As I'm on the cusp of beginning work on 'Secrets of the Sphere', the latest Alamo novel, I've been giving serious thought to next year's output. I already have this year's work nailed down – three more Alamo novels, including the one I'm about to start, and three Polaris novels, which will complete the series (I think it's heading for five rather than six – though with the possibility of a spin-off series in the future.) That along with the other two projects I'll be working on gives me every chance of a total breakdown by Christmas, but assuming I live through six novels and change in five months (and in all seriousness, I have every expectation of pulling this off – and it gives me a nice buffer to see me through to February next year, so technically two of those novels would count as 'nice extras') then I'll have a clear field for the New Year to launch some new projects.
First of all – Alamo is going quarterly as of the end of the year. I currently have releases planned for September, November, February and May – and I mean to stick to that schedule henceforward. One reason is
, but the other reason is that I want to open some room for other projects. Polaris is going well, well enough that I want to try more non-Triplanetary series in the near future. The intention is still to release one science-fiction novel every thirty days – one Alamo, one another military science-fiction of some sort, and one in another field, probably post-apocalyptic. It's a genre I've read since I was a kid, and I wouldn't mind taking a punt in the genre – so that's coming up in the fairly near future.
Then comes historical fiction. You're going to think me quite crazy at this point, but I've gone through my schedule several times, and I have room – going to a 90-day schedule – to fit in a longish historical novel once a quarter, and possibly a smaller work as well, more at the novella length. I've got several ideas I want to explore, and I'll be going into a lot more detail on this one in the near future.
As I've said in the past, I've been an admirer of the old 'pulp' writers for a long time, greats such as Erle Stanley Gardner, H. Bedford-Jones, Talbot Mundy, Harold Lamb, and the like, and they are the models I've always sought to emulate in my work. (Anyone wanting to make a living as a writer should read three books – King's 'On Writing', Fugate's 'Secrets of the World's Best-Selling Writer', and Edwards' 'Fiction Factory'. Once you've gone through those, you'll have some idea of the task you are taking on.) For a long time, I have considered that the current crop of self-published authors are their true inheritors, and that a study of their methods is extremely valuable.
I've put my 'business hat' on for this blog post, and I hope nobody minds having a look behind the vinyl, but more and more I have concluded that my future as a writer requires expanding into new genres. Gardner might be best known today for Perry Mason, but in his day he wrote everything from Western to Far-Eastern Adventure; most of the authors of the pulp age were versatile, and that's something I feel the need to develop. Having said that, there is a strong benefit to staying 'close to home', and it is no secret that my fantasy efforts have been...less than successful. (Polaris outsold both of my fantasy books, published for three years, in two days.)
Therefore, I hedge my bets. Post-Apocalyptic, based on my own reading, an analysis of Amazon sales and other research, is closely associated with Military SF; I can, I believe, expect a reasonable reader cross-over. (This is the point at which I ask for comments and thoughts from those reading this blog, by the way...if I'm wrong, tell me now!) Alamo continues for the foreseeable future, and in fact, there are some
next year. Another military SF series, likely 'Fox Company', a ground-pounders series to launch early in the new year – which I hope will follow in the footsteps of Starcruiser Polaris and Strike Commander – and a third series, either a post-apocalyptic series, tentatively titled 'Doomsday's Dawn, or a return to my old 'Cosmopunk' concept, with an idea inspired by Gardner's real-life 'Court of Last Resort'. In space, naturally, but I've had a few people calling on me to write 'space noir' for a while, and I suppose I could be persuaded to give it a try. Any thoughts on which you would prefer to see?
Now I'll get to the bigger gamble, and talk a little bit about my reasons for jumping into historical fiction. One of the best pieces of advice I ever had – one that I know I've given out before – was to write the sort of fiction that is already on your shelves, rather than pushing into new genres simply because they are 'hot'. Having said that – if you have a choice between two, then sometimes it is better to go for the established genre.
Sometimes, but not always.
We're in an ever-changing environment as far as publishing is concerned, and it's going to get harder to establish in a new genre as the next few years progress, and more and more writers begin to publish for themselves – and more traditionally-published writers make the job. One of the really big names will do it sooner or later – King, Rowling, Koontz – and that, I suspect, will really open up the floodgates. Now, it will still be a lot easier than it was in the dying 'Age of Gatekeepers', because the only thing that matters now is whether or not readers like your work – which is as it should be. It does mean that there is value in going for smaller niches.
In the past, to live off their work, authors needed to sell hundreds of thousands of books. I can happily report that this is no longer the case. I'm closing on the hundred-thousand mark (and if loans are added, I passed it a year ago) but I've been at this for more than four years now. Thousands of sales are enough – which means that you can target more specific niches. Best of all, you can seek to make those niches your own. (Want a hot tip – Westerns. That's my guess for the next self-publishing 'gold rush', sometime within the next eighteen months. And yes, I've been tempted to give it a try, and I've got a few thoughts along those lines.)
I can write four books in ninety days. Assuming all of those books are series – because that makes it a lot easier. (I'm going to have to write considerably faster than that in the near future, but that's another story.) Three science-fiction series, and one experimental. I don't need the fourth to work, at least, not right away, and that gives me far more freedom of action to build something new. Originally, I'd considered that simply crossing over to historical was a big enough leap, but more and more, I think that something extra is required.
I'd been playing around with two possibilities. The first was Roman Egypt, the second Southern France, in the time of the Troubadours. In both cases, I had pretty good plots, but somehow, something was holding me back, and I couldn't quite work out what. Now, I don't say that I'll never write those series, because at some point, I almost certainly will, but not yet. Not until I've had a serious try at pushing into a new period. My core idea now is to find a period of history that is interesting, exciting, and largely unexplored – to become the 'go-to guy' for that time and place. And that period, I think more and more, is Ancient Sumeria. The age of the first cities, the first kings, the first empires. Barbarian hordes sweeping across the plains destroying all in their wake. Priests scanning the sky to divine the future, city-states marching to war, brave explorers daring the seas to reach Egypt, India, Arabia, Crete.
Actually sounds pretty sword-and-sorcery, doesn't it, and that's one of the things that attracts me to the time. Going way, way back, to the days of Sargon the Great and Hammurabi, you have to fill in so many blanks that it gives ample room to concoct your own stories and adventures. I won't just confine myself to that period – Ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom, the time of the Great Pyramid, calls as well – but the general idea is to invest a few years in pushing into that niche, and carving one out for myself. There are a few authors working in the time – Sam Barone springs to mind, and I can recommend his series – but so few that there is open hunting ground for an author. And it is that ground that I intend to explore, with the goal of building up a readership over the next two or three years. (Naturally, I'm rather hoping that at least some Alamo readers will give it a try…)
I don't usually wear my business hat on the blog; I do so this time partly to explain my plans for the, well, remainder of the decade, and because I thought it might be of some interest to others either working in the field right now, or those planning to start in the near future. (The more the merrier!) I'll be back to business as usual soon, I swear….