Worlds & Time

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Plan

I’ve been having some problems recently because most of the things that I want to write about in this blog involve my book or my short stories. One of the suggestions that I’ve heard from published authors is to try to get editors interested in your ideas, but while I feel safe posting about my sex life, I don’t feel so safe talking about my ideas. I’ve lived them back and forth for almost ten years now, and if they’re stolen, I’d be beside myself.

So I’ve decided to talk about “the plan” instead.

I don’t know what the general idea the most people have of selling a book is. I assume that most people want to leave that job to their publisher, and that must sicken some publishers. Most of the authors that I’ve contacted recently are fairly reclusive, or at the very least isolated.

Of the major fiction authors today, I can think of only a few that are well known enough to merit media attention. Salman Rushdie is the big one, and is probably one of the most well known authors on Earth. His fame was based on the massive controversy that he created. J.K. Rowling is the next one, with her heartwarming story of selling the Harry Potter series.

The third one I can think of is Robert Jordan. I realize that this is a personal bias because I like his books, but due to his health problems he’s opened up to his fans more than most authors I can think of. If I had to be honest, I’d probably say that Stephen King is third, but I personally know almost nothing about him.

If I was an agent, or even a publisher, I’d have to be upset at this reclusive behavior. Media attention is money, and few of the big fiction writers are getting the sort of media attention that their non-fiction counterparts are.

There has to be a willingness to expose oneself. As much as I hate to hold Kevin Federline up as an example of anything positive, he has played his media attention better than I think anyone would have imagined he could. With absolutely no skill and fairly little charisma he’s made himself relatively successful in the music world. He sells a few records, he has a couple of media appearances and he gets his own reality TV special.

Of course, that’s with no skill, and nothing to back up the media attention, but I have to say that I think that attention is important. If you can get a slot on the Daily Show, take it.

That’s all in the future. In order to not be Kevin Federline I have to avoid two traps: marrying Britney Spears and having some skill to back up media attention.

So, let’s start at the beginning.

The most successful sci-fi novels that I know of currently is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and the most successful fantasy novels that I know of (by a living author) are Rowling’s Harry Potter series followed by the Wheel of Time novels by Robert Jordan.

There are aspects to all three of those works that engender so much popularity with people. In his essay “Creating the Innocent Killer” John Kessel talks about the methods that Card uses to create a character that can be both a genocide and a sinless Christ figure. My own novel starts with characters older than Ender, but Kessel’s premise about the mechanism for producing empathy is still valid and useful as a basis for provoking empathy.

I am, after all, handing at least one of my characters that proverbial nuclear weapon for his high school.

Rowling and Jordan’s contribution is something more subtle. Kessel talks about how a reader’s identification with the childhood persecution creates the insinuation that such persecution is a sign of being “specially gifted.” While Ender’s abilities are fundamentally within the realm of human possibility, Rowling’s wizards and Jordan’s channelers are god-like.

The wizards live in a world of wonder, where ordinary objects are so much more than ordinary and even school children have powers beyond the ken of normal humans. Channelers have similar powers.

Interestingly though, both Harry Potter and Rand are not completely unique in their respective universes. They are not the only people with unusual abilities, and while Rand may be “the most powerful” they play the role of the “first among equals.” There are enough others that share the magical powers that they eventually become a faceless mass.

And, as a reader invited to identify with Harry and Rand, I can insert myself into that faceless mass and draw my own characters in the world that Jordan and Rowling have pioneered. Both universes lend themselves to fanfic and speculation, and that’s one of the reasons that both have become so popular.

Ender fanfic is not that popular. There is no legion that you can slip yourself into. They’re good works, but the characters are so specific that it’s hard to slip yourself in amongst them.

Dungeons & Dragons is another example of this. Dragonlance novels sell well, apparently, and the entire premise is that you can slip yourself easily into the entire world. Similarly, the tabletop games have become wider games, MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. There have been games based on the Wheel of Time, Star Wars, and an upcoming one based on Firefly.

Marketing the world so that it can be popular seems as important to me as marketing the specific novel.

Speaking of the novel though, aside from the Daily Show, which directly reaches the segment of the population that you’re trying to market to, there are other ways to reach out to readers of that generation. A book tour mostly of colleges, for instance, and appealing to the generation that is going to grow out of Harry Potter just as the last book in that series is published.

For myself, I’d probably have to finish the first three books in the nine book series that I have planned before starting a book tour. Those books are already planned, of course. With some actual inclination to work on them, I’d guess that the first one would take me about fourteen months to finish, and the next two would take another twelve months after that.

My primary universe, the Endless Light one, is not the only thing that I want to do. I’d like to try a couple of different things, from straight fantasy to scripting out a pop sci-fi movie, and maybe even scripting out another chapter Marvel’s Phoenix Saga as well.

There’s a religion text swimming around in my head as well. That’s going to be an interesting one, if I can ever get it out.

I could even use a different name for that one. If (when) people figure out that I’m writing both science fiction and religion that could cause a couple of conflicts which would actually work in my favor.

After all, any publicity is good publicity.

Anyway, that’s a bit of the plan. It doesn’t cover being published because I’ve already pretty much found out that being published is impossible. But ignoring that impossible obstacle, that’s what I want to do with it.

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