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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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?

 

 

 

 

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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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2019 Events

It’s almost Christmas but I’ve already been busy planning a number events for 2019. The first I will be taking part in is a new one for me, the Wolverhampton Literature Festival.

It runs from Friday 1st to Sunday 3rd February at a number of  different venues around the city. The full PDF programme of events will be posted shortly but in the meantime you can peruse the website to find a brief summary. This is the first year they’ve done any SFF talks at the event so I was pleased to be able to bring it to the festival.

On Saturday 2nd February from 1.15-2.15pm Anna Stephen  and Gemma Todd will be hosting a panel on How to Find a Literary Agent as they share their stories and experiences with attendees. More info on the time, location and how to get tickets is available here. Tickets go on sale Monday 10th December.

On Sunday 3rd February at 4.30-5.30pm is a panel called Writing the Fantastic. I will be hosting this event with Anna and Gemma. We’ll be talking about why we write fantasy, our inspirations, what we love about the genre and how it allows us to talk about the real world. More information on the location and how to get tickets is available here.

I hope to see you there!

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Magebane Cover Reveal

MagebaneThe word is out. The final book in the Age of Dread trilogy is called – Magebane. This is the big one. It wraps up everything. Six books and a novella worth of story and characters. That’s not to say every little thing is tied down and sorted, but I had to make sure a lot of it was squared away.

As a result the book is currently longer than the others and I think it’s my longest so far. We’ll see when it gets to the final cut. I’m currently working on the copy edits as I write this.

In theory, I may never return to this world, so there was a lot to get sorted. Never say never, but right now, I’m done with stories told in this world and moving on to something new. I may return in the future but that depends on a number of different factors beyond my control.

So, because I’m ahead of schedule on my deadlines Magebane is going to be published in June 2019. That’s right, you lucky people, you don’t even have to wait a year for the next book! I’m really spoiling you.

Below is a link to the Orbit books blog post with a bit more info of what to expect and a bigger version of the cover.

Orbit blog post COVER REVEAL

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November update

A quick update on everything.

Book 6  – This now has a title for those with eagle eyes on Amazon, and a release date next summer. I sent back a second draft to my editor about two weeks ago and like a rubber ball it’s going to be coming back to me very soon from the copy editor. I’ve got two and a bit weeks to turn that around and then I should, in theory, be ok until the new year to focus on new stuff.

New book – I’m making steady headway on the first draft. Parts of it have morphed as I’ve gone along, surprising me at times, but the overall shape of the story has remained intact. It’s different to what I’ve done before. There’s also not even a sniff of a mage or a wizard anywhere. Although I can say it’s still fantasy. I had hoped to get the first draft done by Christmas but it seems unlikely now with book 6 edits come back again so soon. However I should be able to finish off a first draft early in the new year.

British Fantasy Society – I wrote a piece about finding an agent for the BFS. For those who are members it appeared in their Summer 2018 Focus magazine.

New Interview – To celebrate the publication of Magefall and because it had been a while, I recently did a podcast interview with Hank Garner on the Author Stories Podcast. Hank has interviewed hundreds of writers across a range of genres, including some really big names in fantasy and SF. You can find the podcast on iTunes as well as my episode here

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Other Worlds Event – Sat 6th October

Just a quick post to serve as a reminder that next Saturday, 6th October in Nottingham, I will be taking part in the Other Worlds event at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio.

This is a full day of panels and workshops. The schedule and more information about the event is available on the website here, as well as how to buy tickets for the day.

I’m going to be there from mid-morning and I’m doing a couple of panels and a workshop on Fantasy Worldbuilding, with a special subtitle – Consider the Potato. All will be revealed about what the heck I’m talking about in the workshop which is going to be interactive and hopefully a lot of fun. All you need is a pen and an imagination!

Click here for more information about the event and to book your tickets

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