King Khan making books reading: King Khan the boy words
by Harry Connolly
The day when everyone, supposedly, starts their holiday shopping online. Try not to be surprised by what I write next:
The short version is that it’s the pulp adventure game tie-in I wrote. If you’re reading this on my blog, the cover is just to your right at the top of the sidebar. If not, click through that link: it’s full of pulp adventure nonsense like shrinking beams, infra-purple light, Aztec mummies, and a certain giant ape movie from 1933. Fun!
If you already have that one, don’t forget that I have a page full of books for kids recommended by my own son. Nothing in that list is there because I thought it should go there; everyone got the thumbs up from the incredibly fussy kid who sleeps down the hall from me. As they used to say: Kid-tested, kid-approved.
What’s more, there are new entries on the list. Check it out.
But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t! Go to town, have fun with it, and if it seems that 50K is a lot of words to write in a month, use this as an opportunity to stretch your boundaries. Some writers do that much in a week, and if you want to be more prolific, you can work on that.
I’ve written about NaNoWriMo before; if you want to read my thoughts on it (and links to other people’s thoughts that I think are worth looking at), please do.
making books reading: beautiful moi? publishing words
by Harry Connolly
Nick Mamatas is an author and editor known mostly for writing unusual books and being acerbic online. I enjoy his writing (even if it can be a little didactic at times) but haven’t been able to keep up with everything he’s written.
With his latest book, he breaks away from sf/f and moves to mystery (a genre I really love) and the book sounds terrific. Let me do that Amazon link thing:
The protagonist is a teenage punk in 1989 Long Island who has “crafted an outsider’s life combining the philosophies of Communism and Aleister Crowley’s black magic.” When her friend and mentor is found shot to death, she’s convinced that there’s more to it than simple suicide.
Not exactly your typical homicide detective with a dying wife, and it got a helluva review on NPR. You can click the cover image above if you want to buy it.
But I’m not writing this to push a book I haven’t read yet. That’s all just context for this:
Let’s talk about marketing. Marketing isn’t a science, nor is it an art. It’s basically a series of stories marketers tell themselves. One story marketers tell themselves that is that there are four “Ps” to marketing. They are product, place, price, and promotion. As marketing for books is of great concern on the Internet these days, thanks to ebooks and self-publishing, it might be worth looking at Love is the Law based on these four Ps. First thing to realize: authors really have very little control over product marketing. Publicity, on the other hand, yeah, that we can do. Publicity is all about getting to know me, and if you’re here, you do. But marketing and those four Ps, that’s largely up to the publisher. So how has the publisher been doing?
Yeah, the marketing for his new release is going wonky in interesting (I can call it that since it isn’t happening to me) ways, and it’s instructive to read about. It’s also pretty painful, since the book sounds like it would be unusual and compelling but might fade all too quickly just to become another entry in the author’s backlist waiting for a new book to hit the market in a big way.
Still, it’s not as though the book is doomed. As Nick says in his post, there’s still word of mouth, and there’s no force more powerful in bookselling once a critical mass of enthusiastic readers sharing a book they love. Every author depends on their readers in that way.
Anyway, out of habit I put a request into my library to pick up a copy for me (I should have linked to that NPR review for them) but since I might be coming into a wee bit of money soon, I’ll ask the local bookshop to order one for me.
Are you a reader who writes reviews on your blog? Or maybe Goodreads? Or somewhere else?
Well, you can get an early copy of KING KHAN just for the asking, and when you do, you’ll also get a copy of Stephen Blackmoore’s KHAN OF MARS, the prequel to mine. That’s two books about the adventures of a fussy Oxford professor who’s also a gorilla.
All you have to do is sign up at the publisher’s site before September 30th. They’ll pick 15 names from the people who contact them, and send out both books.
You guys know Stephen Blackmoore’s work, right? His debut novel was one of Kirkus’s “Best of 2012.”
Free books, you guys. Check it out.
I know I keep promising to talk about the stretch goals for this, but I just need a little more time to nail things down.
Hey, it’s just about time for Pat Rothfuss’s Worldbuilder fundraising to begin again, and if you’re like me, you like the idea of little kids having food and families taking care of their own. Not Facebook “like” but actual like.
Well, as the first volley in this year’s drive, Barnes & Noble is holding a bookfair to benefit the charity. When you buy any book (not just mine!) at any B&N (even online) and use the right Bookfair code (11162161) Worldbuilders will get part of that money. If you’d like to have a piece of paper to carry into the story with you, there’s a printable here (pdf).
We’re not talking about a small piece, either. Worldbuilders will get 10% of each sale, unless they go over $10K: then they get 20%.
Does that sound good to you? It sounds good to me. The bookfair lasts until September 2nd in physical stores and until September 7th if you order online.
You know how some parents are always talking about what prodigious readers their are? “My little eight year old just loved 100 Years Of Solitude! Now she’s moved on to Russian poetry, but that’s fine. She’s entitled to her beach reads.” What books their kids read and how many they consume are like ornaments for their parents.
My kid, he’s not like that.
He’s fussy, easily-bored, and emits a high, uncanny keening when forced to read something against his will. That noise isn’t a whine; it goes beyond whining into a kind of shared pain that only parents truly understand. He doesn’t impress people with his books. He just enjoys them.
So we often have people ask us what he reads. I’m guessing they think that, being the son of a writer, he will walk away from a Minecraft session of his own volition for his love of books.
Nope. He wants books that are fun, funny, and fast-paced. So when people ask what sorts of books we recommend for their own reluctant readers, those are the books we recommend.
Anyway, to make things easier on us, I’ve put together a page called “Kid Reads” which contains lists of books he really enjoyed.
Check it out.
The insides are even prettier, but you’ll have to buy a copy to see those. You can pre-order it now from:
Or, you can win one of the copies in that box. I’ll be holding a giveaway AFTER Stephen Blackmoore’s Khan novel comes out in August. (King Khan is a standalone sequel to his Khan of Mars.) Of course, you can order his book too: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
In case you don’t know Stephen’s work, his debut urban fantasy novel City of Lost Things was one of Kirkus’s Best of 2012. Recommended!
My first instinct is to tell them ask someone successful. For serious, it seems odd to ask for tips from Goofus when there are so many Gallants out there. But they write anyway, because they liked my books and they think I might have something useful to say. It’s extraordinarily flattering and I owe those people the respect of my best answer, whatever it’s worth.
So, with the permission of the person who emailed the questions below, I’m going to post the questions and do my best to answer them. Hopefully it’ll be informative to some of the ones of visitors my blog gets every day.
I have many ideas and have filled many notebooks about what I want to write. I am having difficulty, however, with the start up. How did you decide to do a first person versus a third person perspective? I know where I want my story to start, end, and what goes on in the middle, but still have problems constructing a full sequence. Did you create that first, or was it a flow of writing? If you created it, how did you go about that? I am also struggling with the time issue. As the father of 2 toddlers, my time gets drained fast. Do you have any tips for a writer that can only get 1-2 hours (usually 1) of dedicated writing time in a given day? If you have any advice to give to someone starting out, I would greatly appreciate it.
There’s a lot there so I’m going to break it up to address the questions with a little depth.
I have many ideas and have filled many notebooks about what I want to write. I am having difficulty, however, with the start up. How did you decide to do a first person versus a third person perspective?
Choosing between first and third (or second, or omni, or…) is a pretty big topic. The best way to address it quickly would be to cover a few basic points:
What’s traditional for the genre? (Embedded in this question: What do readers expect?)
What differing tools do each POV provide you?
How close do you want the readers to get to the characters?
The first question is pretty straightforward: grab a bunch of books from your shelf like the ones you’re writing, and see how it’s done. Boom.
The second question is more complicated, but the simplest summation I could give is this: Third person lends itself to multiple viewpoints in a way that first doesn’t. Multiple first novels never seem to work all that well for me. First person lends itself to POV character as expert stories: the detective who knows his way around the local criminal element is the classic example. First lets you skip the audience stand-in character who has everything explained to them (for the audience’s benefit) because that POV lets the character talk directly to the reader.
That’s not an exhaustive list of the differences between them by any means, but it’s a start.
The last question is where my advice seems to contradict what others think: IMO, first person POV is not as “close” as third (limited), because the POV character is describing things in their own words. In third, you’re like one of the angels in WINGS OF DESIRE, the character’s invisible buddy. In first, you’re only getting what the character wants to share.
I know where I want my story to start, end, and what goes on in the middle, but still have problems constructing a full sequence. Did you create that first, or was it a flow of writing? If you created it, how did you go about that?
This isn’t something I can address specifically because it’s so general and I haven’t read any the specific work, however I would suggest that, if you have the beginning, middle, and end but can’t connect them, you don’t really have a middle and an end yet.
A lot of people think beginnings are the easiest part. Some people hate endings. Most of the world hates doing the middle (except me–middles are cool by me). However if they don’t work together there’s only one thing you can do: throw something out.
Sometimes you’ll have a story idea for a specific character and the plot events will be based on that character. Sometimes you have a specific plot and create a character to serve it. Sometimes the plot and character create each other in a way that feels (to me) like leapfrogging.
So if the parts of a story don’t fit each other, you either need to toss the character and introduce a new one or you need a new middle and end. As far as I’m concerned, neither choice is necessarily better than the other; it’s your art and it should serve your sensibilities. All that matters is the final result.
Personally, I tend to outline the beginning and middle of the book, then start writing. It’s an act of trust for me to believe that the story elements that emerge from the creation of the book will provide an ending. So, I’m both an outliner and a non-outliner.
That won’t work for everyone, obviously, and the only way to find your best method is to try different things. Just remember that, when you outline, you’re creating a first draft. It’s a very abbreviated first draft, but it follows the same logic as any other story: don’t put in what you want it to do, but what makes sense for the characters. It’s about what they want, what resources they can bring to bear on their problems, their moral/physical/emotional limitations, and who they interact with. That’s what directs the story.
One last consideration is that many readers buy the book for the characters’ emotional journeys. They want to see them change, and to see their screwed-up relationships change, too. When you’re putting together the sequence, as you call it, pay attention to that at least as much as you pay attention to the plot logic.
I am also struggling with the time issue. As the father of 2 toddlers, my time gets drained fast. Do you have any tips for a writer that can only get 1-2 hours (usually 1) of dedicated writing time in a given day? If you have any advice to give to someone starting out, I would greatly appreciate it.
I wrote CHILD OF FIRE an hour or two every day. It’s doable. In my post called Ten Things Writers Shouldn’t Do, I talked about coming to the page cold. Try not to. You’ll make the best use of your limited writing time if you already know what you’re supposed to be writing that day when you sit down to do it.
So, one to two hours a day isn’t bad, especially if you’re the sort of person who can really buckle down for that limited amount of time because it’s so limited, if you know what I mean.
However, I have to add this: toddlers steal your time. That’s their job. They are tiny unformed people who rely on their parents and other loving adults to form them, and these early years are incredibly important. If there’s any reason at all that could justify skipping a writing day, tiny kids are it. So, be flexible about your time, at least for the toddler years. Later it will be important for kids to see their parents take time for themselves, but right now sacrifices are the order of the day. If it gets too hard, tell yourself that it gets easier as the kids get older (which is true).
Remember also the advantage that men have over women in these situations. When a father takes time away from his kids to work, he’s making a regrettable sacrifice for his career. When a mother does it, she’s a bad person. The double-standard around being a writing parent is an ugly thing, and I’ve known a lot of people who went through a divorce (or came scarily close to one) during the toddler years. The main reason: Dads leaned too hard on moms to do all the parenting while they took care of everything else (including themselves and their own ambitions) and the moms go nuts because they spent all their time with tiny dumb irrational people.
So, while it’s important to protect your writing time from outsiders who want you to spend it on them, be sure to protect your family time from your writing ambitions, and make things as easy on your kids’ mom as you can.
One thing I’ll add that wasn’t addressed in a question: It’s important to develop a feel for narrative. Call it skill, call it taste, call it talent, but the most important ability you can develop is the trick to understanding the effect your written words will have.
That comes from developing a feel for things, and that comes from studying other people’s work, retyping it, and revising your own stuff with a fresh eye. Writers need to be able to feel (accurately) the effect their words will have, and that means honing those senses and paying close attention to them.
Tim Pratt posted a letter he sent to a writer who wanted to be published by a big New York publisher and it’s full of great advice. If you’re looking for advice on becoming a pro (or you’re just generally interested in that sort of thing) you should give it a read. It’s good stuff.
I would add a few things, though. First, if you’re looking to find out who is the agent for a specific writer, I find it’s much easier to just Google Specific Writer agent before I try searching their websites or acknowledgements in their books. If you Google Tim Pratt agent, you find his agent’s name right in the previews on the Google search page. If you do the same for me, you have to click through, but it’s the work of a few seconds. Super easy.
Second, rather than pay Publisher’s Lunch, I’d drop by the database of Agentquery. You can click the checkbox for one (or more) genres, then do a search (recommended: Put a “not important” in “Actively seeking new clients”), and you’ll get dozens of names of legit agents.
Sadly, it will be in no damn order at all, as far as I can tell. However, it’s easy enough to copy pasta their data into a spread sheet, then sort it by, for example, the agency where they work. It’s boring work but it’s damn easy to do.
Agentquery is also kind enough to link to agency websites. Info on their own site trumps anything you might find on other websites, such as whether they’re currently accepting queries (that’s why I suggested “not important” above).
After that, it’s a good idea to plug the agent’s name into the “Search This Forum” box at Absolute Write’s Background Check board, just in case they’re clueless or a scam.
A further bit of advice: if you’re making a list of agents and you decide you don’t want to submit to one (let’s say you are querying a science fiction novel right now but plan an epic fantasy series in the future, and discover a great agent with no interest in fantasy) it’s best to change the text of the agent’s information to a nice bright color like red rather than delete them outright. The reason is that this can be very time-consuming, and you don’t want to waste hours or minutes researching an agent you’ve already decided against once.
And that’s all. Good luck. #SFWApro
The Public Insight Network has posted a comic called Moral Injury, Beyond PTSD (well, they’re calling it an “illustrated story” but so what). It’s incredibly powerful stuff and I recommend everyone read it. I’d originally planned to drop it into a Randomness post, but it felt too big for that.
Seriously, you’ll want to read that.
I’ve seen this sort of thing addressed in fantasy before, but not in a way that satisfies me. Not in a way that breaks out of the hero/villain paradigm.
Part of it, I think, is the incredibly powerful appeal of the dehumanized enemy and the heroic capable figure. Is Aragorn supposed to have nightmares about all the orcs he’s killed? Is he supposed to change his most basic self-concept after all that killing? Frodo returns from his adventure a ruined man who can no longer live in his own community, but that’s due to the proximity to and temptation of the power of evil. It’s not because he recognizes that he did evil to an enemy that was very like him.
I’m also revisiting Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (by watching the dvds). The whole thing plays like a parody of the superhero genre written by someone who wants to call out its most fascist aspects. And yet, even while I’m disgusted by, for example, Miller’s contempt for peaceful protest, I’m also feeling the powerful pull of the narrative of justified violence.
It’s incredibly affecting and entirely artificial. Reading that comic I linked to above makes me a little ashamed of it. #SFWApro
making books The outside world: a blessing of monsters people progress words
by Harry Connolly
Yes, it’s the solstice, and yes, I’ve signed up for the Clarion West Write-a-thon.
That link above will take you directly to my pledge page, but if you want more information, here goes.
Clarion West is a famous writing workshop in Seattle.
For nearly 30 years, Clarion West has been run for six weeks during the summer. As you might guess, it spun off from an older workshop with the same format in Michigan (I think) called simply “Clarion”. It’s taught by five writers and one editor, each trading off for a week, and writers come from all over to attend. They quit jobs, end relationships, lose apartments, and generally uproot their lives to spend a month and a half sequestered away from the world working on their fiction.
I’m not a graduate. I applied once in the 90′s but was turned down. However, the list of graduates is sure to include authors you love.
Clarion West has a reading series.
This is how I know the workshop. As part of the fundraising efforts, the workshop runs a reading series. It was the first place I ever heard a writer read, way back in the early 90′s (back when they held them in the basement of Elliott Bay Books), and it helped me find some terrific writers.
This year’s instructors are: Elizabeth Hand, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Margo Lanagan, Samuel R. Delany, and Ellen Datlow. Too bad I have a kid or I would definitely be busing across town for these.
Clarion West still needs support.
Times are tough for everyone, including non-profits. To help raise money, CW is holding a “Write-a-thon” in which people pledge to
walk a certain distance write a certain amount of words while the workshop runs.
Me, I’m hoping to wrap up the first draft of THE GREAT WAY in that time, so any pledges in my name will be considered serious and for real motivation.
Hey, it’s a good organization and a good cause. If you can bear to make a pledge, please do. #SFWApro
When people are calling me an asshole or a “tradpub defender” who’s simultaneously terrified of the future and incredibly lucky because I’m inside, I can’t help but laugh aloud. Seriously, I bust out laughing at my computer.
Why? Because writers are not on the inside. You write a book –> Someone likes it enough to offer you a contract –> You fill the contract –> If both parties want to, you get another offer.
That’s it. Writers aren’t insiders, they’re visitors. They’re free agents. Some are in great demand. Most are not. From the outside it might look like they’re insiders, but I’ve learned that ain’t so.
The point is (and we’re ignoring the odd stuff like celebrity books and such), the only difference between a writer who gets that pseudo-inside status and the one that did not is that the former wrote a book a publisher wanted to publish. That’s it. The so-called gatekeepers aren’t there to keep you out. They’re there to let you in once you have a book that meets their needs. They’re searching for your work.
But that doesn’t make you an insider. You’re still on the outside, proving your worth over and over again, every time you write a book. #SFWApro
making books The outside world: a blessing of monsters people publishing words
by Harry Connolly
Author Kameron Hurley
is procrastinating on her novel has written another interesting blog post, this one called UNPACKING THE “REAL WRITERS HAVE TALENT” MYTH. She makes a few points that are similar to ones I made in a previous post about talent and hard work, Teaching Writers To Be Talented, but she comes at it from a different perspective.
I especially like the way she emphasizes study as much as hard work. Sure, a writer can create page after page of prose, but unless there’s a continuous struggle to separate what works from what doesn’t, and unless there’s an open-minded willingness to study the form in depth, all that hard work may not mean actual improvement.
Yeah, it’s nice to have “talent”, whatever that is. I mean, I talk about talent in that old post I just linked to, but I’m surprised to see that I never used the term black box to describe it.
People call others “talented” based on what they create, but you can never really know the process that lead to that final creation. Was it a “natural gift”? Did they study the craft for years? Were they working in a parallel field then carried a few lessons over? Did they grow up in a home rich with language?
Even if you were to ask the author directly, you could never be sure their answer is accurate, not when writers say things like “I didn’t have talent. I had hard work.” and “I just sat down to write a book and a publisher picked it up!” People have a tendency to overlook important factors like years of fanfic/journal writing, or even something as simple as a house full of books.
Hurley’s post is worth reading, not least because she gives hard concrete examples of the way she learned. “Blindly groping along” I think is the way she put it, which covers so many of us.
To take this even further, consider artist Molly Crabapple’s post Filthy Lucre:
Meritocracy is America’s foundational myth. If you work hard, society tells us, you’ll earn your place in the middle class. But any strawberry picker knows hard work alone is a fast road to nowhere. Similarly, we place our faith in education. Study, and the upper-middle class will be yours. Except the average student graduates $35,000 in debt.
Artists too have their myths. The lies told to artists mirror the lies told to women. Be good enough, be pretty enough, and that guy or gallery will sweep you off your feet, to the picket-fenced land of generous collectors and two and a half kids. But, make the first move, seize your destiny, and you’re a whore.
But neither hard work nor talent nor education are passports to success. At best, they’re small bits of the puzzle.
It’s easy to ignore luck, privilege, and bloody social climbing when you stand onstage in a pair of combat boots. It’s easy to say that if people are just good enough, work hard enough, ask enough, believe enough, they will be [successful].
She’s coming at things from the fine arts, so her concerns are somewhat different. She needs funds to create her artwork, while for writers the main constraint is time. Time to read, research, write, and revise. Time to make the work and do it without interruption. For me and most writers I know, the major limitations on our time come from the paying work we must do to support ourselves and our families, and the time we have to spend caring for our loved ones (addendum: we need loved ones; being lonely can kill you).
Even with talent and hard work, there’s always a chance of failure. Money helps. Luck helps. Lots of free time helps. Supportive people help. Success comes from a mix of some or all of those things, and the more of them you have the better.
However, just to re-emphasize the point:
Hard work + self-awareness + perseverance = MAYBE
That’s a quote from Scott Lynch’s post from today. It’s another long one, but again worth reading.
The big takeaway is that, you have to work hard, you have to be lucky, you have to stick it out, but even if you do everything “right” there are still no guarantees.
Speaking of which, if you’ve read this far you’re entitled to a little news. Here it is:
THE WAY INTO CHAOS, aka A Blessing of Monsters, aka Epic Fantasy With No Dull Parts, has gone the rounds of New York publishes and found no takers. The very last rejection came this morning, which is why I dredged up this post from the pile of unfinished ones in my dashboard.
The reasons giving in those rejections are interesting if not instructive. Today’s pointed out that the current market favors fantasy that’s very dark, while TWIC is not. (So much for being ahead of the curve).
In any event, yes, I will have to finish the book, then self-publish it (with some crowd-sourced help to pay for editing and cover art). That’s some weeks away still, but damn.
There are no guarantees.
As a followup to yesterday’s post about our bias toward survivors, skill, luck, and the creating of luck, I wanted to make one little note here about how wrong I’ve been on one aspect of book marketing.
It’s often said that publicists and marketers will do all sorts of things to get the word out about a particular book, but they know that 90% of it will be wasted effort–they just don’t know which will be in the 90%, so they do it all.
For me and a lot of other people, I suspect, this sounds like a poorly-researched, poorly-planned activity. How can you not know what works and what doesn’t? Why not just find out what’s effective? Do polling/market research/whatever to answer questions like: Do book reviews in Locus sell copies? Do convention appearances? Do radio interviews?
Obviously, this wouldn’t be easy but it sounds doable. What’s more, there’s money on the line and if there’s one thing that begs for careful research into the acquiring of it, it’s money.
But that’s because I hadn’t really thought about it correctly. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, people who are lucky tend to put themselves into new situations often. They’re flexible. They don’t try to control situations. They try new things.
Yesterday, while I was mulling over the prospect that it was my own damn choices that made the Twenty Palaces books so unlucky, it dawned on me that the whole point of “90% is wasted effort” is that it’s luck-seeking behavior. It’s putting information out into the world hoping that it starts catching people’s attention in a big way. People will say things like “I took out an ad on Reddit Fantasy” or “I did a guest post for [Name Author]” or “I got a nice review on [Non-Book Site]” but that’s a kind of suvivorship bias, too. The book was marketed and publicized in a lot of ways, but those were the times that luck hit.
Maybe that’s obvious to everyone in the world but me, but this is my blog, so…
Here I’ve been thinking that most marketing is Not Useful. Maybe I should rethink.