I came across two articles this week which had me doing what I always tend to do – stepping back to analyze, search for connections, and find the bigger picture. At first glance, these two articles are about completely different topics. Together though, they have interesting implications.
The first is an article over at The Guardian hailing the self-pub mega-sellers and their ability to cash in on markets once dominated by trad pub. It’s been circulated widely throughout self pub circles in a highly positive light – as it should be. There are some seriously talented writers out there who have also learned how to grab a complicated and fickle business by the horns and tame it to their will.
That is a feat worthy of an epic. A renaissance for publishing. How can any of this possibly spell doom and misfortune?
The single quote that stood out for me most was this:
“For an industry that is supposedly the playground for risk takers, it is a sad thought that self-publishing may in the future be dictated by the same thinking that drives the traditional publishers: prioritising risk avoidance over experimental and unique writing, always scrambling to keep up with rivals by pumping out imitations of every “surprise” success: Gone Girl, Fifty Shades, The Da Vinci Code and The Girl on the Train.”
If you’ve been following along on my sporadic blog posts, you’ll know I fully agree with this sentiment. Why go around the gatekeeper only to lock yourself in the same pen?
I realize at this point many are going to dismiss this as literary snobbery. But I hold no grudge against anyone who chases after the market. It makes perfect sense and is about the only way you can call this grind of rejection and fleeting success into a pay-the-bills career.
As I talked about in my last post, there’s been a big push toward this very thing in the speculative fiction markets in particular. Self-pub writers are laser-targeting markets and churning out books faster and faster in an attempt to stay relevant in both the minds of readers and in eyes of the mystical Amazon algorithm.
Everyone wants to share in the same success as the authors profiled in the Guardian piece. Millions of books sold. Buying houses with cash. I absolutely would not turn that down.
But then there’s this article from the MIT Technology Review: Experts Predict When Artificial Intelligence Will Exceed Human Performance. In it, they predict an AI will pen a NY Times Bestseller in less than 40 years.
Yes, I know, these are predictions. Prophesy. There’s no reason to believe they’ll ever come to pass. But it was just last year a Japanese AI passed the first rounds of judging for a literary prize. So is it that far-fetched?
If this is even a remote possibility, and I believe it is, the first to fall will be formulaic fiction. It’s this type of story which is most conducive for humans to hammer out on their keyboards in a few weeks. Establish a few guidelines, make an algorithm, maybe even one which Amazon itself creates using it’s proprietary data to predict market trends, and then set the processors loose.
You’ll never write faster than they can.
UPDATE: CS 2 will be available June 27th at all major online book retailers!
Join the list for all the details!
If you’re on my mailing list, you’ve already seen this gorgeous piece of art from Johnny Morrow. (And if you’re on the VIP list, you got a peek behind the scenes at some of his concept artwork.) I can’t say enough about how pleased I am with the end result:
Edits are coming along nicely. My VIP members should receive their Advance Reader Copies within the next two weeks. The full release will be available during the final week of June and I’ll setup a pre-order in the days to come.
I’m excited to share Spencer’s latest adventures with you. If I had to admit, this one drifts a little closer to the tried and true tropes of superhero fiction. Spencer’s still Spencer – crass, impulsive, but ingenious. This time though he’s surrounded by Augments and not locked in a bunker alone. It’s a Mr. Robot meets the Avengers sort of gig.
As always, there’s a subversive little twist and the real focus is the normal people caught in the path of these weaponized humans. And the setup for Crimson Son 3 is cuhraazy.
Yep, there will be more.
As Eric would say: “Buckle up bitches.”
I’ve been wrestling with several publishing related issues lately (What do I mean lately? It’s become my life). Trying to get a feel for the market and how to reach the right audience with fiction which is professional, yet not written directly with “the market” in mind.
It’s a daunting task and flies in the face of all the advice an author receives – write to market (or at least a market – subverting genres isn’t the smart money move), find your niche before you even set pen to page, build a following.
I simply want to write stories and I’m aware that isn’t quite enough.
Lately, there’s an explosion of fiction on Amazon. An entire wave of authors are following the latest advice craze telling them to release as often as they can, as fast as they can, all in order to stay fresh in readers’ minds but also to stay on top of Amazon’s algorithm.
That elaborate puzzle has become a singular rite of passage. A holy riddle which every writer must seek to unlock and navigate if they are to ever make it in this brave new world. Thing is, I’m not entirely sure it is shaping a future I have a place in.
I’ve had decent success, don’t get me wrong. I’ve moved thousands of copies of my books. But I’m still running at a loss as I try to keep my production at professional levels and provide the kind of story I, as a reader, would like to see. Those kinds of stories take a lot of time. Deceptively dense, re-readable, and something more to be savored than devoured, I’ll likely never throw one together in a month or two.
Every time I stumble across a self published author doing exceptionally well on Amazon in my genres, I start to dig around. Knowing the paths others took to their success is supposed to be both informative and, in a sense, reassuring. If they did it, I can too.
Aside from blistering publishing schedules, most have one other thing in common – an audience built somewhere else and unleashed on the Amazon algorithms. Frankly, the end result of all this is that the quality of the product has very little to do with their success.
This is why the science fiction and fantasy lists on Amazon have become something of a clearing house for fan fiction. These writers very often draft their stories in open forums, build up supporters, and then publish straight to Amazon.
Another tactic (the one I’ve been experimenting with) is to build a mailing list. This entails essentially buying subscribers. You either give away product, pay for ads, or find other means of directing traffic to your subscription page. Eventually you have a mass of readers large enough to register a blip on those all-important algorithms through purchases and reviews.
(Yet, Amazon will squash reviews it deems from sources close to the Author. Many suspect they are trolling authors’ social media profiles for links though evidently they aren’t scouring Fan Fiction forums.)
There’s nothing wrong with either tactic. Both are legitimate ways to build a fanbase. What’s wrong, in my opinion, is that the effort often seems to stop there. Gather your loyal, uncritical horde, point them at the Amazon puzzle, and you’ve got no need to ever grow as a writer. Editing? Only if they care (and they mostly don’t). Professional covers? For those books created on fan forums, all your supporters have already seen it with the stock image you slathered with Papyrus so why bother?
Some might say I’m lamenting the loss of gatekeepers – which I’m not. I’m all for open expression, unfiltered creation, and the wild freedoms self publishing allows. But I do have to wonder, isn’t there a new gatekeeper in town? And how much of writing is about stories anymore rather than monetizing relationships?
I definitely don’t have the answers. Maybe those two things are one in the same or always have been. However, it seems clear the traditional path has been inverted in a terrible and wonderful way. Fans are in charge of your fiction, their whims writ large by an algorithm which can be as arbitrary as it is inscrutable.
None of this is news. These are (and have been for some time) the days of the crowd. Funded, written, backed, kick-started. But how long before they figure out the behemoth that is Amazon is just in their way?
Want to talk fantasy with me?
This weekend myself and twenty other fantasy authors will be taking over Kevin Potter’s Facebook Page. We’ve formed a fellowship of sorts. Originally, there were nineteen of us with works forged by elven smiths. Naturally, a twentieth (ahem) had to come along and try to take over. I’m going to have to ask for one of you to carry the burden.
Yes, before the day is through, one of you will bear the One Ring.
Come join us for paperback giveaways, discounted books, and games a plenty. I plan to giveaway both my Ring of Power -and- a free paperback copy of Pilgrim of the Storm! I’ll be making my virtual appearance at the following times:
**TIMES HAVE BEEN UPDATED***
12 pm CST
5 pm CST (Get packed for your trip to Mordor – The One Ring giveaway happens from 5-6!)
The link to the event is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/268384733565040/
I look forward to getting the chance to chat with all of you.
Or maybe you’d rather read the latest Superhero Fiction?
You’re in luck ’cause I got both! Fans of Crimson Son and Empty Quiver, check out this great collection of FREE superhero fiction. It will be available through the entire month of May but don’t wait too long. You need to devour these and have your reading schedules cleared for Crimson Son 2!
As always, thank you for your interest in my fiction. Make sure you’re following my Facebook Page for the latest on the event.
Reception of the Stormblade Saga has been good so far – most reviews falling around four or five stars. I’ve given away hundreds of copies of the first book, Pilgrim of the Storm. It’s an inexpensive marketing tactic for us independent publishers. As a relative newcomer to the well-established world of fantasy and science fiction, it lets the reader sample my style and decide if they’re off-kilter enough to carry on.
One thing I hoped to do with the saga was subvert the normal genre conventions like with my Crimson Son Universe superhero series. Tweak those expectations traditional publishers have drilled into you. It’s a risk for sure, but I wouldn’t be publishing independently if I wasn’t willing to take them.
The primary protagonist in the Stormblade Saga is a bug. Humanoid, so the territory isn’t completely unfamiliar to the reader, but there are complexities you may not notice at first. He emotes with his antennae, mandibles, and even his wings. There are no muscles in his face to form a smile, so he spreads his jaw wide – much to the horror of strangers.
He isn’t a hero. He isn’t even very sure of himself. Born in a human temple and raised by a kindly yet brash mentor, he’s even confused as to what he is. I fretted over the opening scene quite a bit because it isn’t evident immediately what Sidge is but it was necessary to share his identity confusion from the start. It’s perhaps the crux of the entire Saga.
Kaaliya, who emerges as a secondary but equally important protagonist is a female – another rare thing in traditional fantasy. Strong, resourceful, and confident, she’s everything Sidge isn’t. But he needs her and she needs him to complete this epic journey. It’s the balance of the scales of creation weighted long before the daily political rants in your Facebook feed or squabbles over literary trophies. She wasn’t added to satisfy a quota. She’s there because the story needed her and she stands strongly on the page as her own character.
There are other oddities about the world which may or may not jump out at you while reading:
The world has no name. This isn’t an oversight, it’s intentional. At best, the known lands are referred to as the Attarah’s Realm. But at the heart of things, this is something of an ante-deluvian tale set in a stagnant world with a future yet to be written.
The setting is a mutt. To borrow a phrase from board gaming, I’ll call it Ameritrash Fantasy. At the risk of being accused of cultural appropriation, I’ve taken my influences from Indus River Valley civilizations in everything from setting to plot. However, the characters, the dialogue, should be easily recognizable to a Western audience.
The people have no formal written language. You won’t see the typical references to scrolls, books, or any written work. In fact, I did my best to avoid any even descriptive words such as “papery” (I did allow myself “inky”, twice.) Why? There is no known system of writing in the Attarah’s Realm. The Mantras are just that – spoken phrases passed down generation to generation.
Magic is, well, complicated. Magic appears to follow both set, natural rules and it doesn’t. The copper and other conductive metals on the roofs of the Cloud Born’s wagons for instance. You could almost explain away storm calling magic as accidental science. But then, the Cloud Born also seek visions by bathing themselves in lightning and appear to call it directly from the source – the massive storm-riding dragon god, Vasheru.
It’s an odd entry in the fantasy shelf, for sure. With the alien race of the Ek’kiru, (explored more in Forge of the Jadugar) it maybe even incorporates a touch of science fiction. Plus, as you’ll see in Wake of Alshasra’a, the conclusion has a very unconventional quest “reward”.
Odd, but a journey I know you’ll enjoy if you give it a chance. For now, the first book’s free! What have you got to lose?
We’re up and running with the Wake of Alshasra’a launch and I wanted to share some of the wonderful reviews that have shown up on the web or landed in my inbox (please, feel free to share these far and wide!)
This author has sketched out a world and a belief system…that effortlessly draws the reader into the pilgrimage and does not provide any exits!
A very different kind of fantasy – the imagination and creativity of Mr. Linton is fun to read.
It’s that good I’m finding it hard to articulate! I can see exactly why your editor was enamoured, no chance of becoming bored during a reread, at all, ever.
Sales have been good out of the gate thanks to loyal readers and I’d love an extra push if you could please pass the word to any fantasy-loving friends. I really appreciate any and all feedback and look forward to hearing reactions from more readers now that the full saga is complete.
As a writer this has been a pilgrimage of sorts for myself. Setting goals, maintaining a pace, and meeting deadlines is tough when you’re the only one holding yourself accountable. It’s even tougher when you embark on new projects, larger in scope than any you’ve attempted before.
The Stormblade Saga represents 226,365 painstaking words. There are nearly an equal amount of words strewn out and left behind along the pathways that led here. I’ve agonized over this particular story more than any other. It has come to symbolize a metamorphosis not only for Sidge, but for the world he lives in, and for myself as a writer.
When I first brainstormed ideas about this world with a close group of writing partners, I never intended it to unfold into such an epic tale. I wanted to write one book about a “bugman” lost in a world to which he didn’t belong but desperately sought the approval of. As I wrote, more details emerged, the world grew, and I realized it wouldn’t only take an individual metamorphosis to correct this problem, but a societal one. The entire Realm had to change.
Could be that this is a metaphor for something else. Our own troubled times where people are at each other’s throats over often superficial concerns. Where there’s an urge to cling to the past, even though rewinding the clock isn’t possible. Where we desperately seek enemies to direct our rage onto, ignoring common cause for the easy outlet of anger and the comfort of uncompromising tribalism.
But really, this is still a tale about a lost soul trying to find his way. Anybody who has ever felt awkward or out of place or is just plain different, will understand. Then again, we’re all unique, some of us just hide it better than others. And some have no choice.
It’s a common theme I play with in all my work. Individuality, freedom, and escape from the norms. It creates odd stories to be sure – insectoid protagonists lacking in confidence or powerless people fighting in the shadows of superheroes, but it’s all part of my promise: fantastic worlds, unique perspectives.
Of course these worlds would be empty without you, the readers. I’ve really enjoyed sharing the Stormblade Saga and the Crimson Son Universe with you, and getting your feedback. In fact, a member of my Advance Reader Team even suggested a glossary which I’ve included in the back of each book in this saga. For anyone who already has their copy of the book, here’s a PDF of the Official Glossary.
Thanks again for reading!
Recently, Ursula K. Le Guin responded to an opinion letter in her local paper where a reader had compared science fiction to “alternative facts” which a certain administration has offered as an explanation for the disparity between their information and that of the media. Le Guin stated, correctly, that the two can’t be compared. That people who offer “alternative facts” aren’t crafting imaginary science fiction, they’re simply lying. And they aren’t inventing these for entertainment or enjoyment. They’re doing it to fool, scare or manipulate others.
However, why do so many of us -believe- those “alternative facts”?
For a while there, “post-truth” was all the rage. The furor has died down but I still catch a mention from time to time. More importantly, it hasn’t died down because it has gone away. It seems to have died down because people have fully bought into the notion.
I think it’s wrong. If anything, we are in an era of “hyper-truth”.
Truth is religion’s province. You don’t question it, you accept it as fact. It has no rational basis because in order to accept it you don’t need schooling or the IQ of Einstein, all you need is faith. You believe it and it is immutably true. Forever.
Rationality is what drives science. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive though as of late, many have tried to claim they are. However the methods used which you arrive at the foundations of each are entirely exclusive of each other.
It’s what pissed me off so much about the ramp up of creationism a few years ago. Clearly, the practitioners of this belief were trying to start from a place of absolute truth and use science to work their way back to it. They did this because they felt the current scientific theory of evolution did not match their world view.
But science isn’t about truth. It’s about questions. It’s about understanding reality, not creating a singular definition of it.
So whose truth is correct?
By definition they can’t be. They’re not proven, they’re based on faith. Neither right or wrong. And that’s the damn problem.
It isn’t a problem that people hold different truths. The problem is we are hyper-truth. We are post-rational. Where everything down to the average global temperature over the past hundred years is a “truth”. Meaning data, rational discourse, and discovery don’t matter. What matters is what you believe. Where you’ve placed your faith.
We’re trapped, living our own fictions. We’ve ensconced ourselves in little cloistered worlds which confirm only what we want to believe. Used to be that only happened in church and then you left that sacred space and had to confront the real world, returning weekly to reaffirm faith. Now, it’s a full time preoccupation.
Blame it on the constant flood of connectivity. Blame it on poor schooling. Or a population confined to desks and cubicles, car seats and couches, most of their waking moments, oblivious to the real world. Whatever the cause, we are living our fictions and need to snap out of it, fast, before things spiral completely out of control.
Leave the fiction to people like me.