Two weeks ago I switched to making brand new chapters of my weekly serial project, Tales from the Triverse, only available to paid subscribers. This is a big experiment for me, as I’ve previously given all of my fiction writing away for free.
If you’re reading my newsletter, there’s a good chance that you’ve read A Day of Faces or The Mechanical Crown on Wattpad, or Royal Road, or you might have got hold of an ebook of No Adults Allowed. Thanks for reading - I hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read. If you’re interested in Triverse but haven’t checked it out yet, you can read the entire opening for free starting here:
You might also be interested in the craft of writing, which is what goes out on Mondays - like this newsletter. Here’s a recent example:
As this is an experiment I want to share progress - highs and lows - as I go.
The good news is that the newsletter readership has continued to grow. I started building this newsletter list many, many years ago but never really knew what to do with it. It was only when I shifted over to Substack that it made more sense, able to serve as a blog and as a publishing outlet for my fiction. Since moving to Substack about five months ago I’ve more than doubled the readership that had organically built up over the previous half decade, so that’s not bad.
There hasn’t been any conversion to paid readers just yet. While it would be nice to have seen a massive switch, I didn’t expect that. Tales from the Triverse is only just getting started on other platforms such as Wattpad and Royal Road, so the real test is whether readers over there fancy taking up the early access option. Ultimately having the paid option built-in to Substack is a convenient way for people to express their support but I will be keeping it entirely optional. Making money has never been my primary motivator for writing, after all.
I do think it’s important to establish a baseline for your work having value, though. Ultimately I’m leaving it up to readers if they’d like to support my writing efforts, and by how much, and if “not at all right now” is the answer then that’s fine. But having the option and the means there ensures that I’m attaching some form of value to my writing - and therefore to writing generally. There’s always the temptation to think that because I’d be writing anyway (because to not write is to die, to paraphrase Straczynski), there’s no point to attaching a financial value; but that goes down a peculiar rabbit hole in which financial worth is directly tied to how much you dislike something, and I don’t think I want to live there.
There was a discussion on the Substack Writers Unite Discord on this topic, and whether Substack’s minimum $5 subscription price is a good thing, or limiting. Amazon, for example, lets you sell your books for .99 if you want. I come down on the side that rather likes Substack building in a minimum value: it encourages writers to think more positively of their own work, and draws a line in the sand.
East Anglian Book Awards
Over the summer I judged the Children’s Award for the East Anglian Book Awards, which was a real honour and pleasure. The category winners have been revealed at long last and you can check them all out here.
Whether you have kids to read these with or not, I highly recommend them all:
Dealing with incredibly difficult and challenging themes of loss and despair, it charts the journey of Lucas as he recovers from the car crash that took the lives of his parents. All the while he believes that the wolf that caused the crash is still out there, trying to get him. For older young readers I really can’t recommend it highly enough.
Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is a joyful thing. Kiki is a worrier suffering from OCD and extreme anxiety - and that’s before she ends up ripping a hole in space-time and plunging into an imagination-fuelled, demon-infested alternate India. It’s vibrant, unusual and exciting, and addresses anxiety in a way that I found true and positive, without patronising or glossing over.
The Forest of Moon and Sword is a great name, a great cover and a great book. Empowering and unusual, it has a stripped-back narrative that is massively evocative of its place and time and which dances around a fantastical realism that I found hugely enjoyable.
Writing diverse and inclusive stories
I’ve been wanting to write a full article on this for a while but I’m not quite there yet. As a Wattpad Star I’m currently engaged in some obligatory online training around writing diverse and inclusive stories and how great is that?
I’m very pleased that Wattpad are being pro-active in this arena. As a middle-aged, white English person I’m all for doing better in and around being inclusive and attempting to unlearn some of the cultural icks I’ve picked up over the years. I mean, I was born in the EIGHTIES and grew up in the NINETIES. That’s a recipe for disaster.
But then I see my son, who is just turning 9, and the resources he has at his finger tips, and the wonderful fiction he has access to (see EABA books, above!). Watching She-Ra and the Princesses of Power with him really expanded my understanding of inclusive storytelling, both in how it can be of vital importance to the audience and in how it can massively enrich any story.
When I was writing The Mechanical Crown I wanted to have a character from ‘outside’ arrive and act as a catalyst to positive social change. It being a pseudo-medieval fantasy, I was well aware at the time of debates around diversity in the genre (this was 2016). I thought it would be fun to up-end the trope of the white saviour arriving and magically fixing everything (see: well, almost every fantasy or scifi film from the 80s or 90s, or, er, Dances with Wolves), hence ending up with the character of Tranton Seldon. I was nervous while writing it whether I would get it wrong, or be insensitive, or have it feel tokenistic, or fall into the very trope I was trying to expose and rework. Comments suggest that I didn’t do that, and while I’m still not entirely sure I am very glad that I tried, rather than going down an easier, more generic and tired route.
Incidentally, I did some cool visualisations of the characters from that book a while back. Here’s where I ended up with Tranton:
More on using Metahuman for photo-real character creation here:
Back to the present and writing Tales from the Triverse, in 2021, and trying to take on board a lot of lessons. Hence being glad to have the training from Wattpad - a start, at least. Triverse is set in an alternate 1970s Britain, which brings with it interesting opportunities and challenges around representation.
The fantasy element to the book adds additional layers, into a world that is entirely fictional and of my own devising. The key take-away from She-Ra is that as creators we do have freedom to remake the world as we want to see it. There is conflict and threat and unpleasantness throughout She-Ra but it’s also an inherently inclusive world. To take a random example, even the most evil baddie, Hordak, still recognises and respects the pronouns of a non-binary character. That’s the show’s writers saying “sure, there’s still bad stuff in our world, and all sorts of people with all kinds of motivations, but prejudice works differently here.”
It’s harder to make that work, and I sense they had to educate the audience as the show went along, but it resulted in something really quite special.
I’m looking forward to learning more about writing diverse and inclusive stories, and in turn being able to write better and more interesting tales. I’ll come back to this topic when I feel better informed to discuss it further.
OK, before I sign off it’s time to recommend a newsletter. I’ve really enjoyed Geoffrey Golden’s Adventure Snack:
Geoffrey takes a leaf from classic 1980s choose your own adventure titles and produces lightly interactive newsletters with stories in which you can contribute you own decisions. Great fun, innovative and clever.
Last but not least, there’s a cool new book promo I’m part of in which you can nab yourself a load of free science fiction. Sci-fi + free = worth taking a look, if you ask me. Enjoy whatever you find!
Thanks for reading.
Simon K Jones