Indies Unlimited: Kirkus Review discussion

Following yesterday’s post on paying for reviews, I’d just like to share this discussion from “Indies Unlimited.” The series of posts specifically targets Kirkus Indie Reviews and includes an interview and guest post from Kirkus Indie Editor, Karen Schechner. Having read some of the vehement opinions regarding Kirkus Reviews from the indie author community, I am almost afraid that using one would spell an untimely death for a new author. Good to know 😉 Still, it is a very interesting conversation and one I have only just dipped my toes into. Thank you to Francis Guenette at “Disappearing in Plain Sight” for sharing the link. If you haven’t checked out her blog yet, please do! Guenette offers many invaluable insights into the world of indie publishing.

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Dilemmas of the Small Press Author: Paying for Reviews

Does your book stand out in a crowd?
Does your book stand out in a crowd?

Another day, another way I realize I don’t know what I’m doing…

One of the (many, I’m sure) perks of signing with a big publishing house is that they have go-to people to write reviews of your novel before it is even released. These reviews can appear on your book jacket and in promotional material months before the first copy is in your hot little hands. It is an aspect of the publishing industry that I completely took for granted as a reader. I often browse the high-sung praises of a book by review agencies, other well-respected authors, magazine/newspaper editors, etc. before I purchase a book. There is no doubt that these reviewers are paid for their time in reading and reviewing the work, and soliciting professional reviews is one of the many jobs that a publisher takes on when they sign an author.

So what is one to do when one chooses to publish through small or independent presses? I knew that signing with a small press publisher would mean that I would be doing a lot of the marketing legwork on my own. But to be honest, I didn’t have a clear plan for what that might actually look like in practice. I was so focused on finding a publisher that I didn’t look too far into the murky future beyond. Now that I’m popping up on the other side I’m beginning to realize that this whole marketing thing is going to be an uphill battle!

One of the concepts that is new to me, but which has been around for decades, is the paid-review. There are companies out there who offer professional review services (here is a good link with some examples), similar to what the big publishing houses have access to, but which are geared towards small press and independent press authors. Now, I’m not talking about the shady business of paying for fake 5 star reviews on amazon.com or Goodreads, though there are certainly those kinds of ethically questionable companies out there. I’m talking about paying for a real objective, balanced review by a professional. Services range from about $150-$500 for a review and various marketing packages.

In theory, it seems like a sound investment, particularly as I am not footing the bill for any publication costs. If I’m going to spend money on my book, it might as well be in advertising, right? But the feedback I’ve come across is inconsistent. Some authors swear by these and similar marketing strategies, and some swear they’re nothing but a waste of money. The advice from my publisher is to avoid the higher priced ones as, in his experience, review services are more expensive than they are effective.

But there is a part of me that wants to believe that, if my book is good enough, a quality professional review or two may make the difference. Is this line of thinking over-simplified and naive? I don’t know. Do any of you have opinions or experiences to share? Please comment! Also, if there are any book bloggers out there who would like to take a stab at The Timekeepers’ War, please email me at sc.jensen[at]outlook[dot]com with a link to your blog. I can’t pay you, but I can promise a free review copy!

See here for a sneak peek of The Timekeepers’ War by S.C. Jensen, coming Summer 2014.

Publishing Update: Why there haven’t been more Publishing Updates…

When I first started this blog, I intended to use it to document the experience of writing and publishing a novel. I was frustrated at how difficult it is to find information on what this process looks like. I didn’t know what to expect and I knew there were a lot of writers out there who were equally discouraged by the lack of open communication on the subject.

I think I started off on the right track. I blogged about the endless querying, the nightmare of waiting, the inevitable rejections, the scraps of feedback… But as the process dragged on the time between my posts dragged out. I now realize why there is so little information out there about getting published. The experience is so draining, you lose the will continue. You begin to feel like you are just going to end up with a detailed account of your failure to be published, rather than a helpful how-to for other aspiring writers. It begins to feel like an exercise in soul-sucking futility. I admit it. I gave up. On the blogging, at least…

After breaking down and paying a professional editor to pick my manuscript apart, I underwent a heavy rewrite. I cut over 20,000 words, more than 50 pages; the surviving scenes were cut apart and reorganized to improve pacing. What I ended up with felt like a completely different novel. And I had to treat it as such. I had to start the whole querying process over again.

I would love to be able to say that the second time was easier. But it wasn’t. You think that the hard work is writing the novel itself. But the writing is the fun stuff. I know, I know. You’ve heard that before. But I don’t think anyone who is writing a book really takes the time to enjoy it. You’ve got your eye on the prize, the final product, the big shiny book deal. Maybe that’s part of the reason that the querying process is so disheartening. It’s like running a race; you see the finish line ahead and give it all you’ve got. But when you get there, you realize you still have another three laps to go and you just want to curl up in a ball and die. Or maybe that’s just me.

I sent my reworked manuscript out to the few agents who had shown some interested the first time around, letting them know I’d fixed the issues they’d had with the original. None of them responded. I realized that the pitiful one-liner “feedback” I’d received from each of them was likely just dressed-up rejection. Only one of my original queries had elicited real, concrete feedback. And that was the editor of a small science fiction imprint called Bedlam Press. It was actually his feedback that prompted me to hire an editor for my manuscript in the first place. So to hell with agents. I sent it back to Bedlam.

And they signed me! The Timekeepers’ War will be coming out this summer. I’m working with the artist on ideas for the cover and waiting for the final changes to be suggested by the editor. It’s going to be a lot of work getting my name out there and promoting my first novel, but I feel confident knowing I’ve got a great team behind me. Again, I find myself at the finish line only to discover that the race has only just begun.

Indie Press Book Review: Asymmetric Angels by Essa Alroc

3.5/5 Stars


17182976I won Alroc’s first novel in this series, Strangely Sober, in a First Reads Giveaway. It was the first independently published novel (and the first review copy) I’d ever read, and I was a little nervous about it. But I was pleasantly surprised by Strangely Sober (you can read my review of it HERE)and even more so by Asymmetric Angels. I’ve read some great and some terrible indie press since my induction into the category last year. And Alroc’s novels remain pretty firmly near the top of my indie-reads recommendations. I’m giving it 3.5 stars.

Who should read this book? People with a dark sense of humour, a love of quirky characters and bizarre plot lines, and lovers of the mystery/crime fiction genres.
Who shouldn’t read this book? People who get hung up on realism and take themselves really seriously at book club meetings.

Of course, as with any independently published book there is a concern about editing. I think the hardest part of being a self-published author is the fact that resources such as professional editors are either paid for out of pocket (at exorbitant cost, trust me) or bypassed in favour of the less reliable, but more economical, beta-reader editors. Unless the author is very lucky, or very well connected, this often amounts to friends and family. So editing can be a major concern for a nit-picky reader (like myself). However, Alroc seems to have done a very thorough job with her editing. There are a handful of typos, but no glaring grammatical blunders, and nothing that got in the way of my enjoyment of the text.

I actually preferred Asymmetric Angels to its predecessor for a number of reasons. While the characters and plot are still a little “out there” for traditional publishing (a shame) Alroc has a natural skill for pacing. I literally sat down and read this novel in one sitting. She is able to tie together multiple character POVs, and jump between them, with the panache of a professional writer. Her pacing is better than many big name writers in the crime fiction genre, and her characters are infinitely more entertaining than most.

This was true of Strangely Sober as well, but Alroc has definitely tightened up her plotlines and reined things in a bit with Asymmetric Angels, and it works in her favour. Asymmetric Angels feels more grounded and focussed. I’m sure Alroc has a ton of ideas for Sal and her crew, but she managed to keep the number of capers in her second novel down so that we could focus on Angel’s current predicament. We get to know the characters a little better in this novel, and we get to see their softer sides which, after an introduction like Strangely Sober was necessary to humanize them. Especially Sal.

Dare I say it? Asymmetric Angels, though it pushes some boundaries, could easily be picked up by a daring agent/publisher, polished, and sold to the masses. The trouble is, finding that daring agent/publisher (if such people even exist anymore).

I’m not going to summarize the plot for anyone. The jacket blurb does that well enough. But I will say that I enjoyed Alroc’s decision to bring her antagonists a little closer to home. The ridiculous Reverend and his gay-bashing bible thumpers, though they should be satirical, are disturbingly close to the real-life born-again crowd. The battle between the drag queens and the holy warriors is both hilarious and sad. Alroc touches on other real life issues, such as domestic abuse and mental illness. Admittedly in an extreme way, but she doesn’t make light of these situations either. Overall, I’m very impressed.

My biggest issue with Strangely Sober had been the relationship between Sal and the over-protective control freak, Cole. This is largely resolved in Asymmetric Angels, first by separating the two so that Cole’s control freak instincts have to work at a distance and later by Sal putting her foot down once and for all. Thank the gods!

Alroc has clearly set up the ending to make room for another book in the series, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for it. If Alroc’s evolution as a writer between the first two novels is any indication of what she is capable of, I think the third novel in the series will be extremely promising.

SF Book Review: “Undead Reckoning” by Mike Slabon

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2.5/5 Stars

I’m giving Undead Reckoning, a debut novel from Canadian author Mike Slabon, 2.5 out of 5 stars. This rating is based on Goodreads’ rating system with 2 meaning “it was ok” and 3 meaning “I liked it!”. Undead Reckoning is a difficult novel to categorize, falling somewhere in between SF and Horror and genre parody of the two, but I can safely say that it’s not a genre I typically read. I’ll try not to let that colour my review too much, though, I promise! Undead Reckoning was better than just okay, and there are parts of it that I really liked which is why I’m sticking with 2.5. But I felt the really good parts were dragged down a bit by areas that could have used a little tighter editing. That being said, Slabon shows definite potential as a developing writer and I will look forward to reading his work in the future.

I should clarify that by “tighter editing” I do not mean proof-reading. I was actually impressed by how few minor punctuation/typo style errors I found in the text. This is a huge challenge for indie press writers who often must rely on beta-readers to catch typographical errors, rather than professional editors (whose services are extremely expensive). I’m referring, rather, to content editing for pacing, clarity, and balance. I’m also going to question a couple of Slabon’s stylistic choices, which could have been used to greater effect with a couple of tweaks.

Tangent/ This review will probably be long. I apologize in advance for that. But I believe that new writers, especially independent writers, need and deserve precise and meaningful feedback in order to hone their craft. As a writer myself, I know how hard it is to come by honest constructive criticism and I hope that some of what I have to say will be helpful to Slabon and any other writers who may be reading. /end tangent.

Okay, let’s begin.

Slabon essentially has two different novels competing against one another in Undead Reckoning, and I feel that each would have been served better had they been given their own space. On one hand, Undead Reckoning is a kind of horror spoof. It’s a parody of the zombie genre, almost a parody of a parody it gets so goofy at times. Which is fine, if that is what it is. And I thought it was, at first. However, the hack and slash zombie slaying is used as a trope to move the subplots along, rather than being the meat of the novel. The subplots themselves are so bizarre and seemingly disconnected that blowing up zombies appears to be the only unifying theme (NOTE: the subplots are one area that could have been aggressively pared down without losing anything of the main plot, but more on this later). The effect is actually quite disorienting at first, and it took me well over 100 pages to get a handle on what was going on.

This is when I began to realize that there was something more to Undead Reckoning than the simple spoof I thought I was reading. There are aspects of the novel which move outside the necessarily simple landscape of a zombie parody and into more serious speculative fiction. The main plot of Undead Reckoning is layered with complexity, and Slabon ultimately does an impressive job of tying his subplots together into a cohesive whole by the end of the novel. But I almost felt that he was afraid to give his main plot, the spec fic novel, the attention and seriousness it deserved. In the end, the underlying parody novel, acted as a defence mechanism to deflect from Slabon’s “real” writing—I actually think Slabon is a better writer than he is giving himself credit for, and the dual-genre does him a disservice in his debut novel.

When we first meet our hero, NFL superstar Eddie Griffin, we land smack-dab in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Griffin is coming to terms with the new world he’s living in as he helps Lieutenant Jim Shrike with a top secret mission investigating Undead activity at a nearby abandoned military base. We jump right into the action with limbs flying and brains exploding in typical zombie annihilating style. Fight scenes are interrupted by the obligatory wise-cracks and expletives, but otherwise make up the majority of the first hundred pages. This brings us to the issue of pacing.

Nothing is worse than reading a novel where nothing happens. It’s boring. I think everyone will agree with me there. So a novel that is full of non-stop action should be super awesome, right? Well, not necessarily. For non-stop action to equal good pacing, a couple of things need to happen. For one, “telling” must be balanced with “showing”. Too much telling, and the action reads more like stage directions in a screenplay than a paragraph (or chapter) in a novel.

Player A enters on right, weapon drawn. Player B turns at the sound and shouts in surprise. Player A shoots Player B between the eyes and exits stage slowly. Curtains drop.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point. Reading these initial action scenes, and some subsequent ones, was a little like grinding MOBs. Or worse, it was like reading about grinding MOBs—I didn’t even get to level up or loot anything. And with too much “telling” there is little opportunity for the reader to visualize the world and the action for him/herself. Other than knowing that Eddie Griffin was a big guy who used to play football, I had little idea what he looked like. Same with Jim Shrike. This isn’t too much of an issue for secondary characters, but main characters and setting should be clearly defined as soon as possible (I’d say first 20 pages). Putting this off disconnects the reader from the text, and limits empathy for the characters.

So action is great, but too much action is problematic for a couple of reasons: 1) The “big picture” plot gets lost in the grind, and 2) The lack of “showing” limits character development and world building. For example: For the first seventy pages or so, I was picturing Eddie Griffin as a thick, ruddy skinned white boy with a buzz cut and Jim Shrike as a lean, muscular black man who didn’t smile a lot. By the time I realized that Eddie was black and Jim was actually green—my first WTF moment—it was too late. My original pictures stuck with me, and I had to keep reminding myself of what they actually looked like as I read. Which is really too bad, because minority groups are severely under-represented in SF literature.

Tangent/ I think it’s great that Eddie Griffin is a young black man. But I think that it’s especially important to let the reader know that he’s black, specifically because there are so few non-white protagonists in the world of SF and Horror. It’s easy enough to do without rubbing it in the readers’ face. In the first couple of pages, a single sentence such as “My dark skin did little to protect me from the harsh rays of the sun” for example, could have clued us in without being too obvious (the fact that Eddie is a football player wasn’t enough for me—I thought there was a pretty even mix of black/white football players, but I know nothing about football). I know some will argue that the colour of his skin shouldn’t matter, but I disagree. I think it’s important that literary characters are representative of the world we live in: there should be many races, religions, genders and sexualities, and we shouldn’t shy away from defining them as such. Otherwise the tendency is just to assume that all characters are white, heterosexual men because for so long, that’s the way it has been. I had the same problem in my own novel, with identifying my main character as female. I left her gender ambiguous on purpose, but found that too many people were confused when I did finally describe her as “her”. I later ended up identifying her as female early on and then emphasizing her androgyny after that, which was better received. /end tangent.

Another thing that I found detracted from the main plot was that there were too many subplots. Each chapter seemed to have a new villain or conflict which, once resolved, didn’t carry over into the next scene. While some subplots did end up tying in to the main plot in the end, it was impossible to differentiate between the two. Slabon gets extra points for creativity, though. There are some gems hiding in the confusion, lots of good ideas that could have been great if they were working on their own (Juan the spider demon could have been the villain of a Christopher Moore-esqe comdey-horror novel) but just ended up competing with one another for attention. Kind of like a mini-version of the genre competition I mentioned earlier.

This brings us to the two stylistic choices that I felt could have been used differently. One: footnotes. Footnotes are largely unnecessary, and interrupt the flow of the narrative. Unless you’re Terry Pratchett, in which case you have elevated the footnote to an art form in and of itself–rife with sly humour, supplemental story lines, and lessons in magic and/or physics. For the rest of us, 95% of material that could be footnoted could also be worked into the text or simply left up to the reader to figure out. The only exception to this rule would be for language translation if a word or phrase from another language is used without enough context to be understood on its own. Anagrams can be spelled out in full, and then abbreviated later if they’re going to be recurrent in the novel. For example, military anagrams like CFB (Canadian Forces Base) or LAV (Light Armoured Vehicle). Slang, military or otherwise, should only be defined by the context that it is used in not by footnote. I just finished reading Anthony Burgess’ Clockwork Orange, and I never needed to use the glossary once. Language is like that, we’re pretty good at filling in the blanks. Not only slang, but any words that were made up and only exist in the world of your novel should be defined by context or dialogue, not footnotes. Real words should never be footnoted. If you’ve chosen a word that is so obscure you doubt your reader will know it, use a different word. If it’s necessary, have another character be confused by it so that you can explain it in dialogue. Example: thanatology. If your reader doesn’t know what C-4 is, that’s his problem. Let him google that shit and give the rest of us some credit!

Stylistic Choice Two: Sound effects. Less is more when it comes to BANG! SMACK! RATTATATAT! and/or KABOOM! This isn’t a comic book. Again, this is just my opinion. I can see how the onomatopoeia lends itself to the parody genre, but I also preferred the non-parodical stuff, so that’s just my take.

Okay, I hope you’ve stuck with my ramblings this far, because now I’d like to talk about what I really liked about this novel. There are three sections of Undead Reckoning that really stood out to me. The first is in Keek’s lair. Slabon does a great job of describing the underground lair and entrance to Nabisusha. The novel started to feel alive to me at this point. And it is because of this scene that I feel justified in wishing there were more descriptions of characters and settings earlier in the book. Once I realized that Slabon had all this great imagery up his sleeve, I felt extra ripped off when I didn’t get it. The next scene that really stands out is in the Anomalies Amok fantasy that Eddie gets trapped in. Slabon shows real potential for world building here, and I’m curious to see what he would do with a high fantasy novel. Not only this, but the characterization of the AA players trapped in this fantasy are better developed, and the fight scenes better realized than anywhere else in the novel up to this point. Finally, the flashback scene explaining the fate of the Masters and Custodians—much high fantasy and speculative fiction potential is demonstrated in this scene. Again, Slabon is a much better writer than he gives himself credit for, or than he seems to, by hiding behind the goofier aspects of this novel. The complexity of the final plot actually stunned me, and I really wished that this main plot line had been more heavily invested in throughout the novel.

Really, Undead Reckoning had all the elements of a strong SF novel, but they were obscured by the sillier subplots and could have been enhanced by aggressive editing. Slabon could easily have written a spoof novel akin to Night of the Living Dead, a couple of Christopher Moore style comedy/horror novels, and have an SF trilogy started with the material that is in this book. It’s a little much for one novel to bear, but there’s no denying Slabon’s potential as an up and coming writer. I’d like to see him move with confidence into speculative fiction. Or parody, for that matter. But I think we’ll find that his strengths lie in those areas he was reluctant to meet head on in his debut novel—complex plots, intriguing characters, and fascinating worlds—and it’s my opinion that those strengths will be best realized in an SF or fantasy series. Whatever he chooses to do, though, I’ll be reading.

PS This novel and future novels need more ladies! Undead Reckoning was a serious sausage fest. I realize that half the world has been zombified, but shouldn’t half the survivors still be women? Especially with the reveal at the end of the novel about why some people turned and some didn’t. I doubt Slabon intended to make a comment about how fulfilling women’s lives are, and how many of us are essentially “dead already”. But that’s the conclusion I was forced to draw! I want to see chicks with machine guns riding on dire-wolves in the follow up. Make it happen!

The Timekeepers War– Final Edit Complete! (again)

Well, I’m sure some of you were starting to think it wasn’t going to happen (myself included)… but I finally completed the final edit of my novel, The Timekeepers’ War! Again.

Editing is really the hardest part of writing a book, I swear. I’d heard that before and I never believed it. But that’s because what I thought was editing was really proofreading. And the two are very, very different beasts. After I finished my behemoth of a first novel (it came in at 503 pages, and almost 147,000 words…) I gave copies to a few trusted people to read for consistency, grammar, spelling, and readability. They came back with lots of little changes. I went through TKW three or four times with suggestions from various people, making what changes I deemed necessary, and TA-DA! Final edit complete (pt. 1)

I was feeling pretty good about myself, as a first time author. I’d gotten some really great feedback from my beta readers, along with some constructive criticism that I was able to apply to make my novel the best that I could make it. I sent it out with quiet confidence to agents and publishers alike. And waited… and waited…

And then the rejections started to roll in. I did receive some interest though, which was encouraging. I had requests for the next 10 pages, the next 30 pages, the next 50 pages, and even a couple of requests for the whole novel. I must be doing something right, I thought. They want to see more! They must like it! But nothing panned out. Eventually, each of those requests for more ended in yet another rejection. I was heartbroken!

Two good things came of this process. One: I received some really great feedback from a small publisher who highlighted my strengths and went to the trouble of explaining exactly why The Timkeepers’ War wasn’t working for him. And suddenly, all those vague rejections started to make sense. I had a great story idea, I had likeable characters, I had an intriguing setting. But I needed to seriously work on my pacing if I wanted to sell this as a commercial novel. But I didn’t really know how to go about fixing that issue. I read a lot of long-winded fantasy and sci-fi, and I enjoy them. Pacing isn’t something I knew how to do, it isn’t something I look for in a book. It isn’t my style. But as a first time writer, you have to be able to market your work to a wider audience. And agents and publishers like to see action, they like pacy, they like movement, they like all these things I didn’t know how to deliver (and in many ways, felt I shouldn’t have to). But that brings us to good thing number Two:

I decided to hire a professional editor. One who specialized in SF and worked in the publishing industry. And it wasn’t cheap. But it was totally worth it. My editor echoed some of the feedback that I had already had regarding my strengths as a writer.  And he really, really drove home the point about my weaknesses. It was hard to read at times, but I had decided when I hired him that I would listen and learn from what he had to say. So I had to suck it up. And that can be very hard to do when you read “Boring! Get on with it!” and “I’m losing interest here” and “I’ve forgotten what this story is about now” and “I really want to throw this book at the wall!” written in the margins of your baby. Okay, so that last one never happened, but I that’s how I interpreted it.

But when I started going through some of the changes that he made, I got it. Slowly it dawned on me that my readers don’t need to know everything I know about my world and my characters. I’d spent so long envisioning them, and building a world to hold them, that I found my self rattling off inane details about everyone and everything in my novel. As the person building the world, these details were necessary to me. They helped me to visualize my world and my characters, and kept my environment consistent and believable. But what we need as writers is not the same as what our audience needs as readers. Lesson learned. I started cutting like a crazy person.

At first, this was difficult. But I saved all of those little scraps of imagery, unnecessary scenes and characters, and I told myself “They’ll still be here for me when I need them.” And as kept cutting, and rewriting, the process became cathartic. Sometimes less really is more, and I finally was able to see what this meant in relation to my own work. The middle of my book required extensive rewriting to deal with info dumps. I rewrote about 200 pages of text just to get the pace moving again after I had killed it dead and beaten it’s corpse like the proverbial horse.

And it didn’t always go smoothly. There were good days and bad days. Good months and bad months, really. The hardest part of editing like this is the urge to give up and move on to something new. I was so disheartened some days to be still working on the same book when I have so many ideas for my next projects. I have new projects started, waiting for me, calling out my name! I had thought The Timekeepers’ War was done, I had cut the strings and moved on. I felt stuck.

I started procrastinating. I started to fear finishing it, actually. I was afraid that I would go through all of this, only to find that my novel was still nonpunishable. That I would be a failure at the one thing I really wanted to do. That I would let down everyone who had believed in me and supported me up to this point. Even thinking about my novel started to make me feel anxious and depressed.

Luckily those people who believed in and supported me, continued to do so. I was ready to throw in the towel on more than on occasion. But after a serious kick in the ass from my partner and biggest supporter, I realized that the only way I was going to fail all of these people, and fail myself, is if I stopped trying. I was going to quit because I was afraid to fail. That didn’t make sense. That didn’t even leave me a sliver of a chance to succeed. I’m no gambler, but those are some shitty odds. So I made myself do it.

And as I plowed through I realized that it’s a better novel now than it ever was. And what I considered my best before is sorely lacking compared to my best today. I have become a better writer for this process. And every time I have to do this in the future, I’m going to come out ahead. This is what it’s all about. Blood, sweat, and tears, no lie. Lots and lots of tears. It’s no cakewalk… no wonder so few people make it in the publishing game. Will I be one of them? Only time will tell. But I’ve learned so much in the process that, if nothing else, I can say that my attempt wasn’t a failure.

So the final result? I cut over 20,000 words from original text. I’m down to 127,191 words, down over 50 pages of info dense text. And I feel like a new person with a new and better book. I’m read to start all over again.

I will be looking for beta readers for this round, if anyone is interested in helping. Please send me a message.

Thanks for reading!

SF Book Review: The Artemis Effect by Kasia James

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4/5 Stars

Science fiction can be an iffy genre to go exploring willy nilly. I usually like to stick to the beaten path (my own, anyways) rarely abandoning my tried and true authors. Most of my forays into the unknown (unless they’ve come recommended by a reliable source) have been disappointing. Sci-fi shelves seem to be a haven for poorly disguised political/religious allegories, plotless nerdier-than-thou techno-babble, and sagas of sexually liberated space sluts. Often some combination of the three. The trouble is, with such a vast world of possibilities before them, too many science fiction writers indulge in formulaic drivel.

That said, I’m glad I took a chance on Kasia James’ debut novel, The Artemis Effect. I was pleasantly surprised by James’ refreshingly different take on the post-apocalyptic theme (or should I say peri-apocalyptic?). Hers is the only novel I’ve read which actually looks at the breakdown of modern civilization as it’s happening, rather than simply assessing the aftermath. This is an interesting spin, as it allows for some truly interesting and engaging character development (all too neglected in many SF novels), as well as painting an almost intimate portrait of the individual lives that are affected during the crisis.

James’ characters are one of her strongest assets as a writer. She does a wonderful job of bringing Scott, Kimberley, Bryn and their circles of friends/family to life, drawing parallels across the globe as the story progresses in Australia, Wales, and the USA. The dynamics between the main characters and their cohorts are believable, entertaining, and often touching. Conversations actually read like conversations, rather than info dumps and uber-correct robotalk (another skill that many authors never master).

The only glitch for me, as a North American, was in the language used by Kimberley and Ray and the other Americans. James was born in Wales and currently lives in Australia, so I trust her use of idioms, etc. for the characters in these areas. But sometimes the Americans just “talked funny*”. Now, I’m Canadian, so I’m used to a bastardization of British and American English. These errors were very minor (we would never say ‘auto accident’, for example, but ‘car accident’ or ‘car crash’) and didn’t detract from the text at all. But it’s worth mentioning if you’re one of those colloquial-grammar-nazis (if there is such a thing). To be fair, this probably happens all the time with NA writers screwing up localized variants of English across the globe, and I don’t notice because I’m an ignorant North American. Maybe I should just shut up.

*Southern hick voice.

On with the review! The Artemis Effect has a unique and substantial plot to give a solid background for the character development. And I’ve gotta say, I had no idea where James was going with it until the very end, which is awesome! (I’d be curious to know if James is familiar with the novel Ammonite by Nicola Griffith, as one of James’ subplots can be strongly linked to themes in Griffith’s work) I love not being able to predict where a story is going, just being able to enjoy the flow. The pacing was great, there’s lots of action to keep you reading. The tri-part narrative was perfectly balanced so that each section had enough detail to give some insight but not so long that you forgot what was going on with the other characters.

Long story short, I recommend it. You can purchase Kasia James’ novel on Amazon, here. (Do it now!)

Note: I stubbornly refuse to convert to an e-reader and James was kind enough to humour me. She sent me a lovely paperback copy to review, for which I am eternally grateful. I promise, good customer service did not in any way affect my review. But I believe James deserves personal brownie points for being so accommodating. Also, check out her blog, Writer’s Block.

Resource for SF Writers: Small Press Publishers

Greetings from the cold, wet prairies. No, I’m not happy about it either. It’s almost June, people, make with the sunshine already.

Now.

Today’s post is something that will hopefully be useful to my fellow first-time SF and Fantasy writers. To the unwashed (or is that just me?) and unpublished (perhaps the two are connected) masses of hopeful future novelists, I dedicate the following list. But first, a word from your fearless leader:

I’ve recently been looking into smaller publishers, and submitting my science fiction manuscript The Timekeepers’ War to them as well as to literary agencies. If I’m honest with myself, I really don’t want to publish with a small press. I, like all (commercial) writers, have big dreams of seeing my novel in grocery store checkout lanes, in airports, and every other random outlet for those trashy NYT Bestseller racks. I want to be able to make a living at this writing shtick. I’m not interested in winning some hoity-toity literary awards and only being read by intellectual assholes. I’m in it for the money.

Which makes me an idiot.

Because making decent money at writing is kind of the literary equivalent of winning the lottery. It’s a matter of luck, skill, talent, luck, and more luck. Just ask anyone who’s made it. It really kind of just happens. So I have my fingers crossed. And the “big dream” is one of the reasons I’m choosing to seek agent representation in the first place. I realize that a lot of writers do not go this route. They take on the massive burden of pimping themselves to the little guys, and do really well with it. Someday, that might be me. But hopefully, I can have someone do the dirty work for me, and I can just write. That’s what I want.

But, and there is always a “but”, even an agent can be hard to find. So I decided to start looking into the little guys just in case I don’t have the kind of luck required to land a massive multi-novel book deal. You know, just in case reality catches up with me and I find myself sobbing into my latte while I place my first order on Lulu.

And when I decided to look into small press publishers, I realized something. They’re frackin’ hard to find. There’s a bazillion of them out there, but just try to google that shit. Especially as a writer of genre fiction, it can be hard hours of slogging through website after website to find A) Publishers that accept Sci-Fi and B) Publshiers (even small ones) that are open to unsolicited submissions. Plus, most small presses have the life-expectancy of a fruit fly. So just when you thin you’ve hit the jackpot, and you find a list of small press publishers of science fiction—think again. At least half of those links will be rerouted to “buy this domain” websites, and also, strangely, mattress warehouses.

So, I’m going to give you a list of links I found that are still what they are supposed to be: someone to publish your awesome book. I can’t claim that this list will remain current for any specific period of time, but for those of you suffering through the process with me, it will work. Keep in mind that some submissions may be closed at the moment, but will be open later this year. So get your bookmarking fingers ready. Here it is:

Anarchy Books
Fairwood Press
Changeling Press for erotic fiction with sci-fi or fantasy themes
Mundania Press LLC
Old Earth Books
Arkham House Publishing
Necro Publications
for their SF, see Bedlam Press imprint
ChiZine Publications
Elder Signs Press
Sofawolf Press
accepts anthropomorphic fiction only
Tyrannosaurus Press
Edge/Tesseract Books

This list is by no means complete, but I have narrowed these 12 sites down from a list five times its length on The SF Site. I did the work so you don’t have to! I will like likely continue adding to it as I find more. In the meantime, if you want to continue your search, check out this site. I haven’t gone through all the links yet, but once I do I’ll post the good ones here. If you find, or if you are, a small press publisher that you would like to see on the list please let me know. I have purposely discluded those publishers whose websites state that they will be closed to submissions for longer than one year, as well as those who do not accept unsolicited or unagented manuscripts.

Just a quick note about small press publishing. Most small presses offer a higher percentage of net book sales to their authors, which is great! They also tend to have a higher staff:author ratio, so it can be easier to get more personalized service from them. Another great thing about small presses is that they can afford to take risks that larger publishers can’t, so if your work is new and different, a small press might be the best way to go at first. Larger publishers have a lot more pressure to go with the “tired and true” novel formulas, so keep that in mind. The downsides (potentially) to small presses are that they print in smaller runs, and their exposure may be limited. Also, they have a tendency to start up and disappear due to financial difficulty. But there are lots of resources for writers out there if you want to check out a particular agent or publisher’s track record.

If you have a small press publisher that has offered you a book deal, that’s great! But be sure to check them out on Writer Beware before you sign anything. This is a great resource for new writers who want to avoid being scammed by people trying to take advantage of how awesome you know your book is. And it’s a good place to check if an agent or publisher has a good or bad history with their previous clients.

I hope this was useful. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll keep you posted when I find more publishers to add to this list.

 


How to publish a novel (in theory)

It occurs to me that many of you won’t really know what the process of trying to get a book published involves, and therefore have no idea what I’m rambling about when you meet me in the street or find me rocking back and forth in the corner of a dark room. I thank those of you who have born with me thus far. Your patience has not been in vain; I’m about to say something coherent for once.

From what I have gathered, like an information hunting internet squirrel, there are three paths by which a writer can seek publication. The options go a little something like this:

1. Write a book and Self-publish–either hard copy or e-Book. Hard copies cost money from your own pocket!

2. Write a book and send to small publishing houses that accept unsolicited manuscripts.

3. Write a book, find and agent, have agent pimp your book to bigger publishing houses that never accept unsolicited or unrepresented manuscripts.

Now, there are ways around these rules. It is possible to self-publish a book, be extremely successful (which in the self-publishing world means selling more than 3000 copies, preferably a lot more), use these stats to score an agent, and then land a major publishing deal. Or you can try to find a small publisher who is excited about your work and then try to lure an agent with your pending contract.

Of course, I figure, why sell myself short? I’m going to take soul-crushing door number 3. I have next to no credentials, zero industry connections, I don’t really know how to write a proper query letter, and I have not done my research on appropriate agencies but, dammitall!,  I’m going to wrangle myself an agent.

Really. I actually believe that.
If, for some obscure and unforeseeable reason, this doesn’t work… I’ll just have to sneak into some poor unsuspecting publishing house and hold someone hostage until they agree to print my book. Anything to avoid having to self-publish.

Self-publishing is like going to work, and having to pay for the privilege. I realize that a lot of people do it, and do it successfully, but realistically I know that I won’t be one of them. I have no earthly idea where to start when it comes to self-promotion, tours, book signings, websites, whatever. And have I mentioned that I’m a broke-ass writer?

‘Cause I’m a broke-ass writer.

I can’t afford to self-publish. That’s not to say I won’t be crawling on hands and knees to Author House if all other avenues fail. I want to see my book in print badly enough to pay for it myself, even if it will take me ten years of working at a non-writing job to be able to afford a decent run. Which means The Timekeepers’ War will likely be my first and last novel.

Unless I become one of those annoying “one-novel-per-decade” authors who have the audacity to write series’, foolishly believing that their fans will still be alive when the next instalment finally comes out. Which, let’s face it, I probably will.

Moving on!

What does all of this mean? What the hell do I do on a day-to-day basis?

Well, for starters, yesterday I dusted myself off and got back on the damn horse.

After receiving my first real rejection letter on Monday, I dove straight into the downward spiral of over-analytic self-doubt and self-loathing (we’ve talked about this). So, in order to distract myself from the sense of impending doom, I jumped into the internets. I spent most of the day yesterday reading more “How-to-Write-a-Super-Amazing-Query-Letter” resources, decided that mine was all wrong, rewrote it, and sent out another four. We’ll see if I get any bites on batch two before I start tearing my hair out. What’s left of it.

Trouble is, the standard 6-8 weeks wait is killing me. It’s only been two, and in some cases one, and I’m already checking my email like an obsessive compulsive squirrel…
…that has email.

I’ve tried to limit myself to sending out only a couple a day. Well, 2-5 really. Not just because it’s a lot of work, and I’m kind of lazy like that. But this way I won’t get all my rejections back at once and then try to drown myself in the bathtub. See? Strategic preemptive-self-defence manoeuvring. That’s a thing. Once the form-rejections start rolling in, I’ll still have to force myself to get out of bed every morning just in case.

So there you have it. In a nutshell (will the squirrel metaphors never stop?) this is what it looks like to try to get published. If you’re me. There are probably a lot more elegant guides out there, retrospective success stories and the like. But let’s face it. If you or someone you know is trying to get published for the first time, this is probably a little closer to the truth. You know, unless they’re not neurotic, angsty, depressed, anxious, and/or delusional.

But then, they’re not really writers, are they?

Now, it’s time for me to do some real work. I still have a short story to finish and a newsletter to publish sometime this month. Hopefully this was enlightening for some, and useful to others. Let me know what you think in the comments.