Guest Post: “So You Want To Write Military Science Fiction” by William C. Dietz

dietzwc-authorpicSo you’d like to write a military science fiction series. Good. You came to the right place. I’ve written some, and would be happy to share my secrets, the first of which is to understand the true nature of business that you hope to be part of. No, it isn’t the book business. What you’re planning to do is join the entertainment industry.

In addition to books you’re going to compete with movies, TV, and social media for eyeballs and dollars. Oh, and while you do that, pirates will steal your stuff, fans will give you one-star reviews because “the book costs too much,” and Amazon will offer cheap used copies right next to the new ones. And guess what? You won’t make a cent off them.

So get ready to bring it. And by “it” I mean something so special readers will decide to read your book rather than playing Call Of Duty, practicing Yoga, or having sex.

But you’re undeterred, right? Good. Let’s get down to basics. Can you write? No, my friend, text messages don’t count. Are you capable of writing 350 sizzling pages? You are? Excellent. But here’s the rub. Lots of other people can do that too. And many of them will do it for $2.99 and undercut you. But why focus on the negative? Where there’s a will there’s a way! So onwards and upwards.

Do you read military science fiction? If so, you’re familiar with writers like Campbell, Cole, Drake, Flint, Forstchen, Heinlein, Ringo, Shepherd, Weber and Williamson (just to mention a few). And that’s important, because as a small business person it’s important to know the competition. Ideally you want to come up with a new twist on one of the existing sub-sub genres, like a battle in which vampires defend Earth from invading aliens. Hmm… Not bad. I’ll jot that one down.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s important to note that you can mix subgenres. For example, the title of my latest book is Into The Guns. It’s the first novel in a trilogy called America Rising. And, according to the jargon publishers use to categorize books — it could accurately be described as a “post-apocalyptic, alternate history, military science fiction novel.” That’s because the plot deals with what happens after a swarm of meteors hit Earth, kill billions of people, and trigger massive civil unrest including a second Civil War in the United States.

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And where, you ask, did that idea come from? Generally speaking (for me anyway) a book begins with a single thought or realization, which leads to more thoughts and realizations, which I weave into an overall concept. In this case the spark was provided by an article about our country’s strategic petroleum reserves which, it turns out, are all located in the American south. That caused me to think about the civil war. What if the north fought the south now? What if the confederacy had all the oil? How would that change the situation?

Or what if something triggered a second civil war? But what would that event be? And so forth… And that’s how I came up with the setting for Into The Guns. But that’s just the beginning. After you come up with the idea the real work begins. That involves doing research months or even years in advance, creating a cast of characters, and corralling subject matter experts who are willing to provide advice — like LT. Colonel Pears who I credited in my book.

Then comes an important decision. Writers fall into one of two categories. Organic writers are literary acrobats, who perform without a net, and let the words flow. So what if they have to cut 50,000 words?  And spend weeks doing it.

Outline writers (like me) want, and need a scaffolding to work from. Both approaches can produce wonderful books — although I believe an outline will make you more efficient — and therefore profitable. And this is a business, right?

So you write. And write some more. And then eureka! You have a book. Well, not a book, but a manuscript. Which, if it’s anything like my initial drafts, is anything but perfect. So you edit it. And you make changes. Lots and lots of changes. And then, if you’re lucky enough to have a trusted editor, you ask them to go through it looking for typos, misspellings, and absurd mistakes. For example: Tom, who appears on page 36, was named Larry on page 12.

But do not under any circumstances hand your precious child over to an intellectually constipated English major who, in spite of never having published a word of their own, believes that he or she can guide you. They will drown your baby in red ink—and smile as they place the lifeless body in your hands.

Well, that’s it. You’re ready to go! Get out there and kick some butt. Oh, one more thing. When you sell that first book, don’t quit your day job. Sadly, according to the GalleyCat website, most authors make less than $1,000 per year.

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Into The Guns is available in stores and online now, published in North America by Ace Books (cover above), and in the UK by Titan (cover below). The sequel, Seek and Destroy, is due out mid-2017.

For more about William C. Dietz’s writing and fiction, be sure to check out his website, and follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.

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