Over the holidays, Fables co-creator Bill Willingham has been sharing new fictional Christmas-related stories on the Patreon site he created earlier this year.
Although the Christmas stories are free of charge to anyone who visits the site, Willingham has been creating content for paid Patreon subscribers since mid-August, allowing his patrons to preview the first few chapters of upcoming novels before they get to the publishing stage. The writer is also currently releasing a new book on Amazon Kindle, having serialzed the first two chapters for purchase through the digital book outlet.
After the end of Fables in 2015, Willingham moved on to other comic book work such as Dynamite's Legenderry: A Steampunk Adventure and the upcoming Restoration title at Image Comics, but has recently been trying out non-traditional publishing outlets for his prose work.
Newsarama talked to the writer about his choice to launch a Patreon site, his experience with digital publishing on Amazon, and what comes next for the writer.
Newsarama: Bill, what prompted you to start selling your wares via outlets like Patreon and Amazon? What brought about the switch?
Bill Willingham: Well, I haven't switched - at best, or worst, I've added to what I'm doing.
There are a couple of motivations for utilizing Patreon and Amazon. One is that it's available. Let's try it out and see what can be done with it. The other is, in the months before I kind of said goodbye to most convention appearances (at least for a while), I made no secret of the fact that I was very happy with some of the developments recently in our business in storytelling.
The gatekeepers are going away. Inevitably, every convention has a "how to break into comics" panel. I've ended up on a lot of them. But the point I would make is, there's no longer any need to break anything. Comics do not need to be broken into anymore. No storytelling or artistic medium requires a breaking of anything anymore. There are just too many avenues. If you want to do something, you can do it.
There are no longer people who can keep you out of it, except yourself.
Right now, we're at the stage where - more than at any other time - there's no one who can say no to you and make it stick.
That said, I thought that if I was going to keep proselytizing that particular line of reasoning, maybe I'd better put my money where my mouth is - or my time and my effort - and actually try some of the online methods of publication myself.
So that is one of the main reasons for giving this a shot. I'd kind of be a poop if I kept encouraging people to go this route if they want to and never did it myself.
Nrama: What kind of stuff can people find on your Patreon site?
Willingham: It's prose work. There may indeed be some comics work someday, but for right now, it's prose.
Nrama: I know you like posting short stories - and right now have the Christmas stories, which we'll talk about in a minute. But are you doing longer stories on the site?
Willingham: Yes. I've got a couple of novels in the pipeline. I've been pretty busy with them, and I've got some thing in the works.
The Patreon site is a very good venue for pre-publishing, if that's a word - putting it out to a smaller group of readers first to get some feedback. Many novelist prose writers have their first readers group, which are the people who look at it first and sort of help de-bug it before it goes on to a full publisher.
So I'm doing that. And it is helpful in the sense of taking a look at it once people are being exposed to it - having to face that this is what's going out there that the readers are clearly not understanding, as opposed to, well, this stuff, they seem to have gotten what I was heading for.
So it's kind of a last line of "fix what's broken" before you send it out for publication.
Nrama: You've already got a few chapters up on the Patreon site of two novels?
Willingham: Yes. They're both part of a fictional world I've been creating for a series of fictional books.
As you know, reading my stuff, I tend to play in the modern urban fantasy realm (with Fables and stuff like that).
One of the key characteristics of the urban fantasy story is that you have a subculture of supernatural stuff that's not generally known by the world outside.
But this time, I decided to ask, well, what if the world did know?
So in this world, all this stuff is an integrated part of society. Magic and vampires and werewolves and ghosts and everything like that is well-known by the world-at-large. And now there's a bureaucracy. These things have been regulated and managed.
I find that interesting - the bureaucracy of the supernatural. For example, if you're going to be a magical superhero, you have to go to a good school. You have to pass an exam to be a licensed superhero. If you're going to be a sorcerer, you have to have posted your bonds and gotten a license and gone to the right school and such.
Werewolves have registered packs, like gangs in today's society. They'd better be up-to-date with their shots and have their dog tags at all times, or they can get in trouble.
It's a very bureaucratized world.
Nrama: Is this the world in which Finn and Fimbul exist?
Willingham: Yes. One of the books is called The Remarkable Mr. Finn, which has 10 or 11 chapters up now. He's a talking chimpanzee and licensed private hero. And he's a very good investigator. And Mary Fimbul is the tough little girl who lives next door.
Nrama: And the other novel is in that world as well?
Willingham: Yes, the other novel is also based in that world, and that's a thing that's making the publishing rounds right now.
Nrama: Are you getting feedback from readers about these two novels?
Willingham: Some. Not as much as I'd like. Part of that is the frustrations of the format. The Patreon site - I think it's a wonderful idea. You get regular patrons, and you get the bulk of the money (after Patreon takes a fee). Subscribers sign up for various levels.
It turns out it was constructed very well for videos and music. But for prose fiction, they're a little bit in the Stone Age. Their formatting is terrible. It changes constantly and seems to have no rules.
I don't think the company has prose people on board, because they only have one font. If I could change one thing in the online publishing world, I'd make them all go to the same schools that early publishers had to, to psychologically learn why you use serif fonts and not sans serif fonts, because the eye can just read it easier.
Nrama: I agree, but I'm not sure my editors do.
Willingham: I hope you include this, because I would love for people to realize this. These people who came before in publishing had a reason for doing things the way they did.
And I also want Patreon to know, I wish the company would wise up and listen to someone who's in print publishing to learn some of the basic things they should be doing.
Anyway, the site is there, and the mechanisms for replying and stuff are not great. So in a long, roundabout way, to answer your question, the feedback isn't as great as I'd hoped it would be, but part of that is building up the readership.
The larger the readership, I hope, the more interactivity there will be.
Nrama: You've got some free Christmas stories right now, right? Was that because you wanted to give a free gift for Christmas?
Willingham: That's part of it. Around this time of year, I get in a good mood and I'm more than willing to share.
But the origin of the 12 stories of Christmas is that Paul Cornell, one of the Clockwork Storybook writers - a British fellow - every year, traditionally, on his blog has done the "12 Blogs of Christmas" every day for the 12 days preceding Christmas, doing a new blog about something.
So with his permission I stole that idea. But not just to blog and opine. I like telling stories. So I made it 12 stories of Christmas, although some of them are short shorts, several of which are in one day's contribution, so you're actually getting more than 12.
Nrama: What are you selling on Amazon?
Willingham: Just Another Ranker is my novel under the Amazon Kindle program, being publishing in three parts. It's a couple of bucks for each third. The first two-thirds are up, and it's not exactly tearing up the charts and getting people buying and reading it, but I imagine that will change once the final third is up and there is confidence that they aren't going to be left in the middle of an unfinished story.
It's about this fellow Johnny Underwood - it's a portal fiction story. He goes to a world with elves and giants and fantasy and dragons and wonders. And unlike most heroes from our world that travel to other worlds, he takes guns and a lot of other fellow soldiers with him.
It's a modern mercenary unit in a primitive fantasy land. And it's a thinly-disguised recreation of the Battle of Rorke's Drift, guns against spears. And hopefully - I don't want to give it away, but hopefully it works out about the same as the historical battle did.
Nrama: I can't let you get away from an interview without asking about Fables. Anything to tell about it? Are you overseeing the work that Matt Sturges and Dave Justus are doing with Everafter?
Willingham: I don't oversee it to the extent of a story editor in the classic sense. I ask as an adviser if they want advice. They're both gifted storytellers, so they don't need overseen.
But mostly I act as a traffic cop in that there are certain characters I didn't want them to use in case I want to come back someday and do some Fables spectacular thing. And there are certain characters and idea that, when the series ended, Mark Buckingham laid claim to. And having been my storyteller on this for years, I think he earned the right to say that someday he might want to do something with the characters and ideas.
So I keep Matt and Dave, who are scroungy little bastards, who want to play with every one of the toys - every once in a while, I have to swat their paws away from certain things I have left off limits.
But that said, no I don't really oversee things. They have a good handle on it and they're going like gangbusters. The advice and participation was front-loaded. When they came up with the initial ideas, I had something to share at that point.
Nrama: Anything else you have coming up?
Willingham: There are some things that my agent is shopping around here and there. Look for some announcements soon. There are a few comics projects in the works, as well, that I'm not going to steal the comic publishers' thunder and announce here. But they're going to be wonderful.