It’s been another good week around the book-blogosphere, and here are a few of the articles, interviews and so forth that stood out for me. We have Robert Jackson Bennett writing about characters; a two-part interview with China Mieville; Myke Cole shares 18 rules learned from his first year writing; Michael J. Sullivan reminisces about the last week’s Balticon; Chuck Wendig re-addresses self-publishing; and The Nation publishes its Amazon-&-Publishing special issue, with three key articles of note.
A nice article from the author of Mr. Shivers, The Company Man and The Troupe talks about character creation.
Where do characters come from? How do writers make them up? Or do they make them up at all?
Characters aren’t precisely “made up,” I don’t think. When we think of fictional characters, we imagine them as just sort of popping into space – they do not exist, and then the writer thinks of them, and suddenly they’re there. Something from nothing, in essence.
These two links are the two parts of Matt Staggs’ interview with China Mieville. Mieville’s interviews are always interesting to read (regardless of what you think of his novels), too, so I recommend you check them out.
Myke, author of the excellent Shadow Ops: Control Point, shares some things he’s learned over the past year. There’s a nice conflicting duality to the rules, too. It’s written with a light, amusing tone, too.
In this very good article, I am made even more jealous and disappointed that I wasn’t able to attend what, by all accounts, seems to have been an amazing convention. So many awesome people attended, and there seems to have been a genuinely fun, warm and friendly atmosphere.
[Sad, lonely plea: Please let me know if you’re going to be at Book Expo America. I want to join in some of this biblio-togetherness!]
Terribleminds: “The Ramble” by Chuck Wendig [Article]
In this article, Wendig takes another look at the self-publishing “with a little less, erm, invective on [his] part”.
“I’ve read many excellent books that exist only because the authors went that direction. I think self-publishing is part of what makes this time the best time ever to be a writer and a storyteller. I am, in fact, a self-publisher myself (though I favor a diverse “hybrid” approach). And in fact knowing self-publishers and being one myself is what makes me rail against the most poisoning voices. They may do themselves a service by getting attention, but they surely don’t do any other self-publishers a favor.”
The article discusses the status quo of publishing, and how the new wave of self-publishing possibilities and tools is starting to change the game, despite the status quo very much working against them:
“Some self-publishers do very well but plenty more find themselves struggling — and, in many cases, struggling with a beautiful, brilliant novel. Those struggling would likely find themselves reaching a broader, deeper audience with — repeat after me — reviews, interviews, awards, and rights. With those you would in fact reach more readers.”
I’m one of those people who errs very much against reading and reviewing self-published fiction. Partly, this is because of the crazies Wendig is so frustrated by, but also because I’ve had very few good approaches by self-published authors. Plentiful errors, impersonal contact, presumptuous comments (Wendig refers to these people as the “fevered egos”), and the like. I don’t accept these things from a “proper” publisher, why should I from an individual? A sentiment Wendig then articulated (better than I just did):
“They do this of their own free will. They don’t get paid. They’re out there spending time and effort (and sometimes money) to put their love of books on the line. They should have to put up with this… why, exactly? (I can speak to this a little myself. I get a lot of email from self-published authors and while many are very nice, I receive a not insignificant number who are pushy and assumptive and often at the same time offering content that is far below the bare minimum level of quality offered by traditional publishing. I have not gotten one such email from a traditional author.)”
Ok, I’ll leave you to read the rest of the article – it’s very good, and I always have to resist quoting the bejeezus out of his articles. As with pretty much everything Mr. Wendig writes. Get to it!
The Nation: “Amazon & the Conquest of Publishing” by Steve Wasserman, Michael Naumann & Anthony Grafton [Articles]
Actually three articles, which all go together for The Nation’s special issue about Amazon and Publishing. Anyone with an interest in the future of publishing, and the ways in which Amazon has had an impact on the publishing industry at large, should check out these articles.
- “The Amazon Effect” by Steve Wasserman – looks at the rise of Amazon, but located in the contemporary “history” of book-selling, by showing how first the chain-stores nearly killed the indie, only to be nearly killed themselves by Amazon. Then, Wasserman moves on to the eBook revolution.
Amazon, not surprisingly, is keen to sharpen its competitive edge, to use every means at its disposal to confound, stymie and overpower its rivals. It is well positioned to do so: the introduction of the Amazon Kindle in 2007 led to a startling surge in e-book sales, which until then had been insignificant. Soon it was not unusual to see e-book sales jump by 400 percent over the previous year. An estimated 3 million e-readers were sold in 2009, the year Amazon began to sell its Kindle 2, the first e-reader available globally. Bezos called the Kindle a response to “the failings of a physical book…. I’m grumpy when I’m forced to read a physical book because it’s not as convenient. Turning the pages…the book is always flopping itself shut at the wrong moment.” Millions of people agreed and millions of Kindles were bought.
- “How Germany Keeps Amazon at Bay and Literary Culture Alive” by Michael Naumann – Written by a former CEO of Henry Holt, and starts off with a rather unflattering reminiscence about an ad Barnes & Noble wanted to run, with the assistance of Henry Holt, otherwise B&N would only buy half the number of copies of HH’s next biggest title (Thomas Pynchon). Naumann then moves on to discuss the German publishing market, which I thought was quite interesting.
What I learned at Holt, albeit a little late, is that publishing and selling books in the United States was, and remains, a very different and far rougher business than in my home country of Germany, where since the late nineteenth century a fixed-price agreement between publishers and bookstores has defined a less competitive and highly regulated publishing market. The participants in this voluntary price cartel signed a mutual agreement: publishers set the prices on books, and bookstores abided by them. The arrangement resembled a prenuptial agreement between both sides, based on trust, notarized by a lawyer’s office and armed with expensive sanctions.
- “Search Gets Lost” by Anthony Grafton.
Nothing transformed our ways of searching for information more rapidly, than the appearance of Amazon.com, which was founded in 1994 and began to sell books in 1995… we could suddenly buy books – any book, it seemed, however small its print run – wherever we were and whatever time of the day or night.
Grafton writes rather positively about how Amazon revolutionised the way we bought books, and how we sought out the books we wanted:
Amazon did more than just make books available: it presented them appealingly, images of their dust jackets glowing on the screen, flanked by detailed and intelligent accounts of their contents, customer reviews and indispensable sales rank. Like the superstores, Amazon seemed to show that we had entered a new age of the book. And not only bestsellers profited—there was also the new model of the “long tail.” In the past, if a subject suddenly gained interest, a book about it that had been published a few years before would no longer have been on the shelves, and special orders took weeks or even months to fill. Thanks to Amazon’s huge warehouses and ubiquitous website, old books had the chance for a new lease on commercial life.
On the blog, it’s been another busy week. I offered up another thriller review (with more to come), this time for The 500 by Matthew Quirk (Headline UK/Little Brown US) a “review” of Redshirts by John Scalzi, to the tune of canine and feline emotions, as well as a proper prose-review (which was ‘surprisingly’ less-popular…) – a fun novel that should appeal to all fans of Sci-Fi TV. On the graphic novel-front, we had Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid (a very good, modern interpretation of the Superman origin story); on Tuesday there was my first collected DC New 52 review, for Wonder Woman Vol.1 by Brian Azzarello – my first experience with the character outside of the Justice League comics, and I was rather impressed; and also a review of Bill Willingham’s Fables Deluxe Vol.3 (another great addition to the series). The week’s interview was with V.M. Zito, author of the excellent The Return Man. And, finally, there was an audio-drama review, for Steve Lyons’ The Madness Within (Black Library).