So you want to write a book?

Posted by on Jul 19, 2013 in Progress Report

So you want to write a book?

Progress continues to be good. I went past the psychologically significant 80k barrier on Monday and I’m currently at 82,351 words. I’ve had a little less time available this week due to work commitments, but that’s still pretty reasonable. We’re set up for the finale now, which is the last fifth of the story. I’m predicting about another 20k words to go – will I hit my deadline of the end of August? So far, so good.

I’ve had quite a few folks pledging via paypal this week. I’m not sure if that’s a response to the reading of the prologue from LaveCon or some other reason, but a warm welcome if you’re one of those recent pledgers, it’s great to have you aboard. Thanks also to those who have upgraded their pledges too, post kickstarter.

I wish websites had gauges like this… 🙂

The website went into overdrive as well, partly due to the aforementioned prologue, but there seems to be a flurry of visits. I can’t quite attribute this to anything particular, but it’s encouraging. I’ve been doing a few preparatory tweaks to the SEO side of things. (I notice John Harper has also been doing this too). This is aimed as ensuring that this site gets picked up by Google and the other search engines when you type in stuff like “Official Elite Dangerous Novel” – try it and see what happens! 🙂

Writer’s forum? Still pretty quiet. Actually, deathly quiet. One or two posts per week.

And here I go, courting controversy once again…

There is a little concern growing on the forums at large over some of the book projects. Some of the writers have yet to make an appearance in the forum and, in some cases, they’ve not been able to provide updates to their pledgers either. This is a shame, but, sad to say, not really unexpected from my viewpoint. You may recall I predicted this in the kickstarter comments. I didn’t feel comfortable making too much of it at the time, because it would have detracted from the overall wave of enthusiasm and… who was I to judge? From your perspective, I was just another one of the satellite project owners. My opinion had no weight.

Time has moved on, I can afford to be a little more vocal with my opinions. You can make your own call on which projects are tracking well and are delivering on what they set out to do. I hope you trust me now. As with many things in life; Caveat Emptor.

A great opportunity and a great responsibility…

Given the number of these ‘satellite’ projects that were funded back in Jan/Feb, I feared it was inevitable that some might fall by the wayside, either due to their owner’s underestimating the work involved or some unforeseen circumstance.

That’s the nub of the matter to be honest. How much effort does it take to write a book? I can only relate my own experience, but this is roughly what it looks like for me.

  • Plotting = 80 hours
  • First Draft = 250 Hours
  • Second Draft = 150 hours
  • Third Draft and polish = 100 hours

Well, it’s a start…

So, 600 hours, give or take. You need to add more on top of this if you’re self-publishing, which many of the authors are (cover design, typesetting etc). If you’re doing everything by hand you won’t see much change out of 800 hours worth of work for a decent length novel produced to a good level of quality. If you divide that across a year (assuming you are aiming to release around March 2013), that means you’ve got to be averaging somewhere near 15 hours per week through the year. That’s a lot – particularly if you have a day job, family or other commitments. If you haven’t started yet… as the Americans say… ‘you can do the math’.

Writing something of this length is a graft too. It’s hard work. Sometimes you need to slog, sometimes the muse grabs you and you rocket ahead. 100,000 words, or thereabouts, is a lot of text to tippity tap into a laptop. It’s not far short of a megabyte.

There’s also skill involved. Weaving a story with multiple arcs, having convincing dialogue, making the characters compelling… this is an artform. You can’t just decide to be good at it from the off. I’ve been working on this for years and I’m still learning the craft. In no way shape or form am I an expert. I look at my 2006 era work and cringe. Most authors do when they look at previous work.

Given this, I didn’t think it was at all unlikely that some of the projects owner’s might have bitten off more than they could chew. Perhaps they were too ambitious, perhaps they hadn’t done their homework properly.

Fortunately many of the book projects do look certain to deliver at this stage, which is encouraging, but I can understand the disappointment that some pledgees (is that a word?) feel in backing a project which seems to have disappeared into a blackhole.

I backed all of them too, so I’m a pledger as well.

Project owners do have legal obligations to pledgers with a kickstarter funded project, there are also moral ones, particularly when several thousand pounds are involved. if a project is going awol – pledgers to that project do have rights, particularly if there has been little or no communication from the project owner. (I don’t know if this is different on Indiegogo, but I imagine it is similar.)

This is what a kickstarter project creator has to sign up to.

This is what a kickstarter project creator has to sign up to.

I took this this stuff very seriously indeed. I can’t afford not to. My work is already in the public domain. This is high profile stuff and it’s also legally binding. If I don’t deliver my name would be trashed across the internet and my dream of ultimately being able to take up writing as a going concern would be at an end.

Those who fail to deliver also have a net negative effect on those of us who are trying very hard to ensure we honour our commitments. It really saddens me to a read comments to the effect of “I’ll never back another book project on Kickstarter again.” That’s a really unfortunate outcome and distressing to me as a writer. There are many good books yet to be written and this makes it harder for potential authors to get going.

I’ve had some comments here to the effect that perhaps I’m over communicating by comparison.  I’m treading a bit of a line, but I’m doing my best to find balance. Waffling on to you folks does give me some down time away from the hard work of writing the book – it actually helps me to stay motivated too – I find it really useful.

I do feel a huge obligation though; you folks committed more than seven thousand pounds to me, and most of you didn’t know me from Adam when this all kicked off. There’s a huge responsibility there (both legal, moral and the simple plain fact that I’ve put my own reputation as a writer on the line and on-line in a very public way) and I feel compelled to give you everything I can by return. Yes, you’ll get what I hope you’ll think is a great book, but hopefully you’re also getting something valuable in the meantime – a view into the creative process, an insight into the crazy mind of a writer, the whole process of putting a book together.

I’ve talked about the community in the past, but I find it so significant. I’m only in this position because of the generosity of the Elite community at large. That is a massive privilege and responsibility. I’m conscious the community is watching. I want to give back to that community everything I possibly can. This ‘thing’ that we’re all involved in isn’t going to happen again in this way. I want to make the most of it.

Will I deliver on my promise? As Jayne Cobb would say… Damn Straight! Am I getting the balance right on the comms? You tell me. What do you feel about the other projects? None of my business? Have you backed some that are aren’t giving you the feedback you think you should have?

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  1. I was also concerned about the other book projects that I only pledged to you and Dave Hughes’ RPG project. Was toying with Kate Russell’s too but didn’t in the end.

    • I think Kate’s will be fun. 🙂

  2. I honestly did not expect many of the tie-in novels to be any good when I backed them. I merely saw a chance to turn my £4 into another £4500 towards the main Kickstarter, which was in a serious lull at the time.

    It’s been said that you need to write a million words before you are ready for the big leagues, so that’s the reason I’m not looking forward to much from the complete first timers who haven’t filled even their own drawers with their fiction before their Kickstarters.

    Pretty much the only book projects I’m trusting to provide some quality stuff are yours, Selezen’s RPG and the Elite Anthology (I’m part of that, so I’m partial in some sense, but I’d be surprised if at least one or three of the short stories in it weren’t worth the average pledge). The others – some of them look promising, but time will tell, while others seem to be in serious trouble.

    • The anthology is almost like the larger books in microcosm. You’ve got the overall quality of the finished product in mind, with different levels of experience within. In the same way I’m concerned with the overall crowdfunded novels as a ‘whole’, you guys have to be concerned with the ‘Anthology short stories’ as a whole.

      Making the anthology consistent across the board will be a challenge – good luck!

      • The overall quality of the Anthology is an obvious concern, but I hope we can alleviate it by collaborating on them as soon as drafts begin to be posted on the forums (should be at around the end of this month). It remains to be seen, however, how much the collective of writers can affect an individual piece… Too many questions in that to go into here, really.

  3. Hi Drew, interesting piece once again. And that basically already says it: Your idea of over communicating strikes me as a very good blog.
    – You update weekly which isn’t too much in my opinion,
    – Your updates never cease to be interesting,
    – You update us with your progress and you’ve asked us how that update should look like in the beginning. So basically you let the crowd define that this is the right way (within your own set parameters of course!). So that’s fine as well.

    Besides that: it doesn’t seem to hinder you in
    – writing the book,
    – presence in the Elite forums,
    – or other activities (like Laveradio).

    So here’s thinking you’re doing a good job! I can only hope that this doens’t leave your spouse unattended. 🙂

    If this is a test for you on how to handle writing a book as you want to do this more often in the future, I can only say: well done Sir, I hope it feels just as good (or better) for you!

    I’ve backed 8 KS books all of them related to Elite: Dangerous. And indeed it seems 2 or 3 of them have fallen a bit silent. Do I feel bad about that? No! The money was well spent because it went to Elite: Dangerous directly after the respective KS’s ended so no worries there.
    Personally I didn’t feel like pledging more on the game to get to a higher level but I do like reading and I was willing and able to put some more money into the game. So for me the books were a very nice added value.
    If the 3 books that are currently looking to fail actually DO fail… That’s less than 20 pounds that will not be converted into a book for me. Out of 246 pounds of total pledges to the game and books… not much to get very upset about!

    Obviously I would love to read the books. But I also understand that one of the writers of the books has been hospitalized for a while so I fully grasp that RealLife(tm) can sneak up and take its toll. Every other writer will have reasons for not having communicated. If it is for a bad reason and if they still plan to play Elite: Dangerous… More PEWPEW time for us! 😀 Otherwise: all the best to them that have fallen silent. I’m sure there are good reasons to do so.

    And there’s always the chance that coming March 2014 will see some of these authors coming out of the blue like a hermit with a very nice piece of writing. Now that would be cool!

    Happy writing commanders!

    • I backed them all because I genuinely wanted to read them. Everyone deserves a chance at this too. A wide selection can only be a good thing.

  4. I was a little different when backing some of these books, firstly I doubt I will get to read many of them as I have a large backlog already, secondly I wanted to get Elite funded as much as possible and thirdly I saw the risk on some of these books as worthwhile to give others a chance at writing. It is tragic if some don’t even get past the preliminary stages though.

    I saw Drew’s and a few others (sorry if I am not being specific here) as a much better bet due to previously released work, which in many ways is similar to what employers do when searching for a potential candidate.

    The updates are good :).

    • Thanks Matthew – I’ll keep that in mind.

  5. Another nice article, Drew. I didn’t back many of the projects because I had quite serious doubts about their ability to deliver – both in terms of realism and of course the end quality of the product. The ones I did have faith in were already doing well.

    I am a big fan of your updates I must say. At LaveCon Kate and I were chatting about how great it is to see stuff from you and Allen on the proper writing process, and picking up all sorts of tips from it. I consider myself a decent writer, but you’re in a whole other league, and hearing your insights has been a fantastic part of the process. I hope to pen a few full novels myself and there are many lessons I’ve taken from you to help with that. Keep on at it, commander! 🙂

    • Allen is the main man, although we’ve both tried to reach out to all the authors via the forum (and email for those not present). Glad you’re finding it useful! 🙂

  6. Hi Drew,

    Great post again, thanks.

    I agree with much that’s already been said. It was clear that some of the KS were by people who – unlike you or Allan – don’t yet have a track record, so I went into this with my eyes open. I only backed those books at the basic e-book level. If they don’t deliver then I’ll feel more sorry for the authors then I’ll be annoyed at not having another decent book to read. I admire them for at least trying to achieve something. I don’t think any of them claimed to be something they’re not (which would be a completely different situation).

    As for your communication, it’s fantastic! An update a week is spot on in my view (although I also like your odd mini-updates on twitter). It’s part of the reason I felt confident in increasing my pledge recently.

    Keep up the excellent work Commander.

  7. Hi Drew,

    Let me start by saying I have the greatest respect for your professionalism, your work ethic, and your commitment to the Elite: Dangerous community. I also have to acknowledge a debt of gratitude: your project pioneered the trial for the flurry of crowd- funded novels that followed, mine included. However, my response to the current situation regarding the struggling books differs somewhat.

    I share your sense of gratitude and obligation to my backers, and the need to deliver a thumping good read as quickly as is reasonably possible (without compromising quality). However, this statement surprised me a little:

    ‘Those who fail to deliver also have a net negative effect on those of us who are trying very hard to ensure we honour our commitments.’

    While I concur that every crowd-funded book project that fails means people are less likely to invest in future ventures by unproven authors – and that is a shame – I cannot make the emotional or intellectual jump to seeing how, if another Elite: Dangerous novel project fails, it somehow makes my project look bad (or yours for that matter). You have successfully established a fan base and branded ‘Drew Wagar the writer’ online. (The professionalism I mention above is reinforced by your website, branding, design choices, and the way you communicate with words and others across the Internet.) Your fan base and online image effectively protect you from being ‘tarred with the same brush’. Besides, if yours is one of the projects left standing at the end as others fall by the wayside, it is likely to evoke admiration in an observer rather than condemnation.

    How pouring petrol on the fire is of benefit to the general community, I cannot see. Email people, and see if you can get alongside them if you have time, sure, but rubbing the noses of those struggling in their shortcomings isn’t constructive. Personally, I have invested in other Elite: Dangerous writing projects (not all of which appear to be doing very well), but as my money is going to Frontier it hasn’t been wasted.

    I wish anyone struggling with their writing the very best of luck. I would encourage those finding the writing difficult to grab one of the many effective writing guides, and read it through. Then, just do your best and don’t give up: it’s better late than never.

    To anyone whose circumstances are blocking them from completing their book, I can only offer my commiserations, and an encouragement to be as open and honest with your backers as possible. Many backers will be extremely understanding if the reasons for a book cancellation or delay are explained clearly to them.

    For the good of the community, and the sense of goodwill surrounding the Elite: Dangerous game and it’s fiction, I hope that the fallout from any failing project can be handled with patience, understanding, openness and honesty. In this age of litigation and legalism, a little forgiveness can go a long way.

    • It very much wasn’t intended to be ‘pouring petrol on the fire’. I have emailed some of the owners of projects (and attempted to contact via kickstarter or their websites if they have them), unfortunately to no avail. As I mentioned, I’m a backer too.

      However, I consider that, reputationally, any failed “Elite Dangerous Kickstarter funded novel” affects any other “Elite Dangerous Kickstarter funded novel” in a negative way. I think it’s inevitable. The forums alone provide that connection. All these books exist in the same ‘category’ and, when the time comes, the media will pick them up in that light. Perhaps I’m fortunate enough to be less likely to be ‘tarred with the same brush’, due to previous work. The same can’t necessarily be said for those who are just starting out and have managed to show strong progress.

      I do agree that there’s a collective responsibility in trying to help those projects reach success in their delivery as indeed it was in trying to get them all funded back at the beginning of the year. I’ve discussed this at length with Allen. But if the project owners don’t plug into the resources available there’s little to be done. I don’t blame them for not being able to demonstrate progress on their projects, but silence isn’t the answer.

      To be seen to have tried hard and failed is one thing, we can all admire, help and ultimately sympathise. To not respond when trust has been placed and help offered. That’s different.

      If only we could get hold of them!

  8. ‘However, I do consider that, reputationally, any failed “Elite Dangerous Kickstarter funded novel” affects any other “Elite Dangerous Kickstarter funded novel” in a negative way.’

    I know you want to write, full-time, really badly, but what you have achieved so far stands on its own merit. Your future success will depend on what you do and the choices you make (and a little luck never did any harm). ‘Joe/Jane Bloggs’ doesn’t have the power to stop you, whether or not he/she completes a book.

    So, in the tradition of the British Gentleman, we shall have to agree to disagree. 🙂

    That you’ve been trying to get in touch with those who are struggling does you credit, sir. You are someone that a community psychologist might define as ‘glue’.

    But for those struggling, finding the courage to face people you feel you are letting down isn’t easy, and that’s why, personally, I would approached things a little more gently in a post on this topic. However, this is your blog and you are fully entitled to disagree with absolutely everything I say. As a post topic it’s a good one: it certainly evokes interest and provokes debate.

  9. “But for those struggling, finding the courage to face people you feel you are letting down isn’t easy”…

    I have no doubt that’s very tricky indeed, but they have taken thousands of pounds of other peoples’ money, and they do owe a response – in my very humble opinion.

    But I appreciate your thoughts, good sir! 🙂

  10. Another good and thought-provoking post, Drew.

    I am one of those that don’t know you from Adam, but pledged on your book as you looked able to pull it off. Your updates since then have proven my instinct (based on your pitch and track record) to be right. You will succeed in your endeavour and I look forward to reading the result.

    I also backed John Harper’s book, and he also is proving diligent in his work and updates and I am confident in his ability to deliver. I steered clear of most of the other books, partly as I was unsure of their ability to complete in time, and partly as I had already pledged more than I could honestly justify for a PC game, albeit a potentially brilliant one. I did pledge on one other and I believe that nothing has come of it, and I look at it as simply money given to the overall Kickstarter campaign.

    I was only a couple of months into my own debut novel ( when the Kickstarter for Elite:Dangerous appeared and I was very tempted to drop my book and start my own book Kickstarter following in your footsteps. However, I, like you, would have felt compelled to deliver and do a thoroughly good job and felt it was dubious that I would be able to do the job well enough and balance work and home life adequately.

    As it is, I have completed my first draft (about 95,000 words) and I am now editing, so I probably would have managed it, but doing so has placed pressure on my relationship with my wife (spending lots of time writing rather than doing family stuff gets pretty wearing after a couple of weeks). Having the extra pressure of all the pledgers to answer to, not to mention deadlines that are not self-imposed, led me to take the decision not to go down the Kickstarter route. I wouldn’t want to do something badly, so I chose not to do it at all.

    I think it was clear from the outset which book pledges were likely to complete successfully and which might fail, and I believe that all the people pledging could make their mind up based on the pitches. And at least the money went to the game in the end.

    I enjoy ready your updates each week. It gives me a feel for how things are going with your book and exciting stuff on the forums but I have also picked up ideas and insights into the writing process that I have put into practice in my own writing.

    So thank you and keep up the good work, Commander!

  11. For what it’s worth I started writing a book and two unrelated short stories a year ago. The book is at 50 000 words, and (at this rate) will be ready for proof-reading and beta-testing in another year or so. Wring a book takes time and committment. It’s easy to decide to write a book. Seeing the thing through to completion takes some doing

  12. As usual another enjoyable & interesting update to greet me at the work-week’s end.
    Write on commander!

    Regarding ‘pledgees’ – I think the usual word is ‘pledgers,’ as you use in regard to yourself in the next sentence 🙂

    • PS Regarding communications balance, I love to read all you have to say in the updates – it merely astonishes me you find the time to write them..

  13. I very much enjoyed your article tonight, and it has opened my eyes to the obligations on the kickstart projects.. and that is important..

    I would think communication is key, bad news is sooo much better than no news..

    The question to be confirmed first is ‘DID the kickstarter pay the fee to Frontier?’
    After that to expect a full refund from someone in dire straights would be well ambitious at best, at least the money went to where it should have.

    I backed many of the books projects post kickstarter with the exception of Lave Revolutions and I am VERY happy with the book’s i backed.. All Authors release regular updates, and I am very excited to put these books on my kindle… and maybe even read them!!!! 😀

    Cheers Drew!!

  14. I backed one of the books that appears to be failing with a more than token pledge. I nearly split my sides reading the authors stretch goals and I enjoyed his hilarious contributions to the comments section of Elite:Dangerous. I do not regret my decision and I still have hope of one day holding the finished masterpiece in my hands.

    The author wasn’t asking for backers to fund his writer’s license in full. He contributed a substantial amount of his own money towards the project and many of his backers were asked to contribute a token three pounds for the book to help get it funded. The money on completion of the KS was promptly added to the Elite:Dangerous Kickstarter. This may cause controversy but I still consider certain pledge levels on the E:D Kickstarter to be of less value than the money I pledged to a book which may never materialize.

    The “author” never claimed to be a novel writer and was quick to tell anyone who would listen. He gave every backer fair warning. Yes, I have had a moan about the lack of updates on the project but thanks to this thought provoking update by Drew I have been reminded of certain facts.

    Thanks Drew!

  15. Hi Drew,

    Excellent update. I backed only your book because I couldn’t afford more at the time. But of course I knew you could write. The Oolite Saga was excellent and rich in story. It kept me on my toes. I wanted to read it faster and faster. I could not stop.

    So that was practically the reason that I instantly backed you. Seeing that there literary was an explosion of book KS surprised me a little. So many people wanted to write. I had my doubts too. In retrospective if I could then I also had backed the some other projects. But in life you have to make choices.

  16. Great post … as always. No, it’s not too many updated; although I tend to wait until a month’s work of yours has accumulated … and then tend to the Emails / links / goodies all at once (AND I read the comments as well, so thanks as well to all of you who are participating).
    I enjoy your “controversial” posts. How else but through thesis and antithesis can you reach synthesis. Anybody can write politically correct inoffensive drivel.
    In this spirit, I also enjoyed your little spat with T. James (whose book isn’t one of the four I pledged to, sorry) and the civilized way this was done in. To agree to disagree is one of the finer points of diplomacy; I still remember the day I was introduced to that concept (and my remorse at not having had this concept at my disposal earlier <– there ARE people who tend to say that I have firm opinions). But this is not about me; this is about you delivering – beside the book-to-be – thought-provoking blog posts … for which I'm grateful.

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