Ask A Writer: Keeping Going

19 Jul

A third question …

I have a question for your blog. Do you have any tips for helping beginner writers, such as myself, to have the confidence to keep going? While I’m having a particularly confident spell at present, I know this is an issue for many beginner writers.”

The short answer is to keep at it.

Yes, I know. That doesn’t sound particularly helpful. But the blunt truth is that learning to write is very much like learning to do press-ups – the more you do, the easier you’ll find it … but if you stop for a few days, you’ll find you fall back to square one.

What I did – what most writers do, I think – is two-fold. First, I set myself a goal. I told myself, at first, that I would try to write at least 500 words a day, rain or shine. It didn’t matter what those words were, I told myself, as long as they were a reasonably coherent story. The idea was to develop the habit of writing. Most – pretty much all – of what I wrote in those early years was utter drivel (he says, modestly <wink) but I did manage to develop the confidence and drive to just keep going.

The second thing I did, to some extent, was to draw up a rough outline of the planned book. I found that if I knew where I was going, while leaving room for modifications as I went along, it helped convince me that I was striving towards a goal. (This is particularly helpful if you’re writing a book that depends on you seeding clues throughout the narrative, perhaps a detective story.) I don’t believe in following plots religiously, but it does help when you’re starting out.

The blunt truth is that the first million or so words you write will be crap, to put it mildly. Very few people start out with the talent to write polished prose – it’s a skill writers develop over time. My honest advice is not to seek feedback for a while because it will either be from friends and family (people who aren’t going to be cruel) or people who will slam it outright, without making allowances for your relative newness. Self-published books like Empress Theresa, where it is clear that the writer hasn’t spent years practicing his craft (whatever he says about it), tend to attract unpleasant remarks and reviews that aren’t always particularly constructive.

Don’t expect instant success. And beyond that, don’t give up.

Good luck.

Ask A Writer – Fan Fiction

19 Jul

I’ve had a number of questions after my first Ask A Writer post, which I will try to answer – one by one – when I get a moment. However, this one caught my eye.

“I tried sending you a question but yahoo keeps saying your email address is invalid, so here is my question. Sorry if it’s already addressed below. I did a search and saw you have previously discussed your works published under the Creative Commons license, but what about other works?

How do you, specifically, feel about fans writing and disseminating (AKA publishing) fan fiction set in a world that you created and involving one or more characters that you created? Which works are published under which types of licenses, and what are the implications of those licenses specifically for fan fiction? More generally, is there a right way and a wrong way to go about writing and publishing fan fiction?”

To answer the first point, I normally write ‘AT’ instead of ‘@’ because that keeps spammers from harvesting my email address and sending me junk. (I like to make them work for it.)

Back to the rest of the question … well, I’m not qualified to talk about the precise types of licences, so I’ll stick to generalities.

The short answer is that fan fiction has the potential, at least, to cause significant problems for the author. If a fan writes a story that mirrors the author’s future works, that fan might try to claim that the author stole their work. It may not be easy to actually make such a case, but no smart author wants to have to go to court and fight it.

For example, it was easy for David Weber fans – like me – to make educated guesses on what would happen as the Manticore-Haven War developed. Weber scattered clues to the tech tree throughout the early books, allowing us to see the logical development of pod missiles, LACs and FTL communicators. This rewarded his long-time fans, who engaged in discussions about how this or that plot point would be resolved. But it also ran the risk of someone taking a planned future development and turning it into a fan fiction.

I remember discussions about how the Honor-White Haven-Emily love triangle would play out. Us fans predicted a Grayson-style poly-marriage, with all three of them united in marital bliss, long before it actually happened. And if someone had turned that into a fan fiction … well, it could have caused problems for David.

There actually was an incident involving Marion Zimmer Bradley – before she became infamous for something far worse – where an attempt to pay a fan for an idea led to legal threats and the ultimate closure of most fan-works. (Links – here, here.) I don’t know precisely what happened – my personal read is that Bradley (or her ghost writers) wanted to use more than just an idea – but the fallout did a great deal of damage to fan fiction. Writers do not want to waste time with legal wrangling. Many writers drew the conclusion that it was better not to allow fan fiction, full stop.

Realistically, the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to publish fan fiction rests very much on the author him/herself. David Weber forbids fan fiction and I believe that his wishes should be honoured. JK Rowling was much more permissive – the sheer number of fan fiction writers in the Harry Potter universe clearly shocked Warner Brothers – but even she had some reservations. And rightly so. I do not recall any pre-Half Blood Prince fan fictions that featured You-Know-Who splitting his soul into seven Artefacts of Doom, but I think I recall some that deduced that Harry had picked up a piece of the Dark Lord’s soul. Could this have caused problems for Rowling? I think she would prefer not to find out the hard way.

For me, personally?

I wouldn’t object to fan fiction set in my universes if the writer in question put a formal note at the start disclaiming all rights, even to Original Characters (OCs). Obviously, some fan fiction writers will think this is unduly restrictive, but I don’t want to get involved in an argument over who had a particular idea first. Proving that I got their first would be difficult, particularly as so much of my future plans exist only in my head or in vaguely scribbled notes I’d have problems trying to date. I would try to avoid reading fan fiction set in my universes – certainly if I didn’t know the author personally – if only because I’d have problems proving that I wasn’t influenced by it.

I’d be very proud if something of mine kicked off a fan fiction craze as big – or even a tenth as big – as Harry Potter. Getting people reading and writing is no small achievement. JKR has earned her place in heaven. But I’d also be wary of the potential implications.

I would object, very strongly, to someone actually charging money for their fan fiction (even if it isn’t based in one of my universes.) That’s something you really shouldn’t do without explicit permission from the author. (And probably from his publishers too, as just who owns the rights can be a little hard to determine from the outside.) In my opinion, that is stepping beyond writing for fun.

Obviously, other writers might disagree.

Guest Post: Billy Mitchell, Fighters vs. Ships, and "Ten Davids, Two Goliaths"

17 Jul

by Matthew W. Quinn

Once upon a time, large ships carrying cannon were the core of the world’s navies. At first, they were made of wood, but technology marched on. The Civil War’s Battle of Hampton Roads, in which the Confederate Merrimack (or as they called it, the Virginia) faced the Union’s Monitor, showed that wooden ships would fall before ironclads. The older ironclads were replaced by the steel "pre-dreadnought" battleships and ultimately by the dreadnoughts themselves. Though each new type of ship was more impressive than the last, they were all variations on a theme. Nobody thought of a weapon that would make gun-bearing ships themselves obsolete, or at least greatly diminish their role.

Nobody, that is, until American aviator Billy Mitchell. He believed that the airplane would be the decisive element in 20th Century warfare, trumping the great ships and their guns, and proved it with a series of demonstrations. Although his views were not popular with the U.S. military establishment, events soon vindicated him. The sinking of the Yamato, the biggest battleship ever built, by American aircraft in the waning days of the Pacific War, serves as the perfect example.

The great battleships were reduced to escorts for aircraft carriers, the new queens of the seas, and to shore-bombardment platforms. The vaunted U.S.S. Missouri served in this role in the Korean War and after extensive upgrades, in the Persian Gulf War.

Although Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire series takes place in the future, it seems that the tyrannical Sarellian Empire did not learn from the past. The Empire maintained a military fleet consisting of enormous warships that the rebellious Tri-Suns Alliance avoided facing in open battle, instead engaging in "guerrilla tactics."

And one possible tactic an ill-equipped space guerrilla army could use is eschewing matching the enemy in big ships and focusing on fighters. In my Kindle Worlds novella "Ten Davids, Two Goliaths," set at the beginning of the rebellion several years before Buroker’s first novel Star Nomad (which you can read for free), the Alliance attack two Imperial cruisers on a training mission with many fighters, not rival cruisers. Fighters can be more easily kept in hidden bases (the primary Alliance hideout in Buroker’s story "Remnants" seems to be a fighter base), plus it’s much easier to recruit defecting fighter pilots than getting the crew of a larger vessel to agree to bolt. There were many pilot defectors during the Cold War, but no attempts by Soviet ships to flee. A dissident pilot can hide his feelings until he bolts; organizing a mutiny on a larger ship, especially in a police state like the Soviet Union (or the Sarellian Empire), is a much harder proposition.

So if you like space opera, I would recommend reading the Fallen Empire series, and if you want to see the war that took place before her stories begin, I would recommend you check out "Ten Davids, Two Goliaths."

The Gordian Knot– CH1

10 Jul

Chapter One

Emily placed the bracelet on the table, closed her eyes and undid the spell.

There was a surge of feeling as Aurelius came to life, a wave of strange animalistic emotions that ran down the familiar link and through her mind. The Death Viper wasn’t hungry – she’d fed him weeks ago, before returning him to the bracelet – but he was a little confused. Emily steadied her mind, forcing herself to peer through the snake’s eyes. Her head ached as Aurelius peered around, his tongue flickering in and out of his mouth. It was hard to reconcile her vision of the room with his. To her, the room was tiny; to him, it was vast and cold.

She shivered, despite the warm air. The Death Viper wanted something warmer. His head moved from side to side, hunting for a warmer part of the room. Emily smiled, wanly, as the Death Viper looked at her, then reached out and picked up the snake. Aurelius curled into her hands, enjoying the warmth. She looked warm to her familiar’s eyes.

He sees into the infrared, she reminded herself. And he wants to be warm.

She felt an odd flicker of affection as she cradled the snake in her arms. It wasn’t something she could do very often. The familiar bond kept the viper’s poisonous skin – the rotting touch – from harming her, but the poison would be terrifyingly dangerous to anyone else. She’d have to make very sure she cleaned herself – and the room – before she left. Even a drop could do someone a serious injury. The handful of people who knew about Aurelius had been horrified, knowing – all too well – that accidents could happen. She simply didn’t dare take the snake out to play too often.

The snake brushed against her fingertips, another wash of warm sensations washing down the bond. Emily opened her eyes and peered down at the snake, admiring the blue-gold scales running down its back. Death Vipers hadn’t evolved to remain unnoticed amongst the greenery. There was certainly no way they could hide from hawks, eagles and other predators. But they were so dangerous, so poisonous, that almost every other living creature gave them a wide berth. A hawk foolish enough to snatch a Death Viper off the ground would be dead before it could claw its way back into the sky.

Emily shook her head, slowly, as Aurelius started to climb into her sleeve and up her arm. It was a shame, really, that she couldn’t keep the snake with her – other magicians had far stronger bonds with their familiars – but the danger was just too great. And besides, Aurelius was a secret weapon. The fewer people who knew about him, the better. She caught the snake as he poked his head out of her collar, then put him back on the table. Aurelius shot her a wave of betrayed emotions, silently pleading for her to pick him back up again. The familiar bond drove him to remain close to her at all times.

“Sorry,” Emily muttered.

She worked the spell quickly, before she could talk herself into spending an hour playing with the snake. Aurelius shimmered, then became a silver bracelet. Emily felt her head spin, just for a second, as the familiar vanished from her mind. She picked it up and played with it for a long moment, then placed it back on the table and closed her eyes for a second, centring herself. It had been a long day.

And it isn’t over yet, she thought, as she turned to the bathroom. Lady Barb said she’d be back in an hour.

Her reflection looked back at her as she walked into the bathroom and closed the door. She looked pale, her face almost drained of colour. The summer should have been a time to rest and relax, but she’d spent the last two months desperately cramming before retaking her exams. Lady Barb and Sergeant Miles had been merciless tutors, drilling her in everything from advanced charms to fiendishly complex potion brewing. And then she’d returned to the school to retake the exams.

She ran her hands through her brown hair, feeling drained. The exams had been harder than she’d expected, even though Lady Barb had told her – time and time again – that retaking the exams was always harder. She’d been expected to display a breadth of knowledge and comprehension that had been lacking from the original exams, something that irritated her even though she understood the logic behind it. A person who failed the exams might have failed because they hadn’t been paying attention, rather than going to war. She’d lost weeks of study during the fighting – and another week in Beneficence – and it had cost her. She hadn’t managed to catch up in time to pass the exams.

I suppose I should be relieved I didn’t fail them all, she thought, as she removed her dress and stepped into the shower. It was a very close run thing.

The warm water was almost hypnotic, cascading over her body and washing away the dirt and grime. She wanted to stay in the shower for hours – or perhaps years – but she knew she didn’t have the time. Lady Barb had promised her she’d have her exam results today, even if that meant having to have the papers marked in a hurry. Emily wasn’t sure she wanted to know, not after spending the summer desperately reviewing everything she’d learnt over the past year. If she failed – again – she’d have to retake Fifth Year from the start.

Which would be a serious problem, she told herself. She climbed out of the shower, using a spell to dry her body. I’d have to find a way to tackle the joint project without Caleb.

The thought cost her a pang. Breaking up with Caleb had hurt, but she hadn’t been able to cut him out of her life completely. They’d needed to finish their project – or at least show that they’d moved forward over the past year – or they would both have been threatened with being forced to retake the year. The hell of it was that she didn’t want to cut him out of her life, despite everything. And yet … Her emotions were a jumbled mess. There were times, when she’d been lying alone in bed, when she’d wanted to call him … and times when she’d wanted to make sure she never saw him again.

She walked back into the room, dug through her bag to find a new dress and pulled it over her head. It wasn’t anything fancy – a blue gown designed more for comfort and practicality than anything else – but she felt it suited her. Alassa’s mother had sent her a whole collection of dress over the summer, each one expensive enough to feed an entire village for the year, yet Emily hadn’t been able to wear them. They’d just been too bright and colourful for her tastes.

And I didn’t have time to go out anyway, she thought. I had to study.

Emily couldn’t help feeling another pang at the thought. She was still – technically – banned from Zangaria, but there was nothing stopping her from meeting Alassa and Imaiqah somewhere along the border. Or she could just cross the border and dare Alassa’s father to do something about it. Or … she shook her head, grimly. She knew she hadn’t had time to visit anyone, even her two oldest friends. There had been a time when she’d shared everything with Alassa and Imaiqah. And yet, she couldn’t help feeling as though they were drawing apart.

And Alassa’s last letters spoke of trouble in Zangaria, Emily thought. And of her failure to conceive a child.

There was a knock on the door. Emily glanced down at herself, making sure she looked reasonably presentable, then opened the door. Lady Barb stepped into the chamber, carrying a parchment scroll in one hand. She held it out to Emily without speaking. The charm on the seal glowed for a moment, reading Emily’s magical signature, then faded away into nothingness. She could open the parchment at will.

Emily hesitated as she closed the door. She really wasn’t sure she wanted to know. She thought she’d done well, but she’d thought that before. And that had ended badly. If she’d failed … she wasn’t sure what she’d do. Accept Void’s offer of an apprenticeship? Or swallow her pride and retake Fifth Year? She’d hardly be the first student to retake an entire year.

Lady Barb snorted. “It won’t go away.”

“I know,” Emily said. Her fingers refused to open the scroll. “I don’t want to know.”

“I could read it for you,” Lady Barb offered. “But you will have to find out eventually.”

Emily looked up at her. Lady Barb had been up for hours, longer than Emily herself, but there was no trace of it on her face. Her blonde hair framed a patrician face that made her look striking – and timeless. Emily felt a sudden rush of affection for the older woman, mingled with a faint dismay that she would never have her mentor’s presence. Lady Barb was formidable and everyone knew it.

“Yeah,” Emily said, finally. “If I faint …”

“I’ll catch you before you hit the ground,” Lady Barb promised.

The wax seal broke under her fingers. She unfurled the scroll, feeling her heart starting to pound in her chest. If she’d failed … she forced her doubts aside as she searched for the summery. The tutors would provide a great deal of feedback – she’d been promised entire books of feedback – but that didn’t matter, not now. All that mattered …

“I passed,” she said.

She felt her face twisting into a smile. “I passed!”

“Very good,” Lady Barb said. “Can I …?”

Emily wrapped her arms around the older woman, hugging her tightly. “I passed!”

Lady Barb took the scroll. “Four exams … good marks on all four, plus the joint project … I dare say you did very well.”

“Thank you,” Emily said. She let go of Lady Barb. “I …”

“You won’t get the highest of marks,” Lady Barb added. “Retaking the exams will cost you, no matter how well you do. But you did well enough to pass into Sixth Year. Unless you’ve changed your mind …”

Emily shook her head, hastily. She didn’t really want to leave Whitehall, but she didn’t want to repeat a year either. It would have meant going over spells and rituals she’d already mastered, time and time again. And everyone she knew would leave a year ahead of her, leaving her alone.

Frieda wouldn’t, she reminded herself. But she’d still be a year below me.

She took back the scroll and skimmed through the detailed feedback. Professor Lombardi and Master Tor had attached a series of comments; Professor Thande had written a short note, asking her to pay him a visit after term restarted. She promised herself that she’d sit down, when she returned to her house, and go through them carefully. There was still a week to go before term formally restarted.

“Thank you,” Emily said. She felt her vision go blurry and hastily blinked away the tears. “I wouldn’t have passed if you hadn’t helped me.”

“Don’t forget Miles helped too.” Lady Barb winked, mischievously. “You owe him a thank you too.”

“I will,” Emily promised. Lady Barb and Sergeant Miles had driven her mercilessly. She sometimes thought she’d learnt more practical magic over the last couple of months than she’d mastered in the last five years. It made her wonder just how far she would have progressed if she’d hired private tutors during the summer holidays. “Do I get to rest now?”

“Not quite,” Lady Barb said. “As you’re staying for Sixth Year, the Grandmaster wishes a word with you.”

Emily frowned. “Now?”

“Soon,” Lady Barb said. “I advise you to go now, then … then you can decide if you want to go back to Dragon’s Den or stay here.”

“Oh,” Emily said. She’d always had the impression that Grandmaster Gordian didn’t like her. He’d certainly tried to make it clear that he hadn’t wanted her to return to Whitehall after Grandmaster Hasdrubal’s death. Their relationship was frostily polite. “Did he say what he wants to talk about?”

“No,” Lady Barb said. “It might be nothing more than a formal acceptance to Sixth Year.”

She glanced at the clock. “If you go now, I’ll be in the Armoury until dinnertime. I’ll see you there.”

Emily turned and walked back to the table, picking up the bracelet and slipping it over her wrist. Gordian wanted to see her … why? To ask her to – finally – take the oaths? She couldn’t be still on probation, could she? Or to … suggest … that she left the school and went elsewhere? Or … she sighed, inwardly. Unannounced meetings – in her experience – were always bad news.

“I’ll meet you afterwards,” Emily said, finally. She brushed her hair back as she headed for the door. “And have fun with Sergeant Miles.”

Lady Barb snorted. “Mind your mouth,” she said, warningly. “I can still beat you for cheek.”

Emily concealed her amusement as she walked into the corridor and headed down towards the stairs. Whitehall hummed around her, the wards welcoming her home. She could feel the complex network of spellwork that made up the wards growing stronger and stronger as charm masters and wardcrafters struggled to prepare the school for the next intake of students. There was so much spellwork running through the system that even she had trouble working out what had evolved over the years and what was new. It was the most complex set of wards in the Allied Lands.

Heart’s Eye will grow to match it, one day, she thought. She had plans for Heart’s Eye. A university, for starters. Caleb and her had talked about a lot of possibilities, back when they’d been lovers. She intended to go ahead anyway, with or without him. And who knows what will happen then?

She passed a handful of younger students chatting at the bottom of the stairs – they’d retaken their own exams over the last few days – and walked up, nodding politely to Master Kay as he walked down. He nodded back, clearly distracted with a greater thought. Emily smiled to herself as she reached the top of the stairs and walked down to the Grandmaster’s office. A middle-aged couple was just coming out, looking annoyed. Emily stood to one side to allow them to pass, then stepped into the antechamber. Madame Griselda, Gordian’s secretary, was sitting behind her desk, writing something on a newfangled typewriter. Emily couldn’t help wondering if it had come out of Cockatrice or Beneficence.

“Emily,” Madame Griselda said, flatly. She was a stern-faced older woman with a gimlet stare. Emily had heard she’d once turned an imprudent student into a toad and eaten him, although she was fairly sure that was just another unfounded rumour. “Wait here. The Grandmaster will see you shortly.”

Emily nodded and sat down, resting her hands on her lap. Madame Griselda’s office was bare, save for a bookshelf, a heavily-warded wooden cupboard and a large painting of Whitehall that someone had hung on the far wall. A handful of faces at the bottom were marked as Lord Whitehall and company, but none of them looked anything like the people Emily recalled meeting. Lord Whitehall had never been so handsome in his life.

He might have been, in his youth, Emily thought. But they grew old quickly, back then.

The inner door opened. “Emily,” Grandmaster Gordian said. He stood in the doorway, giving her a searching look. “Come in, if you please?”

Emily rose and followed Gordian into his office. It hadn’t changed. The room was bare, save for a large wooden desk and a pair of chairs. A handful of scrolls rested on the desk, but otherwise it was empty. The bookshelves and paintings had been removed, leaving the walls completely barren of anything that might catch the eye. There was nothing to draw her attention away from him, nothing to distract her …

“Take a seat,” Gordian said.

Emily sat, studying Gordian as he looked at her. He hadn’t changed either, as far as she could tell. He was a tall, powerfully-built man, with long dark hair drawn back in a ponytail. His face seemed somehow ageless, yet lined enough to make it clear he was no longer young; his dark eyes peered at her, as if they could see into her very soul. She could sense the magic humming around him, a grim reminder of his power. Whatever else he was, Gordian was a formidable magician.

His voice was very calm. “Congratulations on passing your exams.”

“Thank you, sir,” Emily said, carefully. She didn’t think Gordian actually wanted to congratulate her. There was … something … in his voice. “I look forward to going into Sixth Year.”

Gordian’s lips twitched. “You worked hard,” he said. He didn’t sound pleased about that either. “I have been told that you deserved to pass.”

Emily frowned. Who’d told him that? And why?

“You’ll join the rest of your classmates in a week, when term restarts for you,” Gordian said, curtly. “However, there is something that has to be addressed immediately.”

The oaths, Emily thought, grimly. She’d anticipated a demand that she swore the oaths months ago. In some ways, it had almost slipped her mind. Do you want me to swear them here and now?

“There was a staff meeting yesterday,” Gordian said. He sounded vaguely displeased. “My staff saw fit to nominate you for Head Girl.”

Emily blinked. “What?”

“You were elected Head Girl,” Gordian said, patiently. “Do you wish to accept the nomination?”

Ask A Writer – Cover Artists And Contracts

8 Jul

This didn’t originally start life as an Ask A Writer question – it was included in an email and I thought, as I have had similar problems in the past, that it would be appropriate to tackle as the very first answered AAW question. I’ve rewritten the email so it forms a question <grin>.

“I hired an artist to produce a cover for my eBook and paid him a fee. Twelve months later, I still don’t have a cover. What should I do?”

The immediate question is simple – do you have a contract? If so, does the contract specify a due date and (potential) penalties for non-deliverance?

If there is a contract, you can – and should – contact the artist and request an update. If, for whatever reason, the artist is unable to provide the artwork, you can reasonably ask for a refund and try to obtain a cover design from another artist. An artist might claim that he did a chunk of work for you anyway (the cover sketch and suchlike) and so should keep the money, but I wouldn’t take that argument too seriously. You hired him to produce a usable piece of artwork and he hasn’t done it.

If there isn’t a contract, it will be harder to push the artist into either completing the commission or refunding your money. However, you can still contact the artist, explain you need the artwork by [whenever] and request an update.

You’ll have to decide if you accept the reason for the delay for yourself. (Personally, I tend to be more forgiving if I get told these things in advance.) If you think it is a good reason, you still need to decide if you want to give the artist more time or find a different artist. At the risk of sounding heartless, this is a business. You need a cover to publish a book. If you want to give the artist more time, you probably need to be very clear on the due date.

If not, recovering your money may be difficult, based on your (and his) location. You may find that it costs more to get the money back through legal means than you’ve already spent. But you’d probably need to talk to a lawyer about that.


There is a certain tendency amongst self-published writers to forgo contracts and rely on gentleman’s agreements between writers and artists. I understand the impulse – and I don’t like involving lawyers any more than the next independent contractor – but the writer is buying a piece of artwork. It is important to make sure you know what you’re actually getting and that you have full rights to it. Failing to dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ now could cost you later.

Most professional artists have a standard contract. But if you have to write your own, it must include:

-A description of the design. You can be vague or achingly precise – I have a habit of saying ‘space combat’ or ‘exploding starships’ – but the vaguer you are, the more room there is for misunderstandings. A line reading ‘Brad Pitt in a marine uniform’ leaves the artist with the option of dressing Brad as a Jarhead or a Bootneck, depending.

-A description of the formatting requirements. You want something you can actually use. I generally go for ‘JPEG suitable for Amazon Kindle’ as a basic requirement.

-A statement of the writer’s rights to the artwork. You want an exclusive piece of work. (Think of it as buying a car – the old owner doesn’t have any rights to it once the money exchanges hands.) Most artists will want to keep the right to use the artwork in their portfolio, which allows them to show off their talents, as well as being specifically credited for the work. You should let them do it – I’d be more worried if they didn’t want to do it.

-A due date. If you need the artwork by 01/10/2017, you have to specify that in the contract.

-Price and a payment schedule.

The artist will want something at the start – or when the preliminary sketches are produced (so there’s agreement on the basic design). You need to stipulate when (and how) those payments will be made.

-A statement of what happens if the artist is unable or unwilling to complete the job to the writer’s satisfaction.

There are quite a few variables that need to be taken into consideration. A typical ‘exploding spacecraft’ cover is one that can be repurposed, if necessary; a cover based on a very specific design may not be reusable. The artist will probably want more money up front for the latter!

This is a delicate balancing act. On one hand, the writer wants a usable cover and doesn’t want to throw money away for nothing; on the other hand, the artist has put work into the design and will want something for it, even if the writer cannot use the cover. Think very carefully before you offer too much money up front – ideally, make sure the artist has a good reputation before you pay too much before any work is actually done.


As I have said before, writing is a business. If you want to make money, you have to approach it as a business. You’re hiring an artist to produce a usable piece of work. If the artist can’t or won’t keep their side of the agreement, you have to go elsewhere. Cover yourself because no one else will watch out for you. Write and/or read the contract carefully!

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OUT NOW–The Longest Day (Ark Royal X)

1 Jul

A Stand-Alone Novel Set In The Ark Royal Universe!


The first major alien offensive against Earth has been blunted, winning humanity time to deploy new weapons and prepare new tactics as Earth’s space navies prepare to take the offensive. But the enigmatic aliens have plans of their own – a full-scale attack on Earth that will either win the war in a single stroke or lose it.

The stakes have never been so high. The fate of humanity itself is in the balance. And, as battle rages across the solar system, as humanity finds its back pushed firmly against the war, millions of people – military and civilian – struggle for survival, knowing that victory will come with a very high price …

… And defeat will be the end of everything humanity holds dear.

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase from the links here: US, UK, CAN, AUS

Review: Alternate Truths

1 Jul

-Bob Brown (Editor)

Alternate Truths is a tricky anthology to review

Contrary to Mr. Burns’ opinion, public figures in the United States (and Britain and the West) have always been fair game for satire. This is a good thing because it helps remind us that they too are mortal. However, at the same time, it is easy to forget that they too are human – and go too far, branding them as everything from saints to monsters without any real appreciation of the political, economic and social realities. Worse, it is very easy to use words as cudgels without realising that it is quite easy to lose credibility.

Indeed, one explanation for the rise of Donald Trump is the simple observation that every GOP candidate over the last twenty years was branded a racist, fascist, sexist, homophobe, etc. Unsurprisingly, society reached a point where large swathes of the American population automatically discounted such accusations – and rightly so, as such accusations rarely had much (if any) grounding in truth. ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ is not just a fairy tale, but a devastatingly accurate comment on human nature. If Trump is the wolf, everyone who screamed ‘wolf’ over the last twenty years bears something of the blame for his election – and for the personalisation of politics.

Alternate Truths bills itself as ‘a look at the post-election America that is, or will be, or could be.’ This is a valid project, although I suspect that attitudes to the anthology will depend hugely on one’s attitude to Trump. And yet, in many ways, it does not come close to a successful study of potential futures. I would say, rather, that it is an illustration of the problem of the ‘resistance’ – there is no valid examination of why Trump won, how everyone from Hillary Clinton to Jeb Bush affected the election results, nor is there any coherent plan for a post-Trump world. Trump sold his voters a vision – his opponents did not.

Trump looms large throughout the stories in this book – Trump the fool, Trump the monster, Trump … Trump the caricature. Indeed, the opening stories in the book are the weakest – an odd editorial decision – that make fun of Trump, rather than assessing his strengths and weaknesses. They are absurd and in some cases funny, but they contribute nothing to an assessment of post-election America and the world. And a number of them really go too far.

A secondary set of stories plays with the concept of otherworldly invention: cloning, time travel, alien involvement, even reality manipulation. Bruno Lombardi’s story is particularly amusing, but all of them shy away from a fundamental fact: saint, sinner or mortal man, Trump was elected for human reasons, not because of outside intervention. You can’t blame Trump on anything, but the American voter, who had to make a choice between two poor candidates.

A third set of stories try to suggest what life might be like in Trump’s America. None of them are particularly cheerful; most of them are exaggerated, almost to the point of scaremongering. Others blame Trump for problems – healthcare issues, no-knock raids, government overreach – that existed prior to Trump becoming a serious candidate for the nomination. Trump may or may not make them worse, but it is disingenuous to blame a sitting President for problems caused by his three predecessors.

None of these stories (with a couple of minor exceptions, which I’ll get to in a moment) address the crucial question – why did people vote for Trump? Indeed, most of the writers seem to have the same reluctance to understand that people might have (or at least thought they had) good reasons to vote for him. “I don’t understand how Trump got elected – I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” Instead, they brand his supporters racists, sexists and deplorables … which does not convince them to vote for anyone else. The condescending arrogance shown by establishment figures like Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton provides yet another reason for Trump’s election.

It’s All Your Fault is a chat log depicting the aftermath of a church shooting, showing both how events can rapidly become politicised and, more importantly, how common sense is whacked on the head and buried in the backyard. It’s an excellent outline of how fingers are pointed, blame is ducked, insults are hurled and the truth is rapidly lost, as everyone but the shooter himself is blamed for the tragedy. But the story is rapidly spoilt by the inclusion of alien manipulators.

Your attitude to Alternate Truths will probably depend, a great deal, on your attitude to Trump. Some of the stories are worth reading, others take satire too far to tell us anything useful about potential futures. And you really need to read the whole book to pick out the good stories from the weaker ones. (Luckily, it’s on Kindle Unlimited.)

I’d like to close with a quote from Walks Home Alone At Night. It is, perhaps, the closest Alternate Truth gets to understanding the reasons behind Trump’s election.

What most people don’t realize—or don’t care to admit—is that safety is a privilege of the financially secure. It’s easy to warn others against wandering the streets after dark when one knows they’ll be tucked away safe behind locked doors in their gated communities long before evening falls. Everyone else? Well, everyone else takes their chances.”