Back To The Drawing Board
by Ian Clements
The problem with self-publishing (he says as though there’s only the one), is easily defined thus: too much noise. When I say noise, I don’t just mean the sheer number of books, good and bad, competing for a reader’s attention. There’s also the advice. You can easily spin yourself in circles trying to find the ‘right’ path, trying to merge so many conflicting views on marketing, pricing, etc into an average whole. I had doubts about my Norton Pumblesmythe series consisting entirely of short stories, but when the endless blogs confirmed those doubts it just made me more determined to ignore them. I had solid reasons for a short story series, after all. Pumblesmythe is a shot of espresso; a character that appears, jolts the reader, and then is gone. You’re given time to get comfortable with his shtick, but not tired of it.
I had sincere doubts that I could pull off novellas, only now that’s the plan. Concern at gaining an audience was my initial impetus, as e-book enthusiasts tend to weigh words by the pound, but I started to see other benefits too. The Pumblesmythe timeline had been hanging over my head for a while; with a span of roughly 1845-1900, and every short story set in a particular year, it would be difficult to cover everything without revisiting years and confusing the reader. I’d also planned to bounce between dates, with future Norton’s madcap antics balanced by his younger, more introspective self. A nice idea, but one that required a level of fore-thought perhaps beyond an author with ADD and a chronic pain condition. I had three aborted novels under my belt before I found my level with short stories, but maybe this character deserved a bit more than vignettes.
Two things are certain, however. The first is that I have no idea if this will work so, y’know, banzai. The second is that none of my work has been squandered. Not only can I use my current shorts for material (or in some cases directly transplant them as chapters), but I can still write more of them as short stories are excellent connective tissue between novellas. So, everything good, right? Well, kinda. I’m satisfied with the new plan, but the short story’s position as slightly above an afterthought does leave me a bit forlorn. Not just for my plan but with e-books in general. They’re not a training wheel, damn it, they’re a discipline! The funny thing is everyone expected the short story market to explode right along with the rise of e-reader popularity. Nobody expected those new consumers to get genuinely hungry and start demanding full plates at every sitting.
Have you also considered the anthology option as well? Not to give you more head-spinning advice, but anthologies of short stories could work well, combining the primary format of what you’re comfortable with the ‘meaty heft’ some audiences want.
That was the original plan. I was going to release them in collections of five short stories, with two set earlier in his life and three later. So the flow of reading them would be: later>earlier>later>earlier>later which in the first collection would’ve been 1851>1841>1855>1842>1858. The only trouble there, assuming readers accepted the back and forth rhythm, was that I had to be careful that later stories didn’t in some way contradict earlier ones.
I’ll probably take a run at the novella, just because I’m curious now of how it might come out, but the anthology idea definitely isn’t off the table!