Bones and Boats and Experimental Publishing

A few weeks ago, Catherynne M. Valente (Tiptree winner, onetime featured poet in my ‘zine Flytrap, master of nested narratives) announced a new project: she would publish a YA novel, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, as an online serial, updated weekly.

She explains why, but the gist is that her partner was unemployed longer than they’d expected, and money was running out, and even though she’s got some books coming from big publishers in the pipeline, they needed money now; and, so, she was asking for reader donations to support the book.

I spread the word when I heard about the project, and I gave (a pitifully small amount, all we could afford) myself, and when I told people about it, I usually said, “Help if you can. This could just as easily be any of us.”

Two weeks later, it was us. My wife was laid off unexpectedly last Tuesday afternoon. I also lost my regular freelance writing gig (which I did for her company). Our income was suddenly diminished by three-fifths, and my wife (and our son’s) health insurance goes away at the end of July. We have a little savings. We can pay rent next month. But after that… After that, things get dicey.

So I thought about what I could do, to make money for health insurance, mostly. (Doing without isn’t an option; our son has congenital glaucoma, and gets examined under anesthesia at least twice a year; he’s had a few surgeries so far, and willl likely need more in the future.) I’ve had a lot of fans vocally clamoring for another book in my Marla Mason series, and have been telling them all that the future is uncertain; my editor has proposals for two more books on her desk, but the publisher hasn’t yet decided whether or not to go forward. But, maybe, if I could give them something…

I had the idea many months ago to write a prequel novella about Marla, to tell how she developed into the sorceress, badass, crime boss she eventually became. I’ve touched lightly on her past in the existing novels, mentioning certain events, and the idea of fleshing them out appealed to me. I also saw how I could include some genuinely surprising revelations about Marla, things that nobody knows — and I saw a way to do it without making it seem like I’d been unfairly withholding important information in the already-published books.

But it was a back-burner project; novellas are hard to sell, and the couple of small presses I queried about it weren’t interested. So I never wrote it. Until…

My wife was laid off. And the need for money soon became pressing.

Last week I announced Bone Shop, a reader-supported serial novella about the early life of Marla. Yesterday I posted Chapter One, and the response so far has been very gratifying.

We writers are all trying to make our way in a rapidly changing commercial landscape. I don’t know if experiments like Cat’s and mine (and various other authors before us — we didn’t invent this approach!) will work out in the long run, or become the new normal, or come to seem quaint and strange. But, pragmatically — and, like Marla, I try to be pragmatic — I don’t care if it’s sustainable or heralds a new age, not at the moment. It’s bringing in some money right now, and allowing me to write something I’m passionate about at the same time, and that has to be enough.

(Though if anybody knows of good jobs or juicy freelance gigs, let me know. My wife has been a catalog copywriter and retail buyer for the past 7.5 years, and also has office manager/admin experience. She’s awesome and any company’d be lucky to have her.)

-Tim Pratt

3 Responses to “Bones and Boats and Experimental Publishing”

  1. July 1, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    I enjoyed chapter one of Bone Shop and look forward to further installments!

  2. 2 jude
    July 2, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Is your wife looking strictly to telecommute? If not, a geographic indicator would help for those of us who may know of openings.

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