Category Archives: Uncategorized

Remain Calm

We’re Just Fine

Some news on the publishing front from the literary boffins at Al Grauniad. Apparently, ebook sales in the UK are down 17%. This, while print sales are up 6%, according to this article (corroborating, if drier information here, which I’ll revisit, as well).

There’s a mess of op-ed muck gumming up an otherwise useful article on interesting trends in the publishing industry. Of course, the relevant information would only take a paragraph. Two at the outside. I gave you the first half at the top, though the author of the Guardian’s shining example took to the bottom of the second paragraph to get to the point. The rest of that space was taken up with lauding the tactile joy of book destruction.

My father taught me to respect books after one of his that I lent out came back more or less destroyed. I think I replaced it. I sure hope I did, though it’s been a few decades. I should buy him a book. Well, I should write him a book. The chat we had certainly changed how I treated his. Dog-earing pages and breaking book spines are pleasures? Those are killing offenses where I come from, but apparently that’s what indicates bibliophilia for the author. YMMV, I suppose.

The author spends a great deal of space bashing the Kindle. She even recruits an ally from inside the publishing industry to help. “It was new and exciting … But now they look so clunky and unhip, don’t they?” It would seem new versions of the Kindle are so terribly difficult to find that the Guardian felt the urge to take a shot at a more-than-decade old piece of hardware.

The agent quoted above goes on to speculate that readers want “trendy tech” and that Amazon just doesn’t have that. MGC’s own Amanda Green is the proud owner of a Kindle Oasis, and spent a few minutes of her precious time talking it up to me this morning. It sounds mighty impressive. She’s charged hers twice in the month and more since she got it. The accompanying carry case contains a secondary battery that greatly extends its battery life, and at 5.6″ x 4.8″ x 0.13-0.33″, it’s more than small enough to fit into a pocket. I could probably load an entire family’s worth into one of my kilt pockets, and have room left over.

The second article linked suggests readers are giving up ebooks due to “screen fatigue.” Now, I get that. I stare at a screen for several hours each day, whether I want to or not (good, solid exercise) and it can get pretty tiring. But that’s a 28” monitor with fairly bright lighting. That’s not E-ink on a paperwhite screen. A screen with LEDs that illuminate just the surface of the screen, for those of you who read after bedtime.

The first article goes on to suggest that readers are buying fewer devices upon which to read, and apparently that translates to fewer ebooks bought. It’s not explicit, but they sure seem to want me to make that connection. I don’t really understand why. I mean, if I get the Oasis I’m now lusting over (don’t mind the drool) I’ll be working to make sure that lasts me at least a few more years than the cited trend from ’12-’14. It’s expensive, and I don’t want to have to buy another one terribly soon (no matter how shiny newer models might be). I expect most readers share my outlook. I’ve had the same phone for three years, and unless the OS leaves it useless, will likely use the same one for another three. It works, and I don’t want to pay for a new one.

The next several paragraphs are a paean to the magic of printed literature. Well, sort of. I guess books-as-objects are now being celebrated again. One thing I’ve learned in my adventures in publishing is my sense of taste isn’t mainstream. The thing now is apparently to use books as a sort of objet d’art, the centerpiece for temporary displays recorded (as everything these days) and uploaded to Teh Interwebs. There’s even a hashtag.

I tell the truth, this writer kinda boggles. I love attractive books as much as the next writer, but mostly what I love is the information. The story, the use thereof as a means to transport my psyche to somewhere I’ll never go physically. Also, I have a toddler, and a soon-to-be-toddler, and nothing pretty is safe unless it’s locked up. In a chest. In another state. And even then…

The author make the interesting observation that children’s books and cookbook sales haven’t transferred to digital as well as other genre. I, for one, am shocked. Wee Dave is astonishingly deft for a nearly-three-year-old, and he manages some of the strangest physical combobulations. Especially when it comes to objects. The notion of handing him a brand new Oasis to read on makes me outright twitchy.

Similarly, I’m not clear that trying to use an ereader while cooking is a good idea. Kitchens are notoriously liquid-prone environments. Also heat, direct and indirect. Knives, spices, meat tenderizers, oh my. Then again, I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. Suitably planned out. But there are plenty of reasons people wouldn’t get children’s books, especially, in eformat. Reasons that suggest there’s something at work besides “people don’t like ebooks as much as they used to. Back in the old days.”

I’m going to skip a bit. Honestly, you should go read the article. At least skim it. It’s an entertaining insight into the publishing industry, if nothing else.

Next, the author makes the staggering claim that digital publishing isn’t the enemy of print publishing. My jaw dropped. And then I read on. It seems augmented reality events and audiobooks are the evidence thereof. I can’t make this up.

But then, after a digression about a cheap ebook’s accidental success as a marketing tool for the print version, comes the most important paragraph in the entire article.

The figures from the Publishing Association should be treated with some caution. They exclude self-published books, a sizable market for ebooks. And, according to Dan Franklin, a digital publishing specialist, more than 50% of genre sales are on ebook. Digital book sales overall are up 6%.

That’s right. The data from the Publishing Association ignores self-published ebooks. In point of fact, digital sales are actually up.

It’s traditional publishing that’s seeing a slump in ebook sales. The trads, who price their ebooks in the trade paper to hardcover range, who include digital rights management code in their ebooks, who actively work to discourage readers from buying their wares in digital. The rest of us? Well, it would seem we’re doing fairly well. I’d like to see more data, honestly, though I wouldn’t likely have time to do anything with it.

Frankly, both articles linked feel a lot like a desperate Chip Diller, screaming that all is well. No, really, traditional publishing is doing Just Fine. Thanks for asking. I said We’re Fine.


Filed under Uncategorized

Fun With History and Language

The collision of history and language is a whole lot of fun for a writer (it’s fun for other folk too, but damn does it ever make good world-building fodder). I got reminded of that this week when I stumbled over one of Eric Raymond’s posts  talking about how creoles form. Of course I immediately jumped on the classic Torpenhow meaning Hill Hill Hill (with each syllable meaning hill in a different language) (with the optional extra of Torpenhow Hill to make the place hill hill hill hill just for fun) and promptly ran into a whole list of tautological place names.

Then there are the place names that sound tautological and aren’t, like Townsville in Australia (named in honor of a gentleman by the name of Towns) and many of the place names derived from native languages (Wagga Wagga and friends) because many of the tribal languages don’t have intensifiers like ‘very’ and so on: instead the usual manner of indicating that something is important is to say it twice. So the most important person is the big big man. The local language translates the name as “many crows” with “wagga” for crow being repeated to indicate that there are a whole lot of them.

This of course can lead to more interesting place names and richer backstory embedded in one’s fiction, as well as the option of some Pratchett-esque scenes in which the representatives of the invaders, doing their survey for the equivalent of the Domesday book, head over to the village and ask one of the locals (speaking slowly and loudly, of course) what the name of that hill over there is. While pointing at it.

Local probably says “hill” in whatever his language is. We’ll say he says ‘tor’, which is one of the Celtic family of languages. Invader (for the sake of argument, Cumbric because that’s the language of origin for ‘pen’ meaning hill) duly notes the feature as ‘tor pen’.

Fast forward a few generations, or a few dozen, and the invaders have married in, the dialect spoken by the locals has shifted to something that’s not really either of the origin language (a creole, in other words) and everyone thinks of their hill as ‘torpen’. To many of them, it’s not really something they think about, it’s just what the place is called.

Then the next set of invaders, this lot Norse, come by to survey their new territory. So we go through the point and ask in a slow, loud voice, and the local says the invader is pointing at ‘torpen’. So our Norse invaders inform their leader that this is the village at Torpen Howe. There’s our three hills.

The other interesting aspect of this is that apparently when multiple language merge into a creole because these people are living effectively next door to each other and need to communicate, the result tends to be simpler than either of the origin languages, and the pattern of simplification is to ditch specialized grammar and use the position of the word in the sentence to indicate its role (otherwise known as subject-verb-object).

Yeah. This is why English has near-synonyms for everything (usually with different class connotations, generally following the rule that the fancy, upper-class one is of French origin and the lower-class version is the Old English version), and why English has managed to drop the idea of gendered nouns as a formal part of speech (although we haven’t simplified to the point of not having grammatical gender in pronouns – yet) as well as the notion of changing the spelling of the word depending on whether it’s the subject or object.

Some languages do that to people’s names. The Manx Gaelic form of my name is spelled Katreeny if it’s the subject of a sentence, and Chatreeny if it’s the object. This English speaker would have hell’s own time with that. Mix that in with the languages that have formal address and intimate address (English dropped that one 400 years or so back: thee/thou/thy etc was the intimate address, you/your the formal), or worse multiple layers of address that draw distinctions most USAians wouldn’t consider worth making (like hell I’m going to address my lead with a more formal pronoun just because he’s my lead) and you’ve got something that’s going to sound and feel very different, and will give the impression of a much deeper culture.

I’ll leave it to you to work out how to convey that in English, which has largely discarded all of that in favor of becoming what’s probably the world’s most advanced trading language.


Filed under Uncategorized


Recently I was trying to talk to a friend who was one of the beta readers on a novel, along with a dozen other people.

My friend was the only one who returned the book with “needs to be completely rewritten.  This is not a novel.”  It appears everyone else returned it with “not my thing, but it is very well written.”

Of course, under the Sarah rule of thumb, if only one person complains you ignore him/her and my friend was in near hysterics because this person, who is a mutual friend, will now think she’s being evil or has it in for the writer, or something.

The catch there is that my friend is the only writer in the bunch of beta readers.

I was reminded of this yesterday as someone dropped by my blog to chide me for a typo (would you believe, a green grocers apostrophe? Yep, it’s one of my pet peeves, too, but the fingers have a mind of their own.) He said he normally wouldn’t have mentioned anything, but the author is an author, and a well-regarded one (that last was news to me, but okay.)

It brought home to me again that writers talking about writing, and lay people talking about writing mean completely different things.

First, typos happen. I have a friend who used to work for a scientific publisher, as the head of a team of copy editors.  Because he’s very exact, he had each of his team initial each paragraph after they proofed it.  And yet, there would still be typos when it got to him.  This is because humans don’t have it in them to be exact, and because typing is largely muscle memory.  In my case, I’ve determined I type by taking dictation from my head.  If I’m tired, I started exchanging words that sound alike to me (because accent) like leave and live.  If I’m exhausted my fingers invent their own language.  For instance, the only f sound in the alphabet is ph.  So I phall phatally phorward.  I don’t know why, but my older son has the same issue (can this kind of typo be genetic.)  If I’m TRULY out of it, like at the end of a three-day novel, I type entire sentences in reverse, something I couldn’t do if I TRIED.  My fingers are weird.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

It is a mark of the amateur novelist that there will be no typos at all in the manuscript.  This is because the manuscript has been gone over a hundred times.  It is also the mark of the amateur novelist that there will be no life in the manuscript.  This is because the manuscript has been gone over a hundred times.

However, when you have first readers who aren’t writers, you need to be alert to “what they think we do” (like those posters with, you know, what my mom thinks I do, what I really do, etc.)  The general public thinks the first qualification of a professional writer is to be sort of a super spelling and grammar person.  We are extremely good with written language.  We never make a mistake!

(At that you should be grateful, because now we have computers, and before that typewriters.  My grandfather, otherwise an intelligent man, once told me that I’d never be a writer, because my handwriting was impossible to decipher.  Apparently, in the times before typewriters — in Portugal, at least — we were also supposed to be expert calligraphers.)

In fact there is a not inconsequential overlap between writing fiction and dyslexia.  No one is absolutely sure why, but there is.  As in, more of us are dyslexic than of the general public.  Also, in matters of grammar and punctuation, we are much like the rest of the public.  We’re often uncertain where commas should be, and each of us has a theory of how to apply them.  Except me, of course, I missed punctuation day in all seven languages, so I punctuate by guess and golly.

Because I’m a writer, and writers have fledgelings while they’re still fledgelings themselves, as we all trudge around looking for someone with just a little bit more of a clue to show us an inch more of the way towards craft mastery, I’ve read manuscripts at all levels of professsionalism, from raw beginner to best sellers (yeah, I have bestselling friends.  Yeah, sometimes they too want to know if a scene or a chapter, or a plot works before mailing it in.)  Typos, grammar mistakes, dropped words and haphazard commaing (totally a word) happen at all levels.

However, when readers-who-aren’t-writers tell you “it’s very well written” or “it’s beautifully written” what they mean in fact, is that they found no typos or grammar mistakes.

If you let yourself be lulled into a sense of false security by this, and slap your manuscript up on Amazon, you’ll be riding for a fall.  You could have written how to boil cabbage for 400 pages, but provided all your letters are in the right place, and your punctuation works, amateurs or lay people will tell you “it’s beautifully written.”  In fact your manuscript could BE boiled cabbage.  They’ll still tell you it’s beautifully written provided it accords with the rules of the English language.  And, by the way, in passing, yeah, that can be a problem too.  If you’re writing dialogue, or first person, or whatever, sometimes you have to break the grammatical rules for it to sound “alive.”  People do talk in sentence fragments and run on sentences ALL THE TIME.

But the part you should pay attention to is “it wasn’t my type of thing.”  If a group of readers who have enjoyed your work in the past are all telling you that, no matter how grammatical your work is, you’ve misfired.

Your job is not to make sure every comma is in place, there are no spurious apostrophes, and no letter got misstyped.  Your job is to take the reader on a journey of the mind.  Your job is to make sure people live through the story, ideally as vividly as if it happened to them.

To mind the commas and the periods, the articles and the conjunctions is your copy editor’s job.

Your job is to start with a gripping sentence, then introduce details of your world as the story unrolls, and do it so sneakily, so stealthily, so exactly right, that people are captured in the story and would rather continue reading than eat, sleep or make love.

Your job is to be gripping.  Leave the copy-editors to take care of the typos.  You are the writer, and only you can weave the spell that will make readers live in your world for a little while and care about non-existent people as though they were their dearest friends.

THAT is a “beautifully written” novel.

Now go do that.






Filed under Uncategorized

Looking forward, looking back.

Science Fiction particularly is, at least in theory, about looking forward…

But that may not be right direction for a writer – or even a society.

I’ve been re-reading THE COLOUR OF MAGIC – Sir Terry Pratchett’s first Diskworld book – which is really 3 novellas loosely strung together. It’s an absolutely fascinating exercise, in that you can see the writing of one great masters of comic fantasy work evolve.

I freely admit to being a fan and one who in my inept fashion used his writing as a role model (along with Douglas Adams and Tom Sharpe) for writing humor. No, I am not in the same league – my best are pale shadows of his first and, bluntly, worst. But that doesn’t stop me learning rom him and from this – because I promptly went back to my old manuscript cupboard and did something I would advise any writer to try. Actually in a broader context it applies to relationships, politics – whatever. Life in general.

I dug out really early book I wrote, never sold.

It was a great thing to do at several levels. We are often so busy pushing as hard as we can at the current book, current chapter current page… that the bigger picture gets lost.

Firstly, it was – at least in parts – moderately bad. I could see, now, how to improve things I just didn’t know how to do, back then, as well as things where my skills have increased and improved. I’m no Pratchett, but yes, I have got better at some things.

Secondly I could see how far I had come. That was very comforting and yes… to use that stupid newspeak word, empowering. I have improved and grown in skill. It was also a sharp lesson, and not of the ‘empowering’ kind. It was painfully obvious just how hard I had tried to make up for that lack of skill with effort, with sheer hard push and enormous depth of research and development of those characters (I wrote 3 page bios of each character. I haven’t done that in a while).

Oddly, one of the things that was very clear was that I’d lost the path I had found – which wasn’t a bad path. I find even at a micro-level, within a book (or chapter) sometimes I just need to go back. Sometimes just to think it through again, take a slightly different tack. And sometimes at a deeper level yet – reading this I realize that I need to go back to re-read Tom Sharpe before I write another funny fantasy.

The other thing that burned out of that manuscript that I’d lost – thumped out of me by the saga of battering my way through trad publishing and the horrible ‘in’ cliques of sf… was that incredible enthusiasm. Now… well that’s become dogged determination and sheer obstinacy. That’s… admirable, perhaps, but less attractive to some readers – particularly the younger ones than enthusiasm. I shall have to go back and try and recapture it – because it is readers I write for, and I kinda think they pick tone too.

Anyway, so there is my brief piece of useful advice for the aspiring writer, the no-longer quite so aspiring writer, and people in general. It’s worth looking at where we’ve come from. And sometimes – says the guy who grows his own food and shoots/catches or rears his own food – the right way direction is back. Maybe that’s what is happening across the world.

Anyway, talking of back, tomorrow (America’s afternoon) we have the Anzac Day dawn service. The forecast is for rain and misery. I will be going as always, despite it, to play my part in remembering the fallen. Wars didn’t stop for rain, and neither should the honors. I won’t be replying to posts as a result.


Filed under Uncategorized

Don’t Derive to Market

LawDog has gotten a slim but gut-bustingly funny volume of his police stories off to his editor, and is now oscillating between writing down more tales of Africa, working on an urban fantasy… although, can you call it urban when it’s in small town Texas?

(Picture a satyr before a rural-county Texas judge. “You can’t sentence me! You don’t believe in me! I’m a mythological creature; I can’t exist!” “Boy, I saw weirder things than you in the sixties. Now, you’re up for theft, public intoxication…” )

…anyway, and half a dozen other projects that keep crowding into a writer’s brain. As we were discussing life, the universe, and everything (including him yelling at the “police gear up for a raid” scene on tv, “Why are you loading your weapons? Why are they not already loaded?”) , he paused to ask why certain books in a genre we’ve both read feel so… divorced from reality, and so thin.

Ah, LawDog, says I, the word you’re looking for is “derivative.” The kindliest interpretation is that the true groundbreakers in the field created a field, because the subgenre barely existed, or was still coagulating, when they wrote this weird thing they loved. So they were widely read, and drawing on a lot of different sources, and pulling together many different things. Then came authors who loved the world the first one created, and wanted to put their own spin on it. So they drew on other sources, or re-interpreted the first one’s sources as well as the first author. But then, then came people who loved the second wave of authors, and hadn’t read outside the subgenre… and so their pool of resources and interpretation to draw on is extremely shallow and limited compared to the first or second wave.

This extreme shallowness is often seen in fanfiction, where the inexperienced writer loves their one show, but hasn’t done any digging into the source materials the writers pulled from to create that show and world. If all you know of Meiji period Japan comes from Kenshin, then you’re not going to have a very great pool of knowledge on how and why that world works… and when a writer fills in the gaps with their own world and assumptions as they wander off script, it’s often profoundly wrong (including one fanfic assuming Kenshin was set during Europe’s Dark Ages… because feudal! *facepalm*)

Kris Rusch has a slightly different take; she says the original groundbreaker slipped past the gatekeepers somehow, and when it proved to be a breakout success, the publishers looked around to find similar books that were written on spec by people who just loved the genre. When they started being published, and there was a large demand, then other writers would jump on the bandwagon, briefly read the top books in the genre, and crank out something in a similar style without knowing or loving the genre. This is the sort of “writing to market” that she decries.

With the indies slipping past the gatekeepers, the truth is probably a mix of these, and other reasons. How do you make sure that you’re not falling prey to this?

1: Go Deep. Read the oldest depths from which your genre sprang, not just the last 20 years. Find the good stuff that inspired the books that inspired the books and films that inspired you.

Jeffro Johnson started reading his way through Appendix N – the list of sources Gary Gygax listed as his inspiration for Dungeons & Dragons . Many, many a current fantasy novel treats Dungeons and Dragons as the foundation of their world, upon which you can either build, or try to subvert (with a brief nod to Tolkien, who came before.) The retrospectives are now a category up on the Castalia house blog:
or in kindle book:

What he found was nothing like the “standard fantasy novel” you get now, and nothing like the stereotype of “pulp scifi” that some quarters burn in effigy without ever having actually read. It’s worth reading some of what he found as a transition – but even more so, it’s worth reading everything on Appendix N itself! ( )

(And let me sigh here and note that when following this advice and reading Jack Vance’s Tales of a Dying Earth ( ) I had to keep breaking out the dictionary. I thought I had a fairly good vocabulary, but if this was the stuff “the common man” enjoyed in the 1950’s, my nose has now been painfully rubbed in just how far our education system had fallen by the time I went through.)

2. Go Deeper. Go back to the original legends, myths, histories, trading routes, wars, cultures…

Alma Boykin recently posted a snippet of a fantasy that’s been battening around her brain as the result of reading academic papers and monographs on medieval trade:

When’s the last time you saw something like that, compared to “He paid five copper for the meal, and two silver for a room.”?

3. Go wide. Read about things far outside your field. Orson Scott Card is reputed to have said one of the best ways to get inspiration to is to pick something you don’t care about at all, and then research it in depth.

For example, Peter’s first published book, Take the Star Road ( ), was partially inspired by The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. ( )

Here’s another for you: Rory Miller is the author of the highly interesting book Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence ( ). Last night, as Peter was reorganizing books from one bookshelf to another as he moves the reference books from Things for Westerns to Things For Fantasy, another book by Miller popped up on the couch. Violence: A Writer’s Guide. ( ) I didn’t even know this thing existed. But it is an excellent breakdown on what motivates people to violence – from the office gossip (manipulation to get their way) to the bullying SJW (aggressive posturing and speech to get their way) to assault, to murder… and what those people think of other’s use of different levels of force. It’ll definitely force you to think through the eyes of a character completely unlike yourself, and in doing so, make them more real and alive.

4. Go and do yourself.

There is no perfect substitute for actually going to a place, or doing a thing. Because in the going and in the doing are a thousand sensory details, rhythms, habits, minutiae, large-scale considerations, environments, and people that you can use to make your writing come alive.

If you’ve never shot a gun, go to a range and take a basic pistol course with an instructor. You’re going to find it’s as close to the movies as… as, well, most people’s courtships are to Adam Sandler’s romantic comedies. Many police departments offer citizens academies or ride-a-long programs, which prove that real life is nothing like TV, either.

Go hike the unpaved trails, and discover that moving from point A to point B through different terrains is a while lot different than driving. Take a flying lesson, a sailing lesson, or go whitewater rafting. Get your fishing license and learn to fish, or find a climbing gym and get coached through a climbing wall. Ride a horse, or take a horsedrawn carriage ride. Learn to fence. Hey, it’s research! And it’s learning, growing, stretching yourself in ways you haven’t done before, or done in years. Do a chef’s tasting menu, try a flight of wine, go on a distillery tour… check your local area’s tourist literature, and play tourist in your own home state. You’ll turn up the most random and fun things to do – and if you ask more questions, you’ll find people who are passionate about something love to talk about it, and can tell you more than you dreamed existed.

Art is the synthesis of all our knowledge and worldview, mixed with “what if?”, “and then what happens?”, and a creative spark. So increase your knowledge, enrich your worldview, and throw a lot of new experiences into the mix. What comes out will be all the better for it!


Filed under characterization, FYNBOSSPRESS, Uncategorized, WRITING: CRAFT

Lessons Learned In The Crossover

I’m not going to continue the business theme Amanda started and Chris Nuttall’s guest post continued. To start with, I’m balls at it, and thanks to the day job demands, I’m not really in a position to move past “hobbyist” by Chris’s definition.

Of course, the day job throws some interesting serendipity into things as well: today I stumbled across a bug that’s been in the system for at least 5 years (probably more like 10). It’s kind of obvious when it happens, but… it only happens under very specific circumstances (you know, if you chant the alphabet backwards while hopping anticlockwise around a summoning circle, and you get q and p in the wrong order, you’ll get an incubus instead of the succubus you were trying to summon). And hasn’t happened since it was introduced or we’d have heard about it (believe me, we’d have heard about it. If our customers don’t kick up the mother of all fusses, the customer service folks will).

What does this have to do with writing?

For a start, it’s damn near license to do whatever you want as long as you establish it as outside normal operations. So when Manly Hero tries to use the Sword of Rectitude to cut down the Tree of Ignorance, and it breaks, well, that’s not what the thing is meant to do. It’s meant to slice people open, for values of people that don’t typically include trees. You use a chainsaw for that.

Or the pirate crew flying a ship stolen from the mighty Slow’n’Steady Empire have your hero’s battered spaceship in their sights and they’re blazing away. You’ve taken too much damage to escape but the fellow from Slow’n’Steady is muttering about how they’re firing much too quickly and the guns just can’t cool down and might even… This of course is when the impressive Kaboom! happens, followed by the explanation that Slow’n’Steady don’t ever engage on a single ship basis. They have multiple ships firing at their target with a slow rolling pattern that gives each gun its 5 second cool-down time.

Or something. What it is and how it works is totally up to you.

That’s one lesson from today’s bug.

Another is that things change and people forget about things that used to be important, so you get some odd bits of stuff left over as changes accrete to anything that’s been around for any length of time. Which leads to odd corners and rooms with windows looking out to hallways or even other rooms. And years (or decades, or centuries) later, Young Hero is exploring the place and avoiding his tutors when he feels a bit of a breeze in the narrow corridor that seems to have been forgotten. He follows the breeze to find that there’s a spot where ancient mortar has crumbled, and if he works at it a bit he opens up a doorway that was bricked over long ago. So long ago, that the door itself is long gone.

Where Young Hero’s explorations take him is up to you. The point is that anything (including a culture) that’s been around long enough is going to have odd incomprehensible bits in it that hide things forgotten for ages, things which just might matter to your protagonist… Or she could be the fourth generation cutting the end off the leg of lamb because great grandma’s roasting pan wasn’t big enough to hold the entire leg (which is long enough for cutting the end off to become a Tradition and therefore not something you stop without a damn good reason).

Little touches like this where they don’t strictly matter add richness to your world building. Where they do matter you can use them to give your plots and characters extra depth.

Lesson three, though, that’s the big one.

Namely that – even though this bug has been around for ages and never happened to a customer – it’s wrong and it needs to be fixed. It doesn’t matter that it’s never happened to a customer. It could happen. The same thing applies to how we authors conduct ourselves. We may never have been famous, or even notable, but if we don’t do the right thing now when we’re nobodies, we won’t do it in the future when (hopefully) we’re making gajillions and we’re a household Name.

And on that note, I’m going to go mess with a tree stump in the name of getting used to using a practice sword.


Filed under Uncategorized

It’s A Job – Christopher Nuttall

*This is Sarah — my being very ill over the last few years caused me to lose a lot of my professional habits.  Regaining them is harder than acquiring them the first time, so listen to the man.  However this trick of taking a week off between books is new to me.  When my last book dragged and I kept getting ill, several friends recommended I take a week off between books.  I’ve just finished the second book of the year, two months late. The temptation is to roll right over to the next one.  I’m trying not to.  This time I’m trying to take a week off from writing.  Of course this means doing work on my hobby which at this time in my life seems to be being a wife and mother.  (It used to be full time but the kids are grown and we only have one sort of in the house.) So I’m doing spring cleaning and going over my edited manuscripts so I can put stuff that reverted back up for sale and getting websites designed and back up, after we changed providers.  Light work.  What is the difference between that and a normal workday?  The difference is that when I woke up this morning and was really tired, I had the option of rolling over and going back to sleep.  I didn’t DO it, but the option was there. Normally it isn’t, because it’s a job.  You don’t say “Today I don’t feel like going to the office.”  And neither do I.-SAH*


It’s A Job – Christopher Nuttall


As I may have mentioned before, I get asked a lot of questions about how I write – what’s the big secret.  And I say, as I always do, that the big secret is that you need to work hard, that you have to treat your writing like a job.

I’ve had a lot of interesting responses to that answer over the last few years.  Some people – mainly other writers – have agreed with me.  Others, people who aren’t writers or don’t see their writing as anything more than a hobby, have disagreed with me.  I devalue writing, it seems, by classing it as work.  I understand that attitude, but I don’t agree with it.  Here’s why.

There are generally three kinds of authors in the world; the wannabe, the hobbyist and the professional.

The Wannabe wants to be a writer.  He or she will happily tell you about their great idea that will sell a thousand copies and bring in a million bucks, but – for some strange reason – their portfolio is a little light.  They will probably never have completed a manuscript, perhaps, or they’ll talk for hours about how something they wrote was picked up in a minor publication you’ve never heard of.   In short, the Wannabe wants to be a writer, but is unable or unwilling to do what it takes.

The Hobbyist has a day job.  He goes to work, 9-5 (or whatever) and then comes home, where he sits down at the computer and churns out a few hundred words.  It doesn’t matter to him (much) if he loses a day because he’s tired – writing is his hobby, not his job.  Quite a few authors are hobbyists; they’ve written a few books, but they’re not bringing in enough cash to justify quitting their day job and writing full time.

The Professional also has a day job – it’s called writing.  Writing is his sole source of income – he needs to bring in enough cash to avoid having to find a second job.  And so the professional has to treat his writing as a job.  You cannot take more than a few days off, at a regular job, without your boss giving you the stink-eye and threatening your career.  Writing is the same, only you’re your own boss.  You have to force yourself out of bed and write because no one else is going to do it for you.  Even my wife doesn’t make me work.

A writer who wants to be a Professional has to treat his writing as a job.  I cannot repeat that enough.  He has to have the discipline to work every day, to overcome minor setbacks and writer’s block, to start a project and carry it through to the end.  He doesn’t get to goof off in front of the computer, any more than the average office worker gets to use Facebook more than a few times during the day.  (My old workplace was death on Facebook.)  He has to work.

The writer is his own boss, but also his own business manager (unless he happens to really hit it rich, whereupon he can hire a business manager.)  He must handle everything from hiring cover artists and editors to promotion and doing his tax returns.  (And if he wants to hire an accountant, he has to do the work of hiring one.)  Negotiating with agents and publishers … the writer must do that too.  The writer is fundamentally alone in the world.

In addition – and this is something I don’t think most of the Wannabes grasp – he has to maintain his professional reputation.  In a normal job, you don’t want to give your boss a reason to dislike you, let alone fire you and badmouth you to your next set of prospective employers.  In writing, you don’t want to acquire a bad reputation.  There are no shortage of horror stories about ‘indie authors behaving badly.’  If you’re a boastful braggart with nothing to boast about, people will start avoiding you; if you unload your frustration on reviewers who dare to criticize your books, people will start thinking you’re an idiot.   Going to a convention and acting badly – however defined – will impinge on your career.

The writing world is bigger than it used to be, I admit, but someone who makes a bad reputation for themselves will find it haunts them for the rest of their career.

The professional writer has to be professional.  He must write a manuscript, then have it edited … without losing his cool.  He cannot afford to blow up at an editor who is only trying to help, even if the editor is in the wrong.  He must approach his work in a professional manner, considering each suggested change carefully before accepting or rejecting them.  He must read contracts carefully – getting legal advice if necessary – and then stick to them.  A publisher who feels that an author did not live up to his side of the contract is one who will not offer another contract.  (And a publisher who feels that he can take advantage of the author is one to be avoided.)

Above all, a professional writer cannot afford to give up.

As a general rule, my alarm goes off at 7am.  I get up, stumble downstairs and pour coffee down my throat.  Ideally, by 8am I’m in front of the computer working on the first chapter of my current project.  If I’m lucky, my infant son will remain asleep until I’ve finished the first chapter; whenever he wakes, I get coffee for my wife and then feed my son his breakfast until my wife comes down to take over.  And then I get back to work.  I spend between four and five hours a day on my computer, writing roughly 9000 words.

After the first draft is completed, I check through the beta-emails and insert all the changes (or at least the ones I accept) and then send the book to the editors (or to kindle, if it’s a self-published work.)  I generally take a week off between books, but I have to work on plots and suchlike during that time.  I carry a notebook around with me to scribble down ideas, just in case something hits me while I’m out.

How you comport yourself often has a bearing on your career.  Disagreeing with the boss is fine – depending on the boss, I suppose – but being an a-hole about it is not.  Writers have opinions, just like everyone else; writers have every right to express those opinions, without being a-holes about it.  There are quite a few people who disagree intensely with me about politics, but I still get on with them because they’re not a-holes about it.  Picking fights over politics (or whatever) is pointless, when it isn’t destructive.  And picking fights with reviewers just makes you look like an ass.

Professional writers remain focused on their work.  Writing is good, editing is good, designing covers is good (assuming you have the talent to design a good cover.)  Going to conventions and suchlike is useful – I’ve made a few contacts there – but it’s not the be-all and end-all.  I’ve noticed that people pay more attention to your opinions after you’ve achieved something in the field – a couple of people I know seem to spend all their time going to conventions and none actually writing, despite which they still call themselves writers.  Let your work speak for you – offers of publication, collaboration and suchlike come in after you’ve proved you can do the work.

Like I said, professional writing is a job.

There’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about your job – or your writing.  I wouldn’t hold that against anyone.  But enthusiasm has to be tempered with hard common sense.  Most of the mistakes I’ve seen newbie writers make wouldn’t happen if they didn’t let their enthusiasm overwhelm their judgement.  Wannabes become professionals through learning from their mistakes.

It isn’t easy.  There’s a basic rule of thumb that suggests that each writer has to write at least a million words before he or she has anything publishable.  Too many wannabe writers have wasted too much time trying to find shortcuts.  (If you hear a story of someone’s first book selling well, I’d bet good money the author has quite a few unpublished manuscripts in his stable.)  There are too many shortcuts advertised on the web that are – at best – useless; at worst, they’re nothing more than scams.  I understand the desire to find a shortcut, but it doesn’t really exist.  The only way out is through …


… And the only way to go through is by treating writing as a job.


Filed under Uncategorized