Monday, 29 May 2023

Horn Blowing!

I did a Youtube video on the necessary evil of blowing one's own horn in the writing game.

So this is a post where I'm doing that.

As an author the sizeable majority of publicising your books very often falls to you - and if you are a self-published author that becomes the entirety of the burden resting on your shoulders. Though in compensation you get to keep the biggest chunk of the price of each sale (above a certain sale price ... otherwise Amazon take the majority for ... letting you upload it to their site).

A traditional publisher can (if they love you enough) do things like getting your book onto the shelves of bookshops. And arrange stock signings. This one was on the day after the UK launch of THE BOOK THAT WOULDN'T BURN. I'm in the Bristol branch of Forbidden Planet and have, after 12 years, moved from their confines of a little staff room at the back to blocking customers' access to much of the fantasy section!

Ignore the fact that I chose to suck a lemon in the same instant author Luke Scull took this photo and focus instead on FP's book guru Laura Dodd (left) & shop manager Val (middle). 

The horn tooting here is that all of these signed copies appear to have sold! Fear not though, there are regular copies on the FP shelves across the country (and possibly some signed ones lurking). Plus, I will return to sign more, officially or unofficially!

But why boast about it, you ask? The implication being that my motivations are the same as those of any boaster.

Well, of course it's hard to decouple the commonly seen urge to boast from the commerically motivated variety, and I'm sure there's a mix at play here. BUT - there are valid, non ego-based, reasons for any author to blow their own horn.

i) It is wildly difficult to be noticed. Simply writing a great book is only a small step towards selling many copies of it.

ii) Success breeds success - people like to read books that other people are reading. In part it gives confidence that it will be good, but also it provides a community to talk to about it afterwards. Reading the best book ever, but never finding anyone else who has read it ... that steals some of the joy.

iii) Authors need an excuse to put their book in front of reader eyeballs, and "My book's doing great!" goes down better than pleading for lifelines to be thrown to your sinking novel.

Advertising is a big gamble, and for traditionally published authors (whose publishers take the sizeable majority of any sale) it makes zero sense to pay for advertising. So we're left with just trying to be engaging / interesting. 

Readers are generally interested in how your book's doing!

And in the case of THE BOOK THAT WOULDN'T BURN, I'm very pleased to say it's exceeding my expectations.

The Locked Library edition!

In the UK, THE BOOK THAT WOULDN'T BURN became my 3rd novel to reach the Sunday Times Best Seller list! 

It featured at #15 - my highest placing, and unlike my previous two entries (Emperor of Thorns #19 & Holy Siste #20) it didn't have 2/3rds of a successfully trilogy behind it to push its sales.

In the US, THE BOOK THAT WOULDN'T BURN had its 4th printing only 11 days after release. Books are reprinted when the available copies look like selling out. When people talk about 1st editions, they mean 1st printings. (Prince of Thorns is on its 29th printing).

I've never had a hardcover reprinted before!

Reprints are an indication of exceeding expectations rather than of vast sales. It might be that Harry Potter book 7 got only one printing but that they printed 10 million of them, vastly eclipsing the sum of all 29 printings of Prince of Thorns... But it's great to exceed expectations.

To recap - blowing your own horn is a necessary evil as an author. It's easy to overstep the line and move into "being obnoxious" territory, actually putting off potential readers. And part of the reason that's so easy is that everyone out there draws that line in a different place. Some will take the mere mention of the fact that you've written a book as too pushy. Others will need to be metaphorically beaten over the head with said book in order for its existence to register.

It's a minefield - and those are hard to navigate even without a great big horn to blow into!

The Broken Binding special edition.


Saturday, 27 May 2023

AI or not AI? That is the question.

We had a twitter storm spin up over the winner of the blogger vote in the #SPFBO cover contest. A "fun" minor addition to the SPFBO contest, which is, of course, all about the words.

The entry form asked each author 

 and any answer to the AI question other than "no" meant that the cover wasn't considered for the contest.

The author of the winning cover answered "no".

People on Twitter started to dispute that no with some vigour. The artist came on to confirm the 'no' and was called a liar.

I reached out to the author and artist for further confirmation.  I emphasised privately to the artist that if it was true, deliberately or through some mistake with the form, they should just come clean and we could all move on. But they were adamant that no AI had been involved. I gave multiple opportunities to U-turn on this.

The non-verbal part of the artist's confirmation had to wait on the artist getting home from work and getting access to their images.

So - we're at the stage in civilisation where an artist can be called upon to prove they really created an image. I fully understand why. It also seems reasonable that a non-professional artist at their day job could require a few hours to get home and assemble such evidence. So we waited.

Sean supplied a bunch of sketches and photos along with an explanation of how he created the cover using these resources and photoshop - he also supplied the many-layered photoshop file for the cover.

I showed those to the SPFBO judges and the 2,500 members of the SPFBO facebook group, and the overwhelming response was that they were convinced. Not one person said they were sure that it was AI generated.

So, around 1am I shared the link to this page on twitter. People there still weren't convinced. At 2am, in response to my increasing distress over the situation Sean removed the cover from the contest, and I was able adjust the competition result and get to bed.

I've woken up to compelling evidence that the cover was at least partly AI generated, breaking the rules of the contest. So, in addition to having been withdrawn, it's now also disqualified under the existing rules.

There won't be a cover contest going forward.

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Thursday, 18 May 2023

SPFBO 9 - 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.

We did this in 202220212020201920182017 & 2016 too.

Blogger finalist choices:

4 votes (61 public votes)

Artist: Welder Wings

4 votes (85 public votes)


Artist: Dawid Gardias

3 votes (54 public votes)

3 votes

2 votes 


1 vote

(from when the blogger vote concluded)

222 votes (zero blogger votes)

Artist: Jamie Flack

181 votes (two blogger votes)


180 votes (two blogger votes)