Sunday, 22 March 2020

Bitching, George RR Martin, and the underbelly of fandoms.

Eleven years ago Neil Gaiman put it succinctly: George RR Martin is not your bitch.

This is an old horse, long ago beaten to death in many of the internet's alleyways.

But today I had occasion to see how deep and persistent the crazy is. I had a short story in GRRM's Wild Cards universe published on Tor.com. It's a story and a character I'm quite proud of, and The Visitor's origin story in Knaves Over Queens is, I think, one of my best. It did at least prompt GRRM to call me an excellent writer 😀.

Anyway, GRRM tweeted about it today.

Note: The Wild Cards series has been an enduring passion for GRRM since he started it in 1986, a full ten years before A Game of Thrones was published.

Also note: GRRM hasn't written any of the stories in the recent instalments of the series that I've been involved in or seen. He's the head editor but the low to medium level of editing is done by other editors. So his role is important in guiding the thing and keeping the tone and history consistent, but not significant in terms of the time it would occupy out of a year's work.

You have to go to the 30th reply on the tweet to find one that's not scolding him about Winds of Winter. Here are some of the comments:



So I looked at the replies to some of his other tweets - something I hope GRRM never does.

In January he tweeted that he was very saddened by the death of Mike Resnik and linked to a heartfelt post about his old friend and mentor. These were the first three replies:



There's some ugly shit right there.

Writing is a difficult business and the retirement age in many countries is around 65 (in Brazil it was 55 for women (who live longer anyway) and 60 for men until recently 😲). GRRM is 71. Many of us would be expecting to have been kicking back and doing whatever retired people do for the last 6 years by age 71.

If you're upset that the final instalments of A Game of Ice and Fire have taken so long, then by all means make your own private plans not to buy them if/when they come out. Declare your disinterest and move on.

I doubt though that you're as disappointed as the author. GRRM has written some of the world's most popular and beloved books. That's a rare and stellar talent. Don't pretend to know how difficult that was or how hard it is to sustain. I'm a writer and I know many writers. Authors at all levels of success struggle with the act of creation. It is not the turning of a handle on a sausage machine. It is not a mechanical process that can be forced. It varies hugely for person to person - it is deeply personal - it is deeply connected to mental health. Yesterday I spent all the writing time available to me playing a single game of Bookworm. World news had pushed my mind to a place where I couldn't focus on writing. I know authors who have missed generous deadlines and one who surrendered to the fact that his series would not be finished. These are not people rolling in writing money, too busy living the high life to knuckle down and type. These are people for whom writing is everything - who maintain day jobs to pay the bills - who dream of success, or more importantly of their stories finding readers (the distinction being that it's not money driving them but the desire to tell their tales).

So yes, it's disappointing when a great series that you're loving slows or stops. But trolling an old man on the internet ... that's pathetic. Nobody wants those books written more than GRRM does. But if you think heckling him at every opportunity is going to do anything other than make you part of something ugly ... then ... you know nothing, John Doe.














Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Foreign Rights

My books have been published in 26 languages (not all of them, but at least one of my books in at least 26 languages). My experience with foreign publishers has been varied. There are several stars who not only uphold their contractual obligations but make significant efforts to sell the books and succeed in doing so.



Sometimes things go less well. A good number of contracts I've signed have resulted in an advance payment and then ... crickets ... for years (in many cases an ongoing silence). Some contracts I've signed haven't even resulted in the payment of the contracted advance. Some have paid the advance but then not translated the book.

An author is an individual with essentially zero power in these cases. Even with the help of an agent you have very little clout. It's not practical to pursue publishing companies in another country over relatively small sums and in the end you're not only trusting them to pay you but to report the sales accurately. All the balls are in their court.

The following example isn't the best or the worst, but perhaps gives new authors a flavour of what they might expect.

In April of 2011 I signed this contract, assigning the foreign rights to Prince of Thorns to a respected publisher in a European country.

(click for detail)


In 2014 my foreign rights agent sent me an email containing:


Wed, 5 Nov 2014 at 18:00

Dear Mark,

<snip>

I’ve also had a query from your XXXX publisher XXXX. They’re about to reprint PRINCE OF THORNS (they’ve sold about 4,000 copies) and have asked if they could include SLEEPING BEAUTY as a reader bonus in the new edition. Would this be ok?

I replied, and then about a year later I wrote back on the subject again:

20 September 2015, 16:19:24 BST, Mark Lawrence <empire_of_thorns@yahoo.co.uk> wrote:

<snip> about a year ago you asked me if the XXXX publisher XXXX could include my short story in a new edition of Prince of Thorns. You also mentioned that they had already sold around 4000 copies. At the agreed 7% royalty and a retail price of $13 (what they cite in the Prince of Fools contract) this would make ~3200 euros of royalties owing. But the only payment I've ever had from them is the 1000 euro advance.

This should perhaps be chased up?

Also, they *still* owe me 5 author copies of each book - which only hurts their sales and mine as I would give those books away, signed, on XXXX fantasy blogs.

She replied:


2 Nov 2015 at 18:29

Hi Mark,

I’m really sorry about the delay on this. I chased them before the Frankfurt book fair and they promised to attend to the outstanding monies and copies. I’ve chased them again today.


So that was in November 2015. They agreed that they owed me royalties (actually they owed them at least a year earlier in 2014) and promised to pay. The contract said they should be sending accounts of the sales of the book every year.

My excellent foreign rights agent continued to invest a sensibly judged amount of effort into pursuing the matter. Obviously with many books in many languages and good relations to maintain it's not something that demands the application of great pressure. But then it really shouldn't need to.


Anyway...

In March of 2020 I received my first royalties statement from the publisher - 9 years after signing the contract! They've published a good number of my books and have never sent me any of the 5 author copies for each book as per contract.

The part of the royalties statement for Prince of Thorns said that 5893 copies have been sold (not at the $13 I assumed from later contracts but still at a price where the 4,000 sales significantly exceed the advance) and subtracting the euro 1000 advance that left euro 2574, and subtracting the 10% for my agent and the 10% for the foreign agent that left euro 1548 for me. Most of which had been sitting in their bank account for over 6 years. The other books of mine they've published had also generated royalties that were owing to me.

As you can see it would in no way be feasible / cost effective for me to pursue a company in another country for 1500 euros (or even 15,000 euros), especially when they control all the figures and only let slip that 4,000 sale figure in an attempt to get a freebie out of me.

So, foreign sales are a bit of an adventure to say the least. And why is this particular adventure "average" rather than the worst? Because I do at least, albeit 9 years after signing the contract, have sales figures and royalty payments for half of the books of mine they've published. And while that's hardly stellar, it is at least better than the black holes that have resulted from some of my other contracts!

And as a final note - there are of course many excellent publishers across the world, delivering great service and results for both authors and readers.










Thursday, 5 March 2020

US vs UK : FIGHT! FIGHT!

My first trilogy (The Broken Empire) and my most recent trilogy (Impossible Times) both had the same cover art in the US and the UK.

My middle trilogies and my upcoming trilogy have different covers depending on what side of the Atlantic you are.

I think all my covers are great and the artists behind them hugely talented. Sometimes it's even the same artist on both sides as in the case of The Liar's Key where both the US and UK art are by the excellent Jason Chan.

So this is a celebration of their talent.

However, there is always the long-running discussion of the differences between UK and US covers, and I'm interested in it. So this is a poll on which covers for you best represent the contents of the books &/or make you want to buy the book?

VOTE HERE


(covers marked with interim results after 162 voters)
US                  UK








This is just a bit of fun. To properly investigate I would need to ask three times as many questions, determining whether you were from the US, UK or 'other' and trying to establish whether the different approaches really were successfully tailored to national tastes - and really I'd have to do it before publication because by now you may well associate these covers with the book you read and be biased towards the one you know best.





Wednesday, 22 January 2020

FIFTY US ARCs!

50 US ARCs of The Girl And The Stars being given away just like that 😲
US only. Tell 'em where to send yours and enter the draw!


Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Star one stars!

I was recently the lucky recipient of this 1* review on Amazon. It struck me as worthy of note because not only is it not a review of the book, it's not even a criticism of Amazon. It's more of a critique of the customer's own life skills...



"1*: Can't remember ordering these books. Not my type of subject. Unable to find a method of cancelling the transaction"


Anyway, it set me hunting through the 1* sections of famous fantasy books in search of similar.

Obviously a certain percentage of Amazon users opt to use the review section for books they've bought in order to review Amazon itself.

The mindset that thinks an author should be burdened with a 1* review because the physical book itself had a crease on the cover etc is not one that comes naturally to me - but there is a level on which I can understand it. So here are bunch of them just for laughs!

Some of these seem to concern books from secondary sellers  of used books - but because no seller attribution is given they are less than worthless as warnings. And of course, the author who is getting saddled with the 1* made zero money from the sale.




A Game of  Thrones

1*:  
This product was listed as Used - Very Good and described as:
      The cover may have some limited signs of wear but the pages are clean, intact and the spine remains undamaged. This book has clearly been well maintained and looked after thus far.
      When l got the book it was filthy. It had coffee stains and general grime spilled on the cover. The bottom of the book had a wedge torn out of about 50 pages, going the full length of the pages.
      Delivery was slow to boot. First time lve used this seller, awful experience


1*:
First delivery was returned because the product was damaged. Second delivery arrived and is also damaged.

1*:
Where's the italics?
Great book but the conversion to electronic format hasn't worked properly and no words in italic font are visible.

1*:
All the pages were falling out. I had to throw it away. bought a new one

1*:
This book does not appear new. Bought as a present for my Dad for Father's Day so very disappointing. Covers are creased and there are dirty marks on the edges.

1*:
The item I received is defective. The pages are upside down. Obviously faulty stock. I want a full refund

1*:
Kindle edition - never received

1*:
I did not order this book no one uses my kindle got a surprise to see this come on my kindle no one else here to do this don't try it again.

& one of my personal favourites...

1*:
Is this the first book that I should read first?



The Name of the Wind:


1*:
Am currently about half way through this book and loving every minute of the story - so much so I am putting up with the minuscule print! Have been looking for a better copy but thus far no luck. I refuse to go kindle, I generally love the feel and scent of paper, this is hideous though... cheap and borrower sized... someone save me!


1*:
Read this book before, so bought to re read for fun.
Unforftunately this book has been through the wars. I know it was marked as 'used' but Jesus this is taking the piss!
Book is completely water damaged, yellow stuff on the pages, muck (actual muck!) on the back cover & looks like it been kicked up and down the shop a fair few times...


Prince of Thorns:

1*:
Opened my package, where I expected to find a NEW book, and found a copy which was creased on the spine and at the corner, and worn down. Very unhappy.


I also looked at The Lies of Locke Lamora which had more of the same, but interestingly to me: it seemed that every other review on Amazon.com was complaining of the cuss words, which amused me, as this is a book where a man has broken glass slowly ground into his eyes ... and yet these people cared about words like "piss" or the dreaded f-bomb. Fuck that! On Amazon.co.uk I found only one complaint. Clearly Brits are less bothered by 'language'. Perhaps if I went on the Australian Amazon I'd find people complaining that there was too little swearing!

Anyway, there you have it. Books judged not only by their cover but by their pages, typography, packaging, coffee stains, and even whether the customer remembered ordering it.



Have a great 2020!

















Tuesday, 31 December 2019

My writing decade.


I have been occupied with the business of authoring for the whole of the decade just about to expire.
Here's an email I got in January 2010:

Sent: Monday, January 18, 2010, 11:27:34 AM GMT
Subject: The Hundred War


Dear Mark, 
Thank you for approaching the agency. I enjoyed the opening chapters and would very much like to read the rest of the script. This is exactly the sort of fantasy I enjoy and for which there is a buoyant market. You can send me a printout at the address below or email it to me.
Two minor housekeeping points: please (1) indent each paragraph by one hit on the tab key and (2) don’t leave a line between each paragraph.
I look forward to seeing how the story develops.
Kind Regards
Ian
& then in March less than 2 months later:
Sent: Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 5:09:48 PM GMT Subject: You have a deal Dear Mark, I am delighted to report that we have a deal for PRINCE OF THORNS plus two sequels. There will be others to follow, as the main deal with Ace books is for World English Language rights; we are now negotiating for translation rights and indeed, have just concluded a deal in Germany. The interest in PRINCEOF THORNS was so great that it went to an auction between publishers both sides of the Atlantic with four of the big British companies bidding and three American. Editors kept saying that Jorg is exactly the character they have been looking for, and loved the verve and style of the whole thing.
I remember being stunned by the phone call that preceded the email, and floored by the size of the advance being offered. My research had led me to expect something in the $5,000 range, and what I got instead broke into six figures and kept on going for a fair way after that. I had my very disabled daughter on my lap during the call, and afterwards I 'hung' her on my shoulder (she was able to be carried at that age) and went into the kitchen to tell my wife. She took one look at my face and thought that Celyn had died on me or something. Anyway, it has been a priviledge to write books for publication for the past 10 years. It added colour and hope into a very stressful existence at the time. It also meant that when the Advanced Research Group I worked in closed down unexepectedly five years later, making ~150 Ph.D scientists redundant, I was able to transition smoothly into full time writing. I've no idea how long my luck in these endeavours will continue and I've taken care not to define myself by the success of my writing as it's an ephemeral thing that contains large elements of chance. But if the 2020's allow, then I shall endeavour to put many more books before you. Have a great new year, all. Mark






.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

My best books of the decade!

The first thing to note is that I'm a slow reader! This is 10 years' worth 😲

(click for detail)
(note - the 2011/12 category also contains stray books missed off my lists)


"Best" is obviously subjective. In many ways it comes down to how the book has stuck in my memory. I've got a lot of things bouncing around in my skull, so if a book manages to claim some lasting real-estate there long after my salad days have left me then it's clearly doing a good job.

It turns out that books that have managed to stay with me are the quirky, unusual ones. I'm not going to be listing here any titles where the hero pulls down his (or her) visor and storms the enemy lines. I like traditional fantasy A LOT, but I don't tend to LOVE it anymore.

Like a Usain Bolt race from 10 years ago I can look at this field and see one clear winner. Behind that it's a photo finished for handful of others.

On another day some other selection might have made it into this top 4. I'm a big fan of the highly divisive The Magicians and it might have featured along with The Name of the Wind had they been written this decade. Strange the Dreamer might have featured had I written this post another week.

Let's look at some of those remarkable runner ups:


The Library at Mount Char is possibly the weirdest book in the world. A strangely addictive stand alone novel that hits you with crazy until you love it.


Master Assassins is neither highly rated nor highly popular. I feel perhaps the title and cover have turned off those who would enjoy it and drawn in those less inclined towards such books. For me the writing was a literary joy. I loved the prose, the delicacy and mystery of the backstory, the art in the relationships.


The Girl With All The Gifts is a book where I can't pin down what made it so good, but the fact is that it sucked me right in and didn't let go.


Assassin's Fate is here on behalf of all the Fitz and Fool books and to stand testimony to Robin Hobb's evil cruelty. She made this old man cry. Lots.


And the best of the best?




Unsurprisingly to those of you who know me … it's the books I can't stop talking about. All three of them.





I know that not everyone loves these books as much as I do, or even likes them, but all you people are wrong. There, I've said it.

I loved Senlin Ascends for many reasons, initially and enduringly for the prose, but also for the wit, imagination, and humanity.


And there it is. My best books of the decade. You'll have to wait at least ten years to see its like again!