Approaching limits, and not asymptotically.
There’s a lot of satisfaction in studying Molly Fyde. The more I read about her, her companions, and their exploits… the better I feel I know them. Every fact, diary entry, battle report, psychological review, transcribed log, map, photograph and schematic snaps perfectly together, gradually revealing a vista that is breathtaking in parts, heartbreaking in others, and inspirational all over.
I’m taking a fractured reality and making it a perfect whole again.
As I study up on how best to present the fruits of my labors, I experience a different sort of data-gathering. This time, the more pieces I line up, the more bizarre and nonsensical the larger picture. For one thing, these pieces don’t snap together. They’re those annoying jigsaw elements that just sit beside one another, waiting for a knee to bump the table and send them flying off on their own. Worse, a lot of the pieces overlap, disagree, or seem chewed to a soggy pulp by the disenfranchised.
This process isn’t revealing any larger truth, it’s just obscuring what I previously thought I saw, replacing it with some sort of modern art that only the publishing elite can discern (or pretend to!)
Today’s lesson is the reality of printing costs vs. perceived value. With 100,000 words in the first book, the balance is pretty good. A reader is going to get 300 pages of Molly Fyde goodness at a price that leaves room for profit. The problem is going to be the second book. It’s going to come out closer to 120,000 words, nearing a limit that doesn’t seem to add much more value for the reader while dealing a significant blow to the publisher.
Thirty pages have already been removed from the end of book two and added to the start of book three; further research revealed a wonderful break in the flow of the narrative, resulting in a natural cliff-hanger (again). However, there’s much to be told in this book, perhaps enough to consider breaking it in half and releasing two 220-page books rather than a crippled 350-page book.
“Make some cuts!” I hear you say. I assure you, there are few bumps to hew. This saga is being written more like non-fiction than fiction. I do not spend two pages describing the local flora and telling the reader that everything smells of sage and jasmine. And I’ve left out the incredible political struggle in the background of Molly’s story. A better complaint would be that there isn’t more padding.
Which takes me back to the idea of serializing the saga. Television, comics, manga… these mediums seem better-suited to telling a sweeping story. You stay engaged year-round. You make lots of micro-transactions (in the case of TV, you feed the advertisers). There’s a lot of perceived value, and fans have to watch or read each entry NOW.
This last observation isn’t appreciated enough by the book industry. By not making the story something that’s ongoing and cultural, there’s no reason not to wait, buy used books, or trade them with friends. Unless the author’s name is enough to push the same story over and over, making each cookie a must-have, there’s no reason not to read in such a way that the author and publisher are cut out of the deal (and their margins kept in your pockets).
It isn’t just the limits of printing I’m bumping up against, it’s the limits of the current model. There’s almost no flexibility. Even ebooks, while a game-changer, aren’t the creative solution we really need. All they do is improve the packaging, instead of re-thinking the product. The serialized model of story-telling could harness these new tools, and go even further. Just as TV shows now make a mint in collected seasons via DVD, serialized fiction would always have traditional books in mind as well. Ten or eleven “episodes” would be collected into a single volume. The major climax and cliff-hangar at the end would be no different than what happens on the tube. This would leave a lot of room for smaller climaxes of action and suspense throughout the episodes, rather than 250 pages of padding and 50 pages of wrap-up.
The only good news coming out of this printing limit is that I may be working on book 4 and editing books 2 and 3 right now. The illusion of being more prolific with my writing isn’t a terrible trade-off for not getting to tell the story in the gradual and consistent manner in which it begs to be.