Friday, December 30, 2022

Looking Back, Planning Ahead: 2023 Edition


As 2022 draws to a close, I can confidently say that few people would want to live through it again. Certainly I wouldn't. Though there's been a let up in the madness since Covid mania gripped the world, we're a long way off from what we used to call 'normal'. It may well be that we'll never see 'normal' again.

Times are changing, and we have to change with them. But to make the right moves, we have to learn from our missteps.

This year, I published 4 books: the first 3 entries of Saga of the Swordbreaker, plus Diary of A Bomoh. The former exceeded my (admittedly modest) expectations; the latter was so new and so strange, I dared not set any expectations for it.

Diary of A Bomoh was an experiment. An experiment in style, in tone, in formatting, in self-publication. It took a month to write the novel, and a little over a month to edit and format the book. And that was including delays. It showed me that I could rapidly write and publish a book—if I could afford the cost of production.

For Diary of A Bomoh, I found a fast and reliable cover artist who offered reasonable rates. The only catch is that her art style is not suitable for most of the genres I work in. I can continue to work with her for my horror fiction; for other stories, I'm still reliant on crowdfunding.

Publishing Diary of A Bomoh carried an opportunity cost: forgoing Saga of the Swordbreaker. In the self-publishing world, money is made in the backlist. Readers prefer reading through an existing series than to start a new one.

The final 3 books of Saga of the Swordbreaker are already written. I could have launched the second crowdfunding campaign in early October, secured funding in mid-November, and Book 4 might have been with backers by January.

For a crowdfunded novel, I set aside 1 month to run the crowdfunding campaign, and 2 months to prepare the book for publication. Most of the 2 months is spent waiting on, and then approving, the cover art. 2 months is the minimum time I should budget for custom artwork. Sometimes it might take even longer.

The optimal move from a business perspective would be to order the covers for Books 4 to 6 of Saga of the Swordbreaker, then organise the crowdfunding campaign to cover the cost. That way, the cover of Book 4 would be ready by Christmas. Or January.

Unfortunately, budgetary concerns made that a non-option.

In the end, I had to make a choice: do I give my readers a new book in a new genre 2 months after Book 3 of Saga of the Swordbreaker, or wait 4 months for Book 4 of Saga of the Swordbreaker?

It's not an easy choice, to be honest. I decided to do right by my readers and to break into a new genre. And that means I might have to wait until Q2 2023 before I can publish the second half of Saga of the Swordbreaker. I don't know what that will do for visibility of an entire series, to have no new books for over half a year.

It is what it is. I have to work with what I have, and the choices I've made. And there are other business tools available to me.

Earlier this year, I mentioned how I would pivot the blog towards business matters and survival in the post-Covid economy. It turned out that announcement was premature. I knew much too little about the subject to blog regularly and authoritatively about it. There were also other skills I had to learn, other problems I had to solve. In the end, it was easier to fall back on the topics I was used to writing about. Plus, the Great Termination I'd predicted didn't hit as hard as I thought it would, and so there was little to talk about anyway.

I'm not perfect. I make a lot more mistakes than I should. But every day, I try to do better. This is the spirit I will take with me into the following year.

The 2023 Publishing Schedule

Q1 2023 will be dedicated to Book 3 of the Babylon series, Babylon Black.

It was supposed to have been published earlier this year. Alas, events kept pushing the publication date back, and back, and back. I've been informed that I would receive the final cover art in January.

I'll run a crowdfunding campaign immediately after that. After the book hits the marketplace, it will be published as a free webserial on Hive. This is the inverse of the original strategy I'd employed for the first two Babylon books. I'd experienced enough hassles from Amazon that I don't want to go through them again a third time.

How would this turn out? I don't know. But since I have the option of publishing the book on Hive, I might as well exercise it.

After Babylon Black, I will finally publish the second half of Saga of the Swordbreaker. The crowdfunding campaign would take place in Q2 2023. If all goes well, the series should be complete by the end of 2023.

There may even be time for Book 4 of the Babylon series: BABYLON WHITE.

There is going to be a lot of dead time in between books. At least two or three months, in which nothing visible happens. That time is spent on post-production, and can't be sped up. The Amazon algorithms, however, will relentlessly march on, passing over existing works in favour of new content.

Big names work around this through advertising and marketing. I don't presently have the resources to dedicate to advertising in a big way. That leaves me with rapid publishing.

And the series I can publish rapidly is horror.

For almost half my life, I'm working on-again, off-again on a horror series set in Singapore. For years and years, I've been trying to make it work. I had to find a way to do justice to the story concepts and to the setting. Unlike large nations in the West, it will be extremely difficult to sell classic horror tropes like bloodthirsty monsters, spooky towns and haunted houses in a tiny country like Singapore. Not that it can't be done, but you'll end up with a place that is not Singapore any more.

With Diary of A Bomoh, I've figured out how to make the concepts work.

This series, tentatively titled The Michael Chang Casefiles, is a horror series unlike any other. Michael Chang is a young Singaporean man with extraordinary gifts, including (but not limited to) divination, healing and exorcism. He makes a living through fortune-telling—but his calling lies in standing against the Dark.

The series charts his growth, both as a man and as a mystic. Each book is a collection of his most extraordinary cases, and the lessons he learned from them. Interspaced between each case (and, arguably, entwined with them) are vignettes from his personal life. Or what little he has of one.

By day, Michael has to deal with odd clients, demanding entities, and evolving relationships with people almost as strange as he is. By night, he braces ghosts, demons, and beings weirder and horrific yet. And he has to do it over, and over, and over, and over again. His gifts empower him against the forces of evil, but they also isolate him from society. Few people can ever hope to understand who he is and what he does. Every day, he walks the fine tightrope between genius and madness, guarding an unsuspecting world from the horrors of the outer darkness.

The Michael Chang Casefiles is an occult horror story. It is a romance story, spiced with kink. It is a martial arts story. It is a fantasy story. It is a metaphysical and visionary story. It is a supernatural SingLit story. It is strange, it is surreal, it is all of the above, a modern-day Weird Tale, diving into the weirdness that lies beneath consensus reality, and the darkness lurking in the depths of the human heart.

Is it unconventional? Absolutely. To describe the story in greater detail—to even comment on the format and the characters—is to spoil the story. And yet... there is no other way to present this tale.

In the grand tradition of the pulp masters, the Michael Chang stories can be rapidly written and published in the downtime in between books. Expect to see these books published in between the respective entries of the books mentioned above.

The Longer View

Work on Illusion City will take place throughout 2023. Illusion City is 1984 meets Blade Runner, Brave New World fused with Shadowrun, a cyberpunk cultivation story both familiar and strange. It is the tale of a bounty hunter making his way in a floating dystopia. As he hunts the most dangerous criminals prowling the streets, he becomes entangled in the web of corruption and control spanning the city. He must decide whether to make a stand against the growing darkness enveloping the city—or to walk away and let the city fall apart.

The re-release of Song of Karma is still planned. While I am eager to deliver closure to everyone who loved the series, I'm limited by the necessity for crowdfunding campaigns—and I have more bills to pay coming 2023. At this time, I need to prioritise publishing books that will help me keep the lights on, so I can continue to publish more books. But if the market pivots towards superhero stories, you can bet the crowdfunding campaign will come pretty quick.

The earliest I can begin publishing either of these series is after Saga of the Swordbreaker, and perhaps after Babylon White as well.

Other changes are being planned. I may cover other topics of interest on my blog to build and evolve my brand. The same goes for my other social media accounts. I may explore other options, such as webserials on Laterpress, or going wide on multiple storefronts. None of these are set in stone just yet. I'll provide more information as the time comes.

Great changes are coming in 2023. I can't see yet how these changes will take place. I only know that things can't stay the way they were.

The times are changing, and we must change with them.

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to the Michael Chang stories in particular.