If there is any piece of advice I hear repeatedly told to the prospective indie, it’s that you have to write to market if you want to succeed. And that makes sense. It’s where the indie can do what the traditional cannot – a fast turn around time that takes advantage of trends. The artist in me has always found the idea distasteful – surely there is a market for a well-written story! While it’s certainly possible, it would be an exception and not the norm. And there is merit to the idea of writing to market now so you can write what you want later.
This war between the entrepreneur and the artist is a tale as old as time and something that has been on my mind since I made the decision a couple months ago to self-publish next year. Of course, once I set myself on that path, it was clear I had a big decision to make:
What should I write and publish first?
After all, this was going to be my self-publishing debut! It had to have series potential and be something that I could write quickly and publish frequently.
More than that, it had to be marketable.
I needed an idea I was confident would do reasonably well and in a genre that I knew was profitable.
Towards the end of June, I began the first draft of my Peculiar Casebook series, which, at the time, was about a time-travelling detective. I was super excited about it, and I’d had at least 7 novellas roughly planned and an outline for the first book ready to go.
I’m not about to call this the book of my heart or anything like that. I’m really excited about it, I love the characters and the world that I’m creating, and I’m really enjoying the process. It’s a passion project, and I’m aware that that brings with it some bias. I’m not going to be as subjective as I should be when making such a business-minded decision. Maybe that’s why it took me as long as it did for me to come to this realization.
As I’ve been doing more research on self-publishing and trying to shift my perspective to something more business-focused, I couldn’t help but think about what would happen when I got to marketing and promotion. At the same time, I’m trying to build a brand, and that means I have to hold myself to certain standards. I have a certain expectation that I have to meet, and a quality I want to uphold.
The same questions kept repeating themselves:
- What is my audience for this book?
- What are some comp titles?
- How am I going to promote it?
- What do I want my marketing materials to say about my product?
All normal things to consider when you’re trying to self-publish, but it also made me reflect on the story I was telling, what sort of expectations the reader might have going into the story, and what they might have at the end. Especially since the first book in a time travel series took place in the 1880s. Would the reader be okay with the shift into something more sci-fi? Would I be able to attract my ideal reader with that initial entry?
I knew what the series would become, and I was thinking a lot about the marketing deeper into the series but not at the beginning. Let’s face it, the story begins in one time, and changes to another, so it was going to be a very different experience in the first book than it would be in the fourth.
My first thought was that I had to layer in the later sci-fi elements right away so that the transition would be smoother and less jarring to the reader. But it meant introducing more and more complications that were getting me further and further away from what I originally planned. It was forcing me further and further from the premise that sparked the idea. I had to think about what drew me to that story in the first place, and what it was that I truly wanted to write about.
And time travel was not one of them.
Not that there is anything wrong with time travel as a genre, but it was clear that it was competing with the premise of my story. I knew I had to be more conscious of my target audience and publishing goals. The time travel aspect was set-up for my premise and not what I actually wanted to write. It was lazy and it was making my genre confusing and would eventually make the marketing side of things a real hassle. And then there are the aforementioned complications to my plot.
I’m not trying to write historical fiction after all (which it was really starting to feel like with all the research I’ve done). I planned for this to be a science fiction mystery series set in the near future, and the time-travel part was making the whole process so much harder, and drawing attention away from the actual story I wanted to write.
I still didn’t want to abandon the historical elements but they had to take a back seat. I had to understand my series in a way that would make its genre easier to define, and thus easier for me to eventually promote.
I’m struggling with being objective, but becoming a self-published author is demanding that of me. And now I’m trying to find some sort of middle ground.
It took several brainstorming sessions and some long chats with close friends and family members to help me figure out the sort of direction I was going to take the series. And I think I’ve come up with a solution.
What was formerly the Peculiar Casebook series and a weird mix of historical mystery, science fiction and time travel is now pretty firmly in a very modern form of cyberpunk, with some entries maybe even venturing into the technothriller space. The historical elements are still there, and still significant to certain characters and aspects of the story without being overwhelming. The characters themselves are relatively unchanged, and it’s given me so much more freedom, and a better chance to explore my characters in new ways.
So what was the point of this post exactly?
I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t one. I guess it’s just something of an observation. By considering my current work in progress through a publishing lens, I’ve found a way to make it more interesting, more cohesive, and hopefully more marketable. It forced me to step back and look at the project in a way I hadn’t before, and that forced me to face some real truths the story I was writing.
It always seems as though the creative, artistic side is at odds with the cold logic and calculated decision making of the business side. That’s how it’s always appeared to me. Doing things for love versus doing things for money. I knew in making the decision to self-publish there would be changes and hard choices. I worried that I might sacrifice too much of that creative side, what makes up who I am and ideally my ‘brand’, in an effort to find some version of success.
But this has made me realize that the two are not separate. They’re just different ways of looking at the same thing. If anything, I think using both has made me more excited, and made the whole series stronger. I’m really excited to write these novellas and I can’t wait to share them with you!
Have you ever felt you had to sacrifice the art for the business? How did you compromise? Do you think you made the right choice? Let me know in the comments!