This is the second update from Joseph Lewis, chief instigator of the collaborative project, “The Drifting Isle Chronicles.” We first heard from Joe when he was introducing the project, which he updated earlier this year. We have since heard from some of the other collaborators on the project, including Charlotte English, Katherine Tomlinson, and MeiLin Miranda. In this update, Joe shares how the project has gone and what the team is up to next!
It’s been almost a year since launching the “The Drifting Isle Chronicles” project. How are things going?
Hi Scott! We’ve made a lot of progress since last winter when I first put together my team of authors to create an original fantasy series. But we’ve also faced a lot of challenges, which I’ll mention first. Our biggest development has been the recent departure of one of our authors. After developing her book for several months (and enjoying working with the team), she didn’t feel that her story was coming together up to her usual standards and after some discussion she decided to resign from the project. We were sorry to see her go, but as writers we certainly understood her reasons.
Our second challenge involved our cover artist. Originally we had commissioned my own artist Max Davenport, but he was forced to bow out by a family emergency. Fortunately, the team pulled together to scour the internet for a new artist and after speaking to a variety of folks from all around the world (no, really!) we commissioned Elsa Kroese, who created some beautiful covers for Charlotte English’s books. We’re very excited to be working with her and we’re looking forward to seeing our new cover art.
In other news, we currently have three finished drafts and the fourth is nearly done. Test readers are reporting in that the finished books are great and fresh, and offer fascinating counterpoints to each other. I personally have read the other books and I’m thrilled with the variety of stories that we have woven together in this new world of the Drifting Isle.
When we last touched base with you, things were well underway logistically. You had created an online wiki for the team, you had established regular reporting systems, and you had developed a process for cross-editing each others’ work. Have you had to make any changes to any of this, or is it all still working well for the team?
No changes at all. We’ve all been in regular contact, with biweekly status updates and impromptu brainstorming and problem-solving sessions. The wiki proved invaluable both to organize our thoughts and to coordinate our stories. I’m very proud of my fellow authors for bringing such a high level of professionalism and dedication to this very unusual project.
The public release of the “The Drifting Isle Chronicles” novels is coming up. What are your marketing plans (and are you trying to coordinate things with the entire team)?
Primarily, we will each be promoting our own books using the channels we usually use: our own mailing lists and reviewers and fan bases. The idea is, for example, that my fans will like my book and will then be enticed to read the other books, and vice versa.
This idea is helped considerably by the fact that our stories all take place at nearly the same time. Officially there is no Book #1 or Book #4 (that would have been really unfair to Author #4, wouldn’t it?).
One marketing tool that we are creating is a cover mural. We’ve asked our artist Elsa to create all four covers at the same time with a single continuous background so that if you place them side by side, they will form a single cohesive picture. We’ll all be using this mural in our announcements and emails to help promote the entire series along with our individual books.
Finally, we’ll be including some teaser content in each novel to help give readers a taste of the other books in Drifting Isle. We’re still sorting out whether it will be a partial or full chapter (or something more), but each novel will be represented in some way in every book.
At the recent StoryWorld Conference + Expo, there was a panel devoted to designing open story worlds. How well do you think the team has done in building a world meant to support multiple stories from multiple authors? Now that you’re well down the writing road, do you wish you had designed the world any differently?
I think our team did brilliantly. The world we created blends the steampunk elements of technology and history with the fantasy elements of magic. Our steampunk city is massive with a well-developed government, economy, criminal element, and industrial-aristocrats, as well as fantastical devices and a complex history. And our flying island is home to bizarre creatures and several classes of magic-wielding artists, also with their own rich culture and history.
Our four books explore a couple of these people, organizations, and places in great detail, but the rest of it exists only in vague asides and hints. It’s entirely possible that we might return to write more books in this world, or even open it up to other writers to develop in the future.
I suppose if I were to go back in time and do anything differently, I might ask the team to dream up even more fantastical details to cram into the world. But I’m more than happy with the breadth and depth of what we’ve created this year.
While this isn’t a shared story world project (Joe is not accepting submissions from the public), the Drifting Isle team is facing many of the same challenges of successfully building an SSW. Thanks to Joe for sharing the real, behind-the-scenes details of this project, as it’s proving to be a nice case study for SSW creatives. Here’s my take on things since Joe’s last update.
First, the unexpected departure of one of the team members underscores the potential pitfalls of deeply integrated shared world projects, especially with small teams. I’m reminded of the continuity and coherence challenges George R. R. Martin faced when he tried to keep the various “Wild Cards” writers on track (and those were short story compilations, not a collection of novels).
But Joe and his team appear to have sidestepped any problems resulting from one of the members leaving mid-project (or any editing problems that arose were minor) by keeping each author essentially working in silos. My guess is any cross-narrative activity between novels is minor/referential and not core to the plots of the other novels.
Of course, the downside to more stand-alone novels in shared worlds is they can be perceived as just that: stand-alone. And that eliminates some of the unique opportunities for placing novels in a shared world in the first place.
Second, I had to chuckle when I read Joe’s comments about losing their initial artist and having to scramble to find another one. It’s a recurring problem I’ve seen on many projects, including my own. I have no idea why this is so, but it’s something I’ve encountered repeatedly during my time in media.
If you need art, please do your homework, make sure the artist is someone you can work with, have concrete deliverables for the artist to work with, and HAVE A CONTRACT, even if it’s a simple, one-page one. Concrete deliverables and a signed contract help eliminate confusion, miscommunication, and disagreements over work and money.
That said, they don’t prevent an artist’s departure mid-project, especially when caused by some external factor (as happened with Joe). So when you’re shopping for an artist, have a few backup options in place. You can never know enough artists in your network.
Third, I love the idea of having a large work of art split across all four novel covers. Nice touch! I’m very curious to see if Joe’s marketing plan plays out as expected. Clearly, having four people promoting their individual novels which happen to live in a shared world with three other novels will result in some shared marketing benefits. Including teaser content in each novel as cross-promotion is also brilliant, and, because of the professional nature of the team, appears to be an easy legal hurdle to clear.
The Drifting Isle team has covered a lot of ground this year, and they’re about to go into crunch-mode as their launch date looms…but based on what I’ve seen of the project so far, I expect they’ll handle it all as professionally and creatively as they have everything else on this project.