Can you say high concept?

A short time ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to Authorpalooza 3. Minister Faust (Amazing local author, and writer in residence for The University of Alberta’s Department of English and Film Studies) set up these author events so that U of A students (and anybody else who wanted to) could listen to writers talk about the craft and business of writing. I was presenting with authors SG Wong, Craig DiiLouie, and Gail Sidonie Sobat. The four of us were each given 15 minutes to talk about the craft and the business of writing.

The other three writers were brilliant. But I wasn’t particularly happy with my presentation. However, I realized I could talk about the business of writing more fully, here. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

At the Authorpalooza, I was presented as an Apocalyptic Writer. Now, anybody who knows me knows I wrote exactly one apocalyptic story. One. True, the story (and the anthology, Women of the Apocalypse) did quite well.  But, I only wrote the one.

So, why did I write it? If I’m not an apocalyptic writer, why did I write this apocalyptic story?

Because I (and the group I was writing with) decided that the idea of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would probably sell. That’s why.

Sounds cold, doesn’t it? This sure wasn’t my muse pulling me to the keyboard to tell that story I had waited my whole life to tell, or something. Nope. This was all about the sale.

Here’s how it came about.

A long time ago, four of us (all in a writing group together) were given a challenge. Write seven flash fiction stories each, about the seven deadly sins. A nice little writing exercise (it even had a time limit on writing time!) so we did it. And eight of these stories were put into a tiny anthology, that was then published. POD. (Print on Demand.)


Holy crap. Our flash fiction stories were actually being published!  But the book was teeny tiny. (Honestly, one of my stories was only 91 words long…) What could we do with it, besides have it just be another writing credit on our resumes?

Since all four of us lived in the same city, we decided to celebrate by having a launch party for it. And that launch was amazingly successful, considering we were absolute unknowns. We sold 135 copies. (I think that’s the number, anyhow.)  Yeah, I know. There were four of us, and if you count up all our family and friends who came out to celebrate with us, no wonder we sold that many copies at our launch.

However, a cool thing happened. It continued to sell.

First, you have to remember that this was before ebooks caught on at all. I think we could have flogged the heck out of this little book online as an ebook, but we never did have the chance, because it was only available in print. And it was expensive! (If we wanted to make any money on sales at all. POD does not make for a cheap book!)

So, why did it sell? Because people (readers) were taken with the concept. They found the idea of the seven deadly sins quite titillating (For a while we were promoting it as a stocking stuffer, and everybody giggled about the idea of giving the Seven Deadly Sins to someone for Christmas…)

With that launch and everything else, the four of us had managed to turn a high concept nothing into something. So, we thought, let’s try that again. But this time we decided to write longer stories, so readers could start to recognize our styles. Our voices. Each of us would write one novella length story, for a grand total of four. But we still needed a high concept theme. That was the key.

We had a meeting, to come up with something that would be as appealing as the seven deadly sins. Billie Milholland’s husband came up with the idea of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and we all liked it. After all, there were four writers, and there would be four stories in the anthology. The Four Horsemen seemed like an ideal concept. And it was.

We pitched the idea to the publisher, and he liked it enough to take a chance on it. We were hoping that he’d accept it for the imprint that had distribution rights (so we could get it into bookstores) but he wasn’t willing to take that chance. So, we were doing POD again, but this time, we’d come up with the idea.

That’s how Women of the Apocalypse was born. That’s also how I ended up writing apocalyptic fiction, once.

Next blog will be about Women of the Apocalypse — the lost lead that took on a life of its own!

Until then, good writing!