Monday, January 25, 2010


There are two types of editing, the grammatical-based editing, and the structural-based. Grammatical editing concerns itself with the alleged rules of the language. I say alleged because I have yet to get three editors in a room and have them all agree on anything. What’s more, I’ve found that the better the writer, the more they tend to bend and out-right break the rules.

When I was in art school learning to paint, a landscape master watched me dragging my brush neatly back and forth as I blocked in a sky. He took the brush from me saying, “You’re an artist not a house painter.” And with that began smashing the brush against the illustration board pushing against the bristles creating a vivid image of clouds. He handed back my now mangled sable with a grin.

Creating usually requires breaking rules, and stepping outside the norm often can convey an idea far more brilliantly than tradition. Of course, there are limits. Push the envelope too far and instead of making an idea clearer, you can lose your audience completely.

Grammatical editing, while frustrating due to its arcane intricacies that can make two English masters mimic philosophers arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, is less painful to a writer than structural editing. And while grammatical editing can be done by anyone with an eye for detail and a solid understanding of the language, structural takes a logical mind, an understanding of the story, and a high level of trust.

Recently I have edited a few novels written by other authors—and I am talking structural here, the kind of changes that can freak out a young writer. Things like: You need to remove that character, cut that whole chapter, re-write half your book. It is not something to be taken lightly, and I often think that no one should attempt it, or even present a negative review of a novel, unless they have first experienced what it is like to receive one.

I’ve spent decades in the art field where having people destroy my creations was a matter of course, and as such I am not as easily damaged as many. Yet books can be very personal things and like a doctor handling a physical with a new patient, it needs to be done with great care, understanding and respect. On the other hand, it is irresponsible to lie and send the patient out thinking they are healthy enough to go skiing only to die of a heart attack trying the black diamond run.

That said, aspiring writers need to be careful as well. People willing to give honest feedback are precious. Most friends and family will only smile politely and say, “Wow! Great! You’re wonderful. Best thing I’ve ever read. No kidding. I have no idea why you’re not published yet! Really, that many rejections? There’s just no pleasing some people.” With that kind of help, the rejection pile will just keep getting taller.

The problem often is that writers either take criticism as insults or become possessive of their creation, falling in love with it. Working on a book for a long time can cause it to become a bit legendary in the mind of the writer so that suggestions to alter any of it strikes them as sacrilegious. I’ve actually fallen under this trap from time to time. This series contains books I wrote years ago and the idea of altering what has so deeply solidified in my mind as what happened, is abhorrent—like deciding one day that history would be better if we just took WWI out of it. It is hard to judge such things objectively. It takes practice.

The trick is never to take offense and to realize that most critics of pre-published works are trying to help. (Post published critics are trying to help too, but their focus is on helping the reader, as they should.) And they are just as frightened of hurting your feelings as you are of having your feelings hurt. I won’t lie. Having a person tell you what you created isn’t good, is unpleasant. As painful as that is, keep in mind, having hundreds of people tell you your work sucks, is much worse. This is why individuals willing to risk hurting your feelings to help you improve, are gems that should be treasured. The best way to do that is to never show offense and to always thank them. Better yet, be enthusiastic about how wonderful they are at ripping your heart to shreds. A bit of unpleasant preventative medicine can save lives in the long run.

I am lucky in having Robin. She has no qualms about pointing out my faults, but I know it is never spiteful. I get irritated, certainly. When she explains none too gently that I need to rewrite five chapters from scratch because one infinitesimal inconsistency exists in the plot web that no one noticed until that moment when she caught it—it can make me defensive. Again, luckily Robin knows when I argue with her, I’m not mad at her so much as sorting out the implications of this tragedy. Usually, I get mad, but suppress it as best I can. I rant—although I try and do it alone explaining to the painting on the wall, or my dog how wrong she is. Once I am positive I have conclusively proven my point, at least to the dogs approval, I will sit down and look at the chapters in question. Having expelled all my frustration by proving my superior intellect to the canine world, I can better evaluate the issue. Nine times out of ten Robin is right, and once I let myself look at her suggestion fairly, I can see that. It takes a little while, but soon I don’t even remember that WWI is missing.

In case you are wondering why I’m writing this—it’s that time of year again. The Emerald Storm, that I thought was ready to roll, is in pieces on the front lawn. Robin is standing there with a wrench in one hand and grease all over her face looking up at me with those innocent eyes and saying…”What?”

Monday, January 18, 2010

MarsCon Revisited

MarsCon was this last weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia—the first con of the new year. I hadn’t planned on going. I hadn’t planned on going to any more conventions, period.

At each of the conventions I attended last year which included Mars, Raven, Balti, and ConCarolina, I sold almost exactly thirty books at each—ten per day. I am told by my colleagues that this is actually good, but given the amount of time, effort and expense involved, it isn’t worth it. I can sell the same number (depending on the weather) at a typical book signing at a decent size Barnes and Noble, and I stopped doing those as well. The same amount of time spent promoting the books online produces much greater returns for far less effort and cost.

So, like I said, I had sworn off cons along with bookstores, so how did I end up there? It wasn’t to sell books, although I did managed to move my standard thirty, plus two.

As the con approached several people contacted us asking if we would be there. Not just fellow authors, but fans. So we ended up going to visit friends. You see, no one knew me last year as I stood there behind the little green clothed table with my one gold book looking lost among the glitz of tentacle sex and vampire erotica novels. Everyone who came close that year, stared at me and my little novel with suspicion and doubt. Robin was the one who did most of the selling. She’s better at it than I am, and honestly if I were them I’d rather talk to her then me, too. Still, it was a hard, uphill fight to get anyone interested.

This year was different.

We got our same table, next to our friend Marshall Thomas, a science fiction novelist, and wonderful guy. We had only just walked in and he was offering us homemade cookies his wife made. We barely had time to get books out of the boxes when people began to rush up.

“That’s it, that’s the one I want.” A woman pointed at Nyphron Rising.

“Oh great! You’re back! I got the first one last year and I was hoping you had the next in the seri—wow you’ve got two? Sweet!”

It wasn’t like we were having to call con staff to maintain order and form lines or anything, but it was a sharp contrast to the first year. We didn’t have to sell at all. The first year we stayed on our feet greeting each passerby—this time we sat and chatted with fellow authors and customers would interrupt us. Robin would usually hit me, “Hey! Think you might like to sell a book?”

“Sorry, I was lost in author-talk,” I told the young woman on the other side of the table.

“Oh-no,” the customer said. “I like listening.”

There was no displeasing these people. I would smile triumphantly at Robin, who gave me her best disapproving Marge Simpson smirk, to which I could only shrug meekly.

Leona Wisoker was there. I met her the previous year when she was an aspiring author and over the summer she informed me she had finally found a publisher and asked me to review an ARC of her book and provide a blurb. It is the first time I’ve ever been asked to do such an honor. I was apprehensive. I’ve read a lot of bad books and am not comfortable with lying, but I lucked out. Leona’s novel Secrets of the Sands is surprisingly good, and it was fun to congratulate her face-to-face.

Fans continued to visit us all weekend. Most came to get the Green Book, but others stopped by to talk about them. This made all the difference. As an author it isn’t fun to coax people to read your work, but it’s a blast to hear people tell you how much they loved it.

“I read your first book on the way to Disney, and Avempartha on the way back. I was ready to send you a very nasty email when I thought you’d killed Myron. He’s my favorite. Then I read a bit further and thought…whoa! You’re good.”

“I play a rogue so of course I love Royce. The very end of the book really caught me. I thought, that’s exactly what a rogue with his skills would do.”

Then there was the fella who bought 28 copies of the books to give to friends for Christmas. He was another of the big reasons I went. You just have to thank a guy like that in person. He’d read all three and of course launched a debate about who the heir is. People standing nearby were sold just on the conversations. Those who came also got a sneak preview at the cover of the next book, The Emerald Storm.

It was a much better experience than the first time, and has made me think that I should rethink the con situation. I’ll let you know what I decide.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Having written a six book series about thieves, it strikes me as ironic to learn that my books are being stolen.

Robin, who keeps a vigilant eye on the real world while I play in Elan, informed me that all three of my novels are being illegally distributed across the Internet. In addition to the printed versions, all three books are available in Kindle and eBook formats, and it appears that individuals have used the eBooks, intended for use with mobile readers such as Stanza, Palm and computers, to copy and offer as free downloads. This is not a singular incident to be sure. Various independent sites have been discovered to be doing this.

I’m not the only one of course. Gail Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, Stephenie Meyer, and many more are all being pirated. This is the same problem that musicians and moviemakers face—the idea that everything offered on the net should be free.

I’m not exactly certain how to take this. I can’t say I like the idea of people giving away work that I am trying to sell. On the other hand—look at the company I’m in! I don’t know of any other independent titles being pirated. Is there some invisible line I’ve crossed that raised a flag saying The Riyria Revelations are now worth stealing? I’m also not losing the kind of revenues that these other authors might be, but perhaps I’m facing a larger percentage.

Part of me is pleased I have joined this fraternity. The more people who read my book the better—even if I don’t get paid—and there isn’t all that much difference between these sites and a library, except you have to return the books and you can’t copy them repeatedly and distribute them on street corners. So yeah, it’s not quite the same thing.

I recall something happening with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series and a bit of pirating. As far as I understand it, Meyer planned to have Midnight Sun published some time shortly after the release of Breaking Dawn, but part of the rough draft was leaked and distributed on the Net. As a result, Meyer chose to delay the project indefinitely. So apparently this isn’t something new at all—just new to me.

While I can track each site down and ask them to remove the books, and some may do so, that is a bit like playing Whack-a-Mole. And at this point it could be argued that these sites are disseminating the books to an audience who might otherwise not read them. Very likely, those who are inclined to buy my books in dead-tree version are not about to skip the feel of paper and the sheen of that glossy painted cover for the chance to read it on screen or drain their printer dry of ink. Kindle sales don’t look to be hurting either. And realistically, like the lone and determined gunman, there’s really no way to stop them. I even seem to recall someone personally sat down and translated the—then—latest Potter book into French and offered them online in lieu of an official version.

Still I could make it harder. I could simply discontinue the eBook versions for the remaining three novels of the series. Kindle, who encodes their files, would still be available, and I might be able to manage to offer the LRF format native to Sony Readers, but all other versions would be cut off. This might not plug the hole entirely. A really determined fellow could use a scanner to read the books into text, but that’s a lot harder to do and requires equipment. Would someone really go through that kind of effort for Riyria?

I’m still not certain what I want to do, if anything, but I suppose at the very least I will ensure that eBook versions will be drastically delayed.

I would like to hear opinions, if anyone has any. Should free downloads be tolerated? Should those who properly pay for books on their mobile devices be punished for the actions of those who do not? Should some readers get the books free while others pay? Should I just be flattered? Should I refuse to release the last book out of spite? Should there be a law against people reading novels on such tiny screens that they might incur eyestrain?

Talk to me I’m listening.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


“The Crown Conspiracy is three months old with the New Year and yet I have no clear idea of how well it is doing. This being my first published novel, and not knowing any other published authors, I have no idea if this is typical or disturbing.”
—My blog post, January 9th 2009

Almost exactly a year ago, I began this blog with that paragraph and in re-reading it I’m shocked that Crown was only published a year and three months ago. I suppose the six-month release schedule is partly to blame. In eighty days, I will be releasing my fourth book, so in my mind four years should have passed—if I were sane that is. Putting a novel out every six months is just crazy.

And then there is the changes in public attitude and response. I recall being overwhelmed at my first few signings—not with the huge crowds begging for my autograph, but at my total invisibility and the enormous task I faced trying to get noticed. I felt as if I had just landed on an alien planet where I didn’t know a soul, and everyone looked at me with suspicion. They had seen the likes of me before, those who came and went. No matter how rational you are about your chances to succeed, it is still a humbling experience to stand behind a table of books all day at the front of a giant Barnes & Noble and be ignored or avoided by literally hundreds of people. I didn’t start writing to be a snake oil salesman, but that’s how it feels trying to push a book. You want to explain, that it’s not like that, but realize that’s exactly the kind of thing a snake oil salesman would say.

The whole venture appeared hopeless. All the dreams that were ignited the day the publishing contact was signed fizzle to mere smoke. I sold five books at my first real signing. I was miserable. This feeling was deepened when the store manager was so impressed that he’d like me to come back. “Most authors don’t sell any,” she told me.

Even if I made a killing. Even if I sold thirty books (and that’s a killing to be sure) that’s thirty people at a local bookstore, ten of whom might actually read the book. A large number give them to friends, or kids, or just because you seem like a nice guy and they want to support the literary arts. Of that ten you figure only half will care for it, and perhaps one will really like it—like it enough to tell a friend. I had seventeen book signings, which is a ridiculously high number and yet if you do that math, I don’t stand a chance of getting anywhere.


Robin and I see it as this gigantic wheel like something from a science fiction movie. You push on it, shove with all your might and nothing happens. You enlist the aid of all your friends, family, and even embarrassingly tenuous acquaintances. You all push. The wheel moves an inch and then stops again. It’s futile.

That’s where I was a year ago. Sitting with my back to this enormous wheel realizing there was nothing I could do to make it turn, and no way I could ever turn it far enough, or fast enough to spark the engine inside that would make the wheel rotate on its own. Robin tried to include me in the pantheon of authors listed on Wikipedia, but it was soon rejected.

What I hadn’t counted on, is that my wife, Robin, is a little crazy. She’s never understood the definition of the word “can’t.” For her, I think she saw this issue of two people taking on the entire world as merely a sweeter than usual challenge. Left to bookstore signings alone the great wheel would have rusted in the snows of winter, but this was 2009 not 1999. Not only was there an Internet, but there was—Goodreads.

She gained a beachhead on the GR site and dug in. From there she launched daring daylight raids on popular review sites and book clubs. At first, it seemed as if nothing was happening, like when Neo dives into the agent and disappears. By mid-summer even Robin had stopped and sat down beside me exhausted, depressed, and looking close to beaten.

We were both sitting there when the wheel creaked all by itself.

Bloggers began to post wonderful reviews about the books and for the first time reviewers were calling us. The wheel creaked again when people we never had any contact with were writing about the books. Like the effects of a stirring in the deep, bubbles rose to the surface, one here, one there—announcements that something big was happening. I received my first fan mail. Review sites added it to their lists of their “most enjoyed” or subsequent books to their “most anticipated”. And then sales started to rise.

It coincided with the release of Nyphron Rising. The Amazon ranking for Crown began to plummet (that’s a good thing—the lower the better in the way that number one is better than being number two.) Maybe three books is the magic number, maybe people were waiting for half the series to be out before buying, or maybe…

The wheel was moving.

Sales continued to rise and rankings to drop as we moved into the holiday rush. New records were hit almost daily, and every morning I had to walk to the mailbox with a growing armload of books. By late November I had to use a large bag to carry them.

Then came the year-end wrap ups. Here are some from just the last thirty days:

DEC 12, 2009 - The Emerald Storm and Wintertide named to 2010 Anticipated Releases by Fantasy Book Critic.

DEC 17, 2009 - The Crown Conspiracy was a "near miss" (named a close contender) in Top 5 Reads of 2009 by Speculative Fiction Junkie

DEC 22, 2009 - Avempartha rated A (Almost A+) by Fantasy Book Critic during their looking back at 2009 post

DEC 30, 2009 - Riyria Revelations (The Crown Conspiracy, Avempartha, Nyphron Rising) was named to Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews Top 10 Books for 2009

JAN 01, 2009 - Listed along with the likes of Patrick Rothfuss, Jim Butcher, and Joe Abercrombie in an article on Suite 101.

The great wheel sputters and coughs. Was it only a fluke of the holiday buying season? Christmas has come and gone and still the sales are holding steady. I sense we are in a very crucial stage, standing at the edge of a chasm that we will either make it across or fall to obscurity, but at least we are this far, and the big wheel keeps on turning.

Here’s wondering what 2010 will bring.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Rookie Makes Varsity Team

Since its publication, The Crown Conspiracy and the rest of The Riyria Revelations series has been well received—but conditionally. For the first year most people bought the book from me either because they liked the cover art or out of pity for the poor man standing at the little rickety table at the front of the bookstore who everyone is ignoring. Reviewers had to be cajoled or begged to pick it up and the reactions always began, “I was very surprised…” I was sure the standard bar was a line painted on the floor. And yet, “I was surprised…” is light years better than “This is an example that anything can get published.” So I wasn’t going to complain.

Somewhere around last summer, the comments began to change. The surprised readers faded, and were replaced with “For an independent novel…” I sensed I had moved up a notch but the whole scale thing was murky. All I knew was that the training wheels were still on the bus and I was still at the kiddy table. There’s a certain comfort in that. I received lots of positive encouragement, but it always felt like pats on the head and delivered with a tone that meant, “You did real good…for a little kid.”

I’ve always been a little wary of praise. It’s a trap writers can get into. Friends and family are quick to tell you how great you are, just as your mother praises the Crayola drawings on the fridge, but the next day when you sneak down to the city museum with your lunch box full of masterpieces, you face a rude and rather embarrassing awakening. They were just being polite. Yes, there’s a downside to being polite. Polite people can really mess you up. This might have something to do with my famous lack of tact.

I’ve been fooled before, so I am always skeptical of praise. I take it apart and look for clues of insincerity. If the person knows me, that’s an automatic disqualification. Even if the person only knows me via email. If the person can in anyway feel obligated to me or want something from me, again instant disqualifications. If the person is just commonly nice, again I set that aside in the reject pile. Even if all of the above aspects are missing, if the reviewer can reasonable guess that I, or someone I know, will hear or read the remarks, again I must assume their kind words are the result of politeness.

Only those who know I’m not listening can speak freely. On occasion, I am able to find posts on small forum boards about my books. And while over all they speak well of my work, there is a night-and-day sort of approach. Punches aren’t being pulled in these secret fight-club worlds and they don’t hesitate to hit hard. Yet, even here they know the books are put out by a small press and they cut a little slack. And when you’re in Special-Ed, it’s hard to know how you stack up against the real world.

But today I found something new—something most unexpected.

Included in the online magazine there was an article entitled: The Best Fantasy Books of the 21st Century, and lo and behold—I’m on it.

I’ve never heard of Suite101, and I have no idea who “contributing writer” Ben Lingenfelter is, but it’s defiantly not “Bob’s Webpage.”

Reading the article, I am immediately struck by the stark lack of “I was surprised…” and utterly floored at the total absence of even the mention of “Small Press,” or “Independent publisher.” But what knocked me cold were those names listed with mine.

• Joe Abercrombie
• Jim Butcher
• David Anthony Durham
• Steven Erikson & Ian Cameron Esslemont
• China Mieville
• Patrick Rothfuss
• Adrian Tchaikovsky
• Jay Lake

These authors don’t sit at the kid’s table. Not one of them is published through a small press. What am I doing on this list?

None of it adds up. I’ve looked. I’ve done some research, but I can’t find the disqualifier here. There’s a place card at the adult table with my name on it, and I don’t think it’s a mistake. I’m not saying I’m sitting down or anything, but I have to admit, this is nice.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


“Was he to die? The mental picture of Elfride in the world, without himself to cherish her, smote his heart like a whip. He had hoped for deliverance, but what could a girl do? He dared not move an inch. Was Death really stretching out his hand? The previous sensation, that it was improbable he would die, was fainter now.

However, Knight still clung to the cliff.”

This is the end of an excerpt from the 1873 Thomas Hardy novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes. It’s appearance in serial form in London’s Tinsley Magazine, is considered to be the origin of the term “cliffhanger.”

Although Charles Dickens often drove his fans to desperation prior to this with the serialized release of his novels, and Twain gained a great deal of his popularity by employing similar techniques for articles he published in newspapers, Hardy took it to the extreme of leaving the life or death conclusion of the novel’s character literally hanging. Other authors took notice and began to borrow the idea in their own installments. The trend really got a head of steam in the silent era of movies as producers hoped to draw audiences back by leaving their heroes on the brink of death or destruction. This trend continued in comics and television shows—-as in the season finale of Dallas with the “who shot JR?” episode.

Apparently, this technique was also employed in several modern fantasy book series. This was brought to my attention by my daughter some years ago. There are people who enjoy the suspense. For them the wait allows for a communal reflection and speculation on the future, a chance to pause and hear what others think. This can make the books more of a social event, and certainly adds to the drama. The problem I think comes from a truly killer cliffhanger and an extended wait. It was this combination that apparently irked my daughter. There are also problems associated with longer books artificially divided up, or single stories stretched across multiple releases that leave the reader feeling dropped off enroute.

When I wrote The Riyria Revelations, I sought to avoid this reader angst by creating complete stories within each novel and to reduce the delay between each release. Book series often leave many conflicts unresolved and questions unanswered, and mine is no exception. In all my preaching about independent books it was never my intent to eliminate these aspects. Rather, I designed the novels to work as episodes in a greater story arc allowing for readers to have what I hoped to be the best of both worlds, a good solid story bound in one book, and on-going suspense to create that social speculation that can add so much enjoyment and change a book into an event.

I wanted all the novels in the series to have a beginning, middle, and end that do not directly depend upon the previous or following novels. You should not be completely bewildered if you pick up a middle book first, but a great deal will nevertheless be lost if you don’t read them in order. Not the least of which is that you will learn about events covered in earlier books from books in the middle. If you then go back and read those it won’t be as much fun as if you read them in order.

Some people have mentioned that Avempartha ended in a cliff hanger, that a revelation is presented at the book’s conclusion which some saw as an enticement to read on, and yet there was no new knowledge in the closing statements made. A careful reader would have put all the pieces together already. The evidence was within the covers of the novel, I simply did not draw attention to it until that concluding conversation. The real reason for placing the statement was to ensure everyone caught the clues laid earlier.

With the publication of Nyphron Rising, the number of people mentioning “cliffhanger” have grown. I could have ended the novel a sentence shorter and eliminated the issue, or eliminated the last chapter altogether to have the novel end a bit more tidy, but I saw this as an opportunity to give the readers an added bonus.

I have a habit of staying through the credits of a movie. I listen to the closing music – look at the names of all the “little people.” And back in 1985, before it became fashionable to put something after the credits, I recall watching the movie Young Sherlock Holmes. At the end, after a lengthy list of credits the movie resumed with a sleigh arriving at an inn where Rathe, (the nemesis of the movie,) signs in with the alas James Moriarty. It appeared to signal a sequel, but none was ever made. Still it was a fun revelation. In many ways this sums up the little “bonus” scene at the end of Nyphron which is pretty neatly wrapped up at that point—-something fun to ponder.

Like the ending of Avempartha, the ending in Nyphron rising is not a ploy to encourage readers to buy the next book, (I would hope what occurred in the previous 340 pages would manage that), it’s merely where the story ends. It might sound strange to people who don’t write fiction, but books can have a mind of their own, as do characters. Once born, authors can’t always control them. When you try, the story suffers. The place that Nyphron ends is the most logical for those in the book and what they are doing.

One of the reasons I’m posting on this subject is to clarify what I’ve been saying all along which is that each book is an episode in a larger story arc. I’ve read a number of comments that suggest that critics are laying in wait for my failure to live up to my promise of no cliffhangers and independent novels .The next two books in the series will really put this issue to the test. The Emerald Storm and Wintertide will not end as “neatly tied up” as those which preceded them, and yet they do have complete stories with resolved conclusions.

With this out of the way I can get back to work on this pesky last part of Emerald Storm. I’m trying to get the wording just right…

“Were they to die? The two thieves had hoped for deliverance, but neither dared move an inch. Was Death really stretching out his hand? The previous sensation, that it was improbable they would die, was fainter now.

However, Royce and Hadrian still clung to the cliff.”

Robin is frowning.

What? I thought that was funny.