Saturday, 11 August 2018

Questions, questions!

Goodreads allows readers to question authors.

I have answered 303 of them so far!

Here are the top 8 ranked by popularity.

Mark Lawrence I'm not sure 'anti-hero' is the right word for Jorg:

Jorg's character was inspired by Alex from Anthony Burgess' 1962 classic, A Clockwork Orange, who does those things. So that's one answer.

The other answer is 'why not'. It's not necessary (for most people) to like a characters in order that they be interested in what happens to them. Additionally is it interesting that we can like a character even when we don't like what that character does.
Mark Lawrence I pronounce it like it's spelled. Like Bjorn Borg, or The Borg, but with a J. J, for jug, org as in the .org domain.

It was originally Jorge (like George) but Americans pronounce that as Hoor-Hey, so I lost the 'e'.

In the US audio book they say Jorg as I would (because they asked me).
In the UK audio book they say Yorg (they didn't ask me).
Mark Lawrence Author asked to write story, for free! FOR FREE!
Mark Lawrence Accent. There are 15 fecks in the book and 8 fucks. In a book where a bishop gets nails hammered into his head there's no need to censor swearing.
Mark Lawrence Hmmm. Some time in a juvenile detention centre followed by a bloody rise through the ranks of organised crime that enables him to buy his way into politics. Then through the judicious application of kneecapping and fake news ... the presidency.
Mark Lawrence People sometimes imagine stories as arbitrary things that can do whatever they want.

Those of us who have written ... at least successfully, producing stories that others feel compelled to follow ... know otherwise.

When a person who carves wood speaks about their craft they often talk about the animal that is waiting in a particular piece of timber, not created by them, but waiting to be discovered by the chisel and the knife. They are constrained by the grain of the wood, the knots, the dimensions, and by the way the surfaces they start to follow travel through the medium.

All this to say that the end of any book is where the story leads the author. Stories develop a momentum of their own, characters will do one thing and not another. When you wake from a dream you may not like the ending of it. But try to tell yourself a different one ... and it will never quite stick.

From time to time a reader will take the time to variously rage, tell, or inform me of their distress with the way the Broken Empire ends. Quite often they will contact me again days, months, or even years later and say that they finally realized no other ending would do. Those emails are quite nice to get.
Mark Lawrence I wasn't worried, no.

Jorg was inspired by Alex from the 1962 classic A Clockwork Orange who is similarly youthful and prone to violence.

In the Broken Empire his age serves various important ends.
The themes in the trilogy include those revolving around
(i) the nature vs nurture issue,
(ii) the ambiguities in responsibility and purpose that arise from the protagonist's age, and
(iii) the disparity between what Jorg tells the reader about his motives and responsibility and what the reader actually deduces
(iv) the changes wrought in us through experience as opposed to those wrought by simply growing.

I rely on my readers having the imagination to cope with the idea that along with ghosts, dream-witches, and magical mutants, there might be some (or at least one) people who at 14 (as Jorg is for 90% of the first book) might act in many regards as older than their age.

A few readers appear to think protagonists are plucked at random from the population and are overwhelmingly likely to be 'average'. This strikes me as odd. If I write a book about a lottery winner, Olympic champion, or mind-reader will readers cry out that it's hardly believable that this random guy has won the lottery / is better at running fast than 99.999999999% of other young men his age / can read minds...

The books weren't written for a young audience.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Looking at the Goodreads Choice Awards.

The Goodreads Choice Awards interest me for a variety of reasons, not least that all 8 of my novels have made it to the semifinals of the fantasy competition.

Goodreads currently boasts around 75 million members, and around 10% to 20% of all my readers rate my books there. In fact for a swath of recent traditionally published fantasy there seems to be a strong correlation between number of sales and number of Goodreads ratings.

Many awards are accused of being a popularity contest, though generally they are just a popularity contest among a small clique of fans. The Goodreads Choice Awards, with 3.8 million votes cast last year, really are a popularity contest. How well a book has sold has a very strong bearing on how well they will rank.

With this in mind I looked at all the results since the awards started in 2010 and plotted the breakdown between male and female authors.

(click for detail)

The results indicate that in the very popular genres of Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy and Paranormal Fantasy female authors have dominated in these awards (and by extension, in sales), averaging 84% & 87% of the top 15 respectively.

In the first 4 years of the awards female authors averaged 45% of the top 15 in the Fantasy category. In the second 4 years after the joining of the Fantasy and Paranormal Fantasy categories female authors averaged 63% of the top 15 in the combined category.

Only in the Science Fiction category does there seem to be a consistent majority of male authors, with an average of 28% female authors in the top 15.

Science Fiction does still seem to be a bit of a boy's club and it's unclear from the data whether that is changing.

If there were sufficient numbers of books involved we could look into "Fantasy" and break it down into various sub genres, and I'm sure would find some where one gender was having the majority of success and others where the situation reversed.

It is interesting to note that even after the combination of Fantasy with Paranormal Fantasy there are still more votes (interest/sales) in the YA SFF category (and fewer in the Science Fiction category), except for years when JK Rowling has her hat in the Fantasy ring (and she has a huge YA following).

It is of course dangerous to draw too many conclusions from such analysis, so I merely present the data. And clearly it is scant comfort to know your gender are doing great in one area of writing if the books you write fall into an area where you feel you're swimming against the tide.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Prince of Thorns is seven years old!

Prince of Thorns is 7 years in print!

Check out the 6th5th4th3rd2nd, and 1st birthday round-ups. 

I now have 9 books on the shelves!

Being a numbers guy as well as a words guy I like to keep track of things and record them for when I'm a doddery old guy looking back at my 'glory' days.

This year my books (or one of them at least) got translated into a 24th language (Georgian!)

On Goodreads Prince of Thorns has passed 70,000 ratings!

And Prince of Thorns continues to attract ratings on Amazon
UK Amazon                                   US Amazon

Plus the blog has broken two million views and has very nearly reached 2,500,000!
And I continue to conquer Twitter ... one tiny bit at a time.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

SPFBO 4! Starts in 3 days.

Since we will shortly be embroiled in the next Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, I thought I would look at some of the contestants.

It may very well be that our finalists and winner lie among the lesser known entrants. That would be in line with the contest's goal of bringing an unknown gem of a book into public view.

Here, however, I look at some of the more successful books among this year's entries. I have graphed the 28 titles (~10% of the field) with >200 ratings on Goodreads. Though to be clear, a book with 200 ratings is still pretty much unknown.

The graph below shows these titles ordered by average rating on Goodreads with the column representing the number of ratings they've received. The number of ratings is related to the number of readers but the ratio between ratings and readers is different for self-published books than for traditionally published books.

(click for detail) 

This of course brings us to a discussion of what (if anything) the average rating of a book on Goodreads can tell us.

We hope that there is some correlation (albeit loose) between the average rating a book gets and its quality. A book with an average rating of 1 is far less likely to please a randomly selected reader than a book with an average rating of 5.

However, there are many other factors at work.

i) A book's average score decreases rapidly over the first 1,000 ratings and slowly over the next 20,000. I call this the Goodreads Droop. Early ratings are aided by friends, family, enthusiastic readers, and sympathy for a lesser known book. Later ratings tend to be lower as less enthusiastic readers are drawn in by recommendations and kick back against the hype. 

ii) Some subgenres are more generous than others. YA ratings, for example, are typically higher. Young readers often have read fewer books and are less jaded.

iii) Some books are divisive. You are much more likely to love a book that gets 50% 5* ratings and 50% 1* ratings than you are to love a book that gets 100% 3* ratings. Yet both will have the same average.

iv) A book that effectively targets its niche will rate highly. If a book has a very definite readership in mind and manages to convey that message, it will rate more highly. For example, if the book manages through its title, cover, &/or marketing to let potential readers know that it is romance, or LitRPG etc, then those readers will be happy. If you hid a romance novel under a cover with an axe wielding maniac on it and the title Blood Flood ... it would likely rate poorly even if it were the best fantasy romance ever written.

It's interesting to note that while 4 entries have > 1,000 ratings and 28 entries have >200 ratings there 38 entries with 1 or fewer ratings, and some others not even listed on Goodreads. 

Friday, 27 July 2018

Sales figures, Goodreads figures, FIGURES GALORE!

While waiting 'patiently' for Prince of Fools to click over 20,000 Goodreads ratings I took the time to chart where all of my books stand in terms of Goodreads ratings. Red Sister is punching above its weight and looks to be ready to overtake Prince of Fools despite being three years younger!

I also made a very rare dip into the PenguinRandomHouse author portal for some actual sales figures. This is how many books I sold in America over the last 7 days.
So for a typical week, quite distant from any book releases or promotions, that is 2031 sales in the US. If that were maintained for the year it would be 106,000 sales. In reality the sales for my most recent books will be significantly higher near the release of the latest book, and continue to slacken off as the year wears on, whereas the sales for the oldest books will stay fairly constant, though rising if there are price promotions.

But take the 106,000 US sales (including Canada) add another 106,000 for my near identical UK sales (including Australia and New Zealand), and that 212,000 a year is a decent ballpark figure for my annual sales in English. If you took that over the 7 years since Prince of Thorns was published you would get ~1.5 million sales, which again is a decent ballpark figure for my total sales in English.

...and after all that, Prince of Fools is still stubbornly clinging to 19,986 ratings...

Friday, 13 July 2018


Back in 2015 I got an email out of the blue from a guy called Derek Bradley who had read the Broken Empire books and seen on my bio that I was a long time computer gamer.

He wanted to know if I wanted to write for the game that he was creative director for, and sent this early demo video:

It looked good and I liked Derek's approach to world building, so I agreed! I soon found myself writing lore and history for the various factions in this unusual world. I designed and wrote histories for a variety of items, magic and mundane, that can be found during exploration. The idea here was to present a history of the world organically through the artefacts that players encounter rather than as a big info dump / cut scene. Hopefully thereby making the place more of a living and breathing world where the players' understanding and sense of the scale and history of the place is assembled painlessly as they go.

I also got to design a whole bunch of characters along with their origin stories and current goals that might lead them to suggest and collaborate on various adventures. It was great fun and I'm looking forward to playing the game to see which of my contributions survived into the final version and how they have been realised by the artists and designers.

Here's a more up to date video of the game in action. That first line is one of mine, the first line in a "book of lore" I wrote for the game: "Wise men say that the dark is older than the light. They say it reaches further and that no matter how swiftly the light travels it finds that all it touches was first in darkness."

The artistic design and game play are pretty unique though there is a clear Dark Souls vibe at work too.

Here's the sort of thing I got to write!

They say the dark is empty, but it is not so. The Bral dwell in the ancient night and they are legion. Their nature and form offer endless variety. A few as old as the Ashen themselves. A multitude new-born from the blackness.

When the Ashen fell there were some few among the many races of the Bral drawn to the great beast, drawn by the pollution of its blood, both fascinated and repelled.

These scavengers crawled from the utter dark and burrowed amid the Ashen’s feathers. A multitude living and dying. Generation upon generation, breeding and building, all within the space of one breath. The Ashen’s dying light was something they both craved and despised. It ate at them, turning night-flesh to dust and ash and cinders, but it filled them with such power, such possibility. And it changed them.

Anyway, the release date is 2018, so check it out when it arrives and let me know what you think.

Here's what Xbox say about it.
And here's the page for the designers, Aurora 44.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Did grimdark start in 1984?

Did grimdark start in 1984? By which of course I mean did it start in 1949?

1984 is a novel I first read at a time when 1984 was the future. It's a work of literary genius. Also it is very definitely science fiction. Also ... it might be the first, or at least most famous, grimdark novel.

This post contains spoilers for the book.

Even though much of the science foreseen in the book (primarily mass surveillance through networked cameras) has come to pass, albeit not generally in our own homes, some has yet to be effectively implemented. We haven't yet got any novel writing machines for example, unless you count Brandon Sanderson and some rather less successful AI attempts.

More recently the book's prediction of the wholesale undermining of truth have been realised in a deeply disturbing fashion with the surge of that many headed hydra #FakeNews. The phrase "alternative facts" could have been plucked directly from the dictionary of Newspeak that our "hero" Winston's colleague is working on.

And whilst the Thought Police have not yet become a state institution we all know that there are more than enough recruits to fill their ranks ready and waiting on Twitter whichever side of the political divide issues the call.

However, it is not this grim prescience that makes the novel a strong candidate for the first grimdark book. It is the fact that the whole society described in 1984 is designed to destroy hope, force conformity, replace truth with political narrative, and oppress the population. Not only this, it is achieving all these goals with near total success.


Our hero in all this is not a paragon. Winston is an everyman, and his opposition to the state is driven by the fact that he can't help his "free thinking" and finds the constraints intolerable. He's driven by very basic needs rather than laudable ideals, desperation rather than bravery. A woman he is attracted to shares his interest. Their sexual relationship is against the law because Winston is married and sex is only allowed for procreation within wedlock. Winston wishes he had killed his wife when he had the chance to make it look like an accident. In short, Winston is no hero. He is in opposition to the regime because he is not getting what he wants from it.


And tonally this is a dark, dark book. Let me hit you with some quotes.

"In the face of pain there are no heroes."

"We do not merely destroy our enemies; we change them."

"To die hating them, that was freedom."

"Under the spreading chestnut tree I sold you and you sold me."

"History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right."

"He was a lonely ghost uttering a truth that nobody would ever hear."

& of course the famous:

"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever." 


And of course there is violence. The book approaches its end, where SPOILER the bad guys win comprehensively, via an extensive sequence of torture involving the dreaded and infamous Room 101. In Room 101 you get to meet your own worse nightmare, and you can be sure that Big Brother knows exactly what it is.

So, that's my pitch for 1984 being one of the grandfathers of grimdark. Go check it out if you haven't already. And if you have then try some more Orwell. It's all good, from the incredibly short but hard hitting Animal Farm to his autobiographical works Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in London and Paris.