Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Deep down he's a nice guy.

This expands on a tweet I made which says:

I saw a reader looking for: "a protagonist who has issues and violent tendencies but deep down is a swell guy"

For me it raises an interesting philosophical point though - what bad things can you be whilst still "being a swell guy deep down", and which bad things preclude that?

Does it even mean anything to be a "swell guy deep down"?

It feels like a question that needs more room than Twitter can easily give it. In some sense it's a question that Prince of Thorns set out to ask, leaving the answer (or more accurately: the spectrum of answers) to the reader.

Let's make no mistake about it, Jorg is not a swell guy deep down. My experiment was to immediately heap him with unforgivable crimes and then see what happened when I made him charming, somewhat funny, very young, and the victim of his own tragic circumstances. I hoped that most readers would find him interesting and enjoy reading about his adventures. Whether they would like him or excuse his behaviour in their minds was far less clear cut. That was the question - and it could be taken as a version of 'how deep do you have to dig to find the swell guy?' The book wonders if that answer is: "forever".

Stepping away from any particular character or book though, the question remains interesting. There's certainly an enduring concept of the antihero / thug / villain with a heart of gold that's difficult to reach, but scratch deep enough and you'll see its colour. At the very last, when the crunch comes, they'll do the right thing.

But doing the right thing at the end of a long string of wrong things is certainly not the same as being a good guy deep down ... or maybe it is ... in which case being a good guy deep down is just making a good/kind/just decision in extremis.

To be honest, I have difficulty with the whole concept of being a good guy deep down. Does it perhaps just mean that there's the potential for you to be a good guy given the right circumstances? That a redemption arc beckons but might not be taken if the conditions don't arise?

Because surely you're either a good guy or something else on the spectrum between the shifting sands of good and bad. A good guy deep down? You could be a terrible person who does a few nice things. A murderer who is genuinely kind and helpful to a disabled child maybe. That's just an example of people being complex things. Bad things tend to disproportionately poison the well. Someone who has devoted their life to good causes and has only once ever tortured a child to death ... they're still not someone you're going to feel relaxed leaving your kids with. Even someone who donated a kidney and has spent their whole life working for charity is still pretty tainted if you discover they kick a particular dog on the way to work every day.

The "deep down" suggests that for this person the bad acts are in the majority. I'd say that person is not a good guy, and even if they are guaranteed to do the right, or even heroic, thing when it comes to the crunch, I'm not comfortable calling them a good guy.

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Thursday, 12 August 2021

Finalists for the 7th SPFBO

 300 contestants are being narrowed to 10 finalists.

Finalists (so far) for SPFBO 7

The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off finalists are listed and scored on this page

The process of selection is in progress, and is documented here.

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Sunday, 1 August 2021

Prince of Thorns is TEN today!

 Prince of Thorns has been on the shelves for a decade!

The UK paperback is in its 25th printing.

I'll take the chance to say thanks - thank you to my readers (and my publishers) for letting me spend the past ten years writing stories, and more than that - living in them. It's been an unexpected privilege.

Check out the 9th8th7th6th5th4th3rd2nd, and 1st birthday round-ups. 

I now have 15 books on the shelves!

The most recent addition was The Girl And The Mountain, in April.

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

On Goodreads Prince of Thorns has passed 100,000 ratings!

I have been very neglectful of the blog of late, and it's shown in plateauing traffic, but still ~30,000 hits a month isn't too shabby and this year it cruised past 3.5 million hits in total.

And my quest to conquer Twitter crawls on...

Well, that's my annual stock-take. Over & out, until next year.

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Goodreads Statistics

Since I've been given shit before for info-graphics based entirely on the opinions voiced in the Fantasy-Faction facebook group, here are some explanations and disclaimers.

I asked this question to the group's 28,100 members. This blog post is for them.

"The most famous/significant fantasy author you've yet to read?"

At the time of writing there are 177 answers. It stuck me how differently the members viewed significance and fame - this of course through the filter that these are authors they have not yet read. 

It's possible that those giving the most obscure answers were spectacularly well-read and really had read all the famous/significant fantasy authors. Moreover fame and significance are not the same thing. Many fantasy authors and hardcore readers consider Gene Wolfe highly significant, his recognition among the wider readership (i.e fame) however is much lower.

Not a single one of these authors is here because I chose them. Not a single author is absent because I chose to ignore them. They're simply the ones featured in the answers to the above question on that group. I have no input regarding the demographics of the authors featured.


The area of the circles are proportional to the number of Goodreads rating that author has. The height on the diagram is roughly correlated to that size. 

An author's number of Goodreads ratings is correlated in some degree to the number of sales they've made, and thus in some degree to their fame, and has some more tenuous association to their significance - at the least it's hard to be significant if nobody has read your work. 

The relation between Goodreads ratings and sales is time dependent - you can compare books from a similar period and published during Goodreads' existence quite well. The older the book the larger the number you would need to multiply the ratings by to get the sales. Thus two fantasy books published in the early 2010s could have their sales compared with some confidence via ratings numbers.

It is NOT the case that much older books can be compared to newer ones in this manner. Stephen Donaldson (for example) has certainly sold 10x my numbers, but did so largely in the late 70s. His relatively low number of ratings is more an indication of how many people are reading those books today, combined with how many people remember them etc. The fact that Tolkein can still sit near the top is testimony to the spectacular and enduring success of his work.

So, with all that said - here's the data:


Monday, 12 July 2021

10th anniversaries!

Today, as well as being my dad's 81st birthday is the 10th anniversary of A Dance With Dragons' release. A series I got my dad into reading.

I reviewed ADWD for the Sunday Express (UK national newspaper), again - thanks to my publisher for the gig - and my review ended thusly: "Turning the final page you can only be disappointed . . . to find it is the last, and you’ll immediately want to reach for the next volume. And there maybe lies the rub."

I have very positive memories of ADWD, not least because my UK publisher gave me a huge boost by giving away 1,000 copies of Prince of Thorns with ADWD copies bought in Waterstones. ADWD marks the start of my publishing journey, and Prince of Thorns celebrates its 10th anniversary at the start of August (pre-order your 10th anniversary edition while there are some left)

I'm still keen to read Winds of Winter, but there's plenty to keep me busy meantime.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

A blog post about the blog!

Over the years the site that hosts this blog (Blogger) slowly changes the tools it offers to oversee things.

For example, the traffic monitor has a new look:

3,620,000 visits ... not bad!

It also shows you more of your most popular pages. And it's fair to say that the SPFBO has come to dominate my blog traffic! This is the all time popularity chart. The SPFBO homepage top of it with 61,800 view to date.

However, for the interested - here are links to my most popular non-SPFBO blog posts, ranked in order.

The biggest fantasy debuts in the past decade!

The World's Best Selling Fantasy Books

Grimdark. We're nailing it down!

Anatomy of a burglary - a four-act play.

Leading causes of fantasy deaths.

Towering Fantasy

Covers. (with a mere 15,000 views)

Friday, 9 July 2021

Out with the old, in with the new!


You don't want to bother with any of the 100s of other posts on this blog, they're old, what possible interest could they have?

"Out with the old, in with the new." is a line revitalised in the 70s film Logan's Run, but which possibly originated with a Scots clan leader kicking his mother out of the house and moving his mistress in.

I'm motivated to write this post after seeing a struggling author post:

"I sorely wish I could figure out the secret behind this book business. I have five. Yes, they're older; no, they're not widely read, for the most part (IMO, the first two were more widely read than the last three). But, no one NOW wants to read them because they're old, even though they've not read them? "New stuff! New stuff!" is the mantra most gurus chant . . . but if the old stuff is new to multitudes, why not promote that?"

One of my newer acquisitions & one of my older ones. 

On the face of it his bewilderment at the obsession with the new is reasonable. There are more than enough fantasy books out there to keep a fantasy fan happy for the rest of their life if publication of new ones stopped today. A hundred times more.

Here's a thing that basically never happens: A book that only managed to reach a small readership is rediscovered years later and takes off. We do have sleeper hits where a book will build momentum, but they are rare. We don't have resurrections where a book that stalled then bursts into life years later.

The only counter example in fantasy I can think of is Senlin Ascends, and there were special circumstances around that. Basically, the only chance for a book to break big is when it's first published.

This obsession with the new is actually great news for new authors. Without it, becoming a (temporarily) successful author would instead of being really really really hard would be struck-by-lightning-seven-times hard. But why is the obsession there? Couldn't we all live happily off the fantasy already published?

The answer (my answer anyway) is several-fold.

1. Reading is a social activity. When you read new books you can be sure that there will be a rush of other readers who have just read that book and have it fresh in their mind. You can share your excitement of discovering new characters and story with others in the same position. When you broach the subject of the book with new people they will either have just read it - leading to good discussion - or you can introduce them to something they don't know about. You are the explorer on the cutting edge, finding the good stuff to shout about to those following on.

2. Publishers put their marketing effort behind new books - they generate buzz and excitement around the latest titles, sucking readers in. The new books replace the old on the bookshop shelves.

3. Fantasy does change. Some books are timeless or almost timeless. People will continue to read Lord of the Rings for many decades. Maybe people will be reading it a hundred years from now or in the year 2200. But fantasy as a whole changes as the society whose interests are reflected in it changes. Readers today may be looking for the social issues of the day to be echoed in the fiction they consume. There has been a substantial move towards diversity and representation in fantasy. An LGBTQ reader or reader of colour wanting to see themselves echoed in their favourite genre would have to work much harder to find a fantasy book from the 80s that met their requirements than from the more recently published examples.

So, as much as it pains me to know that the books I've written which are now out of nappies, and may even be eyeing secondary school, are, by the nature of the beast, of slowly waning interest to readers, I can't rail against the system or its logic. The world rolls on and almost nothing leaves a mark. Popular books become less popular and are forgotten. It takes a truly extraordinary book to hold the public's attention for generations. The fact that there's so much interest in the 10th anniversary edition of Prince of Thorns is of great comfort to me, but I have no illusions that my (hypothetical) grandchildren's generation will be reading about Jorg, or even have heard of him.

Tempus fugit.

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Friday, 2 July 2021



I'm published in Iran - these are the covers for The Red Queen's War trilogy.

Some interesting and related facts:

- Iran's laws allow publishers to publish my work (and that of other authors) without permission and to give none of the proceeds to the author.

- Despite that, the publisher of these books did seek my permission and offered me an advance payment and a contract for royalties.

- The US sanctions against Iran are far reaching and it's unclear how they affect books. I have seen accounts of US artists aggressively pursued by the US authorities over 'trade' with Iran.

- I'm a dual national US/UK.

- I did not want to unwittingly break any laws. The sums involved were certainly not worth the heat.

- I refused payment and contract and said that I had no problem with them sharing my work.

- Another Iranian publisher is due to publish One Word Kill. I said that it would be nice if any money, that might in happier circumstances come my way, could go to an Iranian children's charity.

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Sunday, 20 June 2021

Copyright Exhaustion - I'm tired already...

 My UK publisher sent me an info pack which starts with the page shown here:

I replied to say that I would do what I could - post on social media as they suggested, write to my MP etc but that it would be very hard to motivate the readership to act. 

The simple version: Proposed new law would allow UK retailers to import books from other countries to undercut prices here. So, for example, US editions of my work, or English language copies intended for sale in India could be shipped here.

What's the problem, you ask? Well, the minor issue is people complaining when the cover / size / punctuation doesn't match their UK copies. The major issue is that the publishers estimate a 30% loss of income to both them and to authors. 

The problem with the problem is that it can be summarised as "cheaper books". And whilst this characterisation misses the longer term impact on the UK publishing industry and choice and quality, it is simple to get hold of and appealing to readers. People in general won't go the extra mile to look into complicated issues, and I felt that this headline interpretation would sink any effort to fight the new law.

I posted the page above on a Facebook group for fantasy writers. Of the 83 writers to see the post only one bothered to comment... If it's that hard to interest writers in the matter, then what hope to motivate the public to push back against the imposition of the new law?

My personal view is that when someone is selling something they made they should be perfectly entitled to set the price for that thing in any given market. Taking away that right has significant consequences both for the income of creators and for the infrastructure that delivers the product to consumers. With books this could mean yet more globalisation and the resulting loss of diversity and choice, even as the initial stages look like more of both those things.

In any event - I have brought the matter to your attention. Google should allow you to pursue it further should you so wish.

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Tuesday, 8 June 2021

My SFF shelves.

 New carpet went down - furniture was moved - and I foolishly reorganised our SFF shelves, which I'd alphabetised ~5 years before and which the forces of entropy had been steadily mixing up since.

Somehow it resulted in me needing to find 4 new shelves, which in turn required me to find homes for a zillion of my own spare titles.

Anyway, I did it! We have 20.8 metres (68.2 feet) of shelving dedicated to SFF books I didn't write. That's not including about 60 books my son's hoarding in his room, or the many children's / YA fantasy books on Celyn's shelves.

Here's a blurry video tour of those 21 metres.

And here are the authors we have 3+ books by

Abercrombie -- 3

Ashton -- 3

Asimov --10

Bancroft -- 5

Brett -- 4

Card -- 7

Canavan -- 3

Colfer -- 6

Collins -- 3

Corey -- 8

Donaldson -- 5

Feist -- 32

Garner -- 4

Gemmell -- 14

Goodkind -- 3

Green -- 7

Gwynne -- 3

Hamilton -- 9

Herbert -- 5

Hobb -- 14

Jemisin - 6

Kerr -- 19

King -- 17

Kristjansson -- 3

Kurtz -- 17

Larke -- 3

Le Guin -- 4

Lore -- 4

Martin -- 6

McCaffrey -- 33

May -- 10

McLean -- 3

Moorcock -- 34

Niven -- 4

Paolini -- 4

Polansky -- 4

Pullman -- 3

Pratchett -- 37

Rothfuss -- 3

Rowling -- 5

Salyards -- 3

Schafer -- 3

Scull -- 3

A.S Smith -- 3

E.E Smith -- 5

Sprague -- 3

Taylor -- 3

Tilley -- 7

Todd - 3

Tolkien -- 7

Weeks -- 3  

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Monday, 17 May 2021

SPFBO 7 - The Cover Contest!

Each year I run a cover contest for the SPFBO entrants. Each blog chooses its 3 favourite covers from their pool of 30 entrants. The 30 favourites collected from the 10 blogs are then voted on in separate ballots by the bloggers and by the public.

The public vote is of course a bit of fun and subject to all the issues of brigading and cheating that online polls often are - though our anti-cheat software is more effective than the raw poll results might lead you to believe.

We did this in 2020201920182017 & 2016 too.

Judges' Vote 

5 votes: 
Art by Miblart


4 votes
Art by Sara Argue

3 votes:


1 vote:


Gold Medal (166 votes)

Silver Medal (129 votes)

Bronze Medal (120 votes)

These covers got 100+ votes:

Blogger finalist choices:

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