Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Self-Publishing, Novellas, and Series Fiction

As I've previously blogged, Chris Ware will be self-publishing Acme Novelty Library starting with the sixteenth installment. The description and marketing material have appeared on Amazon, obviously penned by Ware himself, and are definitely worth checking out.

"After four years of almost exclusively repackaging his sophomoric early work for the book trade, the children's entertainer and award-winning calligrapher F. C. Ware returns to his groundbreaking 1990s cartoon series "The ACME Novelty Library," a nearly decade-long publishing experiment which more or less single-handedly demonstrated the redemptive power a fancy paper stock or a little gold foil might exert over an otherwise dull, dry visual narrative."

I've been thinking a lot about self-publishing the last few months. I'm really enjoying selling my work to other publishers (not least of which because it means someone else has to do all the hard work, and yet they still give you money), but at the same time I've come to realize that some of the projects I've got in mind are less commercially-viable than others, at least from the perspective of a large house. I've every intention of continuing to sell work to publishers for as long as they'll keep buying it, but I suspect that in the not-too-distant future I may end up writing something that I'd just as soon release under my own MonkeyBrain Books banner.

I've been thinking quite a bit, too, about novellas. It seems like such a perfect length for a genre story. I've written a few, sold one (the forthcoming The Voyage of Night Shining White from PS Publishing), and really enjoyed the process every time. Short stories can often be too brief to fully explore a particular sfnal idea, while the novel length too often seems a bit overlong. Some of my favorite bits of fiction in recent years have been novella length (China Miéville's The Tain and Kage Baker's The Empress of Mars spring to mind). But while the novella is a perfect length for many stories, creatively, from a marketing standpoint it can be a tough sell. Magazines, for considerations of space alone, can take only a few novellas a year, and despite the successes that small presses like PS Publishing and Golden Gryphon have had with novella length titles, most publishers shy away from them, preferring more marketable novel-length material (though just what constitutes "novel-length" fluctuates pretty broadly as tastes and trends change from year to year).

And, finally, I've been thinking about series fiction, and serials in general. I've found few pleasures greater than completing a book by an author I've never read before, loving it, and then discovering that they've written more books with the same characters and/or setting (again, Miéville's Bas-Lag and Baker's Company series spring to mind). And there is unalloyed joy in discovering that a television series (cf. Deadwood or Rome) is actually good, and ongoing. There is certainly a commercial aspect to series and serials; readers and viewers always want more of the thing they just got finished enjoying, and publishers and tv producers are only too happy to sell it to them. But at the same time, I think there is real creative juice in getting to explore a world or a character more deeply than a single volume or installment will allow. Just from my own limited experience, I know that in writing Here, There & Everywhere I frequently came up with stories and episodes from Roxanne Bonaventure's life that I really wanted to write, but simply didn't fit within the structure of that particular novel; and when I finished work on Paragaea just a few months ago, I knew that I had covered (literally) only part of the world I'd mapped out.

Taken all together, these disparate thoughts colliding in my overheated brain, I shouldn't be too surprised if, in another few months, I strike upon the notion of a series of novellas, featuring a central character or cast of characters, published under the MonkeyBrain Books banner. In fact, I may already have some ideas in that direction. Hmmm...

How do you handle the editorial quality control in that instance? Unless a piece has a big, nagging problem that I feel when I'm writing it, I generally need someone else to read over it in order to catch the smaller, niggling narrative glitches that creep in. That's the way I am--I'm too close to the story, so I automatically fill in the blanks that would stop someone else cold.

Or are you of the Joe Lansdale school, and simply write it right the first time? ;-)
I've been lucky enough to find a spectacular copy editor in the person of Deanna Hoak, who goes far beyond hunting down typos and grammatical errors, going so far as to point out structural problems with plots and scenes, errors of fact, and so on. She edited the first novel that I did with Pyr, a couple of franchise books I did, and then I commissioned her to edit Adventure. If I were to go ahead with this novella idea, I'd very quickly give her a shout to see if she'd take the job.

Beyond that, I'd likely just use the same small stable of readers off of whom I normally bounce my works-in-progress. Usually by the time a book reaches an editor, most of the glitches and faults have been ferreted out by one of them and have been fixed.
Gee, thank you, Chris. I appreciate it. I'm glad you're so happy with my work--I have a lot of my ego wrapped up in it.
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