A Numbered Series

I really would like to sell The Black Ring, more for the readers rather than for the money. After all, I sometimes give my other books away. And The Black Ring is a marketing challenge, because it’s not a series like those by Stuart Jaffe or Jim Butcher or Mickey Spillane or L. Frank Baum, which can be read in pretty much any order. 

It’s more like the three books of The Lord of the Rings, which has to be read as if it were one big book — which it is — though The Black Ring is not similar to it in any other way. The Harry Potter books are a numbered series, to be read as they are numbered, though they are actually separate stories. They, too, are completely different from The Black Ring

The three volumes of the original publication of Pride and Prejudice were, in effect a numbered series, to be read from first to last, and that was understood by those who bought it. It didn’t have, as is true today, a separate designation as a numbered series at Bowker (ISBNs) or the U.S. Copyright office. Since it was paid for by her father it was, in a way, self-published.

The Disk World series, by Terry Pratchett, is not a numbered series, though I prefer to read the books in the order in which they were published. Like the Mike Hammer books by Spillane, there is a development in the author’s writing ability and story telling, and in his understanding of the setting and the growth of his character. The Lord Peter Wimsey books by Dorothy L. Sayers are similar.

The Black Ring became unavailable when Double Dragon folded, and people have asked if it would be published again. I read it through and, discovering how much work it still needed, I decided on doing a complete second edition. I’ve updated my  book page http://allen-wold.com, and I have made the reading samples longer, and the books less expensive to encourage purchase. Check it out. If you like the first sample, maybe you’ll like the others too. Links to all six books of The Black Ring are on my website. Just remember, while you can get away with reading just book One, you can’t read Book Three by itself and have any idea of what’s going on.

Promotion?

The Black Ring is all the better for what I learned from editing and publishing my own books. It has taken more than ten years, but I feel that it was worth it. After all, The Black Ring, which has taken more than sixty years from first inspiration to final second edition, is why I started self-publishing in the first place. I know other writers who are far more successful at self-publishing than I am. 

I tried to learn promotion. I did some research, bought some books, got some help from a friend who knew how, but I did not understand it. It was like knowing the rules of chess but not actually understanding the game. I know the rules. I spent three years learning guitar chords, but I never figured out how to just sit down and play guitar. (Besides, I had something better to do…) It is said that one way to promote your books is to get a blog, and here it is. But I don’t understand  how to promote my blog, at least not without taking time away from my writing, and that takes me back around to now knowing how to promote in the first place.

I feel my time is better spent by telling my stories (which are all novels by now) than by struggling and failing at what I really can’t learn how to do. Getting someone else to do the promotion is expensive, and not always effective. I would like to have my books traditionally published, but that, too, sometimes doesn’t work out. And besides, I like having my books under my control. 

I like to sell them through dealers I know at conventions — which I hope will start up again. I like to sell them directly to people, sometimes at a discount. I can even give them away without too much cost to myself. And people buy them after looking at the covers, blurbs, essays, and first twenty pages in Allen Wold’s Books http://allen-wold.com. I guess my telling you about that is a form of promotion

Fixing False Starts

I had written Slaves of War some years before, but it didn’t work for me as science fiction. I didn’t know how to fix it. I mentioned it on Facebook, and somebody told me that it sounded like space opera. I had never done space opera, at least not deliberately, but it seemed like that might have been my problem. I revised the story with “space opera” in mind, and this time it felt right. Darcy did a cover, and I published it.

A Thing Forgotten was another idea that had been brewing in the back of my head for years, inspired by dark music, a newspaper clipping a friend had sent me, a poster of a tragic heroic girl, and other things. The more I thought about it, the less I was able to do anything with it. It finally came together when I heard “The Hanging Tree” from Hunger Games. Inspiration comes from the strangest places, if you let it. It never comes if you search for it. I used a world that I had created for a different purpose, ideas about the fey which I had thought about for a long time in another context, and when the opening sentence came to me, it practically wrote itself. I found the image for the cover, did some work on it, and Darcy finished it perfectly.

I had written the first three chapters of what became The Gift and The Price, and another sixty thousand words which just stopped cold. It was like beating my head against a wall, and all I got was bruises, not progress. I finally realized, after six years, that I had been forcing my hero to go against his nature. I threw away everything except those first three chapters, and let my protagonist do what he really would have done, instead of what I was trying to force him to do. I had, as it were, stepped back from the metaphorical wall, instead of trying to force a way through, and saw a doorway to one side. Chapters and scenes came easily, to a very satisfactory conclusion. I did the cover myself, but with a lot of advice from Darcy.

Three More Books

I published Freefoot, a collection of all six of my Elf Quest stories, including the one which would have appeared in Blood of Ten Chiefs 6, if the series hadn’t been cancelled. The books were selling, so we had no idea why that happened. I revised each of the stories just a little, and corrected a few problems. I rewrote one of them completely, and put them in chronological instead of published order. I’ve sold Freefoot to Elf Quest fans who wanted me to autograph their copies of the original books in the series. 

Then I wrote Sturgis, something I had been wanting to do for a long time. It’s about a serial killer who turns out to be a vampire. I was inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, not by the movies, which made vampires unable to bear sunlight, or repelled by crosses of any kind. Dracula did his own banking in London, and many windows have divisions in the shape of a cross, none of which affected him. I had only three plot points to begin with, and wrote the whole story without any other outline. It’s a very different story for me, but I really liked my protagonist and, were I forty years younger, I might have liked to have his job.

I published Dead Hand. I had developed it from extensive scene sketches which I had written years before. I had created a list of objectives for each scene, as I had done with The Planet Masters, and then developed each scene to reach its ending. I took it with me when we went to England for three years, and though my obligations there meant that I couldn’t make (not just take) the time to write, I decided to cut out all those scenes which didn’t actually advance the plot. Anything that doesn’t move the plot forward should be cut, according to received wisdom. 

But when we came back I rethought that. I still had those scenes and decided to put them back in. They did not advance the central plot, but they developed the characters and background, gave a larger context, and revealed more of what the story was about, which was not just a haunted house, but how the neighborhood was affected by the haunting that was leaking from it. On finishing that draft I knew that it had been the right thing to do. Had I not done so, the story would not have been so deep, nor would it have had so satisfactory an ending. I read through it again, made a few revisions, copy-edited it and published it.

Fiction vs Non-fiction

I met with my student once a week, to talk about things which I thought an editor should know. It took her three or four weeks to bring back the marked-up typescript of Stroad’s Cross, with red comments on only about thirty pages. She told me what she thought the major problem was, and pointed out examples. This was why she hadn’t read any more. 

It was a huge problem, and I saw at once that she was right. I had written it as if it were non-fiction, which I had learned how to do when I was writing computer books and magazine articles. I had stopped doing that some years ago, but that kind of style had stayed with me, though I never thought about using it. I just had. 

Non-fiction has a distinctly different style. It is concerned with conveying information and with facts. It has no place for mood, or character, or plot. I was glad that Stroad’s Cross hadn’t been published in that form, but I wondered why, with such an obvious problem, the rejections had taken two years instead of two or three weeks. 

I re-wrote the book, revising and tightening, which reduced it from 225,000 to 150,000 words. Now it was more like fiction. The revisions had made the text rougher than it had been, so I had to go over it again to smooth it out, more than once, and the last time I concentrated on the storytelling. Reading specifically for story is something I do with all my fiction now. When I had done all that I could, I published it as an Ogden House book. Several of my readers have told me how much they liked it. 

My student had taught me a great lesson. Now I felt that publishing myself was going to work. But I still had a lot to learn about self-editing, and about book design, before I tackled The Black Ring.

Learning More

I needed to learn more about publishing my own books, and I had to work with something larger and more complex, to prove again that I could do it. And I had to publish in paper, since it’s not possible to autograph Kindle copies at a science fiction convention, and you can’t put them on a dealer’s table. I decided to take a look at some short stories which I had written and filed away long ago, many of  which I had not submitted, to see if they might be worth publishing. There were many which were not. 

Among those which I finally chose were two which had appeared in print magazines, in 1983 and 1984, and I got permission to reprint them. Another had been published in an on-line magazine in 2011, and which the editor had included when she had published a print anthology. I included a collaboration with a friend, who had been good at fantasy but terrible at science fiction. And I added a very short story by my daughter, Darcy, who has no interest in publication. She writes better than I do. 

I also registered the book with Bowker, in order to get my own ISBN, in this way creating my Ogden House imprint, so that the book would be printed, bound, and offered for sale by Amazon, without the notice that it was published by them.  A Closet for a Dragon and Other Early Tales came out in 2014 — that seems so long ago now — and it is available on Amazon, both digital and paper. 

Now I had to try something really big. I chose Stroad’s Cross, which had been sitting around for a few years. It had been rejected several times and, after reading it through, I knew that it needed work. But I wasn’t sure what I should do with it. 

About that time I was contacted by a high school junior, who knew about me through her mother, who was a friend of Diane’s. Her class had been told to find people who would mentor them about working in the real world. She told me that she was interested in being an editor, so, since this book was a problem, I let her read it to see what she could do.

A Publication Test

I was afraid to submit Book One of The Black Ring to a traditional publisher. If it were accepted, and the editor later decided that he didn’t want the rest — as had happened to me twice before — I would be stuck, unable to find a market for the remaining Books. The Black Ring was too important to me, and I couldn’t let that happen.

I knew a senior editor at a major publisher, who worked with a lot of science fiction. He overheard me talking about The Black Ring with someone at an SF convention, and asked me about it. I told him. He was interested, so I sent him Book One. If he thought his company would publish it, we could talk about a contract for the other five Books. 

He had it for three years before he told me that nobody in the office knew what to do with it. I was in my sixties now, and I couldn’t wait three years for another rejection. And maybe another. (An agent at one time had submitted Stroad’s Cross to two publishers, who each took two years to return it.) I had to do something myself. 

So, as an experiment, I took a collection of five speeches, which I had given at my Toastmaster’s club some years before, and revised them slightly to be essays. Then I published them digitally as Cat Tales (not a very clever title, I know), just to see if I could do it. And I could. I had demonstrated that I could publish my own work, and not through a vanity press, which I would not have done in any case. 

But Cat Tales is a small book, just forty pages. It is still available on Amazon, as both a Kindle book, and as a printed book published by Ogden House. I sometimes give printed copies away. 

I needed to prove myself again. I had a lot to learn before I could even think about doing The Black Ring.

No Sequels

The writing went smoothly through Books Two and Three, and then, somewhere in Book Four, one of Jeanette’s companions — my characters, being based on what I know about human behavior, have a real existence inside my head, and it was she, not me who did this — said that, if anything happened to Jeanette so that she couldn’t continue, maybe her surviving companions could help her successor. That surprised me, but that’s when I knew that I had not five Books, but six. The story was all there, in the back of my head with my muse, I just had to discover it. 

The original sketch for Book Five had a rather clumsy ending which permitted, or maybe even suggested continuation. I didn’t want anyone to write sequels. (Maybe they wouldn’t want to either.) This was my story, and I wanted it to end, however it did, when I ended it. The woman whom Jeanette would choose as her successor could finish the cycle so that there would be no way for someone to add anything more. 

I structured it the way I had the other Books, this time dividing the twenty chapters into five parts. I wrote it so that Leslie Ann Drover, my new hero, could solve the problem of what is evil, and what does it want, and how do you stop it, and bring the story to an absolute close. Now I had a good clean draft of all six Books.

Structure and Flow

I knew that what would eventually become The Black Ring was going to be big, and would have to be divided into volumes for ease of publication. But because of my experiences with writing a series, I decided to plan out all five Books at once. Each Book had a similar structure, of twenty chapters, which could be divided into parts or sections. For each chapter, there was a brief sketch of what was to be accomplished at the end, not how it started, or what might be happening. If I had only a beginning, or only an idea, I could too easily get lost and would not be able to finish. This had happened to me too many times before. But if I had an objective for each chapter, as when I had planned The Planet Masters, I would always know where I needed to go, no matter how much the chapter might wander along the way.

I wrote a rough draft of the first three parts of Book One, but I wasn’t really up to a project of that size, so I did some other things. Then Diane’s company sent us to England for almost three years. When we got back, I knew that I was now ready for The Black Ring, and I looked at those first chapters again. 

They were very rough, so I rewrote parts one and two, turning them into much better first drafts. But I had lost the roughs of the chapters of part three. I couldn’t remember what had happened in them, but I knew from the sketches how they were supposed to end, so I wrote them from scratch, as if for the first time, just getting to what the original endings had been about. 

Then I went on to part four. The writing was easy. The stories of each chapter just flowed out of the back of my head. I finished Book One and started Book Two. And though it also had twenty chapters, it would be all one part

Other Books to Write

It took me two weeks to write the “V” book, eighty thousand words. I called it Diana Pursued. They changed it to The Pursuit of Diana, which I felt was clumsy phrasing. 

I hated the book, and I hated writing it. The stress of meeting such a short deadline gave me a sharp ache in my left shoulder. For years the ache would come back whenever I got tense and stressed. But I was paid — it was a work for hire — and I got royalties for as long as it was in print. It sold more than ninety thousand copies in paperback (it’s not my fault), which made it an official best-seller. So, when you see “by best-selling author” on any of my traditionally published books, it’s true. Technically. Sigh.

I was asked to write a sequel, which was The Crivit Experiment, then another, Below the Threshold, then the show folded and that was the end of that. I got lots of remaindered copies very cheaply.

Another editor, at another time, asked me to write a sequel to Jewels of the Dragon. I did, and then a third, then I outlined seven more books. My editor cancelled the series after book three, and that was the end of that.

This is relevant to The Black Ring, I’ll get to it later.