“Most people entertain a pleasant superstition that Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil in return for unparalleled skill with the guitar,” the professor wiped a daub of chalk of his wrist, then turned his sharp eyes back to his Montana-like classroom, his words echoed with plenty of empty chair-space to reverberate.
The black student continued to thumb away at his phone, barely hidden under his desk. The two girl students managed vague eye movements of interest. The fat kid on the side tapped his pencil and seemed to be quietly humming to himself.
The professor continued, “But what would you say if I told you that the true explanation if far more strange and alarming?”
Black:thumb. Girls: eyes. Fat: tap.
“What if I told you that instead of any mythic manifestation of Evil, Robert Johnson was met by a SPECTRAL PTERODACTYL?!?” he bellowed.
The pencil, eyes, and phone all hit the floor.
“Like…a dinosaur?” one girl asked slowly.
“Exactly,” the professor crossed his arms with satisfaction.
“Uh…” the fat one vocalized in an acceptable D flat.
“Sir.” the black student raised his hand, the professor nodded. “I know that maybe we haven’t been paying as close of attention as you’d like in your class–”
“I’m not yanking your chain,” the professor interrupted. “I am telling you something important and true. Robert Johnson was taught to play the blues, better than perhaps any other human before or since, by a ghostly flying reptile.”
“But that’s crazy, sir. I don’t know why you’d say—”
“Let me ask you a question. How did he get the skill then? If NOT from a Pterodactyl?”
The second girl chimed in.” Natural talent.”
“Good marketing.” the first girl supplied.
“No no, what we know about the situation is very clear. Before that night he was an okay player, after that night was a god. This fact is not in dispute. Hundreds of reliable, ear-witness accounts – even the recordings that survive. A clear-cut piece of musical history. Something happened that night, some event, something extraordinary. None of the things you’ve suggested could have caused such rapid improvement.”
“But the devil explanation is just as plausible as the…”the fat student winced. “…dinosaur explanation. What makes you so sure that it’s the correct one and not the other?”
The professor sighed with weariness. “Because the Devil is a hadrosaur and only plays country.”
Resurrected my long dormant feature ‘Story on Demand’ to help get my writing dynamos spinning again. Someone suggests an idea and I write some flash fiction about it. Today’s ‘winner’ is Brent Thomas – who is also a writer with a new book BOUT TO BE OUT.
Gasp! It’s happened. In preparation for the release of The Riddle Box, I am permanently reducing the first book down to .99 on Amazon for your shiny Kindle. I’m also going to be removing the Kindle exclusivity this summer, so Spell/Sword ebooks can be made available on Smashwords and iTunes. The paperback will remain available on Amazon, but can also be ordered through Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore. I personally recommend Avid Bookshop if you live near Athens, GA – it’s my ‘home’ bookstore, and the paperback is the lowest cost on the planet there exclusively. I can also walk over and creepily watch you buy my book, if you’re into that.
Here are some quick links if you’re still on the fence now that I have reduced my brain-baby to a paltry dollar. One is to Goodreads, where there are a pretty wide-spread of reviews, one is to a mystery location that has nothing to do with my book at all.
Labor Day Weekend and some change. It coincides neatly with my trip to Atlanta for Dragon*Con — I’ll be wearing my Self-
Promotion Helm of Shamelessness +3. I’ve printed up a ton of business cards to give to people letting them know about the deal.
The ebook has always been free to Amazon Prime members, and DRM free to boot — but now I’m doubling down. Anyone and everyone can own my book at no cost other than the time it takes to download it. Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you’ll be able tor read it on your Mac, PC, iPad, smartphone, tablet, etc — via the free Kindle app.
[This is a work in progress, to be updated and amended as curious folk ask questions that I haven’t answered here. Let me know what questions you have or clarifications needed in the comments below.]
So, you can now buy my book on Amazon — in Kindle and Paperback format. Just like a ‘real’ book! Or rather, just like a traditionally published novel. My book is sitting on the same virtual shelf as books published by Tor, Daw, and Random House. It’s a cool feeling. Maybe if I’d published five years ago I would be bothered by the fact that Spell/Sword will never appear on a shelf at a physical bookstore — but with paper going the way of the utahraptor or dodo it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
So how did I get here? A lot of research, a lot of trial and error — there’s a lot of navigation and study required when you’re piloting the ship all on your own. When I first got started I spent a lot of time reading other author’s posts on publishing and found them tremendously informative.
Joe Peacock’s The Absolute No-Bulls**t Guide To Writing, Publishing And Selling A Bookwas incredibly helpful and motivating. I strongly recommend you take some time and give it a read — it’s straightforward, concise and utilitarian. It de-mystifies the entire process, which was invaluable for me at the beginning. I’m going to try to not go over the same ground here, but focus more on my specific experiences with CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. I’ve begun to think of Joe as the Older Brother to the Internet — can be an overbearing prick, and he’ll kick over your GI Joes — but he always has your best interest at heart.
This guide is going to be part step-by-step How To — and partly me pontificating about my rationale for making the decisions I did. I hope it’s reasonably helpful.
Level One: Write a Book. [Grasslands]
In whatever manner you prefer. It took me about nine months to bang out the rough draft in between day job, nerd pursuits, other creative endeavors and various life calamities. I’ve only done this once, so I’m in no position to offer advice on how you get this step done. Just some paltry bullet-points.
Self-imposed deadlines were invaluable to me.
Now that I’ve gone through the entire process, I CAN say that this is the most fun part. Remember that and enjoy it.
Level Two: Edit a Book. [Ice Cavern]
To the greatest level that your pocketbook and Friend’s List will permit. I employed over 20 Alpha Draft and Beta Draft readers to catch all my bonehead grammar mistakes and weak narrative. I know that this can never truly equal a professional copy editor — but I am completely confident that I’m extremely close. I have some serious heavy hitters in my rolodex: college professors, Shakespearean scholars, creative writing savants, genre nerds, gnomes. Depending on how my finances fare, I may consider going the pro route next time around. I can’t stress enough how important this step is.
To put it in perspective, I wrote the draft in 9 months. I edited for 13 months. Thirteen long, grueling months of Not-Fun.
It sucks. It’s boring. It’s frustrating.
Level Three: Prepare to Publish a Book [Fire Volcano]
Paper Version — I did a fair amount of research onto several online presses. The other main one I considered was Lulu.com. They are really great if you want to order in bulk and warehouse the product yourself. They have tons of paper and trim options – soft cover and hard back. But that’s a pretty big if – especially when you’re in my position. A total unknown pushing some wacky genre fiction. As much as I would love to have a hard cover of my book, it just didn’t make sense to lay out the startup money for something that was going to sit stacked in my breakfast nook.
I slowly shifted my thinking towards CreateSpace as they print on demand, and sell directly through Amazon.
You establish the cost of your book through the size, page count, etc. — then you set the list price at whatever you want. Anything above cost is your profit. [Pro Tip]: The cost of your book increases if its sold through Amazon, instead of bought directly through CreateSpace. This wasn’t an issue for me, as I really wanted the legitimacy of an Amazon storefront, but it may be something to take into account if you have your own webstore.
Finally, the website was easy to navigate, except for a few minor snags — I’ll talk more about that later.
Kindle Version – Or rather – Why not on Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. etc.?
One reason: the Kindle Lending Library. It makes my book free to the thousands and thousands of Amazon Prime members. At this phase it is far more important that people read my book than people buy my book.
I know there’s a lot of discussion about Amazon’s draconian domination of the e-book Wild West — but from my perspective it’s hard to argue with that kind of market share. The Kindle is the dominant e-reader on the market, and anyone with a smartphone or tablet can read just as easily using their free app.
Level Four: CreateSpace [ Sky Platforms]
Okay. You’ve got the book all edited and shiny, now it’s time to set everything up with CreateSpace for the paperback. The site is very user-friendly if you are reasonably proficient with the internet and simple online interfaces. I’m a giant dork so I had little trouble, only occasionally having to use the forums, Help section, and one quick phone call to Customer Service. It leads you step by step through the process.
1. Birth Certificate – Name of your book, author name, synopsis, all that sort of thing. Pretty self-explanatory.
2. Print Specifications – Selecting the size of your book, whether or not you have color images to print inside, etc. I didn’t have any interior artwork for Spell/Sword so I selected Black and White printing — and the smallest book size, because my novel isn’t particularly long. I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons for all the different sizes, but I didn’t put much thought into it. I like the size my book is, end of story. Take that reasons.
3. ISBN Number – This is a little complicated. And once you decide your book is locked to that number [oversimplification, I know] so give this some serious thought and research.
CreateSpace owned ISBN: Free! But…it sets the publisher of your book as CreateSpace, and limits your distribution options later. There is a little bit of a stigma to services like CreateSpace and Lulu, and if in the very remote chance that you want to sell your book to a traditional publisher later you can’t just move your ISBN, you’d have to make a whole new edition with a new ISBN number.
CreateSpace licensed ISBN: $10.00. Same problems as above, but frees up most of your distribution options.
Personal ISBN purchased through CreateSpace: $100.00. But you personally own the ISBN number for your book, and can set the publisher of record. My book is published by me under the name Lodestar — which is the small business I’ll be setting up to handle my paltry revenue. It also means that I can move my book to any other printing service, or use another service concurrently with CreateSpace whenever I need. I’m also thinking about having it tattooed on me somewhere.
Personal ISBN purchased directly: I…didn’t do much research on this. You can get it cheaper buying it yourself, then inputting it into CreateSpace . But it meant using another site, and another process so I just went ahead and bought my personal ISBN through CreateSpace. To me, the convenience was worth whatever markup they have.
4. Cover – Now, CreateSpace does offer a free cover generator as well as professional design services. I used neither. Don’t be a chump and use the free cover generator — it’s fine if you only want your mom to read the book. I’m sure the professional services they offer are fine, but I’d much rather give the artists that I know personally my money.
The layout of the cover is extremely important as CreateSpace needs it to match exactly with the specifications for the cover — most importantly the spine which is a function of page total. There were lots of numbers and jargon, my designer knew what they meant and put it all together for me. I’ve noticed that many self-publishers take the DIY part of this route a little too much to heart. I recognized that I knew virtually nothing about layout and graphic design and paid a skilled friend to handle it, same goes for the actual cover design.
5. Setting up the Template – Okay, this part was a little convoluted.
You need to have your book laid out on a PDF to upload to CreateSpace for review. When I first started playing around, I just exported a PDF from my Google Drive and uploaded it to see what it would look like.
It was a hot mess.
My mother is a graphic designer and printer, so I have a vague understanding of margins — but clearly not enough for these purposes.
Luckily, CreateSpace offers Word document templates. It took some grunt work copy and pasting each part of my book, chapter by chapter into the template — but it ensures that the printed page comes out correctly. Also, print is set with a ‘justified’ margin as a default. I had to go through several times to find all the places where the spacing was weird and correct.
Review the template again and again … then five more times. You’ll never catch everything, but you have to put in the sweat equity to get as close to flawless as possible.
Once the template is complete, you save it as a PDF, then you’re ready for upload.
6. File Review with CreateSpace
Once the files are uploaded, you’ll be able to view the book page by page online.
You can’t directly adjust anything at this step. Anything you want to change, you have to go back to your template — make the change — then upload a new PDF.
Spell/Sword doesn’t have any interior images — so I’m no help there.
Once you submit everything for review [Interior and Cover], CreateSpace takes 24 Hours to review and make your book ready for proofing.
You have two options here:
Paper Proof: This is what you want to get the first time around. An actual, honest to god copy of your book. You get it, you hold it in your hand. You get to go through it with a colorful marker, hunting for every typo and spacing issue that you missed on the template. It’s truly a wonderful moment. [You do have to purchase your proof, it’s the established cost of your book plus shipping. ]
Online Proof: It’s identical to the Interior Reviewer you used earlier.
If you need to make changes after reviewing your proof, you have to back to the template and resubmit it all again, and wait 24 Hours again. For Spell/Sword I got the paper proof first, then after making all the corrections I felt confident that the Online Proof was sufficient.
PRO TIP: Even after your book is published you can ALWAYS make corrections and go through the process again — it will just mean that your book is not available for sale while it’s being reviewed and proofed again.
8. Final Thoughts/ Issues
After you approve your proof, your book becomes available for sale within 24 Hours. In my case it was up on CreateSpace itself within an hour — than on Amazon later that night. The site was very helpful guiding you through the rest, deciding on distribution channels, etc. I freely admit I kind of glazed my eyes and picked the standard options.
Now, some grousing!
Shipping through CreateSpace is a little stupidly expensive — especially when you’re an Amazon Prime member, used to getting 2 day shipping for free. I understand that it probably has something to do with preventing you from purchasing too freely through them instead of Amazon, their parent company — but still! Spell/Sword is 8.99 on Amazon — if I want to buy someone a copy and send it to them, it’s actually cheaper and quicker to buy through Amazon then get copies at cost through CreateSpace.
Friends have ordered copies through Amazon, and they arrive in a standard Amazon box – but the books are completely loose. None have been damaged so far, but it made me raise an eyebrow.
Royalties: I actually haven’t been published long enough to get my first check — I’ll update this when I have more experience.
Level Five: Kindle Direct Publishing [Ghost Carnival]
Almost as an afterthought, CreateSpace guides you into the warm clutches of KDP. They export all of your information about the book, the interior, and the cover all in one go. All of the info and cover exported fine — but I quickly discovered that the layout for the print version looked crazy weird on the Kindle.
I actually found an easy workaround – I directly uploaded my CreateSpace Word document to KDP, and it looked fine. I’ve experienced a fair amount of paranoia, because the Kindle comes in so many sizes [including native apps on iPad and PC] that making sure that there were zero formatting issues. I’ve read the book on my 3rd gen Kindle and it reads just fine at various sizes, and none of my E-Readers have complained YET. YET.
When you start obsessively searching your book on Amazon [not that I did, that would be silly] you may notice that the Kindle and Paperback versions initially have different pages — just give Amazon 48 hours, they automatically group them together. I also noticed that initially when searching my book titile, it came up fifth — but after a few days of sales, it populated first. Admittedly I picked a weird ass name for the book — that slash in Spell/Sword plays hell with some search algorithms.
Yowza! This thing got involved . I think I’ll keep this going as I plunge further and further into Self-Publishing RPG. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!
Spell/Sword is now available in print and e-book exclusively on Amazon.com. Follow the image above to order. I’m linking the digital version first because:
Amazon Prime members can borrow and read it for free.
Anyone can sample the first couple of chapters using the ‘Look Inside’ feature.
It’s the future!
If this is your first time visiting the site, please poke around. Plenty of my various ramblings in the archives, and several examples of my fiction through the Short Stories and Scenes/Microfiction links above. I know you’re taking a chance on me — thank you for even considering it.
More information about Spell/Sword itself is available on the [Buy the Book] button above.
Aragorn sighed and hopped up on the desk. He folded his paws underneath his grand orange and white chest and surveyed me with stern iceberg-disdain.” I just wanted to know what your book is about. Why are you playing me a song? Why can’t you just answer the question?”
Maybe I should have put on pants first. When you’re trying to get an audience to follow you on a train of thought it helps to up your Dignity Quotient. I clicked around on the laptop for a moment before I finally found the song I was looking for.
“It’s a metaphysical thing! This song makes me feel Spell/Sword, makes me feel the long journey of Jonas and Rime. If you’ll just listen…”
“Not going to happen,” the orange cat said.
“Aw, c’mon. It’s this fascinating acoustic piece from the 60’s. It’s not very long, just give…”
“Look, human. I have other things to do. Important cat things. My interest in this project only extends so far as my dinner bowl. If you market this book successfully that will lead to an increase in your income. This will lead to an increase in the quality and amount of the food that I am provided with. A new mousey would be pleasant, as well. I don’t want to hold your pitiful human paw and gaze soulfully into your eyes. Just tell me what the book is about and why people should buy it.”
“Damn, Aragorn.” I leaned back in my chair. “Damn.”
The cat lashed his tail. “Who are Jonas and Rime?”
“I can’t just leap into it like that! You have to understand the context of the fantasy genre, and why they are interesting subversions of pre-existing tropes.” I began to list of details on my fingers. “You see, for most genre conventions–”
Aragorn stood up suddenly, and tilted his head to the left. The cat stretched out and stared intently at his dinner bowl. “Hmm. All that doesn’t seem to be putting any exotic meals in my dish.”
“Fine.” I threw my hands up. ” The book is about a boy and a girl. They don’t get along, then they do. Friendship triumphs. The End.”
The cat seemed amused. “Come now, don’t be petulant.”
“Can I just put a little English Major frosting on this explanation? It really helps me to get going.” I begged.
Aragorn began to groom his right paw. I took that as tacit assent.
” There are two tropes in fantasy that I’m trying to subvert. The All-Powerful Wizard and the Young Hero. I won’t name any examples, I promise.” The cat stopped grooming for a moment and shot me an appreciative look. ” The All-Powerful Wizard can topple kingdoms with a thought, summon dragons from thin air, knows the answer to every question, undoes the riddles of an age. The Young Hero is the gifted one, the child of legend with shining sword in his fist, he rises from obscurity to shake the pillars of destiny.”
“Merlin and Arthur. I get it. You’re not the only one who’s read Joseph Campbell.”
“Right.” I was a little taken aback. The cat who lives in my house is surprisingly well read. “Rime is my Semi-Powerful Wizard and Jonas is the Young Idiot.”
“Losing interest…” Aragorn muttered, rising.
” Rime is a wild mage – an abomination that breaks all the rules of magic! She can do anything, everything — bend the forces of reality to her whim. But then she burns out -her body goes unconscious, loses use of her limbs, nosebleeds, headaches – really bad headaches! And on top of that she knows that all wild mages eventually go insane and use their power to butcher as many people as possible in the most creative way their madness can devise.” I gesticulated with desperation.
“Okay. That sounds half-way engaging,” the orange cat settled back down to listen. “And the boy?”
“Jonas is a kid with a sword. And he gets the crap kicked out of him most of the time. He’s not handsome and he’s not all that skilled and he’s not particularly bright. ”
“Hmm. That doesn’t sound as engaging. Why is he in this story?”
“You’re getting petulant again, human.”
“Aragorn, please.” I walked into the closet to gather my thoughts and some bottom-wear. I grabbed a pair of reasonably un-frayed khakis and pulled them on.
“The problem with the original tropes is when they are introduced the reader automatically recognizes the shape. They know how this character will act and, more importantly, they know how the story will end. Success is guaranteed for the Hero and the Wizard. It will be an interesting journey, but the reader knows the end of the tale. The golden, shining end.” I yelled back into the bedroom, zipping up my pants. “And I find that boring. I want Jonas and Rime to have some serious weaknesses, that way you can’t be sure whether or not they will succeed. There’s actually a large chance they will fail.”
“People like Superman for a reason, human.” Aragorn’s bored voice came from the bedroom. “People don’t want stories about losers, or stories about failure. There’s enough of that in the real world.”
“But they don’t fail! They succeed and they become friends. And it’s that much more meaningful because they actually had to work for it.” I walked out of the closet, my Dignity Quotient through the roof.
“Does the book have a happy ending?” Aragorn was unimpressed by my rockin’ DQ.
“Define ‘happy ending’.” I said.
The orange cat splayed his claws and hissed. Aragorn is not a small cat, and when he puffs up he can be quite intimidating.
“I cannot believe this. How can you expect people to buy the book if it doesn’t even have a happy ending.” Aragorn’s eyes pulsed with feline rage.
“But it does.” I quailed. “Friendship triumphs, remember? The end of this book is good for Jonas and Rime, very good! Please calm down.”
The orange cat did not. “You’re dancing around the subject. What aren’t you telling me?
“Nothing. I don’t want to spoil it for you is all…”
A claw lanced out, narrowly missing my hand.
“..it’s the very end that’s bad! Not the end of this book, but the very end of the story! It’s bad, okay — it’s very, very bad!”
Aragorn seemed to calm slightly. “So you’re going to write more books, then?”
“Yes! That’s the true subversion of the trope. If instead of victory, the heroes are doomed to failure. To a pre-destined fall. It’s actually an older trope, most commonly seen in Greek tragedy and…”
“I’m bored now.” The orange cat hopped down off the desk. “I’m going to go bask in the sun, and pray that many monomyth and genre convention enthusiasts buy your book. Clearly we’re never going to see any sort of Hunger Games money, so I’ll just hope for a small trickle of improved finances coming to our household.”
I sighed and sat down at the desk. I watched his orange tail slink around the corner and disappear. Maybe I should have told him about all the fun things. The ridiculous encounters, the dance-lock, the dinosaur battle, the frogs on roller skates. But those are just trappings, my little sally against the pomposity of Fantasy. Somewhere along the way we all decided that Orcs and Elves and Dragons aren’t silly. But they are. They are silly. And glorious.
“That’s what I think about, when you ask me what Spell/Sword is about.” I said to no one. ” The long journey into the dark. The long journey of Jonas and Rime.”
I clicked ‘Play’ on the song I’d pulled up earlier, and listened to the heart of the tale.
3. Look at those crazy numbers! What’s that all about?
4. Well designed shoes.
6. I mean, for real..those numbers! They are so interesting and strange. I’ll be the author is pretty cool. And handsome.
7. That girl looks pretty mean. I’ll bet she’s a badass.
8. What’s up with that kid’s hair? Ha ha ha…I mean, really.
9. Where can I get some of those shoes?
10. Ten reasons seems pretty arbitrary.
11. Why not eleven?
12. Seriously, kid. Get a comb.
13. It’s not hip. It’s not cool. It’s not edgy or geek chic or expansive. It would look completely out of place next to a Wheel of Time cover, a Game of Thrones cover, and the Name of the Wind cover. It would look completely out of place on the Fantasy shelf at Barnes & Noble. And that’s the point.
14. It’s simple. It’s clean. It’s dorky. It delights me that people who read the paper version will be slightly embarrassed to have people see the cover. It raises a giant Nerd Flag and waves it for all the world to see.
15. Wait. What’s the weird little symbol on the spine? Mysterious.
18. For better or worse the cover is exactly what I want. It’s exactly what you’ll find inside. A weird, off-kilter world just shy of a cartoon fever dream. Things are silly, things are odd, things are real. Silly things matter even though they shouldn’t.
1. It’s fun. Looking at it just makes me smile. It’s unapologetically goofy and cartoony. Most fantasy art takes itself so freaking seriously.
2. It’s different. This doesn’t look like 98% of the fantasy novel illustrations I’ve ever seen before. Not on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, not on Amazon.com or anywhere else.
3. It’s clean. All of the negative space just pleases me aesthetically. A traditionally published novel would want to cram more information and more verbiage on there. I’ll probably have my name on their, somewhere very small, but that’s it. I also think it’ll really stand out when seen online as a tiny thumbnail on someone’s Kindle.
4. It makes me think of Chrono Trigger. My book sits very comfortably in the mental space occupied by Dungeons & Dragons, JRPGs, and manga. I adore that this would not look terribly out of place on the cover of any of those three.
5. It will make people vaguely embarrassed to be seen reading it. Not so much with the Kindle version, but people who have the paper copy. Anyone reading this will be broadcasting to the world that they are a Huge Nerd.
Huge props to Poopbird on the illustration, you should follow the link from here or the image itself and check out his entire portfolio and buy stuff from him.
I hope this gets you marginally excited about reading the book. I know it gets me far more than marginally excited about finishing it.
The young boy took his place at the keys of the grand piano. He set his fingers carefully in the proper positions, the polished bone cool to the touch.
“Now play.” The madman leered. ” Play the lines, the lines of light in the dark. Play them. Play them well, and play them now.”
Lucas Grahd tried not to think of the blood that oozed down his shoulder from the thin puncture. He tried not to think of the dried blood on his knuckles, a friend’s blood. He tried and failed, but his eyes stayed dry and his fingers steady.
“Play them now,” the masked man howled. “The lines, connect the lines!”
Lucas could feel every whorl of his fingertips, as he touched the first key.
A recurring complaint from my Alpha Readers — and now one of my Beta Readers, is that I don’t tell them enough. They want more details about the world, more about the history of the characters.
I have two main characters, and I sort of summarily dump them into the plot together. They both have Dark Pasts and Important Backstories [tm], but…and this is the crux, their backstory doesn’t have anything to do with the plot du jour. The amorphous goals that I am moving Spell/Sword towards are pace, energy, and involvement. I don’t want to put any woolgathering or world history navel gazing — just accept the tropes and characters as presented, and show me a little trust. Epic fantasy tends to frontload all of the exposition and world detail, I just want the reader to strap in and go along for the ride. This is episodic structure, not an epic trilogy.
A good example of this would be the pilot episode of Firefly. Admittedly, not a perfect example — that’s a vast ensemble. You’re only shown enough about the world and the character to serve the plot of the episode.
Okay, it’s in space. Mal was in a battle, his side lost. Okay, time passed. Oh, it’s the Civil War. I get it. Hmmm, Asian influences have become culturally dominant. Evil Empire, band of mercenaries and thieves. Okay, Mal’s a rogue with a conscience, Zoe’s a devoted soldier, Wash is comic-relief — oh hey, he and Zoe are married. Jane’s a thug, Kaylee’s an innocent mechanic, Inara’s a diplomatic courtesan, Book’s a priest, Simon is a rich kid doctor on the run, and River’s nuts. Oh, she’s super powerful/insane/government project — the empire is going to hunt her the entire show, hook set for the arc of the first season. Ooh, Reapers are nasty.
You don’t get the description of every major location in the ‘Verse. You don’t learn anything about the actual setup of the Alliance government, or the name of it’s ruling body. You don’t know how Mal got from being a defeated solider to captain of Serenity, you don’t know anything about Zoe and Wash’s courtship. Book has about eighteen arrows pointing towards him that say MYSTERIOUS SECRET — but, none of that resolves in the first episode. Whedon throws all these tropes into a ship, lets them rattle around a little, then unmasks the sleeper agent who tries to capture River. The character and world exposition always takes a backseat to the action of each scene — and more importantly, the character relationships. The family dynamic of the crew and the budding connections between the new passengers — and their reaction to the imminent danger at hand is what makes that episode work.
We all know right off the bat that Book used to be an assassin. That’s a trope, the holy man who put down the sword. It appears again and again. Whedon could have spent 10 minutes explaining about the Alliance Death Squad and their memorable exploits, but that’s now what makes a work of fiction interesting or memorable. What makes Book more than a trope is his relationships — his seeking out of wisdom from Inara, his antagonistic mentoring of Mal, his almost paternal relationship with Jane.
That’s how I’m trying to view this first book. It’s the first episode. Here’s my wacky duo, here’s their powers, here’s a little sniff of their past, here’s some action, here’s some villains, here’s some crazy, there’s some weird, and hey, book’s over.
One of my favorite episodic novels. The Dresden Files is a good example. I almost stopped reading after the first one, because so many pages were devoted to explaining exactly who Harry was, the various supernatural forces around Chicago, how magic worked, how making potions worked, the backstory of his cat, the backstory of his car,etc. etc. — only when I picked up book two, and all of those details were read did the kick-assery truly begin.
So — to sum up. My goal is to write my very first book and have it be just as good as Firefly and Book Two of The Dresden Files. And I’m going to self-publish. And this doesn’t sound very likely does it?
I have been listening to my Alpha Readers — there was a significant increase/clarification of world and character information in the Beta Draft. But, there’s got to be a line. There is an argument to be made that leaving my readers wanting to know more is a good thing — but I’m a little terrified of leaving them annoyed, instead of motivated.
I am courting my readers, dammit. And I’m just not the sort of girl to throw up my skirts on the first date.
Ultimately, I’m in the weird position of being beholden to no one as a self-publisher. I don’t have an agent or a publishing house demanding that I add more romantic tension between the main characters, or insisting that I cut out the Steam-Skating Frogs as nonsensical. But I also don’t have the advantage of their experience either. I can write it however I want, and no one can stop me from spending a few days on Amazon putting it into print.
Man, it must be relaxing to have an editor.
I’m just starting to get weary of eighteenth-guessing everything in the book. I have a legitimate fear of totally abandoning my own judgement and just cramming in every possible thing into the book that anyone could ever want to see. And winding up with a big ungainly, craven mess. OR not doing that, and putting out an austere, confusing desert.