Saturday, March 31, 2012

March Madness

Left to right in over-exposed stage-lighting: Me, Dr. Keyhill Sheorn, Noah Scalin, Dr. Rashida Gray

March has been a busy month.

With the whole Riyria Revelations series finally and fully released at the end of January, and allowing people time to read, March became the season of public appearances. In a huge turnaround from past experience, people have solicited me. There have been dozens of interviews, and still they trickle in, both written and recorded. Local book clubs have suffered their new members to read the whole series or be disappointed by spoilers. And I’ve been invited to talk at a couple of library events. Most recently however, I was invited to attend The Writing Show presented by the James River Writers Association in Richmond, Virginia. It is described as “Inside the Actor’s Studio meets the New York Times bestseller list.” And of all the events I have been a part of, this was the first that made me feel like a real author.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say that. Kristi Tuck Austin, the Writing Show’s chair, who took Robin and I out to dinner before the event and escorted us to the Pavilion Room of the Children’s Museum of Richmond (where the show was held), introduced me to Dr. Rashida Gray, the event’s moderator, and warned her of my self-deprecation.

“This is the second time,” she told Dr. Gray. “He did the same thing earlier at dinner.” I wasn’t certain if she was warning her as the moderator, or because Gray happens to be an expert in mental health and psychiatric emergencies.  

I tried to explain to Kristi that the ink on my author credentials are still drying, so I feel it is presumptuous to swagger. Whatever feeble argument I presented, Kristi was not having it and continued in her opinion that I was indeed a real author. This blog post, I fear, will mark my third strike with her.

What can I say, authors are inherently both arrogant and insecure. Arrogant to think others would be interested in hearing their thoughts, and insecure in believing all the compliments are polite lies. No one is surprised if a beaten dog flinches when a stranger raises a hand—it’s the same principle.

So what made The Writing Show different?

It was held on a stage with a black curtain, black chairs, stage lights and microphones—one for each of us—that lent an artsy almost late night talk show quality to the evening. There were snacks and wine available, which added to the highbrow atmosphere. But what made the event significant for me was the audience. It was huge. Granted they weren’t all there to see me. The show was entitled Rejection & Resilience — Fueling Creativity on an Empty Tank and I was on stage with Noah Scalin, creator of the Webby award-winning art project Skull-A-Day, and author of Skulls, Unstuck: 52 Ways to Get (and Keep) Your Creativity Flowing at Home, at Work & in Your Studio, and 365: A Daily Creativity Journal: Make Something Every Day and Change Your Life!; as well as, Dr. Keyhill Sheorn a psychiatrist and painter, and of course our moderator, Dr. Gray. 

Chatting before the show with Mike, who suggested inviting me based on my "Writer's Wife"  blog posts
When I say huge, I don’t mean stadium huge, or even small theater huge, and most high school pep rallies would dwarf it, but there were more than a hundred people in attendance. At my previous appearance I think there were a total of twelve and that included my wife. When you speak to a gathering of twelve people under classroom style neon it can be as uncomfortable for the audience as for the presenter. While talking, my sight will invariably rest on someone and I’ll see them squirm in that why-are-you-singling-me-out body language usually the purview of teachers with problem students. They might also avoid looking up at all feeling in such an intimate public setting that it’s impolite to stare.

I’d never spoken in front of so large an audience as I found at The Writing Show in Richmond. My initial instinct was that it would be harder, more intimidating. I found the opposite to be true. The stage lights turned the audience into dim shadows and blurred outlines. When I made a joke, it wasn’t one or two people who forgot themselves and blushed from their outburst in a room of pin-dropping acoustics, instead I heard a laugh track imitation as dozens of people responded without concern. And when I personally applauded one of the answers of Dr. Sheorn, the audience followed suit. It was like conducting an orchestra.

This was an audience.

At the intermission and after the show, individuals approached the stage eager to speak to me—a few had actually read my books. I can’t recall ever having gone anywhere other than a book club where strangers had already read my novels. Many also read this blog, and sited individual posts. Some even brought duffle bags of books for me to sign. This was unexpected. This was stunning. This was what it must be like to be a real author.

People wanted to shake my hand and tell me how much they enjoyed meeting Royce and Hadrian, how much they loved the world of Elan, and to thank me for coming and speaking—as if I hadn’t already gotten a dinner out of the deal.

Before leaving, the operator of the local bookstore (who had a table full of books for sale) waved me over and asked if I would sign the remaining copies of my books that he had.

“You might have noticed that this isn’t a fantasy crowd,” he said stacking the books and holding them open for me to sign. “But you sold a lot.”

It seems that the event managed to introduced even more people to the series and helped an independent bookstore at the same time. Can’t complain about that.

So thanks Kristi, Adam, Rashida, and all the rest for a very nice evening and some good therapy for my self-confidence issues. Maybe one day I will agree with you that I am a real boy author.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Company You Keep

Back at the beginning of the year I did a blog post called The Digital Feast where I talked about my entry into the fantasy writer community along with some of the newer authors writing books with assassins and thieves such as:
  • Mark Lawrence
  • Jon Sprunk
  • Douglas Hulick
  • Mazarkis Williams
At the time I think I had sufficient sales to appear on about two dozen author's pages in the Customers Also Bought listings. It was a nice beginning and I was happy to see that I was starting to find readers of other authors also buying my books.

Well, it's been a few months since then and now all the books have been released.  As mentioned in my Road Signs post I'm always looking for indications of new milestones, so I thought it was time to peek back at the cross selling lists to see how I'm doing.

I'm pleased to report that the number of author's pages I now appear on has tripled to 75 including names such as: Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, Carol Berg, Chris Evans, Daniel Abraham, Daniel Polansky, Dave Duncan, David Anthony Durham, David Chandler, Douglas Hulick, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ian C. Esselemont, J.V. Jones, James Barclay, James Enge, James S.A. Corey,  Joe Abercrombie, K. J. Parker, Kate Elliott, Ken Scholes, Kevin Hearne, L.E. Modest Jr., Mark Charan Newton, Mark Lawrence, Martha Wells, N.K. Jemisin, Patrick Rothfuss, Paul Hoffman, Paul Kearney, Peter V. Brett, Peter Vance Orullian, Richard K. Morgan, Richard Kadrey, Robert V.S. Redick, Robin Hobb, Rowena Cory Daniels, Sam Sykes, Scott Lynch, Stephen R. Lawhead, Steven Erickson, Stina Leicht, Tad Williams, Terry Goodkind, Tom Lloyd, and Trudi Canavan.

But the big surprise came when I found my name in the Top 5 of some of the most popular and highly respected authors in fantasy:

Author 1 2 3 4 5
Brandon Sanderson P. Rothfuss R. Hobb M.J. Sullivan G.R.R. Martin J. Abercrombie
Patrick Rothfuss B. Sanderson G.R.R. Martin M.J. SullivanJ. Abercrombie P.V. Brett
Joe Abercrombie B. Sanderson Steven Erickson Scott Lynch M.J. SullivanP.V. Brett
Brent Weeks P. Rothfuss B. Sanderson Peter V. Brett M.J. SullivanJ. Abercrombie
Scott Lynch B. Sanderson P. Rothfuss J. Abercrombie M.J. Sullivan R. Hobb
Daniel Abraham B. Sanderson Joe Abercrombie P. Rothfuss M.J. Sullivan D.A. Durham
Guy Gavriel Kay B. Sanderson P. Rothfuss J. Abercrombie M.J. Sullivan R. Hobb
Ken Scholes B. Sanderson M.J. SullivanJ. Abercrombie R.V.S. Redick P. Rothfuss

I'm never sure how to interpret these charts. They feel more like astrology than astronomy. Just because I am on another author's page doesn't mean I'm doing as well as they are, the number of variables are legion, and it doesn't account for non-Amazon sales. But back when I was self-published I remember being thrilled when I hit the 16th spot on Sanderson's and Rothfuss's  lists and I don't think I ever climbed higher than 14 so to be 3rd (and behind such industry heavy weights as Martin and Hobb) is pretty surreal.

But that's not the end of the good news. In the past, I've usually found myself on a few pages where I was the #1 or #2 cross sales but that number has grown considerably and I'm now featured on every book's page for these 25 authors:

Ken Scholes

Mark Lawrence

Jon Spurnk

Mazarkis Williams

David Chandler

Paul Hoffman

Peter Vance Orullian

Sam Sykes

Gail Martin

Alex Pehov

Amanda Downum

Blake Charlton

Chris Wooding

Colin Buchanan

Courtney Schafer

Daniel Polansky

Dave Duncan

James Barclay

James Enge

John R. Fultz

Lorna Freeman

M.D. Lachlan

Markus Heitz

Stephen Deas

Stina Leicht

Teresa Frohock

So if I was happy in January then I'm ecstatic as March comes to a close. The books continue to do well and appear on several Amazon lists including:
  • Best Selling (Historical Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Action & Adventure)
  • Top Rated (Science Fiction & Fantasy, Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Action & Adventure)
  • Most Wished For (Historical Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Fantasy, Action & Adventure, Genre Fiction)
I'm pleased to see that the road signs seem to indicate another milestone has been reached, but as with all such milestones, I'm left wondering what they really mean. As I mentioned, this isn't a science, and all sorts of conclusions could be drawn that have no real basis in fact, but I've decided to believe that these "also bought" appearances are a sign that my books are becoming more popular, rather than less. I think that is a fair and safe theory as more and more people seem to be finding them. I'm hoping that the road ahead will be a long one, and in the meantime, thanks to all those on who's pages I'm piggybacking.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Library of Congress Speech

Since I appeared at the Library of Congress a few weeks ago, a number of people have requested I take a moment here and describe how things went. I could have written a blog post on it, but my wife actually took video of much of the event. As You Tube has a length restriction, and as I wouldn’t want to bore you with the entire speech, I decided to provide a heavily edited synopsis. Hopefully this will give you an idea how things went, and what topics were covered.

Keep in mind this is the first time my wife ever used her new Flip camera, and it is my first time editing film with Windows Live Movie Maker. Robin thinks she had the camera on the wrong resolution setting, and the lighting was poor, so I look a bit like I’m in the Witness Relocation Program through the first half.  Also there’s no concern that I’ll be invited to do a Ted talk, for as I mention in the video, I am not a public speaker—but I realize now—I really didn’t need to point that out.

Monday, March 19, 2012

On Writing

From the cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I live in a glass house, so I don’t do book reviews.  I’ve found that there are enough people anxious to give their opinions and judgments that as a writer I needn’t pour anymore gasoline on that fire. You might expect that authors would have wonderful insights. Who better to evaluate a building than a carpenter or architect. And yet writers I think, make very poor reviewers for the same reason carpenters or architects would not make the best judges of houses. For while they live in them, most houses are built for non-industry residents. Architects  might focus on the placement of load bearing walls, and carpenters on the quality of drywall, or the zinc content of the nails. Assuming the house is structurally sound, most residents don’t care about such things. For them it’s closet space and the fact that the toilet paper dispenser is in an awkward place. And just as the best evaluators of homes are residents that live there, the best judges of books are readers. Authors would be picky about the strangest things. I know, I’m one of them, and because I’ve spent years training myself to see imperfections in my own writing, I can’t turn that off when I look at others' works. Also being an author makes writing book reviews feel akin to being a deer who puts on an orange vest and goes hunting whitetail each year along with the other sportsmen, unless all you’re doing is raving about a book, and if that’s all you’re doing that’s not a review—that’s gushing.  Not that any author has a problem with gushing. The more gushing the better.

All that said, I recently read my first book about the craft of writing—On Writing, by Stephen King—and while I want to share some thoughts I have concerning it, I want to be clear, this is not a review.

I read On Writing mostly out of curiosity. For those of you who don’t know, while I have written upwards of some twenty novels and published six in ten languages as well as a couple of short stories, I don’t actually have any formal—and not even much informal—education in creative writing. Someone recently wrote me stating that her friends insist writers must have a degree in writing in order to create a good novel. She asked my opinion, wondering what my credentials were. I had to reply that I don’t have any. Outside of one creative writing class I had in tenth grade, I've had no education in creative writing at all.

After high school I attended one year at an art school. Precious little English taught there, I can tell you. Then a semester or two at a community college, where I only took commercial art classes until I landed a job, after that I never resumed college.  I did not take any seminars. I did not read any books on writing. I spoke to no one who had any interest in writing much less experience, talent, or skill, and I did not join a writing group until after my first book (Crown) was published. All I did was read and write, but I did that a lot and for a long time. Mostly in a remote house in a snowbound northern section of Vermont. Just imagine any number of martial arts films, or maybe Rocky IV (the one in Russia) and I’m certain you can picture me in a simple house alone in a snowy mountain wilderness spending day after day practicing and catching flies with chopsticks. 

Given my isolation I was curious about what I might have missed, and what other writers do. Having heard so many good things about King’s book, and liking King’s work, I read it to see how I measured up. I wanted to know how a real writer worked.

I assumed the contrast to be night and day and yet I was surprised to find so many similarities. As King mentions, he is known to be a prolific author and yet he only writes for about three hours a day—the length of time it usually takes for him to complete 2000 words, which allows him to finish a rough draft in about three months. Now that I have resumed writing after years of intensive editing, I find I do just about the same. I used to write faster, but I’m getting older now—King also mentioned experiencing the same change. Still I had thought I was lazy. Most people work eight hours a day, right? Of course exactly how much of an eight hour day are people productive, not just responding to email, speaking on the phone and such? Writers do that stuff too we just don’t lump that part into what we usually call work hours. And as a writer, I work all the time really—even while sleeping. Just two days ago I was in a New York hotel room in the middle of the night with a sort of nightmare, but luckily I had my notebook and pen on the nightstand. I took them, crossed the room to the light that bled in from the window and jotted down notes. Ideas just don’t understand “work hours.”

Still I was pleasantly amazed to find that King and I both write from nine in the morning to around noon, depending on how well things are going, and how long it takes to get 2000 words done. His writing/editing relationship with his wife is eerily similar to my wife and I, right down to reading manuscripts in the car on long trips and having me trying to sneak peeks at where she is, while I should instead be concentrating on driving.

Given that I was not part of any workshop or school course that might account of the standardization  of attitude, I was stunned to find his opinions and conclusions about the craft mimicked my own.  So similar were many of the ideas about writing that I was glad I had finished my own series of writing tips before reading this, or I’d have a hard time separating out what were my thoughts and what were his.

The only point of contention I found was King’s attitude on outlining, but I feel this might be more a matter of semantics. He defines the word “story” and the word “plot” differently than I do. He likes story and distrusts plot, suggesting (I think, if I understand him right) that story is the whole thing, setting, character and the events, but plot is only the events and needs to be subordinate to the other two. I on the other hand see story and plot as the same things, the “plot” is merely “story” applied to a written work as I can’t imagine telling the plot of a story without including the characters and setting. I was left wondering if this might be at the heart of the difference, because—like me—he too takes walks and works out the story problems, as he did with The Stand, and that to me is outlining, but to him that might be considered something else. As big and with as many synonyms  as English has, we still appear to lack words for some things.

The most valuable bit of information was where he mentions grammar (which he used to teach) and suggests Warriner's English Grammar & Composition as a good book to learn from.  Again looking to find what I might have missed, I found a copy and have been studying it. He’s right, it’s a good book.

Also the last portion of On Writing is an account of his near fatal accident when a car hit him while he was walking along the roadside. This portion of the book I felt was some of the best writing I’ve read in decades. I was riveted. I laughed out loud once, and was brought near tears at another portion. It lacked the normal jaunty and irreverent tone of most of his works, less cute, less over-the-top. Maybe because it was real, or because I knew it was, but the power I found to be amazing and that portion alone was worth twice the cost of the book. It might also have been that I felt a certain kinship with him by that time, and while I’m not half the writer, I could easily imagine myself walking that road in the evening planning to go to a movie later with my wife and kids, when the unthinkable happens.

Like I said this isn’t a review, but if you’re one of the ones who have read my writing tips—the ones on the top of the side bar—and found them useful, you might also consider On Writing.

The part about the hair dryer is funny as hell.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Just Another Day at the Office

My cap, my notebook and pen, taken one Wednesday at the local O'Sullivan's pub where I am sometimes visited literally by Royce and Hadrian.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Live Audio

Today Recorded Books released Theft of Swords through This audio book was recorded by Tim Gerard Reynolds, is 22 hours and 37 minutes long and sells for $41.99. I expect that the audio book will eventually populate through other venues such as Amazon (as Amazon owns Audible) in the next few days or weeks. If you prefer to obtain it there, it should appear on the standard Theft of Swords page under the audio book version.

I haven’t heard the recording yet. I’ve only listened to the short sample on the Audible site. And as I do not get a complimentary copy, I will need to buy my own if I want to hear it—which of course I do. I’ve never bought audio books before, never even investigated them and to be honest I was surprised by the price. $41.99 seems expensive for a book,  but apparently in this case it’s cheap. When you consider that Theft of Swords is an omnibus, and a single book (about 10 hours long) on Audible is usually $27.99, they should have charged $55.98 for Theft.

Despite this it still seems pricy. I couldn’t imagine spending even $27.99 for all the books I “read,” and yet I’ve heard of people whose only source of books are audio. My wife however, tells me that Audible and other places have Netflix-like offers, where you pay for a membership and are then able to…well you don’t have to listen to me, here is what Audible actually says on their site:

Get your first 3 months for only $7.49/month*
and just $14.95/month thereafter. Cancel anytime.
AudibleListener® Gold Membership
With AudibleListener Gold, you can choose to download any of 100,000 audiobooks and more, and listen on your iPod®, iPhone®, BlackBerry, or 500+ MP3 players.Your membership includes:
  • One monthly credit good for any audiobook you choose to download
  • 30% off any audiobook purchased without a credit
  • Free daily subscription to The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal
  • Member-exclusive sales and promotions

AudibleListener® Gold Membership Details
* Get the first 3 months of the AudibleListener® Gold membership plan for just $7.49 per month, which includes one credit. For your convenience, your membership will automatically renew each month and the monthly membership fee will be billed to the credit card you used when you registered with Audible. After the 3 months, your credit card will be billed the regular membership price of $14.95 per month. With your membership, you will receive one credit per month plus members-only discounts on all audio purchases. Cancel anytime, effective the next billing cycle. See the terms and policy applicable to Audible memberships.

So if I read this correctly, for your $14.95 per month you get to hear a book a month for no extra cost. $14.95 is the actual cover price that I charged for the original printed version of Emerald Storm, but here you’re getting both Crown and Avempartha. So you would actually be getting each book for $7.50. That’s less than the cost of mass market paperbacks and any of the ebook versions of my series including the ebook version of Percepliquis.

Under those conditions, I might be interested in trying this out, and if you know of other similar deals for audio books—in particular mine—let me know.