This has been one of those awkward months that always ends with me feeling I could have done more, but didn’t. On the other hand, sales of The Trafalgar Gambit have been very good and I’m having a new cover produced for Ark Royal, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain too loudly.
Malaysia is hotter than I remembered, thanks to a haze (apparently not from Indonesia this time) that is permanently visible in the distance every time I look out of the window. Actually, I’ve discovered that my air conditioning unit leaks water (which puzzles me, because I have no idea where it comes from; the air isn’t that moist) and we’ve had to make several shopping trips just to buy the stuff we had to give away before leaving Malaysia the last time. I feel rather homesick, to be honest. (It doesn’t help that the internet is in a pretty poor state.)
Next month is definitely going to be poorly organised. We have a plan to travel to Australia for 10 days in the middle of the month, then a visit to family at the end of the month, which is irritating for my writing schedule. (My wife says I should be more flexible, but I’m not good at being flexible.) I may end up writing the next book, then taking a break during the second holiday, although I dislike taking breaks. I sometimes lose my train of thought and have to take time to re-gather it.
That said, I’m currently approaching the denouncement of The School of Hard Knocks. The next book will either be The Thin Blue Line (The Empire’s Corps 9) or Hard Lessons (A Learning Experience 2). What would you like to see?
I also have to write a short story for the TEC universe, featuring Blake Coleman going to school and telling the children what it’s like to be a Marine. This would be more of a ludicrous story than anything realistic … yes, I know there’s nothing realistic about space travel just yet, but I can dream.
I’m also drawing up the plots for The Shadow of Cinetetcus (Barbarians II), Bookworm III and the planned second trilogy in the Ark Royal universe. I’m having problems; basically, I want to focus on the more quieter jobs done by the Royal Navy, as the First Interstellar War has come to an end, but the story also needs to be exciting in some way. Annoyingly, I have more of book II sketched out, but it needs careful editing or someone will claim I’m ripping off an idea from a more famous author. Sigh.
Generally, my plan is to focus on a smaller ship, perhaps a cruiser put into hasty construction to make up the fleet lists after the losses of the war. HMS Warspite, perhaps. Maybe a completely inexperienced captain instead of a drunkard … no, I’ve done that. Maybe someone in disgrace for some reason? No, that wouldn’t fit. This ship won’t be a legacy from another era. What about a designer rather than an experienced captain? He designed the ship, but didn’t come up through the standard ranks like a normal officer? What would you prefer?
I’ve also been doing the editing for Necropolis (The Royal Sorceress III). Whoever said that editors weren’t doing so much these days obviously never met the editor Elsewhen Press employed to edit my work. (Or the Twilight Times Press editors, for that matter.) After the usual routine of the seven stages of grief – “OH GOD! WHY? WHY? WHY?” – I knuckled down and started to do the editing. I just completed the second set last night, so hopefully there won’t be many more. As always, the cover art looks like a painting, which is in keeping with the rest of the series. I’ll put a copy on my site once I get the go-ahead.
In other news, I received a mention on Instapundit!
I’ve been asked, more than once, to comment on the dispute between Hachette and Amazon – and, to be honest, I don’t think I know enough to say. There’s so much mud being thrown around that it’s hard to be sure of what is actually going on.
What I will say is this; traditional publishers generally acted as the gatekeepers between the reader and bad literature. They provided services – editing, cover design, promotion, etc – that the writer needed to make his book better. On the other hand, the writer had to actually produce a readable book before the editor made that investment.
The advent of the internet and self-publishing allowed writers to bypass the publishers and put their work online; Amazon, to its credit, has done a marvellous job of setting up a system that allows writers to sell, without the barriers used by traditional publishers. But Amazon is a product of the digital age and most publishers are not. Notably, newer publishers (small presses) are quite keen on ebooks, as is Baen Books.
The good part of this is that anyone can write a book. The bad part of this is that anyone can write a book.
To borrow a line from Eric Flint, writing is a skill that has to be learnt; the average writer needs around a million words to get something remotely readable. (Put in context, the entire Ark Royal series is around 360’000 words.) However, writers are very attached to their writing and few have the detachment to consider it objectively. They are thus outraged when traditional publishers dare to reject their books. I know I moped for days when my first book was rejected, even though (in hindsight) I shudder to think what the reviewers would have said if I’d put it online.
(To add to this, any writer can cite a number of books in his field that should not, in his opinion, have been allowed near a publisher. No sir!)
What this tends to mean is that writers, utterly confident in their own abilities, WILL self-publish poorly-written books(*), sell only a handful and get savaged by reviewers … and this great outpouring of dross will bury the more decent self-published writers.
But it hasn’t buried quite a few self-published writers, like Hugh Howey. And me.
The major change, as I see it, is that the gatekeeping role has moved from publishers to readers. Someone can go on Amazon (or to my site) read the free samples and then decide if he/she wants to read the book. There is no longer an ‘we decide what you read’ attitude from the publishers (or at least not a particularly effective one), but instead the task of sorting through the dross falls to readers. The reviews are, as a general rule, written by ordinary people, rather than the NYT or other famous authors. I tend to find them more accurate than highly-paid editors/reviewers struggling to find social meaning in a thriller novel.
The internet also makes it easier for the writer to interact with his fans, edit his books and compensate for mistakes. (I’ve only ever had one reply from an author through the regular mail, which thrilled me for days.) I don’t know if this is true for any other publishing company (with the exception of Baen).
What I think will happen is this. The writers who do well, who actually reach the point of being competent writers, will get the notice they deserve. It will, however, take time and effort. As always, there are no shortcuts worth taking in the long run.
My advice to traditional publishers would be simple. There are no barriers to you setting up an ebook selling system like Amazon Kindle. You already have the advantages of cover design, editing, and the author’s name. So … give a fair share of the profits to the author (Amazon’s 70% is very generous) and sell ebooks directly. Listen to customer opinion and sell without DRM (Baen is VERY good with this), because there’s no DRM that is both unbeatable and actually creates usable books.
And what is the incentive to change?
Think about it. Being published by a traditional publisher is a huge boost to an author’s prestige. Someone like Kim Stanley Robinson has huge name-recognition right now. Why can’t they take that, which publishers have done for them, self-publish on Kindle and go home laughing while counting their cash? The monopoly on publishing is broken. It cannot be repaired, nor should it be. Instead of the authors courting the publishers, it is inching towards the other way round. And, really, publishing Hilary Clinton’s latest set of bland excuses as she edges towards a presidential run isn’t going to suffice in the long run.
YMMV, of course.
That’s all for now <grin>
(*) – by poorly written, I mean everything from plot errors to spelling mistakes. There’s a difference between a book in a genre I hate (romance, for example) and one that suffers from non-existent editing,