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Writing a Dozen Books This Year

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Last year, I sat wondering what the future held for me as an author. I'd had 15 novels published -- mostly tie-ins for games and such -- and I had my third original novel, Carpathia, ready to be released in April by hot genre publisher Angry Robot. While sales had been solid and the work had been steady, it was hard to feed my wife and five kids (including a set of quadruplets) on my fiction alone, so I'd also been writing comics and designing games and toys.

Rather than back off from the stories, though, I decided to push ahead with them hard. After working for 23 years as a freelance writer and game designer, I'm a fast writer, able to clock in a dependable 5,000 words or so a day when I'm on deadline. I'd once written an 80,000-word novel in two weeks to make a publisher happy, and if I could do that, what were the limits? Could I write a book a month?

I wanted to write more fiction, not less, but no publisher would take on a dozen books from me in a year. The New York Times recently ran an article about how much of a big deal it is for publishers to now push their best authors for two books a year rather than one. They'd gag on 12.

I could publish the books myself, sure, but that would mean going without an advance for that entire year. I couldn't ask my kids to stop eating for that entire time, or so my wife convinced me, so I gave up on the idea.

Then Kickstarter came along.

Kickstarter, for those who don't know, is a crowdfunding platform, a website on which creative folks can pitch plans for their projects and see if anyone cares enough to support them with pledges of cash. If the project hits its funding goal, the creator gets the money and sets to work. If the project falls short, no harm done.

This was the missing part of my plan that I didn't even know I'd been looking for. With Kickstarter, I could pitch my idea for writing a novel a month straight to my readers and hope for enough pre-orders for the novels that they would substitute for an advance. Seems simple enough, right?

I launched the plan in November of last year, calling it 12 for '12, my mad scheme to write a dozen novels in 2012. I decided to break the books up into four trilogies and pitch them separately, every three months. I based the first set on Matt Forbeck' Brave New World, a dystopian superhero roleplaying game I'd written back in 1999, which still had a strong fan base, and I put out the word.

It did well. At the time, it hit in the top ten fiction projects of all time on Kickstarter, and I was off and running.

I launched a second one three months later for Shotguns & Sorcery, a fantasy noir setting I'd had kicking around in my head for years. That one did just about as well and -- thanks to some last minute help on Twitter from folks like Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman -- brought in even more backers than the first.

Back in May, I launched the third trilogy, Dangerous Games. This is a trio of thrillers set at Gen Con, the world's largest tabletop adventure games convention -- think D&D, Magic: The Gathering, etc. -- at which I've been a guest of honor for years. (Yes, I am a geek, and I'm a professional at it.) This one is set to wind up on June 17, Father's Day, and it's already smashed through the standards the other drives set.

So, businesswise, the plan has worked well. Creatively, I also managed to get the first four books written on schedule. I delivered the first book, Matt Forbeck's Brave New World: Revolution, to my backers in April, and it went on sale to the general public in May.

At the moment, I'm racing to catch up after a vicious cold ran through my house for the past several weeks -- ah, the disease vectors that come with five school-aged kids and a social worker wife who helps homeless students -- but I'm confident I'll be back on track shortly. You see, I hedged my bets a bit from the start. Rather than writing 80,000-word books, I decided to concentrate on shorter, punchier stories of 50,000 words each.

Most fiction awards define a novel as anything longer than 40,000 words, so these stories beat that yardstick by a good margin. They're more the size of the paperback originals published decades ago, before publishers started demanding doorstops. If you've heard of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), 50,000 words is also -- not coincidentally -- the number of words the participants shoot for every November.

It takes me about two weeks for a first draft of one of these books, including sitting down and outlining the story beforehand, plus taking a little time to see my wife and kids. Because of that, I should be able to catch up soon.

The biggest question I hear from people, of course, is "Are the books any good?" The implication, of course, is that something made fast can't be made well.

I can't claim to be unbiased, but the people who have read the first book have given it excellent reviews so far. That's probably because I don't just package up that first draft and slam it out the door. After that initial rush, I give the book some time to breath, to be edited and revised, to be given the kind of polish it deserves.

That's one of the great secrets of writing. Your first draft can be awful, no matter how much time you take with it. The end result is the only thing that matters.