Kelly McCullough writes fantasy, science fiction, and books for kids of varying ages. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series — Penguin/ACE, and the forthcoming School for Sidekicks — Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star — part of an NSF-funded science curriculum — and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited — funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Kelly on Twitter, Facebook, G+, ello
Two week warning: I will be reading from Darkened Blade at 7pm on April 28 at Barnes & Noble in Roseville MN http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/…/Kelly-McC…/4932688
I will be at Uncle Hugo’s in Minneapolis on May 8th at 1:00 PM.
I will be at the 4th Street Fantasy Con June 26-28 in Minneapolis MN.
Finally, I will be at CONvergence in Bloomington MN July 2-5.
I hereby claim this head in the name of the ME!
Thaaash a great idea! Pour me another to celebrate!
What on Earth would anyone want that head for? It’s lacking in fur…
But, world conquest…isn’t that what every kitty dreams of?
Mostly, I dream of a better smelling pillow…
Speaking of smells, you should come smell this!
So, it’s one month out from the launch of Darkened Blade, the sixth and final book in the Fallen Blade sequence, which is kind of hard to believe. After that, my next novel will be School for Sidekicks, a snappy snarky full length novel aimed at kids and all those adults who happily read fun books without worrying about target audiences which just received a starred review from Kirkus.
Halp I’z bein carried off!
What do you mean, vampire cat?
I wuvez you zis much!
Worship me or I will destroy you
Lola: Dog of the North!
2015 Update: This post about adapting to having two contracted books a year was originally published as I was working on Bared Blade. The pressures remain pretty much the same, and though I’ve since managed to write a Blade book in just 88 days now, I’m not sure I’m really capable of much more than two books a year.
So, this year I made the jump from having one book under contract per 12 month window, to having two books under contract per 12 month window. Now, at first glance you might say: That’s a doubling of your work load, what were you thinking?
What I was thinking was that in each of the previous four years I’d written two books, one on contract, one on spec. And, since I haven’t yet sold any of the spec books, though I do expect to, I would be doubling my income with no concomitant increase in work load. Turns out I was wrong.
Over the last decade or so I’ve tended to work in spurts with gaps of weeks or months between. Since ’06 that’s produced around 150-160k words per 12 month period, or one adult fantasy and one YA written on spec. And that’s been a mostly stress free level of production.
Under the new deal I’m only contracted for 180k per 12 months, which shouldn’t have been that much more work. But I also made the jump from contemporary fantasy to secondary world high fantasy and that seems to add about 20 percent more effort to the process. I’d heard something like that from George R.R. Martin at some point, but he was moving from science fiction to fantasy, and I was just changing types of fantasy. Surely it wouldn’t be that bad…
Add in that the first book went 7k long and that I expect this one to do so as well, and suddenly it’s the equivalent of 220-230k of what I was doing before. That’s 70-90k extra, or nearly another adult novel’s worth of effort. I’m getting it done and not dying, but it’s a major change.
The biggest adjustment from one book a year to two is how fast it catches up to me if I take a break. I’ve often dropped out for a month and a half of downtime at the end of a book, or when I needed to think about the story, or just to spend more time with my professor wife when she’s off from the University. Now, if I haven’t worked ahead, a month and a half is a 22k word deficit that I have to make up some time in my remaining four-and-a-half months.
When that was on a spec book, it didn’t really matter. I could always punt my personal deadline a little further out. I almost never did, but knowing that I could made a huge psychological difference. So, an extra novel’s worth of work plus more than doubled pressure. I think I’ve found a balance that makes it work for me, but it’s going to be very interesting seeing how things go when we hit my wife’s summer break this year.
In a post on the Wyrdsmiths blog, my colleague Lyda Morehouse posed the following question about self-promotion:
But it does seem to work for some people on some level, and I always end up wondering by what magic is that done?
I think it’s pretty straightforward actually, and it all comes down to that word seem. Here’s how I think it works (all numbers made up).
If fifty percent of all authors do self-promotion, and a random six percent of all authors cross over into best-sellerdom than three percent of authors who do lots of self-promotion are going to cross over into best-sellerdom purely by chance. Then, at least some of those authors are going to figure that it was self-promotion which made the difference whether it had anything to do with it or not. See also: confirmation bias.
Likewise, if you’re watching from the outside, you might think the only thing that differentiates them from the herd is self-promotion, and then leap to the same conclusion. For that matter, I will even concede that some particularly clever bit of self-promotion that hasn’t already been done a bunch of times might catch the mood and go viral, but I think that’s as much a form of luck as having the book do the same thing.
Great books with tons of self-promotion die. Barely adequate books that get very little push become best sellers. Most of the difference there is luck in hitting the right literary kink for the moment.
We want the industry to make sense, so we tell ourselves stories–we’re authors, telling stories is what we do. That book did so well because the author came up with the really awesome book trailer. That one did poorly because the cover sucked. This one over here is a best-seller simply because it’s that good.
But the truth is, nobody knows what’s going to make a book take off. If there was a real answer, there’s be a publisher somewhere that didn’t sell anything but best sellers.