Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Nine Worlds

Posted: August 12, 2015 in Random wifflings
Tags: , ,

Me, with a big sword.

It’s been one hell of a hectic week, so only now am I jotting down my thoughts on Nine Worlds, held 7-9th August at the Radisson Blu in Heathrow.

The first thing I’ll say is that morning of the Friday I looked out of the window at glorious sunshine and thought “Crap, the first good weekend for weeks, and I’ll be in a hotel!” After which, I was stuck in a car for nigh on five hours. Such troubles we must bear in this world of ours.

Aside from that (and I got to sit in the sun plenty anyway, so it’s all good), Nine Worlds was great fun. I managed to hit exactly none of their very comprehensive and fascinating array of panels, apart from the one I was taking part in. I did try to go to Lewis Dartnell’s talk on his book The Knowledge (great book, highly recommended) but I was confronted by a “Room Full” sign. I did however make the Gemmell awards, formally attired in camo shorts (boy did I feel underdressed), and had fascinating chat with the men of Raven Armoury, who make the replic of Snaga the axe that serves as a Gemmell trophy – the world’s heaviest, not to say deadliest, genre award!

I plan to go to a few conventions this year. Over the last few I’ve done several Black Library and Games Workshop events, but nothing else. I’ve wanted to, believe me. I still maintain that conventions are the best way for a writer to get a bit of recognition. Sure, not many people are likely to buy your books off meeting you (perhaps it may even dissuade them), but appearing at cons helps establish you in the minds of potential readers as a genuine author. There’s less chance of the immediate, widespread publicity of the social media jackpot, but as I noted a few weeks ago, that’s a hard jackpot to hit, and the relationship you can build with your potential audience is deeper.

The secondary reason for attending cons is to renew contacts and make new ones. There is no better place to meet publishers, agents, and authors, whether you’re in the industry or not. Handy for me – three of my four publishers were there, so I had to buy very few of my own drinks. Lastly, I went to hang out with my buddies and make some new ones. After many chats, I’ll say check out gamebook guru Jonathan Green’s latest Kickstarter – a dark version of Alice in Wonderland, and have a look at Nunslinger, a western written by Stark Holborn. Both piqued my interest.

My experience of conventions is restricted to my days on SFX, when I attended many. But I’d only been to a couple of Games Days before then, and I’ve never really attended SF cons purely as a punter. This one seemed better organised, more inclusive, and further ranging than most; more about the intellectual meat of SF and fantasy than about standing in line for four hours to pay an actor £20 for an autograph. There’s none of that there. It’s a more workshop-y, discursive style of event than an excuse for fan worship.

So, all in all, an awesome time was had. While Benny and Emma headed off to town to look at dinosaurs, I got pissed up and had a blast. Thank you very much for having me, Nine Worlds, I’d love to come again. And next time, I’ll be carefully reviewing your multiple strands and planning in advance what I’m going to see.

Next stop, Fantasycon!


Last weekend I was at the Nottingham Belfry Hotel, a place that is becoming something of a second home to me. There I was involved in the Black Library Weekender, third of its name. I had a glorious time. So glorious, that it took me a couple of days to recover. 3am is far too late for me now. I pretty much said everything that needs to be said about attending events when I wrote about last year’s weekender here, so this short post is my way of saying thanks to everyone who attended, and for the hard work of the Games Workshop and hotel staff who made it all happen.

I’ve said it many times before but I’ll reiterate: It is highly pleasant and important to speak with your readers. I loved chatting to you all, and I hope you enjoyed the seminars. A big moment in my career this year was being presented with stacks of books – all different – at the signing table, so thanks for that too.

As always, it was plenty of fun to catch up with my colleagues. These events are some of the only times in the year when I see my fellow writers, and provide ample opportunity to talk about writing from a technical standpoint, swap ideas, and generally horse around. Seeing Dave Bradley of SFX, catching up on happenings in Bath and talking magazines was a bonus to this authorial bonanza.

And I’m pleased to report I didn’t get shot in the back playing Zombicide, although I did lose at Spartacus.

Here’s an article about how tough it is to make good money as a writer published by The Guardian a few days ago. Obviously I have a vested interest in such things. As I read it however, it became abundantly clear that my definition of a reasonable amount of money and their idea of a reasonable amount of money are worlds apart. When I got to the part about Joanna Kavenna’s advance for The Ice Museum (non-fiction, sounds intriguing. I’m going to have to read that) my jaw sagged open. And there was me thinking “jaw dropping” was a just one of those idioms that make useful linguistic shorthand. (more…)

As a writer, when you tell someone that you are a writer, many people assume that your first book contract must mean cuban cigars and megayachts all round. Sadly (and I mean that, I’d love a really big boat) that’s not the case. Indeed, one time I explained the actual financial underpinnings of writing for a living to an old family friend and he rather disappointedly said,”So it’s not a get rich quick scheme, then?” To which I replied, “No.”

Instead, your first publishing contract is only the beginning.


YOU, the AUTHOR, are a salmon, swimming all the way home through the TEMPESTUOUS OCEAN to spawn. The first contract is the sweet taste of fresh water on your highly sensitized snout organs. But does that mean it is time to get it on with the other fish? NO! One must first swim the river, avoiding its perils – bears, fishermen, dams, thoughtless littering, below-average rainfall and so forth – all the while slowly starving to death. Only then, my little fingerling, can you make with the fish jiggy.

And then you die.


Okay, so writing for a living is not at all like being a salmon. I have warm blood for a start, and no gills. And I sincerely hope that having attained my goals I will not immediately expire. I’d like to enjoy my life – go salmon fishing perhaps – before karking it. But the starving slowly to death part, that’s uncomfortably close to the truth.

Fact is, as I’ve said before you have a limited window in which to sell enough books before you’re dropped by your publisher, denting your chances of being published again in the process. I’ve said this before, so say it with me now, “Publishers are slow to act but once they have, they are impatient for success.” That’s the beginning of a cult right there.

The single biggest problem to be overcome – the grand salmon leap if you will (stop it Haley! No more fish) is recognition. Not plaudits and awards and all that, but merely getting people to know you exist. As I’ve also said before, many, many times, one of the best ways of doing this is via the internet. But it takes a long time and a lot of work to build up an internet constituency, it can pay off big time, and it has to grow organically – it cannot be manufactured. For someone like me, who writes full-time, I have a dilemma – Need money, so write more book for money = no time for self-promotion = no book sales = no money. So write more books for money… And on in ever-decreasing circles until no bookshop will ever buy your books again.

Word of mouth is where it’s at. Yes, still. But how do we get that?

Now I love my job, and I’m doing okay at it. I think I’m past the danger zone. I’m humungously lucky to be able to do it full-time, rather than trying to cram it in around another career. Black Library could keep me employed on its own, and my stories have been well received. Thanks for that.

But there are lots of hot new authors out there WHO NEED YOUR HELP. So, the reason for this post is to list some ways that you can support authors you like with no additional financial cost, by building word of mouth.

Lend out your books

Go on, if you enjoy it, let your mates read it.

Talk about it in the pub

The best way, really. I tend to tell everyone about Dan Simmons’ The Terror when I’ve had a few.

Read the author’s other books

You don’t have to buy them, get them out of the library. (One thing bugs me: why aren’t there lots of official online libraries? Are there? Tell me! If not, someone sort that, right now. And no, I don’t mean copyright-busting torrent sites).

Review it

If you have the time, blog about it. If not, just mark it on Goodreads or Amazon or wherever. Click those stars. I’ve no idea how much attention you pay to reviews. I read reviews before I buy, but I know some people don’t. On balance, high-starred marks can’t do any harm. (I’ve talked about negative reviews before. Write them – they’re still useful to writers, but for different, craft reasons).

Send cheques in the post.

Okay, now I’m just getting pleady.

The point is, if you like someone’s book, talk about it. Tell the world! That way, the author whose book you’ve liked gets to write some more, hopefully for you to like as well.

And then they get to lay their eggs.

A couple of weeks ago I did an interview with Geoff and Carl at the wargaming podcast The Independent Characters. It was heaps of fun, and went up on the net earlier this week. I talk mostly about Baneblade, but within that cover my work process, what it’s like writing for The Black Library, where my ideas come from and other writing-craft related topics. Be aware, there are spoilers.

Chuck Wendig, entertainingly foul-mouthed author of Blackbirds, and something of a doyen of writing advice, posted this on his blog today:

Writers And Misinformation, Or: “How Did You Publish?” « terribleminds: chuck wendig.

It spawned a lengthy response from me, which I republish here, if you’re interested.

It kind of helps who you know, but not that much

I’ve been trying to get published since I was 18. I didn’t succeed until I was 34. I was a journalist on a scifi magazine called SFX for six years, I edited gaming mag White Dwarf, then I edited another magazine called Death Ray. Bottom line is, I got to meet a whole load of publishers, writers and other associated industry types. The wordage part of the genre was always my thing, so I always kept up with these people. I schmoozed and tickled their ears with risqué babble. Some of them became my pals. This meant that they were more than willing to look at my stuff when I bashfully said I wished to write.

This does not mean they took it. That you do the secret handshake and air kiss and bare your arse at the hungry would-be writers outside who can’t see you through the silvered glass of word-heaven central as laughing nymph girls slip five thousand pound notes into your author’s jockstrap. It means they might look at it, when they get round to it.

This can take a very long time. Years. I had one book that I sent in. It took six months to be rejected. I sent another. Another six months, and there was interest. Two years of writing, and toing and froing, then resubmitting, then a meeting nearly a year after that… To be told it wasn’t what they wanted. The whole process took four years. This was to someone I had met many times, and who liked me, and who had seen my writing and liked that too. Basically, if it’s not good enough, it doesn’t really matter who you know.

And then there’s taste. I’m quite friendly with one of the UK’s biggest agents. He won’t represent me, seven published or about to be published novels or not, because my stuff isn’t to his taste. So there you are.

Sure, I know who to write to, who to talk to, and I stand a good chance of getting to speak to them. But all that took conscious effort to establish. I went into journalism specifically to build these contacts up. I tell all the other aspiring writers I meet that YOU TOO CAN MAKE THESE CONTACTS. Go to conventions, events, author signings. Nowadays, you can comment on blogs, be tweet buddies. Be nice, be charming, don’t attack them with rolled up manuscripts howling your brilliance in their terrified faces in hotel lobbies. Yes, it does help to know people, so then, get to know them. It’s not an exclusive club. It’s not like all my old colleagues are now novelists. Oh, hang on, none of them are, while I have seen dozens of people without contacts plucked from obscurity. See? No guaranteed entry.

Trad publishing is very slow…

We are talking glacially slow, mind-numbing, awfully, horribly slow. The slowness that sees years flicker by in time-lapse haste, and the rise and fall of entire phyla of organisms. They’re not being haughty, a lot of publishers are ridiculously overworked. Getting to know them helps. An agent helps a lot more.

I submitted something to a contact six months ago who said they wanted something off me, and they haven’t got back. I submitted something else to an actual friend, and our conversations trailed off over a year ago. Bear in mind, I am already published.

I was known to Games Workshop, and worked for them. A lot of them are my genuine “Hey! How’s it going? Let’s play Warhammer right now!” friends. It took me six years of pitches to get published by them.

…and then is impatient for success

If you do get published, and your first book is not a success, you’ll be out. There are a roughly a bazillion-trillion writers who want your job, so publishers can keep popping exciting fresh product out on the shelves with minimal outlay until one of them is a raging success. The days when a publisher loved an author, and had the time and money to nurture them are mostly gone. They’re under a lot of pressure to achieve instant megabucks. The world of publishing is currently in a brutal phase. On the other hand, there is more opportunity available for everyone now. Swings, roundabouts, all that.

Trad publishing is not going anywhere

People will always want filters. Trad publishing is a filter for readers. An agent is a filter for publishers. Reviews are filters for everyone. We all use filters, all the time. Google does, our brains do, our coffee does. If a publisher rates it enough to publish, you know it must be at least okay. That’s not something you get through self-publishing. Self-pub is undoubtedly going to get a lot more important, and the industry is changing. But look at music. That took an earlier and much harsher battering than publishing is taking now, and the big labels are still there. It’s sticking around, it will change, use it to your advantage, don’t spurn it.

But the internet really is where it’s at

One thing I’ve noticed is that the new writers who have been the most successful are those with an established internet constituency. Good old Chuck here, or Adam Christopher. Doing cool, engaging stuff on the internet can help, nay! ENSURE, success when you are picked up by a trad publisher, or if you self publish. This is a lot of work in itself. God knows how much time the likes of Mr Wendig or John Scalzi spend blogging. When do you guys eat? It’s a constant struggle for me — write something for guaranteed repo-men repelling monies, or spend valuable time-units connecting with the world. Gah! My head acheth already at the merest contemplation of it.

 Trad publishers are only human

I got some very stern advice from one publisher about never, ever writing spin-off fiction, that I’d waste my talent, that I’d never be taken seriously, that I’d not develop as a writer if I yoked my meagre portion of creativity to the every-hungry franchise monster.

This was very bad advice. It was well-meant, and it was true in some respects – people still do look down on tie-in fiction, and I’ve a few examples of this – but it’s not as true as it was. Plus, I need to pay the bills. Franchise fiction offers an instant audience, and a guaranteed return which original fiction does not. On top of that, franchise stuff can lead others to your original fiction. Writing shared-universe material is not hack-work, it’s as hard as and can be as rewarding as spinning out your own world. BUT the same publisher did give me lots and lots and lots of very, very good advice too. You are the arbiter of your fate, not some “gatekeeper.” So, follow your own head.

Trad pub can work for you

I’m dubious of the utopian claims of some pundits who herald the collapse of trad pub and the emergence of a creator culture, as trad publishing provides stability to the whole ramshackle edifice of storytelling, primarily by allowing writers who aren’t bohemian whizzkids with a ton of time on their hands and/or an enormous trust fund to eat by paying advances up front. I pray this does not go away, or I’m out of work.

They’re generally not bastards

Publishers are nice people who love books. I have never had any ideas stolen, or been mocked, or been otherwise humiliated or even discomfited (outside the soul-crush of rejection). Sometimes books come out with suspiciously similar ideas to your own, but that’s almost certainly coincidence (like, I’ve had a lot of ideas I’ve told no one about, and this has happened several times). The publishers I have met have all been lovely, lovely people. Authors, on the other hand… Sheesh. Kidding! They’re pussycats too.

A lot of it is down to you

Every time I do a seminar, I get a crowd of (metaphorical) pitchfork waving people hailing self-publishing as the new god, and about how trad pub deliberately keeps them out. I get the feeling they are impatient (see above comment on slowness). You have to: Keep writing. Keep schmoozing. Keep positive. And be humble. I’ve met more than a few “They don’t recognise my genius!” type aspiring authors. They are generally rubbish, as well as annoying. If you don’t at least listen to the advice many publishers give you in the bar/rejection letter/on the net, you will lose. Listen to criticism, talk to your friends, join reading/ writing clubs, read tons of books, don’t follow the one path, follow them all! And read this blog — Chuck’s advice is among the very best. All these things are surer ways to publication — by whatever means – than whining about traditional publishing houses and their status as Illuminati puppet-theatres. We’re all people, trying to do our thing. Evil rarely enters into it.

Does that help? I hope so.