Interview & Giveaway with Meljean Brook
Full disclosure. I’ve been reading Meljean Brook long before she was a published author. She had a blog and wrote about fun (and kind of dorky) stuff. My favorite pieces were the Missy related ones (http://meljeanbrook.com/
I guess because I’ve followed her for so long, going on eight or nine years now, I feel like I have an internet friendship with Meljean. I think her books are pretty amazing but you should know that I consider her a friend. Before this past year, though, it was definitely more me emailing her and her responding every four months. Now I get an email from her about every other month. It’s a big step up for us!
For those who know Meljean, she disappears into a writing cave for weeks at a time only to surface for a short time like a dolphin in need of oxygen and then she dives back into the writing waters. I try not to bug her because I’d rather have her writing books than answering my stupid emails which are often–when is the next book coming out or in this case, am I ever going to get Part 7?
With that caveat, disclaimer, and warning, let’s proceed on. The big question is are you doing this serial because you want all the money? I mean, really, don’t you authors get paid millions already?
But, okay. I can be serious. I’ll admit to struggling with this answer, because as I mentioned on Sunita’s post a few weeks ago about length and format (http://vacuousminx.wordpress.
Then, of course, it runs the danger of making readers feel a crazy obligation — either to reassure me or to support me. And that makes me twice as uncomfortable and makes it twice as difficult to be transparent, because how many authors have said crap like, “I need to pay my bills! I need to feed my kids! I’m going to quit because bullies are ruining my sales!” and I really *hate* that. So if I can, I’d like to preface this all with a statement that *I am responsible for my own livelihood.* Full stop. Readers are not responsible for it in any way, shape or form. I couldn’t make a career out of this without readers, of course, but whether my career fails or succeeds doesn’t depend on anyone but me (and my publisher, to a lesser extent.)
So I wouldn’t answer this at all, typically. I might make a joke and shrug it off. But that wouldn’t do anything to dispel what I think is a very common assumption about serials — that it’s all a money grab. (And for some authors, maybe it is.) But I’ve seen that “greedy” label come up over and over, and I’ll admit a little discouraging that, in this current online environment, the first response to an announcement about serials is: the author is just trying to grab more money. Which is not to say that isn’t the reason behind many serials, just that in all the discussions about the work, the first assumption is never: The author must have thought the story would be better that way. So I think that’s really sad … but at the same time, I can’t blame everyone for not assuming that authors care about their craft or their readers, because more than a few authors have made this bed, and now we all have to lie in it.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t tuck in my sheets in my little corner, and maybe make it a little more comfortable for other authors like me, so that maybe the “greedy” label isn’t tossed around so haphazardly. So the very short answer is: No. I’m not making all the money. And I probably won’t make any more money on the serial + compiled release than I would have if it had just been released all at once. It doesn’t make any difference to me, financially, because the amount I received in my advance (which is a modest one) is probably all the money that I’ll ever see for this book, and the total royalties for the sales probably won’t exceed that whether it’s a serial or a compiled novel.
The long answer is: I didn’t write it as a serial for the money. I wrote it as a serial for many reasons, which I’ll list below and which we might not be able to address in the course of this interview, but which I’ll be happy to take up in the comments if anyone wants to know more.
–-Three most important reasons for writing the serial–
It allowed me to write it in parts, which allowed my publisher to edit and format the story in parts instead of waiting for me to finish the book before beginning the production process. I was concerned about the two-year gap between Iron Seas novels, and the serial allowed me to get the story to readers faster than a full novel could have been released. (I’ve talked about this more on my blog, too. http://meljeanbrook.com/the-
I broke my brain on the final Guardian book, which was a 200,000 word novel that wrapped up an eight-novel + five-novella storyline, and which took me a year to write. I was pretty close to burnout, so I told my editor that I just wanted to write short things for a while (I really like writing novellas). So writing The Kraken King in eight novella-length installments allowed me to focus on smaller bits of the narrative at a time, and to hang the story on a completely different framework than a longer novel.
–Other factors that played in, but on a much smaller scale, because the above reasons are things that I can be sure about and the following reasons are maybes, and I don’t base decisions about my career on “maybes”–
Four years ago, when the first book in the Iron Seas came out, steampunk as a genre was being touted as the hot new thing. It was going to gain a huge audience. That hasn’t happened. And I don’t think that it’s because readers simply aren’t interested — it’s just that there are still SO MANY people who have no idea what steampunk is, or that it even exists. Even now on Facebook, after a status update from a reader that mentions one of my books, I often see comments from other readers/friends of readers that ask “What is steampunk?” Offline, it’s rare that I don’t have to explain what steampunk is to someone after they’ve asked me what I do for a living. Many people simply don’t know that it’s out there — just as, before Twilight, many readers didn’t know about paranormal romance or Young Adult romance, and there was a surge of new readers (and books.) Or even Fifty Shades. How many times have we gnashed our teeth because of comments like, “This is completely new and wonderful!” when most romance readers know that erotic romance has been around for a while? Yet whatever else it did, that book opened up a new audience for erotic romance in general.
So steampunk hasn’t had that moment of discovery in a wider audience. I would give anything for a blockbuster steampunk movie to come out, just because it would tell the audience that it’s out there and that it exists and it’s fun.
Now, I don’t think The Kraken King is going to do that. I think it’s a fun story and a romantic story, and I think readers will enjoy it, but I only mention the size of the audience because it leads into the other considerations for a serial novel:
All of my previous Iron Seas books have come out in trade format, which is listed at $16/$10 (print/ebook). For a reader who is new to the genre, $10+ is a huge investment to make in a book they really aren’t certain they’ll enjoy. So a lot of readers pass over the books, and even when the price drops after the mass-market reissue, the moment has passed and they don’t come back to it. BUT, even though the total of the serial is just as much as the print version, there seems to be a large segment of readers online who will try a serial novel for $1.99. So there is the hope — but not the expectation — that we might be able to broaden the audience by appealing to that population of readers who are buying serials and will give the first installment a try.
We don’t really know why it’s been so difficult for steampunk to catch on. I’ve received tons of emails that are basically, “I didn’t think I would like it, but then I read it and now I want more!” So the serial allows us to change up a few things in the presentation to (hopefully) make it more appealing. The covers, for example, are so gorgeous — and much different than the original gears-and-mantitty of The Iron Duke, or the costumes of Riveted (which was a cover I really loved.) And because the serial is released over an eight-week span, it doesn’t release like a flash in the pan. So it’s visible longer and, hopefully, will be talked about a little bit longer, and with the increase in chatter maybe some readers who are on the fence about steampunk might give it a try (either as a serial or a compiled novel, or someone else’s steampunk romance, it doesn’t really matter to me.)
It will give me a better idea of whether to continue the series as I’m writing it now. I don’t want to call this a last-ditch effort to broaden the Iron Seas audience, but it kind of is? At least as it’s being packaged and released now. Because if the audience is there but we (my publisher or I) can’t find out a way to access it — or worse, if I’m completely wrong and the audience isn’t there — then I’m basically spinning my wheels. And I don’t expect to get rich as a writer (cue laughter again) but I do want to at least see some upward progress — just as if I were in any other career. You expect to do better as you go along, not end up in a rut (or worse, losing sales and readers) and so if what I’m doing now isn’t working then I need to figure out another way to do it.
So the serial is basically an attempt to do something different — in both a writing sense and in a marketing sense. But I don’t expect to actually make more money from it.
Is this the last of the steampunk then? I mean, it’s not like I’m not going to follow you everywhere even when you tell me stop and that you’re annoyed with my questions about when the next book is coming out? But what’s next for Meljean Brook? I saw a new penname called Milla Vane? What’s she writing? Will I like her as much?
Or maybe I’ll do something completely different with my publisher and the steampunk (which I love too much to give up) will just have to be something I release on the side … like issuing it as a serial on my blog or writing more steampunk novellas and self-publishing them. (And because I imagine this will come up: Self-publishing as a primary activity is not really an option for me because I’m such a slow writer, and it’s really hard to sustain/build an audience in self-publishing without frequent releases. It’s a supplemental option for me, not a primary one.)
Milla Vane is another experiment for me. I actually picked out the name and bought the website a few years ago, because I knew the Guardian series was coming to an end and I needed to think about what I would be doing post-Guardians. I tossed a couple of different ideas to my agent and editor that had been kind of sitting on the back burner in my head for a while — mostly pretty safe options, like some contemporary romantic suspense and paranormal suspense. Those still interest me and I’d like to write them at some point, but the one that really, really, really grabbed me by the throat was a dark fantasy series about barbarians. Like Conan. Or the Beastmaster.
I know. I know.
So last spring I kind of chatted with my editor about it, and we both agreed we weren’t really sure of the market for something like that — and even if we did, we’d probably want to use a different pen name, because there are certain expectations that come with a Meljean Brook story, and I planned to have way, WAY more beheadings and a rougher edge to the sex and romance than my established readers were probably expecting. So the different name would have to serve as a warning, I guess.
But we put it aside. And then I had the awesome opportunity of writing a Red Sonja comic book story, so I got to dabble in a barbarian story a little bit, anyway. I was still thinking of it, though, and sketching out all of the worldbuilding and everything on the side, and planning to maybe self-publish a story or two in the next year, when I wasn’t so behind on other work and deadlines, and I didn’t have any other contracts looming.
Then my editor sent me an email that was basically, “I have an anthology coming up — do you want to try the barbarians?”
And I was like, “OH MY GOD, YES.”
So Milla Vane is writing dark barbarian fantasy. I’m going to call it “Barbarian heroes who can only dream that their dicks are as big as the heroines’ mighty swords.”
The thing about discovering and reading romance that still sticks to me is how very visceral it all felt at the beginning. And maybe that’s because I was eight years old, and had no idea what those hard thighs really were, but even into my teenage years it seemed that my gut was always twisting and my heart was always being ripped out.
It all felt very raw. Every emotion, every story. And although I probably remember it that way through a selective filter — the stories that didn’t rip me apart didn’t make much of an impression, so I simply don’t remember them as well — that’s something I really want to explore with Milla Vane. Why did Johanna Lindsey’s work (not all of it, but especially the late 80s/90s stuff) work for me like it did? What is it about HPs that *still* get to me, even though I know what a terrible asshole the hero is? And why can I tolerate that in a HP but not a contemporary single title?
So there’s something about that very raw aspect that really appeals to me and I want to play with it some, feeling it all out. It might be that I end up crossing lines all over the place, and it goes beyond raw into horrible and uncomfortable. Even if it does, I don’t mind dwelling in that place for a while.
And now for our Giveaway