Return to Horizontal

Some time ago I wrote a short piece on a science fiction novel that stuck with me for a long time, and I'm enormously pleased to see it now republished after all these years as an ebook. It's Farewell Horizontal by KW Jeter (his equally brilliant Infernal Devices was recently republished by Angry Robot Books), and I recommend you buy it now.

Also, I got an advance copy of both Final Days (hardback) and Empire of Light in the post today, and they look sweet. 


Electronic self-publishing

I've occasionally commented in the past on the growth of ebook readers, but said little regarding the 'indie' ebook market, often characterised as a flood of crap with a few gems dotted in it. This is, of course, an oversimplification, as is its counter argument, that sites like Amazon and Smashwords by placing publishing power into the hands of authors are signalling the death of traditional publishing. But there are elements of truth in both, and it's far too early in the midst of continuing developments for me to want to make any serious attempt at predicting where things are going.

I've self published in the past. More than twenty years ago, when a wave of cheap desktop publishing revolutionized fanzine and indie magazine layout and production (in the process giving me and many others a career in graphic design and layout after learning how to use Quark XPress and Photoshop), I got involved with other idiots like-minded enthusiasts putting together small-press comics and magazines with an average print-run of 200 copies that, at best, made back the cost of producing them.

In that context, self-publishing was not only accepted, but even encouraged, and provided a test bed for up and coming artists and writers including Frank Quitely, a Glasgow artist who now draws big-title comics for DC like Superman. Twenty years ago, he was providing art for Electric Soup, a Glasgow-based small-press comic. More recently, I put a friend's unpublished novel up on Amazon and other ebook retailers. A similar DIY aesthetic has long been in place in music.

Even so, I'm leery of the unfortunate belief on the part of quite a few untested authors that the new wave of e-publishing means they can now skip past the towering colossi of publishing like mice past the feet of an elephant guarding the entrance to a cave filled with treasure and immediately achieve success. The idea that they might want to improve as writers or gain some level of requisite skill seems to have passed most of them by.

The real publishing revolution, however, is for authors who already have a professional track record. Keith Brooke, himself a seasoned sf writer for some years with bestsellers and movie options under his belt, has been doing sterling work with his new infinity plus ebook imprint. There are many other examples, including 'collectives' of writers republishing old material from decades ago. Norman Spinrad and - hallelujah! - KW Jeter have been releasing backlist titles onto Amazon. These are tried and tested craftsmen and women who now have the bonus of not having to rely on certain machinations of commercial publishing to keep their older work in print essentially for ever. And for me, that's the great thing about self-publishing.

And while we're on the subject of seasoned authors releasing their own stuff, you should head over to Bill King's blog and read about his own experiments in that area. Bill - a former member of Glasgow's SF Writer's Circle - is the bestselling author of several fantasy novels for Warhammer. More recently, he started a separate series of fantasy novels he describes as 'a gunpowder military fantasy about a world ruled by racist elves' with a hint of Lovecraftian horror. The books sold in several territories - but only in translation. For various reasons, English-language publishers didn't want to take a chance on it. As a result of which, he's selling it himself as an ebook on Amazon and elsewhere.

As Bill himself says:

"My German publishers decided they wanted it. So did my Spanish publishers. So did my Czech publishers. I signed contracts for a series. At this stage my agent had not yet exhausted the English language publishing options and I thought surely somebody will come on-board when they see  that its a series and all these other people are buying it. I was wrong.
My writing career took a very weird turn for the next few years. I was a very published writer– just not in English (...) it wasn’t that Death’s Angels couldn’t find a publisher in English because it was “unworthy” of being professionally published — it was professionally published elsewhere and by people who had to pay good money to have it translated. It just did not happen to be what English-language editors were looking for at the time it was submitted to them. Since the book very possibly has a limited audience, those editors made an absolutely correct decision from a purely commercial standpoint.
Given the economics of mainstream publishing, a book like Death’s Angels might not make back the money needed just to get it printed and editors have to really, really love a book before they will take a risk like that."
So there you go: the real epublishing revolution, in action.


Speaking of writing fast

As has already been commented on in many places, Steph Swainston is stepping down from full-time writing in order to become a Chemistry teacher and, presumably, to suffer the sullen stares and unspoken death threats of every English teacher/frustrated novelist she encounters from now until the end of time.

I was a little surprised when I read the article because to me, a full-time writer taking a step back from what can for some be a gruelling schedule isn't really news. And she doesn't even say she's intending to give up writing; she wants to go back to working at her own pace, which seems to me to make the article even less genuinely newsworthy. Even so, one can only wish her luck.

Personally, I'm on a steady, one book a year schedule, at least so far. Sometimes that can get a bit aggressive when I get close to a deadline, but having just come out of some very, very long days of writing over the past few weeks, I feel pretty good about it. Some writers write well under pressure, some don't. I'm one of those who do. The real question, of course, is can one write well to a deadline, or does a book automatically become better if it's been laboured over for a long time?

Sometimes you meet people who aren't writers, and find they've picked up the idea that  'great'  books are by necessity languished over for years, forgetting that many famous authors wrote at speed, and often to commercial requirements. But then again, there are plenty of successful authors who really do work best at a much slower pace. So, to answer my own question:  How long should a book take to write?

As long as it takes to write it.



Holy shit, that was an intense couple of weeks; up until Sunday night I was pretty much getting up in the morning, eating breakfast, then sitting down to write and - bar a couple of breaks here and there - finishing at ten in the evening. Not every day, mind, but enough of them to be notable, but as a result of which a finished draft of The Thousand Emperors is off to my agent and my publisher. The official deadline was July 1st, but I usually overshoot that by a couple of weeks. This time, I had to complete a draft faster than I ever had before.

It's a loose sequel to Final Days - which is out in just a couple of weeks in hardback - loose as in, I feel reasonably confident you could read it without having had to have read the previous volume. There are only a very few continuing characters, and the roles they play in 1kE have little relationship to their roles in Final Days.

At some point, I'll try and put together a reader-friendly synopsis of the story and post it here. Next book up is what I think will be called A River Across the Sky. It's set in the same Shoal universe as the three Dakota Merrick books, but is not related to those three volumes.


Draft finished

That's the final-prior-to-emailing-to-agent-and-publisher draft of Thousand Emperors finished. 114,000 words, started 25th October 2010 (after three months of planning and outlining) and finished five minutes ago on 10th July 2011 at about half past ten in the evening.

Of course, there'll be more editing later, with editorial comments, proofreading, etc etc.

There's less than a month to go before Final Days, my sixth novel, comes out. Thousand Emperors is a loose sequel to it. In a couple of months time I'll be starting the next book, which (unlike either Final Days or Thousand Emperors [or 1kE as I sometimes refer to it] is set in the same Shoal universe as my last three books.