Monday 27 November 2023

Goodreads Choice Awards - Best Fantasy 2023

THE BOOK THAT WOULDN'T BURN got selected for the Goodreads Choice Awards nominee list, of 20 titles vying for Best Fantasy of 2023.

This happened to my first dozen or so books, with a bunch of them making the finals (I think King of Thorns came 4th!), but it hasn't happened for a while, and the merging of the fantasy catagory with paranormal romance buried the chances of making the list for a lot of epic fantasy since romance is so popular.

(For the record my books have been in the Goodreads Choice Award category for Best Fantasy eleven times, once in the Best Science Fiction category, for One Word Kill, and miraculously I was even in as an artist! That was for Wheelmouse And All The Crazy Robots which I did with Cely and was included in the award's Best Picturebook category.)

Anyway, don't be mistaken: this is entirely a popularity contest.

I'm posting this late since the first round of voting has just finished, and I very much doubt I'll make the final ten.

This year there's a new catagory called Romantasy, that has sucked out a lot of the super popular romance fantasies from the Fantasy catagory and this (plus the success of TBTWB) has allowed me to sneak back onto the list.

Here are some of the nominees.

The reason I make a song and dance about the vote is that it's a great marketing opportunity, and when you write for a living, such chances are not to sniffed at.

Look at the impact of the contest on the "to read" stats of TBTWB!

I say this is a popularity contest because it's the simple truth. Very few readers will have read more than a handful of the 20 nominees. I suspect most will have read 0 or 1.

Thus people are going to vote primarily for the book they read, rather than compare across the field and vote for the one they thought was best.

Votes will be tightly correlated with number of readers, which in turn is tightly correlated with number of Goodreads ratings.

Below, I've plotted "number of goodreads ratings" for the 20 titles, and indicated TBTWB with an arrow. As you can see, it's one of the least read titles, and as such has almost no chance of making the final ten.

However, if it did, that would be big boost in visibility, and thus it's well worth motivating my readership to vote for the book.

Additionally, every vote appears in that reader's friends' timestreams on Goodreads and advertises to them the fact that their friend really liked the book. And that helps win me more readers.

So it's all good!

Technical aside: 

A final note on selection. It's a numerical thing, not a value judgement. Goodreads runs an algorithm that looks at 'number of ratings', 'number of "to reads", and average rating. It also applies a heavy weighting towards book 1s.

The weighting for "average rating" can't be linear since this year Godkiller didn't make the list despite having more ratings than TBTWB (~10k vs ~8k) and similar "to read" / "added" numbers. The difference in average rating can't account for the selection in a linear mannner, so clearly having a lower average hurts quite a bit.

So, that's it! Many thanks for reading the book, and for voting for it, if you did.

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Tuesday 14 November 2023


You can get Tom Robert's raw art in poster-sized A2 format on deluxe paper. There's a ton of detail that goes unresolved on the book covers and can be dived into in this magnificent image.

Here is my framed copy along side Tom Brown's uncoloured original for the cover of the library short story, Overdue. The coloured version seen at an unflattering angle on the carpet.

The massive picture is Jason Chan's cover art for Prince of Thorns.

Get your copy of Tom Robert's cover art here:

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Friday 10 November 2023

Goodreads Droop

I imagine that this post will only be of interest to close observers of Goodreads - primarily authors. So, I'll put the tl:dr here:

The average rating for books on Goodreads reduces swiftly as they get more ratings.

When a book has ten or twenty ratings, many or all of them might come from friends and family, and the tendency is for these to rate highly. The first few hundred ratings will often come from highly motivated people - they may be fans of the author, or interested in new authors, and are generally predisposed to be generous. So that intitial high rating falls but not too much.

Next come the general readers who like the genre and specifics of the book but may have no general good feeling towards the author, and rate purely on what's in front of them. Over the first few thousand ratings the average will generally drop swiftly.

Note: if the book isn't fortunate enough to reach a large audience then it may stall out in the 10s, 100s, or low 1000s of ratings, keeping some of its "inflated" average. Here "inflated" means "inflated compared to the rating from a wide readership".

Next a book encounters people drawn in by the hype, people coerced to read it by friends, people worn down by constant mentions of it. All of these people are minded to judge it fairly harshly. A hyped book needs taking down a peg. A book your friends won't shut up about ... well, you've your own mind, don't you? etc...

The decline continues slowly towards 10,000 ratings, and then very slowly towards 50,000. Eventually an equilibrium will probably be reached.

I noticed this phenomenum years ago and dubbed it the Goodreads droop.

THE BOOK THAT WOULDN'T BURN has seen the same pattern:

The rating a book gets will depend on how much people like it (obviously) but is also genre dependent. YA books score better in general since young readers have generally read less widely and have had less time to become jaded. They are meeting many things for the first time and are suitably impressed.

Literary fiction readers are often highly critical and low scoring.

And so it goes.

For a fantasy book written for adults (I put it this way since "adult fantasy" can evoke very different mental images) it is very unusual to maintain an average above 4.5 past 1000 ratings, though many books can achieve this below 100 ratings.

Given the apparent ubiquity of the Goodreads droop I urge you to be extra impressed by books like A Game of Thrones which has kept a 4.44 average into the MILLIONS, and by several of Sanderson's books that have kept averages above 4.50 into the hundreds of thousands. These are astonishing achievements when you factor in the droop.

Anyway - that's it. I just wanted somewhere to store this graph. Hence the blog post! 

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Sunday 5 November 2023

Line 1s from this year's SPFBO finalists!


This year's SPFBO has produced 10 excellent finalists, and in due course each of the ten blogs will read each of the ten books, producing a champion for us and ranking all the books with a score.

Judgemental? Yes. But that's what draws the eyes that self-published books need if they're to do well.

I thought I would take a look at the first line (or lines) of each of the finalists and give my thoughts on them. Since judgements are what people like, I'm going to order them to find which is my favourite, and then, totally tongue-in-cheek predict the order the blogs will score them based purely on this inadequate assessment.

So here they are in the order that their first line captured me. Just the first line. The second and third etc may redeem or betray the start, but my ranking is based on what leads up to the first period.

Note, that of course while all authors strive to make every line good, a book whose first line, paragraph, or page are not immediately hooking the reader can still sink those hooks to great depth over the long run and prove to be astounding reads.

The reason I focus so much on the opening in my analysis is two-fold:

i) it's easy to do!

ii) modern readers are so easily distracted that grabbing them early can be a very good strategy - too slow and many of them may bail on you.

The Last Ranger

Well, we have two parties. Silver fox + Hidden One. But not a lot else.

Pressing on we get some generalities before that pay off "a second life", which admittedly is a good hook.

Master of the Void

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Orimund Laetus shifted irritably in his high-backed wooden chair. There were many things in this world that vexed him. Too many to list really, but dripping rain gutters had to be in the top ten.

This one is copied text rather than a screen capture from Amazon because the preview on Amazon doesn't actually reach line 1 of chapter 1 (unless you count the song).

Here I break my own rule and do not count the "taps" as line 1 (or lines 1, 2 and 3).

I'm not generally a fan of two-name introductions. For a PoV it feels a bit distant. This is a very minor nit.

Most chairs are wood. Probably only worth mentioning what it's made of if it's something unusual. Like ham. And do we need space in line 1 to tell us it's high backed?

Pressing on a bit further we do learn that our man is an irritable sort. But being annoyed by a dripping gutter is not the most hooky of openings.

Daughter of the Beast

Nice to start in the middle of something, it's a good way to get to know the character/s, plus if it's a fight there's tension/threat there from the get go. On the other hand, it is a bit generic here: parry, blow, lash out, attack. Specifics are far more interesting. Show us. Put us there. Make it hurt.

Pressing on: I see we're committed to this fight. The underestimation possibly introduces tension. It continues to be a bit generic though. I don't even know what weapons they're using.

The Last Fang of God

An immediate threat. A sense of vulnerability (he's in bed). A question. Nothing super hooky or original in line one, but solid enough.

Subsequent line follows the focus. Our man has a knife in bed.

A Rival Most Vial

A solid opening having something in common with some of the others - an innocuous event combined with a surprising revelation. But it works.

Nit note on the two name intro again. I may be the only person on earth who feels this way 😀.

Pressing on: We get a gentle intro to the shop, quiet and peaceful. Which but for the first line could be said to be a bit dull and indulgent. But with the first line it's now playing with the reader who is waiting all agog to see who will come in through the door and is eating up the description in order to get to that bit. 

The Wickwire Watch 

This is a good, punchy first line. It immediately poses questions, and also carries a sense of humour with it. "Mr Bash" is a bit distant given we're going to immediately be inside this gentleman's head and be asked to share his aches and pains. 

Pressing on we see no immediate threat but learn that he is probably not a young man, and that the sense of humour was likely his, not the narrator's, given his entertaining thoughts on the cold.

It should be noted that the weather is not as great a scene setter as people think. And cold is weather. "It was a dark and stormy night." is a derided opener, not a praised one.

However, the cold is used well here.

Cold West

It's a general statement, but it's a good one. It begs questions because we immediately assume our character has met, and probably lost, the love of his life, and that he probably had/has a lot of "mean" in him. So already we're keen to meet him.

Pressing on: We conclude the saying with some nice bloody imagery which also builds the vibe. And then we're in first person, in the head of the person who met and lost their love, and who has regained all their mean!

Hills Of Heather And Bone

This is a good first line. It immediately gives us a fantasy vibe with questions about this death beneath the dirt AND it marries the idea to an unexpected spot of gardening. The ivy still gives us room to believe it might be a graveyard or something but the ... lettuce. Death and lettuce. Colour me intrigued.

Pressing on: we find the death is a mouse skull, and get more plant description. But there's a touch of macbre, touching the eye sockets, and then a necromantic connection. Feels original and begs questions.

Murder at Spindle Manor

This offers the other side of the Wickwire Watch coin. One arrives not knowing he's going to die. Here she arrives intending to kill someone.

Again, I find two name intros for PoV characters a touch distancing. Again, it's a minor nit.
I like this line for several reasons. I like the contrast of the specific formal opening, a precise time and place and name, with the open generality of intending to kill someone. Not a specific person. Someone. That begs all sorts of questions.

Moving on, rather like the Wickwire Watch opening, we get some weather (generally not a great way to open, though so tempting to do). But still, I'm here for the woman with her intention to kill someone!

The Fall Is All There Is

Another fine punchy opening. The threat is more specific than "going to die tonight" but it's also firmly in the past rather than the future, and less fatal. 

Pressing on: again, we're simultaneously gifted the promise of an amusing point of view, which is engaging. The image of the torture implements being displayed heightens the threat, and the self-depricating humour undercuts it nicely.

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Wednesday 1 November 2023

My first convention panel!

I went to Comic Con last weekened and sat on a panel!

It wasn't my first convention - I've been to Bristolcon every year since 2012, save when the pandemic closed it. Though I've never sat on a panel and most of those years I've not actually been into the convention, just sat in the bar immediately outside the doors and chatted with folk.

And it wasn't the first time I've on panel-like things. The three Grim Gatherings were essentially a panel, but with a dedicated audience and nothing else on the agenda.

But it was my first convention panel!

Comic Con is very different from Bristolcon. The latter is a one day affair involving a couple of hundred people. The former a 3 day monster where tens of thousands come through the doors, a great many of them in spectacular costumes, and almost all of them there for the comics / comic-based shows.

But Forbidden Planet run a stall, and along with the comics and graphic novels the chain offers books. So I was invited down along with Ed McDonald, Justin Lee Anderson, and  Esmi Jikiemi-Pearson to debate "epic fantasy"!

I normally say no, but since Celyn turned 18 we've had steadily more care since she is now technically an independent adult. And Forbidden Planet have been hugely supportive - stocking lots of my books and having me in to sign a ton of that stock. (go get some signed copies from them!)

So along I went.

The audience, whilst a vanishingly small fraction of the attendees, was also much larger than I'd faced before as an author.

(you should be able to make out Esmi on stage at the extreme right - the rest of us are out of shot)

They had very comfortable seats and I unintentionally ended up slap bang in the middle.

And after the panel - which flashed by with very little contribution from me that I can remember... There was a signing. My queue never looked more than 3 or 4 people to me, but I was sitting down and this is what it actually looked like! 😮

And here's me saying hi to a couple of folk at the front.

So, it was fun. Afterwards I circulated. There are a billion stalls, but most of them are pretty niche, selling art etc for a particular comic / show. Others sell T-shirts, costumes, and the sort of wonderful stuff that I always wanted when I couldn't afford it and now seem able to resist: goblets, skulls, mugs, swords, dice, funkos ... just loads and loads of brilliant tat.

I did happen upon two rows of free 80s arcade games, so I got to have a couple of very rusty games of Defender.

It was a good day out. Would I do it again? Maybe, if a star or two align.

Many thanks to Laura Dodd of Forbidden Planet for arranging it all, to award-winning author, Alwyn Hamilton, for moderating the panel, and to grimdark legend, author Luke Scull, for driving me down!

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