Authors answer 11: If you were going to write in another genre, what would it be?

March 25, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 4

In a sense, I’ve already answered that question, since my current side project, apart from the fantasy, is a venture into Regency romance. I’ve always been a big fan of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer – very different styles, but both endlessly rereadable – and my very first attempt at novel writing, many moons ago, was a full-on Regency. That effort was banged out on an old manual typewriter, and I got maybe three-quarters of the way through before life overtook me. It now lurks, unloved, in a bottom drawer, and I haven’t dared to read it again. I’m quite sure it must be execrable.

Fantasy and Regency might seem to be very different creatures. One is a made-up world, with the only limitation being the author’s imagination, focusing on battles and monsters and world-threatening peril, not to mention magic, of course. A Regency focuses on a much narrower field of action, which may be just a few towns or villages in England, with one not-very-earth-shattering objective — to marry off hero and heroine. There may be adventures and high jinks, but generally a Regency is light-hearted fluff.

But in both cases, the characters are tip-toeing through the same minefield — the rules of their world. In a fantasy, the rules are made up by the author (you can use magic, but only if you’re carrying a certain gizmo, or use the right words). In a Regency romance, the rules are those in effect in the real world at the time — the social rules that constrain well-to-to families, with dire consequences if breached. So young women must be accomplished and knowledgeable, but also demure. They are brought up to run large households, yet must always defer to their father, brother or husband. They may speak several languages, but must never express a political opinion. Woe betide the young lady who dares to waltz in public before being approved by the patronesses of Almacks.

For those who still think that fantasy and nineteenth century manners have nothing at all in common, I refer you to a couple of examples of books which gloriously mash together the two genres. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton is an only partially successful attempt to blend the Victorian social culture with dragons. Temeraire by Naomi Novik thrusts dragons into the middle of the Napoleonic wars, and although there are certain logistical issues (nations can call on fighting dragons, but somehow history has turned out pretty much the same? Really?), the first few in the series are quite glorious, entirely dominated by the rather bookish dragon, Temeraire himself.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

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Archive review: ‘The Silence of Medair’ by Andrea K Höst

March 21, 2016 Archive, Review 0

I first read this in December 2011, when I was only just discovering self-published books, and finding most of them to be a bit ho-hum. Back in those early days of the Kindle, a lot of previously unpublished authors were dusting off long-abandoned manuscripts, kept in a drawer for years, maybe, and tossing them up on Amazon without much thought. The quality was variable, to put it mildly. There was a huge amount of dross, as is inevitable in a system with no quality control whatsoever, a lot that could have been better with a bit of polishing, and a few that just blew me away. This was the first I came across that made me say: wow, that was amazing! I’ve since gone on to read many more of the author’s works, and I highly recommend her for excellent reading that will shatter all your preconceived ideas of fantasy.


For those who say all self-published works are dross – this book is a stunning counter example. The manuscript spent an unbelievable ten years – I’ll say that again, TEN years! – languishing with a single publisher before the author withdrew it in disgust and self-published. You can see why they might have had a problem with it, because it’s very different from the average. It’s intelligent, thought-provoking and well written. It avoids cliches. It’s character-driven fantasy at its best. It’s also a cracking story. I loved it.

The opening is, surely, how all fantasy novels should begin: not by parachuting the reader into the middle of a battle, or some gruesome moment intended purely to shock, but quietly, with the main character in her setting, then adding in the mysterious background, some magic and a threat, to draw you in. But then this is an unusual book in a number of different ways. Many of the events which other writers would turn into a whole trilogy – a massive magic-induced disaster, an empire threatened by invasion, an escalating, seemingly unwinnable, war, a desperate race to find a magic gizmo to turn the tide, and then, miraculously, actually finding said gizmo – all happened five hundred years in the past, and are revealed only briefly in passing. The author even resists the temptation to put them into a prologue. Instead, the story starts some months after the primary character, Medair, has returned with the gizmo, only to find that centuries have passed, the invaders have become the establishment and she herself is the outsider. Her sense of dislocation, and how she adjusts to the new regime, form the substance of the book.

The created world is not outrageously original, just the standard-issue pseudo-medieval arrangement, with a few little touches to make it different, and happily no hackneyed taverns, assassins, thieves, whores and the like, and no gratuitous violence or sex. So this is a relatively civilised and orderly world, where the complications are political rather than societal. And unlike many low-technology worlds, there’s a relaxed gender-neutrality in operation. Women can, and do, become soldiers, heralds, mages, whatever they have an aptitude for. They can inherit empires, too. I get tired of the patriarchy thoughtlessly assumed in most fantasy.

And there’s magic, of course. Oodles of magic. There are mages and adepts (which may be the same thing, I’m not clear about that) who have quite powerful abilities, and there are also magical artifacts. There is also ‘wild magic’, which is hugely, earth-shatteringly powerful (literally) and very unpredictable. I liked the way that magic can be sensed in some physical way, some kind of feeling that allows a character attuned to it to know that magic is being used, and sometimes what kind, and where, and how powerful it is. That was neat.

But it has to be said that sometimes the magic borders on being deus ex machina. The heroine gets into a tricky situation and has only to reach into her dimensionally flexible satchel and pull out some magic gizmo or other to effect her escape. Or else another character waves his or her hands around and – pow, she is magically constrained to do something or other. Is it really deus ex machina if we know ahead of time that the satchel contains magical gizmos, or that the character is a mage? Not sure, but it certainly made a very convenient plot device. On the other hand, it allowed the heroine to use her own self-reliance and not be dependent on a bloke turning up with a sword or a spell to rescue her. In fact, she was usually the one rescuing the blokes.

The heart of the book is the nature of the Ibisians, the invaders of five hundred years earlier, now the establishment. Medair’s hatred and mistrust of them is still fresh, and the scenes between them crackle with tension, as she tries to adjust her strong and perhaps legitimate feelings to this new world order. The issue is complicated, too, by the other countries and factions still fighting against the new rulers. Where exactly do her loyalties lie? She has the magic gizmo which will destroy the invaders, but are these people still her enemies five centuries later? These themes – of loyalty and oppression and enforced compliance and the nature of colonialism – weave throughout the story.

This part of the book is beautifully done. The subtle and not so subtle differences between the world Medair remembers and the current one are neatly drawn – the architecture, clothing, food, mannerisms and customs – so that we first see the invaders through Medair’s eyes as strangely alien beings, and only gradually begin to soften towards them as we get to know them better. It becomes apparent that five hundred years of assimilation has worked both ways, and these Ibisians are not the same as the enemy of Medair’s own time.

The plot revolves around Medair’s struggles with her own antipathies and growing respect for the Ibisians, so there is a great deal of introspection and (it has to be said) downright angsting going on. There were a few moments when I wished she would stop agonising and just get on with it. But fortunately there was enough action interspersed with the angst to keep things rattling along. There were a few places where I wasn’t too sure what was going on, where a little more explanation or description would have helped. Occasionally the complex hierarchy of the Ibisians caught me out (all the ranks begin with a ‘k’, so they begin to blur together), and sometimes I wasn’t even sure which character Medair was talking to. But these are minor issues, which never seriously affected my enjoyment. This is a great read, a story with an intriguing premise, unexpected twists and plenty of action. It’s also that rare beast, a fantasy novel with a truly strong female lead character who’s not remotely a stereotype. I recommend it. Four stars.

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My editing process

March 20, 2016 Current writings, The Dragon's Egg, Writing musings 0

I’m deep into the final edit of The Dragon’s Egg at the moment, and I thought it might be of interest to go into my editing process a little bit. Everyone has their own way of tackling the editing part of the job, and none of them are better or worse than any other, as long as the end result is a more polished and well-written piece of work. The only strategy I don’t recommend is skipping the editing process altogether. There are people who write a single draft and send it off into the world; Mark Lawrence, author of Prince of Thorns, is one of them, and if you write as well as he does, you can do whatever you like, frankly. But for mere mortals, or those of us with less experience, a solid editing process is essential.

Here’s my system:

1) First draft editing This sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? The first draft is the writing-from-scratch part of the process, and editing is what you do when you’ve got the words down. This is true, and a lot of people like to keep the two well apart. Concentrate on writing, they say, get into the flow, make notes of possible changes if you must, but don’t interrupt the first draft writing to edit.

But that’s not what I do. Instead,I edit as I go. Firstly, before I start writing each day, I read everything I wrote the day before and do some light editing – tightening sentences and paragraphs, improving descriptions and dialogue, cleaning up typos. Then I start writing, but if I come across something that needs (say) a change in the earlier part of the book, to add foreshadowing, to weave in a McGuffin that the plot now needs, or simply because the evolving story makes something not quite right, then I’ll go right ahead and make that change. Why? For me, it’s all about context.

What does that mean? When I’m writing a scene, I need to know exactly where the characters are, how they got to this point, what they know and don’t know, and what they’re feeling right now. Context, in other words. Now, meticulous plotters will have all that information written down somewhere, but I write the story as I go, so the details are all in my head. If I come back to a scene later, I won’t necessarily remember the precise context. So for me, it works much better to fix problems as I go.

2) Interlude Once I’ve reached that final chapter and written ‘The end’, I like to leave a book to brew for a while. I set my first book aside for five months while I wrote the whole of the second book, but nowadays I find that a month or so is all that’s needed to give me a little distance and perspective. Again, not everyone wants or needs to do this, but it works for me.

3) Full read-through and first-pass editing When I feel the book has brewed sufficiently, I create a mobi file from it and put it on my Kindle. Then I read it through from start to finish, as a reader. I keep a notebook handy, and write down anything that comes to me. Then, I fix whatever I’ve found. But because of the whole edit-as-you-go thing, my first drafts are pretty clean, so there isn’t much in the way of major changes to be done. I know plenty of authors who practically dismantle the book at this point, adding or removing whole scenes, chapters, characters and sub-plots, but that would drive me insane. The cleaner I can get the first draft, the better I like it.

4) Beta reading and final edit Once I’m happy with it, I look for beta readers. I have a couple of paid-for beta readers that I use regularly, and several author friends who are kind enough to volunteer when their own work permits. My daughter is also an informal beta reader, who gives me an invaluable reader’s-eye-view of the book. My author friends are terrific for craft issues. They’ll point out problems with motivation, pacing and description, and suggest ways to make a scene stronger. Which is great, so why pay for beta readers as well? Mainly because, as professionals, they give me guaranteed feedback to a schedule. Volunteers may get caught up in their own work, or real life may overwhelm their good intentions, but a professional is guaranteed to give me solid feedback by a set date, and that’s golden. When all the feedback is in, I work through it and make the final edits.

5) Proofreading This is the final step in the polishing program. I was lucky enough to find an excellent proofreader at the first attempt, who weeds out typos, missing and duplicate words and (my weak point) fixes punctuation. I can manage the basics fine, but knowing when to hyphenate, when to use en-dashes and em-dashes, when to use ellipses… she has all of this at her fingertips. She also starts the formatting process for me. I give her a Word document, and she creates the styles and sections so that I can finalise the formatting before uploading.

6) Post-publication editing Some people don’t touch a book after it’s been published. It goes out into the world, and that’s the end of it. Some will update the beginning and end sections (frontmatter and backmatter) to add in links to new books as they come out. But a lot of self-publishers tinker with a book even after it’s live, changing anything from minor typos through a full proofreading edit to changing the ending. My policy is to fix any obvious errors if they’re reported to me. This doesn’t happen often, but if someone points out a misspelling, I’ll fix that. But I don’t change the story itself, or add or remove text — with one exception. A reader wrote a review pointing out a couple of inconsistencies in the plot. In one case, it was clearly a misunderstanding of what was going on, which is fine, it happens. But in the other case, I could actually see the point. It wasn’t truly inconsistent, but I could totally see why a reader might think it was. So I added a sentence to clarify the situation.

So that’s my editing process. Editing is a little like sculpting. You start with a solid lump, then you hack chunks off to make a rough shape, then you smooth and refine and polish, in smaller and smaller iterations until the work is finished. It doesn’t matter whether the smoothing and polishing goes on alongside the initial hacking or as a separate process, so long as you end up with all the roughness worked out of it.

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Plotting for pantsers

March 6, 2016 Current writings, The Second God, Writing musings 0

Most authors like to plot a book out before they start to write. For some, that may be a couple of A4 sheets of scribbled notes. For others, it will be so detailed that it includes every chapter and scene, including lists of characters present and what happens, with a huge pile of background notes on characters, places, research, historical data and so on. The advantage is that when they come to write, they can focus on the words and not have to keep stopping to work out what happens next. The disadvantage is that a tightly plotted book can feel over-contrived and artificial.

And then there are pantsers. What’s a pantser? An author who writes by the seat of her pants, that’s what. A pantser sits down with a blank sheet of paper (metaphorically, because almost everyone writes direct to computer these days), maybe a character or two and an opening situation and… just writes. She never quite knows where the story is going until it gets there. The advantage here is that the story often has a more natural, organic feel to it. The disadvantage is that it’s all too easy to wander off-track and get diverted into possibly interesting but ultimately irrelevant side plots.

Neither way is better or worse than the other, since there’s no right or wrong way to write a book. The best way, perhaps the only way, is whatever gets the story written and that’s going to be different for every individual. But for any writer who’s having trouble finishing a book, it’s worth trying an alternative. If you’re a plotter, try pantsing. If you’re a pantser, try a bit of outlining. Whatever works.

I’m a pantser at heart. Of the five books I’ve published so far, four were entirely pantsed, starting with that blank sheet of paper, a single character and an interesting situation, and allowing the story to evolve however it wished. I like to call it discovery writing, because I discover the story as I write it.

What about the fifth book? That was The Fire Mages’ Daughter, and it was a little different. It was a sequel, so I already had a character in mind, and she was in an interesting situation. Her mother was a powerful mage, and so she was immersed in magic from the moment of conception until her birth. I wanted to explore that idea. How would it affect her, physically? How would she be different from any other child? So I had a character and a starting situation, but no plot. I had some ideas about what Drina would be like, but no idea where life would take her or what challenges she would face.

So for that book, I turned to the only plotting book I’ve ever found that works for me: Take off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker. It’s a very character-based approach, nice and simple, so it only took me an hour or two to come up with a plausible outline. I veered away from that towards the end, but it was a lifesaver because it got me off the ground.

For the current work in progress, The Second God, which is a sequel to the sequel, I didn’t need a full outline, because I already had a pretty good idea of how things would start off. And it rattled along really well, so that I’ve now got 70,000 words written. But… I’ve got to that sticky point in the middle where I have half a dozen different plot strands running through the book, and I need to start to pull them together. And that means I need to know how things end.

Now, I could just let it unfold. I’ve done that before, and let the characters lead me along whatever path they choose. And sometimes that works well — and they surprise me! But for a truly satisfying and resonant ending, especially since this is the end of a trilogy, I needed to be sure everything is tightly focused and not too rambling. And that means…

Plotting!

Being a pantser to the core, my plotting doesn’t involve wikis and spreadsheets and timeline software. I simply wrote down all the dangling plot threads I’d accumulated and points I felt were important, about twenty or so. Then I mulled it all over (while doing the ironing, as it happens; mindless chores are perfect for this). And gradually, some ideas coalesced. I think it will make the book a little longer, but that’s fine — epic fantasy is meant to be long.

And that’s probably all the plotting this book is going to get. Watch out for The Second God in September or thereabouts, and you can judge for yourself how successful it was.

 

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Author Answers #10: What are your least favourite genres to read?

March 2, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

Horror is the first that comes to mind. A little bit creepy or spooky is fine, but out and out horror is a non-starter for me. I have vivid mental images of books I read decades ago that seared themselves into my brain and still have the power to make me shudder. Then there are the nightmares…

Erotica is another genre I’m not fussed about. Now don’t misunderstand, I love me some heavy-duty grappling in a book, so authors can toss in as much or as little sex as they like, on condition that it fits into the story, and the plot isn’t just flimsy scaffolding to hang all that industrial-strength humping on. If the characters are constantly either doing it or thinking about doing it, that’s too much. I loved Erica Dakin’s Theft and Sorcery series, for instance, which features some seriously horny half-elves, but there’s a cracking fantasy plot behind all the bonking.

Then there are thrillers. If there’s a gun on the cover, it’s a safe bet I’m not going to enjoy it. I suppose military sci-fi comes into the same category – lots of fighting, explosions, shoot-outs. Give me characters first and foremost, and don’t overwhelm me with action that features an explosion on every other page.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

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Launch report: book 5, ‘The Fire Mages’ Daughter’

February 23, 2016 Publishing/marketing, The Fire Mages' Daughter 0

The strategy:

After The Fire Mages and The Mages of Bennamore took off rather well, thanks to some paid promotion, The Magic Mines of Asharim, released in September 2015, was less successful. It sold during the promotion, but sales died away straight afterwards. But there were two bright spots: borrows through Kindle Unlimited were high, and emails sent out by Amazon to ‘followers’ produced a bump of around 80 extra sales. Both of these were independent of any promotion by me.

So for The Fire Mages’ Daughter I took the risky step of launching on 15th January 2016 without any paid promotion at all. Since it’s a sequel to The Fire Mages, I made that book 99c for the whole of January, and kept the new book at $2.99; that way readers could pick up both books for the usual list price of $3.99. Then I told my mailing list, blog and social media, and sat back and awaited the crash.

What actually happened:

 A splurge of sales over the first few days, which then died away. But borrows were good, as expected. And then Amazon jumped in and started sending out those emails to followers. The result was my best month ever in sales and in revenue. I estimate that those emails brought me an extra 450 sales, plus an unknown number of borrows from the increased visibility. The tail from that is still going on, in the form of sales still well higher than before the new release.

One interesting aspect, for me, was that both The Fire Mages and The Fire Mages’ Daughter sold well, so obviously a lot of people picked up both books. Since The Fire Mages has been my biggest seller by far, I’d expected that most people would already have it. But apparently not. And for some unfathomable reason my ugly duckling book, The Plains of Kallanash, which has never sold terribly well, also shifted far more copies than expected. Now, after five weeks, I’m seeing more sell-through to the other two books.

Conclusions:

The power of Amazon to shift books is awesome. Who would have thought that small-fry like me would have so many followers? And Kindle Unlimited has also done very well for me, partly because my books are so long. For my next release, I’m going to experiment further – not just no paid promotion, but no pre-order either. As my mailing list builds up, I’m hoping to make a bigger splash at launch, and hope for some uplift from Amazon’s algorithms.

All the numbers:

Before release:

A typical week before the new release would be 20 sales spread over all 4 books, and 40K pages read. There were 257 pre-orders (not included in sales numbers below).

Week 1:
Book 5: 99 sales, 30K pages read
Total for all books: 237 sales, 68K pages read.

Week 2:
Book 5: 88 sales, 39K pages read
Total for all books: 259 sales, 95K pages read.

Week 3:
Book 5: 51 sales, 28K pages read
Total for all books: 150 sales, 87K pages read.

Week 4:
Book 5: 37 sales, 20K pages read
Total for all books: 90 sales, 51K pages read.

Week 5:

Book 5: 31 sales, 15K pages read
Total for all books: 78 sales, 47K pages read

Grand totals for first 5 weeks:

Book 5: 306 sales, 132K pages read
Total for all books: 814 sales, 348K pages read
Total sales including pre-orders: 1071

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Urban fantasy review: ‘Moonborn’ by Marina Finlayson

February 22, 2016 Review 0

Ah, Garth… my favourite werewolf. {Sigh} He was a side character in The Proving trilogy, although an important one, but here he gets to take centre stage. This is a terrific prequel to the series. A few familiar characters pop up from the later story, but it’s not necessary to have read the trilogy first. In fact, it would work very well to read this and then move straight into Twiceborn. Either way works.

This tells the story of how Garth became a werewolf and how he got on in his early years as a shifter (not very well, in case you were wondering). Poor Garth! You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for the poor guy, with all his difficulties. Because the trouble is, Garth doesn’t take easily to pack life and for a werewolf, that’s a real problem. Watching Garth struggle to fit in with a pack, or to live alone, and yet fail at both, is heart-rending.

But it’s not all grief and misery. There are some awesome moments in here, too. Garth’s first full moon transformation, followed by his first hunt as a wolf, is riveting. In fact, all the wolf moments are brilliantly written. It’s not easy to convey the almost completely animal nature of a werewolf in wolf form, where even the names of the other pack members are lost, but Finlayson is terrific at getting the reader right under the wolf’s skin.

The story covers quite a lot of ground, fifteen years to be exact, taking Garth from pre-werewolf days right through to the time of the dragon queen wars, the Proving, so it’s episodic rather than a single story. It’s no less compelling for all that, and the dramatic finale is an emotional roller-coaster as each minor triumph is immediately followed by a lurch downhill towards disaster. This is a great read — highly recommended. Five stars.

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Writing to market: or, can I make money self-publishing?

February 21, 2016 Publishing/marketing, Writing musings 0

There’s a lot of discussion amongst authors about whether it’s possible to make any money from writing books. Pundits suck their teeth and shake their heads and stroke their chins in gloom. Typical advances for a deal with a traditional publisher are only a few thousand, we hear, even if you’re lucky enough to get any offer at all. The average book sells only 500 copies, ever. Even modest successes sell only a few thousand in the book’s lifetime.

So self-publishing is the way to go, right? That lovely 70% royalty that Amazon offers – there must be money to made there, surely. More chin-stroking and tut-tutting ensues. Self-publishers, they’ll tell you, fight for visibility in the vast, shark-infested ocean of Amazon and what about average sales of a self-published book? Just 100. Ever. The classic advice is: think of it as a hobby.

Well, rubbish. Can you make money self-publishing? Yes. You can. Unequivocally.

But…

Ah, you knew there’d be a but, didn’t you? There’s always a catch. Well, it’s not really a catch, so much as a couple of rules. Or maybe guidelines. Here they are:

1) Write something that people want to read

Well, duh! Talk about stating the obvious. Of course you have to write something that people want to read. If you craft poetry in iambic pentameter, your audience is necessarily going to be limited. If you put forth your highly original genre-mashup, you may well find the world isn’t quite ready for you yet. But how many readers are looking for another Harry Potter? Or Twilight? Or {insert bestseller here}? Must be millions, and that’s exactly what the big publishers are looking for, too – something that will sell a lot.

However, you’d be surprised how often an author’s first novel isn’t aimed at any particular reader. It’s the story that’s been burning inside the author’s brain for months or years, the one that has to be told, that won’t let up until it’s transcribed to paper for all eternity. It’s the one the author most wants to read herself, probably because she can’t find anything quite like it in bookstores. And that’s absolutely fine. However unusual it is, there are bound to be a few readers out there waiting for something just like it to happen along.

Just not very many. Sometimes an author just happens to hit a home run at the first attempt even without aiming at Harry Potter fans, but it’s extremely rare. As a rule of thumb, assume your magnum opus isn’t in this category.

So if you want to make money, whether it’s a comfortable income so you can give up the day job, a little extra to pay for a new car, or just enough to cover your publishing costs, your readership has to be more focused, and you have to give them what they want to read. What a lot of them want to read.

2) Publish often

This is where traditional publishing veers away from the indie brigade. With a trad deal, one book a year is the norm, and each book takes a year or two, maybe more, to reach the point of publication, even after the manuscript has been handed over. But that’s fine, because a committed publisher will drum up loads of publicity for each new release, so an author doesn’t have to worry about readers forgetting all about him.

But for indies, visibility is key, and one of the best ways to increase visibility is to release another book. And then another. If you could publish a book every month, you’d always have one in that honeymoon new-release phase. Even for notoriously slow-release genres like epic fantasy, two or even three books a year is a good idea to keep the pot boiling.

But… but… but… I hear you saying. But I can’t possibly do that! I have to polish every word until it’s perfect. I have to give it a thorough editing. I have to plan and plot and outline and develop my characters and then there’s all that world-building… If I write fast, it can’t possibly be any good, can it?

Ah, the quality issue. Here’s the thing. If you want to write exquisite prose, feel free to do that, even if it takes you ten years to produce something that satisfies you. But if you only aspire to prose that’s good enough to carry the story without being breathtaking, you can do that in a lot less than ten years. And experience counts for a great deal; each book will be finished a little bit quicker than the previous one, as you hone your craft and perfect your methods.

The solution: writing to market, and writing fast

For anyone who’s serious about making significant money from self-publishing, there are techniques that will make that outcome more likely. There are no guarantees, of course, but if you write to market, and write fast, you greatly increase the odds of a good income from your books. Writing to market means analysing the bestseller lists in your genre and identifying the key tropes (or storytelling conventions) in them. Then you write a book that sticks very closely to those tropes, package it in a similar way to the bestsellers and send it on its way. And then repeat, since a series is more effective than stand-alones. Writing fast means exactly that: increase your productivity. The fastest authors can write 10,000 words a day or more, which means producing a novel a week. But even 1,000 words a day will result in a 60,000 word novel in two months – that’s six books a year.

If you want all the detail of how to do this, author Chris Fox has published some books to help. 5,000 Words Per Hour will help increase writing speed, and Write To Market explains how to analyse the bestseller lists and target your book at a specific (but large!) audience. And Chris isn’t just talking about it: he’s currently committed to writing a novel in just 21 days, and documenting every step of it on video, starting today (Sunday 21st February 2016). You can follow along from Chris’s website here.

 

And there’s still the slow but steady approach

For those who don’t want to go the full-on writing-to-market way, it’s still possible to build a profitable self-publishing career. It may take longer, but it can be done. I don’t have the ability to analyse tropes, or to write to them even if I could, so I’m stuck with writing what I like and hoping it will fly, but I can still make sure I have genre-appropriate covers and blurbs, for example. And categories. When I released my first book, I mistakenly labelled it as romance. Now, it has a romantic element, it’s true, but it’s not something that a romance reader would expect, at all. And when I had a promotion that got it up into some sub-genre bestseller lists, it felt very uncomfortable to see it lurking amongst all the werewolves and half-naked men. So I took it out of the romance categories.

As for writing speed, this is something that generally improves with time and experience, but I’ve also been making a concerted effort to increase my productivity. I used to think 1,000 words in a day was a good effort; now I aim for 1,500-2,000. How do I manage it? One of the tips in Chris’s 5,000 Words Per Hour book is to write in short bursts, or sprints. You plan ahead what you’re going to write, and then you sit down and write it, fast, without thinking too much about it. I’m not much of a planner, and I can’t switch off the editing side of my brain as I write, but the idea of short sprints appeals to me. So I’ll set a kitchen timer and write for 15 minutes or half an hour between chores. To facilitate that, I bought a hybrid laptop/tablet to cart around the house with me, so I can stop and write wherever I am. There’s never a point now where I think: I haven’t time to write a few lines. I can always find time.

The other trick I’m trying is to write shorter books. My first book was 220K words, or enough for a complete trilogy (which is probably what I should have done with it). Then 151K, 157K, 164K and 137K. The next book, The Dragon’s Egg, weighs in at only 100K words, much leaner. And the Regencies I’m working on will be around 50-60K words apiece.

With an approach like this, it’s possible to write and publish at least three books a year. That’s enough to build a solid backlist that, even if nothing makes bestseller status, will still bring in a comfortable income.

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Georgette Heyer Regency Romance #5: ‘Friday’s Child’

February 20, 2016 Georgette Heyer, Regency romances, Review 0

It’s an odd thing, but whereas The Corinthian was every bit as frivolous as this, and ten times as implausible, it was still very enjoyable to read. This one, however, written in 1944, often felt tediously silly. The reason, at a guess, is in the characters. In The Corinthian, both the main characters are sharply intelligent, although muted by innocence (in the case of the heroine) and a degree of cynicism (in the hero). I can forgive characters a great deal if their actions make some kind of sense.

But Friday’s Child is based on stupidity. Both hero and heroine behave in ridiculous ways, without an ounce of common sense, and that’s really annoying. Viscount Sheringham needs to get married to release his inheritance money, and, rejected by the woman he’s been pursuing all season, he is so annoyed he swears to marry the first woman he sees. This turns out to be Hero Wantage, the ultra-naive girl-next-door. And so they marry, and she gets into scrape after scrape through ignorance (or sheer stupidity) and he carries on behaving exactly as if he were still a batchelor. Cue all sorts of tangles.

There’s a certain charm to the characters, and the collection of male friends who rally round the naive bride and make her an honorary member of their set is very amusing. But, as with The Corinthian, the bride is terribly young, only seventeen, and I disapproved violently of her behaviour in Bath, where she pretends to be single.

This was entertaining, in a frothy and fairly silly way, although I’m not a big fan of all the Regency cant, and the sheer weight of silliness keeps this one at four stars.

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Authors Answer 9: What are your favourite genres to read?

February 17, 2016 AuthorsAnswer 0

Since my published books are all epic fantasy, it’s a safe bet that fantasy is my favourite genre. I love the wide open possibilities of it – when I open a new-to-me book, I love that tingle of anticipation that comes from knowing that almost anything could happen. Magic! Wizards hurling thunderbolts! Peculiar beasties! Non-human races! A whole world to explore from the safety of my armchair! And dragons – dragons make everything better.

And yet, everything still has to conform to its own internal logic. Having magic around isn’t a free pass to getting out of any sort of mess. I’m particularly sceptical of healing magic – it’s just too easy if everyone’s injuries and illnesses can be cured with an airy wave of a wizard’s hand. I like a bit of uncertainty. In my own books, healing is something that mages can attempt, but it doesn’t always work. In The Fuller’s Apprentice, by Angela Holder, healing magic is an intricate and difficult process, akin to surgery, and there are certain diseases that can’t be fixed, no matter what.

A lot of fantasy these days is quite dark, and happy endings can’t be guaranteed (as in George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones), but traditional fantasy is often based on the battle between good and evil, and there’s a satisfying resonance for the reader when, in the end, after many tribulations, good triumphs and the darkness is vanquished, thus restoring the natural order of the world.

Outside fantasy, I also read Regency romances, murder mysteries and the occasional suspense story. Again, these all tend to have satisfying endings: the hero and heroine find true love, the murderer is caught, the bad guys are defeated. All is well in the world. It’s pure escapism, of course, but we all need an escape from the real world occasionally, don’t we?

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

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