Category Archives: Writing

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.

 

 

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End of an Age

Just a quick update post to say that I’ve just sent off the amended proof for Magebane, book 3 in the Age of Dread trilogy. So that’s the end of the second Age in that world and, for now at least, the end of the story of those characters.

I started writing Battlemage many years ago, and even though it doesn’t seem like all that long in terms of when the books came out – as Battlemage was published in 2015 – it was back in maybe 2009 or 2010 that I started writing it, so it’s almost been a decade for me. I didn’t send it off to agents until 2013. At that time I was just another hopeful aspiring writer and it was just another book (book 7 or 8?) that I had written and was sending out to literary agents. Six books and a novella later, here I am. So, what have I learned since then?

Here’s my top 5 things I’ve learned about traditional publishing. This is just my perspective so others may disagree with some of this.

1. Traditional publishing is slow

By its nature, the business is fairly slow because there are a lot of moving parts. A book goes through a lot of different stages in the publishing machine before it pops out the other end on bookshelves as a finished thing.

Self publishing is a lot faster, but it requires that you spend a lot more time and energy on aspects of the book beyond writing it. At this stage I’d prefer to let others handle the bulk of that work, be it editing, marketing, coordinating with bookshops and suppliers. I am still involved in some stages (editing etc) but there are many parts of the process I know nothing about and am not consulted because I don’t need to be, such as storage, shipping, pricing etc. My job is to write the book so that’s what I am focusing on.

2. Traditional publishing is a mystery

There’s a lot more information online these days compared with when I started, but from talking to other writers trying to get that first book published, there’s still a lot they don’t know. Some of it is also contradictory which is scary and people are afraid to do the wrong thing in case it messes up their chances. From my perspective, there are many aspects of the business that I still know nothing about and others that I am still learning about, such as lending rights and overseas sales. Did you know every author in the UK and Ireland gets a few sheckles every time you borrow their book from a public library? I know, right!

My advice is, if you’re not sure, ask an agent or author. We’re all fairly approachable and with social media it’s so easy to get an answer before you press SEND. I asked an agent a few questions via twitter to clarify something before I sent off Battlemage. So it’s worth double checking.

3. First impressions matter

Related to number 2, people still ignore clear instructions. If you are sending a submission to an agent and their name is John, don’t call them Johnny, or Jo-Jo, or mate, or pal, or something witty and hilarious. That’s going to turn them off immediately, and even if you’ve seen other people call them that on social media, you don’t have a relationship with that person. Don’t assume. Be professional.  Also if they say send 3 chapters, don’t send 5, because that’s where the story really gets going!!!

Also, and here’s a really big one that I’ve seen a lot, if an agent is a woman, don’t address the person in your email as Mr Smith. Time and again I see aspiring writers shoot themselves in the foot. Agents get thousands of submissions every year. They will drop yours and move on to the next one if you can’t follow instructions. Don’t give them an excuse. If, for example, they request 5,000 and your first 3 chapters are 5,500 words long, then yes, by all means contact them to double check that kind of thing. Take the tine to read the guidelines and tailor each submission to suit their requirements. Be professional, don’t try to be funny or their mate. The best thing you can do is send them an awesome book that really gets them excited.

4.Be the best version of you not the best copy of (Author X)

Don’t claim to be the next JK Rowling, Terry Pratchett etc, or even worse, claim to be better than them. Maybe, perhaps, there’s a very very VERY slim chance you will be more successful than one of those authors, however, don’t say it in your submission letter to anyone. Ever.

Here’s the truth. The market is crowded. A lot of books are published every year. It’s a tough business. I’m not saying that to scare you but to make you aware of reality. Publishing is super weird because it’s a business, so they need to make money, but it’s also built on imagination, the creative meanderings of authors. So you need to keep that balance in your mind. Bring the best version of you to the table. A unique voice, created from your own personal experiences and your imagination. In time your work might be compared to various authors, and that’s fine, but you shouldn’t be trying to emulate others because you think it’s a winning formula. It’s the same as when people try to chase a trend. “I read 20 sparkly vampire novels last year, so he’s my vampire novel which is 100 times better than all of the other ones which were awful!” You may laugh, but I’ve seen this kind of thing. No, really, it still happens. So, focus on being you, not someone else.

5.Getting published is only the beginning

As I said the market is crowded. Getting noticed is difficult and even before that first book has been published your agent and publisher will want you to start work on the next book. I’m now writing my 7th novel since being published and at the same time as doing that I was editing book 6. Depending how fast the books are being published there will usually be an overlap. If you want writing to be a career then you need to produce a body of work and that means you’ve got to keep writing more books. Writing is definitely a marathon, both to produce a finished novel and to build a career. So, with that being said, I’d better get back to it. Any questions, just ask.

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All I want for Christmas….

Of Gods and Men novella…..is a review. Well, ok, I would like people to buy my books, but if you’ve done that already, then thank you. But if you have a bit more time then I would really appreciate it if you could leave a review on Amazon, and Goodreads (if you are on there), even the same one copy and pasted on both sites.

Now, I know there are lots of issues with Amazon, and it is not the only place to buy books, or the best for various reasons. I would always encourage people to buy first from their local bookshop or local/national chain (Waterstones here in the UK). However, a lot of people use Amazon to browse as it is easy and convenient, and cheap at times, but if you have an account on there you can still leave a review for any product. Why Amazon? And what difference will it make?

MagebaneWell, Amazon has complex algorithms I won’t even pretend to try and understand, but the bottom line from what I’ve been told is – the more reviews on there, the better. This means the books get picked  up and promoted, put on special deals, put on lists and so on. That means my books will get put in front of more potential readers. Even if you read the book a while ago it doesn’t matter. Amazon doesn’t ask when you read the book like Goodreads, so you can leave a review at any time.

Magefall_finalcover_StephenAryanThe other reason to leave a review is for the readers. People want to find out why you particularly liked a book. What was it that you enjoyed? Was it the characters? The action? The style of writing or the pace? The themes it explored? The blurb on a book can only tell you so much out of necessity to avoid spoilers and because of space, but readers can often talk about a book at length without spoiling every beat of the story.

A quick note, as I have had few people ask. Below is the list of all my books and my recommendation for the reading order, which isn’t what you might think.

Battlemage - Stephen Aryan

Age of Darkness trilogy

Battlemage

Of Gods and Men (digital/ audio novella)

Bloodmage

Chaosmage

Age of Dread trilogy

Mageborn

Magefall

Magebane (coming June 2019)

 

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Magefall – Time is weird

So, Magefall is published this week. Yeah, how did that happen so fast? On the one hand, it feels like 5 minutes since Mageborn was published. On the other hand it’s actually been nearly a year and thinking back over the last twelve months quite a lot has happened to me in that time. To quote Roy Batty “I’ve seen things….”

I never used to understand keeping a journal but now, as time goes on and the years tick by, I can see the appeal. It’s easy to forget about what you’ve actually done in a month or a year as your brain only picks out a handful of  highlights unless you really dig down and focus. I’ve taken to writing things in my calendar and occasionally I flick back through it to remind myself what’s happened, and to try and make time slow down a bit.

So my first novel, Battlemage, was published in 2015. Also, that feels like ages ago and, at the same time, just like yesterday. As a debut author with Orbit my first trilogy was on an accelerated release of 6 month gaps so we had Battlemage in 2015, then Bloodmage and Chaosmage in 2016. Mageborn came out in 2017 and now we’re here with Magefall in 2018 – plus I had a digital/audio novella, Of Gods and Men, come out in February this year. Mage 3 (no idea for a title yet) is already written and will be out next year in 2019. Currently I’m working on something new, which in theory would come out in 2020 or later.

So my head is constantly split between different time periods. I’m pondering about the past, trying to live in the present and am always thinking about the future. It was a lot worse when I was working on the first three books at the same time in different stages. All of this jumping around is confusing and sometimes it can give me a bit of a headache.

So, right now, this week, I’m going to celebrate Magefall being published, my 5th novel, which is available to buy in the US from here or in the UK from here and leave you with a shiny picture of the two books in this trilogy together. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Breaking all the rules

I’m currently working on my 7th novel (since being published – not including all the trunk novels) and something weird has happened. I’m breaking some of my own rules.

You have to write every day. You have to plan every book. You must not plan the story, let it flow organically. You need to set a daily word count. You should write to music. You should write in silence. Write in different places. Don’t have a set routine, be organic. Write in public. You absolutely have to get scrivener (or another program) in order to write. Use cards on a white board and plan stuff that way.

There is not one way to write a book. I need to make that clear because the most common questions I’m asked by writers trying to get an agent and then get published are focused on the above. Do I have to write a 100o words a day? Is it better to write in the morning or afternoon? Should I write with music? Should I work on more than one book at once?

Find your own way. Find what works for you. My way might not work for you. I’ve included a few conflicting statements above as I know some people who plan and some who write organically. Some who write in silence, some who need music. The following in my approach. It may not work for anyone else except me.

I always write at home, on Word, and nothing else. I plan my books, start, middle, end and milestones. The creative part comes in the leaps between milestones. I make notes in a notebook, on post it notes, on my phone, on scraps of paper, then write them up, and collect them together. I plan my stories. I always write with soundtrack music and can’t write with any music that has lyrics. I tend to write most days but am not rigid about taking a day off and I tend to set a daily word count for myself as I have deadlines. The word count keeps me moving, keeps me motivated and I constantly have one eye on the calendar. All of those are my rules and that’s what works for me. The music and being at home helps get my brain into a familiar space and off I go, sort of like muscle memory.

For my 7th novel, I’ve broken quite a few of my own rules. I found out when I started I couldn’t write with any kind of music. Nothing was working, which at first had me worried. So one day, after I’d revised my notes so many times I knew I had to actually write something I just tried it without any music. And suddenly it worked. The words started flowing. I had a new rhythm. I didn’t care why it was working only that it was working, so I continued. Months later I’m still writing this book without any music.

I’m tweaking my chapters. I never do this. When I sit down to write, I look back at what I’ve done on the previous day, I might tinker with the last paragraph or two, if it’s mid-chapter, or just glance at it if I am starting a new chapter. Then I move forward. Always forward so I finish a first draft and don’t get stuck in the endless cycle of trying to make it ‘perfect’. A first draft is never perfect. It’s always a mess. As Terry Pratchett said ‘A first draft is just you telling yourself the story’ and I absolutely believe that. The reworking comes later to make it flow and make it into more cohesive whole.

But this time I’m…tweaking things. Not to the point where I’m frozen and stop, but overnight, or when I’m away from the keyboard, I’m running conversations or bits of the previous day in my head, then I rush back and fix it that day, or first thing the next day. I’m still making good progress but this is very new and different. It might be because it is set in a new world, and I am still discovering it and the characters, but I also think it’s partially because this is a new style for me.

No music and polishing as I go. The first draft is still going to be rough, no doubt, but I’m happy with it so far. Ask me again in 6 months when I start to revise it and I will have a different answer, but it’s good to feel that way right now. I’m still planning and I have a skeleton plot which I’m following. I still set daily word counts and I still take a day off when I feel like it, especially if I’m tired or the well is getting a bit dry. A rest and complete break really can help me recharge the batteries.

So, somehow this time, it’s all new and different and fresh, despite it being my fifteen or sixteenth novel. I’ve honestly lost count at this point. But the important thing is it’s working and I will finish this first draft as planned. Stop worrying about how other people do it. Find what works for you and just finish the book.

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On Time Every Time

This post has been bubbling under for a while but it was brought to the forefront of my mind today by a tweet. Someone commented that they wait until the series of books is finished before picking them up in one go because they were shy about starting a series with an unpublished finish. Ok, there’s a lot to chew on there.

First, I’m not picking on this individual as I know it is an attitude shared by some SFF readers. However, it’s actually one that is damaging for writers. Myke Cole sums it up very succinctly here.

It really is that simple. I know binge watching is now common and binge reading is a thing too. There’s nothing wrong with either. So, one person posted a simple and elegant solution if binge-reading is your thing – Buy the books (or pre-order them) on the day they come out and then leave them on the shelf until the series is done. Then you can still binge read the whole lot in one go. There are drawbacks to this approach such as talking and engaging with other readers in the SFF community as the books come out, but I also realise that some SFF readers don’t get involved in conventions or social media. They just buy and read the books in their own time.

The second important point I wanted to raise is the vast majority of SFF published authors deliver their books on time, every time. Yes, there are a few very high profile, very celebrated authors who are behind on their deadlines (we all know who they are and the books in question) but everyone else just gets on with it and delivers their books. And no, this is not a dig at those authors either. The only issue is, some readers then assume that the rest of us will follow suit and it is just not true.

Here’s my current timeline of published books from Orbit :-

Battlemage – September 2015

Bloodmage – April 2016

Chaosmage – October 2016

Mageborn – October 2017

Magefall – September 2018

Mage3 – Sept/Oct 2019 (first draft is written)

Of Gods and Men (novella) – February 2018

That list is not there so I can pat myself on the back. Nor is it a pity party, because while it was difficult to work on the first trilogy of books at the same time, all of them at different stages so they could come out every 6 months, it was and is my dream job and something I’d wanted to do for decades. I also want to stress something because it is very important – writing is my job. This list is there to demonstrate I delivered the books on time, every time.

To that end, I’ve already handed in Mage3, and my deadline is December 2018. I’m now hard at work something new and different, which if all goes to plan, it will be published in 2020, or sooner, who knows. In theory, I could finish the first draft of the brand new book by the end of this year. It’s possible. Again, this is not here for people to pat me on the back. I love writing books. Yes, sometimes the process is difficult and challenging and I’ve written about that in previous blog posts. This isn’t about that. If I don’t hand in the books I don’t get paid and as I’ve said, writing is my job.

How you can help

The bottom line is if you like an author and want to support them – buy their books when they come out (from your local bookshop if possible). If you want to do more, then tell someone else about the book and the author. Word of mouth and personal recommendation from friends are very powerful. Shout about a book on social media if you loved it. If you want to go one step further, write a review and post it somewhere online. Goodreads and Amazon if possible because that will help other people find the books. Even if you didn’t buy the book from Amazon, it is the first port of call for a lot of people and reviews on there matter. Lots of people now have book blogs and vlogs on YouTube. Talking about books on there is another great way to spread the word.

Buy the books. Don’t wait.

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That’s a wrap….for now

The first draft of Mage3 (currently untitled), the third book in the Age of Dread trilogy, has now gone off to my editors at Orbit. So that’s it, I’m done….for the time being at least. In a few months’ time the next round of hard work will begin with edits and so on, but for now, I’m finished.

Looking back I think it will be about 10 years since I first sat down and started writing the first draft of Battlemage. I worked on that book for about 3 years on and off before I finally thought it was ready to submit to an agent. After that there was more work on it with my agent and then the publisher, and then I started work on the subsequent books in the first trilogy, the second trilogy and the novella.

I hate how everything is now ‘a journey’ and I’m not going to say I’ve been on one but these last 5 years in particular have been very interesting. Whenever you enter a new industry there’s always a lot to learn. In my case there was the perception of publishing from an outsider’s view and then I discovered the reality once I sat down with people like my agent, my editor and so on. It’s been eye-opening and thought provoking experience, that’s for sure.

Over the last few years I’ve definitely learned a lot from professionals in the industry but also from other writers. Those who have been in the business longer than me and have more books on the shelves. People have been happy to share their experiences and although everyone’s is unique to some degree there are patterns you can learn from.

When I started trying to get published (many years ago) self publishing was purely a phrase that meant vanity press. Now it’s transformed into something totally different. Many people prefer self publishing. Some have moved from self publishing to more traditional publishing and I know of a few authors who have gone the other way, preferring more freedom and control over all aspects of the process. I also know of a few hybrid authors who do a bit of both. So the landscape has changed dramatically in the last ten years, especially with the growth of ebooks and the internet.

So what’s next? I’ve already got some ideas, but I need to sit down to discuss them with my agent before being able to share any news. I can say that whatever I do next it will not be set in the same world. It will be something different and fresh in a new world. I need a change. That’s not to say I won’t ever come back to the same world, just not right now. I have two very distinct options at the moment but I need to mull them over and talk them through before deciding.

So at the moment I’m having a little bit of a break, I’m going to put my feet up, catch up on all the TV I’ve missed, maybe see a few films and then get back to work. So watch this space for any news!

 

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Crash Landing – New Podcast

As you may be aware, maybe not, as well as writing novels and comics, I am also a podcaster.

Grouchy Old Geeks
IGrouchy Old Geeks‘ve been podcasting 11 years this July with my co-host Scott Grandison. It started out as Comic Book Outsiders but then morphed into Grouchy Old Geeks (as we both drift closer to middle age), where once a month we talk about comics, movies, TV, games and whatever else takes our fancy.

Bags of Action
Bags of ActionI also podcast with Pete Rogers (with whom I co-write comics) where once a month on Bags of Action we talk about an action movie that we’ve both watched in the previous weeks. We love classic action movies but we also dig into some of the modern blockbusters that have really surprised us.

Crash Landing
Crash Landing LogoToday sees the launch of a new podcast, Crash Landing. This one is more focused on books and fiction. It’s just me, talking to a guest, about 5 books that they couldn’t live without if they were being crash landed onto an alien world. So these are not necessarily their favourite books (although for some guests they are one and the same), they are books that are powerful, special and important to them and each episode I find out why. I love talking to other writers about process, their approach and their work, but often at gatherings with crowds there isn’t the time, space or sometimes just the inclination to talk in depth on these topics. Also at conventions when you get a group of writers on a panel you have to be considerate for the other and not just talk non-stop for an hour.

So this podcast gives me a chance to have a more detailed conversation with writers, one on one, about the books that shaped them and still hold special meaning to them. It’s always fascinating to hear a person’s choice and then see how it has influenced their own work and the direction of their life.

As ever, if you would like to support any of these podcasts, or others on the Geek Syndicate network, I would really appreciate it if you became a Patron via Patreon.

All podcasts are available for free on iTunes or via the Geek Syndicate website

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Les Imaginales Festival

I am delighted to be able to announce that this May, from 24-27th, I will be attending my first convention overseas, Les Imaginales in Epinal, France.

Les ImaginalesAs well as a host of European authors there are 5 British authors attending (RJ Barker, Ed McDonald, Al Robertson, Christopher Priest and me) and 5 American authors (Marie Brennan, Ellen Kushner, Nnedi Okorafor, Delia Sherman and Robin Hobb).

I am very excited to be attending this event for so many reasons, not least of all the amazing company I will be keeping. I’m going to really struggle not to fanboy over Robin Hobb but I’ve had a few months to prepare myself. I only started reading her work in the last few years. I was aware of her for a long time but as ever it was a matter of only so many hours in the day and too many books but I was determined to fill in that gap in my reading history. After racing through the first Assassins trilogy I’m now taking my time with the Liveship Traders trilogy.

Last year I visited France for the first time ever and the offices of my French publisher, Bragelonne in Paris, where I was awarded the first Hellfest Inferno prize for Battlemage. I had an amazing visit and everyone was so nice so I’m really looking forward to catching up with people.

Also from talking to other authors who’ve attended in previous years they’ve told me how wonderful a time they had at the festival. All of which adds up to me sitting on my suitcase as I can’t wait to go and meet French fantasy readers at the event!

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Stuff this week

Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men novellaThe new digital and audio novella has now been published!!!!!

Of Gods and Men is a prequel to the entire series so far, it is set before the events of Battlemage, so if you’re brand new you can read it as an intro to my style of writing and the whole world. If you’re an existing reader then it gives more info on a favourite character that people often ask me about, Vargus, and it has easter eggs that feed into the second trilogy. It’s available on Amazon UK, and Amazon US, with links from there to the audio Audible version.

Reddit Fantasy AMA

REDDIT LOGOI’m doing an AMA tomorrow on Thursday 7th February. What’s an AMA? Well, it’s an Ask Me Anything thread where fantasy fans can log on and ask any question they like about the books, characters, my writing technique, publishing, my hobbies, computer games, my favourite cheese, pretty much anything really. For about 24 hours I will periodically log on and answer all questions on there.

Reddit is free to join and free to use if you’re not already on there. And the Fantasy section is where fans, and many authors, gather to geek out about all things fantasy related, be it books, TV, films, games or whatever.

 

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