Magebane month – 9 lessons learned

Magebane is published this month and is currently available from all good bookshops, hint, hint. Battlemage, which started my publishing journey, came out in 2015. On the one hand that seems just like yesterday. On the other hand a lot of stuff has happened in those 4 years and the 2 years before that when I was picked up by my agent and we started working on the book together.

I thought I’d write a post about some of things I’ve learned along the way about publishing and writing books.

1. Don’t read reviews. It may sound obvious but I know some people who read them. Take my advice, don’t do it. Goodreads isn’t there for authors. It’s there for fans to talk about stuff. I log on, post my reviews to keep track of what I’ve read year to year, and log off. Good reviews make you feel awesome and powerful, and can be a good thing, as long as you don’t buy into your own BS. But a single bad review can unmake 100 good reviews in an instant. You can’t debate or discuss a person’s review with them. It will linger in your head and annoy you. It’s self destructive and unhealthy. Listen to the feedback of those who matter, close friends, family, people you trust. This is for any writer at any stage.

2. You can’t please everyone. This ties closely in to the first point. For my first trilogy I did books that were roughly standalone, each was slightly different in tone (despite all of them being fantasy) and yet each book built on the previous one, connecting stories and characters. I received some comments from fans who wanted a more traditional 3 part story. For my second trilogy, I did one huge story in three parts (not because of fan feedback I should point out), and I still had some people contact me to complain. Write what you want to write. Again, listen to those whose opinion you value and ignore the rest.

3. Find your people. Writing is mostly a very solitary thing. It has a lot of highs and lows and while social media can help you connect with like-minded people, it doesn’t compare with face to face time. Find other people like you and, away from all recording devices in a quiet space, put away your phones and over tea or a pint, talk to each other. Talking to non-writers can be difficult. I’ve had people look at me with a weird expression when I try to explain how I’m wrangling over a story point or a character. Non-writers can be sympathetic but eventually there comes a point where they just don’t get it. No, it’s not brain surgery or curing cancer but I still pour a lot of myself into my work. Find your people, vent, brainstorm, and just talk openly to one another without judgement. Even though you may write in totally different genres you will have stuff in common. Conventions are a great place to find like-minded people if there’s no one local to you.

4. Don’t listen to advice/ listen to advice. Everyone will have specific writing tips and advice on how to get published. But not all writing tips and tricks, 10 things you must do type advice is worth your time. Anyone that says you must do X to be a writer, such as write every day, is wrong. Anyone who say planning a novel is the only way to write a successful book is wrong. Anyone who says making it up as they go along is the only way to write a bestselling book is wrong. There is no silver bullet. There is no one path to success. Some writers get an agent on book 1 in their 20s. Some on book 8 in their 30s or 40s or 50s. Some never try and are successful and happy self-publishing their work. Decide on your path. Read everything, filter it, take heed of the bits you want and ignore the rest until you find what works for you. Don’t ignore the rules (such as if an agent says only fantasy don’t submit romance etc), don’t be a dick and always be polite.

5. Writing the book is only the beginning. These days there’s so much out there to consume. Entire series of TV shows on demand. Movies at the press of a button on your TV, phone, tablet, at home and on the go. Comics, board games, video games. The list goes on and on. Promoting your work is part of the job. How you to do that, what tools you use, how much time or money you spend on doing that again is a very personal and individual thing. Should a writer have to do it? Probably not, but, there’s a constant battle for people’s time and money and publishers budgets are limited. Some authors work very hard to create a brand, others are a version of themselves through social media. Some just post cat pictures whereas others focus on building email lists, or their YouTube or Twitter following. It’s part of the business today and it’s not going to change for the foreseeable. Accept it and embrace it to whatever level you feel comfortable.

6. You need a business brain. My degree was in business studies. Writing fiction is a brilliant job and it’s exciting. But you also need to balance creativity with realism and pragmatism. Most writers aren’t doing it full time because they can’t afford it. When you’re published you can’t expect to attend every single event and comic-con because you’d bankrupt yourself in no time. So, oddly, I’m glad that I studied business because my marketing, PR and other business skills have proven to be very useful. As mentioned above with promotion, you need to think about the business side of writing as well as the creative.

Also, you need to spend some time on thinking about the commercial side of your book. If you were starting to write a book now, do you think it would be a good idea to write about sparkly vampires? Or a boy wizard with a destiny? If you want to be traditionally published you need to take the temperature of the market and think about this sort of thing. Writing a book because of a trend isn’t a good idea. You still need to write a story that you’re passionate about, but you need to think a bit about the sales aspect of the book. There are lots of alternatives to traditional publishing, in which case, write the book you want to write, but if you write a me-too clone of a famous book and try to get an agent and a traditional publishing deal, your odds will be almost zero.

7. Burnout is real. Writing often is difficult. Doing it every day for months or even years is really really hard. It can cause you to burn out. This has happened to me. I’ve sat down to write and there’s nothing there. It’s not writers block. This is something different. This is where the tank is just empty. And the only way to make it go away is to rest. But the problem is when I’m not writing I feel guilty and think I should be writing, so the temptation is to start writing again and so begins the vicious cycle. I have to force myself to rest, ignore the worries and niggling voices inside, and take days off to recharge. It really help. I come back feeling refreshed and excited again.

8. Publishing is slow until it isn’t. It seems as if every week there are new books being published. Generally, traditional publishing is slow. Like, really really slow. I found my agent in 2013 but Battlemage didn’t come out until 2015. There was a year of editing the book with my agent before it was ready to go out on submission, and then when I found a publisher, it was another year of editing the book with my editors. From my experience, a book typically takes 8-12 months from when you hand in a first draft to when it comes out in bookshops. It can be shorter than that, but it can also be a lot longer. During the normal editing cycle, there are deadlines for handing stuff in (drafts, copy edit, proof) and while there’s always some wiggle room it’s not a good idea to miss your deadline. Traditional publishing is a bit like a superliner ship. It takes a while to steer something that big. The book needs to go through various stages before it’s ready, so if you delay it then it can take a while to correct that. So sometimes you will have a couple of weeks to do something and then there will be radio silence for months while the book moves through the machine. There again, alternative publishing can be faster and more agile, because the machine is smaller.

9. Aim high but prepare for disappointment. Everyone wants their book to do well but the truth is very few will become household names. Getting an agent and then getting a book published is tough. Having tried for many years before I got an agent and then a publishing deal I’m speaking from first hand experience. The odds of me then becoming the next JK Rowling, GRRM, Tolkien etc are pretty much zero. Not every book can be a huge hit. It’s a harsh truth but one that you need to face and accept.

Of course you want it to do well and you should produce the best book you possibly can, but as mentioned earlier, most writers have day jobs too because it’s necessary to make a living. You should know this going in. Writers can make a fair living, and it depends on many factors out of our control, and that’s the hardest part to accept. It’s not up to you. A lot of why that happens, why a book becomes a smash hit, is not within your power. The only thing you can control is the work. If you don’t put the effort in, thinking why bother, then the reception will be poor. So, embrace your readers and take pleasure in the people that do connect with your work.

Magebane week

To celebrate the publication of Magebane this week below are links to a few things I’ve been up to recently.

Podcast Chat

I was recently on the Functional Nerds podcast with Patrick and over the course of an hour we talk about all things geeky including some comics, TV shows, Star Trek news and the Shazam movie. You can listen via iTunes or go here for more information and links.

New Interview

There’s a new interview with over at The Fantasy Hive where I talk about some of what I’ve been reading, my current work in progress and a little bit about my approach to writing. You can read the interview here.

Reddit Fantasy AMA

Don’t forget I’ll be doing a Reddit Fantasy AMA on Tuesday 13th August next week. For roughly 24 hours I’ll be answering any and all questions. It’s free and you can join in here.

Birmingham Event

Don’t forget I’ll be doing an event at Waterstones Birmingham on Thursday 5th September at 6.3opm with Anna Stephen and GX Todd. More information and tickets are available here.

Battlemage Kindle deal for July – Amazon UK

Battlemage (book 1) in the first trilogy (Age of Darkness) is currently on offer at Amazon (UK only I’m afraid) for 99p for the whole of July!!

So if you’ve not read it yet then now is the time. Tell your friends, tell your colleagues, tell strangers in the street as well! Just as long as it’s before the end of the month. If you started with Mageborn, now is the perfect time to go back and see where it all began, back in the dark historic days of….2015.

How many pages do you give a book to grip you before giving up?

Having just put down a book before reaching the end, I asked this question on Twitter as I was curious about how others felt.

To my surprise the majority of people stop reading if they are not enjoying a book, rather than persisting to the end. There was a range of answers related to page count and chapters, with the most extreme answer, I think, coming from Philip Pullman:-

Sometimes the answer was proportional to the length of the book

https://twitter.com/biktairov/status/1145012590830993409

Sometimes the answer was related to cost

So, here’s a follow up question as a poll. I wonder, if the general stance has changed because in 2019 we have TV and films on demand, whole TV series arrive in one chunk and can be binged, hundreds of cheap digital books available at the press of a button, and there’s more content than ever before.

Are we less patient with books? Do we want them to get to the good stuff sooner? Has all of this impacted your reading attention span? Are you less forgiving?

 

 

 

 

Magebane events

MagebaneTo celebrate the publication of Magebane (available to preorder from all good bookshops now, hint hint!) I’m going to be doing a few events online and in person.

Thursday 8th August

The book is officially published on Monday 5th August so to coincide with that I’m going to be doing my first signing event in Scotland. On Thursday 8th August in the evening I will be at Waterstones Argyll Street in Glasgow on a panel discussion with Cameron Johnston and Shona Kinsella, moderated by Cat Hellisen. We’re going to be talking about wrapping up a series, saying goodbye to characters – potentially forever, the joy and terror of starting something new and writing in general. You need to buy a ticket for this event, so please visit their website for more information or pop into the shop if you are local. Come along and join us. You can find more information here.

Tuesday 13th August

If you’re not in the UK and not able to attend one of the events I’m going to be doing a Reddit AMA over at reddit.com/fantasy. If you’re not a member then Reddit is free to join and an AMA is an opportunity to Ask Me Anything. This could be about the books, characters, writing in general, hobbies, pets, whatever really. I’ll be there online for roughly 24 hours and will regularly check in on the thread throughout the day and night to answers questions as best as I can. If you have spoilery questions you can ask those too but there are ways to conceal the text on Reddit, so it doesn’t spoil it for others. If you have questions anyway, but don’t want to be on Reddit, you can just email me. Info is in the about page on my website.

Thursday 5th September

A few weeks later I will be at Birmingham Waterstones on Thursday 5th September in conversation with Anna Stephens and GX Todd. This will be to celebrate the publication of Magebane but also Bloodchild, the third novel in Anna Stephens Godblind trilogy. We’ll be talking about books, finishing series, starting new stuff, and the general highs and lows of writing. It should be a lot of fun. More info and a link on this event when it’s available.

 

May TV and books

Busy working on the new NEW book. Currently editing it and at the end of that process it will be a second draft. I’ll then send it back to my agent for her feedback. After that, we’ll see. I might need to do another edit (which is likely) or it may be ready to go out on submission. Who knows.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to feed my brain lots of good content. TV, comics, films and books. No spoilers and I’m not going to be discussing Game of Thrones even though I am watching it. Some people are not up to date and I hate spoilers.

Sneaky Pete – Not a genre show at all, but this con-man drama is actually quite heart warming and I found myself really caring about the whole cast of characters, even the annoying ones. Giovanni Ribisi is excellent in the lead as Pete, and to be fair, the whole cast is wonderful. It’s a little bit family drama, a little bit Leverage or Hustle, depending on where you live, as Ribisi sweet talks his way around people using his astute skills and observation. Funny, surprising and always interesting. Currently on Amazon and definitely worth  a watch.

Knightfall – While desperately waiting for the next series of The Last Kingdom I thought I would give this a go as it seemed like my kind of thing. Created by the History channel at first I thought it would be a very dry retelling of events surrounding the Knights Templar. Two minutes into the first episode and that preconception was shattered. This is a saucy, violent, action drama with larger than life characters. It involves Templars living in France after the fall of the Holy Land and their quest to locate the Holy Grail. Yes, that very special cup that was lost. As well as the Knights getting up to no good there is also the interwoven intrigue and drama of the French court where Philip rules with an iron fist. It’s fun, and I’m sure not at all historically accurate but it is always entertaining.

Stumptown Vol. 2 – This comic book series written by Greg Rucka was recently optioned for TV. A pilot was made with Cobie Smulders in the lead role as Dex Parios, a PI operating out of Portland, Oregon and it has now been picked up for a full first series. Each volume of the comic book focuses on a different case and this down on her luck PI is reminiscent of the Rockford Files, which Rucka has said was an influence on this book. Quirky, funny and unpredictable, Stumptown takes the time to build its characters, which means when it comes to the TV adaptation which is probably due to air later this year, they have plenty of source material to draw on.

Joyride – Remember when comics just used to be really light-hearted fun with some drama? I say that as a lifelong comic book fan. Sometimes I just want to watch or read something light, exciting and enjoyable that’s not challenging anything or commenting on anything in today’s society. At least, not in too obvious a way. Joyride tells the story or 3 teenagers who steal a spaceship and go off into space to have adventures. That’s it. Drama and excitement follows.

Mister Miracle – This twelve issue comic book series (now collected into one volume) by Tom King and Mitch Gerads from DC comics is one of the best comics I’ve read in many many years. It’s also very difficult to describe. It is self contained, so even if you’ve never read any DC comics before or are not familiar with the characters you can read it and the story will make sense. What it is actually about beyond the surface story is for you to decide. I’m not going to tell you what I think it is about because there’s a lot going on and if I try to outline what I think it is about I will probably miss a bunch of stuff and then later want to add to it as I think about it. This is also a comic I will be able to reread multiple times in the future and get something different from it. I believe it is Tom and Mitch’s finest work to date, not that either of them have been slouches up to now.

The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding – This is the first fantasy novel in a new series by Wooding who is already a very accomplished author who has written YA, fantasy, a SF steampunk series about space pirates, amongst many other books. I’ve written a longer review on Goodreads about it but here is the start – This is a mighty beast of a book, clocking in at over 800 pages. To be fair, Wooding handles the story with his usual balance of cracking action, rich characters that you genuinely care about and wonderful worldbuilding. If Grimdark is a thing in publishing, and maybe it is just a label for the tone of a book, this is the opposite, it is Noble Bright, or whatever you want to call it. Full review is here but in short, read it. You won’t be disappointed.

What have you been watching? Read any good comics?

 

Talking books with….

As some of you may know, as well as writing, I am also involved with podcasting. I’ve been doing it for 11 or 12 years now. At the moment I’m doing a few different ones (more info on all of them here) but perhaps the most relevant if you follow me for book stuff is Crash Landing.

Crash Landing LogoThere is where I talk to other writers about books. In particular their favourite 5 books. These are their most cherished if they were the only 5 books they had access to in the entire world. It’s a tough challenge to whittle down all of the books you’ve ever read to 5, but so far everyone has managed it, more or less, although RJ Barker did cheat slightly by claiming if he taped two books together they were technically one book.

The most recent episode was released this week where I talked to Tasha Suri about her books, writing, her inspirations and through the process of discussing her favourite books it revealed some interesting facts about her too!

Other people I’ve spoken to on the podcast already include, RJ Barker, Francesca Haig, Jamie Sawyer, GX Todd, Niel Bushnell, Al Robertson, Anna Stephens, Taran Matharu, Barry Nugent and Cameron Johnston.

Bags of ActionI’ve also been setting up a YouTube channel for Bags of Action, which is where a friend and I discuss and review action movies. These are classic and modern and this is now on YouTube here so if that’s your thing too then check it out.

Right, I’m off to edit the new book and more news on that when I have it.

 

Class is in session: Fantasy world building

I’m delighted to announce that starting in May I will be teaching an online writing course with LitReactor. This will be a two week course, available to anyone around the world, on fantasy world building.

As you can imagine I’ve spent a lot of time creating fantasy worlds and thinking about all of the elements that contribute to making a memorable setting. In addition to this, the world needs to be populated with interesting characters to make it feel like a real place. LitReactor has given me a great opportunity to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years. My goal is to provide my students with a range of tools and open their minds so they start thinking about fantasy world building and characters in new ways.

I’m really excited to be doing this and it’s going to be a fascinating experience. Places are limited to 16 people for this two week course. So if you’re interested I suggest you sign up as quickly as possible on the LitReactor website here.

Something new and doubt

I’ve just sent in the first draft of something totally new to my agent for her feedback. This is still fantasy, but the story is not set in the same world, there aren’t any mages in this book and it’s a bit different in terms of style and pacing. Now comes the waiting.

It was both refreshing and scary to start something brand new. Clean slate means no preconceptions and a totally new world where everything is shiny. There’s so much for me to discover and build. New characters to create. A whole new continent to populate with towns and cities. I spent so much time thinking about random things like heritage, architecture, trade and industry, weapons and armour. The list is endless.

It’s liberating but I also need to make sure that everything I create fits together in a cohesive and logical manner. It always baffles me when people who don’t read fantasy think we can basically write without rules and do anything we like, as if readers won’t mind that none of it hangs together. If anything fantasy authors have to work harder, especially when it comes to things like magic. It has to make sense, there have to be rules and costs, otherwise any time there’s any kind of a threat in a story someone can just wave their hand and the problem is solved.

The scary part comes from the little voice inside that wonders if I know what I’m really doing and if the first time was a fluke. That little voice of doubt is healthy, but it’s also a jerk. I think every sensible writer has doubts (any sensible creative person really) and if they don’t then we’ve all seen what kind of monsters they turn into (see Hollywood for example). Whether it’s your second book or your twenty second, if you don’t have doubts then it means you think you’re perfect and everything you write is gold and that is scary. Doubt is fine, it keeps me sharp, it keeps me hungry and it keeps me moving forward. But there are times when I have to point out to that little voice that I’ve gone a lot further than thousands (maybe millions?) of other people.

Even now I meet an endless stream of people who when they ask what I do and I tell them I’m an author their response is ‘Oh, one day I’m going to write a book.’ That one line has many connotations. When people say it now I just smile back, because I’ve done it. I wrote the book. I got the agent and then the book deal, and as of June this year I will have had 6 books published.

It’s not arrogance. It’s me reminding myself of how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved. I put my money where my mouth was and I did it. It took a long time. Many years. Many failures. Many false starts and rejections. A lot of sacrifice and effort. But I’ve done it. They really can’t say the same.

So I still have doubts, but for now I’m going to ignore that little voice, put my head down and get on with writing a new book.

 

 

Recent TV

The joy of Netflix means I can start on a series and just really soak into it, and consume the whole thing in one stretch. No waiting weekly for episodes, and go at my own pace. There are some shows that are released weekly, to keep them in line or just behind the US, but for those I’m just stockpiling episodes until the series is done. It’s not as if there’s nothing else to watch in the meantime.

I’ve avoided spoilers in the following, so I’ve not given away anything about the stories for anyone who is worried.

The Last Kingdom – I’m not sure why I held off watching this show for so long. I’m a big fan of Bernard Cornwall’s books, I enjoyed the odd Sharpe episode back in the day with Sean Bean, and I’m a massive fan of his Arthurian trilogy. This falls into the same kind of mould, based on his long running book series that has been renamed to The Last Kingdom series I believed. Only instead of King Arthur, we’re focusing on King Alfred of Wessex.

Uhtred Ragnarson, son of Uhred of Bebbanburg is a Dane, but not, an English man of Northumberland but also not and heir to Bebbanburg (Bamburgh to use its modern name). Fantastic stuff. I cannot fault the show. The cast is amazing and some characters are really interesting, both to love and hate, sometimes at the same time. Uhtred himself is not someone you always root for and I have to praise David Dawson who plays King Alfred. You want to hate him so much for some of his decisions and yet a moment later you feel sympathy and can understand his motives. Such a gloriously rich and layered character, it must have been a dream of a role for the actor. The brilliant Ian Hart as Father Beocca and so many of the others in the cast are amazing, especially those who play Hild, Finan, Brida, Steapa and Leofric. Three glorious series to soak into, do it now, and season 4 is in production.

Titans – So, as an old school long time DC comics fan I was torn about this and initially had mixed feelings. I read Teen Titans growing up. I know the characters and the trailer for the TV showed something very different. However, I gave it a shot and if you can get past some of the changes to the main characters, and put that aside then it’s an enjoyable show. The writers had to change some stuff to adapt it to TV, and I don’t have an issue with that, but at times it feel as if some of the violence and language was dialled up to 11 just because they could, not because it was always necessary for the story. Changing characters is fine, as long as they stay true to the heart of them.

Dick Grayson is a lot angrier than normal, however, they explain why this version id Dick is like that. Kori is perhaps the most difficult character to do in a TV series (more so than Beast Boy in fact with modern CGI) because she’s not human. She has orange skin, which the could have created using CGI, however, it would mean wherever she went people would stop and stare, and since it’s supposed to be set in the real world where there aren’t many aliens walking around, I can see why they didn’t go with that. The actress in the role Anna Diop fills the character with warmth, heart and compassion, and I think she did an amazing job, although the wardrobe they gave her initially, and in the trailer, was not a good choice, at all. It really gave out the wrong message.

The first series is also packed with a lot of cameos, and I mean A LOT. There is the potential for at least 3 spin off TV shows from this, and I know that one of them, Doom Patrol, has gone into production. In Titans we get to meet all of those characters for the first time, get a basic introduction to them and their powers, and then the story moves on. Lots of tie-ins to Batman and the city of Gotham, which is to be expected as part of the story explores Dick’s backstory. Overall I was able to put aside my issues about the changes that were made and I enjoyed it. Will definitely be tuning in for season 2.

The Punisher Season 2 – Given all of the faffing around behind the scenes between Marvel and Netflix this could be the last time we’ll see Jon Bernthal playing Frank Castle so I’ve mixed feelings. He’s the best version of Frank I’ve ever seen. The first series was perfect. Gritty, brutal and heart-breaking in equal measure. This season is trying to recapture that formula and although there are moments, it doesn’t reach the heights of the first season.

The acting is all spot on, but some of the storylines are jumbled, the pacing is off, it gets quite mixed up at times, and not in a good way, so Frank is bouncing around between things, juggling too much stuff, but it just doesn’t work. Some of the actors don’t have a lot to do except mope about, a lot. I understand this season is all about broken people and those kind of people don’t always make logical choices and deep-seated mental problems are not resolved overnight but even so, this is a TV show not a documentary and it’s an action show too, so some parts of this season were a bit repetitive which made them dull for me.

When Frank is unleashed the violence is explosive, difficult to watch and Bernthal is terrifying, as he should be in the role of Frank, a brutal force of nature. Some outstanding acting once again from a few people in the show. It’s worth watching but I don’t think this season reached the highs of season 1 by a good way. I hope there is a season 3 but I have massive doubts that will happen. I expect Netflix to announce the cancellation of The Punisher very soon and then Jessica Jones.