Cyberpunk, Dreampunk, LitRPG, and MARKET APPEAL!


  1. Dary (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    If you're thinking "what tropes should I use", stop. Stop right now and never go back.

    Every time I've seen a professional author asked about what "tropes they use" at writing panels/events, there's a very long, very awkward pause.

    Just write the damned story.

  2. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Well, for those that can't or don't wish to partake, but do enjoy ethanol recreationally, remember your drug math! 4/20 is the same as 1/5 , so have a bottle of rum!

  3. Shaeor (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    @Dary I don't think so, chum

    @Alexander Or, if you're like me, you'll just eat a couple slices of key lime pie and call it a day.

    CHOSEN SHACKLES The screen is running static. Face your shadow.
    DIRGE The light is dying. Hold your breath and go gently.
  4. mathtans (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Just thought I'd mention something that seems relevant. Robert J Sawyer said it at a convention I went to in 2013. Even if you write for the *union* of genres, you'll likely only get the *intersection*. His first book was a Mystery/SciFi blend; he thought he'd appeal to readers of Mystery and SciFi simultaneously. Instead, he only got Mystery readers who also liked SciFi. (I feel like I've seen the same thing with my personified math... people who like math are turned off by the fantasy, while people who like fantasy are turned off by the math. If anyone knows where a fantasy math intersection resides, let me know... I'm not sure where the "Phantom Tollbooth" fans are these days. Though I've heard that particular serial of mine has it's own problems too.)

    With that said, LitRPG seems (to me) to be a pretty wide net, with it's own subgroups, meaning you're not necessarily closing much off. Assuming you even are. As people have said, do what you do. As for the rest of the remarks:

    - I'm pretty sure I'm the guy who breaks the post-frequency/following correlation (on top of the two years weekly without a break on my own site, I've gone daily at Wattpad and RRL, with the latter only pulling me barely past ten followers after the April Swap with Unice). I simply max out at a dozen readers no matter what, it's a skill.

    - I've read "Killobyte" by Piers Anthony. In fact, I have it here. Literally, from Anthony's 'Author's Notes': "I actually thought of this novel a decade ago, in 1981, but couldn't even interest my agent, let alone a publisher. Virtual reality wasn't known then." (He also remarks "I suspect the Killobyte game requires a 586 system, because full virtual reality takes hefty computing." Hahaha, the early 90s.) Point being, if you're out AHEAD of a new style of writing/genre, you may get overlooked up until the point that you're overshadowed. Does that mean you should shelve it until later? Not necessarily. Lots of maybes in that.

    - You're probably right about the familiarity getting people to at least take a look, particularly in the current day and age of electronic gatekeepers, with them selecting more of the same. (Though sometimes YouTube suggestions go bizarre.) So here's the counterpoint to "Don't ride the trends - does anyone really disagree with that"... yeah, hey, if you're pretty open about what you can write topic-wise, riding a trend for a shorter story sequence might at least get eyes on your work, with the hope that they'll pivot to reading something else you wrote that's more tangential.

    Even if that doesn't happen? At minimum, you'll at least have SOME feedback on SOMETHING. I'm not at the existential levels of dread I was at a year ago (I actually get a comment every 4 entries or so now) but damn that was a tough time. Part of the reason for shifting back to "Epsilon" from T&T was "Epsilon" is based on reader votes, so I at least had the reassurance that 5 people HAD to have seen that entry (versus being a bot), because 5 votes existed. Even if that tale now sits in my archive with (*peers*) literally no views in the last 9 months. At the time, I needed it.

    Writing a Time Travel serial:
    Writer of the personification of math serial:
  5. unice5656 (Moderator)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Ehehe, I also break the update frequency/following correlation at the other end of the spectrum. Generally once-a-month updates, occasionally faster, not uncommonly slower.

    I totally agree that you get the subset of the genre readers who also like whatever other elements you put into the story. I think the key is to make it accessible enough for readers to either get into the other elements or ignore them and just focus on the genre they like. I would describe my main project Fantasia to be for fantasy readers who are familiar with gaming and also enjoy nerdy meta-humour, but a significant proportion of my readers ignore the meta-humour part. I have convinced most of them that my (annoying) interruptions are funny, though :)

  6. SovereignofAshes (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago


    You've gotten some good advice thus far. I could send you another rambling letter with particulars, and if you ever want a soundboard for ideas you know where to find me.

    So, with this, I'll just tackle the 'meta' of the whole thing. Just in case it comes back to a motivational issue in behind the nitty-gritty details.

    When it comes to the matter of originality, marketability, novelty, or whatever...
    The Curse of Creativity:

    When it comes to any other stuff your brain might throw at you before you get this new project done...
    And, in case it needs to be said:

    * An aside now, because matters of 'art' and 'selling-out' got brought up (probably in relation to the idea of following the herd into the LitRPG black-hole), I might as well quickly mention something here. I sunk six years of my life into two art college degrees before getting into a creative writing certificate and then on to university. There was a large dichotomy I noticed while in art school.

    The dichotomy existed between the Fine Arts side of the college and the Design side of the college. The Fine Arts side were the TruArtists(tm). The painters, the sculptors, the drawing majors, and the like. The ones who spent a lot of time and money developing their style before all other things. These are the types like Rembrandt, Mozart, Michaelangelo, DaVinci, and such. You hire them to create something in their style for you. You don't tell them what to do. They create original works. These are the artists, all the good, bad, and arrogance that goes along with that.

    I was a member of the Design side. I could chameleon back and forth, just as I did in fights between Star Wars nerds and Star Trek nerds growing up. The Design side were the practical artists. Illustrators, advertising people, concept artists, film and audio technicians, graphics design, CAD, and the like. These are the people that learn skills more than style. These are the people who take commissions for money. The business of art side of the fence. You tell them what to draw and they draw it for you. They don't get attached to the whole thing because the client will most likely change everything around in about an hour anyway. Even if the artist knows more than the client, the client is the one paying so the client is always right. You learn to light your ego on fire and just scramble to get that paycheque.

    When it comes to the world of writing, things are bit more complicated than the traditional arts kind of dichotomy. In some ways you can see the Fine Arts style of writers being the ones who seek out agents and publishing houses so they can work on their craft while a bunch of editors and PR people scramble around them. The people who are the design writers are bloggers, journalists, critics, or 'de-constructionist' indie authors. If you want to get into genre and type, the TruArtists(tm) tend to be Literary Authors while the Practical Artists are the speculative fiction authors.

    Ultimately, it comes down to personal motivation for why you're writing what you're writing. Do you want money and fame? Prepare to sell out or be forgotten. Do you want to create a work that will affect others and change the world? You're never going to see a cent for it in your life-time. Do you want to be the next William Shakespeare, Yeats, or Frank Herbert? Not going to happen, there's too many people in this game and the time of recognition for real writers died out before the turn of the millennium.

    For instance, for myself I can write whatever anyone asks me to. I usually don't get attached to things. This was great while I was a freelance writer for a few years. When it comes to writing submissions, I don't get attached, either. I'd -like- to see my own words in print sometime with my own creative personality behind them, but sometimes you just have to get the money. My first and only foray into something I legitimately wanted to write for myself is my current web serial. It'll never succeed, which is why it's where it is. I won't bend on it, because it's the one thing I haven't compromised for someone else's style, preference, credit, or whatever.

    Choose the side you want to be on with this project. True Author (applied arts), or Sell-Out (practical arts). There's no guarantee for money or fame or success either way. The first path is lonely and filled with hardship; the second is filled with sucking a lot of proverbial cock, suppressing your creativity to appeal to an audience, and stabbing everyone you know in the back. Everyone has to sell-out to get recognition. Be ready to try and put a line in the sand of what you're willing to give up of your humanity and of your story to get what you want. That's a lesson I've already learned again, and again. And if anyone comes along with a semi-successful book and tells you they didn't sell-out to get to where they are, run away. It has nothing to do with pettiness, silliness, or condescension at all. It has to do with a person's creative character. People have to have integrity before they feel the sting of giving up their creativity to get a buck. Those that didn't feel that sting, never had any integrity to begin with. Lucky them, I suppose.

    When it comes to the CPI stuff, work on your setting and get the mechanics of the whole thing down to the finest point -before- you start writing. It'll give you a lot more to work with, plot-wise. And the hard sci-fi nerds will love you for it.

    * Another precautionary aside... Be careful of using the term 'cyberpunk' for your story. A fellow by the name of Mike Pondsmith, the creator of R. Talsorian Games is working with a studio called CD Projekt Red, and managed to recently get the term trademarked. You can use it as a description, but in a title of a book or on something relevant to the story, you're opening yourself up to a problem. Mike wants to secure his brand of Cyberpunk 2020 games and a new video game Cyberpunk 2070 coming out soon.

    I met Mike a few times a few years ago, he seems like a good guy. Lately though, a lot of people are trademark camping to get an extra buck. The nefarious ones all claim it's to 'preserve' the genre or whatever. Yeah, like the Tolkien trust is 'preserving' fantasy by destroying author's lives for accidentally using the term 'hobbit,' 'mythril,' or 'shire.' Right. *rolls eyes*

    And yes, be careful with LitRPG as well. Aleron Kong decided to go for a cash-grab recently to have the genre trademarked in his name. I think his trademark case didn't go through, but given that he's the reigning 'LitRPG King' and makes a fair deal of paper, he'll be right back at the trademark office with an appeal or new case pretty soon.

    Like I was ranting above -- creative integrity -- in very short supply these days.

    I have stuff on here too! The Vorrgistadt Saga.
  7. Shaeor (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    @Sovereign As always, a very comprehensive post! I don't entirely agree with your hardline dichotomy, though. Writing is itself an entertainment industry, and I think that's the reason the vast majority of readers read. That is not, I think, the reason why all writers write. That's where much of the strife comes from. Not many writers know, including me, where a practical pursuit of success meets their artistic intentions. Because there is no all or nothing, money or vision. And, frankly, some ideas are just bad mediums for good stories.

    I should think, though, that anyone who reads my work, old or new, would see my ambitions. As long as that gets across, the medium for me is only about fun.

    @Math Really helpful. A best post, in my opinion. I went for the union of genres myself and by the time my characters were trudging through hell looking for an off-switch, I realized it wasn't very clear what I was going for. That's why I'm going to take a swing at what I can do within a limited world. Something more conceptually succinct.

    @Unice As for post frequency, I'm pretty sure it can't hurt. An added boost of visibility. Maybe it's not an absolute rule, but as a start-up, I think it will make a difference.

    CHOSEN SHACKLES The screen is running static. Face your shadow.
    DIRGE The light is dying. Hold your breath and go gently.
  8. unice5656 (Moderator)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Depends on what you mean by "can't hurt". High-quality writing is going to win out over rushed writing in the long run; it's only when the quality is there that increasing post frequency is going to make a difference. Not that what I do is a particularly viable way to success.

  9. Shaeor (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Yes. There's some risk of a quality drop, but I think as long as I do some revisions, I've been pretty quality consistent. Luckily, I have a lot of experience now with fast production. Not because I put out a lot, but because I always procrastinate and almost never miss an update if physically possible. They did tell me to have a backlog. That ship sailed around the second arc, iirc. I'll try to do better next go, though.

    CHOSEN SHACKLES The screen is running static. Face your shadow.
    DIRGE The light is dying. Hold your breath and go gently.
  10. Team Contract (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Hey guys!

    Long time no post for me. I've been busy with my book launch, but as such, this post really caught my attention. Some great stuff has been said, thus far. @Sovereign as usual, you provided a truly elucidating metaphor and I quite agree with it.

    Although I will say that the selling out part need not be soul sucking depending on what your personal passion and interest is. If you so happen to love what's popular and can write it competently(or even mediocrely), then you can gain financial success and fans--and enjoy doing it. I've seen this so much as I've plunged into the business and marketing side of indy publishing.

    Now if you don't enjoy what's popular out there, then you need to focus on at least one genre trope people will be attracted to, in order to find some kind of market. The one you should pick (the one that defines your story the most), should be the genre that has the most tolerant readership.

    For example, say you want to write a mystery sci-fi. Mystery readers are very particular. If you write a book that had all the mystery tropes, detective, crime, police procedure, but placed it on a mining colony in deep space; most mystery readers will put it down as soon as they see a spaceship.

    So the key would be to package it as purely sci-fi, but include the mystery elements you might love. Because Sci-Fi readers would be sold at the mining colony in deep space bit and then still enjoy the mystery story, because they are more tolerant of mixed tropes, so long as their main one is met.

    This is the approach I finally took with my work, after getting a lot of feedback from putting it up as a webserial. I 'thought' it was more cyberpunk, but although it had some elements of cyberpunk, the story itself did not have the cyberpunk tropes to classify.

    So I switched to being more generalized Sci-Fi with a blend of military sci-fi and superhero. So for my packaging(marketing) I really pulled on the Sci-fi elements. In my blurb, I make sure to mention there is a starship. I added a whole new story to include an adventure on a space elevator. I went and added more sci-fi and futurist elements where they were lacking e.g. changing just rifle to pulse rifle. These were conscious decisions to gear my product toward the target audience that would most likely enjoy it, as well as tolerate and enjoy the cross genre elements.

    I wont have any definitive success until I launch in May, but thus far, from my beta and ARC readers, the new packing and changes are working.

    So to answer your question. I think you can be creative and original, but if you want to have a market/audience, make sure you package that originality into a larger genre that exists and understand what tropes they expect. And excite them with those tropes, before adding your special sauce which will hopefully make them say "Oh wow! That's new and neat!" and not "Yuck! I don't like this at all."

  11. ChrysKelly (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I just write what I want to read. Which means sometimes I write things that are popular genres. And sometimes I write things that are weird and no one else seems interested in.

  12. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 2 years ago

    The one thing you can count on is this: you have no idea what the next big thing is.

    When I started my superhero serial in 2007, I chose superheroes because there was no market for superheroes in prose, meaning that I wouldn't have lost my opportunity to publish what I wrote traditionally. Traditional publishers at the time would pretty much never publish fiction that first appeared on the internet.

    In 2008, Iron Man came out and after that, multiple Marvel movies plus Worm and other superhero serials. I didn't see it coming. I did benefit from it.

    In my opinion, you're best off writing something that you want to write. If you write something that's popular right now, you'll probably get lost in the crowd. If you write something you want to write, you've got a better chance of making it to the end of the story. Also, you might be lucky enough to be writing the next big thing when it happens.

    The funny thing in my experience is that writing what you want to write vs. what you think will be popular isn't really a choice. Writing popular stuff probably won't leave you fulfilled enough to continue unless you're already a professional writer. That makes writing what you want the practical choice. That will leave you writing something that you'll finish, polish, and possibly sell as ebook. If you're looking to find readership and money, you've got a better chance of finding it there.

  13. Shaeor (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    @Jim, thanks. The way it basically breaks down is, Cyberpunk I came to for aesthetic reasons. BCI technology was the most interesting idea in Science Fiction that felt related. It seemed a really interesting narrative tool. One of those things that would be fun to write, slogging through psychic data. Some aspects of Dreampunk. LitRPG flows well from that, as a story tool, as a way to unite a misfit gang and move things on without rushing the protagonist's character arc. It's really not about the next big thing, though maybe Cyberpunk is up and coming? It's a bit zeitgeisty. As long as I write something fairly timeless, and I feel my themes are, then I'm happy. I'm mostly in love that aesthetic.

    Thanks to everyone who's responded. Much wisdom.

    CHOSEN SHACKLES The screen is running static. Face your shadow.
    DIRGE The light is dying. Hold your breath and go gently.
  14. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Gregory, excellent point about union and intersection. Sigh. (And I just finished reading Phantom Tollbooth to my kids a couple months ago. )

    Sovereign, I have quite a lot of fine / applied / trade arts friends, and I see the war between those two sides all the time. Seeing it more and more with writers has been disheartening. Excellent insights.

    on the Cyberpunk trademark, trademarks dont work like that, and it appears the company is quite aware and making sure everyone else is awre they dont work like that as well.

  15. Jim Zoetewey (Moderator)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I find it funny to think of cyberpunk as up and coming. Actually, I find it funny that anyone does anything with cyberpunk at all still.

    Back in the mid to late 80s, I was the only person I knew who knew what cyberpunk was.

    I was really excited about it, in fact. In the summer after my freshman year of college, I modified the Traveller RPG to run a cyberpunk campaign. The year after that the cyberpunk game that's associated with the trademark you're referencing came out. It was interesting to watch cyberpunk become a literary movement within SF that made it out to mainstream culture, culminating in Billy Idol putting out an album called Cyberpunk.

    That was the point where I decided that it was all over for the movement.

    It had actually been over on a literary level for years by then. As much as it was a literary movement, it was also an "if this goes on" story about Reaganomics and what it could lead to.

    That said, it still feels fresh to me, but it probably always will, so I'm no judge. Still, if you remember in Neuromancer, one of the books that kicked off awareness of cyberpunk, there are still payphones and there are no cell phones. The "cyberdecks" that connect to the net? They're basically terminals instead of PC's.

    The tech is 80s tech writ large, making it comically outdated. We've gone further in that direction technically than they could imagine at the time. In terms of the social aspect of science fiction, it might be interesting to reimagine the future. I'm not sure the 80s vision of the social changes holds up, but I very much enjoyed the work that it led to.

    In other news, Jim is old. In additional news, "You kids get off my lawn!"

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