Thursday, 30 May 2013

Publishing Plan

Okay just a quickie tonight so I thought I'd give some idea of my publishing plans. Of course this is subject to minor corrections; or indeed major meltdowns.

At the moment the objectives are:

E-publish 'Different Skies' end of June/beginning of July

Start a final round of polishing on 'Secession Campaign' mid June with the aim of publishing in August/September.

Finish the first draft of the 'Fourth Planet' novel in August

Start the Secession Campaign sequel by August

And of course there are various bits and pieces for and keeping this blog up to date, so nice relaxing schedule really...

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Different Skies: Changing Times

So as I am ever so slowly advancing towards publishing the 'Different Skies collection I thought it was time to post about what's actually in it in and because I'm an orderly sort I'll start with the first story; 'Changing Times'.

Picture a world where spaceflight advanced more rapidly than it did in ours; the first satellite is launched in 1949 not 1957, the first man in space flies in 1954 rather than 1961 and somewhere in the 60s the US has built a 'wheel' type space station. This is the world in which Changing times is set and the story is about the point at which it diverged from our own.

Not going to give away the details but essentially it comes down to one act of journalistic stupidity that happened in our world and doesn't in the Changing Times world. We are talking about an 'epic fail' on the part of one writer (who fortunately for their reputation penned the article in question anonymously). How bad could it be? Well consider such infamous headlines as 'Dewey beats Truman' and 'Titanic sinks; passengers saved'; my chosen 'point of departure' is in my opinion far worse and far less forgiveable as a mistake in the heat of the moment.

The 'fail' may have annoyed and perplexed me on occasion but the story itself is a wistful homage to what might have been; or at least that's how I see it, if you want to find out for yourself? Well then I'm planning to publish Different Skies at the end of June... :)

Monday, 27 May 2013

A Good Bad Guy

So the weekend went well; got a lot of editing done and created a short piece for a collaborative thread I contribute to on so all good there.

Thinking about what to write a blog on for tonight and I was inspired by a bit of a discussion I was having about a new story another writer had started; and by discussion I mean I was trying to avoid saying outright just how much I hated the direction they were taking it. Now I usually try and avoid this sort of thing, there are going to be works that are well written but just don't do it for me.

On this occasion though it really got under my skin and after taking some deep breathes I think I've figured out what riled me up so much; its that in my view the plot essentially hands all the advantages to the protagonists and eliminates the possibility of having a meaningful antagonist, or in simpler terms the good guys are too good.

The classic example of the hero whose just too powerful for good drama is Superman; as a character he's nigh on omnipotent and so when it comes to injecting drama the writers all too often have to resort to coming up with ways to take away his powers (everyone and their best friend having access to Kryptonite) or inventing a protagonist who has the same abilities, which practically speaking amounts to the same thing.

It has to be noted that this isn't a problem if things are the other way round; consider a scenario where you have two sides in conflict but one has tanks and jet fighters while the other has horses and bows and arrows. Now if your protagonists are the ones with the bows and arrows finding a way to triumph against the odds that offers up all manner of possibilities (some I grant you more plausible than others). If on the other hand the good guys are the ones with the tanks and planes you've essentially drained all the dramatic tension out of the situation. Sure you can come up with ways to try and inject it back in but its often not much more than the equivalent of all of Superman's enemies conveniently finding Krypyonite lying around.

 The simple fact is a story is more satisfying when you feel the heroes earned their victory and didn't have it handed to them on a plate, and for that you need a good bad guy.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

So why not go to a real publisher?

Apologies; messing around with settings and I accidentally deleted the original of this post, still learning how this setup works:

Going back several decades I can remember reading ads in the Sunday papers for publishers who would guarantee to turn your Magnum opus into a handsomely bound volume and help launch you as a successful author. The reality was that these companies were strictly there to collect the aspiring authors money and leave them with a pile of neatly bound books that would wind up as either Christmas presents or balancing up a piece of wobbly furniture, or possibly both. I suspect this kind of vanity press is what people still think of when someone talks about self-publishing with the (sometimes) unspoken question; ‘why don’t you go to a real publisher?

One of my favourite science fiction imprints is Baen Books. If you follow that link and check out their publishing schedule you will see that they put out six new books a month, or 72 per year. Look closer and you will discover that a lot of those are either reprints of old classics or paperback editions of books Baen had previously put out in hardback; so of those 72only about 20-30 per year are completely new and the overwhelmingly majority of those are going to be books by authors who’ve already had previous works published because Baen know they will sell.

Now even if you add in all the other publishers of science fiction there’s still only so many new books coming out and they’re mostly going to be from authors who’ve proven their work will sell. Of course all of those authors had a first book at some point; new authors do get published. That brings us to the next problem; how exactly do you get a publisher to choose your work to take a chance on? 

A decade ago I completed a novel called ‘Thermopylae Star’ and since this was back when Kindle was a verb not a product range I decided to submit it to a publisher; which was where the fun started. The submission policy of most of the science-fiction imprints was pretty simple; don’t. They simply did not want unsolicited manuscripts. Some suggested that the aspiring author should get themselves an agent; essentially saying that if you could get someone else in the publishing industry interested in your work and they might give it some attention. 

Turns out that unsurprisingly literary agents really only want to deal with authors who have been published and aren’t keen on acting as a filter for publishers.  As it turned out the one place that would give it look was Baen. They accepted all submissions and would guarantee to read a work and get back to the author; in six months. They were as good as their word and although it was rejected I got a lot of detailed suggestions about how to make it publishable but what happened to Thermopylae Star after that is for another blog.

Consider also that even if your book is a potential bestseller and you get a publisher to read it you still have to overcome a whole host of problems. What if your work just doesn’t fit their style? What if it does but they have something similar already in the pipeline? What if the person who reads your book just plain doesn’t like it? Let’s not even get into the cutthroat nature of the bookstore business where a book has maybe 3 or 4 weeks to start selling before it gets pulled to make way for something else.

In the end the traditional publishing process puts the power in the hands of everyone except the aspiring author. E-publishing give the power to reach an audience for their work in the hands of the writer; of course it also means you have to take all the responsibility for what you’re putting out there in the big wide world…

Fan Fiction

Wasn't planning to write an entry today; had a long and productive writing session and was planning to put my feet up when I saw this article at the BBC site:

Amazon to allow e-book fan fiction sales in US


So why does this matter to me? Let me explain. At one time I was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and I mean I have autographed boxsets of the series huge. it all crashed and burned at the end of Season 6(2001-2002) when they killed off Tara MaClay; don't worry not going to go off on a rant about it now but at the time I was infuriated and I went and found a forum of likeminded people and it had a fan fiction section and you can guess what happened next. 

The plan was to write a couple of stories about an alternate history where the events of Season 6 didn't happen; it was going to be maybe 20,000 words in total. As will be come clear if it hasn't already my writing tends to suffer from what the military like to call 'mission creep' so when I finally finished what had become a series called 'Reality Check' consisted of 23 linked stories and around 350,000 words; enough for three or four decent length novels. (I'm currently updating a version of the stories at but you need to be registered to view the section of the site it's in.) 

Of course there wss no way I could publish those novels but now maybe there's a chance that one day Amazon will add BTVS to their fan fiction list and I can breathe new life into them. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Weekend

Since alas I have to work full time at something other than writing to pay the bills it can be a bit of a struggle to find the time and energy to write during the week. Modern technology helps of course; I can take a tablet to work and get a few hundred words down during lunchtimes and breaks and then transfer it to the PC and polish it up in the evening, oh and my one tip to other writers; there is no such thing as too many backups. I currently have all my material on my PC, an external drive AND a cloud service and I update them daily. That may seem excessive but there is nothing more dispiriting than trying to recreate a piece of writing you already did.

Those little bits of time that I can squeeze out of the week are invaluable but the weekend is when I can actually act like a professional and sit down for a few hours of uninterrupted writing. With a following wind I can get generate three or four thousand words across Saturday and Sunday. Now I know this obsession with word counting may seem a little pedantic but right now I'm trying to edit Different Skies into a final manuscript for publishing; I'm getting feedback from some 'beta readers' on Secession Campaign before making a last round of rewrites to that, and I'm about 85% of the way through a first draft of another novel called 'The Fourth Planet Problem' (yes that's web address of the blog and the genesis of T4PP will be a long entry in itself). Beyond that I have an outline for the sequel to Secession Campaign already sketched out and a bunch of other ideas waiting their turn. If I don't crank out the words they are never going to get done!

There are of course also pragmatic reasons for keeping up the output. The most obvious one is that if it takes a really long time to complete a piece of writing I find there's a risk you become sick to death of the thing and want to see the back of it.; that is not a good situation when you will inevitably have to edit, change, and proofread you work before your really finished. Another reason is that I do entertain the hope that one day I really can concentrate on writing full time. Now the thing about that ambition is that very few writers make it big off of one book; or off several books. They by and large only make a reasonable living by having an income from multiple books; so word count matters!

The practical upshot of this is that if I don't post much over the weekend it probably means things are going well. :)

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Different Skies-Cover Art

As I think I've mentioned in my profile I do a bit of 3D rendering as a hobby and as a number of different sources have emphasized the need for a good cover I decided to try and come up with a design myself. This is the current iteration, though probably not the last one, created with a mix of DAZ Studio renders and GIMP postwork:

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Pioneer Worlds

Even as I'm working on the Different Skies short story collection there is a novel waiting in the wings to follow when I've learned from the mistakes I'm bound to make in the process of publishing DS. It's called 'Pioneer War: The Secession Campaign';  and it's intended as the first part of a trilogy. It came together surprisingly easily compared to past efforts; which is odd because it started as an idea I had no intention of writing.

About a year ago I was browsing the 'History, Literature and the Arts' section at the JREF forum and someone had started a thread looking to talk about weapons and shield technology for their science fiction novel; what they got instead was the third degree about about their vaguely described background of rebels vs evil empire.

How could the rebels have better tech than the the empire? How come they are so much better at combat than the empire? etc. For some reason I decided to come up with answers to those questions and my idea went like this:

At one point the rebels and the empire were part of the same political group. What became the empire were the core worlds of that group; peaceful and united with little or no recent combat experience and no need to maintain their fleet at the cutting edge of technology.

The worlds on the fringe, the future rebels, on the other hand faced constant external threats and the occasional internal one from warlords who have held out against being incorporated into the larger body. As a result they have plenty of combat experience and they are constantly working to improve their ships and firepower.

Of course the core worlds ruthlessly exploit the fringe and eventually this leads to a revolt and war that the core are completely confident they will easily win...

Now the person whose thread it was didn't show any interest in my little explanation but the more I thought about it the more pieces slotted into place until I had a universe and a plot in my head that insisted on being written. I have in the past written synopses for books that were thousands of word long but for Secession Campaign it was just a couple of pages with chapter titles and one sentence descriptions of the 'scenes' that made up each chapter, and yet it worked.

I'm currently polishing up a second draft and then comes the hardest part of writing; proof reading. :) 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A picture is worth a thousand words

So just to make things clear if anyone is wondering the profile pic isn't intended to be enigmatic, mysterious, or pretentious. I just honestly don't have any recent pictures of myself so I grabbed an avatar I've used on other sites and stuck that in. Of course I could be lying and there really is subtle devious reason for my using it so if you want to come up with one feel free. :)

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Different Skies-The Collection

Writing is essentially a solitary activity; just you, a keyboard, and an idea that you will hopefully be able to turn into text on your screen. The problem is that eventually you need feedback and encouragement; you need to be able to share your experiences with people who understand where you're coming from, which means other writers.

A couple of years ago I finally worked up the nerve to join my local group Speakeasy and start reading my work to complete strangers. One side effect of that was that I needed something that could be read in the 15-20 minutes available to each writer. Now at the time I had reached something of low point in my writing; the last novel I had been working on had drowned in a sea of rewrites and I really had very little to offer at first. Most of what was being read was poetry and short stories. I'm no poet so I went back to the genre I'd pretty much ignored for years; short stories.

Actually writing something short and snappy proved a bit of a struggle at first; my ideas have a tendency to expand to fill all the available space but I managed to come up with a workable synopsis and actual wrote a story that was just over a thousand words long, and then a couple more inspired by that first one. Over time the length did start creeping up and in due course I had an idea for a novel and started working on it. That book went far more smoothly than it's predecessor, in fact its a big part of the reason for starting this blog, and I think I have to attribute a lot of that to the short stories and the feedback and encouragement I got at Speakeasy.

This was all good but it did leave the question of what to do with all those short stories? The answer was to turn them into a collection and publish them as an e-book; not only getting them out to a wider audience but giving me a chance to learn about the mechanics of e-publishing in the process. The title of that collection is of course 'Different Skies' and I'm currently working on editing it into something that will work on a 'not going to mention a brand name starting with a K' electronic book reader.

If you want to take a message from this post then it's you are not the only writer out there; if you look you will find others who share your passion and have gotten together to provide mutual support and encouragement, so don't hold back, go look.

Taking the plunge

So I'm a science fiction writer and an I'm about to publish my first e-book. If that sentence fills you with dread and you choose to read someone else's blog instead I fully understand.

if there's anyone left reading this blog has several goals:

A) Shameless self-promotion of my work with excerpts from my writing, cover art and links to places where you can read more and even buy stuff when the day comes.

B) Some posts about my 20 years of trial and error as a writer before I got to this stage; and there were a lot of errors trust me.

C) Requests for feedback and advice on how to do things and passing along resources I have found useful.

So that's the plan; let's see how well it works.