29 November 2012

The Travelling Fantasy Round Table : Part 9 : SFF Greats

Part 9 of the Travelling Fantasy Round Table, our roaming discussion on aspects of fantasy literature, is up at Theresa Crater's blog. This month we're talking about some of the greats of fantasy.

23 November 2012

One Thousand Stars

After two years and two months, nine books and two compilations, I've hit one thousand ratings on Goodreads*!   I consider this a bit of an achievement, since it's no easy task getting people to read a complete unknown self-publisher, though from a trade publishing point of view - when a new release can easily hit a thousand ratings in two months - it's nothing spectacular.  Heck, some books get a thousand ratings before they're even released!

At the same time, I'm still a "slow and steady" sales type.  To give an idea of relative successes, Goodreads recently posted an article about the Goodreads recommendation engine.  The most interesting point was this:
In late April, the Goodreads Recommendation Engine picked up the book. On average, a book needs to have several hundred ratings before it starts to be included by our algorithm. From that point forward, it became the dominant way that Goodreads members discovered the book. That's the blue section you see in the graph.
So even with Stray's 228 ratings, I have a long way to go to even start to be recommended.  The recommendation engines over at Amazon are even more complex (with participation in Select, sadly, being extra helpful).

With And All the Stars only two months into release, it's not really possible for me to say how successful it is or isn't.  It had solid sales on release as my small established audience picked it up and devoured it, and has now settled into a 1-2 books a day sales pattern.

It's very difficult to tell whether the decision to place the book on NetGalley was worth the expense.  I now have many more book blog reviews for And All the Stars than I have for all except Stray, and it's certainly a much more graceful and pain-free way to get the book out there available for reviewers than emailing reviewers individually.  I'm sure I've picked up a few readers thanks to the various reviews I've received (all but a couple of which have been positive or very positive) and there is a chance that the gradual weight of these reviews will combine into genuine "buzz".  But the impact is still absolutely nothing compared to the sales I receive by making Stray free every six months or so,  Periodically making Stray free remains my best way of picking up new readers, with a small fraction of Touchstone readers moving across to my other books.  I probably won't use NetGalley again unless something changes, and just enjoy the smaller amount of reviews I gain naturally.

Hunting is more or less on track to be released in February.  I've changed quite a lot since I wrote this particular book, and in the editing process have so far removed two extraneous characters and spent more time on worldbuilding.  Hunting is actually the first in a series of four books, but I'm in two minds about publishing the rest of them - there's a plot development in book two which some people will hate, book three is only half-written, and book four is this endless sprawling and self-indulgent mass.  So, lots of work if I want to put them out.

Next year will be catching up on sequels to earlier-released fantasy - Bones of the Fair, which is a companion to Champion of the Rose, and focuses on Aspen and a new character.  BotF is almost complete, but needs thorough editing work.  Then The Sleeping Life, which is a sequel to Stained Glass Monsters and about half-done.  I'll also consider whether or not to slot Wellspring (my magic as a non-transportable commodity book) in at this point.

After that I'll be back to writing fresh stuff - Pyramids of London for a start - I've been doing some elaborate mental worldbuilding for that one and am looking forward to getting some of it on the page.  Then another book started thanks to Goodreads - talking about books generally gives me ideas about books, and in this case I ended up deciding I wanted to do some form of Space Opera MMO trapped in a virtual reality novel.  Very over the top space opera with space elves and a beginning section called The Drowned Earth and, well, I'm trying not to think about it all too much because I'll start writing it and throw my schedule out again.

I've actually written quite a bit of space opera/space adventure, but for some reason I always hit a wall and stop around chapter 12.  There's Surrogate, my "space naga smut book".  And Runes, which is rather plainly influenced by Andre Norton's Forerunners - lots of space archeology and ancient working tech.  And Solitary Stars, where a survey pilot gets kidnapped off on a hunt for, again, a Forerunner planet.  And then there's the one which I think I actually called Space Elves, with blue-skinned, pointy-eared people insisting on fighting duels all over the place, much to the dismay of this long-suffering space station cop.

I love non-scientific, over-the-top space adventure, but damned if I ever seem to finish it.

Anyways, here's to the next thousand stars**!

* [26 of these ratings are for a book which I haven't even released yet, but oh well.]
**[Technically it's more like four and a quarter thousand stars, but that's not so catchy a title.] *

12 November 2012

Some of the people some of the time...

I'm occasionally asked whether I would recommend self-publishing, and usually reel off a list of pros and cons, noting that it's not an either-or decision, but an option you can take without longing for the downfall of trade publishing.  I'll point out that it's fairly easy to get the books up from a technical perspective, that there's companies which will do it for you for a flat fee if you're not great with computers, and that there's no obligation to spend any time marketing (nor, indeed, any guarantee that spending any time marketing will impact your sales significantly).

Putting your work up to be either ignored or judged is a different sort of challenge, but not unique to self-publishing.

One thing which is almost guaranteed to come along with the decision to self-publish are two words: Needs Editing.

Rather too many self-publishers type their books out and throw them up raw.  Some self-edit.  Some crowd-source or trade editing with other writers.  Some hire editors, and make sure to list those editors up front and central in the book's metadata.  Sometimes those editors will be capable and talented people, and sometimes (as apparently was the case with Amanda Hocking's hired editors) not so much.

The copy-editing side of this process - eliminating typos and grammar errors and spotting continuity issues - is relatively straightforward (though even then you will find yourself coming up against grammar myths or "spelling errors" based on British/US/Australian English differences).  But it's fairly easy to say that a book has few spelling or grammar issues.*

Developmental editing - consistency of characterisation, issues with pace, recommending changing point of view, boosting the role of a character, gender-flipping the protagonist, or even altering how the book ends to produce a satisfying and powerful reading experience - all those are a little less definitive.

A developmental editor is a highly experienced reader who can push you into seeing how to make your book even better.  In their view.

Here are two reader views of the opening of Stray.

Love love loved the beginning survivalist part! And the worldbuilding was incredible, though I think some of the humor I liked so much, as well as the characterization, got a bit lost in the last half. - Wendy Darling

I really enjoyed this book. It was slow going to get into it but I'm glad I stuck it out. The story picks up momentum almost imperceptibly and after about 100 pages becomes 'unputdownable'. -
So which editor did I get?  The one who thought that beginning survivalist part was brilliant, and wanted more like it, or the one who thought that part was dull, and fell in love with the book later on?

No book is the same from one reader to the next.  No editor can polish your book to be "perfect".  Experience and personal taste will combine to produce advice which will please some of the people some of the time, and maybe even lots of people most of the time, but never ever all of the people all of the time.

This isn't a suggestion to not use editors.  Feedback on your writing is incredibly valuable, allowing you to see the book through different eyes.  But no matter how much editing your books have gone through, you will not please all of the people all of the time, and because you're self-published you will be told that your books Need Editing.

This will be un-fun at times, and possibly the person saying that is simply not one of "your readers", far more interested in action than character development, or vice versa, but it's also useful free feedback, giving you more things to look for when your next novel is going through the editing rounds.

I'll finish this off with two quotes from Diana Wynne Jones about editing.  First a positive one:

On the good side, there are enormously high standards.  None of the editors I have worked with would have accepted much in the way of clichés.  None of them have ever let me get away with any muddle in any plot, nor with any factual inaccuracy; and though some have queried things that struck them as peculiar, they have always been delighted by originality.  This naturally has put me on my mettle.  Knowing that everything I wrote was going to be subjected to extreme and shrewd scrutiny, I take pains to get the finished manuscript right, if I can.

Then a cautionary one:

I hate being edited, because my second draft is as careful as I can get it.  I try to get it absolutely mistake-free, and absolutely as I feel the book needs to be.  Then some editor comes along and says, 'Change Chapter Eight to Chapter Five, take a huge lump out of Chapter Nine, and let's cut Chapter One altogether.'  And you think, No, I'm going to hit the ceiling any moment.  Then I call for my agent before I get my hands round this person's throat.

Editors were very majestic in the days when I first started writing.  There was one who got hold of The Ogre Downstairs, and rewrote the ending entirely in her own purple prose, which was not in the least like mine, and I decided I was going to change publishers.  'No, no, no,' said my agent.  'You mustn't do that. Carry on and see if you can manage to persuade her.'  And of course I couldn't persuade her.  And then Charmed Life: I know by the time I'd done the second draft it was absolutely perfect, it really, really was, I mean just as it is at this moment, you know.  And this woman rang me up and wrote to me and told me exactly this sort of thing: 'You must take out this chunk and that chunk and rewrite this and alter that,' and I was furious.  And I thought surely we can do something about this.  And thank God it was the days before computers.  I said, 'Send me the typescript back and I'll see what I can do.'  So she did, and I cut out the bits she told me to alter, in irregular jagged shapes, then stuck them back in exactly the same place with Sellotape, only crooked, so it looked as if I'd taken pieces out and put new pieces in.  And then I sent it back to her, and she rang up and said, 'Oh, your alterations have made such a difference.'  And I thought, 'Right! Hereafter I will take no notice of anybody who tries to edit my books.' And I don't,  I make a frightful fuss if anybody tries to, now. - Reflections on the Magic of Writing.
An editor can be a very useful person to have on your side.  But they're not a magical guarantee of perfection, and they're not unique to trade publishing.  Always listen to, then weigh and evaluate any feedback on your writing.  And don't let the 'slings and arrows' get you down.  A small press editor once told me that it simply wasn't possible for a self-published book to be as good as a trade published book, but I've yet to hear a believable argument as to why this should be.

* I've never put a book out which didn't have a typo (still waiting for someone to spot one in And All the Stars, but it's sure to come), but I'm at around 99.5% correct and aiming for better.

01 November 2012

The Travelling Fantasy Round Table : Part 8 : Fantasy/Horror Crossover

Part 8 of the Travelling Fantasy Round Table, our roaming discussion on aspects of fantasy literature, is up at Chris Howard's blog.  This month we're looking into the crossover between fantasy and horror.