#20BooksLondon – World building with a difference #publishing

When I was trying to figure out what to share first about the lessons I learned at the 20Books conference, I decided the best thing would be to talk about the one thing I didn’t take notes on before I forget!

I didn’t take notes because this is never going to be me (I think), but it is certainly interesting and a couple of points do cross over.

The session was billed as ‘Worldbuilding’, and in the very broad sense, that was the topic, just not the way we usually think about it.

Even if we are writing contemporary novels, we still have some world building to do – locations, character’s backgrounds, general scene setting – and in fantasy or SF, a whole heap more, like whole worlds to create!

This session, however, was about building universes for SHARED WORLDS,Β and how you manage them.

If you haven’t come across the idea of shared worlds before, they exist already in Amazon Kindle, where you can write your own novels in an already existing world. What Michael Anderle has done is to create 2 entire universes, taking in vast time spans, and opened them up to authors who want to create their own novels within his framework. Each universe has a ‘bible’ laying down the character types and background details, and authors must put in a proposal and be accepted, but once in, they have the guarantee of a ready-made audience just waiting to gobble down the newest books set in a universe they are familiar with. The author gets 50% of the royalties, but its a fantastic opportunity to kick start a career by getting your name out there, and with the audience sizes these worlds have, even 50% is no mean income.

So Michael has now become a publisher. He’s still writing his own books (boy, does that guy work hard – 8-12 hour days solid writing, he puts out one book a month himself!), but with these other authors contributing, his current publishing schedule is 15 books a month! And that’s set to increase.

They talked about the concept of ‘whale readers’, those wonderful, avid readers who can’t get enough of books, who will read everything put out in a series (or universe), and will often re-read ALL the previous books before opening the new one. They just can’t get enough, and Michael, for one, has tapped into this ravenous consumer of novels.

Clearly you can make a huge amount of money this way, but the wonderful thing about Michael & co., is that they want to put back into the community, and support new authors without trying to force them into a mould. Although the template described above is one that’s working in spades, the thrust of the message was, ‘there is no one single way, everybody must find what works for them’.

Music to my ears, and a pretty strange coincidence that I wrote this guest post, on exactly that topic, only the week before. (Yes, I am psychic πŸ˜‰ )

Once again, this conference backed up my experience that the indie publishing world is full of wonderful, mutually supportive people, and they are the ones you should surround yourself with and listen to, and give back to as and when you can.

The one unexpected thing I learned in this session that does apply outside Michael’s worlds, is his advice on breaking one of the cardinal rules of writing, and his reason for doing so (we all know rules are made to be broken, right?)

That rule is: ‘every scene in your book must either move the plot forward, or develop character. If it doesn’t, delete it.’

Michael has another take on this, with a good example from his own work: the above rule doesn’t matter provided you elicit emotion in your reader.

He has a recurring character, a sidekick, (a troll), who is there for comic relief. This troll has whole scenes within books that do absolutely nothing to move plot or develop character, but they make the reader laugh, and the audience love him!

This was one of Michael’s earliest ‘light bulb moments’, and one he loves to share – if you can make your reader feel emotion, you’ve snagged them!

I will bear this one in mind…

Thoughts on breaking this specific rule? Examples you’ve come across, or written yourself? Do share, I’m intrigued to know who else does this.





  1. Fascinating post, Deborah. I ran into the term ‘whale readers’ at a conference too. I’ve been stunned by writers who publish a book a month (like my current favorite, Robert Thomas with about 70 books out in his series). Then, I found out about the whale readers who consume all those words. Just amazing.

    I also was taken with your comment that ‘world building’ wasn’t something you do. I thought so too until an agent rejected my manuscript because my world building wasn’t strong enough. Yikes! I’ve been on the hunt ever since to develop that skill.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I take my hat off to writers who can produce a book a month, it just isn’t going to be something I will ever manage. This was my first time hearing about ‘whale readers’, but when you look at the sheer numbers of books many readers consume, it makes sense to tap into that market if you can.
      World building, now that’s something I do a lot of – not something you can avoid when you write fantasy.


  2. There are so many wonderful and supportive people in the writing world, Deborah. So much nicer than the corporate world where everyone is out for themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, indeed, such a refreshing change to find genuinely supportive people. I love it ❀


  3. Fab post Deb. Loved it. I know I’d be over the moon to attend this conference. Although I don’t use world building, writing memoir, the world I’d already lived in I’m totally in with Michael’s rules and if you can’t drive the plot or character at least evoke emotion. That’s my aim! And thanks for this share. Now I’m sharing. ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deb.
      They are just mulling over a possible conference in Edinburgh next year if you fancy taking in Scotland…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh ya! And I’ve been to Edinburgh once before! Time to revisit maybe? πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Deborah. I’d heard about Kindle Worlds before, although I think I’d need to really feel engaged and invested in a series before I would feel like writing for it. I did try to write a novel combining one of my characters with a character in another series by an author I know, but that never went very far. I’ve wondered about that rule too, often. It does depend on the type of book you write. Even if you write a book with plenty of action, if you want readers to get to know the characters and to engage emotionally with them, I agree that you have to explore beyond the strict plot.
    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Olga, I’ve always subscribed to that rule before, but I totally see where Michael is going with this, and it clearly works, so I’m taking it on board for the future.


  5. Such an interesting concept. The writing styles would be a jumble, but sounds like a fun rumble!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess with the number of individual series running within each universe, people still have an option to pick what they like, though from what I hear, they mostly just devour the stuff no matter who writes it.
      Of course, the writers have to be pre-approved, and editing using one of Michael’s editors is mandatory, so there will be a set standard.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s excellent. Editing is essential. I’m curious so I’ll take a peek, but like you, I have my own series running and they mean much to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Colleen Chesebro · · Reply

    This was a great conference, Deborah. I’m a slow writer. There is no way I could churn out books like that. What I really found to be fascinating was the idea of shared universes. It reminds me of fan fiction which has quite a following too. Magical realism has its share of world building as it happens in the real world. This genre has so much opportunity for learning. Thanks for sharing. ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Colleen, I think the idea of shared universes grew out of fan fiction, though they wouldn’t like to be classed along with it now, as the writing is pro level, unlike much fanfic!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Colleen Chesebro · ·

        It sounds fabulous. Have you read any of the books in the shared universes?


      2. Not yet, I just bought one, but of course, my TBR list is huge…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Colleen Chesebro · ·

        LOL! Oh, yes. I’m right there with you! πŸ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Reading about the ‘comic relief’ reminded me of that scene in Jurassic Park where the young girl tries to pet one of the huge herbivores and it sneezes on her. Everyone laughed because that was one of the few moments in the movie that gave the audience a chance to catch their breath before the next onslaught. Shakespeare used comic relief as well. πŸ™‚


    1. We all need a bit of a laugh, don’t we? And the emotional rollercoaster is such a great tool to keep readers breathlessly reading our books.
      Shakespeare is a fantastic example, thanks for reminding me.


      1. Yes, emotional rollercoaster is the perfect description! lol

        Liked by 1 person

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