Crane’s Guide to Writing and Baking

Okay, we’ll try another version of this.

In other words: writing is work. Often very hard work, that might pay little or nothing for an insane amount of time and labor. There is no set ‘destination’, since your career can skyrocket to best-seller and movie status, or crash into obscurity with equal speed.

If you want to write as a hobby, as I did for 20+ years, that’s fun and admirable.

But if you decide you want to publish your work, whatever genre it might be, you owe it to yourself and your book to do as much widely-ranging research as possible.

Don’t just look up ‘Publishers’ on Google or Bing, and go with the first one you see, maybe in your area. And please walk away from any publishers or agents who want you to pay upfront (or in anything but commissions off sales) to work with them. Take some time to look up other authors who’ve written something similar to your book, generally within the last two to five years. Did any agents represent them? Who published them? What do their sales look like on Amazon? Have you met these authors at book signings or conventions? Are you on a writing-oriented social media site?

For more information, gleaned from my mistakes and those I’ve seen in the industry, go here to see all the ways writers can be led astray on the publishing quest.

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Remember Mystery Science Theater 3000? The perpetrators are back with the online streaming movie commentary service
RiffTrax LLC

For more highbrow pursuits, here’s Taschen, one of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking books in fine art, photography, culture, and the humanities.

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Blue Night Marketing Affiliates

These are the people who pay me, when you click/buy through their links on this blog. They feature companies whose products or services I, or friends and family, have used in the past. These companies have not directly paid me for a specific review or endorsement.

While many of these links will be found in text form, or as images at the bottoms of future or previously written posts, I thought it might be efficient and honest if I also show my current affiliate marketing links in one post.

Amazon. Where I show or review books, I check to see if they have a corresponding Amazon sales page, and link to it. In most cases, that will be a paid link: if my review was useful enough to send you looking for the book, and you buy it from Amazon, I’ll get a (very tiny) percentage of the sale. Whether I know the author or not, I will only review books if they strike me as really worthy of my time.

Rakuten Kobo U.S. Because I believe in fair competition, I’m also offering links to Rakuten Kobo U.S. This gigantic publisher of the Kobo format is one of the most popular in Asia and Europe, and fast making a name for itself in the USA. So if you don’t want to buy an e-book off Amazon, chances are you’ll find it on Kobo. I’m thrilled that NineStar Press, my current e-book and print novel publisher, has just made a direct distribution deal with Kobo!

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Coursera. I wrote a whole blog post about Coursera, I like them so much. This company provides universal access to some of the world’s best online college courses, lectures, and professional certificate programs. Build your brain!

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Vudu. Cut the cord to cable TV: if you just want HD movie and TV-show streaming a la carte, try Vudu. This American content delivery and media technology company’s streaming service distributes most current and a 70-year back catalog of vintage movies and shows.

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Taschen. One of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking books in fine art, photography, culture, science, and the humanities.

TASCHEN - Beautiful Books

Artistic Labels. If you need mailing/ID labels, stamping supplies, and cool stationery, this very old, very established company probably has or can make them for you. I’ve not only used them for envelope address labels, but for company logo stickers on outgoing art and jewelry packages.

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BeadRoom.com I love beads. These people love beads. They have one of the most gorgeously-photographed collections of high-quality glass beads online. Seriously, it’s like bead p0rn. Their prices are reasonable, and the catalog is large enough to fit nearly any project need. They’re also super-approachable if you have a special order you need to track down.

RiffTrax, LLC. In long-ago ages there was a cult hit, a low-budget comedy/movie review show called Mystery Science Theater 3000. The main ‘gimmick’ was a hapless Everyman imprisoned on a satellite over the Earth by evil masterminds, who periodically forced him to watch the most horrible old movies For Science. He had robot buddies for company, and to the Evil Scientists’ dismay, had a great time absolutely shredding the movies.

Why that long intro? Because MST3K may be no more, but its founders are back with RiffTrax LLC.

This streaming service allows you to sync their hilarious real-time commentary with specific movies. This is the only sane way to watch some real steamers (like Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room’). Rifftrax also has live shows, and if you ever get a chance to attend one, GO.

Coursera and why I blather about it

Note: this post contains paid marketing links, which I only do when I really support a product or service. If you click/buy through the link below (at the bottom of the post), I will get a micropayment to help defray the operating costs of Blue Night.

But really? I’d much rather you just go look at what Coursera has to offer you.

Coursera is an online educational service that provides access to some of the world’s best university courses and lectures, from thousands of sources, most priced from $29 to $99 per course. Courses generally run from 4 – 6 weeks.

You can brush up on old professional certificates, earn new ones, round out your old degrees before challenging course requirements at new universities…or just round out your knowledge base.

Why pick Coursera?

It’s easy, if you have little self-discipline. If you can pay bills online and navigate Facebook or Twitter, you can do this.

Your brain will thank you. We’re seeing more and more evidence that early-to-midlife brain workouts help reduce Alzheimer’s Disease and some other forms of dementia.

Your future earnings might thank you. Yes, we’ve all heard the one about Masters-degree grads flipping burgers. But did you know that many jobs that didn’t require a Bachelors’ degree in 1997, do now? People with a better knowledge base can take advantage of earnings opportunities others might miss. As jobs become more high-technology, workers must keep up with new job specifications…even whole new industries.

Plus, you’ll be better insulated against falling for ‘fake news’ scams and tricks, on the right or left side of political debates.

In our modern American (and some other countries, I’m sure) education system, we’re seeing two horrific trends: the debt bubble crippling many for-profit-college students, and the ‘cheat-your-way-to-the-top’ mentality made popular by Wall Street and our politicians. For the latter, there’s growing evidence that relying on paid thesis papers and other outsourced coursework doesn’t really ‘teach’ the student, so they don’t go into a field with the necessary base knowledge, or even the ability to learn and retrain as new information evolves. That can be fine if it’s a low-impact position in a minor industry.

But it can become a catastrophe. Like this guy:

A little history: the American and British industrial era was helped along in the 1880s to 1920s by many factors, but a love of (even a duty toward) education became many citizens’ aspiration. Free public libraries and reading rooms sprouted up from the biggest cities to the tiniest coal-mining towns. Their proponents knew that not everyone was going to college, or would become a fancy businessman in a marble house. But they knew it was important to have informed citizens. Who read and debated, and sometimes became writers and scholars guiding the next generations of informed citizens.

We need to ditch the fashionable hatred of ‘intellectual elites’ and get back to the America that loved learning and science. STEM is for everyone, not just the geeks in labcoats!

Self-guided learning can be a more-affordable option for busy (and poorer) people, to hone critical professional skills, or regain (or find in the first place) a joy of simply learning new things. Again with the science: learning and play (‘plasticity’ in neurological terms) help keep our brains functioning better and longer.

So, back to Coursera. Don’t be afraid of their course lists and lectures. Hop onto the site. Browse the catalog.

Do you like to watch how-to building, cooking, or crafts shows on cable or TV? Is there anything you have ever…however briefly…wondered about: How does that work? Why does this happen? What was it like, in that time, or that place?

You can find a course or lecture on Coursera that might answer your question, taught by the experts in that field, more deeply than you might get in a brief Wikipedia search.

Kudos if you know how to do basic Google or Wiki searches: many people who fall for ‘fake news’ scams can’t even do that…in an age of internet wonders, they’re stuck watching the sideshows.

This is Coursera. I’ve tried it a couple of times and enjoyed the experience, and I have friends who’ve been fans for years.

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‘Red Amber’ update

A few years ago I posted this excerpt of a rewritten fantasy short story, ‘Red Amber’, a M/M erotic romance about creativity, grief, pride, and lost love.

Here’s the current mood board for it.

While I’m waiting on edit letters for THE PURIST, I’m settling back into this story. I have 12K of it written, so expanding it to somewhere around 25K-30K shouldn’t be too difficult.

My first inspiration was this tiny red amber bear talisman, which was so cool when I saw it back in 1989 that it spawned an awkward story…with decent roots. I knew I wasn’t good enough for the idea, so I set it aside.

‘In a fantasy setting inspired by Neolithic North Africa, Tarhan Carver is the last of his reclusive clan of amber-workers. Shattered by the loss of his true love Aio, a young man sold into chaste religious servitude, Tarhan becomes obsessed with hoarding amber until he has enough to buy back Aio. But along the way they’ll both learn some things cost more than mere wealth.’

A M/M romance anthology call in 2014 made me take another look at my het little romance, and realize it could be any two people, not just a man and a woman. The rewritten version worked as a story, but not for that antho. So I set it aside for a few more months. Stuck in the waiting room for jury duty, I realized this was a whole book. I outlined a rough path to expand and interweave the short story, set later in the characters’ lives, with earlier sections showing how they got there.

On a whim last week, I sent the proposal to my current publisher. They liked it. The editor who saw the newest partial version wanted to offer a contract then and there. I’m reluctant to contract something until it’s finished…because life happens, and schedules get derailed.

Finishing this is a good distraction, especially if I can write 2650 words in three hours, and still like them the next morning. The characters are ‘chatty’: their dialogue and actions spin out naturally from my skimpy notes. Tarhan, like many of my characters, makes stuff, which is kind of a Thing I like to read (but other people get bored). Aio is giving me an excuse to read up on the Dinka herdsmen of East Africa.

And some gorgeous cave art from the Sahara.

Mood board sources:

Model M’Baye Ford, photo Maltchique

Ethopian woman, photo Timothy Allen

Cobra, photo by W. Klein, Angola field Group

Amber, lava, and malachite beads, Artfire

Thunderbird, ‘best thunderbird’, Deviant Art

Ancient Nile landscape, History Channel

Neanderthal male face reconstruction, Germany

Dinka herdsman and cattle, photo Irene Abdou

‘Horned Goddess’, Tassili cave art

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Take a look at a gorgeous collection of high-quality glass beads and other jewelry-making supplies: BeadRoom.com

‘The Purist’ has a home with NineStar Press

I’m contracting THE PURIST to NineStar Press for a release date sometime in 2018.

It almost certainly *won’t* have this cover, and possibly not this title, but I look forward to seeing what NineStar does with it.

Way back in 1996 or 1997 I wrote a 6K short story set in my Lonhra Sequence fantasy universe: a secondary-world riff on the Orpheus myth where Persephone and Eurydice combined into one badass spearwoman with A Secret, Hades was a genderfluid immortal sorcerer, and Orpheus…was Eridan: a bard and ambassador whose quiet life is turned inside out by those other two lunatics.

Around 2013 I wondered if I could expand SINGER IN RHUNSHAN into a novella. That happened, then it shot past novella-length and eventually to 102K words.

I gave it the next four years to find an agent or editor willing to take it on. The wonderful agent who helped me with the first MORO contract tried to place this one, and got form letters back. Several agencies said ‘no’ but asked me to come back ASAP with new work. At least two Big Five editors have liked my social media pitches for PURIST in its early incarnations as SINGER. (Ironically, a couple of months after form-rejecting the actual mms, but that happens.)

They didn’t like it enough to champion it or my other work, either in mainstream fantasy or LGBTQIA SFF romance. No one but me, five beta readers, and the agent loved this story. And she couldn’t get anywhere with it.

I’ve seen the miracles that can occur with my art representatives: they’re cheerleaders as well as representatives of the artists they help. They’ve lifted my art career far beyond my ability or expectations.

A bad or indifferent agent is worse than no agent.

I have options that I would not have had, if my first (very capable) agent had been able to sell my first (barely) coherent novel to a mass-market paperback publisher in the mid-1990s. Good small presses are out there now, and they are getting industry awards, notice, and readers. Effective self-publishing exists now, and is the safety net for many authors now releasing their own backlists and new work. I have access to trade groups that will help me with audiobook versions, film rights, and foreign rights if those apply.

NineStar is a great small publisher with a lot of potential. It probably can’t come near the best possible Big Five sales, let alone advance rates. But the NSP staff will do the best job they can with their formidable skills. NineStar’s rights reversions processes are clean and simple enough that I will be able to self-pub in the future, should I need to.

I don’t view NineStar as ‘settling’ as much as finding another viable route through what has become, for this book, an impassable quagmire.

It’s a journey I’m looking forward to, and a huge relief.

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Cygnet, by Patricia McKillip

This book (two books, actually) holds a wistful joy for me. The two stories woven within are pure McKillip at her best: lyrical, mystical, with down-to-earth protagonists and a way of bringing the eldritch in for tea.

I encountered the first book in 1992 at a World Fantasy Convention, and the second in the summer of 1995.

I can even narrow down the time: I was re-reading it while doing this needlepoint (inspired by both books), at the big splashy grand opening for an electronics store that is now Fry’s Electronics (the boring one in Tempe, not the MesoAmerican fantasy in North Phoenix, now famous from Mr. Robot.)

Even more than McKillip’s earlier Forgotten Beasts of Eld or her Riddlemaster trilogy, these two books probably pushed my writing in a certain direction.

Not that I will ever come close to these.

But if you haven’t read Cygnet, or any McKillip, this book is a damn good place to start.

What is the duology about?

‘The Sorceress and the Cygnet’ begins with Corleu, white-haired son of the dark, wandering Wayfolk. His people travel from land to land with the changing seasons, hiring for farm work and craftwork. But on one autumn journey to the warmer southern Delta, the Wayfolk are led astray by a clever, magical enemy…into a blissfully beautiful, evergreen, ever-warm, neverending version of the Delta lowlands and swamps.

All but Corleu, who inherited more than white hair from his unknown non-Wayfarer grandfather. Corleu, immune to the sorcery, is offered a way to free the Wayfarers: betray the hidden Sentinel that has protected all the lands from the chaotic magical beings he accidentally awakened.

‘The Cygnet and the Firebird’ weaves a story of the sorceress Nyx Ro, who helped Corleu free his people and re-imprison his adversaries. Dragged by Corleu from her weird swamp mansion, Nyx now bickers with her less-magical but more level-headed siblings, avoids enamored lordlings and the responsibilities of being a princess, and learns the secrets of a magical castle that can teleport wherever her mother wants.

Until a wounded firebird appears in front of her…and a brief moment, is a young man warning Nyx of a new threat. A tyrant sorcerer has discovered old magical pathways through time and space, and prepares his conquering armies to overwhelm Nyx’s people. But doors go both ways, so Nyx and her cousin Meguet follow the firebird home.

Why do I love these books? The writing is gorgeous, without some of the unfocused ornament of later McKillip works (which I never mind, but your mileage may vary).

The two women are heroes, without being the new ‘strong woman’ stereotype of one-dimensional badass, and sympathetically portrayed as they pit themselves against a new world and new enemies. Their male love interests are equally well-crafted: strong, determined, both loyal and secretive, they’re a perfect antidote to the toxic masculinity touted by alt-right fantasists of today.

McKillip set this story up with a wistful ending: Meguet chooses one old love while refusing a new one, and Nyx’s firebird prince is pulled back to his realm with his father’s defeat. There is the possibility of a sequel, but it looks like McKillip may have set it aside. Similar themes pop up in her 2004 book ‘Alphabet of Thorn’.

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Some of you are probably asking: “Is there fanfiction?”

Yes. I haven’t waded deep enough into the search results to see all three pages, but Archiveofourown.org currently has 44 fanworks listed for Patricia McKillip books. On the first page, some are mediocre, some average, and some spectacular. As with most fanfiction, you’ll be able to separate them within a paragraph or two.

That catalog page is here.

Crane Designs Book Art

 

Many of my book art sculptures are represented in the US and internationally by the wonderful folks at Vamp & Tramp Booksellers.

http://www.vampandtramp.com/finepress/c/cranedesigns.html

A large catalog of works can be seen by scrolling down the pages on the right side of this blog. Look for Book Arts & Text Based Art, for pieces from specific years.

Most of these pieces are one-of-a-kind, with a few limited small-run editions.

I go more into my book art process and philosophy here.

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Moro’s Price mood board

Since I’ve a nice uptick in sales lately on this M/M space opera romance, here’s a mood board of my original art inspired by the story, cover background from Natasha Snow, and images from Alphonse Mucha, The Nature Conservancy, and Pinterest.

I don’t know any other way to respond to the anniversary of 9-11, or the creeping insanity and denial that darkens our world today…but to write and make art, find joy in it, and hope sharing it makes someone else’s afternoon a little better.

If you want to know more about MORO’S PRICE, go here.

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Taschen is one of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking …and sexy…books in fine art, photography, culture, and the humanities.

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Claribel Ortega tweets Handbook

Oh god, this is so funny it’s painful. To go along with Lani Sarem and GeekNation’s previous misadventures involving Handbook For Mortals, YA author and blogger Claribel Ortega takes on the soul-stunting task of reading and live-tweeting this book.

To be super efficient, Claribel has Storified two separate reads in these handy threads. So if you want to know what GeekNation considers ‘publishable’ (and what at least 5,000 teen writers on Wattpad and Ao3 wouldn’t), go here:

https://storify.com/Claribel_Ortega/clarireadshandbook

and here

https://storify.com/Claribel_Ortega/clarireadshandbook-2#publicize

For snark, GIFs, and some of the worst writing I have ever seen. (And I’ve been guilty of a lot of it, just so you know.)

Seriously, if you plan to write YA in any genre, but especially fantasy, these posts are a masterclass in HOW NOT TO DO IT.

Added 9/4/2017: know what would make this even more hilarious? If Gilbert Gottfried could read some Handbook passages aloud.

Added 9/13/2017: and now Jenny Trout is sharpening her knifelike wit on Sarem’s hapless prose.

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Taschen is one of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking books in fine art, photography, culture, and the humanities.

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Cut the cord to cable TV: if you just want HD movie and TV-show streaming a la carte, try Vudu. This American content delivery and media technology company’s streaming service distributes most current and a 70-year back catalog of vintage movies and shows.

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Big Fails: Lani Sarem and Louise Linton

So much news to absorb in the last week or so: Charlottesville’s aftermath, Trump’s Phoenix speech, the solar eclipse, religious riots in India, North Korea, Hurricane Harvey…

I might touch on all those later, but let’s look at two hilarious gaffes in recent social media. Both of them embody privilege, legal-but-morally-suspect corruption, and astounding condescension from their originators. Oh, and world-class whinging when they got called out.

Louise Linton is the wealthy Scottish actress who recently married the even wealthier financier Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury Secretary and beneficiary of several financial scandals. Linton is no stranger to putting her couture-shod foot in her mouth, via an earlier socially-inept misadventure over this book on Amazon.

Last week, ostensibly on government business (but suspiciously probably to see the eclipse from Fort Knox) Linton and Mnuchin took a government jet to Kentucky, home of some of the poorest counties in America. Linton hashtagged her arrival with this post (left side image). She boasted openly about the designer stuff she wore on the trip.

Someone else called her out (top right).

Instead of ignoring it, Linton fired back with a dripping bit of classist condescension (lower right)

Whereupon Social Media tore her apart, with endless posts and memes, many touching on the old ‘Let them eat cake’ quip from Marie Antoinette.

Whereupon poor Linton found herself persona-non-grata to the fashion events and designers she craves to fill her empty life, and the charities that helped give her a gloss of social responsibility. Good thing she married money, eh? Pity it couldn’t do anything to teach her about class.

An even worse pity that more voters didn’t figure this out about the greedy and corrupt upper level social circle attaching itself to Trump’s baggy suitcoat. Louise Linton is a normal example of the group, not an exception.

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Now onto Lani Sarem, from a different class background and motivation. Lani presents herself as an edgy liberal outsider, a skilled player in the indie music and film industry. Apparently, to fuel support for an upcoming film project, Sarem and her publisher GeekNation cooked up a stunt to game the NYT hardback YA book ranks with her new release Handbook For Mortals.

Except that no one in the very tight knit YA book community (already seething with other recent controversies) had heard of Handbook.

YA Twitter’s crowdsourced investigation took less than a day. Finding, among other things, that even the cover (if not outright plagiarized) was derivative.

Again, Sarem’s reactions made everything worse: starting with saying of her first online YA author detractor: “I’ve never heard of his book, either.”

She then went on to accuse the YA community of being bullies, insular, out of touch with reality, and not worth her or GeekNation’s time.

Which (no matter how one feels about YA genres in particular) is a spectacularly stupid way to approach the people who will be your target readership and colleagues.

I could forgive some arrogance on Sarem’s part if her writing was groundbreaking, skilled, and original. If the writing showcased in the Look Inside Kindle samples of Handbook is anything to go by, it’s as derivative as the cover art. Seriously, go look while you still can. Actual teen writers on Wattpad and Archive of Our Own could blow this out of the water without trying.

What do these two (blonde white) women have in common? A breathtaking disregard for other people (or at least people who are not immediately useful to them.) It’s not like gaming the NYT hardback ranks is new; so many other authors have tried it that the system is rather a joke.

Louise Linton needs to take a cue from the Old Money in Europe and the UK, which for decades post WWII managed a credible facade of modesty (even in the face of Eurotrash escapades).

Lani Sarem may be a capable screenwriter, but the terrible writing and self-indulgent navelgazing shown in her book reveals she desperately needs some writing courses (more likely, a ghostwriter) if she’s going to continue as a novelist.

GeekNation needs to stop and analyze their path forward. Like many coming from the technology and social media sector, they figured publishing books couldn’t possibly be that hard. They didn’t learn from this unique and crazy industry, tried to reinvent the wheel, and took disastrous shortcuts.

They’ll probably even win, in the end: the book stunt was only to drive buzz for the attached film project and franchise, where Sarem is on track to play the lead.

Added 9/29/2017: Lani Sarem is making the most of her moment of notoriety. Here’s a follow-up article from Vulture.

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Help keep the power on so I can keep blathering about art, jewelry, writing, and politics! I’ve joined Amazon Affiliates and Rakuten Marketing, so your click on the link below will give a micropayment.

Taschen is one of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking books in fine art, photography, culture, and the humanities.

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Diversity Bingo

Or: the state of LGBTQIA SFF and Romance publishing in 2017.

Tl:dr…diverse authors may be courted by large publishers not so much for the value of their stories, but for the cachet of representing them as proof of diversity in publishing. Unagented authors and agents need to be wary of this possible trend, and plan ahead for its most-dire side effects.

The Science-fiction, Fantasy, and Romance industries (and they are industries) have been on a good roll lately, as far as including diverse authors and stories. Native Voices, POC, and LGBTQIA authors are getting more notice and somewhat less airbrushing/outright censoring (at least in the US, UK, and European markets) than they were even a few years ago.

C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince series was heralded as a new and daring icebreaker in blending M/M romance with plotty fantasy intrigue.

And yet.

Was Prince a signal of things to come, or a fluke driven by already-loyal readerships gained during its earlier self-published days? It’s worth noting that the author’s agent approached her after the first two books became self-publishing legends.

I keep seeing agent and editorial MSWL posts begging for queer, gay, bi, NV, POC, and other authors. In fantasy, in science fiction, in fantasy romance, in all flavors of YA. As far back as this post, M/M romance publishers were asking for more books where the LGBTQIA protagonist’s story wasn’t primarily about his, her, or their issues, but how their background made them and their adventures interesting. How they fit into a world while they ‘happened’ to be gay, bi, or whatever.

I’ve seen a heartening increase in crossover books where two different genres melded to great effect…with LGBTQIA characters.

Diverse authors (especially women) had a triumphant showing at the recent Hugo Awards.

And yet.

I’ve also seen large mainstream SFF and Romance imprints scaling back their buys or even dropping LGBTQIA authors because the latter strayed too far from ‘message fiction’. As if these authors were only legitimate while they displayed carefully-sculpted tropes in their fiction. Woe on them, if they wanted to explore other directions, than the ones that made them a little titillating and safely ‘marketable’.

Part of the friction, I believe, comes from competing-but-equally-valid mindsets among romance and SFF readers, whose purchases ultimately guide large and small publishers. Romance readers want the Happily-Ever-After or the Happy-For-Now ending, and a focus on character emotions and arcs. SFF readers will tolerate more backstory and secondary plot, unlikeable and unreliable characters, and the possibility of a bad ending. Crafting books to appeal to both camps can be an exhausting task, and possibly only solved by happy accident.

Another problem may lie in the mainstream SFF market’s remaining squeamishness about LGBTQIA characters, especially given the accounts of ‘bi-erasure’ even and especially in the gay community, and given the new overt tolerance and celebration of racism, sexism, and authoritarianism around the world.

Sure, we got Fifty Shades of Grey, whee. And a Handmaid’s Tale TV adaptation that’s as scary as the mid-80s original.

We also have diverse authors and artists being singled out for persecution by traditionalists who see them as a threat to authoritarian ‘stability’ and ethnostate fantasies.

The SFF and Romance publishing industries have long been in the business of celebrating ‘what-if’, however awkward and halting their progress might have been.

I worry about the fates of newer authors recruited in the wake of projects like Captive Prince, if their publishing adventures don’t pan out as well.

What can be done?

Unagented authors and agents need to make certain both Big Five and small-press contracts have clear, specific routes to rights reversion. That means no undue (if any) financial penalty for exercising those rights. It means shorter contract terms or specific sales thresholds under which the author can get their damn books back.

It means that authors need to be aware of their options in self-publishing reclaimed backlists (which can resurrect a career!), self-publishing new works, working with more-agile small presses, or creating direct imprints of their own with Big Five publishers. The latter requires chutzpah and strong existing sales, but I’ve seen more than a few M/M romance authors achieve it after the fallout from Ellora’s Cave and other defunct romance publishers.

Being merely a checked box on a publisher or agent’s ‘Diversity Bingo’ card may not translate to decent sales and a fulfilling career for those authors. They’re likely to leave the business, or change what they write to more safely fit trends.

We all lose out, then.

 

 

Alis Franklin: Books of the Wyrd

I’ve talked before about a wonderful fanfic-writer-turned-agented-commercial-author, Alis Franklin. Time for a bittersweet update. LIESMITH has a great sequel, STORMBRINGER, which you can read. And what looks to be a couple of brilliant follow-ups, which you can’t (not yet anyway).

You can find out more about her writing here.

Out of respect for Alis and her agent, I’ll refrain from a more-targeted industry rant. Let’s just use what happened to Alis as a teachable moment for newer authors getting a shiny offer from a Big Five publishing imprint.

Breathe. Do your research again. Find the skeletons in the publisher’s closet before you become one of them.

Be aware that for potentially much higher sales than a small press, you may be trading publishing rights tied up forever. If the book doesn’t sell, the publisher may not accept new books in that series. The publisher will continue to eke out tiny sales on your existing work, and you’ll not only get pennies…you can’t republish it or the sequels elsewhere. If you’re lucky, you or your agent arranged reasonable termination clauses whereby you can get your publishing rights back if sales fall below a certain threshold in a specific timeframe.

I’ve heard rumors that certain digital-only publishers got themselves blacklisted by their greater genre community, for alleged non-standard to overtly-predatory contract items. This often deeply hurt the authors and agents who committed to those deals. Was the shunning merited? It’s hard to say, except by looking forensically at a case-by-case basis.

So if you have an agent recommending such a deal, go over the contract offer with a very fine comb. Especially with digital-only or digital-first offers. Especially if you write in one of the ‘diversity’ boxes like Own Voices, POC, or LGBTQIA! Is that shiny Big Five imprint interested in you as a writer, or only as a checkmark in that box…and only as long as you write predictably and safely ‘on message’? (A blog post specifically about that will follow this one.)

Find out how well similar authors are selling at that press, or its rivals. I know one digital-only Big Five LGBTQIA author who probably sells enough ebooks a month to make her rent. I know others who’ve made low four or even low three figures for multiple books, across several years.

Have a realistic conversation with your agent about how they will handle the worst-case scenarios listed above. Will they support your move to another press and/or another pen name, or cut you loose to find your own way via self-pub?

New-to-publishing authors often fixate on the idea that getting an agent is their main goal, when it’s merely a stage in a journey.

Sfassa in Sirrithani guise

Finally, finally, after way too many years of having only a vague idea what Sfassa, one of the main characters of THE PURIST, actually looks like when she’s human-ish, Hayley Amber Hasselhoff (yes, David’s daughter) showed me the way. I also owe a shout-out to model and wrestler Lindsay Hayward, and the other stunning plus-size models and actors we’re lucky enough to see in modern media.

This digital sketch is modeled after one of Hayley’s photo shoots.

Hayley has the size, strength, and sweet-but-smoldering beauty that I keep seeing in Sfassa Snowdancer.

Who is Rui-Sfassa se tha Jensei? A mystery to her smitten husband Eridan, who stands about three feet shorter than Sfassa (I estimate her to be about 7′ and far heavier in mass than even her big body should be, probably around 500 pounds).

Eridan believes she’s from some backlands isolated tribe of especially tall and warlike Sirrithani, the most numerous humanoid race on Lonhra. Sfassa would rather be naked than go without her two vicious steel kori-spears, which she wears on her back with a variety of harnesses. She has dark bronze skin, white hair, dark blue eyes with almost no white showing, fangs, and semi-retractable claws. Her very tall, fur-fringed ears look a little like a Terran lynx’s or serval’s. No one but Eridan can touch Sfassa’s ears without getting bitten or stuck with those spears.

Her rich, strong singing voice was the first thing Eridan fell in love with about her, listening in a snowy winter canyon three years before he actually met her.

His singing voice was the first thing she noticed about him. Which made up for him being a vegetarian, about as high as a water barrel, as wide as a stick of firewood, and having no fangs or claws.

Honestly, someone needed to protect the little idiot from himself, much less from the hosts of people bent on assassinating or abducting the loud-mouth, meddling, socially-crusading Master-Singer Eridan Sydall, last bard-prince of a dying race.

She set herself to be his bodyguard soon after they met, but she has ulterior motives.

And she’s not humanoid at all…

Mark Engels: ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER

One of the best side-effects of online novel-pitch contests: the community around them. Whether or not a writer makes the cut (agent request, mentorship, etc), most writers can find new friendships and even collaborations within the larger pool of the hopeful and hopeless.

Mark J. Engels and I met during a pitch contest in 2016 (was it #DVpit? #Pitmad? #SFFpit? They blur, yanno.) Neither of us got anywhere meaningful in the actual contests, other than some helpful critiques. But we hit it off as sounding boards.

Who is Mark, other than a cool guy who is a go-to source for locomotive engineering and logistics questions? Go here and find out. Or here: https://www.mark-engels.com/ 

Psst: if you do, you are going to see some wicked cool art. Like Pawly Doing What Pawly Does:

Mark has a book launch today: ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER, which I read in beta form last year. This novel will be slanted toward ‘Furry’ readers, which is okay, because the Furries I know are eagerly waiting for it. But GRAY is so much more than what many outside readers (and even Furries) are expecting. For one thing, it’s not erotica, romance, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance.

I stand by my initial impulse to call GRAY ‘Furpunk’: a Military Thriller that happens to have shapeshifters in it. Pawlina Katczynski is a well-written strong female character without being a caricature. Her story runs on high stakes, killer action sequences, sneaky plotting, and some deft worldbuilding (as there should be, to fit an embattled clan of Polish were-lynx mercenaries into a world that would be familiar to the leads of ‘Atomic Blonde’ and ‘Bourne’.)

Will you like it? The book will be in print first, but hopefully the publisher will release an ebook version soon, too. Go to Mark’s site, click on ‘Novel’, and see if it sparks your interest.

Book links:

https://www.amazon.com/Always-Gray-Winter/dp/1945247193/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36008025-always-gray-in-winter

 

The Gear’d Heart, by AG Carpenter

This has been a *long* time in the works, but I’m so happy to see ‘The Gear’d Heart’, a new steampunk serial by AG Carpenter. I’ve read it in an earlier beta form, and seen the kickass sequel.

Now’s the chance to get in on a charming, devious, and dark story, via Patreon!

Artist’s Invocation

All glories I have wrought by hand and gift of seeing,

All dreams I have brought from dreamscape into being,

All mysteries I’ve taught, however fast or fleeting,

Mingle toward the truth I’ve sought: streams at the Sea completing.

Spirit of Probability, Spirit of the Single Path, I have sought you. You are not here. You are nowhere, but in me.

Spirit of Possibility, Spirit of the Branching Path, I have sought you. You are not here. You are nowhere, but in me.

Spirit of Serenity, Spirit of the Still Pool, I have sought you. You are not here. You are nowhere, but in me.

Spirit of Change, Spirit of the Fountain, I have sought you. You are not here. You are nowhere, but in me.

(A little secular prayer I began in 1985, and tend to say before every major undertaking. It helps me focus on what I want out of that particular project. I’ve always intended to make it into a book art project, and might yet.)

Begging for Eyeballs: authors and reviews

Now that I have your attention, here’s a little rant about authors asking for reviews.

In short, we shouldn’t get grief for this.

We shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for asking, or told we’re ‘pandering’ or ‘imposing’ on our readers. Likewise, we shouldn’t hold ourselves loftily above promoting our work in careful, tactful, honest, and sometimes even funny ways.

Reviews and word-of-mouth are some of the most effective ways to sell books, no matter whether those books are self-published, small-press, mid-sized independent, or Big-Five imprint.

Without reviews, we don’t get sales. Without sales, our agents and our publishers cut us loose as poor investments. Or if we’ve self-published, we un-publish or otherwise stop promoting our writing altogether. So then you never get to see more of it. Without reviews, this kind of work (and believe me, it’s hard work) is a solitary hobby.

Our review requests usually happen on social media, where they might get boosted by sympathetic allies…or lost in the static. Sometimes we’re lucky enough that our publisher will place a small note in the back of our books, saying something like this:

If you like our books, please review them!

Some savvy publishers add incentives for on-site reviewers, offering them points toward purchases with each review.

I’ll add: don’t like our books? Review anyway. Get that unhealthy anger and disappointment off your chest.

Our ulterior motive: your one-star or two-star negative review still has the potential to sell our books. Reviews can be highly subjective. Something you think is a bug could be a feature to someone else. Your intelligent, honest negative review can spark lots of curiosity! Likewise, your banal, ill-considered, or downright petty review can be so unintentionally hilarious it becomes the best marketing stunt you could give us.

As an author, it’s not my business to wade into your specific reviews of my books, good or bad. I’ll sure as hell learn from them, but I’m not going to start the social media equivalent of a teenage clique-fight over a Goodreads review.

Where I do get angry is when publishers themselves advise their authors against asking for reviews within the end matter of the book. I’ve seen this several times recently from different publishers. One’s an e-pub only press, the other two favor print editions first and e-pub a laggard second.

Um, hello, publishers? The end matter of your book is some of the most priceless real estate you have. It’s where interested readers, still in the afterglow of a story, go to find out what’s next. Most of them are predisposed to being friendly. Asking for a review at that moment is just solid business 101.

Especially if you’re already hampering sales by offering only one platform outlet at launch, whether e-pub or print.

Authors, this is something to seriously consider when researching publishers or signing an offer contract. How does the publisher approach reviews? Do they send out timely and professional Advance Review Copies (ARCs)? Do they court the larger buying outlets and distributors? Do they aggressively promote to the online book-blogging influencers of their genre? Do they have easy-to-use review platforms on their own websites? Do they ask for reviews within the front or end matter of their books?

Think about these factors before you sign that contract!

As for readers, we understand if you feel infringed-upon about our review requests. Sometimes we hate doing that, too. But please consider the relatively-tiny fraction of readers who bother to leave a review in the first place. We bug you for the same reason NPR does: we succeed or fail based in large part on our audience’s goodwill and participation.

Book Art Jewelry: Enlightenment

A teaser for a piece called ‘Enlightenment’, which I describe in more detail here.

I love book art. It’s one of my default settings after 20 years. ‘Can I make it into a book?’ is a question I now apply to everything from spam emails to a set of cocktail swords found in a thrift store. (The short answer is ‘Yes, that can probably become part of a book’.) I have more project ideas in notebooks than I’ll probably have life to make…and I’m fine with that.

Each new book art sculpture is a learning point.

***
I have a favor to ask of you, dear readers. To offset web hosting costs, I’ve joined Amazon Affiliates and Rakuten Marketing. I’ll gradually work paid buy links into the Amazon links I’ve already provided for other authors’ books. And on some blog posts I’ll include paid buy links (usually in discreet text) to some other companies and services I like. If you click on these links and buy something on the other side, the tiny amounts I earn will add up to keep this blog (and my power) running.

To celebrate my 32 years of collecting beads, here’s a paid link to a charming collection of high-quality glass beads and other jewelry-making supplies: BeadRoom.com

Taschen is one of my favorite publishers of fine art, photography, culture, and the humanities.
TASCHEN - Beautiful Books

‘By Blade and Cloth’: Helen E. Davis

In the mid to late 1990s, on the late-lamented site SFF.net, I hung out with a group of amazing writers who gave me courage to push forward with my own writing.

One of those was Helen Davis. I was lucky enough to read the first few drafts of what would become ‘By Blade and Cloth’. When I found it on Amazon over a decade later, I snagged a copy. The raw promise of the draft versions had coalesced into a tight, strong, emotional novel that didn’t wallow on for hundreds more pages (or books!) than it needed to, but still told a hell of a story.

Alfred D. Byrd’s Amazon review is so much clearer than my Goodreads review, that I’ll quote his here:

“Sword magic, death magic, a bitter rivalry between Humans and a magical people that they call Elves, a blood oath to avenge serial killings, a confused youth with a two-fold destiny that he must understand — these are a few of the treasures in Helen Davis’s rich fantasy, By Blade and Cloth. When David Lodger comes to the university in Bhrama, he finds the royal city divided between its Human inhabitants and the Frenis, miscalled by the Humans Elves, who have come there to force the Human king to grant them justice for the slaying of a Frenin named Huranumanu in a remote region called New Cumberland. To David’s unease he must live at the university among Frenis who might kill him if they learn his background, for David is from New Cumberland, and his birth was intimately tied up, in a way that he is struggling to learn, with Huranumanu’s killings and his violent death.

Around David Lodger’s struggle to come to terms with his origin and his destiny, Helen Davis has woven a rich tapestry of political intrigue and social struggle among both Humans and Frenis. Central to all is the long-missing Dragon Sword, symbol and source of royal authority among the Frenis, and shadowy half-Elven personages called Taerachulas, who strive to hold the Dragon Sword in check. The Frenis’ quest for justice for Huranumanu and David’s quest to understand his nature converge with the Dragon Sword and the Taerachulas in a moment of decision in which death for all may come with the slightest miscalculation.

By Blade and Cloth is a tour of a world like, yet unlike our own, yet never gets caught up in world-building, as the author keeps the focus tightly on characters in conflict. She weaves together the viewpoints of many intriguing characters as they move towards a moment of world-changing revelation. Many writers would have taken many times as long to tell the tight, compelling story of David Lodger and the world that he must understand to save it from a tragic, perhaps final war. By Blade and Cloth is no conventional work of fantasy, but a vision unique to itself.”

David’s story might ring close to Harry Potter’s, but I find the City and its university more deeply-drawn within the shorter length of the book. His stumbling attempts at fitting in, his accumulation of ‘found family’, and his anguish over the two conflicting threads of his heritage…all ring true.

I won’t go into the central mystery (no spoilers!), but I’m especially fond of Helen’s Freni. I love stories and authors who take the old Tolkien/D&D tropes of ‘elves’ and expand on (or twist) the idea of the arrogant, long-lived race of magic users. Tad Williams did it beautifully in his ‘Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn’ series. Lynn Flewelling’s Aurenfaie are another recasting of elves, in her excellent ‘Nightrunners’ series. Steven Brust has my favorite take with his splendidly surly Dragaerans and the smaller, weaker, shorter-lived humans who endure as second-class citizens among them. (One of the inspirations for the major species in my Lonhra Sequence, I’ll admit.)

Helen can easily match Williams and Brust with her Freni, who are only ‘elves’ in that the idiot humans who conquered the continent believe they are. The Freni are an old, complicated, many-layered people whose (likely temporary) subjugation by humans is met with reactions varying from philosophical to violent.

As I mentioned on Twitter recently, this book should have gone to Tor, DAW, Del Rey or one of the other big SFF imprints. It (and her other works) should have garnered Davis some agent attention. For whatever reason, that never happened. Helen E. Davis was early to the realm of self-publishing SFF, so many people have never heard of her work.

Give this one a try, if you love steampunk-ish fantasy, school stories like Harry Potter, political intrigue, dangerous enchanted swords, sparkling snarky dialog, and wild action.

Here’s a mood board more or less capturing the ‘feel’ of this book. (Train from Rossi Publishing.)

BY BLADE AND CLOTH, Helen E. Davis

  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Dead Fish Press; 3 edition (October 24, 2010)
  • Publication Date: October 24, 2010
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00495XSZG

Playing with cover art

original art by Marian Crane

I’m thinking about this for a fantasy short story cover. Still revamping the previously (anthology) published 25-page story, but seriously thinking about self-publishing this and some of the more-obscure Lonhra Sequence side stories. I have a lot of them.

Granted, this cover will be mostly taken up by text, but I like that it directly references story elements.

It wasn’t until revising THE PURIST and looking at my old notes for this story, ‘Saints and Heroes’, that I realized the huge volcano looming over Ajara City is called the Bell. Because the Sirrithani have twisted senses of humor.

Volcanoes are important in Sirr culture and myth: there’s a subset of earthwitchery dedicated to early warnings and control of fire-mountains. Their main goddess isn’t floating around in the sky; she’s below, curled around the world’s heart and trying to keep it from waking up and destroying everyone on the surface.

Tools: Painter 2017 oil paint filters, various tonal filters, volcano and banner sketched from web sources and heavily altered.