Have you ever wanted a say in which manuscripts are good enough to be published?While it may not be the most popular place right now for people in search of new literature, the publishing industry is in as much need of your help as I am when it comes to creating a viable business model for the digital era. With this in mind, I include my attempt at drafting a letter to them for your consideration to explain what 20-39 is about, in the belief internet exposure is a better way to gauge the literary and public potential of unknown authors rather than leaving the search to publishing houses drowning in seas of slush.
The unsent letter'20-39', a fictional novel setting out how our species might face an ‘end of the world’ scenario in a way which presents some of the reasons why humanity will inevitably survive any such setback. Having enjoyed various attempts by others at such a story, I've decided to take the idea one step further by creating a future novel firmly rooted in the present, with my only initial issue being whether to set the story around a natural or man-made disaster, a decision I failed to reach. This therefore has led me to recount a regional insurrection of the People's Liberation Army of China as humanity faces its first experience of a mantle plume eruption, an extinction-level event which in geological terms is due to occur at Yellowstone National Park at any moment during the next fifty thousand years.
In writing a novel about the near future, I'm trying to combine two traits I feel are essential for our development out into the Solar System. The first is the ability to look beyond the present situation into the near and distant future, with our tendency for re-hashing issues old and new from every perspective imaginable a vital tool in finding solutions to challenges yet to be faced, even when it produces more heat than light. This concept is incorporated by extrapolating a future portrait of the coming decades from the present to create a future history in which the novel is set, one based my view of today's contoversial topics and the potential dangers beyond which will most likely remain either assumed or ignored.
The second issue is my fundamental belief about the enduring power of individuals to change human history given the right moment and circumstances, an issue portrayed in spite of the expanded centres of political and corporate power set out in 20-39. To do this I have created a principal cast of seven characters located across the three continents in which the story takes place, a group who in simultaneously making things worse and helping to resolve the crises around them allow the novel to be seen from both a global and local perspective. They are as follows:
1 The Scientist (Mike) - A man, who having managed to rescue his scientific career from the brink of disaster twenty years earlier, is faced with the prospect of a greater threat driving him into risking professional oblivion for a second time.
2 The Politician (Bernetta) - A woman, who while holding much of humanity's equilibrium in her hands, is preparing to implement a new agenda on an unsuspecting world.
3 The Matriarch (Jemile) - A woman, who having used the fruits of a personal injustice for the benefit of her people, is contemplating causing an similar injustice to preserve what otherwise would be lost.
4 The Capitalist (Sam) - A man, who for all his successes in stimulating economic growth within developing nations, remains dissatisfied as he returns with a new means to further his ends.
5 The Soldier (Fung) - A man, who having spent most of his adult life laying the preparations for a war to restore a nation's destiny, sits at the cusp of what becomes his one and only chance to act.
6 The Operative (Wei) - A woman, who having spent years obsessively becoming the perfect agent is faced with a split of loyalties that threatens to tear her apart, a choice which refuses to wait any longer despite all paths leading to loss.
7 The Reporter (Deng) - A woman, who having had been born into a life of privilege and ease, loses the one thing she truly wanted and seeks the means to wreak revenge on those responsible.
How are you going to send me the novel?Once you've made a pledge, I'll send you an email with the 17 different formats of the manuscript from the dashboard information I receive about you. To see which files work on your device(s) simply touch or right-click each one in turn to see if they offer a e-book program to work with.
£1? Really?However £1 translates into your local currency that's all I'm asking for. If you think the first half of 20-39 is worth more, you're very welcome to offer it.
And the freedom to share 6 years of work?
Yes. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, "There is only one thing in life worse than being read at no cost, and that is not being read at no cost". While in an ideal world even I would appreciate being paid by everyone who reads the first half of '20-39', I'm well aware life is far from ideal for many who have more urgent things to spend their money on.
Why not pursue the traditional route for publishing first?Principally because it no longer works. While this truth is recognised by many, modern literature is still waiting for a new mechanism which better serves the needs of readers, authors and publishers alike. One of my hopes for 20-39 is to show how the reading public can and must be trusted to pay a fair price for new material, a concept that will ultimately help to restore a sense of literary experimentation currently being squeezed out by the bottom line. Such a system would produce the following benefits:
Ending the slush piles.
The industry hates them and authors fear their work being swallowed into the entropy they represent. Who better to sift masses of half-written manuscripts than eager readers on crowdfunding sites at the encouragement of the literary establishment, especially if the nominal cost includes permission to freely share with others in return for a groundswell of enthusiasm that can't be bought?
A desire for the new.
Who doesn't love finding something exciting first? Whether it's a desire to find stories which redefine genres, the pleasure of showing others what you know or a more professional satisfaction of reporting new literary developments first, the kudos of possessing a verifiable record for supporting future successes in their infancy I believe will become the standard for anyone wishing to be considered a literary expert. Removing professional scrutiny from the initial evaluation process for new authors is therefore a logical and necessary step, one that will allow the publishing industry to target its efforts directly at popular projects across crowdfunding websites. This of course has the added bonus of ...
… Cutting costs.
Firstly for early-bird readers who get their worms at a discount, backed up by an author-publisher guarantee for complimentary copies of the final work being provided to full-novel crowdfunders in any subsequent negotiations, and secondly for authors who will enjoy better terms from an industry benefitting from lower overhead costs and a new-found public affirmation about what sells and what doesn't.
What's the book cover represent?Primarily the yin-yang balance I believe China is striving for this century in its relationship with the United States. It also emphasises the reality that they both see an ocean dividing them rather than two continents, with the international date line acting as a metaphorical buffer between their spheres of influence. Regarding the two flags, they're a clue as to how the novel develops so I'll say no more than to confirm the Chinese flag belongs to the People's Liberation Army Ground Force, rather than the nation as whole.
How do you keep track of the insane amount of topics mentioned inside 20-39?Apart from the novel itself which is split into chapter files, I also have over 100 support files currently in a state of chaos as dumping grounds for my thoughts that may eventually form an appendix to 20-39. However, I'm reluctant to make any promises about them at this time as I have three further novels in mind which will require my attention once 20-39 is completed. Like the question of any money being raised, I'll leave it in the hands of readers to see if there's any desire for this material to be published, though for anyone keen enough to see them sooner all updates to support files during the next two years will also be included in the £75 Observer Status reward.
Are you really going to complete 20-39 by May 2016?From June 2007 it took 18 months to draft the first 100,000 words with no previous experience at writing, a painful truth which has turned the following five years into an extensive exercise in learning how to write competently. While I've still a lifetime of improvement to discover, I'm now at a point where I can write freely with far less editing required than before. On top of the 110,000 words present, there's a further 30,000 already written in draft form to add towards the anticipated 230,000 total.
What are the numbers in the character rewards?A percentage approximation of how much each character appears in the first and second halves of the novel.
Renaming the characters.While they can make the perfect gift for that person in your life who has everything, I should emphasis that there are also certain limitations regarding providing new names for the supporting cast. They are as follows:
Offering a name which fits the character's cultural heritage.
While it may seem self-evident, there aren't many Sam Cotton's in China or Central Asia nor Fung Yuen's and Alexei Gorokhovadatskiy's in the West. Please keep this in mind before making a non-refundable character purchase.
Nomes de humour.
While suggestions such as 'Betty Swollocks' or 'Won Hung Low' will be laughed at, they won't be included in the novel. In parting with your non-refundable money though, you still maintain the right to provide an appropriate name subject to my approval after a search of the internet. If you don't come up with anything suitable by the time I finish the novel, the default name will be used.
An extra perk offered will be the chance to offer tweaks to your character's mindset and circumstances. As a general rule of thumb though, there's more flexibility to be found in lesser characters rather than prominent figures like Ruth and the Mardlings.
Two for the price of one.
Speaking of the Mardlings, since Keith and Jules are the only family characters on offer, it seemed appropriate to sell them as a job lot. Ideally the purchaser should be one half of such a couple.