Saturday 12 January 2013

The R-word

So I thought I'd told the whole and unvarnished tale of my route to publication but searching on an old email account for the word 'rejection' I discovered a step I had wholly forgotten. I really haven't the slightest memory of it. Perhaps I was drunk... who knows? 

In 2007 at 1:05 AM I apparently sent a query to the Nelson Literary Agency that ran thusly (with small name edits):

Sent: Thursday, January 11, 2007 1:05 AM
Subject: Query
Dear Kristin,
                        I'm looking for an agent to represent a fantasy novel I have recently completed. I have appended a very brief synopsis.

I'm a 37 year old scientist. A US and UK citizen, currently living in the UK.
In 2006 I've had stories published in the following paying (to various degrees) magazines:
Fantasy Magazine (4), Fictitious Force Magazine (2), Chick Flicks (8&9), The 5th Review
(upcoming), Forgotten Worlds (upcoming), Espresso Fiction, and OG's
Speculative Fiction Magazine (upcoming), Ascent Aspirations Magazine

All under the pen name '**********'


               Mark Lawrence



Novel:  Prince of Thorns

The book has a fair bit of inspiration from 'A Clockwork Orange'. It's set in a post-apocalypse that has wound its way out of the stone-age up to a quasi-medieval era with elements of old technology in the backdrop as well as low-key magic.

Our 'hero' is an ultra-violent amoral fourteen year old, something of an evil genius, very charismatic, leading a band of older men on a rampage. The story is told entirely from his point of view, in the first person. The 'Clockwork Orange' inspiration makes itself felt when, after having painted our MC as black as can be, he wins the reader over, mainly through force of character. We get to follow him and his band through an adventure where his random mayhem becomes focused on getting even with his father (one of many minor kings vying for the vacant empire throne) and becoming a power himself.

As the story develops, other factors become apparent and our MC discovers he is being manipulated by various interested parties.

The original inspiration reappears at the end with parallels to the coming of age story.


The reply came 4 days later!


January 15, 2007                                                                                                       
Dear Author:                                                                                                              
Thank you so much for sending the Nelson Literary Agency your query.             
           We’d like to apologize in advance for this standard rejection letter. The volume of queries as of late has been too overwhelming to personalize our response anymore.  Rest assured, we do read every query letter carefully and although your work sounds intriguing, we’re sorry to say that we don't believe we are the right agency for you.                             
You deserve an enthusiastic representative, so we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one "yes" and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the  right match.                                                                                         
Good luck with all your publishing endeavors.                                                        


Now this is in absolutely no way a poke at the agency in question. They are very successful and have many clients including a good number that have sold way more books than I have. Their website asked for a synopsis, they got one, politely told me it wasn't something they were interested in and suggested I try elsewhere. It was, perhaps, a lousy synopsis - and the best book in the world will sound unappealing if you describe it poorly (and it looks suspiciously like I made it up as I typed it into the email at five past one in the morning!).

In any event I followed their advice - it just so happened that life got in the way and I didn't expect to succeed anyhow (it had just been an email on a late night whim), and so it took me nearly three more years to try again. I had after all only sold my first short story eight months earlier (for $31) and only after a bunch of rejections. I didn't seriously expect to sell a whole book.

What I'm doing here is offering encouragement by sharing the oft-repeated truism that experts often reject books that prove to sell well and that many of us under-estimate our own potential.

Additionally I'll note the lost opportunity on my part (I should have kept at it).

And finally I'll point out that since this exchange happened six months after an unknown UK writer called Joe Abercrombie got his first book on the shelves, it somewhat deflates the frequent accusations that I was inspired to copy his style. That would have required me to invest in a hardback by an unknown on the day of release, start writing at once and bang out a rip-off in 6 months then immediately query for it... then ignore it for ~3 years.

[this mini-rant brought to you courtesy of the fact I still see comments like this one from a blog a few days ago:

The serious problem of the writing is: Mark Lawrence has evidently copied the style of writing genius by the name of Joe Abercrombie. Unfortunately, he must have lost a few pieces in the process of copy-pasting, to the point of view of the story.  ]

Saturday 5 January 2013

Good Things

I made a world one key-stroke at a time, and people saw it. I built a man out of letters and people cared about him. These are good things.

Best Fan Mail Ever

I thought I'd share this email from a reader [edited to reduce spoilers]:

I really think you are one sick disturbed person. I was fine with King of Thorns until I got to the chapter about ****. I got to the part about where **** was in the cart and then flipped the pages. Unfortunately I read the sentence "*******************************" 

That sentence is seared into my brain and has given me nightmares. It might be fiction but it is just horrible. There is no excuse for this sort of thing. The torture of an innocent  animal. ***************************. You could have found a different way to make you point. I took the book straight back to the library. I will never ever read another book by you as long as I live. I dont know where all this darkness comes from with you but you are 

quite obviously disturbed. I don't care if you are with 10 kids and 5 dogs. Sick sick sick.

My reply: "Excellent choice, ma'am."

The mail above was interesting to me for several reasons:

i) It embodied the Hollywood advice: slaughter as many co-ed teens as you want, but shoot a puppy and your film is toast.

ii) It brought home to me how differently people's imaginations are wired. Indeed how people without an imagination can mistrust those who have one - failing completely to understand how an imagination works.

Imagination 101:

The innocent animal (I don't recall ever claiming it was innocent mind you) was made of words. It didn't really suffer. Just because I can imagine bad things happening doesn't mean I have done or want to do those things.

Later additions on the subject:

From an Amazon review:  "until the infamous dog scene, which was so horrific I never want to read another word written by this author. I've read umpteen horror novels that haven't kept me awake like that scene."

Forum quote: "An early scene with the young Jorg and his dog almost had me putting it down, and I'm from quite a good horror vintage with a strong stomach."

From a Goodreads review: "I really liked the first book, but couldn't get past the dog torture scene early in the second book so I stopped reading. It is a shame, because I do like the story, but wow, that was horrifying and made me ill and I don't want to risk more of it, so I tapped out."

But here's the main thing:

Torture is horrific. If you read about the torture of a human and it doesn't make you feel sick, sad, and a little dirty, then either it's badly written or it's an indictment of how desensitized we've become.

Contrary to common belief there are no torture scenes in Prince of Thorns, and none (save the non-human one this post concerns) until Emperor of Thorns.

I've never written a torture scene to titillate. I expect the ones I have written to have an impact, and they are there because the constitute important moments in Jorg's life. Life changing moments that are responsible in part for who he is.

I never intend to write torture porn (like Saw I, II, III etc). I don't expect the reader to keep putting the popcorn into their mouth while it happens.

Friday 4 January 2013

Best of Reddit r/fantasy

Reddit? No, I don't know either. It's big and diverse and has message boards for everything under the sun. Including one (or maybe lots) for fantasy books - namely r/fantasy. That tiny (well ... ok, it has 25,000+ readers, so it's pretty damn big really) corner of reddit I know about. It's a very active forum on all things fantasy filled with robust opinion. They run regular Ask Me Anything sessions with authors and in the past year have had best selling writers such as Pat Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Jim Butcher, Peter V Brett, Scott Lynch, Lev Grossman, Robin Hobb and the like on to answer members' questions in real-time. This can be a real laugh-riot.

(could't afford Pat Rothfuss' appearance fee so here's his beard's stunt double)

Anyhoo - long story short. Go sign up. It's a fun place to hang out if you're a fantasy geek.

Additionally... they ran  'Best of 2012' polls for best fantasy novel and best fantasy debut. These are the official results as collected by Reddit Fantasy's elquesogrande at the appointed time.


#1     Brent Weeks - THE BLINDING KNIFE
#2     Jim Butcher - COLD DAYS
#3     Mark Lawrence - KING OF THORNS
#4     Joe Abercrombie - RED COUNTRY  
#5     Anthony Ryan - BLOOD SONG

Other nominees included:

Chuck Wending - BLACKBIRDS
Steven Erickson - FORGE OF DARKNESS
Robert Jackson Bennett - THE TROUPE
Richard K Morgan - THE COLD COMMANDS

And look what Brent got by way of a trophy!
[edit: the awards are now called 'The Stabbies' and this is 'The Stabby']


#1     Saladin Ahmed - THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON
#2     Anthony Ryan - BLOOD SONG
#3     Myke Cole - CONTROL POINT
#4     Michael R. Underwood - GEEKOMANCY
#5     Jeff Salyards - SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER

Thursday 3 January 2013


There's a website that posts pairs of covers the owner feels are suspiciously alike. It sports the pairing below and I reached it from a website where someone was urging George Martin to litigate...

I have to call bullshit on this.

Shock horror! Fantasy book covers and they both show kings on thrones. Whoever heard the like? Next they'll be having hooded men on the front. My advice is for every author with a hooded man and sword combo on the front cover to sue all the rest.

I mean, the king on a throne motif is such a novel one - I just can't think of anyone ever using it befo-- oh...

circa 1978.

One can probably plot a fairly unbroken line of king-on-throne covers between that one and these:


released 2013

nuff said.