A Detailed Road Map

Road Map

A reader writes:
Say Mr. Niemeier, when you write a multi-book saga like say the Soul Cycle, do you just write it out book by book or do you have a detailed kind of road-map before you put pen to paper?
I answer:

I outline extensively. For the Soul Cycle and XSeed series I filled four spiral notebooks each and gamed out the rough outlines with friends. I do not recommend you do this.

Soul Cycle Outlines

What you want to do is write to market. Think of the book you'd read as a guilty pleasure on a Saturday night alone with a bottle of Scotch and a cigar. What genre is that book in? What similar books which you enjoy are also in that genre?

Head to Amazon. Look up the top 100 selling Kindle books in that genre. Those are the books gobbled up by genre binge readers. Read as many of them as you can. You're reading to find out what your target market likes.

Come up with a story of your own that you'd be excited to tell using the tropes and archetypes which appeal to fans of that genre. If you're an outliner, put together an outline. If you're a discovery writer, hammer out a first draft; then go back and outline to impose order on the chaos. Rewrite. Get beta reader feedback. Rewrite again. Hire an editor. Write the final draft based on his suggestions.

Authors have been trying to take advantage of market trends forever. The glacial pace of legacy publishing made joining the party before the cooler was empty impossible. If you started writing a vampire romance series at the height of Twilight's popularity, readers would have moved on to steampunk before your publisher got it to market. By the time your Victorian air pirate saga debuted, Lit-RPG was the new hotness.

With indie pub, authors' release schedules are limited only by the speed of their own writing, their cover artists' drawing, and their editors' editing. Not only is it possible to take a book from concept to publication in two months, these days it's essential.

Now, the above example is mostly for argument's sake. Though it's possible to chase trends, the better bet is finding large tribes of dedicated binge readers in a genre you love and writing to their tastes.

This is the feat I'll be attempting with Combat Frame XSeed, my upcoming mecha/Mil-SF action series. Indie pub isn't without its trade offs, and two big challenges indie authors face are covering production costs and making do without advances.

That's why indies rely on fostering the reader-author relationship more than ever. Awesome readers like you have shown you're willing to step up and put your hard-earned on the line to back the kinds of stories tradpub refuses to print. Reader-pleasing indie creators have already run successful crowdfunding campaigns to make their visions reality. Soon I'll be calling on my cherished readers to help me bring you books you'll love and can't get anywhere else.

The nihilistic, pessimistic future that tradpub and post-90s anime pushed on us is over. Soon we forge our own vision. #AGundam4Us.


  1. Brian,

    Thanks for the writing tips. They're bracing and most helpful.
    When going to amazon for the top 100 is it also advisable to look at the labels?
    I note that genre mixing

    Thanks again.


  2. K-lytics has already done all the research you recommend. They compile data and top 100 book descriptions in their genre reports.


  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Question: Do you have any tricks for outlining?

      I ask because I'm partway into a project, and keep catching up to my outline. I just can't finish scenes in the outline (except for the first score of them) without writing a scene of the story first, and I don't know if it is because I'm outlining badly, or if there are tricks that could help... this is my first time outlining anything in writing fiction (though I have outlined non-fiction...)

    2. You might be a discovery writer. For them, outlining beforehand kills their creative process because when they sit down to write the first draft, they "already know how the story ends."

      Frankly, I can't wrap my head around that complaint since the ending is one of the first ideas that pops into my head in the brainstorming phase.

      Here's my process: Come up with character A, setting B, and conflict C (not necessarily in that order). The way my brain works, given A, B, and C, it concludes to ending D as logically and aesthetically inevitable.

      Based on the challenges you've reported, outlining before drafting may not work for you. Have you tried starting with the first draft and then going back and outlining after it's done?

    3. I had considered that.

      But writing is more fun, faster, and produces a better product when I have an outline. That's what this project has taught me. I write an earlier scene, and then advance the outline, rinse and repeat. Sort of like a hybrid of the two processes.

      I guess I'm just not sure exactly what works for me yet. I was wondering if you knew something I didn't about outlining... but it sounds like our minds just work at story-making differently.

    4. If you're producing a good product quickly and having fun while you're at it, congratulations! You're doing it right.