So … Next Up, and Musings on Self-Publishing

28 Jun

So …

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,

45 Responses to “So … Next Up, and Musings on Self-Publishing”

  1. Carl Gridley June 28, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

    For the commander – sole survivor with guilt complex from the previous war? No disgrace, but they question their own competence or courage.

    Or: Someone from the fighter track making the switch to ship command; they have experience but in fighters not ships. Could be something other than fighters – engineering, someone from a fleet auxiliary..?

    Thoughts 🙂

  2. Ken June 28, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    I’d definitely like to see Hard Lessons!

    As for the next Ark Royal trilogy, what about a small survey/colony ship crewed by independents that was presumed lost, doesn’t know about the war, and encounters the aliens separately?

    What if there were a third intelligent race?

    Alternatively, how about a shipyard supervisor (maybe with a checkered naval past) who finds himself thrust into command during the war?

    Just some ideas.

    Keep up the great work!

  3. Terry June 28, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    A. I would like to see thin blue line…the story is kind of hanging out there and I would love to see it continue. B. Think a designer is a bit too far out there…no respectable navy would allow that UNLESS he happened to be on the ship or something and the command crew somehow was eliminated. C. Been to Sydney twice…first time on R&R while in Vietnam…met some wonderful Aussies who remain cherished friends to this day. Second time when my daughter was an exchange student at Western Sydney Univ. We went over at the end of her semester. Sydney is my most favorite city in the world. It’s simply breath taking and the people are every bit as special. Have a great time!

  4. Daniel Silver June 28, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

    I would really like to see Thin Blue Line since we’ve gone awhile without a story from that universe.

  5. wayneenz June 28, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

    I’d like to see the rewrite of part three of the democracy series. Otherwise Hard Lessons.

  6. johntae71 June 28, 2014 at 11:12 pm #

    Hard lessons would be a better move at this time. Strike while the iron is Hot as the saying goes.

    Next Trilogy in Ark series, how about the construction of a forward base? Senior officers are off securing the known borders, rebuilding the home fleets, beefing up colony defenses. As we all know, not all Colonies are created equal.

    So a forward base gets a lowly commander, a civil engineering officer at that, who is tasked to defend a systems who’s primary value is location. An unexplored multi-gate system that may be important, but not high on the priority list.

    How important was Singapore during the Napoleonic Wars? How important was it a hundred years later?

    • chrishanger July 1, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

      That’s a very good idea. I may work it into the book Actually, it would tie in nicely with my plans for Book II. Chris Date: Sat, 28 Jun 2014 22:12:19 +0000 To:

      • johntae71 July 2, 2014 at 7:00 am #

        Further suggestions.

        I’d make the base commander someone who graduated at the top of his class, someone who was looking forward to leading new projects in the New Britannia system.

        Someone who sees the posting as an opportunity to try out new ideas and concepts, one’s he wouldn’t be able to in an established system.

        A beat up old construction/factory ship with an overly imaginative commander and any empty system to play with. What could happen?

      • chrishanger July 2, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

        I’ve been leaning towards having the ship deployed to a largely unexplored region of space. Having a base built in the same place makes sense Chris Date: Wed, 2 Jul 2014 06:00:38 +0000 To:

      • johntae71 July 2, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

        Prior to the war there would have been a “fleet” doctrine for establishing bases with colonies, but the advent of the war would have cemented the need to build forward bases at jump points even in uninhabited systems, especially ones with potential strategic significance.

        The sort of place where a smaller class of ships with shorter legs would call home.

        Might take a while to build an armored Carrier, BB, Cruiser or Destroyer, but a Corvette or Gunship? Quick and dirty to build.

        A Peregrine class Corvette? Heavily armored and heavily armed, but limited range due to crew supply and space? No crew over 6ft or 200lbs due to inteernal space limitations? 60 day duration? Initially designed for planetary defense but tasked with system patrol?

        Some type of ship like this would have been rushed in to construction to provide orbital defense. Once budgeted and built the bean counters would have fallen in love with it. Cheap to build, cheaper to operate.

      • chrishanger July 2, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

        Cool I might actually use that in the third book, although I think that most such designs wouldn’t last long if they got into a shooting war I’m currently considering a system that has a gas giant, a Titan-like moon and a Mars-like world. Chris Date: Wed, 2 Jul 2014 15:49:29 +0000 To:

      • johntae71 July 3, 2014 at 2:07 am #

        You could argue “Brigs” of war weren’t meant for real shooting wars, but there they were facing off the French.

        Sometimes you just end up with what you got and figure out how to make the best of it. Helps if you have your own dockyards where you can modify the hell out of things.

      • chrishanger July 3, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

        Good point Chris Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2014 01:07:41 +0000 To:

      • johntae71 July 7, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

        I had a thought,, where does a hot fighter commander who’s lover just died go after the fighting is done? A lonely outpost as the mobile unit combat officer of a new forward base?

      • chrishanger July 8, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

        Rose died too (very tragic). That said, I’m planning to use Percy as a POV character. Chris Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2014 21:16:08 +0000 To:

  7. bob June 29, 2014 at 1:32 am #

    I’m leaning towards Hard Lessons, A Learning Experience was a good solo book with a hard finish. Freaky space exploration is a forgotten genre concept, there’s an entire planet made of diamond and a gas cloud made of raspberry rum. With all the dead civilized planets implied in a universe like this, you would think Space Indiana Jones would be a thing. Adventurous xeno-archaeology? It was briefly a film concept in the 90’s, normally involving martians.
    I had an air-conditioner that could fill a 55 gallon trash can with water twice a day (that’s 416 liters). When that concept obviously didn’t pan out, I fed the drain hose back outside through a hole cut in the air intake pipe. This was an indoor air-conditioner, not a window unit. So it looked like my 3rd story apartment window was leaking water at an insane rate, for no apparent reason. Surprisingly, no one ever commented.

    • chrishanger June 29, 2014 at 9:14 pm #

      It definitely would be a thing. I could do something with a story idea based around an exploration team. Hum … Water drips all the time in Malaysia from air con units. It’s a hazed. Chris Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2014 00:32:40 +0000 To:

  8. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard June 29, 2014 at 1:49 am #

    Chris, air always contains a certain amount of water vapor even when the air doesn’t feel moist.

    Warmer air can contain more water vapor than cooler air so when the air conditioner cools the air the water vapor condenses into water.

    By the way, air feels moist when it has too much water vapor for the air temperature and the air gets “water droplets” instead of water vapor. [Smile]

    • chrishanger June 29, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

      And in Malaysia, the air is always warm. (This would be useful if I could pipe up the water and then boil it. A pipe must be blocked somewhere.) Chris Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2014 00:49:18 +0000 To:

  9. Brandon June 29, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    I stumbled upon your books quite by accident looking for something else. What that was I’ll not remember anytime soon. I’ve read your Bookworm series, your Schooled in Magic series and also your Royal Sorceress series. I’ve enjoyed them all. I keep checking periodically to see if there are any new releases. Keep up the great work.

    I prefer Baen’s release system because the devices I use to read my books on have changed over the years and I have some old e-books I can’t move anywhere because both the site that sold the book to me doesn’t have it anymore. I’d give a lot to be able to set my “Pin” to mobipocket.

  10. Charles Thurman June 29, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

    Its been a long time since the last Empires Corps.

  11. les barrie June 29, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

    Empire corp please,this is what first drew your work to my attention and though I love your other material,you never forget your first love !!!!
    Vote YES for a better future.

  12. Paul June 29, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

    I am really looking forward to “The School of Hard Knocks”. My vote is for “Hard Lessons”. I also appreciated the author’s perspective, as opposed to the media perspective, regarding the Amazon and Hachette conflict.

  13. Chris Robison June 30, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

    What’s your plan with School of Magic?

  14. wraithtirteen July 2, 2014 at 12:23 am #

    Hard Lessons please. I love Sci fi books that use creative world building and I suspect Hard lesson to be one of the better in that category.
    That said I recently sent off a 80,000 word book off to baen its not their usual stuff but I am hopping the editors like it enough to give out some pointers.

  15. Chris B July 9, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    “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?”

    I quite like that idea. He would relate better to the ship than the crew, perhaps. And his first thought in any situation would be related to the hardware, not the people in it. He could step all over the chief engineer’s toes. I think for that to make sense, there’d have to be something quite unusual about the ship design, although it being one of the first ships made from reverse-engineered alien technology should be unusual enough to justify it.

    • chrishanger July 9, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

      I don’t think alien tech is THAT different to humanity’s – much of it could be reverse-engineered fairly quickly. On the other hand, it might make life more interesting if it was … Maybe the XO will be the designer. Chris Date: Wed, 9 Jul 2014 14:19:24 +0000 To:

    • james July 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

      What about humanity’s first effort to duplicate and exceed the alien’s stealth capabilities?

      A small frigate would be the ideal size for this and it’s captain could conceivably be the man reaponsible for designing a human ship suitable for alien stealth technology. Something rushed into construction but fore-shadowing humanity’s next generation of ships.

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