Following yesterday’s big news that Amazon is purchasing Goodreads outright, there’s been a lot of confusion, angst and concern on the interwebs. Or basically, WHAT DOES IT ALL MEEEEEEEEAN?! David Gaughran has some thoughts. Nutshell: calm down, folks. It’s probably gonna be fine.

David Gaughran

ammygrThe doom-mongers have been running wild on Twitter with the news that Amazon is to acquire Goodreads. Much of that nonsense is typical (hysterical) Amazon bashing, or reflexive defense of the status quo.

I’m not going to deal with the Chicken Little stuff. I have less and less patience with people who claim that Amazon has or is striving for some kind of evil monopoly that will subjugate authors and readers when all the evidence to date is that they will treat authors better than any publisher and provide readers with cheaper books, a bigger selection, and a better customer experience than any other retailer.

There are some more reasonable fears about what this purchase entails. I would like to deal with these in turn, then discuss how I think this acquisition will be beneficial to writers – particularly self-publishers. I respect the fact that this is a hot-button…

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…And Back to Normal

Just a quick update as promised: it looks like the sales bump from Book of the Day ad has now ended. The final tally was eighty-two sales on the day of the ad, twenty-two the day after, and just the one today. 105 total, which is 30 more than I needed to break even. Yay!

Here’s hoping a few more readers take the plunge over the next few days and grab a copy while Ascension Point loiters near the top of the Amazon Space Opera bestseller list, and that I get a nice big tranche of new customer reviews from all of these lovely sales. All in all, well worth it.

Edit The Second One, Sell The First One: Rinse, Repeat, Profit

Bit of a status update, this post. My wonderful editor–Misti from RedAdept–finished her initial edit of Venus Rising at the end of last week, and we had our edit kickoff call this Tuesday. Some of you might remember this post from the same point during the writing of Ascension Point. Highlights included an hour and a half on the phone to talk through all of the things that needed fixing, and a mammoth 619 comments from Misti on my first draft, as well as all of the inline edits she’d suggested. This time?

Twenty five minutes on the phone. 90 comments on the draft. (Fewer than on the first chapter alone of that draft of Ascension Point.)

So, yeah–it certainly seems like I’m improving as a writer. Hurrah! I’d thought so, but it’s nice to have something approaching quantitative evidence.

Anyway. Lovely wife is away at a conference this week, giving me a certain amount of spare time to fill. There are only so many back episodes of Chuck that I can watch in one evening, so I spent quite a lot of time on my edits, and sent Misti a new draft last night. It’s looking really good, and I’m confident the final draft of Venus Rising that I release in April is going to be great. Exciting times!

In other news (the ‘sell the first one’ part of the headline) today Ascension Point is Ereader News Today’s Book of the Day. This is far and away the biggest promo I’ve ever done. Greg at ENT gets thousands of applicants in January for the 240 BotD slots available for the coming year, so I was thrilled that he deemed Ascension Point worthy of one.

It’s $150 for the promo, and as you’ll have seen from my post a couple of days back I chopped the ebook price down to $2.99 to make it even more enticing to the ENT subscribers. 75 sales will see me break even, which would be a lovely goal to achieve; mainly I’m after some word of mouth and a few more reviews. After eleven hours–and with folks on the west coast of the U.S. just now getting home from work and checking their email–I’ve sold 49 copies and the book’s Amazon rank has gone from 673,000 to 11,000, so it’s looking pretty promising!

I’ll post final numbers in a few days once the bump is over, for the interest of the more writerly readers out there.

G’night!

Ten Day Sale: 40% Off Ascension Point in Ebook!

That’s right, folks. To coincide with two promotions I’m running in the next week or so*, I’ve slashed the price of the ebook edition of Ascension Point by 40%. That’s down from $4.99 to $2.99 (or equivalent in other currencies), and I wanted to share the news with you lovely folks.

This is a limited time offer, though; you’ve only got until March 29th to pick up your copy. It’s available from all of the usual retailers–Amazon, Kobo, B&N, iTunes and Smashwords. Purchase links in the bar on the right.

Cheers!

* Ascension Point is ENT’s Book of the Day on March 21st, and a Kboards Featured Book on March 28th. I’ll share the results of those promos, of course, for the interest of my publishing-inclined readers.

Thoughts on The Malazan Book of the Fallen

I took a five and a half hour bus ride yesterday evening, taking me from Rio de Janeiro back home to Sao Paulo. During that time I read the last third of The Crippled God, the final (tenth) book in Steven Erikson‘s Malazan Book of the Fallen.

This isn’t a review. I’m not sure it’s possible to write a review that adequately encapsulates what Erikson attempted, and largely achieved, with his series. It’s… epic. But not in the way that a lot of authors or publishers or whoever throw around the word epic when describing a fantasy series. It’s EPIC. In big bold letters. Big, bold, carved out of ancient stone letters.

It’s three and half million words, from start to finish. Ten novels each the length of four reasonably-sized novels. It tells a story that I’ve found impossible to completely hold in my mind all at once; I read the first seven, from Gardens of the Moon to Reaper’s Gale, in one first frenzied burst, having just discovered the series. I had to wait six months for Toll the Hounds to be released, but by the time Dust of Dreams came out the events of the first four books had been pushed out by the more recent. So I went back and reread them, books one through nine.

(Then Ian Cameron Esslemont released the first couple of his Malazan Empire novels, and I discovered they slotted within the chronology of Erikson’s books, so I went back, and… Yeah.)

The world Erikson and Esslemont have created is vast, both broad and deep, with a history spanning hundreds of millennia and a cast of thousands. The scale is so ambitious as to beggar belief. And while Esslemont is, for me, a solid writer of enjoyable tales, Erikson at his best is quite wonderful. I can’t think of another writer who can so smoothly blend earth-shattering, epoch-ending battles between gods with heartbreaking insight into the wasted lives of the forgotten, the dying and the destitute.

He goes too far with the philosophy, at times; often four or five pages will go by with a group of soldiers waxing lyrical on futility and the flawed aspects of the human condition. Everyone’s a philosopher, in Erikson’s world, except those who deliberately aren’t; but even those characters painted to be dull, or obtuse, tend to possess an insight into their own nature that’s a little unrealistic.

But that’s artistic licence. And he’s earned the right to it. The stories told over those three and a half million words are gripping, exhilarating, both uplifting and desperately sad. And the moral of those stories… well, it’s that life is hard. And some people are selfish and cruel. But other people are compassionate. There is always war, and only the names and faces change, and everything that happens has happened before–but it’s still worth trying to make it better.

Because there’s always hope.

Epic.

Long Arc, Short Arc: Episodic Storytelling

There’s a new fad in sci-fi at the moment, which is actually a very old one: serialisation. The mighty John Scalzi is releasing The Human Division, the latest book in the Old Man’s War series, in episodic format. Each episode of around ten thousand words or thirty pages is being released one-by-one in ebook format for 99c, and there will be a bundled compilation–the whole book in one, basically–once the series is complete.

Reading about this got me thinking about episodic storytelling. It used to be a very common format in literature back in the days when newspapers and magazines were the predominant form of media. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are probably the most famous example; they ran in The Strand magazine from 1891 to 1930, with a brief interruption after Conan Doyle had attempted to kill off his hero, before outraged fans demanded his return.

(If you think fanboy rage was born with the Internet, you’re mistaken.)

But in recent decades it’s obviously television that’s taken up the mantle of episodic storytelling. Phenomenal, wonderful stories have been doled out, week by week, one hour at a time, with the best shows every bit the equal of classic literature. The Sopranos, The Wire and now Breaking Bad; each of them cast a bright, often harsh light on society and the human condition, with vivid characterisation and gripping, often shocking plotlines.

The reason the episodic, serial format interests me is the way in which the writer–to write episodically in a way that’s satisfying and compelling–must mesh two types of story arc.

The first is the macro, the long arcs of both plot and character which carry across an entire season, or series. The ‘big story’ if you like. A novel typically contains just these arcs, to take the reader from the start of the book to the end. The protagonist leaves home, kills the dragon, and learns something about herself along the way, in a nutshell.

The second is the micro, the arc of the story across a single episode. In television this arc can either be well-bounded and easily recognisable, in the case of a procedural series such as CSI or Castle; or more closely entwined with the macro long arc, as in ‘serialized’ shows such as Lost24 and the three aforementioned modern classics. (More on the distinction here.)

The challenge is in their combination. In telling a satisfying story that can stand on it’s own, setup, action and conclusion all wrapped up within the hour, or the thirty pages; but also developing those characters along their personal series arcs, and progressing the broader overarching plot, at the same time. It can’t be easy, and I’ve developed a newfound respect for television writers who pull this off week after week, season after season.

So what am I going to do about it? Well, I’m going to write a series, of course!

For the foreseeable future most of my writing focus will continue to be on my novels–Venus Rising will be out in April, then I’ll start on the draft of the third book which is already outlined, with a fourth to wrap up The Unity Sequence coming after that–but I’m also going to start noodling away at a series. I’m not sure yet if it’ll be episodic literature in the style of Scalzi’s The Human Division, or my first foray into screenwriting, but likely the latter; I think shifting between prose to script will provide some refreshing variety, and I’ve always wanted to give screenwriting a try.

‘But Dan, what’s the point? You’ll never get a TV show optioned. You have to know people and–‘

I’ll cut you off there, my imaginary friend. Because it seems that indie publishing catalyst and retail behemoth Amazon is now in the studio business, too. All pitches welcome. Come one, come all–you don’t need to know anybody, you just need a good enough story. Man, it’s a great time to be a writer.

But what about you, dear reader: are you an enthusiastic consumer of episodes, or do you prefer a single, longer story? Or do you just combine the two and binge-watch an entire season of Homeland on a rainy Sunday?

Should I Be Giving My Books Away?

Amanda Palmer–alt-rock music star and wife of fantastical writing genius Neil Gaiman–did a talk for TED on ‘The Art of Asking’. The synopsis from TED:

“Don’t make people pay for music, says Amanda Palmer: Let them. In a passionate talk that begins in her days as a street performer (drop a dollar in the hat for the Eight-Foot Bride!), she examines the new relationship between artist and fan.”

Amanda and her band famously used Kickstarter to fund production of their new album, asking fans to contribute a total of $100,000. They ended up with $1.2M, donated by only 25,000 people at an average of almost fifty dollars a piece. Astounding.

Unlike Amanda, I’d hesitate to call myself an artist–it seems a bit pretentious, for some reason–but watching this made me think, as the parallels between music and books are obvious. The digital indie publishing revolution has brought writers closer to their readers than ever before, tearing down the barriers and hurdles of finding agency and publisher representation, of shipping physical copies to a bookstore.

What’s to stop me posting a new novel here, on my website, available to anyone to download for free? With just a PayPal or Google Checkout button next to it with a message saying “If you enjoyed this book, you can help me out here. Thanks.”

Nothing. There are no barriers.

But should I do that? It’s early days in my writing career, but I have a certain amount of confidence that ten or twenty years or novels down the line I might be able to make enough from my current, standard indie pub model that I could make a living at it. (Industry changes permitting, of course.) And if I did make that living, why would I change?

Might doing so make me richer? Would some deep-pocketed fans happily download one of my books, and give me $20 in exchange? $50?

Would it make me more famous? Would I care if it did? Would I even like it if it did?

Would TED invite me to do a talk? (That would be cool.)

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions.

Writers, would you consider giving away your work and trusting in the generosity of strangers and fans to pay your bills? Why? Do you yearn for the emotional connection to fans that Amanda talked about?

Readers, would you donate before you read, or happily accept a freebie? Or maybe come back and chip in what you thought the story was worth once you’d read it? Or maybe you prefer the Amazon shopping experience with eight million books at your fingertips, rather than having to traipse over to every individual author’s website to pick up your latest read.

What are your thoughts, folks?

Venus Rising: To The Editor!

I just sent the MS for Venus Rising to Lynn at Red Adept, and Misti–my editor–will be starting her edit this week. Very exciting. The process took about a month for Ascension Point, from Misti’s first look to the final proofread version, so if things go similarly well we’re looking at an early April release.

I’m a bit more organised for this release than I was the last time; namely, I already have the paperback cover and blurb ready, so I’ll be releasing all versions at the same time rather than over a few weeks. It’s a little more professional, and also gives all of my potential readers their choice of edition right from the off.

Then it’s on to book three! Rinse, repeat.