Opportunity Cost

Friday, January 15, 2021

Words and Letter Machine


No, this isn’t going to be an accounting lecture, although I will explain the principle. It was the title of a podcast by superstar fantasy author Brandon Sanderson that I listened to this morning, and what he described was exactly the dilemma I’ve been having for the past year.

In business, before deciding whether to introduce or continue to produce a product, the first thing a company has to figure out is if that product will be or will continue to be profitable. So the accountant adds up all the things that go into making a product: materials, labor, packaging, shipping, advertising, etc., and then subtracts that from the price he or she believes the company can charge for it. If the number is positive, the product might be approved. Might, because someone has to do sales forecasting and see if there will be enough customers who will buy the product to generate that profit. Someone has to do market research and see what their competition is like.

But there’s one more thing they factor into this, and that’s called the opportunity cost. A factory is only so big, there are only so many workers, and they can only make so many products at a time. Suppose they are contemplating making a widget, a doodad, and a gizmo. After the analysis, all three of them are profitable products, but they can’t make all three. If they decide to make the widget, they’ve lost the opportunity to make the gizmo and/or the doodad. Suppose the gizmo turns out to be the Pet Rock of that Christmas?

The decision becomes a lot more complicated.

So, back to books. (You thought I’d never get there, didn’t you?)

Approximately a year and a half ago, I saw that my African Violet Club Mysteries weren’t selling all that well. Although there were several readers who had written me and told me how much they enjoyed the books, there were a number of critical reviews for True Blue Murder that told me I’d missed the mark with one aspect of the stories. I also had ideas for other books and other series.The thing is, at this point in my writing career, I can only write one book, or series, at a time.

Without consciously doing it, I brought to an end all the continuing themes in the African Violet Club Mysteries when I wrote Holly Green Murder. My subconscious made the decision for me.

Joyfully, I moved on the the Shipwreck Point Mysteries, one of those series I’d been dying to write. I plunged myself into the setting and the characters and published four books in that series last year. My plan was to publish three more books that take place in Shipwreck Point this year.

Meanwhile, I wanted to try something to boost my sales. The Shipwreck Point books were a little too new to start discounting, but I thought I might use the old series for this. It wasn’t making much money anyway, so when I heard about the Freebooksy series ads, I thought making True Blue Murder free and all the other books 99 cents would work to make December a good month.

I didn’t realize that it would also make January a good month. In fact, so many readers have discovered this series that I’ve already had a question or two about more books in it. :::headdesk:::

Inside, author-me is screaming That wasn’t the plan! I was only writing three Shipwreck Point books this year because I wanted to try my hand at another series, with the hope that by then I’d be ready to write two series at the same time.

Can you see the opportunity cost yet? If I decide to write more African Violet Club mysteries, I won’t be able to write a new series. I might not even be able to write three Shipwreck Point mysteries. But if I don’t hurry and release a new African Violet Club book, I might lose all those readers I just gained! But if I do that, I’ll never get to try the next series this year.



I’m trying to be a big girl about this, trying to think about it like a businessperson. Even if I dropped everything I’ve started in 2021 today, it would take me a while to write the seventh book in the African Violet Club Mysteries. I’d have to reread all the books to refresh my memory, decide what direction to take the series in (the same thing it’s been for six books or something slightly different?), then come up with an idea or three for that series. What is the cost to the Shipwreck Point series if I stop releasing frequently to do this?

I haven’t got a clear—or even foggy—idea for what the next series will be. I was going to take the first six months of 2021 to browse through my story idea notebook and see which one of those caught my imagination. So I can’t even say whether the new series would be fantastic or a dud. I don’t know what it would cost me not to write it.

Since this is all too much for my poor brain, what I’m going to do right now is continue with the fifth book in the Shipwreck Point series and try not to think too hard about what the next book will be. Or at least not think about it during writing hours for the current book. But not thinking about it will cost the development of the two series that are not the Shipwreck Point series something.

I think I need to watch Brandon Sanderson’s video again.


Who is Titus Strong?

Saturday, January 02, 2021

To be an effective criminal defense counsel, an attorney must be prepared to be demanding, outrageous, irreverent, blasphemous, a rogue, a renegade, and a hated, isolated, and lonely person — few love a spokesman for the despised and the damned.

Clarence Darrow

As I start to plan the next book in the Shipwreck Point Mysteries, I’m taking a look at notes I made when starting the series. I do this each time, refreshing my memory as to what my vision was for the stories and the characters. I compare that vision to how the books have developed, and weigh the two against one another. Are they still they same? If not, is one better than the other?

As you might have guessed, the quote above contributed heavily to my concept of Titus Strong. This played out in the first book as Titus took as a client the madam of a popular bawdy house in the town of Whitby. Not many attorneys would consider defending a lady of Katie Sullivan’s reputation.

But Titus is different than most attorneys. He came from a lowly background, dreamed of becoming a wealthy member of the upper class, and discovered his dream, once he achieved it, was a nightmare.

He’s grown through the course of the books, generally for the better, but he still has doubts about which way he is headed. I think he’ll always battle with what the two sides of him want.

I’m thinking this will form a key part of the tale in the next book. I’ll be thinking a lot about whether Titus is blasphemous, hated, and isolated as well as demanding and a renegade. It might be interesting to write that, but I'm not so sure readers will want to read it.

And so I have my own personal dilemma to battle with. I'll let you know how that turns out.

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A Clash of Kings
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