Thanks to the wonderful work of Cabil Services, we have the perfect cover for Breath of Stone.
I love it. I love, love, love it. And I totally love how the two covers work together.
Now: One of the most wonderful comments a writer can hear from readers is, “I hope there’s a sequel!” And I do a happy dance of joy for each reader who said that after reading Sand of Bone.
I so wanted to have that sequel, Breath of Stone, completed for you by the end of April. Alas, it simply isn’t going to happen without sacrificing quality (and sleep, and sanity, and paying my electric bill…). In the spirit of total honesty, I confess I both greatly overestimated what I could accomplish in the time available to me and greatly underestimated the number of life events that would demand my time and emotional energy.
I hope to do better on both in the future, and apologize for the delay.
The revised target date is July 2015. The additional time will make it a better story.
See, the thing is, I’m really excited about the story Breath of Stone is shaping up to be. There’s all the action and intrigue of Bone, but the stakes are higher, the choices more brutal, and the characters more demanding of their own dwindling faith. No one reaches the end unscathed.
Actually, no one reaches the halfway point unscathed.
But for all the darkness, there is hope and devotion and deserved loyalty as well.
And though Breath of Stone completes the major story arcs set forth in Sand of Bone, there are plenty of openings for another pair of novels if y’all tell me, “I hope there’s a sequel!” again.
Thank you for understanding, my darlings. I intend to give you a story worth the wait. You deserve nothing less.
And if you want to be among the first to access Breath of Stone, receive a free ebook of Serpent Heart, and have input on future projects, consider signing up for the Sand and Stone Newsletter.
The Review: As you might know, fantasy author Mark Lawrence put together the framework of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (details here), and Bob Milne of Beauty In Ruins is the book blogger randomly assigned to evaluate Sand of Bone. Can I just say that any review whose opening sentence includes the phrase “quite astounding” is enough to make this writer do the Snoopy happy dance? Check it out for yourself–both the praise and the critique.
*quickly pulls out soapbox*
And I’ll reiterate my belief that connecting more trade-focused/trade-exclusive reviewers with quality self-published works is vital if we (writers and reviewers) want to remain relevant to the conversations readers–those marvelous beings who sustain us all–are having about books the trade industry might not known exist. If a self-published writer pulls down seven to eight thousand sales in pre-orders, and the majority of trade industry participants have no idea who that writer is–let alone that she exists!–that’s an issue to be considered, my darlings.
*slides soapbox back under the desk*
The Musing: In the past, I’ve discussed my approach to reading and analyzing reviews. In short, I believe the old advice of “Don’t read your reviews” is rather unhelpful because analyzing reviews help the writer identify what she can do better on the marketing front as well as the writing front. A writer who understands what her supporting readers love is a writer better able to reach similar readers. It’s with that in mind that I fold Milne’s review into my understanding of why people like and dislike all or part of my work.
More than one reviewer (though, thankfully, not the majority!) have mentioned the pacing flagged for them somewhere in the middle. Of those who specified why, it’s about an even split between basic training elements and palace intrigue elements. (Of those who didn’t specify, it’s quite possible everything felt slow to them. ) Yet folks on both sides say they are glad they pushed through that section to finish the novel, so… what gives?
On the surface, it can seem to confusing, even contradictory. Should I reduce the palace intrigue? Should I reduce the military/training aspects? Should I just let it be and assume readers who enjoy one but not the other will continue to “push through” to the end?
The answer is no, no, and no.
Truly, Sand of Bone’s final chapters would have delivered a completely different visceral package had either element been missing. The decisions made on the palace-intrigue side would carry completely different implications without the military and basic training elements. The consequences on the military side would be so much less important were it not for the palace intrigue.
As a reader and a writer, I want both elements in my stories. I’m as interested in what happens on the frontline as I am in what happens in the secret bunker. I want to know what the soldier and the general thinks, believes, fears, and contrives. So the solution isn’t to choose a “side,” but to improve my ability to write compelling chapters that unfailingly funnel the reader to turn to the next chapter regardless of the story elements.
Last Call: The Sand and Stone Newsletter will go out to subscribers the night of Wednesday, April 22. It’ll include your link to a free and easy download of Serpent Heart, the latest news and cover reveal for Breath of Stone, and an opportunity to give input on future projects. If you’d like to be part of it, sign up here.
Now for something happy!
Our new little girl, Tanner, is settling in a little more every day. She’s loving all the cuddles and playtime and—now that she’s well-trained to the invisible fence and the weather is better—is merrily running around the yard, investigating rabbit trails, and bounding on and off the deck just for fun.
She and Gambit have reached friendly cohabitation and are working toward being buddies. One night last week, we let her in the house while Gambit was still out romping. She watched out the window until he appeared on the porch, whined at us to let him in, then gave him a quick nuzzle when he trotted inside before immediately acting as if it hadn’t happened.
Already she’s picked up on the House Rules such as “All treats must be taken nicely, with no injury to human fingers,” and “Paws out of the kitchen while I’m cooking,” and “Rough play is acceptable, but must stop when humans say so.” We’re still working on “Drop all toys on request” and “Come when you’re called even if you don’t want to.” Those will take awhile to master. Such is the challenge of a terrier!
We had a beautiful morning recently just perfect for pictures. I tried to get Tanner to pose. The result is a series demonstrating her penchant of paying attention to anything and everything that twitches. Terrier!
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My admiration for a professional acquaintance grew during the Indiana RFRA upheaval (which I introduce here as an EXAMPLE, not something I really want to debate right now*). She is a life-long Republican activist. And I do mean activist. She organizes and attends political rallies, works in campaign offices, and is always ready to intelligently discuss policy. My beliefs and hers overlap in very few places, but I’ve always enjoyed our conversations whether we’re agreeing or disagreeing.
She held strong beliefs against RFRA–beliefs she determined were more in line with her vein of conservatism than that of RFRA’s supporters. Knowing she’d forever damage her standing among segments of her party, she became one of the loudest and most reasoned voices speaking for its amendment or repeal. Many of the photos you’ve seen of local rallies include her. She was even asked to speak at the largest rally. And she spoke to her fellow conservatives at every opportunity.
Coolest of all? She consistently delivered moderate messages regardless of her audience. Since the message was both inclusive and diverse (it touched on social, economic, personal, national, political, and generational responsibilities), people on both sides listened.
Even so, folks on one side bad-mouthed her as a fake supporter and criticized her mention of economic motivations as cold-hearted and selfish. Folks on the other side bad-mouthed her as a fake Republican intent on attacking religion.
But in the end, she and others supported and achieved a middle ground: Indiana has an RFRA that is more in line with the original intent of the Federal RFRA, and the folks whom the original Indiana RFRA drafters targeted were extended protection, and the discussion continues.
Oh, and Indiana state government has allocated millions of dollars to marketing and public relations intended to repair the damage done to Indiana’s convention and tourism business.
There is a charming innocence in believing life is like a box of chocolates. I rather hope that isn’t true because that would mean some chocolates are rotten, or filled with venomous spiders, or imbued with the ability to randomly kill those I love. I’d prefer my chocolates to be like chocolates, thank you very much.
Life is really a plane filled with passengers who ought to be prepared to slip into The Langoliers without warning. The view is fantastic and the destination just might be wonderful, but at any moment something will go terribly, irrevocably wrong and your survival will depend upon not only your own preparations but the attitudes and preparedness of those sharing your plane.
That’s why a passenger who refuses to take their seat when asked can be kicked off the plane prior to take-off or arrested after landing at the destination. It isn’t because failing to sit down when asked, even when nothing bad is happening, is a life-threatening crime. It’s because a person who can’t follow simple directions—who cannot fathom an existence beyond their own experience and desires—is a threat when reality slides to the left. Better to dump the passenger at the gate, or arrest them in the hope it’ll change future behavior, than deal with a jerk suffering from narcissistic tendencies in an enclosed space where errors result in death.
Over the past year—with all the intra-industry battles over publishers, booksellers, platforms, publication paths, convention policies, and now the damned awards—I’ve had much better luck judging behavior than opinions. I admit I can be harsh about it at times (my explodes-at-the-end-of-a-long-fuse temper is not my ally), but I’ve had more than a couple harsh experiences that taught me life is short, unpredictable, and enamored with its own brutal streak.
So yes, I’m far more interested in knowing who keeps a level head, who is smart and wise enough to entertain doubts, who is able to able to balance intense passion with a wide perspective.
I’m choosing who I want to be on my plane.
It takes little effort and willingness to experience empathy for people we agree with. It takes a great deal more of both to experience empathy for those we disagree with.
The stock phrase about being doomed to repeat the past because the past is forgotten is true only to a certain extent. It’s actually the lack of empathy for the opposition that causes us to perpetuate the same conflict-ripe conditions. The inability to see why a single issue matters, the unwillingness to examine motive and motivation, the so-young belief that acknowledging a fact is the same as approving of what someone does with it, the simplistic and lazy assumption that the opposition fights because they’re evil and nothing else—that’s what dooms us.
The mistakes don’t lie in choosing strategy and tactics. The mistakes lie in not asking why we’re needing to make those choices again. Again. Again.
Empathy is the ability to imagine what the world looks like when viewed from a different window. In practical terms, it’s about listening to what folks say rather than hearing nothing but a Charlie Brown adult croaking while you think of your response, and about accepting that your personal experience is not universally shared or understood or even known.
Specifically, it’s about understanding a person who has been shunned and physically threatened because of their gender identity just might be furious about a law touted as a means of exclusion. It’s about understanding a person of faith, who has heard the millionth attack on religion as the cause of all ills, will be defensive about a seemingly small joke. It’s about looking at why a person thought to be awesome and welcome and level-headed suddenly accuses those who thought they’d been nice of doing harm.
It’s about peeking over the great wall of righteousness to glimpse the landscape that impacted the other side’s beliefs, actions, and reactions.
Empathy isn’t an endorsement of belief or behavior. It is, at its heart, the path that leads to connections and solutions.
Just about everyone is wired for sympathy. Not everyone is wired for empathy by the time they reach adulthood. And of those who are empathetic, even fewer are willing to acknowledge it. Fewer still are willing to share their empathetic understanding for fear the un-empathetic will accuse them of evil.
If you’re interested in practicing empathy, imagine how the person you most disagree with might read these words. Imagine that what you apply to the Other Side is now being applied to you.
Now don’t run away from those thoughts.
You see, we’re very quick to ask, “How would that make YOU feel?!?” and very adverse to coming up with an answer. And very, very reluctant to admit the answer might be, “I’d feel the way you do right now.”
Nothing happens in a vacuum. No story exists without backstory. A villain without motivation is a failure of storytelling. Real life seldom makes that error.
In my rural county, the most commonly spoken endorsement of a person’s ability and morality is, “She’s a good Christian.” From babysitters to financial advisors, therapists to farmers, politicians to plumbers. “He’s a good Christian,” is regional shorthand for moral, trustworthy, hardworking, good-natured, and every other positive trait you can imagine. I’ve often heard some variation of, “You know, she can’t do the X, Y, or Z parts of the job, but we keep working with her because she’s a good Christian.” Folks will tell you anyone is welcome, regardless of creed, but those same folks will listen for the “She’s a good Christian,” endorsement. Or pay close attention to its lack.
If you’re not “a good Christian,” you know you’re automatically lower on the list for danged near everything.
As someone who is not a church-going Christian (heck, I’m barely a cultural Christian anymore, truly), I totally understand the desire to have a place among friends who do not use religious belief as the basis of acceptance. I have an empathetic understanding, too, for those who feel so outcast by the “He’s a good Christian” environment—and who have been passed over for social and professional opportunities because of it—that they want a place to be completely devoid of Christian presence and acceptance.
But the truth is that the overwhelming majority of Christians haven’t the slightest inclination to use religion as criteria for employment, friendship, or anything at all. The overwhelming majority have no interest in recruiting you into their belief system, in demanding every public interaction conform to their Biblical interpretation, in punishing those who do not share their beliefs.
And yet—for heaven’s sake, be honest, my darlings—there are environments within the SFF community that will deride any and all stripes of Christianity, and gleefully so. There is even an SFF-community version of “She’s a good Christian.” It’s applied to those whose practice of Christianity either conforms with what’s assumed to be the preferred beliefs, or those whose practice is so rarely spoken of it is able to be ignored.
Right now—right this instance—if your thoughts are beginning to spin with, “Yeah, but…!” I invite you to take a step back from this part of the discussion.
Rest assured, anyone on any side of this debacle is well aware of the extreme ends of the beliefs. Truly, identifying that is the simple part, arguing it is for emotional satisfaction, and continuing to focus on it offers a dead-end.
I’m talking to those who are utterly sick of the spouting of the obvious, the screaming of pointless invective, the fingerpointing and the backslapping and cruel debates that seem to have completely forgotten actual people whose professional work is being trampled in the middle have been deemed acceptable collateral damage in the proxy war.
I’m talking to those who are more interested in exploring conversation with those who hold different beliefs than in beating the obvious extremist about the head. I’m talking to those who define victory as a lasting compromise, not those who equate winning with subjugating the opposition. I’m talking to those who want more than anything to discover why a conflict exploded—and who understand that discovery involves talking with people you don’t agree with rather than assigning motive from on high and plotting ways to stick it to the Bad Guy.
I’m not talking to those who prefer clever quips over substantive discussion.
I’m talking to those who listen when others talk.
I’m talking to the majority, my darlings.
There is a difference between winning a war and solving a conflict. Humans aren’t very good at the latter. Or, perhaps, we’d be better at solving conflicts if it weren’t so easy to let the war-winners assure us we don’t really need to solve anything as long as we can keep tearing it down.
But on my plane, I want people who can not only answer this question, but put the answer into practice:
True or false — If some Zoogs are Quigs, and all Quigs are Nofs, then not all Zoogs are Nofs.
As for the RFRA, if you want to look at the solution—which didn’t make much news—rather than the nasty battle—which certainly did make the news—take a look at how Utah handled the matter with discussions, negotiations, and the even-handed assumption that a solution didn’t have to involve a parade of the conquerors.
*If you really, really, really want to talk about RFRA, I’ll do a separate post on it. Otherwise, I ask you not derail the conversation about connecting with arguments for or against RFRA legislation.
(Edited to completely replace the text with something LJ didn't screw up in some way or another.)
Every now and then, I find I need to remind the folks I know and love that the operative word in the phrase, "working from home" just happens to be "working." And since the majority of folks I know and love have barely the slightest notion what process goes into writing fiction, I sometimes need to remind them that writing is indeed work.
This time, I wanted to take a lighter approach. I offer my wording here in case it might help another writer find a constructive way to keep family and friends from killing their career with love, kindness, or carelessness:
Hey, my darlings, just a quick heads-up:
For most weeks, Monday through Friday, I will not be answering my phone, text messages, or email between 11am and 4pm. These are my work hours.
A longer explanation:
Let's say you work on the 35th floor of an office building, but the only way people can contact you is to call the phone that is on the ground floor.
Fortunately, it's understood you can't answer that phone in a timely manner from the 35th floor, so the building is equipped with an express elevator that whisks you from your office to the ground floor. The phone rings and -whoosh!- you're right by the phone!
Unfortunately, the elevator goes only one way: down. To get back to your office, you must climb 35 flights of stairs. It doesn't matter if what called you to the ground floor needed one minute or thirty minutes. You still have to climb the same number of stairs to get back to work.
My writing brain lives on the 35th floor.
Thank you for understanding. :)
Do reviews matter?
The answer depends on who you ask, how you define “reviews,” and what you mean by “matter.”
Ask a trade-published writer, and you’ll likely learn a review is first and foremost something written by a pro or semi-pro reviewer that will appear in an industry-supported or industry-centric publication. That sort of review is expected to (fingers crossed!) boost enough interest and offer enough praise to filter down to the general readership in time to impact sales in the first week (or month, on the outside) after publication.
Ask a self-published writer, and you’ll likely learn a review is first and foremost something written by a reader, directed at other readers, that will appear on the online retailer’s sales page for the book or (second best) on a site like Goodreads. That sort of review is expected to (fingers crossed!) boost enough interest and offer enough legitimacy to immediately impact the reader’s purchasing decision in the first week, the first month, the first year, and far beyond.
But no matter who you ask, the truthful answers all share one critical element:
We know visibility impacts sales. But visibility doesn’t create sales. That takes a connection between what the reader is looking for and how the reviewer expresses herself. Seemingly neutral words can make all the difference. Describing a novel as having “humor mixed with the action” gives the reader a different impression than “action-packed, madcap adventure.” I’d investigate the first one and ignore the second one, even though both phrases could accurately describe the same novel. I’m convinced the seemingly random impact of reviews on sales is due less to a positive or negative review and more to the language it uses.
For example, after its inclusion in StoryBundle, Sand of Bone began to be described by reviewers as military fantasy as well as dark fantasy. I haven’t noticed a big difference in sales, but I’ve noticed a sharp rise in reader engagement—the critical foundation to any writing career because an engaged readership is more likely to purchase your next book. The words a reviewer used connected me to a different segment of fantasy readers, and those connections were the best thing to come out of my StoryBundle participation. (The money certainly wasn’t bad, either! :) )
In Bloggers: Wind or Windsock?, author Mark Lawrence speaks to the question of how much blogger reviews might impact sales. (Truly, it’s difficult for the trade-published to know. They lack direct and immediate access to the majority of sales data. Me, I can immediately see the impact or lack thereof because my sales data is mine to access at any moment. But I digress.) He puts some numbers behind his observations, but still comes up with the answer of, “Maybe it helps! Fingers crossed!”
Might the numbers Lawrence uses in his blogpost be more indicative of reader engagement than reviewer connections? Maybe. For those who are prevented by a blogger’s or industry publication’s policy from accessing many review venues, the answer is, “Fingers crossed!”
And that’s why I wanted Sand of Bone to be part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. Not because I think there’s a straight line between trade-publishing and reviewers and immediate sales and fame, but because I know visibility does the workaday job of increasing the likelihood a reader who likes what I write will find me.
But there is a second reason, and it’s a tiny tad more altruistic: I want the artificial barriers between trade-published books and self-published books to be smudged by the Blog-Off.
I will never forget the puzzlement of a genre professional first hearing the name “Hugh Howey.” Howey had at the time sold more copies of a single book than most genre writers will sell in their lifetime, but those who prided themselves in knowing everything about the industry had no idea who he was. Me, I would have been troubled to discover I’d not known about the work and writers who were impacting—and changing—the industry I worked within. Alas, what I saw immediately following the revelation was a doubling-down on the separation that left many readers understanding they had to access different sources to find complete news.
As I discussed in Women, Reviews, and Self-Publishing, the lamenting of diversity in industry-centric forums that pointedly exclude all self-published works frustrate me to no end. A large number of writers who have been shut out of the industry due to the documented biases in the industry are now self-publishing. Writers who didn’t even want to deal with those controversies opted to go directly to self-publishing. Writers who were tired of dealing with abuse within the industry decided to self-publish.
So anything that connects industry-centric sources, reviewers, and publications with the growing self-publishing community is a win in my book. After all, readers are purchasing, enjoying, and discussing self-published works from writers many industry sources haven’t even heard of, and the number of readers discovering self-published works is growing. Certainly self-published writers will benefit from connecting with an audience that looks almost solely to industry-centric reviewers to provide information on worthwhile reads. But the reviewer will also benefit from expanding her reading experience, sharing her discoveries, and connecting with readers who are largely ignored by many of the industry’s supporting resources.
SFWA recently enacted its policy to expand membership qualifications to include self-publishing income. As a SFWA member who watched the internal and public debate on the matter, I knew there were far more self-publishing writers who’d meet the income guidelines than most trade-published members believed, but also suspected the desire of self-published writers to join the organization was vastly exaggerated by those same members. It turns out both of us were right and wrong. Yes, the flood of self-published applicants surprised existing members with their sales numbers. Yes, the flood of self-published applicants who wanted to be in SFWA surprised me.
But one of the things I most remember is Locus Magazine’s reporting that SFWA “favored loosening membership standards by more than six to one.”
First, there is a load of bias in the phrase, “loosening membership standards.” There is no byline for the item, so I don’t know who wrote it, but do indeed know the genre readership has moved beyond that person’s knowledge and understanding. Just as I’d rather get my tech advice from folks who can tell me about cutting edge computing rather than the TRS-80, I’d rather get my industry news from folks who understand publishing opportunities that have been around for quite a few years now.
Second, take note of the phrase, “six to one.” I’m no math person, but I’m fairly certain that translates to around 85% of SFWA’s voting membership who approved of admitted self-published writers under earning standards equal to trade-published writers. Isn’t 85% a fairly significant majority? Isn’t a significant majority a fair reflection of prevailing opinion?
So if readers are purchasing enough self-published genre books to make writing them lucrative for many authors, and genre writers want self-publishers acknowledged as professionals alongside trade-published writers, it makes sense that reviewers would want to be part of the transition, if not on its leading edge.
Believe me—I get that reviewing is time consuming. After all, I’m a single mother who homeschools her teenage son, runs two businesses (one of which includes teaching karate four to six days a week), and sill wants to write stories.
So what might help bridge the transition? What might help connect up-and-coming writers outside the industry to reviewers within it?
Things like the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off.
Do I want Sand of Bone to fare well? Of course. Fuck yeah, I do. I want everyone to say it’s the best novel EVAH.
But in all honesty, I want the participating reviewers to enjoy many of the novels. I want them to be surprised by the stories and the production quality. I want them to be intrigued. I want them to be excited. I want them to be so pleased they’ll from now on look at good books versus bad books rather than self-published books versus trade-published books. I want their decisions to be difficult because of an abundance of good reads.
I would rather this open the door to increasing connections than be a token experience.
Yeah, I can be hopelessly unrealistic in my aspirations.
But, my darlings, this hope is totally reasonable.
If you want to know about upcoming releases, appearances, sales, and more, subscribe to the newsletter.
Somewhere along the way, I ended up writing military fantasy.
I didn’t intend to, really. Maybe way back, when I was first putting stories together, I had a notion. But really, I can’t recall ever thinking to call them “military fantasy.” But once others applied that label, and when I read their reviews and impressions… Let’s just say I’d forgive you for not believing me, because of course it’s military fantasy.
So here’s how the truth tapped me on the shoulder:( Read more...Collapse )
From The Guardian comes this observant article on the success women are finding in self-publishing.
Reactions can be summed up thusly:
"Let me argue the methodology! Let me discredit a single line in the article!" -- Folks who are certain there wouldn't be any gender disparity if women would just shut up about it already.
"It's just because of romance!" -- Folks who either failed to read the entire article, don't want the wrong type of folks playing in their sandbox, or both.
"Yeah, but those women are just lucky." Folks who'd rather ignore and/or degrade the achievement of successful women than accept that their success happened outside the traditional scope.
"I don't need to read this because it's all bullshit anyway." Folks who saw "women" and/or "self-publishing" in the article's title, and assumed the topic wasn't worth their time.
"Yep." -- Women who are self-publishing.
I have a convention schedule this year! Sure, it’s short and mostly local, but it exists. It is a thing, and it pleases me today.
4th Street Fantasy, Minneapolis, MN June 26-28
This is a different kind of con—one with a single track of programming and a membership cap of 175 attendees—intending to create a shared con experience and fluid conversation. Folks have been telling me to go for years. Once programming conversations get rolling, I’ll bring up making myself available for self-publishing discussions at the writing seminar. Is that presumptuous of me? Perhaps. But any discussion of the writing business today ought to include a writer who chooses self-publishing as the primary career path rather than the consolation trail. Besides, if there’s another indie writer they’d prefer to include, great! The goal is inclusion of the experience and information, not the person. (And I’d be more than happy to write up all the reasons this is true.)
InConJunction, Indianapolis, IN July 3-5
This con is local to me, but I haven’t been in years because its scheduling conflicted with my son’s annual county dog show. Since he isn’t showing this year, and is perfectly capable of getting himself to the site to volunteer (and we aren’t driving to JFK airport to get him on a flight to Italy, as we did last year), I get to go to the con! My name appeared on the “Also Appearing” list, so I guess it’s official. I have no idea what programming will look like, but I will be making my recommendations.
GenCon, Indianapolis, IN July 30 – Aug 2
I’ve put my name in the hopper to help with any SFWA business while there. When not doing that, I’ll likely be hanging around the Writer’s Symposium, hoping their self-publishing track is less dismissive, and spending time with my cosplaying son. I’m even toying with the idea of pulling a cosplay myself. I have a soft spot for Fiona. For me, this con isn’t much a professional-writer activity, but is a fun few days instead.
MileHiCon, Denver, CO October 23-25
Since I’ve decided I’m moving that direction, it only makes sense I’d jump into a convention, right? More details on this one as time gets closer.
I already know some folks who will be at these events, but would love to meet up with others. Let me know if you’ll be around!