Jun 062016

Embers of Alour-Tan What a weekend. What a week. What a three and a half years.

Embers of Alour-Tan, the second volume in the Work of Alour-Tan, is live. Go buy it! (Print version should be available later this week.)

Both it and Ashes are now just $4.99 in their digital forms.

Check out chapter one and chapter two for free, right here on the blog!

What Happened To Mid-April?

Other than the sample chapters I released yesterday in tandem with the book going on sale, I’ve been silent here ever since my last update about delays. My mid-April projection at that point obviously didn’t happen, for various reasons that—most recently—included Cody needing an appendectomy1. This has been a strange year so far…

Part of what’s taken so long in this final phase is ensuring maximum polish, in a variety of ways. The read-throughs, both mine and Cody’s, take a lot of time on their own. Reading aloud is slow and pausing to make corrections and revisions every paragraph or three makes that process even slower. Beyond that, I did a lot of low-level correcting for common style issues. While I don’t have the hatred for adverbs some authors exhibit, overuse of them is still lazy. More than that, though, distinctive words repeated too close together often sound awkward and there are a number of other gotchas to correct (warning: garish color scheme ahead) that aren’t show-stopping issues of the sort one hears as “bad” when doing a read-through, but can identify when searching through text with regular expressions.

On top of even that, though, I wanted to ensure that the digital release of Embers achieved a higher level of quality than did Ashes, when I was new to the world of digital publishing. Ashes‘ digital incarnations are readable, but they’re not slick2 and I wanted to do a better job for Embers. That included learning the ins and outs of ePub formatting—for which I ultimately stripped down and rebuilt the entire Embers manuscript in hand-edited HTML and then used that as a “clean” document from which to further format in LibreOffice to make Smashwords’ MeatGrinder happy3.

On a related note, I wish Smashwords would provide a confirmation step before your upload goes live, so you can look at it prior to the rest of the world. The only thing that keeps that from being inexcusable is how quickly you can iterate on an uploaded file. Now armed with the knowledge of producing a clean, formatted-to-my-specifications document in LibreOffice for MeatGrinder, it should be a little less iterative in future releases. Which reminds me, I should really document all the things I did this time so I’m not straining to remember next time…

Formatting for print also had its own hiccups. Like a fool, I reused the same cover template that I used for Ashes…which was around 30,000 words shorter than Embers. That resulted in alignment issues that needed fixing, to say nothing of the incessant fiddling I’m wont to do in any case with the internal formatting of the document. At least this time, there shouldn’t be a “limited first-printing edition” featuring all-even page numbers, the way there was with Ashes.

The Road Here

Month What Happened
November 2012 Release of Ashes
December 2012
April 2014
Working on “Prime”
May 2014 Outlining Embers
June 2014
July 2014
August 2014
September 2014
October 2014
November 2014 Writing Embers‘ first draft
December 2014
January 2015 First Reader feedback
February 2015 Writing Embers’ second draft, pre-Scrivener
March 2015
April 2015
May 2015
June 2015 Moved workflow to Scrivener
July 2015 Struggling with retooling first three chapters
August 2015
September 2015 Revising outline
October 2015
November 2015 Writing Embers’ second draft in earnest
December 2015
January 2016 Beta Reader feedback
February 2016 Third draft planning, writing Embers’ third draft
March 2016 Third draft completed, final read-through begun, allergies
April 2016 Final read-through continues, numerous disruptions
May 2016
June 2016 Embers released

A dominant part of the three and a half year gap between Ashes’ release at the end of November 2012 and Embers’ release this weekend came from writing another book for the first chunk of that time. Embers didn’t get underway “for real” until May 2014 and even then, it wasn’t until November that I had what felt like a coherent plan. From there, it was only two months to the completion of the first draft in January 2015.

At the end of January, after my First Reader took her crack at it, I started the heavy revisions required of draft two, but it wasn’t until mid-June 2015 that I started working in Scrivener. Until that point, I had only managed to retool four chapters. After that, it took another two months to re-finalized the first two chapters and realize I didn’t even need the “old” third chapter that had stymied my progress, and then spent the next two months retooling my outline and revision plan again. The effort paid off, however, and before the end of the year, I had a robust second draft.

January was again a month of soliciting feedback, followed by about a month of planning how to incorporate all of that feedback. Barely a week into March, the third draft was done. Then allergies happened. Then other stuff happened.

The pattern I see emerging indicates that when I have a solid plan, it takes about two months to power through a complete draft and a more nebulous amount of time to outline and plan—in this case, some fifteen months, including the time spent struggling through redrafting chapters without a solid plan in place. Each draft is accompanied by about a month of feedback time, including the read-through Cody and I do at the end, which works out to nine months or so. If I can pare down the amount outlining and re-outlining necessary to three months instead of friggin’ fifteen, that places a book on a respectable one-year timeline.

Of course, that’s still no where near where I want to be. At the top of 2013, I set myself the goal of writing two books in one year—which rather hilariously did not happen. Cody pointed out, though, that I should also strive to not have to do such heavy redrafting each time. Though it was far better than with Ashes, Embers’ drafts still involved substantial-enough revision that they were each distinct books sharing remarkably similar plots and many identical scenes. There are efficiency gains to make.

The Road Forward

Alour-Tan III. There’s more story to be told and I’m not making the same mistake this time that I made last time by fooling myself into thinking I should give the characters a rest. I also benefit from knowing exactly how this story ends and have for a long time.

That said, another thing I’ve had to confront time and again as Embers developed is that I am terrible at estimating how long this stuff takes. As such, I’m not going to throw out target release dates, estimated completion times, and so on anymore. I’m more than happy to share status reports here, but trying to use those to project when I’ll hit a given milestone is an exercise in futility. It’s frustrating for me to make those estimates and then miss them, just as I’m sure it’s frustrating for you to hear me make them, get your hopes up, and then not have them come to fruition.

Alour-Tan III will get here as fast as I can make it happen without compromising my own standards for quality. That’s the most I can promise.

  1. She’s fine! Everything went well, caught it before it got bad, and she’s recovering fast. []
  2. For generous definitions of the word. []
  3. The results from the first document I generated looked like total garbage. []

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