What Do Otaku Readers Really Want?

The Japanese publishing industry is getting predictable. Every other week, there’s a brand new series starring a Japanese high schooler who is mysteriously transported to a fantasy world. There he promptly gains overwhelming powers, the antagonism of the local Demon King, and the affections of a harem of cute, buxom, mature, demihuman and underage girls. Harem hijinks, massive explosions, and indecisive fumbling and awkward stuttering follows. And along with these come the inevitable light novel/manga/anime/movie/game/mobile adaptations.

Exaggeration? Probably, but not by much. As JD Cowan notes in two separate blog posts, pandering to otaku makes easy money. While he was writing about the context of anime, the Japanese publishing and anime industries tend to be tightly integrated. If a manga or light novel becomes a bestseller, an anime adapation will follow, and vice versa.

In July 2016 I saw this phenomenon first hand in Sapporo. Strolling into a Kinokuniya, I took this photograph:

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A glance at the covers will tell you what the contents of many of these stories are about. Having read several of these manga, I can confirm that the covers are faithful representations of the contents. The deliberate positioning of these books at eye height, where customers can easily spot them, likewise indicate what the bookstore thinks will sell best.

That said, while it’s easy to dismiss all modern manga, anime and light novels as fanservice, a closer inspection will reveal more interesting tidbits. Among the titles I found were Nejimaki Seirei Senki – Tenkyou no Alderamin (Alderamin in the Sky), a military fantasy series; Fate/Strange Fake, a spin-off of a popular urban fantasy franchise; Ri:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World), a isekai fantasy story with death-triggered time travel as its main gimmick; All You Need is Kill, a military science fiction time travel story; and Golden Kamuy, a historical action thriller. None of these titles are fanservice titles, and yet they take pride of place in bookshelves.

These are also the kind of stories that will be exported overseas.

Three Markets, Three Tastes?

Otaku pandering may be a surefire formula for financial success in Japan. But in places without a significant otaku population (i.e. the rest of the world), works that rely on fanservice and otaku in-jokes aren’t going to survive. The more risque ones might even be banned outright, formally or otherwise.

Companies that specialise in importing, translating and distributing Japanese media need to select works that they believe will appeal to their audiences. Bookstores, in turn, have to make careful stocking selections to ensure maximum returns. As bookstores shutter their doors and online marketplaces expand, stocking the right kind of books spell the difference between profit and closure for brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Looking at translated media gives a good gauge of what distributors and bookstores believe to be the tastes of the local audience. It may not necessarily be totally representative of what the audience is looking for, but it provides insights into the state of the industry and the tastes of the market. With this in mind, I visited the Kinokuniya bookstore at Orchard Road on the 29th of December.

My first stop was the manga section, with some of its offerings photographed below.

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These manga are shounen titles, aimed at males between the ages of 12 to 18. These are wildly-popular series: Attack on TitanYour Lie in AprilOne-Punch Man. Other titles on offer include Blue ExorcistFairy Tale and Servant x Service. You might also find the odd seinen manga, which are works for males between 18 to 35, such as Ghost in the ShellVagabond and, if you are incredibly lucky, Berserk.

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Fanservice is not in demand in Singapore’s bookstores. And the titles I’ve discovered are all hits in Japan–and in the West. This indicates that there is an aesthetic that transcends geographical and cultural borders. Not to mention media genres.

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For a most mysterious reason, English-language light novels are shelved under ‘Comics Literature’. Even franchises that began as light novels (Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in A Dungeon?) or web novels (The Rising of the Shield Hero). Naming peculiarities aside, a quick glance at the shelves speaks volumes about local tastes.

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Once again, these titles are hits in Japan and the West, and most are not fanservice-heavy titles. The majority of them are shounen titles too. Indeed, I counted only three explicit seinen titles tucked away: OverlordRe:Zero and the infamous Goblin Slayer.

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As you can see, the books are practically skeletal by Western standards. For instance, every chapter in Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in A Dungeon? tends to run to about 20-25 pages, with plenty of white space, one-liners or three to four-line paragraphs, and minimal descriptions. This allows the bookstore to stock multiple copies of the same book, and indeed keep the entire series in inventory, without sacrificing much shelf space. It also allows the reader to quickly breeze through the book — and drives demand for the sequel.

The English-speaking demographic of Singapore seems to favour shounen titles filled with action, fantasy, adventure and a dash of harem hijinks. Seinen stories are a tough sell.

Wandering over to the Chinese section, I noticed straightaway that the Chinese naming conventions tend to be in line with Japanese ones. Light novels are indeed called light novels, and manga is translated as manhua. Unlike the English section, there is also a shelf reserved exclusively to web novels.

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The Chinese manhua shelf shows a surprising diversity of works — not the least because the Chinese language section has more shelf space for Japanese imports. There are oldies but goodies like Slam Dunk and Ranma 1/2, contemporary sci fi like Space Brothers, and the odd seinen title like Billy Bat. There are likely a number of original Chinese manhua mixed in the shelves too, but I’m not familiar enough with manhua to make a definitive pronouncement. And smack-dab in the middle is Cardcaptor Sakura. There doesn’t seem to be a preference for genre, demographic or publishing date — just a preference for proven bestsellers. The one thing we can say that the Chinese market probably loves is Gundam.

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The light novels section likewise follow a similar trend. With more shelving space comes an increased variety of selections. We have Chinese-translated versions of Japanese favourites like Your NameFireworks, Should We See it From the Side or Bottom?, and The Irregular at Magic High School. There are seinen titles like OverlordUntil Death Do Them Part and Re:Zero, and fanservice books like Ero-Manga Sensei and Only Sense Online. I also found classics like The Kindaichi Case Files and more obscure titles such as Alice Mare.

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There’s at least four times the shelf space dedicated to Chinese light novels than their English counterparts. This is possibly indicative of increased demand for light novels among Chinese readers than English readers. Further, many Chinese language novels are published in the same short and thin style as Japanese light novels. The familiar formatting might make it easier for Japanese light novels to break into the Chinese market.

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The web novels section stands apart from the others. Virtually all the titles on sale are Chinese-language original works. With the odd doorstopper, many print web novels tend to either be as long as their light novel counterparts or perhaps a fraction longer. Chinese language web novels are also markedly similar to their Japanese counterparts, with brief, breezy writing, volume-spanning story arcs, and hundreds, if not thousands, of chapters.

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Lessons for SteemPulp

While the PulpRev community aspires to study from the old pulp grandmasters, I think there is much to be learned from modern writing as well. Steemit is a superb platform for publishing light novels and web novels in the style of the Japanese and Chinese traditions. For aspiring web novellists, I have the following observations:

Shounen is King

The number of shounen works vastly outnumber those of seinen stories. This shouldn’t be surprising, since there are far more shounen stories out there. But there is also a distinct lackof shoujo and josei stories too — stories targeted at girls and women. You’ll have to work to find the latter two genres.

Before the inevitable cries of sexism, I should point out that the shelves I’ve photographed comprised a tiny fraction of the total shelf space available in Kinokuniya. With so little space to work with, the bookstore needs to prioritise titles that will turn a profit. They will select for titles with universal appeal, which seems to be shounen works. For non-shounen stories to break out into the market, they’ll have to find a way to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Different Demographics, Universal Tastes

The English-speaking market seems to prefer modern works, while the Chinese market has a mix of modern and classic works. This could simply be due to the limited shelf space available for English-language books — and perhaps an indication that Chinese translation may not be a commercial priority beyond well-known bestsellers.

With that said, the length and size of the print stories are telling. Light novels and web novels all tend to be just the right size to hold in one hand. The same size as old pulp novels. However, the presence of thicker Chinese-language web novels suggests that a Chinese audience is also receptive to longer works.

It appears that there is a universal preference for short novels, short chapters, and tight stories. In other word: pulp stories.

Seek the Universals

There are themes, aesthetics and archetypes that transcend geographical, cultural and linguistic borders. Stories of high action and adventure, cool magic and advanced technology, compelling characters and intense drama will always gain traction no matter which language they are presented in. Tight, trim novels are appreciated no matter where you go. Stories that stand the test of time will always have willing readers.

If SteemPulp is to take off, they must write their stories to fit market preferances. If PulpRev, Superversive, Noblebright and other affiliated movements are to make fiction great again, they must tap into the power of the universals.

And fanservice is, most assuredly, not among them.

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My Dragon-nominated novel No Gods, Only Daimons is assuredly light on fanservice and heavy on action, tradecraft, and character drama. Check it out here.

The Year of PulpRev

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In the dankest corners of the Internet, on message boards and Discord servers, on digital and legacy media platforms, in books and films and television and games, there is a war. A war not against flesh and blood, but against the gatekeepers, against the degenerates, against the secret kings of the cultural spheres, against corruption in the souls of every man, woman and child. It is a war for the future of our culture.

The entertainment industry is no longerin the business of entertainment. Marvel marvels in transforming marvelous superheros with decades-long careers of heroism into hollow husks spewing social justice diatribes at the expense of fiction. Hollywood reboots and remakes beloved franchises into thinly-veiled propaganda pieces: Star Wars, Iron Fist, Beauty and the Beast, Ghostbusters, and there is no sign of stopping. In the field of science fiction and fantasy, publishers and writers crow about #Resistance, #MeToo, feminism, social justice, gender equality and LGBTQ advocacy; and create ‘fiction’ for the sole purpose of ramming social justice messages down the readers’ throats. Cultural expression is reduced to a race to see how many -isms can be crammed into a single work.

And when faced with true monsters like Marion Zimmer Bradley, Walter Breen, Ed Kramer, Victor Salva and others, the gatekeepers remain silent.

Enough is enough.

For decades the Far Left has dominated the SFF field. In that time they built an empire of filth. Subversiveness, deconstruction, transgressiveness, antitheism, moral ambiguity, antiheroism, gratuitous violence and sex, social justice, diversity and progressivism aren’t simply themes to be explored, but ideas to be propagated to readers. After so many years of subversion, there is precious little left to subvert.

Thus, Samuel R Delaney, the man who wrote a book dripping with fictitious child rape, is celebrated as a science fiction grandmaster, while investigative reporting into actual child rape is derided and glossed over. Thus, the Hugo Awards, once a mark of the best SFF of the year, is now a marker of the most far-left SFF of the year among increasingly insular circles, and soon it will be replaced by the Dragon Awards and other awards. Thus, the hounding of YA authors for wrongthink, the censorship of SFF authors for offending sensibilities, the whisper campaign against minority authors who refuse to toe the party line, the naked discrimination against writers who do not adhere to the Narrative.

Consumers are voting with their wallets. Viewers roundly criticised the Ghostbusters reboot. Earnings for The Last Jedi saw an unprecedented decline of 69% from its opening weekend. Marvel and DC have seen massive drops in sales, and Marvel has been forced to cut its non-performing comics issues. Not coincidentally, those dropped comics are all about social justice, diversity and the usual buzzwords.

Customers do not want diversity, social justice and other -ists and -isms shoved down their throats. They want to be entertained. They don’t want stories about cat pictures, fat acceptance, the supremacy of the matriarchy, or the inevitable triumph of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They want good stories, stories with exciting action, masterful descriptions, and larger-than-life characters. They want stories that resonate with their souls.

The SJWs have built an empire of nothing, and it is crumbling to ashes. With each passing day they lie, they double down and they project. They refuse to accept that the market doesn’t want their drek, and instead insist on producing even more drek to edify the Unholy Trinity of diversity, feminism and social justice. In so doing, they are hastening their demise–and paving the way for we who would replace them.

It is time for a revolution. A Pulp Revolution.

The souls of readers cry out for goodness, and we deliver. Tales of action and adventure and awe and wonder. Fantastic worlds, amazing technology, stupendous magic, eldritch horrors, dastardly villains, heroes, knights, kings and queens. Masculine men in perfect synergy with feminine women. Transcendent gods and malicious devils. Virtue, courage, heroism, sacrifice, duty, nobility, honour. These are the stories we have spent our professional lives studying, advocating, and writing. We are ready to meet the call of the market.

As Herald of the PulpRev and Warboss of Steempulp, I declare 2018 to be the Year of PulpRev. The goal is absolute domination of Steemit’s fiction community. Steemit is virgin ground, filled with potential, and ripe for the taking. Through Steemit, we shall show the world the grandeur that is the Revolution and the Revival. We shall establish the golden standard for online fiction.

Our methods are simple. We shall study the craft of the pulp grandmasters and contemporary bestsellers to sharpen our own. We shall study the business models of indie writers, small publishers, Japanese light novels and Chinese web novels to lay the foundations for our success. Most of all, we shall employ our secret weapon: PULP SPEED.

We stand at a turning point in history. Markets demand what we offer. Technology gives us a means of censorship-proof publishing and an easy way to get paid. All that is left is for us to seize the opportunity and build the culture of tomorrow.

High energy. Regress harder. Pulp speed. These shall be our watchwords and our arsenal. Through 2018 and beyond, we shall sweep away the Empire of Nothing and build upon its ashes our Dominion of Pulp.

In 2018, we shall make fiction great again.

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Cover image: ‘David slaying Goliath. Line engraving by M. Vandercuicat after G. Freman’ by G. Freman. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY 4.0.

If you want a taste of the kind of stories we offer, check out my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS and my novella INVINCIBLE.

Maintain Cohesion in Your Fiction Series

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What makes for an excellent fiction series? For that matter, what defines a series?

Persistent characters who develop over multiple stories. Conflicts, drama and story arcs that span multiple books. Story-critical concepts that underpin the series, be it magic, high technology, forensic science, and so on. Exploration and expansion of these concepts to facilitate the plot. The expectation that each successive book builds upon the previous one, creating a chronologically-coherent timeline. To make a series work, you must maintain internal cohesion by ensuring that events occur in a logical fashion, that characters act and react in a manner consistent with their previously-established personas, and that existing concepts are built upon and new ones signalled or gradually introduced.

Sean Chercover’s Daniel Byrne series is an excellent example of an incoherent series.

The series begins with The Trinity Game. Daniel Byrne is an investigator for the Vatican’s Office of the Devil’s Advocate, which studies alleged miracles. He has never found proof of miracles–until one day, his uncle Tim Trinity, begins predicting the future. Trinity is a con man–but is he telling the truth this time? As Byrne investigates Trinity, secret organizations step out of the shadows, including the Mafia, the Council for World Peace and the Fleur-de-Lys Foundation. Caught in a shadow war, Byrne must protect Trinity as he prepares to deliver a final prophecy his enemies will do anything to prevent.

The series begins with a promising start. A compelling protagonist who presents himself as a man of God despite not believing in God. A con man who may or may not be running a con. A power struggle between powerful and ruthless factions for the fate of the world. The sequel The Devil’s Game builds upon these core ideas. Byrne has now joined the Foundation, and discovers a strain of the plague that grants its victims the power of foresight. He partners with disgraced doctor Kara Singh, who suffers visions of her own, to trace the source of the plague–and discovers a conspiracy to release a world-changing pandemic.

So far so good. The conflict between the Foundation and the Council escalates in the second book. Byrne has apparently found his life’s purpose, and someone to share his life with. The true faces of the Foundation and the Council are revealed. And a shocker in the final chapter sets the stage for the third book, The Savior’s Game.

Which crashes and burns.

The Savior’s Game is not a bad story. It’s an exceptional novel. Byrne is forced to work alone, relying on his wits and his best friend. He has to navigate a strange new world with even stranger powers, while pursued by enemies far deadlier and more capable than before. As a standalone book, it is incredible. But as the conclusion of a trilogy, it fails.

The central conceit of the series is Anomalous Information Transfer, an unexplained ability to experience the past, present or future as visions. The Council wishes to control it to rule the world, while the Foundation aims to stop the Council. This meta-conflict between the Council and the Foundation suddenly vanishes in the third book, never to be seen again.

Replacing AIT is a surreal world called the Source, a deeper reality underlying this one–one that has never been hinted at in previous stories. There are allegedly thousands of inhabitants in the Source, but there are no indications in previous stories that people who experience AIT aren’t simply experiencing visions, or that there are people who can transport their consciousness to another plane of existence. AIT and the Source come off as two distinctly separate phenomena, linked only by the most tenuous of plot threads.

The main antagonist of The Savior’s Game is a character from the second novel who was mysteriously resurrected, but there are no explanations why this occurred or what happened to other dead people.

A secondary antagonist, revealed near the end, is a traitor, a character who has appeared in the previous novels and now claims that he agrees with the primary antagonist and wants to burn the world down–but up to that point, there is no sign that the traitor has embraced nihilism or even had any contact with the main antagonist.

With the critical elements of *The Savior’s Game* so profoundly disconnected from the rest of the series, it comes across as the conclusion of a completely different series altogether. To avoid the same fate, you must maintain cohesion in your fiction series. To do this, apply the concept of anchoring.

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When a reader reads an earlier book in the series, he has built an image of the characters, story world, key conflicts and conceits in mind. He knows what kind of people the characters are, how the world works, the conflicts that drive the story, and so on. This knowledge anchors him to the ideas that define a series, *and* creates the expectation that future books will build upon this anchor.

In future books, characters must act, react and grow based on the events they experience in the story *and* how previous events have shaped them. The world must evolve in response to the events in previous books. Conflicts established in previous stories must advance or end. The reader must be able to draw a clear thread linking events and character evolution from previous stories to the present.

If you want to introduce new concepts, you must do so in reference to the anchor — that is, it should build upon what the reader already knows of your story. If you want to introduce a super advanced faster than light drive in the second book of a series, then in the first book there must be references to starships and spaceflight to ground the reader in your story conceits. If you want to have a wizard flinging around ultra-cool magic in a later book, then in earlier books you need to establish the existence of magic, and possibly any principles said wizard will use for said ultra-cool magic.

If you must bring out completely new ideas that have no previous reference points, you need to prime the reader to expect new concepts to come out of nowhere. In Jim Butcher’s *Dresden Files*, every faction has its own unique brand of magic: necromancers bring the dead back to unlife, White Court vampires feast on lust, Red Court vampires drink blood, the Denarii are fallen angels, the Knights of the Cross are holy warriors, and so on. This primes the reader to expect a a new kind of magic whenever a new faction or monster is introduced.

Every book in a series should have anchors for readers familiar with previous books, the better to prepare them for the novelties to be introduced in the current book. Harry Dresden is the key anchor for the Dresden Files: he pits his already-established magic powers against these new and unknown foes and their abilities, creating a sense of familiarity and cohesion for the audience, and when Dresden develops new powers, his research and development is explicitly shown on the page, priming the reader for their appearance.

If you’re writing a closed-ended series, one with a definitive ending, there is another trick you can use: plan the ending of the entire series before starting it. Once you know the beginning and ending of the series, how the major conflicts will be resolved and how the characters will meet their fates, you’ll be able to plan how each installment in the series builds upon each other. This prevents new ideas and stories from disrupting the series and turning it into something that isn’t.

If you expect a series to end in a dramatically different manner from the expectations established in the first book, you should signpost this divergent ending where possible. The Dresden Files series appears to involve Harry Dresden taking on seemingly unrelated cases, but in several stories Dresden determines that there is an unseen faction who is secretly pulling the strings — although he hasn’t, as yet, uncovered their motives or leaders. This hints at the (possible) ending of the series: a final showdown between Dresden and this faction. Signposts like these tell the reader that while they can enjoy the current story and series in their present form, they should brace themselves for the series to take a different turn.

Cohesion is critical to creating a successful fiction series. In each successive installment, anchor your readers in the story world so you won’t lose them when introducing new concepts. End the series in a way that flows organically from its beginning — but if you must take the series in a new direction, be sure to signal it as early and as often as you can.

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In my own novel, No Gods, Only Daimons, I signposted the ending of the series in the climax. Good luck finding it!

2017 in Retrospect

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I joined Steemit a year ago. It was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Steemit has changed my life for the better in so many ways. It incentivizes regular content creation, content that adds significant value to readers. Where most of the Internet rewards clickbait and fluff, here’s a barrier-free site where a person can write deep, analytical pieces and be rewarded for it. Here I found a space where I can express my own brand of writing and further sharpen my skills.

Here is the place where I found my soul as a writer.

Breaking Out

12 years ago I began blogging in earnest. I ranted and raved about anything and everything that came to mind, usually involving politics and current affairs, and somehow I caught the eye of other bloggers in Singapore’s growing socio-political space. For a couple of years I found a community there, but after National Service, after the rise of government regulations and the departure and retirement of many prominent bloggers, I found myself once against without a community.

Right around that time I needed to make a living. But nobody wanted to hire me for my writing skills. Freelance writing jobs were few and far between. I only had the time to blog once or twice a month, and every time I was simply shouting into the dark. With the explosive growth of social media and other distractions, there was simply little reason for people to read some obscure youth on a little-known blog.

Nevertheless, I kept blogging. In mid-2016, I stepped up the blogging frequency in an attempt to reach wider audiences. Then, in December, I learned of this exciting new platform where content creators and curators could be rewarded in cryptocurrency. I studied the site, analyzed the technology, looked up reviews, and joined Steemit.

I wrote about everything that came to mind. Technology, philosophy, martial arts, life hacks, meditation, anime, books, manga, on and on and on. And the more money I made, the more I was motivated to keep writing. Today I shoot for at least three posts a week, depending on my schedule.

For the first time, I was making real money off the Internet. Magic Internet Money, to be sure, but [cryptocurrency’s] great promise is its ability to make rapid gains in value and be quickly converted to usable fiat. While earnings from each individual post usually didn’t come close to my freelance work, my freelance commissions were far more irregular, and demanded far more time. These days, I make more money off Steemit than freelance commissions.

For the first time, I had the luxury of turning down work.

For the first time, I no longer had to worry about my finances.

From Wannabe to Almost Somebody

I began writing fiction in 2013. In 2014, I made my first professional fiction sale. My second in 2015, and a third in 2016.

In 2017, I published one novel, one novella, and five short stories.

To be sure, No Gods, Only Daimons was written in 2015, and took almost two full years to get to market. But the remaining stories were written this year.

2017 saw the rise of the Superversive and the PulpRev movements. Their ideals resonated with my own, and I wrote stories for them. Beyond that, I also wrote fiction for Steemit — Two Lives and Night Demons — and published two more trunk stories here — Invincible and Redemption Road. And my Steemit stories have, without exception, outearned the other short fiction sales I’ve made to date.

Through writing these stories and seeking out others like them, I found a community of writers with shared goals and methods. By some strange twist of fate, I am the first PulpRev writer on Steemit, and in the past week at least a half-dozen writers joined in. As the Herald of PulpRev on Steemit, I declare that the PulpRev community shall take the Steemit fiction world by storm.

The Verge of The Dream

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Calculating my income for the year, I made a startling discovery. Half of my income this year came from writing and cryptocurrency.

Half.

Perhaps a sixth of those monies came from royalties in fiat. The rest came from cryptocurrency investments, all of which were funded from Steemit’s native tokens. The recent explosion in cryptocurrency prices certainly had a part to play in that, but going forward I’m confident that there’ll be increased demand for crypto in the years to come — and with that, the potential for even more earnings.

When I was younger, I was told that you’d never make a living from writing, that you shouldn’t expect to make money from writing. Yet here it was, proof that a man can make a decent amount of money from writing.

When I was 12 I set my heart on being a full-time fiction writer. I refused to listen to anyone who said otherwise. Now I stand on the verge of the dream. Not quite there yet, but it is within sight.

Sowing the Seeds of Success

2017 was for preparation and experimentation. I spent the year writing and writing and writing, looking to see what worked and what didn’t. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found on Steemit, social media, and elsewhere. I established my reputation as a writer, fiction and non-fiction, learned the ins and outs of Steemit, connected with wider communities, and somewhere along the way I became the Herald of PulpRev on Steemit.

Looking back on everything I’ve done, it’s clear now that I’ve been laying the foundations of success for the past 16 years. If I hadn’t spent those 16 years writing, learning, growing and connecting, I couldn’t have reached where I am now. I don’t doubt that the coming years will require more hard work, more planning, more dedication, more of everything I’m doing now.

But for the first time, I can see the goalposts.

The Future Form of Fiction

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Recently, Brian Niemeier argued that success in indie publishing demands a prolific release schedule. This, in turn, demands short novels. I think he’s right.

The maths is simple. A 50,000 word novel can be edited, formatted and published much faster than a novel of three times the length. An author who releases four books a year enjoys four times the product, four times the chances of being discovered, four times the odds of being recommended, and four times the potential profit (or more) than a writer who publishes merely one. While there are authors who can go for years between novels and become insta-bestsellers when their latest books hit the shelves, these authors are enormously lucky outliers, and professional writers can’t count on being lucky. They have to make their own luck.

This doesn’t mean long novels are obsolete. Larry Correia’s novels are as gigantic as he is. However, he keeps his stories tight and fast-paced, and when he’s in the zone he churns out ten thousand words a day. He publishes multiple books a year, making him as prolific as other indie writers who punch out shorter novels.

Book length isn’t as important as being prolific. But not everyone can dedicate so much time and energy to writing as Larry Correia, so for most authors, writing shorter stories would be a better writing strategy.

Self-publishing has opened the floodgates. At the end of this sentence a new book has been published. To generate and retain brand awareness in such an environment, an indie author must be prolific.

What does this mean for me?

I grew up in the age of mega-novels and densely-packed texts. As a boy I tore through massive tomes without regard for length. Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar and Southern Victory sagas, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Tom Clancy’s and Larry Bond’s technothrillers, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Ron L Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth. In the early days of dial-up Internet, I consumed web pages filled with nothing but text and the occasional poorly-rendered image. Today, I still ignore nine in ten photographs I see in online articles.

It never occurred to me that I should be intimidated by the length of the current story I was reading, and that attitude overflowed into my writing. My first novel ran to over 300 pages, and my more recent novels start at 150,000 words. I’m predisposed towards reading and writing what would, by modern standards, be ultra-long works of fiction.

None of which matters in the current age of fiction.

In the 1990s, when I grew up, books merely had to compete with movies, television and video games. Books and library memberships were far, far cheaper than the competition, and they had the singular advantage of being seen as a prestige product. But we don’t live in the 1990s any more.

Today, books have to compete with movies, television, live streams, YouTube, Internet streaming services, mobile games, PC games, and console games. The price of traditionally-published print books haven’t changed significantly over the years, even with the advent of Print on Demand technology, but the entry price for everything else has dropped dramatically. Humble Bundle and Steam sales regularly offer steep discounts for games, streaming is cheap, and YouTube is free.

More importantly, people have changed. We live in an age of constant novelty and distraction. Social media feeds flood users with information every second of the day. Ebooks have no physical presence to remind users of their existence, but they do have page counts that suggest the reader must plow through mountains of words. When given a choice between regular, quick hits of dopamine in a fast-paced mobile game or a prolonged, subtle experience in a work of prose, your average consumer will gravitate towards the former. To even stand a chance of being read, digital articles must come with attractive graphics, attention-grabbing headlines, and be as short as the writer can get away with.

I didn’t create this world. But I have to live in it. And if I am to be successful I must flow with the times.

These industry and consumer trends point to the impending dominance of pulp-style writing. Short, punchy fiction, written quickly, released regularly and sold cheaply. Longer works like The Lord of the Rings would be released as serials or broken up into multiple shorter books. It is the same model employed by modern Japanese light novelists for decades. Its success in the Golden Age of pulp and in modern times indicates that prolific publishing of shorter works is a time-tested strategy for writing success.

There is, however, another method.

Web novels are the red headed stepchildren of the modern publishing scene. While virtually unknown in Western writing circles, they are hugely popular among fans of Japanese and Chinese fiction — especially WNs that have been translated into English.

On first glance, WNs seem to defy Niemeir’s argument: the most popular WNs run into hundreds or even thousands of chapters. But WNs create the illusion of brevity.

Each individual chapter takes no more than a few minutes to read, and is loaded on a single web page. Each chapter takes only a few minutes to read, reducing the perceived time and opportunity cost to the reader, and encouraging the reader to spend just a few minutes more on the next chapter (and the next, and the next…). With many short chapters released regularly, WNs are arguably the modern-day digital serials.

By contrast, books are experienced as a contiguous whole. Ebooks may tell you how many pages you have left to the next chapter, but print books don’t. Novels with long chapters can be a daunting experience to read versus novels with much shorter ones. By breaking up the reading experience into discrete web pages, each trickled down slowly over days and weeks and months, WNs shorten the perceived time it takes to clear each chapter and plot point. When printed, WNs tend to resemble light novels in the brevity of their chapters and story arcs, and indeed many popular LNs began as WNs: Sword Art Online, Re:Zero, Rise of the Shield Hero.

Which makes WNs perfectly suited for Steemit.

I know I can write huge amounts of words quickly. But to be a pro, only published stories count. Going forward, I must adapt my writing style to suit the times. As Kai Wai Cheah I’m obliged to complete the Covenant Chronicles the way I envisioned it: a series of at least six long-form prose novels. But as Kit Sun Cheah I’ve been experimenting with short fiction on Steemit, and the results have been encouraging. I won’t speak of what I will write yet, but come 2018, a new kind of fiction is coming.

Watch this space.

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If you like pulp-style action horror, check out my short story Redemption Road: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, part 4, Part 5

For long-form prose, you can find my Dragon Award nominated novel No Gods, Only Daimons here.

Chasing Literary Awards Won’t Promote Singlit

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Epigram Books, a Singaporean publisher, is aiming for the Man Booker Prize. As part of its goal, it has opened an imprint in the United Kingdom, so that its offerings will be eligible for the Prize. Founder Edmund Wee believes that the publicity generated from such an achievement “would be a turning point for people to see that Singaporean books aren’t that bad at all”.

I wish him the best of luck, but my experience suggests that it’s a long shot. I am Singapore’s first, and so far only, writer nominated for the Hugo and Dragon Awards. I can tell you that chasing awards means nothing.

Epigram Books is the creator of the Epigram Fiction Prize, Singapore’s richest literature award. Each winner receive $25,000 and a publication offer. Per the article:

Out of the 72 entries received in the first year, four were shortlisted and published. All four sold out their initial run of 1,000 copies within two or three months, a milestone that normally takes bestsellers a year to reach in Singapore, according to Wee.

Colour me impressed, but I should note that my own novel, which was not selected for an Epigram Fiction prize, did far better in the same time frame. I’m not sure if I can publicly disclose the actual sales figures, but I can say that neither my publisher nor I had to sink in $25,000 to bring it to the market. We both enjoyed healthy profits from that one book in three months.

And I won’t comment on Epigram’s UK imprint selling only 100 copies per title in its catalogue.

The key to understanding the TradPub mindset is that they don’t sell stories. They sell paper. It’s the traditional way of delivering stories to customers. But technology has significantly altered the publishing industry in the past decade.

Print on Demand technology has rendered storing mountains of paper books in bookstores and warehouses obsolete; if you want a paper book, just go on Amazon, and it will print and deliver the book to you. Ebooks are far cheaper than paper books, and far more convenient and accessible in an age of smartphones and tablets. Ereaders and ebook stores have opened the floodgates to new markets and new writers, and search engine algorithms and social media have made discovering and following writers easier than before. Self-publishing platforms allow anybody to write and publish stories from anywhere in the world without having to go through publishers.

Books themselves are facing stiff competition from elsewhere. YouTube, Crunchyroll, Steam, GOG, NetFlix, and other media are all competing with books for the readers’ entertainment dollar and time. If a customer has to choose between dropping $18 on a paperback that can be read in 8 hours, or $15 on an indie game that lasts for 50 hours, you can bet that he will choose the latter. Likewise, $18 on a single paperback versus $11.95 on a monthly Crunchyroll premium membership with complete access to all anime and drama in its catalogue is a no-brainer too.

We live in the sunset of traditional publishing. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are closing down, and Big Publishing is declining. Writers and publishers must adapt to changing times or be forgotten.

Encouraging Singaporeans to read Singaporeans may be an admirable goal, but publishers need to remain profitable to continue publishing stories. If they can’t make a profit, publishers will be force to close down. Becoming profitable is simple:

Give readers what they want.

Technology may have changed, but readers’ tastes have not. Romance readers want love and drama. Thriller readers want excitement and derring-do. SFF readers want awe and wonder. Produce books that meet their expectations, using technology to minimise costs and penetrate markets, and you’ll make money.

Publishers need to take a long, hard look at the industry and themselves, and see how they can best serve their readers’ needs. Wee’s words are instructive of his attitude:

“For many years, it has been in Singaporeans’ minds that foreign books are better and local books not so good,” he says. “I blame everybody. I blame the schools because literature is not compulsory. I blame the bookshops. I blame the press because they still want to interview famous international authors instead of local authors.”

Blaming everybody is not the solution. Courting people with awards will not work. If you don’t publish writers whose works people love, people aren’t going to love them back. It’s as simple as that. Of all the Singaporean-authored books and stories I’ve read over the years, none of them have left a lingering impression on me. None of them met my tastes — or my standards of craft.

Chasing a Man Booker Award is a snipe hunt. Writers who can win such an award are incredibly rare. Gambling everything on the hope that that such a talented writer signs on with you is the literary equivalent of putting all your eggs in one basket. After all, what are the odds that a writer capable of winning the Man Booker Award sign on with a small publishing house from tiny country?

Even if Epigram manages such a feat, it’s not likely to have a knock-on effect on all other Singaporean books. As I have seen first-hand with the Hugos and Dragons, should an author win an award, readers will flock to the award-winning book, then the rest of his backlist, and only then other authors of similar standards in the same field. Sharing the same nationality as a Man Booker Award-winning writer isn’t compelling enough to capture a reader’s heart. These other writers must be in the same league as the award winner to stand a chance.

Mickey Spillane once said that people eat more salted peanuts than caviar. Other writers mocked him for his writing style, but through hard work and appealing to the masses, he left his mark on the American crime thriller genre. I have a similar philosophy.

I don’t write stories to chase awards. I write stories to entertain my readers. Awards are pleasant, but profits are king. If you want to encourage readers to read more books, you have to sustain the ability to publish more books, and to publish books you need to be profitable. If I were a Singaporean publisher, this is what I would do:

  1. Focus on genre fiction. There is a dearth of genre fiction in Singapore; other than Young Adult and the odd romance and horror story there is a stunning lack of Singaporean genre fiction. Grab the first mover advantage in this field. Don’t limit yourself to submissions from Singaporeans, but do try to sign on as many Singaporean genre fiction writers as possible.
  2. Publish stories that meet and exceed genre conventions. Stories must be entertaining. Build a brand focused on quality entertainment and powerful story-telling. In a world where anyone can publish anything, publishers can differentiate themselves by creating a reputation for quality.
  3. Break into ebooks and Print on Demand technology, and target a global audience. The wider your potential market, the more money you make. Minimise cost, maximise distribution.
  4. If your goal is to promote ‘literary’ works, create another imprint dedicated to literary fiction. Channel profits from genre fiction into this imprint to keep it running. Follow steps 2 and 3, building a reputation for publishing quality work and delivering it to the world. You might not make much money out of the literary imprint, it might even be a loss leader, but hey, you’re promoting Singlit and your own brand.

I am leery of ‘literary’ stories. As far as I’m concerned, there are only two kinds of books: books worth reading, and books not worth reading. To stay competitive, publishers must do the former and avoid the latter. Qualities like ‘literariness’ or subversiveness or other avant-garde properties take a back seat to market demand. To remain in the publishing game, publishers have to turn a profit. Ignore the market at your peril.

At the end of the day, trad publishers would do well to study the history of publishing. The literati may elevate the heavy, ponderous tomes of great literature — but it was the cheap pulp magazines, filled with energy and excitement, that instilled the joy of reading in the common people.

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To get a taste of my writing, check out my Steemit serial NIGHT DEMONS and my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS.

The Pulp Speed Transformation

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NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write 50,000 words in a month. An enormous undertaking for any writer, especially hobbyists and newcomers. But having written at Pulp Speed for the last two months, the NaNo challenge suddenly seems diminished.

In September I wrote about 75000 words. In October I clocked 108000. In the past 4 days, 17000 words. Yesterday, I completed my novel KAGE NO OUJI, with a total word count of 200307 words.

In 2 months, I completed NaNoWriMo 4 times.

I do not write this to boast about what I have done. There are many better and more prolific writers out there. Peter Nealen writes much faster than I do, on the order of 5000 words in 2.5 hours. Dominika Lein has pledged to write 175000 words for NaNoWriMo, which averages to 5833 words a day — and so far she has exceeded 6000 day after day. Larry Correia starts writing at story at 5000 words a day, and as he gets into his groove, tops off at 10000.

And yet, having passed through the fires of Pulp Speed, I can no longer be the writer I once was.

The Simplification

To meet the demands of Pulp Speed, I reduced my life to the essentials. Work. Writing. Training. Sleep. Eat. Hygiene. Social and business activities where appropriate. That is all.

It is a purity of existence, defined by activities needed to sustain and grow life and relationships, by the stuff I do to pay the bills, and by writing. There is no space and time for activities and beliefs which do not make me stronger, healthier, wealthier, or otherwise help me achieve my goals. I ignore thoughts and beliefs and words that hold me back, and listen only those that spur me on. For entertainment I reserved time only for that which helped me, in some way or other, become a better man: reading high-quality works of fiction and non-fiction, educational videos, inspirational music, the odd game that I can connect to the writer’s craft or to the pursuit of self-perfection.

A life free of useless of self-sabotaging activities is a life focused on success. By cutting away everything that pulls you down, and replacing them with everything that builds you up, you can only get better. By eradicating beliefs that limit you, you become limitless. By replacing mindless entertainment with dedicated work, by trading in soul-numbing couch-surfing for purposeful training, by consciously building mind and body and working towards your goals, success becomes inevitable.

The Discipline

Get up and write. Transform break times into writing times. Before bed, write some more.

Every day. Rain or shine, sleepy or refreshed, frustrated or inspired, no matter what, I kept writing. By consistently writing at my worst, I am able to make the most of the moments when I can write at my best.

Stories do not care how you feel. Readers do not care about your mental or emotional state when you are writing. All that matters is whether you are writing or not. If yes, you have skin in the game and you will complete the story if you keep it up. If not, you are not a writer.

Anybody can write when they are feeling on top of the world. But to be a pro, you have to write regardless of how you feel at the moment you touch your fingers to the keys. Once you achieve this, success is inevitable.

The Transcendence

KAGE NO OUJI is without question the best story I have written yet. Within the pages I have filled moments of sorrow and joy, terror and relief, rage and levity… and transcendence.

It is righteous fury married to calm calculations expressed as a whirlwind of primal violence. It is finding the serenity to confront something old beyond time and malicious beyond measure with a serene heart, for an even greater and more powerful being of goodness and truth is behind you. It is the recognition that all creation has conspired to place you in a moment in space-time to do what only you can do. It is the veil dropping from mundane reality, revealing the hidden truths that underpin a glorious cosmos.

I cannot say that I, this ego, wrote these moments. Only that with these mortal fingers I pray I captured on the page a glimpse of something higher and truer and greater than the foibles of mere men in this dewdrop world.

But to get to this point, you must have discipline. You must set up the scenes and characters so they make sense. You must spend the time and energy to build up to the payoff. You must show up and do the work, or you will never reach the summit of your skills.

Without the discipline to manifest it, an inner vision of the transcendence becomes a mere daydream. With the efficiency of a simplified life and the ironclad discipline to put in the work, success becomes inevitable.

The Next Stage

After this story, what next?

Another story, of course. The world waits not for the writer who grows fat and complacent. I have a veritable library of ideas percolating in my head; I need only figure out what to write next. And now, in the full knowledge that I can write a lot and write well, the process of choosing becomes easier.

Should I dedicate myself to it, I can start and finish a series in a single year. I can explore more experimental stories without having to sacrifice writing profitable ones. I can take time off to write shorter stories for practice, for profit, and for pre-series preparation. My career options have expanded dramatically. With prolific output and an ever-growing backlist, commercial success becomes inevitable.

But there is always room to grow. I aim to learn to write faster, to produce new kinds of stories, to try different writing methods for maximum output. I can always be more than who I am now.

On a far shore, a new story beckons. I take up my pen and prepare for the crossing.

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If you’d like to check out my fiction, you can find my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS on Amazon, with 45 reviews and an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

5 Lessons from the Slush Pile

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Over the past couple of months, I volunteered as a slush reader for the PulpRev Sampler Anthology. With a submissions window of just seven days, writers had to produce punchy pulpy pieces of 750 to 1500 words. For a project with little fanfare and such a short reading period, the response was phenomenal. With submissions from established writers and newcomers to the field, I believe this anthology provides a well-rounded overview of the PulpRev aesthetic. In this post, I’d like to share some of the writing lessons I learned as a slush reader.

1. Read the Submissions Guidelines

I cannot stress this enough. No matter how good your story may be, if it doesn’t meet the submissions guidelines, it will not be published. PulpRev’s submissions criteria were simple: We want stories with heart. We want stories with muscle. We want stories with heart and muscle in unexpected ways. We want stories that leave you demanding more.

In addition to the submission guidelines, we also included links to articles that further elaborated what we believed was the pulp aesthetic. Despite that, by far the most common reason I cited for rejecting a story was that it was not pulp. Some of them were excellent stories–one of them actually had the potential to win literary awards–but I couldn’t give them the nod because none of them were pulp.

If a story doesn’t meet a market’s requirements, there’s no use submitting it. It wastes your time waiting for a response, and the editor’s time evaluating it. You’re better off submitting the story to a market that’s a better fit for the work, or outright self-publishing it altogether.

2. Write Fast, Work Well

Speed is the name of the pulp game. Write fast, edit fast, publish fast. From start to finish, the sampler took twelve and a half weeks. Not too shabby for a bunch of enthusiasts new to the publishing game. But the other side of the coin is quality. PulpRev doesn’t respect the pulp masters simply because they published fast; they respect the masters because they mastered the craft of writing.

The second-most cited reason for rejection was poor quality. Being able to rush a story to meet a deadline doesn’t guarantee publication; it only guarantees a foot in the door. If the story isn’t good enough, that foot will be kicked out.

To write fast and write well, you need to work hard to reach that summit of skill — and recognise there are always greater heights to strive for. You need to be obsessed with honing your craft, improving speed and quality in equal measure. You want to be the guy everyone loves to read, edit and publish — not the one whose stories everyone dreads.

3. Bring Your A Game

Give the world your best work. Not necessarily your best work ever, but certainly the best work you can produce at that time. Once your story is in the pile, you are competing with who knows how many others for a limited number of spots. If you want to be published, you must stand out. If you’re sending in a badly written trunk story from years ago without updating it, if you just carelessly dash off a couple of thousand words just so you can submit something, if you don’t take the time to proofread and edit your first draft, your chances of publication are extremely slim.

Editors, especially volunteers, are only willing to put in so much work to edit and polish a story. If they feel they will spend too much time working on a story to bring it up to an acceptable quality, they will drop the story in favour of superior ones. This mindset trickles down to the slush readers.

Barring specific editorial instructions, slush readers don’t read to accept. They read to reject. You have one sentence to grab the reader’s attention, one paragraph to sink the hook, and the rest of the story to sustain and grow interest. It’s not easy. Quite the opposite. But the ability to do this is the difference between the best and the rest — and the published and unpublished.

At the bare minimum, the story must be readable. It has to be coherent; it has to have proper spelling, punctuation and grammar; it has to have memorable characters, forward momentum and a logical plot. If you can achieve this, you’re already halfway to success.

4. Optimise Your Work Processes

Writing isn’t simply about dumping words on paper. In the same vein, editing and publishing isn’t just about picking a story apart, then throwing a bunch of stories into a Word document and hitting the publish key.

For me, writing is a systemic process, with discrete steps to be carried out every step along the way, in recognition that every step influences every other step. So is publishing, more so if multiple people are involved. To work fast, you need to be efficient. To be efficient, you need to ensure you aren’t duplicating work, working at cross-purposes with each other, undermining yourself by doing unnecessary work at inappropriate times, and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

We had a number of dedicated volunteers who carried the project from start to finish. Nevertheless, the anthology could have been pushed out sooner, and there were points where we could have tightened our workflow. With that said, this was the first time any of us had done anything like an anthology before, and we ha the inevitable teething pains to overcome. Now we are armed with greater experience, and I hope the next anthology will be an even better experience all around.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

PulpRev is a small but lively corner of the Internet. Outside of a few niche circles I don’t think anybody has heard of us. Nevertheless, in a bid to showcase works of the more experienced authors in the aesthetic, we reached out to veteran writers and requested for stories.

The response was amazing. Jon Del Arroz provided an excerpt from his steampunk novel For Steam and Country, while John C. Wright offered the first chapter of his free online novel Superluminary, and David J West and Jon Mollison sent us stories of their own. These stories form the nucleus of the PulpRev Sampler.

The thing that strikes me the most about the PulpRev community is the unbridled spirit of generosity, compassion and amiability. We may disagree (and loudly!) on various issues, but we’re all in this together to help each other out. If you need help from such people, just ask — the results will astound you.

The PulpRev Sampler Anthology can be found on Smashwords and Amazon.

 

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If you’re a fan of old-school pulp fiction, check out my novel No Gods, Only Daimons. It mashes together science fiction, fantasy, espionage and military tropes in true pulp fashion, and was so well-received it was nominated for the Dragon Award in 2017.

The Quest for Pulp Speed

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A little over a month from now, thousands of writers will once again attempt the NaNoWriMo challenge. Once again, many will fall.

NaNoWriMo is simple: write fifty thousand words in thirty days. An admirable goal, and a challenging one. For the past ten years, the success rate hovered between a high of 19% in 2009 and 2010 to just 8% last year. To put things in perspective, NaNoWriMo has the same attrition rate as selection for the US Navy SEALs, Air Force Pararescue, and Delta Force. NaNoWriMo winners are rightly considered among the writing elite.

But if fifty thousand words in thirty days sounds too easy to you, take on the Pulp Speed challenge.

The essence of pulp is speed. Short, punchy stories flying off the typewriter in prodigious volumes. The great pulp masters were the most prolific writers of their day. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote a hundred stories, H P Lovecraft had a hundred and eight. Robert E Howard wrote hundreds of poems and over three hundred stories in a fiction career that spanned just twelve years. William B Gibson wrote three hundred and twenty-five The Shadow novels alone.

To be a successful pulp writer, you had to be prolific. To be prolific, you had to write at Pulp Speed.

What is pulp speed? In the words of the inestimable Dean Wesley Smith:

PULP SPEED ONE

About 1,000,000 (1 million) original words per year. This averages to about 2,750 words a day for 365 days. (numbers rounded)

PULP SPEED TWO

1,200,000 words in a year. 100,000 words per month.

And remember, that is about 3,400 words per day. If you can write 1,000 words average an hour, that’s 3.5 hours per day.

PULP SPEED THREE

1,400,000 words in a year. To hit this, you need to be about 120,000 words per month (rounded up) or about 4,000 words per day average…

PULP SPEED FOUR

1,600,000 words per year. That’s about 135,000 words per month or about 4,500 words per day without a day off.

PULP SPEED FIVE

1,800,000 words per year. About 150,000 words per month. 5,000 words per day without missing a day.

PULP SPEED SIX

2 million words and more per year. 170,000 words or so per month. About 5,500 words per day average.

What is the Pulp Speed challenge? Write at no less than Pulp Speed One, and maintain it every day until the story is done.

This is NaNoWriMo on steroids. This is how the pulp masters won their place in literary history. This is how today’s indie writers earn success in the ever-expanding fiction marketplace. To be a pro, Pulp Speed isn’t a challenge — it’s a job requirement.

My current novel, KAGE NO OUJI, is well under way. Even with a full workload, I’m still able to meet the Pulp Speed word count day after day, week after week. If you want to write beside me, here are some pointers for the task ahead.

1. Be Prepared to Write

If you’re a pantser, this doesn’t apply to you. Just show up and do the work. But if you need to plan your works, if you need some degree of organisation to be successful, you must prepare yourself to write. You don’t want to waste precious time fumbling around, wondering what to write. When it’s time to write, write.

Before I began writing proper, I plotted out the entire story. Every chapter, every character, every key scene. For four days I did nothing but eat, breathe, drink and sleep KAGE NO OUJI. I organised them all in a reference document and keep it close to hand. Before I write, I take a few moments to mentally walk through the scenes I intend to write, consulting the plot as necessary. When it’s go time, I’m not frozen at the keyboard staring the screen. I know what to write and how to write — I just need to do it.

2. Create A Writing Regimen

If, like me, you have to juggle writing with a day job, it goes without saying that you need to make time to write. But beyond that, you need to be consistent with writing time. You need to train your brain to switch into writing mode when it’s go time. You can’t afford to be distracted by thoughts of work, lousy clients, what to have for dinner or whatever; you have to focus completely on your story. You need a regimen.

In the morning, I wake up, have breakfast, and write. Over the day, during breaks at work, I write. During lunch, I write. After work, I write. Every block of time is carefully planned and scheduled, ensuring I will be able to focus exclusively on writing. I brook no interruptions and allow no distractions. From the start of every writing session, I am writing, writing, writing. It is a career, a regimen, a way of living.

Through discipline, triumph. This is the way of the warrior, the athlete, the artist, the builder, the entrepreneur–and the writer.

3. Take Care of Yourself and Your Loved Ones

You can’t write if you’re sick or sleepy or stressed out to the breaking point. You can’t sacrifice your health on the altar of pulp. Sure, you may make greater word count in the short run, but that won’t matter if you burn out or work yourself into the ground. You can’t write to the exclusion of everything else.

Eat right. Sleep enough. Drink plenty of water. Without health you’ve got nothing. I make it a point to exercise every day when I have time: weightlifting, running, yoga, martial arts, bodyweight calisthenics. If you have family, don’t neglect them too. Be sure to spend quality time with your loved ones. You cannot neglect them for the sake of Pulp Speed.

Your life is not, and cannot, be all about writing. You need to take time off to recharge your batteries, keep your body in shape, and stay in touch with your loved ones. Writing is a means to an end, not an end in itself. You cannot let writing become a demon that drives you into isolation, sickness, and an early grave.

4. When Writing, Write

When writing at Pulp Speed, you will discover that every minute, every second is precious. Guard every moment jealously and fill them with words. If you’re watching cat videos on YouTube, sharing clickbait on Facebook, wandering down the mirrored halls of tumblr and Twitter, you are not writing. If you don’t write when you’re supposed to be writing you’re not going to make the word count. Save distractions for when you can take a break from writing.

Enforce writing discipline. Refrain from using the Internet if you can, and if you must, set yourself a very short time limit. If you need something to focus on, put on energizing music, music that won’t pull your attention from the page. Disconnect yourself from all means of social communication, or at least make it very difficult for people to casually contact you. If necessary, use apps that isolate you from all distractions, enabling you to write. No matter what happens, short of an absolute emergency, you must plant your rear end in your chair and write–and keep writing.

5. Develop Your Writing Stamina

Writing takes vast amounts of mental and creative energy. I jumped into writing at Pulp Speed right off the bat because I knew I could perform at such a level. I have regularly achieved outputs of over 3000 words a day when working on my previous stories. The challenge, for me, was to squeeze those words into a shorter time frame, and to keep writing daily. But if you’re not already used to writing torrents of words, you will burn out and fail.

If you’re not ready yet, build up your writing stamina. Get used to writing something, anything, every day. Take note of your average daily output. Then, week by week, steadily bump it higher and higher and higher. Ramp it up steadily, adding maybe a few hundred words every week, and the next thing you know, you’re writing at Pulp Speed.

With these five tips, I built myself into a writer capable of writing at Pulp Speed. Production of KAGE NO OUJI began on the 1st of September. I wrote the first proper word of the story on the 5th. Today, on the 28th of September, the novel stands at 73313 words. Daily average of 3187 words.

Pulp Speed One — without taking into account the extra words I threw into my blog.

Fifty thousand words in thirty days is no small feat. But if you think that’s too light for you, aim higher. Aim for Pulp Speed.

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If you would like to support my work, do check out my Dragon Award-nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS on Amazon.

When In Doubt, Go Epic

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Whenever I plan a story, I occasionally run into hang-ups. The setting isn’t coherent, the technology and/or magic system isn’t evenly applied, the characters aren’t plausible, the plot lacks history or context, the stakes are too small. In every single instance, they are resolved by the use of a simple expedient: make everything bigger, brighter and more beautiful.

Science fiction and fantasy is the literature of ideas. It is the celebration of the human spirit and a paean to the imagination. SFF readers don’t want to be reminded of the dreariness of everyday life; they want to be immersed in strange new worlds with cultures and characters and tools similar enough to ours to be understandable, yet strange enough to be exciting. They want adventure and treasures and righteous battle, they want romance and chivalry and intelligence, they want to be taken to the depths of despair and just as quickly be elevated to the rapturous heights. They want, if only for a short while, to be transported out of this time and place and be reminded of the glories of the universe.

Epics, in the original sense of the term, fulfilled that purpose. The great epics celebrated the deeds of legendary heroes, pitting them against gods and monsters and cosmic forces. They reminded the audience that evil lurked everywhere–and that even mortals can overcome the most terrible foe. Through the epics the people tasted strange foods that no human could create, saw riches and wonders beyond human ken, smelled the salt of the wine-dark sea, and heard the compelling, majestic and irresistible voice of the heavens. Through larger-than-life characters and conflicts, the epics showed the people that there was much more to life than everyday mundanity — and in doing so, expanded and elevated their minds. And, most of all, they were fun.

SFF continues the grand tradition of Beowulf, The Eight Immortals and Nieblungenlied. It doesn’t matter that it’s fiction written for a contemporary audience; there will always be a human need to experience awe and beauty and just plain enjoyment, and among the established literary genres, SFF fulfils that need. It is its raison d’etre. It is why a century ago, pulps were the best-selling stories in the world.

Much contemporary SFF no longer fulfils that desire. Pink SFF — SFF more concerned about virtue-signalling and evangelising causes — has perverted the purpose of SFF. Where we once had heroes, we now had amoral nihilistic villains; in the place of wondrous kingdoms we have rotting empires; virtue is punished and the evil elevated; gods were no longer mighty and dignified, but rather weak and piteous, or simply satanic. There is no beauty to admire, no virtue to celebrate, no heroes to adore, no truth to learn. This is why SFF is now the least popular literary genre in the world — and quite likely at least part of the reason why many people just don’t read any more.

Book of the Long Sun

Story worlds are fragile things. They are consensual hallucinations held together by skeins of words and dollops of imagination. To be complete, to be coherent, these settings must have histories, peoples, politics, cultures, religions, believable geography and climate, technology and magic, language and art. These seemingly-disparate elements feed into and build upon each other, organically growing into worlds. If you replace or subordinate these elements with a single overriding political message, one that must reign supreme over every other ingredient, the result is a bland and colorless word stew, barely fit to be called a setting.

Do you want to read a story that hammers home on every page the evils of racism and oppression and sexism, or would you rather follow Conan the Cimmerian as he travels through fantasy Europe, Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, fighting men and monsters and wooing beautiful women? Does a family drama following the travails of a pack of werewolves who live in a tiny island sound interesting, or would you rather follow the exploits of a masked black-clad vigilante who dispenses rough justice with psychic powers and twin .45s? Which sounds more like a space opera: The story of a young boy who discovers he has supernatural powers, joins an order of warrior monks, participates in a galaxy-spanning war to overthrow an empire, trains to be a fighter pilot and swordsman, struggles to stay on the side of light, redeems his evil father and destroys a superweapon capable of destroying entire planets; or some kind of revenge tale featuring someone from an empire whose major identifying marker is that its people refer to each other as ‘she’ — even those with masculine titles.

The answer should be obvious.

World-building is the Bifrost that connects the author’s vision to the reader’s perceptions. A story world must allow for adventure and romance, fantastic cultures and fascinating peoples, vice and virtue, horror and honour. Without these, a story lacks colour, coherence, and cheer. It lacks fun — and if a story isn’t fun, people aren’t going to read it.

If you’re an SFF writer and you hope to make a profession out of it, your stories have to be fun. It doesn’t matter if you’re with PulpRev or Superversive or you just fly solo. If you want people to read your stories, they have to be fun. To make a story fun, the story must be set in a compelling world where fun adventures await.

If you get stuck crafting a world, if you’re struggling to bind plots and ideas together, if your magic or technology feels boring, there is a single ready solution: go bigger. Don’t let yourself be hemmed in by your beliefs or assumptions; let your imagination run wild. Escalate your stakes to encompass cities, countries, continents, worlds. Enable your magic or technology to solve increasingly larger plot problems – with an appropriately higher price. Make your villains more crafty and well-resourced and intelligent, and your heroes more skilled and brilliant and dynamic. Make everything more.

Make everything epic.

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If you want to help make SFF epic again, do consider voting for my novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS for Best Alternate History novel at the Dragon Awards. You can pick up a copy on Amazon here, and with 36 reviews and an average rating of 4.4 stars out of 5, I daresay it deserves a shot at winning.