Thursday, 11 December 2014

The first half million is the hardest -- I hope.




There is a reluctance among authors to discuss sales figures or at least a perceived reluctance. Perhaps it's connected to the very definite and more understandable reluctance to discuss money. Though I think if more authors did discuss money it would rapidly deflate the illusion that we're wealthy and knock out yet another leg from beneath the tower of ridiculous self-justification that book 'pirates' inhabit.

Author Jim C Hines is one of the few I know about who break the money taboo (*), but there is plenty of sales information if you dig for it. The Wertzone blog has a top sellers' list conservatively estimated from public domain figures.

One of the reasons you perhaps see relatively little information about authors' sales is that the authors themselves get relatively little information about it. The numbers take a long time to reach us and have to be dug out of the recesses of complex royalties statements. For non-English publishers the process is even more glacial. I have some overseas publishers making offers on my 4th book without ever sending me a single sales figure for the first three over the course of the years they've been in print (on the other hand some foreign publishers are quite prompt). It's possible that they consider the exercise purely academic unless/until you've earned out any advance paid to you and are thus reluctant to bother. But still, it really would be nice to know how my work is doing in the 20+ non-English speaking countries it's published in.

Anyhow ...

As of June 2014 I'm able to say that over half a million copies of the Broken Empire trilogy have been sold in English.

My happy dance wasn't as cool as Calvin's.


I offer this up in the spirit of excitement and wanting to share my amazement. Only the fact that I swore not to use this very clich├ęd word in this context prevents me from using it here.

I guess that one reason for the reluctance to discuss such things may be fear of being seen to be chest-beating or failing.


But I've always taken the view that I'll share the highs and lows with any of my readers who bother to follow me online - so there it is.

And in the spirit of sharing, I should also note that this milestone comes at a timely moment since last week the Aerospace giant that employs me by day announced out of the blue that it was axing the 150-strong advanced research group I happen to work in. Since the casualties are expected to be >90% it's very likely that I will soon be made redundant. With all the constraints that caring for my very disabled child put on me (Celyn was born a month after I got this job, and is now ten) I'm unlikely to be able to secure another job - so it looks like I'm going to be the full-time author that almost all my readers think I am anyway!



Hopefully the first half-million sales are the hardest  :)













Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Big Three-Oh, oh, oh, oh


Prince of Thorns reached 30,000 ratings on Goodreads today. I remember wondering if it would ever reach 1,000 before people lost interest. It was a realistic concern. In December of 2011, five months after release, the book had 728 ratings.

So, what will I do to mark this milestone? It's traditional to do a stock-take at moments like these, to reflect and draw conclusions.

The launch of Prince of Thorns generated a wave of great reviews and positive feedback, and by that first Christmas the book featured on more than 20 'best of 2011' lists. But, like most of humanity, I remember the negatives too, even though they were thinly scattered among a sea of positives.

Prince of Thorns was met (at least in the fish bowl of the blogosphere) by a controversy over the vanishingly small reference to rape it contains.

A somewhat more muted but persistent criticism from the same regions of the blogosphere were complaints about the lack of female characters / 'strong' female characters.

Before getting further into this let's first agree that of course Prince of Thorns does have female characters and their role expands in the remainder of the trilogy. But rewind. Let's say there actually were none. Zero. So what?

If you google "Prince of Thorns" and "female characters" you'll see a slew of such complaints. Go on, give it a try!

Is there a band of sisters?  Demands one person in response to the book concerning a band of brothers and knowing full well that there is not.

There is, however, still a problem with women. While you wouldn’t expect a woman to be riding with Jorg and his band of thugs, you have to read 150-odd pages before a woman with the slightest bit of agency turns up. And another.

Female characters? Great! Of course literature needs them. 'Strong' has always seemed a silly qualification to me. How about 'well written'? If you write women well, individually and as a whole, then there's no call for 'strong' - you just get 'women' who are variously weak, strong, kind, cruel, etc just as men are.

But, major roles for female characters in every book, no matter what it's about, no matter what the scope, or the length of the book? Then you lose me. If you replace 'female' with 'male' in the argument I'll object just the same.

Prince of Thorns is a pretty short book - you can fit 5.2 copies of it into the word count of George Martin's A Storm of Swords, or A Dance With Dragons.


It's a book told from a single point of view over a period of maybe three weeks, the majority of which is spent in the wilds with a band of murdering thugs. It made no sense when I wrote it to shoe-horn in additional female characters - the demand makes no sense to me now.

Yes, you're entirely welcome to prefer stories with particular components. And yes, you're entirely welcome to pick up my books and, on finding that particular component absent, to say 'I didn't enjoy this book because it lacked the thing I like'. But to criticise the author for not putting in that thing you like, as if it were some kind of fundamental flaw in personality, ethics, or decency ... that is, was, and always shall be ... crap.

As a footnote - because some people with an axe to grind conflate the contents of one book with the issues concerning the content/direction of the genre as a whole ... I will state (though I shouldn't have to) that there very likely are issues with the representation of females and minorities in fantasy as a whole. There very likely are a disproportionate number of straight white male protagonists in fantasy books. It's good when we see variety, and the hope that we'll continue to move toward more diverse fantasy that proportionally represents its readers &/or society is laudable. That still doesn't mean that 'this particular book does not contain (enough/the right sort of) female characters' is a valid criticism of that particular book, other than in the sense that it is the reason you didn't enjoy it(*).

(*) I'll moderate that by agreeing that if you're covering many points of view and many characters over a decent period in a setting where we would reasonably expect to see a good mix of genders ... then, yes, the absence of female characters could be a cause for complaint. Which of course brings us back to my original point - one size does not fit all - such criticisms should be dependent on the particulars of the book in question, not as a tick-box on a check-list prepared independent of any knowledge of said book.





Tuesday, 2 December 2014

My reading in 2014

Shocked by the fact that book blogger Richard Auffrey read a total of 240 books in 2014, I thought I would present my own meagre haul.

In the first 11 months of this year I managed to read 11 books and 2 graphic novels.

I also read out loud a number of children's books to my daughter, Celyn, including all 13 volumes of Lemony Snickett's A Series of Unfortunate Events!



The books I've read this year are listed below in chronological order (most recent first). Click on each to see my Goodreads review of that book. The short version is that I enjoyed them all.

You'll notice that I took the time to catch up on some very popular books that everyone but me seems to have read already!


Currently reading final version.
 

Excellent storytelling!

My least favourite Gemmell book!


Brilliant prose, loved it.

Great read, very more-ish.

Wonderful to be back with Fitz/Fool.
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1031590201

Solid melee-rific tale.

Fascinating re-imagined historical fantasy. 
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/919351586

Understated, beautiful writing.
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/916120261

Intriguing start to a huge and complex tale.

An exciting romp, well told.

Weird and wonderful.

Engaging, fun.

My only re-read. Love me some Sandman!





















Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The YouTube challenge!

Competition now closed - though you can still send me videos!

The 'merit' winners (chosen with help from Facebook etc)

#4 Gabe
#11 Adam
#12 Mayara

The random winners
#13  Tom
#15  Shawn
#10   Tyler
#3   Dan

Send me your address & what you'd like (with 2nd / 3rd choices) and I'll see what I can do. I have no English Prince of Thorns.



I still have mugs...


and T-shirts...


and  oh-so-many books...


to give away.

This isn't even all of my English language spare copies!

Oh course posting these would cost me about a thousand pounds, which is why I dribble them out in competitions over the years. Also, while giving away free Prince of Thorns and Prince of Fools can be like a gateway drug to the Broken Empire and Red Queen's War trilogies ... giving away Emperor of Thorns makes less sense - the people who want it already know if they like the books.

Anyway - I'm lightening the load - I'm giving away 5 signed books, 1 mug & 1 T-shirt.

4 of these prizes will be randomly awarded - so it's worth entering even if you're not a champion film-maker!

To enter all you need to do is make a video of some description - this could be a review of one or all of my books, a plea for a prize, a video of your bookshelves, or you reading from the books ... or ... surprise me.

I would really prefer you send me the link to the video on youtube (don't know how? - it's easy, learn a new skill for your CV). However, if it's a video short enough to attach to an email, you can send it to me.

I'm at empire_of_thorns@yahoo.co.uk. Let's see what you've got!


Entries


#16 Sean




#15 Shawn - a video tour of his book cases.




#14 Charlie - a plea for gardening help.




#13 Tom


video


#12 Mayara - a review of Prince of Thorns (in Portuguese)




#11 Adam - Ruminating on magic in the Broken Empire


(Interesting and thoughtful stuff, Adam. Your analysis seems spot on in most places although I'm not familiar with much of the background that you project it against. Antinomianism is a new word to me (I'll be sure to work it into conversation now!). I've read Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy so I must have read about Nietzsche (& likely seen and forgotten the word antinomianism too) but I could tell you very little about his ideas. I guess most of the 'philosophy' to be found in the trilogy is homespun, borrowing fibres from subconscious memories of previous reading.)


#10 Tyler - Pitching a Lawrence-Weeks collaboration




9 Sean - your entry could be as random as this!

Click HERE (youtube and blogger once again refuse to talk to each other!)



#8 Mark (Lawrence!) - a word from my namesake.




#7 Andre (the 1st entry from Brazil) - we now have as many entries as prizes!

Click HERE (it's youtube, sometimes it does the picture link ... sometimes not)


#6 Emanuel - the simplest option often works.




#5 Ashmitha, the smart money co-opts a child!






#4 Gabe - Broken Empire - this is just a tribute...

Click HERE (Lord knows why some link and some don't...)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtEFz6pM2Kw



#3 Dan - a Broken Empire song




#2 Josh - Broken Empire quotes




#1 Dennis -  an 'unsolicited' testimonial





Sunday, 23 November 2014

My fantasy shelf

Having just given myself dust-fever moving 10 tons of fantasy books, giving away 2 tons, and organising the remainder alphabetically ... I thought that the least I could do was get a free blog post out of it.

This is the shelf in my new 'study' / games room. It's our SFF collection from H to Z, with a couple of G's lobbed in and minus my wife's Star Wars books (another 7 foot shelf like these) and a lot of vampire books I wouldn't give house room to. Also minus whatever happens to be hiding in my sons' rooms at the moment (though they did let me give all the Dragon Lance & Forgotten Realms books to the charity shop).

I haven't read all of these, but I've read a lot of them.

You can click any shelf for a high resolution look.















& on the unit opposite, graphic novels and miscellanea :


Monday, 17 November 2014

The Liar's Key, full cover, US version

The cover for the Red Queen's War, book 2:

Pre-order it. I dare(*) you!  US   UK



Many thanks to artist Jason Chan for this fine cover!



(*) I double dare you!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

In space there is no chosen one.

The British Film Institute and my UK publisher, Voyager, are having a grand Sci-Fi festival.

"You're a scientist, Mark," they said at Voyager. "Shake your science at them!"

In the past I have taken a couple of shots at demonstrating that fantasy and science fiction are pretty much the same thing. Primarily by focusing on 'magic' and arguing that it's just the natural operation of a world where different rules apply and therefore comes firmly under the remit of science. My own work so far wears the cloak and sword of fantasy but is in fact science fiction in as much as it's set in the future, involves technology in advance of our own, and has no magic.



Here I'm taking a different tack and having a go at saying what I think the real difference between fantasy and science fiction is (generally).

Science fiction is inclusive. We might describe it as the American dream, where everyone has a chance to make it big. In science fiction the power lies in technology that can be replicated and made available to the masses. The ideas are portable. Given the material and an understanding of the principles you can manufacture your death-ray on any planet, anyone may aim it and press the button. There's no sense of any right to power, any destiny to rule, any uniqueness required. Science fiction, whatever the politics overlaying any particular story, at its core leans towards egalitarianism.


Fantasy tends to be more focused on the individual. 'The Chosen One' is a fantasy trope and to some extent this trope infects nearly all fantasy, even when the author is struggling to avoid it. Magic and science may be able to be mapped onto each other, but the fact is that when you set a story in a world where 'magic' exists it almost always lies in the hands of a few special individuals and can't be taken from them, can't be shared.



In Harry Potter, for example, magic tends towards science, it's formulaic, we're shown how to learn it. The main thing that makes it 'magic' rather than 'just the way the world is' is that it only works for a tiny percentage of special people. The rest of us muggles can say 'Avada Kedavra' until the cows come home and nobody we point our wand at will die (believe me, I've tried). Imagine though if anyone could read those spells and they worked - imagine they were on the internet ... they would be a technology then, anyone could use them, they would be part of the world, and they'd be interchangeable with gadgets that performed the same function. It would just be a world with different laws of science - the book about such a place would be a work of science fiction.


So it seems to me that the important difference between science fiction and fantasy is one of equality of opportunity. Sure, a science fiction book may describe a horrible tyranny where an underclass are born into slavery to serve an elite. But at the core of it, the technology that is oppressing them will work for those slaves just as well as for the masters, the technology and the science behind it is neutral, the same laws of physics apply for everyone.

In fantasy we have items of power imbued with great magics. Often they are unique. Nobody else can make one. Owning it, wielding it, makes you the chosen one, gives you the chance to be hero or villain, a god perhaps. In science fiction the laws of the world are not local - everyone else has the chance to copy or reinvent your teleport device, regardless of how pure in heart they might or might not be, or what their lineage is.


In short, in space there is no chosen one.


[ Exceptions that prove the rule include, The Matrix, Dune, and Star Wars. Star Wars in particular is often cited as 'fantasy with spaceships'.]