Reflections on fantasy, SF, writing, music, technology, life…

Refuting Lee Child’s take on Amazon’s book-selling

My thanks to Kathryn Jankowski for pointing out Joe Konrath’s refutation of Lee Child’s opinion piece on Amazon that I posted about recently.

Rather than leave the link in a comment, I am posting it separately as Konrath’s article, titled Fisking Lee Child, makes some excellent points. I particularly liked how he highlights the differences between the few bestseller category authors like Child and the thousands of other writers.

Well worth reading for a balance to Child’s arguments.

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An author’s perspective on Amazon’s book stores

Since my previous post on the implications of Amazon opening physical book shops, the Guardian has published an opinion piece by thriller writer Lee Child on why he thinks this is a bad idea: Lee Child on Amazon’s real-life bookshops – and why we should be worried.

Apart from the implications for publishers and print books, he also weighs in on the terms and conditions Amazon imposes (and subsequently adversely changes) for writers following the indie publishing route.

Some good and interesting arguments against an Amazon monopoly.


IndieReCon 2014 schedule

IndieReCon, the online convention cum workshop for anyone interested in indie publishing, returns for its second year this month. It runs from Tuesday 25 to Thursday 27 February.
The schedule is now available. (Note times quoted are US-based EST which is UTC / GMT -5 hours.)

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The Guardian’s ‘Self-publishing showcase’

Anyone interested in the broader aspects of self-publishing should check out The Guardian newspaper’s website. It now has a section within “Books” called Self-publishing showcase. It is updated weekly with new articles. The most recent (11 September), is a piece on India Drummond, a fantasy writer.

Well worth keeping an eye on this.

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Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s view on how you measure success

I have admired Kristine Kathryn Rusch as an author and editor for a long time (my subscription to F&SF ran through her editorship) so I was particularly interested to read her blog on the changing measures of success for writers.

She sets out the ‘traditional view’, which includes:

    Selling your first short story/article
    Selling your first novel
    Hiring an agent
    Winning a major award
    Hitting a bestseller list
    Selling more than one novel
    Selling overseas

I confess there is a lot here I can relate to (if only in ‘aspirational’ terms!)
Then, looking at some comments by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (who says ‘the three big ideas at Amazon are a focus on the future, customer obsession, and a willingness to invent), Rusch then redefines what it means to be successful as an author in today’s market.

The article – The Business Rusch: Markers – is fascinating and if you are at all interested in how publishing has changed over the past ten years, including how technology has enabled self-publication to disrupt the traditional model, then I recommend you check it out.

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Interview: Jilly Paddock

If you have followed “Nightspore” for a while you will be aware that I have been enthusing about SF & fantasy author Jilly Paddock’s work. (My earlier articles are Discovering new authors with Kindle: Jilly Paddock, which covers two of her novels, “The Spook and the Spirit in the Stone” and “No Earthly Shore”. SF review: “To Die A Stranger” by Jilly Paddock reviews the third of the four books she self-published via Amazon.)

Having first encountered Jilly’s work while she was an “indie writer” it is great to be able to announce that she has now signed with Pro Se Press, an American pulp-oriented publisher. It seemed good timing to ask Jilly about her writing career to date and what the future holds following signing to Pro Se.


How long have you been writing science fiction?

Since my early teens. I had two friends at school and we all wrote SF; we’d talk about plots and characters in lunch breaks, pass silly notes in lessons and even act out fight scenes to see if they worked. We each wrote our own stuff and collaborated on some stories. We’re still friends now and we’re all published writers of SF and fantasy, so it was good training.

What drew you to the genre?

Why SF? There really wasn’t any other choice for me – it was a no-brainer. What other genre is there where anything is possible, where you can have any world, any person, any creature, any invention you can imagine? And I did love science. I’m still a biology, geology and astronomy geek. I had a whole career of peering down microscopes at pretty stained bacteria and waving, wriggling protozoans, and growing nasty bugs in Petri dishes. I like the sense-of-wonder, the “Wow! Look at that!” feeling of science, and SF and fantasy are the only genres that have that for me.

How would you describe the stories you write?

Character-driven, generally with strong female protagonists and a touch of humour. The science, which is usually biology or medicine, is plausible, although I do use all the classic SF tropes – FTL space travel, human colonies, AI and psi powers. My grandfather would have called them “damn good yarns” and a friend of mine refers to the Anna & Zenni books as “cyberfolk”, a bit gentler and more mellow than cyberpunk. I can’t claim to be a literary writer, I’m afraid. My stuff tends towards adventure, space opera and pulp.

When I first read “To Die A Stranger”, I was reminded of the work of Eric Frank Russell but I understand you are not familiar with his work. Which genre authors do you admire or have influenced the direction of your writing?

Don’t think I’ve ever read any Russell. I read a lot of SF in my teens, all the standards including Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke. It won’t be a surprise that my AIs owe a lot to Mike in Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” but they also have a touch of Zen and Orac from Blake’s 7. I like a lot of British writers – Brian Aldiss, Colin Kapp, Dan Morgan, John Sladek and Bob Shaw, and John Wyndham. “The Chrysalids” was one of the books we did for my English Literature O level. I adore Cordwainer Smith and he’s a big influence, particularly his short stories “The Game of Rat and Dragon” and “The Ballad of Lost C’mell”. I collected “New Writings in SF”, a series of 30 anthologies edited by John Carnell, and later Kenneth Bulmer, mainly for James White’s Sector Twelve General Hospital stories, but the contents pages read like a Who’s Who of SF.

In fantasy I like Tanith Lee, Louise Cooper, Roger Zelazny and Charles de Lint. If I was pressed for a favourite, I’d have to pick Peter S Beagle for his beautifully-crafted poetic prose and the way he can tell a complex story in such simple words.

These days I’m reading SF from Charles Stross and Peter Watts, fantasy by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, and a wonderful police procedural/magic series by Ben Aaronovitch.

What is your approach to writing? Do you tend to start with an idea, such as the “agent-pairs”, or with the characters?

Sometimes a whole story will drop into my head fully formed – “No Earthly Shore” was like that. Usually it’s harder, and I get an idea for a scene, or maybe the beginning and end of a story arc for a novel, but the characters arrive very early in the creation process. They seem to practically invent themselves, then they start talking to me, telling me their back stories and arguing about the intended plot and their part in it. I do have trouble with minor characters who aren’t content with their bit and want to take over the book. When I’m writing a novel I’ll often stumble across things and concepts that beg to be included, scraps and fragments of found art or science – call it synchronicity or serendipity, but it does enrich the book.

All of my characters are real to me, as real as people in the outside world, which probably makes me sound like a madwoman! Is writing a kind of voluntary functional schizophrenia? It certainly feels that way sometimes.

Do you have a “target audience” in mind when you write?

Not at all. I write the sort of books I want to read.

Your SF series about both “Afton & Jerome” and “Anna-Marie Delany” are set in a universe where “agent-pairs” operate in the shadows. For me, this idea is a very strong element I enjoyed in your writing. Which came first, the story of the origin of agent-pairs in “To Die A Stranger” or the spook in the Jerome stories? What future plans do you have for related stories?

Anna & Zenni came first. There are a lot of books in their series – I scared my publisher by saying there were ten, but there may be more. The first four are finished but need a final edit and polish, and the rest need more work. I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I tell you that Anna has to join Earth Intelligence and become a spook eventually, which is a bumpy ride on both sides. Agent-pairs are a horrible concept. They can go anywhere, penetrate any defences, overhear secret conversations, steal objects and thoughts, and kill without leaving any evidence. I’m glad they’re fictional – I wouldn’t trust any of our governments with such a powerful weapon. Being the human half of an agent-pair is tough, with a high risk of psychological damage. Anna has the ego to cope with it, but many others don’t.

What technology do you use to write and / or publish? (For example, are you a pen & paper person? Do you use Scrivener?)

I started off spending all my pocket-money on cheap exercise books from Woolworth’s – you could get three for one shilling and sixpence – and scribbling in them in biro, sometimes using green or purple. When I had more money the paper quality improved and I used a nicer pen. I bought an electric typewriter to turn the scrawl into manuscripts, then an Amstrad word processor and eventually a PC. I’ve had to keep switching software as technology moved on, from Locoscript on the Amstrad, through Appleworks/Corel to WordPerfect, which I use now. I don’t care for Word, so I use Open Office to take everything into doc format, but I still find WordPerfect more intuitive and prefer to write in that. I’ve heard good things about Scrivener, although I’m not sure I need all of its complicated functions. I tend to plot in my head and sketch out the trickier twists and time lines on the back of an envelope.

Why have you gone for self-publishing in e-book format? Have you had any feedback as to whether the e-book format is a better approach for your intended audience?

Way back in the 90s I had an agent and we tried to sell the first Anna & Zenni book. It did the rounds of all the major publishers – lots of editors liked it, but it never found a home. When I took early retirement in 2011, my colleagues gave me a Kindle. I didn’t think I’d like reading on it, but I loved it. I realised that now I had the time and opportunity to put my work out as e-books, so I just went ahead and did it. I think the SF/fantasy audience is happy with e-books, although some people still want print.

How much of the publication did you do yourself? What did you use other professionals for and why?

My other half did the final copy edit and I did all the formatting. We did the cover art for “No Earthly Shore” and I admit that it isn’t wonderful. The other three covers are by professional artists.

How easy has the e-publication process been? What would you do differently next time?

It was fairly easy. I taught myself how to do it as I went along, and there are a lot of resources on-line to help. Whenever I got stuck, I’d Google for a solution. The thing about an e-book is that it’s very easy to change it and sort out any problems. I’ve re-loaded some of mine several times when people have pointed out mistakes.

What advice would you give others considering self-publishing in the e-book format?

Go for it, but be sure that your book is well-edited and typo-free. The hard bit is promoting your book so that it sells, and I don’t have the solution to that problem yet.

I know your stories are available from Amazon on Kindle. What other formats is the series available in?

My Amazon author page are Jilly Paddock on Amazon UK and Jilly Paddock on Amazon USA. They will contain an up-to-date list of all my books.

I self-published four books on Kindle in 2012, using KDP Select, so they weren’t available anywhere else. Now that I’ve signed with Pro Se Press, “To Die A Stranger” and Spook/Spirit/Stone will be taken off Kindle and come out as new e-book and print versions, and apparently as audiobooks, but I don’t have any firm dates for that yet. “No Earthly Shore” and “The Dragon, Fly” will still be available on Kindle.

What about the future? Do you see the traditional publication route as viable?

I’ve signed with a small independent publisher, and I’m sure that type of publishing will increase. My work doesn’t seem to fit with the Big Six publishers best-seller and celebrity author plan, which is squeezing far too many mid-list authors out of the game. I see my future output being a combination of traditional and self-published books, and it’s very nice to get them out of the crypt on my hard-drive and let people read them.

What’s next? Do you have anything else “in the works” at the moment?

I have two short stories which will be in Pro Se Presents, although I don’t yet know which issues they’ll appear in. “The URLKing” is an Afton & Jerome short piece, and “The Third Worst Thing That Can Happen On Mars” is an odd little tale, my take on Ray Bradbury’s “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed.”

I’m working on another Afton & Jerome novella at the moment, which will also be published by Pro Se, possibly with a couple of short stories. I’m also updating the second Anna & Zenni book, “With Amber Tears”, which will hopefully be taken by Pro Se if Stranger does well enough.

There’s also “Warbird”, an immense SF/space opera epic set two centuries before Anna & Zenni’s time, about the Vienna, a ship that travels through voidspace, the first contact with non-humanoid aliens and an interplanetary war. It’s almost finished and I may have to self-pub it, as it’s 160,000 words long.

There’s a work-in-progress fairytale, “Ladder to the Moon”, which is full of all the things you shouldn’t have in fantasy – angels, demons, a dragon and a talking horse – but isn’t like anything I’ve ever read. It’s full of folksong and folk tales, and the flora, fauna and landscape of the English countryside. I must finish it one day.

Thank you, Jilly!


Do Barnes & Noble want to sell e-books on the Nook?

If you publish e-books through Barnes & Noble, you should check out this post from author Holly Lisle: #WRITERS, Barnes & Noble Nook Press Contract Terms are INSANELY Bad!
This does not look like a good change to the terms and conditions.

Holly is an established genre writer (who not only writes fantasy and science fiction but also runs writing courses and publishes writing “How-To” books). I have been following her advice and information blog and email articles for a while. She is taking down her work from B&N.

Reading her post and some of the comments after, there are serious questions about B&N’s e-book business model – are they trying to suppress the e-book market because it eats into their “bricks & mortar” business model? Not the best way to compete in a changing environment!

Updated: 12 April:
Holly Lisle posted an update, detailing corrections relating to the B&N contract, which was not putting the full contract in the printable version: #WRITERS, Barnes & Noble CORRECTED Its Contract

For a different perspective, including references to Holly’s and other comments on the B&N collaboration tool contract see a post on Book View Café: Writing in the Digital Age: Nook Press – A Boon, or Boondoggle?

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Writers Beware: Random House’s e-book contract

When a major publisher like Random House seeks manuscripts for three new genre e-book lines it sounds like “good news”. I certainly thought so when I heard about the call for manuscripts last year. Unfortunately, the “small print” in the contracts has been anything but…

The Writer Beware blog from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (the objective of which is to “… [shine] a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls”) published a detailed critique of the conditions – Second-Class Contracts? Deal Terms at Random House’s Hydra Imprint – at the end of last month.

John Scalzi (president of the SFFWA) also weighed in with an article – Note to SF/F Writers: Random House’s Hydra Imprint Has Appallingly Bad Contract Terms – that details just what he saw wrong with it.

I first came across this furore through SF and fantasy writer Judith Tarr’s excellent article – Random Hydra and the Terrible, Horrible, Awful, No-Good, Very Bad Contract – at the Book View Café blog. Her whole article on e-publishing is well worth a read.

In the meantime, it is good to see Random House has responded to the wave of criticism and have proposed changes to the contract terms. Writer Beware carried an update – Random House Announces New Terms at Digital Imprints Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, and Flirt – detailing these.

Anyone considering an e-book (or conventional) contract will be well-advised to review these articles (and the rest of the “Writer Beware” site) to gain an awareness of things to look out for. We all want to be published but don’t want to be scalped (or be pushed back towards “vanity publishing”).

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Indie ReCon – a final round-up

Indie ReCon may only have been a three day event but being accessible online meant it always felt longer, especially as there has been a vast amount of content. Three days after it finished I am still finding things I missed during the event itself. All in all, I have to declare the con a great success.

So, what are the highlights? Well, the Con organisers produced their own list of “Lessons Learned and Tips from Indie Authors” which is a good place to start. Two of their quotes stand out for me.

“Write [emphasis] your story. No one else can tell it exactly like you will tell it. Publishing multiple books in a year isn’t necessarily a good thing if the quality suffers. Take your fime and get it right!” – Heather Self

“Patience. Nothing– and I mean nothing– happens when you want it to or expect it to. It’s a very slow process. And that writing a good book is only step one. You have to be a better marketer than writer it seems.” – Sarah Ross

There was an interesting post from Ali Cross on “Building An Author Brand”. I tend to go queasy at thoughts of “branding” and “social media” – you see I even feel compelled to put words that smack of “marketing” in inverted commas. However, Ali’s observations on the topic, and what the images and icons you use tell about what you write, are astute and provide some good insights into how these things work. After this, some really useful stuff on working out how to present yourself online, use of blogs and Twitter plus how to represent yourself (consistently!) online.

Related to that was another post: “How Can You Use Social Media to Your Advantage? by Jason Letts of the Kindle Fire Department” which plays to why I have a lot of doubts about social media, especially Facebook (which I have refused to use):

2012 was the year social media showed its true colors. 2013 will be the year we fight back. …let’s fully accept the current social media landscape: every service you use to connect with your fans is trying to make money from you off of that relationship. The mission is threefold: (1) play the game by their rules, (2) know when to spend, and (3) find a way to own access to your fans.

Jason then delves into each of the three in turn around how to take back control. It makes a lot of sense though I am not sure I like the message that with 1 in 7 minutes online being spent on Facebook that is where I might have to be if I “play by their rules”. Urgh!

Since my blog looks at technology, particularly as it affects writers (and not just reading and writing genre fiction), the final items to highlight are:

    Lori Culwell’s “Importance of SEO and Metatagging” which focuses primarily on WordPress blogs
    Richard Smith’s “Your Book as an App” which looks at the difference between e-books and apps. This will also be the subject of a separate post soon.

In summary: Indie ReCon has a wealth of information and it will stay up a while on their blog. This is too valuable a resource though to just leave to the vagaries of the Internet. Fortunately, the closing post, the organisers hint at an e-book collating the information. I think it will be an essential resource for anyone delving into indie publishing.

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What’s best (so far) at Indie ReCon?

So far, I have been having a great time checking out the Indie ReCon blog posts. There is a wealth of material being put up: tips, ideas, suggestions and stories about author experiences.

It is quite difficult to pick out particular highlights to recommend from this until I have had more time to reflect and absorb the wealth of material being posted. However, several items have had a specific impact for me already:

An Editor Reveals Her Best Secrets by Cheri Lasota: this probably resonated most from the first day’s posts as I am struggling with editing a novel at the moment. The first part contains some great tips on editing while part two focuses in on the different types of editing: developmental, substantive, proof-reading – and how to approach each.

Reaching Your Readers Online by Brittany Geragotelis: the list of social media one could use seems to grow longer with each passing month. Brittany outlines the huge amount of effort she puts into reaching out to potential readers, not just online but also face-to-face. The most interesting tip? Wattpad – a site to post stories (for free) and build an audience. In a way, this seems to take the writer a step beyond writing workshops, to gain live feedback from readers. The payback? For Brittany, her first novel distributed free over Wattpad generated sufficient buzz to lead to a very decent mainstream publishing contract.

Indie Recon continues on Thursday but the organisers say all blog posts will remain up as an archive for future reference.

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