Friday, May 30, 2008

Off To BEA!

I know, I haven't really finished talking about WisCon yet. I will, I assure you, but I'm being kept busy at the moment. In a few minutes I'm off to Book Expo America in LA. Should be interesting. I'll grab some free books, spend Random House's cash, meet the rich and famous, and (hopefully) convince lots of bookstores to stock up on the paperback of Acacia.

Piece of cake.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Little About WisCon

Actually, the thing I wanted to mention most about WisCon is that I reconnected with some people and met some others - authors in particular - that I'm thrilled about. I'll mention that in another post.

I was a little thrown off that course, though, because I clicked over to see if the Angry Black Woman had posted about it. I knew she would. I knew she was there, and I had the pleasure of hanging out with her on a couple of occasions. She's been a great advocate for Acacia - even as she's always pushing me to become more properly a feminist writer. Thing is, what I found at her blog was a post called "What Rachel Moss Did". It's about another blogger that attending the con and chose to post - very negatively - about the event, the panels, and about many of the people that went to it. Yikes. You can check out ABW's post here, which references the original in depth. Claire Light has also written about it at her blog, SeeLight.

I don't even know where to start with addressing that and the response it's going to get in the days to come. My inclination regarding the scene at WisCon is to not say too much, not judge too harshly, and certainly not to belittle. It is a crowd unlike that at any other con. Many of the people that choose to go to WisCon do so because they're connecting with a network of people that share a complex variety of perspectives - and we're not talking mainstream perspectives. There were, in fact, many panels and many discourses going on that I really couldn't add to. I heard lots of things said that I didn't particularly agree with. And I heard lots of things that I just couldn't get purchase on. And I heard lots of things that added new insights to other people's perspectives. Although some of the discussions were hostile to a lot of things that I am - a heterosexual male that does have a lot of privileges - I never felt that I wasn't welcome. Just the contrary, many of the groups so passionate about the difficulties facing them do want allies. They just want many of those allies to be willing to shut up and listen a bit, because privilege does not equal wisdom.

I dig that, and instead of responding with public approval or disapproval, humor or malice or even complete praise I'm going to let some of it sink in. No doubt I'm better off for having gone to WisCon. I may not have sold a ton of books, but I'm a little less ignorant about a lot of things. That's what I'm taking away from it.

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Salman Rushdie

You know, I bought The Satanic Verses back in the late 80's when it came out. Never read it, but there was a poster campaign at Johns Hopkins - where I was taking some classes - and it seemed to have a high cool factor. Don't know why I never read it, though. Nor am I quite sure why I haven't read him since then, either. I think I thought of him as kinda cranky or something, and got jealous that he hung out with U2 and dated models...

But that might have just changed. I heard a rather engaging interview with him last night on NPR. He was talking about his new novel, The Enchantress of Florence. He was light and witty and smart, and generally an old pro at the interview thing. He managed in eight minutes to convince me to give him and this new book a try. I may do that.

Here's the interview.

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River Maids!

So I'm back from WisCon and should have a ton of stuff to say about it. I do have a few things, but I've also arrived back to a household half packed for a move. So there's been a good deal of stuff to handle today. I'll soon say a bit son about some of the folks I met and/or got to know better at WisCon, but for tonight let me just mention that I came home to a conundrum...

Not for the first time, I found a piece of paper (it's my current rental lease, actually) with the words RIVER MAIDS! scrawled across the bottom. I know... Yes, KNOW that I wrote those two words during a fit of inspiration. I know that said River Maids have some role, either in Acacia's story in or other epics to come. I know that I imagined them in some very specific manner, enough so that I wrote the words in BIGGISH letters. BUT... I can't for the life of me remember what the hell they are/were/could be.

Any ideas? Suggestions...

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Heading to Wiscon

Just a brief message as I'm packing up, taking care of loose ends, etc...

I had a great day yesterday in San Francisco. I got to meet my new French publicist at . She was very cool and hip and French - all good things. She also has been lurking here on the blog, so "Hi, Carola!" if you are reading this. I took the whole family and she came with her son, so all told it was a family/business/sightseeing day all in one, complete with sea lions and cable car rides. Nice.

Without really having caught my breath, I'm heading to Wiscon tomorrow morning - dreadfully early in the am, of course. I've never been, but I've heard many, many good things about this con. I'll be reading, on a panel, and signing books (hopefully). If you happen to be there in Madison for the event please say hi!

Here's their site with all the info.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Acacia UK

The UK trade paperback version of Acacia is now officially on sale!

(Just thought I'd mention it...)

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Monday, May 19, 2008

I Know A Cat That's Rocking the NY Bestseller List - But What Does That Actually Mean?...

I've been chatting with Patrick Rothfuss for about a year now. I dropped him an email after The Agony Column reviewed both our books way back in spring 2007. We've corresponded ever since, and got to hang out on a few occasions - World Fantasy, Fantasy Matters Conference. He's a great guy. He wrote a rocking book, The Name of the Wind, and it's sold really nicely as a hardback. And now it's a NY Times Bestseller in mass market paperback! For a while he was in the teens of the list, but a couple weeks back he cracked the top ten. Yowsers.

He's too nice a guy to hate on, so I can say that I am honestly happy he's done so well. It does make me wonder, though... Hmm... So how many books did Pat sell last week? I mean, really, what does it mean to make number ten on the Time's list? Think this question could be easily answered? Think again. It seems like there are so many factors that go into it that it's near impossible to come up with an answer - and it seems like the publishers of the list themselves aren't offering any hard numbers either. I do remember that when I lived in the UK the Guardian published a bestseller list that included copies sold that week. Now that was informative, but I've seen nothing like it over here.

And I'm not alone. Seems like authors, bloggers, editors all share in common the inability to find hard figures - or accurate ones. A few links as examples...

Tess Gerritsen had some thoughts on it.

And Slate had a rather more complex article on the subject.

Gawker had some thoughts... Well, mostly questions, actually, on how the Times comes up with it's titles.

Midwest Book Review has a few other things to say.

Here's one from the New York Sun.

Here's a NY Times article about Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep - mostly included because my Editor in Chief chimes in with some thoughts.

By the time you're finished reading all these you'll probably conclude that you've learned nearly nothing. Sounds like there are some pretty questionable methods employed - at least if you're thinking of any one list as definitive. With that in mind, I said, "Okay, lemme take a look at Publishers Weekly's bestseller list for the same week. That's another national publication. They likely pull from similar sources. I wonder how Pat's doing over there?"

Well, here's how he's doing - take a look.

Okay, you're back? Good. So if you are you noticed that The Name of the Wind wasn't anywhere to be seen on the PW list. I don't doubt that he's sold many units, so why isn't he in a comparable place on this other list? The lists don't even look much like each other... The Times #1 is PW's #6. Their #2 is PW's #7. Their #3 is #13. On the other hand, PW's #1 is the Times #5. PW's #2 is the Times #... Uh, well, actually it's not there at all. Nor does PW's #3 or #5 make appearances on the Time's list. Or something like that...

Why can't anyone give a straight answer on this? That's kinda a rhetorical question. I know why - because it's a funky, complicated business in which it's impossible to measure all units sold and - for that matter - hard to know when you can actually really call a unit sold even when you can track it. I've been asked quite often how a particular book has sold, and people seem surprised (or incredulous) by my claims that it's really hard to know. But it's the truth. I could tell you how many copies my publisher shipped out to bookstores, but that wouldn't mean a thing. (Any bookstore that orders a book can send it back.) A book - for royalty purposes - isn't really sold when a person walks out of the store with it. (Remember that anyone that buys a book can return it - and then the store can return it...)

It seems to me, from combing through several years of royalty statements, that a sale really only becomes a sale when the publisher is confident the book can't be returned to them anymore. That may seem weird, but if they didn't do it that way the publisher could find themselves paying an author royalties that they later discover the author never earned - once the returns roll back in. So, it's complicated in the long run, not to mention in the quick turn-around of ascertaining a weekly bestseller list.

What is concrete about all this? Pat has sold a lot of books. That's clear. He's sold a lot more books because he was on the list. And he will sell more books because of it for a long time, since he now bears NY Times bestselling author tattooed on his forehead. I have no such tattoo. I thought about putting "Briefly made the BookSense Extended Bestseller List" on mine, but it doesn't quite have the same effect. I've been known to say, "One week I sold more copies than any one JK Rowling title in Chile!", but people just look at me funny when I do that. I can also proudly declare that, "I'm big in Sweden!" That's pretty cool, admittedly, but if I told you how many copies I sold (maybe) over there it might take the shine off... Anyway, I'm rambling.

I do know this, though: if I see Pat at WisCon next week I'll not say no if he offers to pay for the coffee...

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Question And An Answer

Here's a question it might be nice to get asked by an interviewer at some point...

I was astounded to find that you've sold over 12,000,000 copies world-wide of the Sharpe Series, which is just a fraction of your catalog. Furthermore, the Boston Globe recently stated that you were perhaps 'the greatest writer of historical novels today." Are you a success by your own standard?

And here's the type of answer it would be nice to be able to give...

I'm a success inasmuch that I enjoy my life, which is an enormous blessing and that doesn't depend on commercial success (though I wouldn't be such a fool as to deny that it helps). What I mean by that is that the point of life, as I see it, is not to write books or scale mountains or sail oceans, but to achieve happiness, and preferably an unselfish happiness. It just so happens that I write books, and I'm amazingly lucky that the books sell well all across the world, but even the biggest financial success will not compensate for an ill-lived life. I'm fortunate that the books sell, but even more fortunate to live in Chatham, to be very happily married and to have, on the whole, a fairly clear conscience...

I want some of that.

The writer speaking is Bernard Cornwell, the historical novelist with about 50 books to his name at this point. I don't know exactly why I came across this interview, but that answer really struck me and I thought I'd share it. If you're interested in the rest of the interview you can check it out here. It's not new or anything, and it's actually done by a local website for the town he lives in. Interesting nonetheless.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

A Review For German Readers...

Just in case you've found your way here because of the German edition of Acacia: Macht un Verrat, I thought I'd post a link to an online review I came across recently. I know, this is a little risky considering that I don't speak German, but my online translator makes the review sound pretty good. And the reviewer gave me 9 out of 10 stars! Very nice, and each good foreign review is relief. I mean, hey, I can have my own opinion about the English version. I can't always know how it's held up in translation, though...

Here's the review if you Sprechen Sie Deutsch.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Oh! My Momma...

My wife did this first on her blog, but I couldn't resist doing it here, too. In honor of Mother's Day, I offer this wonderful song from Alela Diane. Give a listen...


Friday, May 09, 2008

Some Questions From Vincent...

I recently got a nice letter from an aspiring writer named Vincent. He had kind things to say about my work, and was excited to have finished his own novel recently - one that I believe is in the multi-cultural fantasy vein. He had some questions about getting published, including wondering what I thought about self-publishing.

Here's a bit of what I said...

Congrats on finishing a novel! No matter what happens to it that's a great accomplishment. Most writers don't make it that far, so you have reason to be proud. As for publishing advice... Well, I recommend doing things the old fashioned way. Personally, I wouldn't choose self-publishing without first having looked into the traditional agent and publisher route. Some books can certainly work in self-publication, but a multi-ethnic fantasy might be a tough sell.

Frankly, if your material is good, I think you'll find the genre open to it and eager for new writers. Having said that, it's still hard to break in, and you should expect some rejections and dismissals along the way. Just for context, Frank Herbert had a hard time getting anyone to publish
Dune. It was rejected by 23 publishers! It's now sold well over 12 million copies... That's unusual - and it's a terrific book, but I'm just mentioning that rejection is always part of this game. I do think you should seek out professionals first and for a while, even if it means some discouraging times. The fact is that mainstream publishers can get your book to an audience via many avenues. They can also help make sure you're delivering the strongest book possible. That's not something that family and friends can always do for you.

So I suggest getting a copy of the
Writer's Market. They're available at most major bookstores or through Amazon. There may even be some specially for fantasy/sci-fi. Start with agents, looking up different agencies to see who represents material at all like yours. Also, go look at authors you like and check the acknowledgments. A lot of times they'll thank their agent, so you can figure out who represents them. And then, when you have some likely candidates, send them submissions in whatever format they ask for - some will just want a letter to start with, some might want a sample, some might want the entire book. Make sure you follow their guidelines. If you don't they may loose interest before they've even looked at your work seriously. If you sign with a good agent they'll be able to take your novel in to publishers with a professional approach, likely speaking to editors they know and have worked with. They'll also be there to look after your interests - because your interests and theirs will overlap...

And I'll mention that - while I'm very happy for my career to be where it is now, I also began just as unpublished as anybody else. I scanned the
Writer's Market. I wrote those letters. I got those rejections in the mail. It wasn't easy, but it's not supposed to be. That's why it's so wonderful when you finally break through and get that acceptance letter. I hope that happens for you!

And I do. I also remember well the hunger of those lean times, sending my work out into the world, checking the mail, checking the mail, checking the mail... and more often than not finding polite rejections in it. (Insert Sad Face Here.) Think I've got it made so that past rejection stuff must be old history?... Well, it is, and yet it lives with me still. I've got the documents to prove it. Take a look.

Here, for example, is my first rejection from an agent...

Funny thing about this one is that some ten years later - after I'd published three novels and been asked to judge the Pen/Faulkner Awards - I happened to be at an award ceremony function with this self-same agent. I mentioned that I'd submitted to him, which he hadn't recalled. We both laughed. So it goes. I was pleased to be able to say that he'd missed an opportunity, and he was gracious enough to concede the point.

Now, was he mistaken in not representing that novel? Well, no. I did get an agent for it soon after (the wonderful Marie Brown), but it's not a novel that ever sold. I had to write two more before that happened. Instead, that novel began to wrack up rejection notices. Some examples...

Note that passing months. These are just representative, mind you. Each month contained several more just like them...

While I was living in the UK, I even tried repackage some of my material as British and send it to British publishers. I managed to sell a few short stories over there, but the book publishers generally came back with variations of this...

So it goes. If I can end all this rejection stuff on another positive note, however... The same Transworld that rejected me in 1997 came on board several years later. They published Pride of Carthage, are about to publish Acacia, and are set to publish the sequel as well. Were they wrong for not grabbing my earlier novel? Not a chance. It might have felt that way to me at the time, but I'm thankful that this process - filled with rejection for several years - pushed me to write bigger and better. Seems to me that's part of what the process is about...

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Acacia UK Trade Paper Giveaway!

Hi Folks! I know we just wrapped up a giveaway a few days ago, but I think I'll go ahead and do another one...

The UK edition of Acacia: The War with the Mein just arrived! I only got two at this preliminary stage, but if you want one it can be yours. Kinda nice cover. Some heft to it. For US folks there's the cool factor of having the foreign edition, one with squiggly pound signs beside the price, etc. And there's the knowledge that you'll be getting one of the two very first copies of this book that I ever saw. One goes on my bookshelf; perhaps its twin goes on yours. (You can have the one on the right...)

The routine is the same as before. Just go over to the Forum and toss your name in the hat. They're are no downsides, and it's not like there are millions of people entering these things. You've actually got a shot at it! Ask Scott, our last winner. I've actually just mailed his book off this morning. So it's on the way, Scott.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Black Man Wins Arthur C. Clarke Award!

Oh, wait... Don't get the wrong idea. I don't mean a black man, as in a black author or anything. I just mean the novel Black Man, by Richard Morgan (who is not a black man), which was the novel Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan (not a black man over here either) in the US. It certainly would be cool if a black man (or woman) did win the Clarke Award, but I'm getting off topic...

Here's the Clarke Website Announcement.

Now, I know Richard Morgan isn't everyone's cup of tea, and I know this novel got a mixed reaction in the UK. I can say that I enjoyed it, though, that it was one of my science fiction reading highlights from last year. It's a solid book, sharply written, plenty of action and sex but with a good deal of thought mixed in there too.

Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say in a Starred Review.

This stellar new stand-alone from Morgan, known for his compelling future noir thrillers (Altered Carbon, etc.), raises tantalizing questions about the nature of humanity. Future governments have used genetic manipulation to create subhumans twisted to fit specialized tasks. Normal people are intrigued as well as repulsed, but they instinctively dread variation thirteen, an aggressive, ruthless throwback to a time before civilization. When a thirteen escapes from exile on Mars and apparently goes on an insane killing spree, Carl Marsalis, a soul-weary freelance thirteen hit man, is hired to help track him down. Morgan goes beyond the SF cliché of the genetically enhanced superman to examine how personality is shaped by nature and experience. Marsalis is more empathetic than the normal people around him, but they can see him only as an untrustworthy killer. At the same time, surveying corrupt, fractured normal society, the novel questions whether the thirteens are just less successful at hiding their motives. Without slowing down the headlong rush of the action, the complex, looping plot suggests that all people may be less—or more—than they seem.

Sounds good, and it is. I'm pleased that he won. Here's his Website, if you're interested.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Second Acacia Signed Hardback Giveaway...

has been decided! Thank you to everyone that joined my Forum and threw their name in the helmet. Yes, the helmet. Please view the official contest photographs, in which the process is documented...

Here we see the contestants' names, on roughly equally-sized tabs...

Here we see the vessel of the Fortune, as held by my son Sage (He of the Big Hair.)...

(The Vessel, by the way, is my old Whitewater Kayaking helmet. Still fits, right enough, although it's most used now a days by my daughter as she skateboards. She eschews pink, see. She'll have nothing to do with Princesses. She rather prefers black. I think, honestly, that I enjoyed Enchanted more than she die. Anyway...)

He of the Big Hair offers the vessel to the Judge, the Decider, the... Picker of Winners. (That's my daughter, Maya.) She approaches like an agent of doom. (You'd think it was bad thing to get free book, by the looks of her!)

She reaches for the winner...

Oh, wait!.. Sage realizes the pot has not been sufficiently stirred. (Note the focussed expression and the blurred rapidity of his stirring technique...)

And then... Maya chooses. She does so with eyes closed, using nothing but her innate Picker clairvoyance to guide her hand...

And after all that, she emerges with the winner...

His name be... SCOTT. Congratulations, Scott. I'll be contacting you soon.

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