I’ve started and trashed a few different blog posts over the last few weeks. I have a lot of things gnawing away at me that I want to comment on but haven’t really found the right words for it. But I had some recent and unexpected news that I’m trying to process. So while it’s fresh, I thought I’d share.
A while back I got permission to self-publish my novella, Kensei, as well as a sequel once the rights reverted back to me. It’s a shared world and a good chunk of the characters are taken straight from other sources. Some are co-created with other authors who have played around in that world.
It’s not something I figure I can shop around, but I’ve had at least one sequel in mind for this book for a while. And the scant handful of serious Kensei fans (both of them!) have wanted one. I’m easily led around by a stroked ego under the right circumstances. So I have been working on trying to have a manuscript ready for when the rights revert back to me. I’m in the outlining stage right now.
This week I realized that I had misremembered my contract. I thought the rights reverted back to me in three years. It actually reverts back to me in two. Meaning that I am looking to have things that I need to decide on. And then the fear settles in.
Like Patton, I am not a brave man. It’s enough of a theme in my life that I even got a tattoo to remind me to overcome it. “Vixisse pavide semivive vixisse,” a rough Latin translation of a line from Strictly Ballroom: A life lived in fear is a life half lived. (Because Strictly Ballroom is how I roll.)
So I always try to evaluate my fear. Is this something reasonable to be wary about? And if it’s not, is there value in facing it? I mean, I’m intensely afraid of heights. Even going down a flight of stairs can make me panic a little bit. So being able to go down stairs is something I feel I should face. But I see no value in jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. And as Scott Glancy has pointed out: There’s no such thing as an irrational fear of clowns.
For those who haven’t heard the story: Kensei was created as a project for my friend Nate at Timid Pirate Publishing. I’d written a few different short stories for different anthologies they’ve put out. And for the Cobalt City setting, he wanted to do a series of stories on the site that highlighted different neighborhoods of Cobalt City. I love to be helpful, so I offered to write a story. I’d already poked at the Karlsburg neighborhood one or two times, so why not?
So I decided I wanted to make a new character. Immediately I dropped into my default mode: writing a character similar to myself. It’s what I know. But there are plenty of thirty-something straight white guys in fiction. It’s a cornerstone of the genre. Did I really need to do that?
What followed then was me going through a series of double dares and double dog dares against myself, all to make this character as different from myself as possible. This would be a teenager. And a girl at that. No, wait, a lesbian. And black. No, not just black: half black, half Japanese. And she’ll be Buddhist, which is not too different from me, but she’ll be a flavor of Buddhism I’m not familiar with (Jōdo Shinshū). It was a lot of uncharted territory, but this was just a one off story that was not necessarily big enough for me to screw too much up.
What I didn’t realize is that Timid Pirate was considering doing a series of young adult books. (This was the original manifestation of the idea, before it become a one-book bundle.) They felt there was a lack of diversity with protagonists in YA fiction. (You can see Caroline’s post about it here here.) They had me at, “We want you to write a book.” (See my earlier thing about ego stroking.) But I also liked their goal with this and thought it was a worthwhile thing to pursue. Not that more than a dozen people would probably read it. But better that than not doing anything.
But when you’re a person of privilege writing about a character who is not, you run a strong risk of pissing people off. And I’m not too keen on pissing people off. (Well, okay, I don’t mind pissing off bigots.) It’s one thing to think my writing is crappy. It’s another thing if I outright offend someone that I really don’t want to offend. Again: I am not a brave man. But several friends talked me down and convinced me it was worth doing.
And it was kind of an adventure. I’ve gotten to have deep conversations with friends who are very different from me. I got involved in roller derby. I got to have a one-on-one chat with the minister of Seattle Buddhist Church. My brain has become chock full of stuff. And while I can’t personally vouch for the quality of the writing, I can at least say that of all the novels I’ve written or tried to write (and then hid in shame), I feel the most satisfied with the work I did on this from a craft point of view.
So then comes thinking about a sequel.
I’ve been thinking I want to have this book professionally edited. My wife is an awesome editor, but I’m thinking I want someone who can be a bit more vicious. But paying someone to edit a novel-length manuscript ain’t cheap. Like in the neighborhood of a couple grand. That ain’t exactly cheap. I have friends that can do layout and art for rates I can afford, but editing?
Of course, crowd sourcing is the new cool thing. When I was thinking of doing a Kickstarter for Mad Scientist Journal, at one point, I approached Lee Moyer to see how much it would cost to obtain his mad skills. (Short answer is: a lot.) Since he had just finished working on a pretty amazing and successful Kickstarter, he pointed me towards his three part blog post on the subject.
At that time, I read enough of his post to realize that I had no idea what to do for a Kickstarter for Mad Scientist Journal, so I tossed it on the back burner. But when I realized I may be looking at trying to get this ready in seventeen months, I sat down a few days ago and read it from start to finish.
And then I had a bit of a cry.
To be fair, I’m not looking to drum up $35,000 for an elaborate board game. I’m just looking at a few thousand for editing, production and some copies of the book for backers. Something on par with, say, Ripley Patton’s awesome sequel to Ghost Hand. But it’s still daunting. After calming down for a few days and thinking about it, there are a few key things that I’m struggling with.
First: You have to make a video. Which is practically a full stop right there. I’m a monster introvert. I only make phone calls under duress. And you’re telling me I need to put my voice out there as a selling point? I’m thinking, “Well, maybe I can half-ass it?” But Lee says, “The movie is a key piece of your Kickstarter. It is the first thing people will see when looking at your page.”
Ripley Patton (have I mentioned her Kickstarter?) seems to have gotten by with just music and text. So maybe that’s not that big a deal. Maybe I can make a video that does not drive me to hide in the back closet for a week.
Second, Lee’s white paper talks a lot about branding. I’ve had enough marketing education to appreciate the value of branding. But what the hell is the branding for this? I mean, I can write a back-of-book blurb. And that’s presumably fine for people who are just browsing on Amazon and thinking they might want to buy it.
But Kickstarter is more than just tossing a crab pot out there and waiting for crabs to wander in. It’s 30 days of convincing people to not only pitch in for the cause, but make it so compelling that others will as well. And that’s… a little more intimidating. I mean, I’m just this guy, y’know? I don’t know what makes my book compelling to people who really liked it. At least, not to where I think it sounds compelling in a “Rah, rah, everyone get on board!” sort of way.
Also, I don’t want to lead with the protagonist not being a straight white male, because that’s kinda exploitative and contrary to everything I’ve wanted Kensei to be. And, really, highlighting the protagonist’s differences also makes it sound like I’m putting myself in the position of being some expert on the topic. Because, obviously, I’m not. I worked hard and begged every friend that could lend some expertise to the subject tell me when I stuck my foot in my mouth. All I can say is that this is an honest attempt to write it fairly.
Also, there’s the rejection angle. The whole, “I psych myself up for this and I don’t get anyone to pledge on it besides (if I’m lucky) my mom. (And I’m sure my mom would support it, if she happened to notice the email and remember to act on it. Big if.)
It may be that I’m building this up too much in my head. It may be that I can put up a blurb, a free digital copy of the first book, and the nice things that more successful author friends said about it, and just let the magic happen. But right now it seems very daunting. But please, feel free to tell me I’m overreacting.