A Publishing Pivot?

A possible cover for my next book. This scene doesn’t exist in reality, it’s photoshopped.

Thanks to everybody that took the time to read my recent blog, “Miami’s Other Shortline”. I also appreciate the feedback received. I need to come clean though, the piece was total fiction. The railroad in the article doesn’t exist. It was an experiment, a marketing study if you will.

Here’s what’s going on. In May of 2024, the book I wrote on structures for Kalmbach will hit the shelves. At that point I will have covered in book form all of the major modeling subjects; design, track plans, operations, construction, scenery, structures, and composition. I have no interest in writing additional books on niche modeling topics. Unfortunately, if I stick to traditional model railroad book themes that’s the only option.

So, I’m at a crossroads in that I really enjoy writing but have hit the end of the proverbial line. I strongly considered moving to mainstream, non-rail fiction, under a pen name. It’s still an option but it would be a daunting task. As a new author, I’d be an unknown grain of sand in an ocean of established writers. For those unfamiliar with what goes on behind the scenes in publishing, it is entirely possible, and in fact it’s the most common outcome, for an author to spend six months or longer writing a 350 page novel, and only net a few hundred dollars.

What I’m leaning towards hasn’t been done before and carries the very high potential for either embarrassing myself or, more likely, ending up with a concept that doesn’t sell. The genre I’m considering would be rail fiction, essentially taking something like the recent blog and expanding it into book form. Titles would be on plausible, but fictional, model-worthy, shortlines with an entertaining but believable backstory. Rail related but with a twist to make it entertaining. A framework for a modeler to build a conceptually solid, freelance road, without resorting to the overly corny, clearly made up, “Billy and Suzie Connecting Railroad” type of deal.

A lot of questions need to addressed. Can I write something interesting? Can I thread the needle of doing so in a way that isn’t cheesy, corny, and trite on one hand but not downright dull on the other? Based on the feedback from blog experiment, I think so. It’s uncharted territory. I’d want the books to be entertaining, something you’d take on a plane or to the beach. However, I’d like to do so in a way that a reader might be inspired to build a layout from the material. To that end I’d include a track plan or two.

The other piece of the puzzle is marketing. My readership falls into two groups. The first is my “birds of a feather stick together” longtime blog followers who I direct my books towards. They usually scoop up a book in the first three months. After that, purchases come from the general hobby pool. It’s these “trailing purchases” over the years that ultimately make up most of my sales. Getting the general model railroading demographic to buy the book could be a tough sell. I can see a situation where the book launches well for the first few months and then drops into oblivion thereafter.

Interesting times lie ahead.

16 thoughts on “A Publishing Pivot?”

  • Lance,

    I do enjoy your books and have been a follower of your blog ever since you appeared on the Model Railcast Show several years ago. I found your last blog post extremely entertaining and I think you have something there. I think it also freelance model railroaders avenues to play off of as well. I look forward to whatever you decide. If anything, maybe an audio version to accompany the book!

  • Have you read Fred Frailey’s latest book _Seldom Willing_ It sounds to be along the lines of what you are describing.

  • Lance, it sounds good to me, bring it on.

    When he was alive I followed John Armstrong and his off the wall, cleverly complex, layout designs. I never built one, never had the time, money or space, plus my RR operational interest has moved to prototype short line switching. I follow your designs for mostly the opposite reasons, their plausible simplicity, prototype operations and buildability.

    I was looking forward to”Miami’s other shortline” with the drug shipments being busted !! Well that’s what I thought until you confessed……

  • Lance
    I really enjoyed the piece on Miami’s Other Shortline. It seemed entirely plausible and felt like you were describing an actual railroad, along with its reason for being, its customers and some nice context. I would enjoy reading more regardless of whether it was fiction or not. If it also happens to inspire someone to replicate it in model form it was worth the effort.

  • Why go rail fiction? There’s plenty of rail fact out there that everyone has forgotten about.

    Larry Smith in Modeling Railroading had a series called ShortLine Adventures: Modeling from the Prototype – focusing on short and branchline modeling. (See Campbell’s Creek Railroad, Model Railroading November 1992).

    Trains did similar, so did Model Railroader. I’ve got a filing cabinet with one and a half drawers of short line articles published years ago that’s a historian’s gold mine of information. I randomly pulled one out: See Old Alcos never die in Georgia by R. C. Thomason, July 1982. Its a snapshot of the Chattahoochee Industrial. 15 mile line, 24/7 operations, 3 crews on duty, 7 Alco RS1s and a GP7. It’s slogan ‘Better By a Dam Site’.

    With all this history who needs fiction. (And this from a guy who freelance prototypes three Class III railroads, with steam, diesel and electrics, based on three geographically separated prototypes – on one mid-sized layout) .

    • Thanks Stan. It’s a valid point that’s well taken. The fiction aspect allows for more creativity and flexibility. It’s a different approach and there are pros and cons to each side.

  • I saw mention of the Fred Frailey book—he knows the business and operating sides of the railroad and it’s clear when you write fiction that without deep knowledge in your subject it’s tough to pull it off. I am also a fan of William Hauptman and his book from the late 1980s “The storm season.” His protagonist works as a brakeman on road freights in Texas for BN. The railroad is but a thread in this book but it’s clesr from his writing that he knows the lifestyle.

  • Interesting !
    Your new concept is similar to what most freelancers conjure up as a back story to “justify” their railroads’ existence. Pure fiction based on historical accuracy, enhanced a bit.
    I get it, & understand your desire to expand creatively.
    Go for it…
    Mr. Stan is also right on, as you acknowledged.
    There’s room for both avenues in this hobby.
    Looking forward to wherever you take this…

  • Hi Lance and Happy New Year.
    Lance have you or your publisher discussed having your books released in Digital Format? I prefer reading books, magazines and articles on my tablet. That way they don’t get lost, mangled or chewed by mischievous beagles! 🙂
    I don’t know if it would be cost prohibitive but sure would be great.

  • Anything with Lance Mindheim name on it I’m reading! I really liked your 2nd to last book on different locations and drawing up track plans for those spots. I think you could explore more prototype locations that have very interesting model opportunities such as Seattle and and Bay Area. I really like your blog posts and articles where you show prototype photos track plans and information and would love to see another book.

  • Happy New Year! Thank you for your prior work and I look forward to whatever the future brings. I have seven of your books and, as Evan Schaefer wrote in an earlier post, Anything with Lance Mindheim’s name on it I’m reading!

    I model a fallen flag shortline in South Texas in the Early/Mid 20th century. Since Jay Gould killed it, I have to create a story to keep it alive. And that’s what operating a model railroad is really about–living the story my way, i.e. the location, the characters, the trains. If you write a compelling story, as in “Miami’s Other Shortline”, who wouldn’t would want to build and operate it.

    Newcomers to the hobby may get excited by a train-show and can dig the tech and scale models. But they likely have no concept of what a railroad really is–the people, the industries, those huge, noisy, magnificent machines, and the action that is the lifeblood of a community and a country. To understand that is to say, “It’s Alive!”.

    Therefore, I offer this thought: Tell a story, illustrate it with your superb model photography, and include a track plan and suggested operating concept. We old heads will gobble it up because you wrote it and newcomers to the hobby will find the seed of a story that might carry them forward as they develop their own story, write the future books and propel model railroading into the future.

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