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The Joys of Bundling Up

29 Apr

In my previous posts I told you all about the books and authors I was familiar with – but the great joy of book bundles is the opportunity to explore brand new writers (or at least writers new to you) at a very reasonable price.

I’ve already peeked inside all of the books included in the SFWA book bundle from Story Bundle and have to say I’m pretty keen to delve into them in earnest. For just a few bucks you can discover the best that Japanese SF has to offer, travel to our nearest stellar neighbour, find out the ‘real story’ behind UFO visits to Earth, settle a space station around Jupiter and make first contact with a potentially deadly alien race.

Pony up for the bonus books and you are in for an even bigger treat. From first contact to a world at war, from humour takes by some of the best writers in the field to tales of the outcast and underrated, from the promise of everlasting life to the threat of imminent death, this bundle has something for every taste – and moreover, something to remind you what science fiction can really do.

Indulge your sense of wonder and buy this bundle now (before it’s too late – one 5 days left).

What are you waiting for?

All Covers Large

Bundled Up With Strangers

23 Apr

My most personal connection to the SFWA e-book bundle of science fiction currently being offered by Story Bundle lies in the anthology, Strangers Among Us, edited by Susan Forest and Lucas Law. In part it is because I have a story included (Marion’s War) which I consider one of the best short pieces I’ve ever written (including the two stories for which I won Aurora Awards). More importantly, the anthology contains some of the most prolific and best known Canadians working in the field – as well as a plethora of newcomers. Many are good friends; others I only know by their reputations. I certainly felt honoured to find myself in their company.

My story, about an aging former commando who finds herself thrust back into an alien war, was inspired by my own experience with PTSD after witnessing the murder of Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the Canadian War Memorial several years ago. While my own case was mild, it helped me understand the struggles that many former soldiers face every day.

All of the stories deal with similar issues of mental health and alienation and a portion of the sales of the book are donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Despite the theme, this is not a collection of despairing or depressing stories. There is humour and adventure, sorrow and triumph, all the range of human (and alien) experience you might imagine.

Strangers Among Us is only one of twelve great science fiction books you will get for as little as $15US.

What are you waiting for? Buy it here.

Strangers_Among_Us_Cover_Final

Story Bundles

3 Apr

Aurora 004Winning or even being nominated for an award is a great thrill. I’ve now been nominated for the Prix Aurora Award (Canada’s fan-voted speculative fiction prize) 11 times and I’ve won three – most recently for the anthology Blood and Water, which I edited in 2012.

But the very best thing about awards is the company you get to keep. Virtually every significant writer of SF in Canada has either been nominated for or won an Aurora Award. I’m lucky enough to be able to count many of them as friends as well as colleagues.

Which was why I was happy to have Blood and Water included in a bundle of Aurora winning and nominated books now on sale at StoryBundle.com. It’s a great list of writers and books covering the gamut from fantasy to science fiction and includes novels, short stories and my anthology of Canadian writers.

The whole thing was put together by Douglas Smith who has been nominated for the prized trophy even more than I have. Doug and I do way back – to before we even met. We both sold our first story to Tesseracts 6, edited by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink. We didn’t meet until I moved to Ontario and started to attend Ad Astra, the Toronto SF convention. Since then we’ve maintained a mostly digital (though occasionally face-to-face) relationship. And I still recall the great dinner I had with Doug and his family when we were both nominated for Canada’s juried SF Award, the Sunburst Award. Neither of us won – but just like the story bundle, we were in great company. Doug’s book was a collection of short stories, Chimerascope, which was also nominated for the Aurora Award that year and is a key part of the bundle. Doug is a fabulous short story writer and his stories have been translated and published in over 25 countries.

Chimerascope Review

Robert J. Sawyer and I go back even farther; he likes to call me his writing student (which is true) but I was the one who hired him for his first teaching gig, out in Calgary. We’ve been great friends ever since (he was a guest at my wedding in 2003) and he’s one of my favorite writers. I have all of his books – most of them autographed – and I even appear as a minor character in his latest. Quantum Night. So, I’m obviously happy to be keeping him company in the Story Bundle. Starplex is a great hard SF story but it’s also a mystery which puts it right up my alley. It not only won the Aurora Award but was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula as well. Rob has been called the Dean of Canadian SF and rightly so; he has won 14 Auroras and been nominated another 30 times. I was fortunate enough to award him his lifetime achievement Aurora a few years ago – a nice trophy to go alongside his Hugo, Nebula and John Campbell Awards.

Starplex Review

In the coming days, I’ll highlight a couple of other old friends, as well as some newer ones – and two writers I only know through their work. In the meantime, why don’t you head over to StoryBundle.com and pick up your summer reading?

 

Some Thoughts on the State of Publishing

20 Sep

Everything has changed in publishing over the last few years. And nothing has changed. That is the only conclusion I can extract from all the discussion that has been filling newspapers, magazines and the blogosphere. It’s hard to make much sense out of any of it. So I’ve pretty much decided to stop trying and just do what I want.

The argument between traditional and self-publishers has become slightly less vociferous. Hugh Howey, the ultimate hybrid author who benefits equally from both forms of publishing but is generally seen as one of the great promoters of the latter, has even gone so far as to say that maybe gatekeepers – of the proper sort – have a role to play. That role is not to exclude creative authors but to help readers find good books.

Obviously if you write good books, you have an interest in having readers find them – not easy to do when as many 1,000,000 books are published each year world-wide. Particularly not easy to do when it turns out that social media is not a particularly useful way to sell books. Depending on who you talk to, social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter, can generate 0 book sales or a few hundred.

You might also have an interest in having people not be exposed to bad books. It’s why no-one really gives away their books for free anymore. People got so many free books that were frankly not worth what they paid for them, no-one believes that a free book is worth having.

Readers are the real issue. With current technology, anyone, quite literally anyone with access to a word processor and in internet connection, can publish a book. Writers and the opportunity to be published is not the issue – getting people (other than friends and family) to read your book is the problem. And it always has been. The reality is that the number of readers is not increasing and the number of books they each read is fairly stagnant. Over the last fifteen years, I’ve consistently read 35-50 books a year. All the extra books in the world is not likely to change that.

It turns out that word of mouth remains the primary way to sell books – and word of mouth doesn’t work on social media for several reasons. The first is filtering – no matter how many friends you have on Facebook or followers on Twitter, the algorithms that determine your news feed pretty much ensure that you only see a small portion of them and they, you. So when you tell people over and over to buy your book – you are actually telling the same people (30 or 80 of them) to buy it. It kind of gets embarrassing. The only people who seem to believe in the efficacy of social media are the people who own the companies and the consultants who want to sell you advice on how to do it.

The second is commitment. Just as many people will sign an on-line petition but would never go to a protest march, lots of people might like your post or your book page but never buy your book. The former is easy; the latter is hard.

The other tried and tested and still effective way of selling books is having people see them. Getting that to happen on Amazon is a mug’s game; it’s not even clear that Amazon understands how it works – though there are people who think they know and, who knows, they could be right. Still, there is nothing like having you book prominently displayed in a bookstore to get people interested. The best thing of all is to have the book on those carousels or racks by the front entrance. But of course, that only happens if you are prepared to pay for the privilege. Didn’t know that? (The same is true of banner promotions with on-line bookstores.) Thought it was based solely on merit? So did I – when I thought about it at all – until I became a publisher and lost my innocence (what was left of it).

What is an author to do? Well, it never hurts to go to bookstores and see if you book it is there. If it is, make sure you turn it so the cover, rather than the spine, is showing. It probably won’t help but it can’t hurt. But don’t bother secretly autographing them – it won’t stop the bookstore from returning the book to the publisher, it just means it can’t be sold to another books store. Do ask them if you can sign it and put a ‘signed by author’ sticker on the book. If they say yes, it means they are committed to keeping and selling your book a little longer – and may even lead to an invite to have a signing or event. Though don’t get your hopes up too high.

Probably the best thing you can do as a writer is figure out why you want to write. If it is to get rich or even make a living, you are almost certainly bound to be disappointed, even if you follow the advice of the super promoters and write four books a year or spend 20% of your time writing and 80% of your time promoting. Despite the success stories of the 1%, writers’ incomes are not only low, they are falling. That’s true of traditionally published writers and even more so of self-publishers. The way the pie is divided is less important than how big the pie is in the first place and number of slices it is being cut into.

There are other reasons to write a book. Some people quite literally treat it as a bucket list event. They write one book and then they are done with the process. In some case, like my day job boss, it’s a legitimate thing. At 72, his memoir is being published and he has no intention of writing another book but I’ve also had fiction writing friends who, after their first book was published and in their hands, said, been there, done that and have a book on my shelf for posterity.

Others want to produce art (yes we are all artists and should insist on being recognized as such – but there is art and then there is ART) – their goal may be to produce great literature, whatever that is, and don’t really care if they make a living or even if they are really recognized except by select panels of people (i.e. juries of major awards). If it takes ten years to write that great novel, so be it; I can teach creative writing to make ends meet in the meantime. Don’t get me wrong – some of my favorite books as a reader took years or even decades to write. There is nothing wrong with it; it is simply a choice. (On a personal note – I recently took five months to write a 9000 word story and I think it may be the best thing I ever wrote, but I may be in the honeymoon stage. I’m also fond of the novel I wrote in 3 days some 23 years ago).

Then there are people who write because, as they say, they have to. Without writing they feel unfulfilled or even ill. Or on a more positive note, they write because they love to write, they love to tell stories, they love to be a writer and to hang around with other writers. They write because it defines how who they are, in ways that other things don’t. Writers are not alone in this – lots of people feel that way about the law or medicine or carpentry or farming – but they do tend to be more vocal about it. They are always using their words – even when we might wish them to shut up.

It is pretty much why I continue to publish. It’s not like we at Bundoran Press are setting the world on fire. Frankly, most people have never and will never hear of us. We are getting some accolades and building a positive reputation among those who do know us. And we’re getting to publish some books that we are very proud of producing. Like most people in the business we are not getting rich – quite the opposite. As I like to say – how do you make a small fortune in publishing? You start with a large fortune and…

But I love the process. The work can be onerous at times but it definitely has its rewards. And there are far worse things to spend time and money on. And who knows, maybe right now in the slush pile is the next great science fiction writer waiting to be discovered.

So I guess I better go read it.

Be Silly

14 Sep

“He actually caught himself saying things like “Yippee,” as he pranced ridiculously round the house.”
Douglas Adams

We should all do this at least once a month. No serious writer should ever take themselves seriously. Laughter — especially at ourselves — is a scalpel to cut away the unimportant and reveal the deeper truth.