Keep It Short

The ebook revolution has brought many changes. You no longer need to crank out 90,000 words if you don’t want. You can serialize novels, which even the Big Five are experimenting with. (See John Scalzi’s The Human Division as an example.) Self-publishing is no longer the kiss of death for a writer since no one needs to spend money on iUniverse, Xlibris, or scam outfits like PublishAmerica. (Atlanta Nights anyone?)

It’s also made novellas viable once more. Actually, the Science Fiction Writers of America classifies a novella as any story between 17,500 and 40,000 words. A short story over 7500 words but under 17,500 words is called a novellette. But I think the second term sounds silly and probably exists mainly to address writers who don’t want to go that long. For our purposes here, the novella is a story too long to be a short story (The 7500 word mark works well enough for that.) and too short to be a novel (40,000 is awfully short. 50,000 is the minimum for NaNoWriMo and 60,000 for many first novel contests.)

And my foray into novellas began this past spring. There is a very good chance that Dick (my other writing identity) will remain independent for some time to come, and I wanted something to build buzz for the novel I wrote under that name. So I hit on the idea of writing from the hostile aliens point-of-view, a sort of Game of Thrones story (Sorry. No incest or midgets, but it does have a concubine who makes Steve Jobs look like a drooling idiot.) The story would function as a sort of prequel. As it begins, you don’t realize these people are aliens. The one human who appears in the first act looks so much like our protags that you almost think he’s a gray. (Incidentally, the grays are the dweebs and spazzes of this universe, with every alien race amusing itself by showing them “probes.” Yeah, our descendants are a little worked up over that abduction thing.)

Over time, the story evolved into three smaller stories all bound by a single plot. In the end, I had a 21,000 word story, an awesome cover, and an idea for a follow-up. This one involved humans, a backwater planet, and a cult that worships Marilyn Monroe. (I originally thought about Elvis, but it seems too tacky and obvious.) I’m currently working on that one now. It may check in at under 15,000 when all is said and done, but I’m having fun with it.

“But what about you writing as you?” you ask.

Fear not. I did not neglect the Jim Winter brand. Monday, I wrote about doing shorts here for free and then collecting them in my own personal zine, Winter’s Quarterly. I also pointed out that my next release will be the novella version of Gypsy’s Kiss, originally a short story I was not happy with. I mainly dashed it off because another writer was putting together a PI anthology, and I wanted to write about Kepler and Gypsy. The premise is one that has to be handled carefully or it veers off wildly into cheese. Well, it got cheesy. So I rewrote it to up the tension, give Kepler a reason to be all angsty over his situation, and bring the series to a satisfying close. The current draft checks in at 11,000 words, but a new plotline will make it longer.

All these have been great fun and given me a lot of confidence as a writer (until the betas take my ego out of the equation.) On the Winter front, however, there are some behind-the-scenes happenings with Holland Bay that will make doing further crime novellas questionable. I want to do them, but selling books is all about branding, and Holland Bay will represent a sea change in my current brand. For starters, more than six of you will have heard of me, even if it bombs. I will no longer be that PI author who writes about Cleveland.

For Dick, however, his name is completely unknown. He has very little web presence and no brand. And “he” is in the process of world-building, an intensely more difficult process in science fiction than it is in crime. I don’t even know how far into the future this happens. I have a number of centuries, but I wonder if the technology doesn’t jibe with it. Shouldn’t the main human worlds, even my tacky, backwater planet, be a little more… I don’t know… Futury? So the novellas are a great way to work this out, create premium content, and generate buzz. Like I said, if you give something to nerds that they find cool, they’ll buy it. And having done cosplay way back when it wasn’t cool, I can tell you it’s great fun to be on either side of that equation as long as you don’t let it overwhelm you.

The side benefit of this is it’s kept me writing constantly. I write before I go to work in the morning, in that early time when the brain can still access its dream state. The words flow freely, and I can see beyond the page quite nicely. I may only get 500 words a day in when I’m not writing, but they’re words I can build upon the next day.

And it’s kept me from having to revisit the big honking “autobiography” I started mainly to keep my writing muscles sharp.