Chuck Wendig – the writer other writers need to read

September 16, 2011

 Chuck Wendig   the writer other writers need to readHow do you like that blog post title? Make sense? It should, and it’s true. I came across Chuck’s work from a variety of sources, mostly Twitter-related. And I’m glad I did. You’ll thank me too. I take thanks in the form of alcohol and sexual favours. Or you could buy my books to express your thanks. See what I did there? What are you thanking me for, you ask? How many questions can I put into an opening paragraph? Shall I see? Don’t push me, punks.

Perhaps I’ve had too much coffee today.

Chuck Wendig is a “novelist, screenwriter and freelance penmonkey”. Here’s his bio:

Chuck Wendig is equal parts novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He currently lives in the wilds of Pennsyltucky with wife, dog, and newborn progeny. His “vampire in zombieland” novel, DOUBLE DEAD, releases in November, 2011, and he just signed a two-book deal for BLACKBIRDS and MOCKINGBIRD with Angry Robot Books. He has two e-books available: a book of profane writing advice (CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY) and a short story collection (IRREGULAR CREATURES).

“So what do I care?” you’re asking. He’s just making you jealous with his success. Well, that’s why you should read his blog and his books. He’s the hardest working motherfucker in writing, as far as I can tell. The man’s output is astounding. And he gives so much of it away.

I’ve got his ebook, Confessions Of A Freelance Penmonkey, and it’s brilliant. Packed full of juicy tips for writers like a teenage boy’s wastepaper basket is packed full of tissues, only marginally less disgusting. But you don’t even have to buy his books to get his sage advice. He tells it like it is, which is another reason I’m so enamoured of the man. You know me, I don’t like a pussyfooter.

He blogs at his site, Terrible Minds, and is famed far and wide for his 25 Things… lists. Here are a few of my favourite recent postings:

25 Ways To Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story

25 Things You Should Know About Queries, Synopses, Treatments

Twenty-Sided Troubadours: Why Writers Should Play Roleplaying Games

Okay, that last one isn’t a 25 Things… list. Sue me. Actually, don’t – I’m a starving writer and all you’d win in a lawsuit is some suspiciously stained old clothing. And no one wants that.

Yeah, I can hear the grinding of your grudging agreement from here. This bloke knows his shit inside out (don’t think too hard on that expression) and he’s willing to share it (or that). Get yourself over to Terrible Minds and share in the good stuff. Every writer owes it to themselves. I’ve got loads of good stuff out of Chuck and you should too, before the man is a hollowed-out husk, rasping in a gutter somewhere, sucked dry by his own generosity.

Go. Now. Become better.


New covers now and audiobooks for Christmas

September 9, 2011

I love my publisher, Gryphonwood Press. Why? I’ll damn well tell you why. Firstly, they’ve had new wraparound artwork commissioned for my dark fantasy thriller duology, RealmShift and MageSign. The books are contemporary dark fantasy thrillers, verging on horror, and there’s a distinct vibe to that kind of book developing. If you look at book covers from people like Jim Butcher, Jon F Merz and Lev Grossman (to name just a few) you’ll see what I mean. So Gryphonwood got fantastic artist Fiona Hsieh on the case. Gryphonwood  and Fiona worked very closely with me on what kind of imagery we wanted and I think Fiona absolutely nailed it.

Here are the new covers:

new realmshift cover front smaller New covers now and audiobooks for Christmas new magesign cover front smaller New covers now and audiobooks for Christmas

Pretty freaking sweet, I reckon.

Click on the images below if you want to see higher res versions of the full wraparound covers that will now grace the print editions of the books.

new realmshift cover wrap med 150x150 New covers now and audiobooks for Christmas new magesign cover wrap med 150x150 New covers now and audiobooks for Christmas

What do you think? I’m very interested to hear what people think of the new art, so even if you don’t like it, please leave a comment and tell me why. Amazon are being a pain and not updating the pages for the print editions, even though the Kindle editions, Books In Print and every other fucker on the planet has updated the images. But I’m sure they’ll get there in the end. Gryphonwood are on the case.

The other news that has me Snoopy dancing around the place is that Gryphonwood have negotiated audio rights to both books, and the audiobook edition of both will be available soon. RealmShift is slated to be ready in time for Xmas, with MageSign close behind. This is awesome news, as it marks a new stage in the life of these stories. And these are stories which really mean a lot to me.

The audiobooks will be read by Matt “Bentley” Allegre, a well versed voice actor who has done narration, character voices and impressions for radio, video and websites for the last ten years. I’ve heard samples and the opening pages of chapter one and I’m very excited. This guy has a great voice, with a really dark edge that suits the books perfectly. He’s American, which may bother my Australian and UK readers, but we’re all used to American accents anyway, right? It’s also worth remembering that Gryphonwood are an American publisher and the big market for books in any format is really the US. Regardless, Matt has a brilliant voice that suits the books perfectly. I can’t wait to hear the finished products.

So that’s my news, and I’m right bloody chuffed about it. I’ll let you know when the audiobooks are available.


E-book pricing – a rumination

September 6, 2011

There have been numerous articles, online and off, discussing ebook pricing and I won’t bother to list or link them here – I’m sure you ingenious readers can find them. So why am I chiming in again? Well, it’s a fluid subject, always on the move. More and more people all the time are taking up ebooks and it will become the norm. It’s impossible to put timeframes on something so variable, but it will happen.

There are several theories on how ebooks will fit into the mainstream. Firstly, it’s important to remember that it’s not either/or. You don’t have to choose. I love all books. I love print books and ebooks. The vast majority of new books I buy these days are ebooks, but if I really like something I’ll get a hard copy to go on the shelf. Or if a book is a particular piece of art, I’ll get it. I love getting contributor’s copies of books I have stories in, because I’m a vain fucker and like to point to the brag shelf and say to people, “Yes, I have work in all those anthologies. And those are my novels. Ahaha.” Shut up, I need validation.

I see the general breakdown of production settling into something along these lines: All new titles will be ebooks, some, especially from smaller publishers, being only ebooks. Alongside that I see a lot of publishers using Print On Demand technology to make paperbacks available to those who like them. And then a short run of actual printed stock, possibly limited edition hardbacks for collectors. That makes three primary delivery systems of stories – electronic, mass-market (though probably POD) and artefact. This is my prediction, but it’s not particularly relevant to this post. I’m looking here at ebook pricing based on the fact that ebooks will become mainstream and will eventually be everyone’s primary method of consuming stories. Don’t get upset, there’s nothing you can do about it. Have you seen Star Trek? How many real books do you ever see? Yeah, it’s gonna be like that. You can’t hold back the future any more than you can hold back the tide with a broom.

So, how should we price ebooks? I ran this question by the straw poll that is my Twitter and Facebook tribe and got some really interesting answers. Firstly, I’ll give my personal opinion.

An ebook should always be cheaper than the print book, by a fair factor. If most paperbacks are $9.99 or less, then ebooks of those titles should be $7 at most. If a book is really popular and in demand, like the new George R R Martin book, it can be more. The Kindle of that one is $17, which is fine, because the only other option is a $40 hardcover. At least, that’s true for Australia. On Amazon, the book is listed at $35 but on special at $18.81. Add postage to Australia and it’s close to $40 again. However, once the paperback edition comes out, that ebook puppy better drop to less than the paperback price or the publisher is taking the piss.

So, for the purposes of simplicity, let’s look at standard paperback vs ebook pricing. If the print edition is $10 or less, the ebook needs to be at most two thirds of that price. There’s no production cost once the e-edition is set up and ready. There’s no distribution cost. And there’s no physical artefact for the reader. Sure, we’re buying the story and that deserves to be paid for, but the item itself is also a factor.

“What about the poor starving author?” you cry. I am one, so don’t come crying to me. Of course the author needs to be paid and we need to value his or her product. But let’s not get all high and mighty without the facts, ma’am. Ebooks generate a massive royalty compared to print. If the author has signed a good contract – and they should be getting a new agent if they haven’t – they should be getting a royalty model on ebooks different to print.

My novels are $9.99 in paperback and $3.99 in ebook. (So reasonable I’ll wait here a moment while you go and buy them… got ‘em? Good. You’ll love them.) I make a bigger royalty on ebooks than I do on print, even though the retail is less than half. That’s because the margin on print production to retail is very slim and I get a slim cut of that. The margin on ebook to retail is far bigger, often up to 70%, and I get a far bigger slice of that pie. Mmm, virtual pie.

So authors can actually do better selling ebooks for far less than print books. Right now, if I sold 10,000 copies of RealmShift this year, I’d much prefer to shift 10,000 ebooks than print ones, as that would pay me far more handsomely. And I do like a handsome paycheque. I would also love to sell 10,000 copies of anything this year, please tell your friends.

Personally, I’m against the popular 99c price point for ebook novels. As an introduction, or a special offer, it’s a good idea. But for novels I think it generally undermines the value of the product. In my experience, most avid readers will view a 99c novel with suspicion and expect it to be shit. They’ll often be right in that assumption. It’s important for authors and publishers to not devalue their content. As one author said, “If people think my novels are only worth 99c, I don’t want them as fans.” That’s a bit extreme, but he has a very valid point. If people aren’t prepared to pay the equivalent of a cup of coffee for your months of hard work, well, fuck ‘em.

I have a novella available for 99c, which is deliberately priced low for several reasons: It’s only around 30,000 words, it’s available for free right here on this website and it’s a teaser, to help people notice me. I also self-published it, so I keep all the royalties, such as they are. Sure, I think it’s worth more than 99c, but I also think it’s fair to charge that and hope to get more readers that way.

So my thinking is that the sweet spot for ebooks is the $3 to $7 price range, with exceptions made for very special items. Authors will make at least as much, if not more, than they would from paperback sales and consumers get to read more and still value the work of the people they like to read. Given that paperbacks here in Australia are usually around $20, I’m actually happy to pay anything up to $15 for an ebook, but I really stop and think twice if it’s over $10.

I won’t name names, because I didn’t ask permission to use the comments, but here’s what some of the people on my social networks had to say on the subject:

I’ve paid up to $9.99 for a book a really wanted, but insofar as most genre fiction the price range generally is settled between $4.99-$7.99. A lot of indies sell their books at 99 cent, but I personally think that is a mistake because all it does is get the value shoppers and it rarely builds a loyal following. At least at the $4.99 range you have wiggle room to offer periodic sales and such.

I’ll pay up to $15, but only for something I really want to read. Generally $7-10. I tend to steer clear of anything at 99 cents simply because it’s so ingrained in my mind that anything priced so cheap can’t be good.

I’d pay up to $15 though the most I’ve yet paid was half of that. I love that you can get classics and foreign books, many that are not available in print here in Australia, for free or very cheap.

I think 10 bucks is reasonable.

I usually pay around the $10 mark – give or take $2-$3. Like others, I get twitchy if it’s only 99c or so, unless I know the author.

$2.99. Can’t borrow ‘em out. Can’t resell them. No physical formatting. No shipping. No distribution.

I get uncomfortable with anything over the $10 mark, but have no real basis for that limit. Will pay more for favourite authors just as I was and am willing to pay for hardcover rather than wait for paperbacks for same.

$5 its a new technology.

I generally won’t pay more than $5 depending on restrictions. If it’s only a license to read (a la Kindle) I pay less

up to $10 is ‘buy without thinking twice’ & up to $15 is ‘buy at once if I *really* want it. Anything higher, I hesitate.

$6-7? Like to compensate author/editor for the work, but don’t want to pay non-existent print/delivery etc costs.

So from that selection of comments it seems there are certainly a number of things people still take into consideration and DRM is a big factor. But the general consensus is ten bucks or less overall, with a couple stretching out to a maximum of $15. Interesting times, indeed.

You’ve read my thoughts and heard a few others. What do you think? How much will you pay? And how much or how little do you think is unreasonable?


The August Australian Speculative Fiction Blog Carnival

August 15, 2011

Nicole Murphy has collected a fantastic array of links to keep you busy all week. The August Australian Spec Fic blog carnival is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. So big it’s in two parts.

Part the first is here.

Part the second is here.

Enjoy and share!


Kapow! At Angela Slatter’s blog

July 18, 2011

Angela Slatter was kind enough to invite me to post over at her blog about fighting. In fact, she kinda threatened me, but that’s okay. Fighting and writing are pretty much my favourite things.

Go over and have a read.

write the fight right cover med Kapow! At Angela Slatters blog


A short a day – first week of July

July 11, 2011

I blogged about this recently and I’ve already got slack with it. I haven’t managed to read a short story every day, but I have managed most days. Here are the things I’ve read this past week or two:

Freefall by Eric James Stone, from Daily Science Fiction. This was a very powerful piece of flash fiction with some great science. I guessed how it was going to go down, but still enjoyed reading it play out. I subscribe to Daily Science Fiction and get a new story in my inbox every day.

Acception by Tessa Kum, from Baggage anthology, ed Gillian Polack, Eneit Press. Excellent near future dystopia of racial profiling and Orwellian mind control. This scored a bunch of award nominations, and totally deserved them. A real must-read.

Trickster by Mari Ness, from Clarkesworld. Very interesting idea and a nice literary style, but a distinct lack of explanation in why things happened the way they did and what for. Not really any story there to speak of, leaving me with more questions than answers, and not in a good way. Still worth a read and others will probably get more from it than me.

The Gateway of the Monster and The House Among The Laurels by William Hope Hodgson. Catching up on a hole in my reading, thanks to Adam Christopher’s recommendation. Carnacki the Ghost-Finder stories, first published between 1910 and 1912 in The Idler magazine and The New Magazine, are classic old school supernatural detective yarns. They’re great fun and well worth a read. I found a free collection in the Kindle store. Bonus.

Valeria by Ian R Faulkner in Murky Depths #16. I have a story, Mirrorwalk, in this issue and finally had time to read some of my contributer’s copy. This story is a dark, violent cyberpunk noir tale. Gritty and clever, and quite disturbing. Not the most original idea, but very well played out with some original twists.

Doorways For The Dispossessed by Paul Haines from The Last Days Of Kali Yuga. The original “backpacker horror” yarn. An excellent exploration of lucid dreaming and its potential dangers with a cool, horrible twist. Paul Haines is an outstanding writer and this is probably the definitive Haines collection. Get it. Now.

I’ll post more updates like this on infrequent occasions. I’ll try to read a short a day, but you know how it is. What have you read lately?


Copyright Agency Limited releases results from digital publishing trends survey

June 30, 2011

The full article is here but I thought I’d pick out the key points and comment on them as it makes for interesting reading. And you know how I like to comment on stuff. CAL conducted a survey of members to learn more about their views of, and experiences with digital publishing in Australia. Over 2,000 CAL members responded, making this survey the largest of its kind in the Australian publishing environment. The survey was sent to all CAL members, ranging from international publishers to self-published authors, asking about their digital experiences and thoughts on the future.

Here are the key findings, in bold, with my comments after:

Both authors and publishers think the benefits of digital publishing far outweigh any of the downsides

I think this is a given now. There are very few people left, I think, who see digital publishing as a problem.

Around half of all authors and publishers create digital products

This surprised me – I thought it would be more by now. But more on that lower down.

The majority of publishers are still developing their digital strategies

This is not really a problem, but I see it more as a reaction to a rapidly changing environment. I think publishers will be constantly developing their digital strategies to keep up. It’s not something that will settle for a long time yet.

Only 15% of publishers have a competitively differentiating digital strategy

This is a problem. Digital needs to be seen as something different to the standard, existing print model of publishing and has to be treated differently. Publishers are already being left behind due to a resistance to accept this change and the longer they prevaricate, the harder it will be to catch up. Which they will inevitably have to do.

To date, 26% of publishers have no digital strategy at all

This is astounding! Just over a quarter? This is fiddling while Rome burns. It’s playing bowls while the Spanish Armada hoves into view. It’s foolish in the extreme to simply ignore the digital publishing revolution. Whether you like it or not, it is happening. It’s going to continue happening. It’s not a passing fad. There will be paper books and traditional publishing for a long time yet, but e-publishing is racing to catch up and will be rolling alongside as completely mainstream very soon.

To digress slightly, there seems to be a large proprotion of people that ask: Are you into paper books or ebooks? It’s not an either/or situation. I regularly buy both. I enjoy both. The vast majority of readers will be the same. But there are a lot of things now that I’ll buy as an ebook that I would never have bothered with in print – for cost, storage and ease of reading reasons – which makes the combination of print and digital far better than simply one or the other. Videos didn’t kill cinema, television didn’t kill radio. Ebooks won’t kill print publishing. But to completely ignore the rise of digital and have no strategy for it as a publisher is idiotic.

Digital publishing currently contributes less than 5% to the income of most authors and publishers – however, around 10% of authors and 14% of publishers currently make more than half their income from digital publishing

These are slightly rubber stats, but interesting nonetheless. Overall, the 5% figure stands, but that will be growing and will continue to grow until it is a much larger number. I’d say the authors and publishers making more than half their income from digital are the self-published, indie publishers and small press. And they will continue to grow in number as well. The digital options now make self-, indie- and small press publishing far more viable options than they ever were before and that’s very exciting.

Lower costs and improved access to markets are the greatest benefits for authors and publishers alike

See above.

Technical expertise, market dominance of multinationals and piracy are the three concerns shared by authors and publishers

This is no real surprise and is always going to be the case. Keeping up with technology and feeling the pressure from the “big guys” is a concern in all forms of business. From the corner store threatened by the massive super mall, to the indie music label threatened by the big labels, to the cottage industry threatened by the conglomerates. It’s always a battle in a capitalist environment. And piracy is something that affects all creative industries – film, music, television and publishing. Hell, I remember borrowing my friend’s Dungeons & Dragons rule books and spending hours photocopying them in the school library, because I couldn’t afford to buy my own.

But remember – the only thing worse than piracy is obscurity. It’s not going anywhere and we have to accept it as part of the digital landscape.

Low-level technical skills are the most significant barrier to market entry

I think this is more a fear than a reality. Anyone who suggested this has probably not tried to publish digitally because they think they won’t be able to. It’s actually bloody easy, and getting easier all the time.

Authors and publishers share some common views in relation to e-book royalties

Well, that’s good. We need to see the explanation to understand this point. So, from the original article:

Even in the contentious area of e-book royalties, authors and publishers shared some common views. No doubt there was some divergence of opinion, but the differences were by no means extreme. Similar numbers of authors and publishers (16.9 and 17.8%, respectively) thought e-book royalties should be set in the range of 11-20% of net receipts. Another 16% of authors and 13% of publishers thought that range should be 21-30%. Unsurprisingly a large cluster of authors (16.3%) felt the range should be 41-50% (whereas only 4% of publishers agreed). Interestingly, only 14.3% of authors felt the royalty should be 51% or greater. It should also be noted that when asked about the topic of ebook royalties, there was a significant proportion of both authors (24.3%) and publishers (38.8%) who chose not to express an opinion.

I think you’ll also find that a lot of authors are seriously considering retaining their e-rights and self-publishing their digital catalogue, so the percentage of royalties to a publisher becomes moot. But, speaking personally, if my publisher will cover all the technical aspects of design, layout, editing and so on, and leave me to write, I’m happy to split the royalties, just like regular publishing. Percentages will vary a lot, as they already do with print.

2/3 of CAL members believe that digital sales will eventually overtake print for the Australian publishing industry as a whole

And I agree with them. As I’ve said many times before, print will not die, but it will become boutique to some degree. Plus, does Print On Demand count as digital or print? Because the vast majority of paperback sales are likely to be POD before too long, in my opinion.

Of all the 2,090 CAL members surveyed, almost 19% own an iPad and over 12% own a Kindle

Given the supposed resistance to the rise of digital publishing, these are very revealing figures. There are also a lot of other ways to read ebooks and I don’t know if those were covered. It’s happening and only a handful of grumpy old bastards are really complaining.

These are exciting times and we should be enjoying the greatest change in publishing since the invention of the Gutenberg press!

Go to the original article on the CAL site and have a read. Especially check out the italicised comments at the end. So, what do you think?


Game changer – J K Rowling, Pottermore and ebooks without a publisher

June 24, 2011

The internet has been abuzz lately since mega-billionaire-super-author, J K Rowling (of Harry Potter fame, in case you’ve been a monk in a cave for more than ten years) announced Pottermore. In a nutshell, it goes like this:

After seven books and eight films and more merchandising than you can fit in George Lucas’s ego, Rowling has now announced a website which will be a complete interactive experience for all ages based on her stories. Along with that she’s announced that for the first time ebook editions of the Harry Potter series will be made available. Well, legal ebook editions that is. Rowling truly is the master at monetising her ideas and characters, having turned some books about wizards at school into an international behemoth across all media.

With Pottermore, as the press release says:

For this groundbreaking collaborative project, J.K. Rowling has written extensive new material about the characters, places and objects in the much-loved stories, which will inform, inspire and entertain readers as they journey through the storylines of the books. Pottermore will later incorporate an online shop where people can purchase exclusively the long-awaited Harry Potter eBooks, in partnership with J K Rowling’s publishers worldwide, and is ultimately intended to become an online reading experience, extending the relevance of Harry Potter to new generations of readers, while still appealing to existing fans.

It’s a pretty inspired concept. Of course, Rowling with her riches and business partners is the kind of author with the kind of clout you’d need to make something like this happen.

The real game changer among all this, however, despite the partnership comment above, is that the ebooks will be essentially self-published. Her publishers, Bloomsbury, Scholastic, etc., don’t own the eletronic rights – and I bet they’re really happy about that. So Rowling is planning to make the ebooks available directly through Pottmore. Of course, when Rowling self-publishes, she’s has a team of people behind her and her own company on the case, so it’s not like she sits there on her own and uploads files to Amazon. But the key here is the lack of a third-party publisher.

The Kindle will accept epub format ebooks soon and the announcement that the Harry Potter ebooks will be available from October seems to fit in with that, so it’s likely the books will be in epub. That certainly does seem to be the prominent format and, aside from Amazon’s mobi format, has been the industry leader all along. Once the Kindle accepts epub too, we have the first stage of industry standardisation and that’s a good thing for all of us. Perhaps we have Rowling to thank in part for forcing that change – who knows who talked to who while this was getting off the ground.

Authors leveraging their existing print success to manage their own ebook releases is nothing new – just see J A Konrath’s example for one. But nothing on this scale has happened before and we can see things shifting a little more on the axis. I’ve said it before – we’re living in exciting times in writing and publishing and the ride ain’t over yet. I wonder how many kids will get an ereader with a set of Harry Potter books on board for Xmas this year? This will be a big step in mainstreaming ereaders, which are becoming more and more mainstream anyway. On a recent flight to Melbourne I noticed several people reading from Kindles and Sony Readers while waiting for my plane.

The kind of cross-media storytelling and promotion which Pottermore represents is certainly not new, but we’ve seen nothing on this scale before. Just the official announcement video is better than any book trailer a lowly author like myself could hope for. I wonder where we go from here?

Here’s the official release video from Rowling herself:

And here’s the Pottermore site.

Interesting times indeed. What do you think? Is this a good thing or not? Where do things go from here?


Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner – review

June 13, 2011

nekropolis tim waggoneri Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner   reviewTwo reviews in two days? You can tell it’s a long weekend. Yesterday was the new Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides. This time it’s a novel, Nekropolis, by Tim Waggoner. I’d heard rumblings here and there about this book and it kept cropping up in People Who Bought This Book Also Bought lists, so I thought I’d finally give it a go.

It’s the story of Matt Richter, a dead ex-policeman. He’s now a zombie and in serious danger of rotting away to nothing. He lives in Nekropolis, the city of the Darkfolk. The basic idea behind the location is that all the vampires, lycanthropes and other monsters got sick and tired of being persecuted by humans, so the most powerful among them created a city in a paralell dimension. It’s the shape of a pentagram, Father Dis manages the whole thing while five Darklords are each responsible for one section. Imagine a pentagram and you’ll get the idea. Each section has a different vibe based on its darklord – lycanthropes in one section, death in another, and so on. The idea that the darkfolk left as they were sick of persecution is a bit rich – after all, they’re persecuted because they eat people – but that aside, it’s a cool way to have a paralell world of creepiness and weirditude while still being able to reference Earth. Matt Richter is an Earth cop who went to Nekropolis on the trail of a murderer. While there he was killed, zombified and he’s stayed there ever since, being a kind of private detective for the dark and undead population. In this book he’s drafted in by half-human, half-vampire Devona to help her out. She guards the collection of magical artefacts collected by Lord Galm, her father and one of the five Darklords. One particular artefact has gone missing and she needs to find it before Galm discovers it’s gone and shit hits the fan.

So we have a classic noir detective thriller, with a pretty girl, a missing thing and various nefarious subplots, but it’s all wrapped up in the gloriously weird environment of Nekropolis.

Waggoner does a great job building the world and feeding us information about how it works and how it came to be. We learn more about Matt Richter and how he came to be the way he is. Nekropolis really is a richly detailed and populated setting. It reminded me of a Tim Burton film, especially as there’s a distinct thread of humour throughout. It could easily have been all very dark and horrifying, but Waggoner treats the denizens of Nekropolis like the population of anywhere else and draws a fair amount of black comedy from the conceit. I couldn’t help seeing the place as a Tim Burton/Henry Selick type production, all in stop motion animation like The Nightmare Before Christmas. In some places the author tries almost too hard to make things as weird as possible, but on the whole it all works very well.

The plot itself is something of a story by numbers – you can see from the setup how the thing will play out in the big picture and there’s the expected movement of the characters through all the major areas of Nekropolis that have been alluded to. There are standard set pieces and even at one point a bad guy giving the whole monologue while the good guys engineer their escape thing, which was a bit of a shame. But on the whole the story was a good noir detective yarn and I didn’t pick the details of how it all worked out. I kept reading and I wanted to know what happened. There were enough surprises and twists along the way too, which drew away from the somewhat formulaic plot, and the setting was often distraction enough.

In places I found the writing a little bit too explanatory. We really didn’t need reminding that Matt was a zombie, therefore dead, every single time he alluded to any kind of emotion or physical sensation, for example. It got really tiresome. But those kind of writing related niggles were very superficial and on the whole the book read very easily and carried me along just as good fiction should. But that brings me to the editing. I know this isn’t the fault of the author, or a problem with the story, but the editing in this one was atrocious.

I’ve read a lot of indie and self-published work and one of the things the indie crowd are always going on about is quality editing. When a book is full of typos and stuff, it devalues the whole experience and also makes it stand out from trad published work. But this is not a self-published book. This is from Angry Robot, a publisher that I have enormous respect for and love the stuff they publish. Hell, I’d love to be published by Angry Robot! But the editor on this job needs to seriously improve his game.

Let me give you some examples of what I’m getting at. There were loads, and I mean LOADS, of missed words. There were numerous examples of misspelled words, things like -ed missing off the end of words that should have been past tense, things like “nearly” when the word should have been “nearby” and so on. In one scene, that was only a few pages long, one incidental character had his name spelled three different ways in two pages! There are always typos in books – I know that my novel, RealmShift, has a bad typo on the second page (taught instead of taut – GAH!) and we accept that it’s going to happen. But this book was riddled with them. And then there were editing errors like one scene where a lamb became a goat with no explanation and stuff like that. I would normally look past this stuff – I’ve been an editor as well as a writer and I know how hard it is to get everything, even when you have a whole team of people on board. There will always be typos. But this one went a bit beyond the pale. Incidentally, I read the Kindle edition, but that shouldn’t matter – the source file should be the same for all editions.

But let’s move on. Nekropolis is a clever and entertaining noir mystery, set in a truly imaginative world that kept me entertained from start to finish. It’s not a world-breaking novel, but it’s darn good fun and I enjoyed it a lot. 3 Stars.


Of readers and gatekeepers – a call to arms

May 23, 2011

Are you reading this? Then I’m talking to you. You’re a reader and you have a new responsibility. I’m including myself in this. I’m a writer, but I’m a reader too. Any writer worth his or her salt should be a voracious reader, and we’ve got a new responsibility as well. We’re all the New Gatekeepers. No, not extras in a Doctor Who episode, don’t get over-excited.

There’s so much talk about the changing face of publishing, and justifiably so. It’s an exciting time and writing and publishing is going through a renaissance brought about by new technologies. That means there are options out there for pretty much everyone to get their writing out into the world, and a lot of people are taking up the opportunity. Some people are doing seriously well out of it, like Amanda Hocking. Others are doing rather less well, like the poor woman that immolated her career with one online review – you know who I mean. But one of the net results of this revolution in publishing is that readers have been saddled with a massive new responsibility.

Gatekeeping is important. In the good old days of the late 90s and early 2000s, and since forever before that, the gatekeepers were the publishers. Writers would approach publishers, either directly or through agents, and publishers would decide what was published and what wasn’t. They essentially filtered what everyone got to read. The upside of this was, largely, the stuff that made it into print was generally well written and worth reading. Generally. We all know publishers are quite capable of turning out reams of utter shite too. But on the whole they ensured a general level of quality control. The downside, apart from the afore-mentioned shite, is that they also ensured that anything risky or unusual, something strangely cross-genre, something not immediately saleable, was unlikely to see the light of day. There were self-publishing and small press success stories, where the unlikely became massive, but those hits were very, very rare.

Now, with the advent of Print On Demand and ebook technology, publishers have found those gatekeeping responsibilities ripped away. Writers are still keen to be published by the big guys – there’s a definite advantage to it, both in terms of credibility and distribution, hence readership. But literally millions of people are circumventing the publishers and self-publishing. Millions more are scoring smaller deals with small press. The volume of stuff out there is staggering. And a lot of it is complete shit.

Remember, the publishers themselves have turned out many stinkers over the years, but the strike rate for quality – in editing, formatting, production and so on, as well as writing ability – has generally been kept high even if the stories were rubbish. Not always, but often. Nowadays people think it’s easy to write and be “published” and there’s loads of stuff out there that really shouldn’t see the light of day. Poorly written, poorly edited, poorly formatted – just poor. And that’s where we as readers come in. This is why we are the New Gatekeepers.

Success in writing has always relied on word of mouth. When a big publisher puts the might of the marketing machine behind a new release that word of mouth gets a massive head start, but it’s still the reviews and recommendations of critics and readers that determine whether a book is truly successful or not. That’s still the case, but the mainstream reviewers can’t keep up with the tsunami of words constantly bearing down on them. Along with all the newly published writers, a whole bunch of new reviewers have cropped up, and many book review blogs are developing considerable power. This is a very good thing, as it helps to strim out the crap and let the quality stuff rise to the top.

But you don’t need a review blog to wield power in this new world. You’re a reader – you have enormous power. If only you’d use it. By the Power of Yourskull! Or, more accruately, the brain within it. If you read something you like, tell people all about it. Recommend it to your friends, buy it and gift it to people. You can gift ebooks now as well as print books. There is no better result for a writer than a reader enjoying the book and recommending it. But don’t stop there – there’s so much more you can do, very easily.

You don’t need to be a talented reviewer to review books. Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads, Smashwords – all these places and more make it very easy for you to leave a review and rate a book. Or just rate it. Your review doesn’t have to be anything lengthy to have an impact. For example, look at this review of my second novel, MageSign, that a reader called Joefredwheels left on Amazon.com (Yes, I’m going to use my own work as reference. Sue me.):

excellent follow up – great story continuing adventure of first book protaganist. hoping for more stories in this world. Baxter is an excellent writer of a fast past exciting plot. THIS IS WORTH THE MONEY. BUY THE BOOK

He also rated it five stars. Brilliant. It’s very short, it’s not worrying about being good writing in itself, it’s simply conveying the person’s enjoyment of the book. Sure, it’s cool when readers take the time to write a few paragraphs of carefully thought out critique when they review, but the review above is just as valuable.

Here’s another example, this time a review of RealmShift, left on Amazon by Cathy Russell “Ganymeder”:

a well thought out tale – I liked that this story had believable characters and explored faith (or lack of), it’s origins, etc. It had a lot of deep themes. The characters were well thought out. The plot was engaging, and I liked the whole idea of a superhuman who could kick the devil’s ass. While reading this, I kept thinking it would make a great action movie or comic book too. I’d recommend this. 4 stars.

That wouldn’t have taken long to write, but in a single paragraph she recommends the book and gives some basic reasons why. Again, brilliant.

I can’t express how grateful I am when people take the time to do this. And it’s something we can all do, for any publication, anywhere on the web.

I tend to review books I enjoy here on my blog, but I’m a regular blogger anyway. I always rate them on Goodreads. I’m also planning to copy my reviews over onto Amazon and Goodreads – I wish I’d done it as I wrote them, as now it’s going to take a while and a concerted effort. But I’ll do it, because I plan to put my reviews where my mouth is.

So we, as readers, are the new gatekeepers. It’s our responsibility to help spread the word about the good stuff we read, and the bad. You don’t have to leave negative reviews on anything – just don’t review them. But it’s an act of true benevolence to leave good reviews of stuff you enjoy, or drop by websites and leave a star rating. You can write a single line or single paragraph review and copy that to all the sites you visit or shop at. If you do blog, then reviewing a book on your site is fantastic. But whatever you do, do something. Help spread the word. As writers, nothing is more valuable to us than the recommendations of readers. It’s always been that way, and now it’s more true than ever. Readers can make sure the good stuff out there gets noticed and more writers get themselves a well-earned career. Power to the people!



The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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