWII book I've been meaning to write for far too many years, but those won't be 2021 news - just the WWII book alone will next probably 6-8 more months, and the trilogy could easily take longer than that. 

Mostly, it'll be good to clear the mafia research books and notes from my desk and think about/work on something different. This pass has been really intense because the first draft was in a very poor state (not going to work like that again), and keeping 106k in my head at the same times is really quite tough. 

But, in any case, it's done and I think it's shaping up to be a good book, and that is what counts. 

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Burn this City update

The edits of Burn this City are taking pretty long (I wanted to be done last week, and then the heat wave just short-circuited my brain, so I'm likely going to need a few more days). But the link is up and I should hit the deadline. This one will be my first KU release. We don't have a cover yet, but I'll reveal it on this blog once Lady Tiferet has sent me the final version.

I've now called Burn this City my m/m swansong a few times and while that shocked me the first time, it's now something I'm increasingly accepting. I think I'm through all five stages of grief when it comes to m/m; I'm not quite at the place where I'm excited about the future, but I'm mostly done with the past at least. And it's not like I've wasted those past 15 years - I've met great (fictional and non-fictional) people, learnt some important life lessons, grown as an artist and had fun. That's worth a lot and I'll always remember that period fondly.

And once the mind relaxes, the Muse brings ideas. So a few days ago, I woke up with an idea.

I spent the morning on a Discord call with a very old, dear friend of mine, and I pitched him my historical fantasy series that's been taking shape. I already have four characters and set a few very broad parameters (technology level, type of magic/occultism, gender relations), and now I'll incubate - that is, gather ideas, plots, read some books, put together an outline, and so on.

Basically, I'll pour everything into the book that I love and have loved for decades. One big change will be that the principal character will be a (bisexual) woman, and love/romance will be a part of the plot, but I'd expect won't take more than 10-15% of the time on page. At this point, I've definitely left my old comfort zones behind.

I think one reason why I've clung to M/M for as long as I have - and may write the occasional book to complete arcs and series I've started, or if the idea is so compelling that it overrides everything else - is just the people. As I explained to my friend, pretty much everybody I know socially is somehow involved with the industry. Almost all of my social media feed comes from M/M and romance people, and the time and focus spent on observing the industry and looking at trends etc have taken a huge amount of my mental hard drive. And re-orientating myself towards my new genre will take time and I'll be the new kid in the school, even though I was around there 15-20 years ago.

I think fantasy in Germany has evolved past all those barriers I encountered there when I started out in fantasy/sci-fi. I went into M/M fifteen years ago because the type of book I wanted to write had no market/space in the genre I came from. It occurs to me I'm leaving it pretty much for the same reasons, so we're coming full circle, and as somebody who thinks in cycles, I like that idea very much.

I keep re-reading the previous blog entry, and I still attempt to poke holes into the logic and reasoning. I guess I just on some level don't love change. I'll feel more comfortable and more excited about the change once it's actually done - and done in the writing game means stories are actually being written. Once I'm halfway through plotting and/or writing the first book in the series (I just know this is a large multi-book project), I'll find my wings again. It's always that way.

I did have to reckon with the reasons why I write the things I do, and why they don't sell enough to make this successful (and financially viable) for me. I'm not going to break myself on the wheel of trying to inhabit the space I've created for myself and which is just not working for me anymore - if it were just about grinding for a few more years, I could do it, but all I see is ever-diminishing returns. A friend in the m/m space said it bluntly: "They've forgotten you." And he's right.

At the same time, historical and fantasy m/m doesn't sell, and I've felt constricted by the m/m part of it for so long (things you're allowed to do and things that people expect, such as a certain heat level and number and explicitness of sex scenes, but mostly how much of the book I need to spend on developing the romance), so going back to a bigger audience that is now much more ready for queer characters makes sense for me. I'm even thinking of "porting over" a couple of my backlist books by cutting back the romance and ramping up the fantasy elements, hey, presto, instant military fantasy trilogy. 

Market research indicates that mainstream fantasy is largely driven by trilogies and larger series, so my friend said, "The faster you can get yourself anchored in the market with two or better three trilogies, the better." So once I've made Burn this City the best I can, I'll get started on that.

I'll have to set up even a rudimentary website for the "new" author, though I don't think I'll do quite as much social media (I just don't have the capacity). In addition, the new books will be written in German and then translated into English. I'm aiming for a very specific voice which will be easier to write in German. 

The "acceptance" stage of grief comes with a huge amount of relief. Dragging all those negative emotions and fighting the inevitable sure was exhausting. 

I'm not yet at "happy and excited", but at least I have a large, complex series to sink my mental teeth into, and my German fantasy buddy is excited about the concept, so I'm off to a good start. In many ways, all I'm doing is coming home. 

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Future plans (Burn this City and beyond)

I'm currently reviewing the beta feedback/edits I've received from my beta squad - thank you! - and I'm pretty sure that I can fix the big issues and all the small ones too, so I've possibly optimistically put the book up for pre-orders. Readers who enjoyed Dark Soul should get a kick out of this one. I'll devote the next six weeks to polishing up this book and making it what it can be.

Meanwhile, and after much back and forth with friends, publishers and peers, and after spending a lot of time reading about and research audience targeting, it's clear I'm missing the mark with my "gritty plotty m/m romance" niche that I've tried to inhabit for the past, oh, 12-13 years.

I've always written books that I'd like to read - writing is hard enough, not writing what I enjoy would make it too hard for me - but that audience is very small indeed. It's clear to me that I've tried to serve three disparate audiences and failed at satisfying even one of them enough that I could grow my sales in a way that's financially sustainable for me. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over.

I've always said that I can't afford to subsidise my writing from the day job. Writing was supposed to be my financial escape hatch, not another ball and chain that forces me to stay put where I am only so I can afford good quality editing, covers and marketing.

My failure, if one can call it that, is that I've failed to satisfy an audience that's large enough to help me build that financial escape hatch, and getting out of the day job is my life goal number 1. I've pondered  all kinds of solutions - mostly writing "to market", but the truth is, I already have two jobs that feel like work, and both are much better paid, and I don't have the energy to add a third job just for the money - because I sure as hell wouldn't enjoy it.

I've failed at ever gaining any traction in Kindle Unlimited, but it's clear to me that the vast majority of readers no longer pays outright for books (I get it, the pandemic has been tough) - I've heard so often "if it's not in KU, I'm not interested", I've watched my sales and royalties dwindle, and I've seen the past few books sink pretty much without a trace. How much of that is because Amazon makes my "wide" books invisible to my readers, and how much is me simply failing to deliver a reading experience that creates repeat non-KU readers, I'm not even going to speculate. Probably a bit of both.

Another thing that doesn't work for me is the incredible volume expected from "romance authors". With the day job, I'm glad if I can write one, maybe eventually two books a year. That's not enough in m/m romance to even get noticed, and the Amazon algos will sink any book after six weeks max. One used to be able to survive for three months on a new launch, but those days are now ancient history. I've tried every productivity trick and plan and method I could find - but the truth is, writing is emotional labour for me and I need to understand and wholly develop the characters and world and plot, and that's not possible for me in a week or two. The truth is: I'm too slow to "make it" in romance. Meanwhile, I'm also not going to publish half-cocked, unedited, rushed stuff as part of a "minimum viable product" strategy that's being touted in indie circles.

M/M romance also doesn't allow an author to approach a big publisher, so there's not even a chance to get those sweet advertising millions from one of the Big Few.

I've tried to find different solutions, but all of those facts are pretty much given and can't be changed or offset. 

So the future strategy will look as follows:

- I'll publish Burn This City on 13 September in Kindle Unlimited.

- I'll be focusing on translating my English language books into German, where I'll dump them into KU (it's the only game in town now, even though I still hate and detest Kindle Unlimited and will never love it). 

- I'll wrap up those books I have half written (i.e. one Witches of London book, one Return on Investment book, one Dark Soul book, and one historical WWII book), hopefully at a rate of one book a year. All new books will be dumped into KU.

- All old books that are already wide will remain wide - I'm not going to pull them from other retailers. I'll upload those to Radish and Smashwords and whatever other "wide" platforms appear.

- I'll sort out print editions for all books. My apologies about those, I avoided those because I couldn't get the layout right, but I'll renew my focus on that. 

- I'll properly reactivate my first German pseudonym. I've already restarted my networking in that market and building new relationships here with peers and old friends. Under that new old name, I'll return to my "home" genres, sci-fi, fantasy and historicals, with a focus on a mainstream audience. Main characters will be a mix of straight and queer, but the love plot will either be very small or non-explicit (mainstream audiences are turned off by explicit sex). 

It's pretty clear to me that I've failed to mix a non-romance plot with a romance plot in a way that satisfies both types of readers, and since I have no more energy to keep doing that same thing and hope that things change against all evidence to the contrary, I'll dial down the romance so it becomes a subplot. I still think some of my characters will be transformed by love, will make decisions out of love, and will be hurt and healed by love, I will also refrain from killing main characters (especially if they're queer), but it's time to move on from all the ambitious failures I've produced trying to square the circle.

Ultimately, I think I have to make a choice about what genres I want to write in - and remaining in m/m romance would mean writing tropey books that are laser focused on certain tropes and kinks. There's only one way to make it in m/m and that's writing a lot of books to trend very fast. I fail at all of those requirements, and even if I forced myself to do it, I know I would no longer enjoy writing, I'd likely write sub-par books (and lay awake at night as my inner perfectionist rips me apart for "phoning it in") before quitting writing altogether in utter disgust at myself and my work. 

So, it seems I have to choose between the genre I'm combining with m/m romance and m/m romance itself, because any combination would still make it primarily an m/m romance - except one that's way less appealing to an m/m reader than a "pure" m/m romance, if that makes sense. So the only way out of that dilemma and forward is to choose the other side - sci-fi, instead of sci-fi m/m romance. At least I can - even just potentially - reach a larger audience. And this is made easier because my home genres are becoming more open to queer characters - provided the sex and romance aren't that central in the book.

So, I can't help but feel that Burn This City will be my m/m swansong, and the themes in there, the imagery and symbolism and issues I'm addressing in that are literally where I am emotionally and spiritually, so I think it's as good, authentic book, at least once it's properly edited (the other genre in there is suspense/thriller).

I'll finish the books I have half-written and I will try to provide as much closure for ongoing story arcs and characters as I can - I'll do my best to clear the decks and leave the house nice and tidy - "besenrein" as we say in German - "broom clean"). The German market will have a few more years of m/m books from me as it'll take a while to get everything translated. And there will be a transition period of 2-3 years, but ultimately, I've given up on my ambitions to write the kind of m/m that I want to read, so I'll focus on writing the kind of fantasy, sci-fi and historicals I want to read. 

I have one bisexual poly romance I want to write and submit to a small publisher, and I might drop the occasional piece of m/m fanfic on AO3 if I feel like it and it really wants to be written. I also think I'll write a few book in German and may or may not translate them - I currently "hear" those voices in German, so German will be their first language. Lots of different avenues to take.

The new/old pseudonym will start out with a book series I'd describe as occult urban fantasy paranormal historical, and I expect to get that written and edited in 2022 - so pretty soon, really. I'll also make clear who the new pseudonym is so those of my readers who've enjoyed my voice and approach and are open to other genres can find me.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Waiting for beta feedback

I'm trying to be all organised with the current book - one big challenge has been to get beta feedback from people who are not overly invested ("objective") so I can look at the book with fresh eyes. I did send quite a few emails with the current manuscript to a range of people and set the deadline of 19 June.

The idea is to get as much and as varied feedback as possible (I didn't pre-select at all) and then review all feedback and build an action plan to fix those things that are actually problems rather than personal preferences. That's the part in the process where you saw off all the extra limbs and make sure things will be in proportion, and any plot holes are addressed. It's the structure part of the book, and definitely a separate pass. In traditional publishing, it would be called developmental edits - I call it the "bones". I have a few ideas myself, and will make a scene plan and a timeline and make sure it all hangs together logically - or is even possible.

Then I'll do an intermediate stage - looking at individual scenes and chapter structure. Does this chapter have a right to exist or can I collapse it into another one? This looks at tension, pacing, and scene-based conflict. This is also where I make sure that both POV characters have distinctive voices and don't overlap. This is the "muscles" stage of editing. 

There will be another stage where I'm just going to look at language and metaphor and how the words sound when they're actually spoken. This is also where I hope to chase down the last of the Britishisms (I write in an approximate generic American voice as both POV characters are from the US). Let's call this "skin, clothes, and make-up". 

Proofing happens kind of alongside this - obviously I'll fix all the stuff I spot on all of those passes - but there will also be proofreading from friends and I'll do what many indie authors do and try out some computer software to spot repetitive phrases across the whole manuscript. I do think that a computer is better at highlighting repetitive phraseology (which is one of my pet peeves and really difficult to spot for the human eye in a 100,000-word document).

I've also booked a paid editor as a second line of defense, but really 80-90% of the work should hopefully be done by the time I send her the book, so that pass should just be a general tidy-up. 

I'd say the first three stages will probably take 6-7 weeks, and I'm throwing in August as a buffer for further passes and changes.

This laundry list might horrify some people - I see so much talk of "publish now, fix mistakes later or never, publish, publish, PUBLISH, GO GO GO!" in indie circles (I've been reading a lot of samples outside of m/m, mostly het YA stuff and some het romance, spurred on by what I see being discussed in author groups on Facebook). What I see a *lot* is people publishing what are clearly raw drafts. That said, for many of them, this very much works and they make five and six figures per year that way. Of course, every writing making money and putting food on the table is a bloody hero.

I've worked out for myself that I want to publish books I'd pay to read, and I don't buy books for myself that clearly haven't been edited. It's a professional deformation - I just can't ignore poor prose and "just enjoy the story". I often wish I could. Every time I've compromised on this, I wasn't happy with the book and I've regretted cutting corners, and these regrets linger for decades.

So, next steps:

- pull together self-editing action plan based on my own "notes to self" during the writing and the round of beta feedback by 20/21 June

- Big picture/structural edits ("bones")

- Scene edits ("muscles")

- Line/word-level edits ("skin, clothes, make-up")

- Editor stage by end-July

- Proofreading and final clean-up during August

Still aiming for a release in September. Cover by Lady Tiferet has been commissioned, and I'm looking at writing the blurb so at least I can set up a link with the title and cover for pre-orders.