13th April, 2017: Lessons Learned from releasing Rohan Wijeratne
Tuesday, 11th April. I released The Slow Sad Suicide of Rohan Wijeratne. It’s about an alcoholic from Colombo who signs up to be shot into a rare rotating black hole. Edit: It hit the Amazon top 10 for Short Stories (Single Author).
I wrote this story over a weekend – two days writing back-to-back with research crammed in between, mostly to a mix of Beethoven, Muse and Zack Hemsey. For me it was three things:
a) A promise I made to my girlfriend about writing a story for her (I didn’t think she’d like the story, but she seems to)
b) A really fun way of researching black hole physics
c) A useful way of figuring out the stuff I need to know for the novel. Like formatting things into ebooks. Cover art. Font selection. Spacing. Filesizes. And how to read mobi code to make sure it’s clean and renders well.
d) Also a way to experiment with writing style without shooting myself in the foot.
Well, that’s four.
Reception has been incredibly positive. I posted the thing at 1 AM on my Facebook and went off to sleep. When I woke up I had a hundred or so people who’d like the post and signed up to the read the story. Roughly 24 hours later, it’s really taking off and spreading to friends of friends by word of mouth.
A few reviews:
‘I found it concise and funny and also very beautiful in parts (without being excessively ornate and descriptive). It felt like a pretty tightly written story – very compelling arc, the not likeable yet likeable character and it felt like beginning middle and end all came together so nicely it seemed effortless.‘
– Shruthi Mathews, YAMU
‘Holy shit, this is really good. The lack of quotation marks threw me at first, but I’m reading it as a Pynchon / Palahniuk / stylist thing and it’s working very well. Page 15 already. I know what I’m doing tonight.’
– Joe Malik, author of Dragon’s Trail
‘Bloody fantastic. Was in the middle of something else, but couldn’t stop reading it. Last time I was this happy with some writing was when I discovered Liu Cixin’s story where they move the Earth, in 2015.’
– Navin Weeratne, author of Burning Eagle and the Hundred Gram Mission
‘It’s a very Clarkian short story in its structure IMO. Circa the middle of Clarke’s career when he started to really find a balance between the soft narrative/philosophy and the hard science in his stories. I loved the hell out of this. It’s one of the best things I’ve read in Sri Lankan English literature. Ever. It’s definitely one of the best science fiction short stories I’ve read from anywhere. Get a Goodreads profile already so I can add this to my favourites pile.‘
– Dilina Pathirage, writer and huge sci-fi fan
a) I need to proofread things properly. Quite a few typos, and people who were kind enough to message me with what they thought pointed this out. Typos break reader immersion.
b) Average production time for this kind of thing is a week, for me. Say two days to write. One day for supplementary research. One day for cover design, proofreading. The rest for spreading the word and marketing it properly. I’ve spent a lot more time than I expected reaching out to people and sending them copies through email and chat. Not to mention smoking excessively. Actual writing is only half the work.
c) Research is its own reward. I’ve been praised for the realism of the physics, the use of pre-seeded Bussard Ramjets, the presentation of black hole physics, even the correct usage of the word ‘taqwa’ in the context of prayer. It adds a lot of credibility to a story even when your premise is strange (a Sri Lankan alcoholic sent into a black hole) and you have a typo per page.
d) A good cover doesn’t have to be very expensive. ‘Don’t judge the book by the cover’ is completely false when it comes to getting people to click on a link online and read your stuff. At the same time, I used Canva and GIMP and about three hours of my time to create this cover for free. A certain balance can be struck.
e) I need better tooling to export to Kindle and PDF. Since I don’t use Microsoft Word, I went with Scrivener (writing + ePub and Mobi) and LibreOffice (for the PDF).
Bad idea. They produced stuff that won’t be accepted by most stores (I had Pronoun check for me). This meant I had to manually check the Mobi for bad code – I really need to find better tooling.
Going forward, I think I’m going to explore the short story / novelette format more. It’s wonderful because it brings economy to writing – I really had to think about what was important to drive the story here and chop out all the useless bits.
Because of the fast crafting time, I can also experiment with ideas that don’t quite have enough meat to become full novels and I can experiment with writing styles. This will definitely be a thing.
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