Friday, 18 July 2014

The Generican Hero!

I'm here to talk about the leading man (or woman). Many fantasy books are anchored by a single main character, the lead who drives the plot or is driven by it, the person about who the story pivots.

We all talk about character. We all say we love interesting characters. But is it really true? Do we all love interesting characters, or just particular interesting characters? There's the danger. As soon as the writer moves away from the vanilla beloved of the masses, they will find that although some readers love the new flavor, some don't.

My thesis is that just as there are a great many readers for whom the plot of a story is far and away the most important component, there are readers who really just want a generican hero onto whom they can project themselves.

Those gamebooks that were very popular in the 80s before we had decent video games - the ones where you're the hero and make the choices. Do you:

i) drink the potion [go to page 80]
ii) throw the potion in Largo's face [go to page 142]
iii) dance the polka like there's no tomorrow [go to page 3]

Those were the ultimate in the concept. And now we run pixel heroes across high resolution landscapes at 60 fps.

The thing here is that you don't want:

i) you could drink the potion but as a recovering alcoholic you're loath to try any untested liquid.
ii) your amiable nature forbids you from throwing it at Largo
iii) but you've ALWAYS loved to dance [go to page 3]

The hero is a blank onto which you project yourself. And what's the nearest a book can get to that? It's having the hero be a vanilla good guy who does what we expect/hope for in most situations. Then it's like playing the gamebook and choosing the most popular choices.

For many readers a strong personality actually intrudes on the vicarious pleasure that they get from reading fantasy. If the character has some pronounced trait that differs radically from their own view/opinion/taste/experience it can kick them out of the illusion that's created as you ride along with a conveniently bland (yet brave, courageous, handsome) hero.

If you think about it it's likely that you can recall several fantasy book heroes who if you swapped one with the other, placing them into each other's situations and retaining only their character rather than their memories, would fill each other's role admirably.

What really is the character of many middle of the road fantasy heroes? Sure some may have a quirk or two attached, but 'hates cats' doesn't constitute a character. How many of them are unique and strong individuals who will react in unusual but consistent ways to new scenarios?

So yes - you can actually write an exciting, engaging, and above all popular book with a type 1A hero, good heart, low tolerance for evil, sharp sword at the ready, will defend the oppressed if he has to. A hero who's as interesting as a brick, but can still be used to build a very readable story.

If you go in the other direction and genuinely do create an interesting character there's a pitfall - namely, as soon as you get specific and start to create a real person, there's likely to be a good percentage of readers who just plain don't like them. Some won't like them because the person you've made is not the sort of person they like to spend time with. Some won't like them because you've messed up the blank canvas onto which they want to project themselves. But just as no book pleases everyone, no character is going to either.

Jorg, by Kim Kincaid.

Sunday, 13 July 2014


Marketing 101

Actually this isn't marketing 101 at all - it's more musing on what impact marketing has.

My personal marketing budget runs to introducing our two kittens to my book and snapping them with a broken camera (it works, you just can't see what you're taking pictures of so I take a lot and hope).

I couldn't help noticing there's been quite a campaign for Joe Abercrombie's latest book. Here's what Voyager started to build!

And here's the finished item being paraded around central London!

Spiffing! And all credit to Joe, he's been working very hard on his launch, signing books at a ton of locations, giving talks, making appearances. It's time consuming stuff. My personal circumstances preclude me getting out and about like that, and to be honest, whilst I'm not glad about those circumstances I think I would find all that promotion tough. I'm not someone who is comfortable on stage, performing, or meeting large numbers of people. My first ever event in August is going to be interesting - perhaps I'll love it - we'll have to see how it goes.

My wondering here is how much of an impact all this stuff makes. Abercrombie's Half a King has just debuted at #3 on the Sunday Times Bestseller list. That's great going. The question is, where would it have been without all the appearances, the chariot etc? Abercrombie is a very successful author with large numbers of fans, Half a King is reported to be fine book. I'm sure it would have done very well with far less show.

The question for the marketeers is how many places up the bestseller list did the chariot carry their man? How much did it cost? Was it worth it? It's an imponderable. Here I am posting pictures of the chariot and talking about the book - how much is that worth? Put in a basket with all the other people doing the same thing and weigh it against the $$$ invested...

I think it's pretty sure that a terrible book will sink no matter how much marketing it gets. It's less clear whether a great book will float without any.

Book marketing can be a huge deal. Consider The Night Circus that came out at the same time as Prince of Thorns. It won best marketing campaign of 2011. They had circus performers turn up to numerous venues. Here are two rather tall ladies at a UK bookshop promoting Morgenstern's debut.

I remember going into my own local Waterstones (UK book chain) and passing a 7 foot tall shelf mid-floor, stacked _only_ with The Night Circus, face out. Prince of Thorns was in the fantasy section nestled at the back of the shop, 3 copies. And I'm in no way complaining because Voyager gave Prince of Thorns a great push, getting it into the right shops, getting it on a lot of shelves, and managing to have free copies given away with A Dance With Dragons. Clearly that gave me a much better start than many authors' debuts got that year.

And The Night Circus went on to sell millions. Again, it's reportedly a great book and would very likely have done 90% as well with 10% of the push ... but 'likely' isn't 'certainly' and there's the rub.

Anyway, the TL/DR  version is:  
BUY MY BOOK because ... kittens.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

A matter of timing:

Here's the thing - I'm reading these reviews of Prince of Fools and I'm seeing 'hilarious' and 'I laughed out loud' and that's good because I was definitely hoping to raise a smile in several places.

The thing though - the thing is that I'm not a terribly funny guy. Here I am in the cut-throat dog eat elephant world of publishing being told I am funny - but as a kid in a class of 30 damned if anyone would have put me in the top 5 'funny kids' let alone be cool enough to hang with the cool kids. I can't tell a joke to save my life, and my 'witty' lines are lucky to raise a wry smile if I speak them.

So, timing... like most people I'm on the bus home when I think of something cutting/funny I _should_ have said in the moment. Writing changes the timing. It's not _just_ giving you more time though. I don't agonize over my lines. I don't spend hours thinking 'what will be funny here' - I just type out what happens at about 30 words a minute...

Even so, whatever humour I possess seems to morph from shandy to whiskey when written out... text is clearly my medium!

I used to run a play-by-mail game with many players. I ran it for 10 years or so and after a while I started running table-top sessions for some of the players once or twice a year. It was quite a shock meeting them. Some of those who came across the most intelligent, witty, and plain hilarious on paper were awkward, reserved and plain unfunny in person. Whereas some who seemed barely literate and deeply confused on paper were charismatic laugh-riots in person.

Hopefully the contrast with me isn't quite as extreme as some of those cases, but the fact remains, that I'm a very different person on paper. Be warned!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

1 month!

Maybe some authors don't look at their reviews. A larger number might say they don't. Then there are the rest of them who watch them like a hawk thing that's interested in numbers. 

Prince of Fools has been out 1 month today (US release), and seems to have been well received.

Here's the breakdown of reviews on Amazon UK

On Goodreads the book's reached nearly 900 ratings in its first month. Prince of Thorns took 5 months to reach 700 ratings! Though the site did have fewer members back in 2011.

This is the breakdown of ratings on Goodreads. Interestingly 10 of the 11 1* appear to be from bot accounts, one of them delivered almost a year ago and the majority before release.

And here's the ratings breakdown on Amazon US.

And of course behind these charts are hundreds of opinions condensed into reviews, for which I'm very grateful.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Audio book giveaway

Competition Closed! You can still enter but you can't win!

Random Winner = #16A (Meg)

Popular vote winner #23 (Edward)
2nd - #22
3rd - #12
3rd - #10
5th - #20
6th - #16B
6th - #17
6th - #13

Following my agent's recent visit I'm now the proud owner of 4 boxed sets of the US version of the Emperor of Thorns audiobook CDs. Whilst the audiobook is available in ecopy on audible for a rather modest price, the CDs only seem to be available from the Recorded Books website at $123 a go.

Anyway - I'm going to give away two sets to the winners of this here competition described below. One will be for the best entry, and one awarded randomly so that there's always a reason to take part.

All you have to do is send me a photo of your favorite line or passage from the trilogy - written on your skin!

Points will be awarded for area covered, number of words, how good your choice of passage is, artistic content, and ... such.

Make like Sageous!

Please ensure that the skin involved is not X-rated skin.

Mail me your entry at


#27 Chris

#26 Kate

#25 Douglas

#24 Michelle

#23 Edward (the first reported Broken Empire tattoo!)

#22 Robert

#21 Rebecca

#20 Michael

#19 Drew

#18 Frank

#17 Tracey

#16B Ellen

#16A Meg

#15 Shannon

#14 Brent (tattoos with considerable personal meaning & resonance with the books)

#13 Lee

#12 Malin

#11 Lee (I'm calling photoshop on this one :)  )

#10 Aaron

#9 Jennifer

#8 Sylvia

#7 Charlie

#6 Paul
(I should note that this was Jorg quoting the bard, and that Jorg said correctly said 'pricking' in the book :)  )

#5 Fiona
(this is photoshopped, but Fiona assures me there was a genuine attempt, defeated by her gag reflex)

#4 Lauren

#3 Lennart

#2 Tullyo

#1 Look at me, winning my own competition ... will nobody stop me?

The axe has landed!

A couple of weeks back to my enormous and enduring surprise Emperor of Thorns won the Gemmell Legend Award for best fantasy novel!

Today my agent Ian Drury brought the trophy to Bristol to hand over to me (the trophy is a replica of Druss's axe Snaga - and if this means nothing to you then go and read David Gemmell's books immediately!).

On the left the Stabbie awarded to Emperor of Thorns by the members of reddit r/fantasy for best fantasy novel 2013 (sheath below). In the middle the Legend Award. On the right the 'mini-Snaga' awarded to King of Thorns for being shortlisted for the Legend Award the previous year.

The head (dangerously sharp) has been suitably inscribed  - the flash hasn't produced a great result here - it looks cleaner and neater and more legible in real life.

Here's me doing my award-wielding author thing and trying not to injure myself. The Legend Award axe-haft is solid metal so the whole thing is surprisingly heavy. It would definitely be a bad day for the typical home-invader &/or lone zombie breaking in. A full on zombie apocalypse though might require the full-sized original that's brought out to impress the audience on award day. 

And here's me showing off big axe and little axe together. Did I mention we went for lunch and had beer? Well, we did.

The Legend Award roster so far!

Andrzej Sapkowski     2009
Graham McNeill         2010
Brandon Sanderson    2011
Patrick Rothfuss         2012
Brent Weeks               2013
Mark Lawrence          2014

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

My first EVENT, ever!

You may have noticed that I don't get out a lot. In fact I've only been more than 10 miles from my home once in the past decade. I have a very disabled daughter and I'm required to be on hand to help with her. Even when we have respite carers in I need to be within earshot to carry her about when she needs moving.

All this means that with 6 months' notice and enough motivation I can reach an 80-90% probability of attending an event - which frankly isn't high enough for me to agree to anything that depends upon me. I'm never going to agree to a signing and have people make the effort to be there if there's a 20% chance I might not turn up. I wouldn't take that risk of wasting people's time.

HOWEVER - when Joe Abercrombie, Peter V. Brett, and Myke Cole are heading the bill under the expert stewardship of Marc Aplin then I know anyone going is going to get a great dose of fantasy related goodness whether I make it or not. And under those conditions I agreed to do my damnedest to attend. It'd take two broken legs or some Celyn-related crisis to stop me!

It looks like I'll also be able to come to the drinks afterwards and hang out a bit, in a good way.

Click HERE to get the full details of how to sign up - it's free but space is limited.