This episode began with a big love-fest for Sean and Dave’s new official Amazon Serial, Z2134. “Z” has been rising through the Amazon ranks all week and was knocking on the door of the top 100 paid list when we were recording, standing at #107. Now, in case you have your head up a large animal’s butt and don’t know these things, being in the top 100 is a big deal. That’s where the serious sales and serious momentum start.
(And of course, #107 isn’t much worse. If Z were a self-published book, Sean and Dave would really be raking in the dough. They may still be, but they don’t know their numbers yet, and Amazon gets a bigger slice.)
The part where I praise Sean and Dave for being inspirational (yes, even Dave)
Here’s why this matters to all of us.
The high ranking of Z is pulling up sales of all of their other titles, including Yesterday’s Gone Season One, which already ranks and sells very well. So I (Johnny) spent a while drooling over and praising their example yet again: Sean and Dave are just two guys who didn’t get any kind of amazing break, who didn’t get their book pushed by Oprah, and who didn’t have a freak viral spread of their book. They are where they are purely because of their workmanlike ethic, just working their assess off to produce tons of new content.
How to write when you can’t build momentum
We took a voicemail from Scott, intended mainly for me, about getting stuck in trying to finish your book (because I’m the slow one, get it? Ha ha!). Scott has a book that he’s been working on forever… he works for a while, gets derailed, then has to remember where he was when he starts again weeks or months later, then gets derailed after catching up but not actually writing anything new. He asked for tips on keeping momentum.
We had a few, mainly:
1. Outline as you go. Scott said that he spent a ton of time re-reading his stuff to remember the story, and ended up re-writing it in the process… and as a result, never made any forward progress. Dave suggested noting bullet points as you write in a separate document, so that you’ll always have a quick-reference as to your story’s plot.
2. When possible, IF possible, write through your times of stress. Not always do-able, but sometimes writing is about pushing through difficulty and, as we keep saying, just doing the work. I said that sometimes, we look for excuses not to write, and writers tend to seize such excuses readily. I strongly suggested reading Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. Every writer should read it and learn to overcome “The Resistance.”
3. Write something else. Dave said that if you can’t push on and if you’re not dying to write what happens next, there’s a chance you’re writing the wrong thing. Writing should be exciting and/or compelling to you, and you should want to know what happens next.
Sean reads questions from Paul (ideal for Anglophiles)
Because we’ve been on a “UK kick” recently with our callers, Sean read a few questions from Paul Wolfe. Remember Paul? He sent us questions. What an asshole to write instead of call, right?
Paul asked about publishing for US audiences from the UK… specifically, should he use US spellings of words in the title? We voted yes in most cases, because we Americans can’t see past things like that a lot of times. So unless your story is set in the UK and is very UK centric, it’s probably better to call your mystery entitled The Colour of Yoghurt to The Color of Yogurt.
Paul also asked about KDP Select and borrowing. When you enroll in KDP Select, Amazon Prime members can borrow one book a month for free, and that would then include yours. We said that we didn’t really care about borrowing one way or another. The borrowing simply comes with the ability to run free promos, which is the real reason we want to be in KDP Select.
The where I wrote another book last week
In an attempt to keep up with the aforementioned crazy production of my co-hosts, I got inspired and worked my workmanlike ass off to write the first draft of Fat Vampire 2 last week. It’s a 40,000-word draft that continues the story of Reginald et. al. from my book Fat Vampire, which I published two weeks ago.
I hope to have Fat Vampire 2 published by Halloween, and to publish Fat Vampire 3 before Christmas. Then I can start taking some of the advice we all give, because I will finally have enough related books online to promote.
World-building for writers
Getting to our main topic, we spent the rest of the time talking about “building the world of your story.” For most stories — but especially for anything that is in any way speculative, like sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and so on — there is a “world” in which your story takes place. How well you build that world will determine how engaged readers become, how much they believe the story, and how easy it will be for you to write any sequels if you so desire. (And then, how eager your readers are to read those sequels.)
I think that one of the best ways to know that you’ve built a good world is if you and your readers want to know more about the world of your story as if it were a real place and thing. For instance: you read the first Harry Potter book and want to know the history of quidditch. Now, that’s a made up game in a made up fantasy world, but I know I wanted to know more as if it were real. That’s good world building.
This also gave Sean and I an excuse to talk about our upcoming project called Unicorn Western, which will require a bit of world-building. (In part, the presence of unicorns is going to allow us to write a western without worrying too much about getting “the real old west” perfect. If we screw up the caliber of a weapon, so what? There’s fucking unicorns in the story, so clearly it’s not set in the real old west!)
There’s a ton to this topic, but we discuss how much to tell, whether to frontload descriptions of your world or to parcel them out over time, when to be specific versus when to write loose (not giving a ton of detail so that you can fill it in later, and have room to maneuver), and so on. Good stuff.
To view the video version of this episode, go to: Self Publishing Podcast #26 – World-Building for Writers