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.

Thursday 5 July 2018

Holy Sister has a cover!

Thanks to Tomasz Jedruszek for the artwork on the UK trilogy.

Pre-order here!

“Sister Pan! I am giving you a direct order as your abbess. You will remain here at the convent!” Sister Pan shook her head, smiling. “I’m Mistress Path, child. I go where I please.” And with that she began to shuffle toward the pillars. Holy Sister, Third Book of the Ancestor

Sunday 1 July 2018

Cover Contest #SPFBO

Carrying on from the cover contest of 2017 & 2016 here is 2018's turn.

It's worth noting up front that Jenny Zemanek, who has had covers in the top three every year we have run this contest, is this year responsible for the separate winners of both the blogger and public votes! It's also interesting to note the zero overlap between the blogger and public top three.

Blogger Votes

Gold Medal:
 Those Brave Foolish Souls from the City of Swords (6 votes)

Silver Medal: 
The Fire Eye Refugee (5 votes)
artist: Dominik Mayer

Bronze Medal: 
Sworn to the Night (4 votes)
artist: James T Egan

3 We Ride the Storm
3 Songs of Insurrection
2 The First Fear
2 Over Raging Tides
2 Balam, Spring
2 Revenant Winds
2 A Dance of Silver and Shadow
2 The Blood-stained Heir
1 Song
1 Fallen Empire
1 The Vale
1 The Tainted Crown
1 Dragon Sphere
1 Orconomix
1 Death March

Each blog privately let me know their 4 favourites from the finalists. The ordering of their votes was used to resolve ties.

Public vote results
A very close business with just ten votes separating the top 6 

Gold Medal:
Over Raging Tides

Silver Medal:
We Ride the Storm
artist: John Anthony Di Giovanni designer: Shawn T King

Bronze Medal:
Oath Breaker
artist: Alex Raspad typography: Christian Bentulan

The finalists, 3 chosen by each blog from the 30 books allocated to them.

A Dance of Silver and Shadow: A Retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses (Beyond the Four Kingdoms Book 1) by [Cellier, Melanie]The Snowtiger's Trail (The Windhaven Chronicles) by [Davis, Watson]Dragonsphere (The Fallen King Chronicles Book 1) by [Fierce, Richard]

2. Fantasy-Faction
The Rise of the Fallen (The Rotting Empire Book 1) by [Fugazzotto, Peter]Carnifex (Legends of the Nameless Dwarf Book 1) by [Prior, D.P.]Blood-Stained Heir (Ascent Archives Book 1) by [Norman, T.]

3. Fantasy Book Critic

4. Lynn's Book
The Great Hearts: A swords & sorcery fantasy epic by [Oliver, David]Banebringer (The Heretic Gods Book 1) by [Park, Carol A.]Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords: A standalone Yarnsworld novel by [Patrick, Benedict]

6. The Alliterates
Fallen Empire (Ironstone Saga Book 1) by [McArdle, Keith]Whiskey and Dragon Fire: A Dragon Shifter Paranormal Romance by [Peake, Marilyn]Darkmage (The Rhenwars Saga Book 1) by [Spencer, M.L.]

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Revenant Winds (The Tainted Cabal Book 1) by [Hogan, Mitchell]Moroda (World of Linaria) by [McNeil, L. L.]The Vale: Behind The Vale by [Anderson, Brian D.]

We Ride the Storm (The Reborn Empire Book 1) by [Madson, Devin]The Tainted Crown: The First Book of Caledan (Books of Caledan 1) by [Cowley, Meg]