Making Wild Books, Movies, and Waves In the New Frontier

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Dear gang –

There’s nothing like an exciting challenge. And nothing like putting a theory to the test.

So I’ll tell you about my big exciting publishing challenge for 2012. And then suggest one or two for you!

When I was offered the job of Editor-in-chief at Ravenous Shadows, they told me that they wanted to publish 40 books a year. I said, “Well, then they’re gonna have to be short, punchy books, cuz I’m not wading through 40 big blobby bastards. I don’t have time.

“And there will have to actually be 40 good books, cuz I don’t wanna publish crap just to pad out the line. No restaurant could survive serving half-baked dishes, and we wouldn’t, either. People have to be able to count on us to deliver tight, cool, wildly-entertaining books, They gotta feel like they’re always gonna get their money’s worth.”

Fortunately, they agreed to my preposterous terms. So I took the job. And the experiment began.

As such, my challenge is this: to find – or otherwise provoke – 40 great short books for publication. Work with the writers to get said books into tip-top fighting shape. And then find ways to make these books popular, so that they might prosper. Make money. Go out and multiply their enthusiastic readership.

This is, of course, absolutely insane. But by no means impossible.

And this is where you come in.

First, lemme address the writers in the room. Cuz I’m guessing there are a bunch of you, wondering what the fuck we’re up to here, and if there’s anything in it for you. Good. That’s what we’re wondering, too.

So your challenge is this, should you choose to accept it:

WRITE ME A GREAT, SHORT BOOK. I’m talking 30-60,000 words. The essential ingredients are horror, crime, mystery, suspense, and/or any of the other things that qualify a story as a thriller.

That said: what I’m really looking for are exciting, provocative, tightly-focused, plot-driven, character-intensive, shockingly original cliché-hammering tales with ass-kicking endings that make people sit up and take notice.

I’m looking for skillful, insightful writing. Singular, idiosyncratic voices. A genuine will to entertain. And a whole lot of giving-a-shit.

Which is to say, deeply caring about the story you’re telling, the subject matter you’ve engaged, and the people you’ve chosen to go through it with you.

Including not just your characters, but the potential audience for them.

In other words, I’m looking for books that people might feel passionate about. Not just sort-of like, shrug off as a passable time-killer, or curse as a useless time-waster, but actually love. Or at least really like a lot.

I know how many genuinely talented people are out there, looking for a break, or a chance to do something special that just can’t be ballooned into 300 pages plus. I know the strictures of mainstream publishing all too well. The idea too daring. The voice or angle too offbeat. The big-budget door too narrow for anyone but current bestsellers (or something just like them) to fit through.

And again, the Procrustean bed: wherein – if you’re somehow too long – they will hack your arms and legs off till you fit; but if you’re (more likely) too short, they will stretch said limbs till the bones pop out of their sockets.

Can we all agree that Procrustes was an asshole?


The bad news is, our advances are teensy. The good news is, our royalties are triple what the big boys pay. So the more you sell, the more you might actually make money.

The other good news is, these books don’t take forever to write. At least they don’t have to. A writer on a roll, with a clear idea of where they’re going, could burn one down in three weeks to three months. Factor in up to a month of tough editing (as needed), and that’s a pretty quick turnaround for a book that’s really good.

Of course, if you nail it the first time around, that would speed shit up considerably.

Ideally, the books I’m looking for have roughly as much story as a feature film. And should be read in roughly the time it would take to watch said feature film. A story you can inhale in a couple of hours is a wonderful thing for a reader. I would like us to give them that thing.

And just to be clear, here at the end of my pitch:

I want your A-game. I want the best you can do. No half-assed trunk novels that nobody else wanted, but you’d love to find an easy home for. I’ve got an eagle eye for slop, and have been known to stop three sentences in. As I mentioned before: I ain’t got time to waste.

But the good ones... ahhh, the good ones… are the ones I want to see.

I am, above just about all else, an enthusiast. Constantly searching for new things to love. Eager to share them, and tell the world about ‘em. Get me excited, and I’ll go to the wall. I really love this stuff. Any chance I have to share that love, I take.

Write me a great book, and I will push it like crazy. Do everything I can to get it seen, and known. Put it in the company of other great books. Encourage the tide to swell.

Bottom line: I am looking for books that make me so wildly enthusiastic that I can’t help but want to tell the world.

Write me that fucker.

And let’s go to town.

Having made that as utterly clear as I can, let us now move on to the readers.

HEY, READERS! Here’s your part of the challenge!

What I urge you to do is: take a look at the first four Ravenous Shadows titles. Compare and contrast them with what you’re currently reading. Let me know how they stack up.

If you like and/or love them, say so on Amazon, or B&N, or any blogs or social networking sites you frequent that might care about such things.

Weigh in – not just on these books – but on the whole notion of long vs. short, If I’m making sense, TELL THE WORLD! If I’m not, TELL THE WORLD I’M AN ASSHOLE! All sincere response is welcome.

I personally feel that this is one of the great debates of the Great Publishing Transition. Ebooks and POD have transformed the landscape, and things are gonna change all over.

This is a potential shift in the brainscape I feel so strongly about that I’m taking a full year off from writing new books myself, in order to push this notion 40 times harder.

It seems like a more-than-worthwhile trade.

In conclusion, and believe me: I’m not trying to kill big books. The best big books are magnificent achievements, and probably changed my life as much as yours.

All I’m saying is, there are a whole lot of stories that would benefit greatly by being a whole lot shorter. And I would love to prove that, in the pop culture Entertainoscape – where genre tropes get to transcend their tiny niches, and explode into substantially larger niches – this just might be the way to go.

What we all really want are the best books possible. And an avalanche of readers both old and new, excited about what books can do.

That’s the challenge. LEMME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

Yer pal in the trenches,

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Hey Skipp,

Thanks for the great post. Where do we send our best manuscripts?


Dear JSR --

Check your message, sir!

Yer pal,

Let me know when you want short stories. I have precisely two that I'm proud of.

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