Forge of Eternity: Alpha Testing launches tomorrow, and setting up some of the ads on Amazon caused me to reflect on my first book launch a little over a year ago. While Kludged Singularity was well received by people who did pick it up, I found that it was impossible to market. I’ll pause here to say that I’m a huge fan of the advice “write the stories you want to read.” If I’ve written something that I enjoy reading when I get to the end, I assume there are others that will enjoy it just as much. A caveat to that, though, is that nobody can enjoy your book if you can’t tell them why they’ll like it.
“Impossible to market” seems hyperbolic at first blush. It’s not. After I wrote the book I found myself challenged on how to describe it. There are a lot of the fun things I could tell people about to get their attention, if I didn’t mind ruining the joy of discovery in the book. The story itself is an exploration of what our current society would do with technology that’s currently beyond us. Super-intelligent AI, practical immortality, corrupt businesses getting to the finish line first, a lot of the good Sci-Fi and cyberpunk tropes being explored, only in the current day.
Trying to write the book description and ads, I found that I hid all the juicy, attention-grabbing, cool parts in the third act plot twist. Like an idiot.
Kludged Singularity isn’t far future Sci-Fi, cyberpunk, or any of those clearly defined genres. It’s closer to “Flowers for Algernon” than it is to “2001: A Space Oddesy” on the Sci-Fi spectrum when looking at the book blurb. It’s not a geeky spin on horror and urban fantasy, a multi-generational WW2/dot-com era deep-dive on encryption, nor an overt parody of late-stage capitalist society. Yes, people who read Charles Stross or Neal Stephenson are the types of readers I’d like to pick the book up, because I think they would enjoy it. But I can’t tell them why. I also can’t really write my book description to say “if you like these guys you’ll like this too” mainly because the ‘zon frowns on it but also because it’s going to draw unfair comparisons.
Instead, the best I can do (while staying true to the story) is to say Kludged Singularity is about technical support having to scramble in the fallout of a technological leap they stumbled into. The world may be in the balance, but instead of having the sensational asteroid coming toward the planet as the opening hook, it’s trying to use climate change and pollution as the looming threat.
Imagine trying to get people to see “The Day After Tomorrow,” a movie where the planet is trying to kill you with cold snaps so sudden they freeze jet fuel in engine lines, but you’re only allowed to use clips from Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” in the teaser trailer. That’s what I did on the marketing side when I wrote Kludged Singularity.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with that book and wouldn’t change the plot. I also wouldn’t have made it my first novel if I knew how hard it would be to get people interested in it. For the sake of comparison, FoE: Alpha Testing is still in preorder and it’s sold almost as many eBook copies as Kludged Singularity sold in all formats during the entire first month it was out.
Mild spoilers ahead for those of you who haven’t read Kludged Singularity. This is your warning.
I originally intended for Kludged Singularity to be a trilogy that interconnected with the Forge of Eternity universe. I wanted to show the world outside adapting to new technology with the almost casual acceptance we see from the incremental advances we’re used to. The developers and people close to the center of Kludged Singularity’s plot would try to keep things from falling over or catching fire, seeking a morally acceptable way to profit off the advances. In parallel to that, we’d see the Forge of Eternity world acting as a sort of experimental refuge for uploaded minds as the fallout from the first novel becomes apparent.
I’m okay with telling the story from the FoE side as a pure LitRPG, referencing the larger world where it matters. It actually gives me more freedom than my original outlines, and I can pull some of the character arcs into the game world instead rather easily. It just would have been nice to have thought through from more than just the storytelling end when starting out.
Well, new rule: no more hiding the cool stuff.