I have two published novels and another 4 in the pipeline—all with a small local press (here in Australia). Plus one self-published (mainly as an experiment) which I’ve recently taken out of circulation. And a bunch of IF novels. And in the past I’ve had two other novels accepted by small publishers who folded before publishing me (most die within two years).
I can talk about the difference between novels and IF novels allllll day. I wrote a short guest article here a while back.
First of all, Eric you are an excellent writer. Skill-wise, you’d be in the top 5% of wannabe authors, definitely. Already. Yes, there are certain techniques that are different between IF and regular fiction, but you’re also someone who learns fast. So none of that is an issue at all. (“Easier” is an imprecise term, but standard novels are easier than IF in my opinion, especially when it comes to editing. Having said that, I genuinely prefer writing IF because the stylistic pressures are more creatively helpful than harmful - less of the dreaded ‘Blank Page’.) You’re also excellent at marketing. Publishers pretty much require that these days, so that very much counts in your favour.
So go ahead: write that novel. I recommend a young adult novel (shorter and often less intense; generally IF is loosely targeted at young adults). Make your PC (er… main character) a couple of years older than your reading audience, and you’re all set. Your style suits YA and it’s easier to get into than ‘pure’ speculative fiction. (Sidebar: I always write novels in first person. Love it.)
Here are some things worth knowing, however: Money-wise, fiction is a terrible place to be. Think about how hard it is to get paid as a game developer, and multiply by 100. Literally. On a good day.
I write full time, working on both novels and IF, but 99% of my income is from IF. If you add up the money I spend travelling to conferences to sell my books, I make a loss on anything I can’t drive to and from in a single day.
I’m with a small press (which actually has been a fantastic experience, letting me do stuff like add interactive fiction story bonuses to each novel, plus next year I’ll be releasing a feelie story through the same publisher). So the first barrier to selling books is that no one has heard of my publisher, and a large number of people assume it’s a vanity publisher (ie they think I pay the publisher to print my books and make them look legit, but there’s no standards and no editing…which is incorrect). The second barrier is that publishers don’t sell directly to bookshops, distributors do (they have reps who post glossy magazines directly to shops, and the shops then order stock from them). My publisher DOES have a distributor (many small publishers don’t) but the distributor is also small and not well known, so a bunch of bookshops don’t even look at their magazine. Then, if my books do actually get on a bookshelf, customers haven’t heard of me and are reluctant to take a chance on a new author—so most of the books end up returned to the publisher. Small publishers barely advertise, so there’s virtually no buzz surrounding small press books, ever. No buzz = no customers. I’m lucky that my publisher does truly excellent covers. A lot of small publishers do it in-house, sometimes with really crappy results that scream “this books sucks”.
Larger publisher = larger distributor, but still no advertising so no buzz.
US author means you have one more barrier: getting an agent. Most publishers will only look at books submitted through agents. (You’ll still be waiting many months for a response, btw.)
Writing is fun, which is a problem for authors. There are way too many of us, compared and not enough readers to sustain us all. Most full-time writers in Australia earn $12,000/year (about half minimum wage). And it’s not the fault of large publishers either (although I know from experience that they will baulk at a lot of silly stuff, eg gay relationships or a non-Caucasian main character). Most major publishers actually make a LOSS on most of their books. A few bestsellers are keeping everyone else afloat.
Large publishers get about 10,000 unsolicited manuscripts every year, and publish less than one on average.
My books are fun. It’s great to hold my books in my hand, and I get respect instead of confusion when I say what I do (“I write novels; yes they’re published” rather than “I write IF… that stands for Interactive Fiction… it’s sorta like those Choose Your Own Adventure novels from the 80s, but now it’s all digital phone apps…I get paid for this, I swear…”). I do get some people reading one form and then checking out the other—but a lot of readers don’t transfer between IF and novels. For me, writing novels is financially stupid. Of course I could be the next JK Rowlings… but it’s worth noting that there hasn’t been any writer with her level of success since her. And those books started twenty years ago.
I find that with novels I burn out creatively much sooner in terms of sheer word count. I can write one or two novels in a year, but half a dozen IF novels. You may find the opposite is true, I dunno.
Good luck whatever you do. I’m confident you can write a novel, and it’ll be good. But hopefully this info helps you (and everyone else reading along) decide if it’s worth it or not.