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What They Read (Kids) May 11, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, education, ideas, iPad, sense of wonder, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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Discoverability is an important part of any author’s excursion through the profession. How do you get eyes on your work? A study on what kids in K-12 read makes for fascinating reading, especially when you dig down into it and find the youngest grades are more amenable to ebooks than other groups. I’d always said ereaders would never become commonplace until the earliest grades read using them. It has happened.

The report What Kids Are Reading is downloadable as a pdf and takes a while to go through.

Here are some of my takeaways.

Many of these books are assigned by teachers and, to my way of thinking, aren’t of much use to us as writers of VIPub original fiction. A student reading To Kill A Mockingbird as a class assignment is less important than finding that Hunger Games has found itself a high ranking over the past few years or that the younger students read Dav Pilkey. Those are hardly revelations but give direction to our hunt to garner new readers. One trend that seems obvious to me in the younger readers (pre 6th grade) is the number of “outcast” stories. The kids want stories in the little tailor vein, Heinlein’s ordinary person who overcomes great peril to triumph as an individual. Superheroes are ok (are we being force fed them?) but the kids read stories about solitary heroes and heroines, probably because they see themselves that way (a fight between Katniss Everdeen and Percy Jackson?). No super powers, just outcast and subpar and wanting to do great things. Stories of accomplishment seem to rate higher than those of ordering the kids to have self-esteem. SF looks important in this extracurricular reading.

As long as I have been in science fiction fandom, there has been the semi-joke about the golden age of sf being 12. This report bears that out when you look at the number of words read by each grade group (page 55). The sixth graders read the most. You might make the argument later grades are reading more challenging books and are therefore reading less due to the time it takes to wade through. Maybe so, but if you want to capture an audience and keep it, find what appeals to a 6th grader. By that age they have access to an ereader, are becoming autonomous and developing their tastes in reading, and probably have more money to spend on their epurchases than the authors writing the stories.

Mostly, I need to sift through this report and find what is being read for pleasure, then figure out how to capture some of the market.

Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 6)(collaborations) March 23, 2014

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This isn’t strictly about playing in someone else’s sandbox as much as learning to share your toys. For someone who doesn’t like doing collaborations it seems I have done quite a few. 16? About that. Mostly I go with the dictum: coauthoring is where you do twice the work for half the money.

An early collab was with Victor Milan in the 6-title series War of Powers. This one had a strange journey going from Playboy books to Ace/Berkley, but the best of the covers were in the twin omnibus New English Library volumes–the covers were by Chris Achilleos and rank with the best on any heroic fantasy book, any time, ever. The migration came about as Playboy dropped out of genre publishing but sales were so good Berkley nee Ace continued them.

I was doing the Cenotaph Road series for Ace when the first 3 Swords of Raemllyn books with Geo. Proctor were sold there. Geo and I talked over where we wanted to go, I did the synopsis, we rewrote it, I did the first draft since I wrote faster, Geo did a rewrite and then I did a final rewrite with him doing the page proofs. The process went quite well and we were able to talk endlessly about it. Geo lived in Texas, I was in NM. We both had Apple ][e computers and bought super hi-speed modems (4800 baud!) We swapped work via the modem, though a book took as long as 20 minutes to transfer, whereupon we would talk for another 2 hours about how techno savvy we were and how we saved so much money on postage. No matter that the phone bills were higher!

The first 3 Raemllyn books did so well, we sold 3 more. Ace balked at a final 3, but those sold to New English Library and never saw American dead tree publication. Unlike the lovely NEL covers for the War of Powers omnibus volumes, I thought these were all subpar. But they did ok in sales and the third omnibus with book #9 in it completed the series we had started ten years earlier.

Working with Geo was trying, especially when our ideas diverged, but the books came out a great fusion of his characters and my plots. And somehow we remained best friends throughout and after.

My other collaboration came with Matt Stover under not so ideal conditions (see the earlier blog about God of War 1), through no fault on either of our parts. His medical problems aside, it went well enough but the merging wasn’t as seamless as with Geo and the Raemllyn books.

Alas, Geo died before the Raemllyn ebooks were put up. It would have been fun doing more titles, with some of the old characters but new situations. We had an sf collaboration in the works, Forge of the Stars, but this isn’t a project that will go anywhere now. Time and science have left it behind. And without Geo, it wouldn’t be the same.

Do I recommend a newer writer collaborate? No. Do your own stuff. Do I recommend 2 authors at similar places in their careers to collaborate? Maybe. For fun. Then get to your own stuff. Always focus on doing your own work. (Remember, a collaboration is doing twice the work for half the money.)

To Demons Bound

Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 3)(game tie-ins) March 2, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, sci-fi, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, writing.
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Worlds don’t need to be created when writing stories in well-developed properties like Magic: The Gathering, MechWarrior and other RPGs since the history for such is already extensive. The trick becomes fitting a new story into an established world.

With Magic, the cards call the stories. I did a short story, “Festival of Sorrow,” for the anthology Distant Planes. The idea was to develop a story with characters that fit into the universe that, excuse the pun, played on the card. At the time I played Magic and loved the look of the Festival card. The story built around not a celebration but a warrior’s need for revenge–only to have the revenge stolen away by his foe’s untimely death. All this made for a story I still like a lot.

I also did a Magic novel, Dark Legacy,and this was more open-ended. Fantasy, exploration and the main character wondering why she lacked the charisma of a lesser rover. It turned out to be as much a story of fame and what this means as it did derring-do.

One of the more curious things that somehow happens and is beyond my explaining came to the fore with a MechWarrior book, Ruins of Power. Nothing went right with it, I put in 20 hour days to meet the deadline because of constant changes, and one day out the editor wanted a different ending. On schedule, I delivered a book well over the 90,000 words contacted–and got it edited down for length through such things as losing my dedication and buildup material. Still, the book wasn’t bad and fit into the BattleTech universe. However, it is my worst reviewed book on Amazon and, strangely, one of my best selling. This comes down to fame or fortune. I suppose fortune wins out since that pays the bills.

Finding the right characters that fit into an established universe makes these books sing and dance. I’ve done stories for Warhammer, Pathfinder, Vor: The Maelstrom and Crimson Skies and the trick is, as in any story, putting the character into a dangerous position. The difference is doing it in context with a wide and detailed background established by not only the game developers but the fans. It can be tricky. It is also a lot of fun.

Here is the most recent of such travels into an RPG/gaming universe.

Fate of the Kinunir, a Traveller tie-in novel

Fate of the Kinunir, a Traveller tie-in novel

Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 2)(God of War) February 23, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in fantasy, iPad, movies & TV, writing.
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Last time I told some of my experience with a movie novelization. Doing novelizations of video games might seem the same but I found distinct differences.

Matthew Stover was originally signed to do the novelization of the Sony video game God of War. Matt had medical problems and wasn’t able to work full-time on it. Deadlines loomed. The book was slated to get out near the release of the second video game. I was asked to ghost write the book but ended up doing a large enough portion that I got front cover credit.

I had Matt’s outline and a couple dozen pages of the “cut scenes” from the game. This was new territory for me and I built a story around those scenes. Oops, not right. It had to follow the actual video game more closely. The problem with this is a video game is almost entirely action. Fight, solve a mystery, use a clue and fight some more until the conclusion. This makes for a dull book although it makes for a great video game.

I had just gotten an iPad and found that any number of people had put their entire solved games onto YouTube. Running a few seconds gave me the look of the scene, not to mention solutions to the hidden clues and deciphered codes. I am a terrible gamer and would still be on the first screen if I had to play the game before writing the book. The video solutions were exactly what I needed.

But simply describing action is boring. I had to throw in some connecting material and did this through the interaction of the gods and goddesses that wasn’t in the game itself–but was implied. But adhering too much to the action and not enough to this background story gave GoW1 a stilted feel.

I was asked to do God of War 2 and more successfully balanced a backstory of godly (and goddessly) conniving and backstabbing politics with swordplay. Again I used the YouTube videos (thank you, “Raven van Helsing”) and saw how to give less action and more story. This melding of the two made for a book that kept interest for diehard fans of the game as well as showing them a bigger fantasy world to explain what’s going on.

Raven Van Helsong

Raven Van Helsing!

One of the unforseen benefits to doing the books was that I got to meet “Kratos” (or the actor who modeled for Kratos). I thought the cover/video artists had come up with a character out of whole cloth. Nope. Joseph Gatt *is* Kratos. (And don’t miss him in the upcoming Games of Thrones as Thenn Warg.)

A picture taken at the 2013 Albuquerque Comic Expo – Joe Gatt is the one on the left, if you needed such info.

Joseph Gatt as Kratos

Joseph Gatt as Kratos

Triage March 17, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, ideas, money, sci-fi, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
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Ideas are easy, developing them isn’t. Worse, choosing which to work on is even more daunting. I have a row of notebooks filled with ideas accumulated over the years and, as good as some are, I will never try to use them because others are better.

This segment of a Dilbert cartoon seems appropriate.

Did you ever have to decide?

Did you ever have to decide?

So how do you choose? Excitement has to be a factor for any writer. All you have in way of capital is time that must be spent properly. An idea that won’t let go of your imagination is a good candidate, but writing and rewriting it in your head isn’t good enough if you want to sell it to a publisher. Think of a Venn diagram of all the ideas you want to write and ideas that are salable. The intersection of the two sets is where you write. That’s not to say any other point in your “what you want to write about” set isn’t worthy. But to sell to an editor, that overlap has to be there.

Otherwise, VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) is the way to go. Do it yourself. Damn the commercial sales, full steam ahead! This opens vistas galore, but the money isn’t likely to be as good (face it, not every book is going to be 50 Shades of Gray, which, depending on your outlook, is a good thing. But I am talking sales, not content.)

So, traditional dead tree publishing requires that overlap in idea/commercial. That eliminates a lot of what is always kicking around in my head. For a year or two I’ve wanted to do a Gormenghast type fantasy but it doesn’t have the feel of something that would sell. But it would be great to write (from my personal standpoint). Likely, it’ll stay on the backburner until a mystery and an sf book, both dancing on tippytoe through my head for years, are done since both strike me as great fun to write and commercial. One way of deciding if an idea is “good enough” is the test of time. Does it endure in your head and even grow? Or do newer ideas supplant?

You’ve got to decide, then stick with it to finish the writing before moving on. Don’t be seduced by the Siren’s lure of a “better” idea or you’ll never see a completed story.

An Elephant Ate My iPhone! March 7, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in autographing, business, fantasy, iPhone, writing.
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Not *my* cellphone, but a woman at the Arizona Renaissance Fair had one of the pachyderms reach out, snatch her phone and chomp down on it. Luckily, it wasn’t a blackberry and tasted bad so the elephant spit it out. You don’t get trophies like iPhones with elephant tooth marks at every venue.

That was only one of the stories of the fair. But hitting the rewind button for a second, on March 3 Michael Stackpole and I autographed all day long at Lady Chamberlain’s Book Shop. I don’t know how many years we’ve been doing this but it is several and always fun. This year I went in costume borrowed from Scott and Pat. A picture (and that’s me in the middle, if you get that far–Chantelle stage right, Jami on the left. Thanks, miladies!)

2013RenFaire

Another odd story of the autographing. A group of five came up, saw that I was autographing God of War and figured I knew everything about mythology. “We can’t get a crossword puzzle clue,” said one. “What god married his sister?” Between Mike and me, we came up with Osiris. I’m not sure this is exhaustive, those gods being such rakes, but the answer satisfied the group. I hope they find a good name for their kid.

In spite of it being cloudy (or I would have suffocated in the heavy velvet pirate coat) I still sunburned a bit. The common areas are watered down in the morning. By afternoon the dirt had turned to fine dust that settled on everything, books and me included. That’s what you get with 17k people walking by.

After sundown and closing. Don Juan (of Don Juan and Miguel) invited us to his birthday party. Always fun seeing the behind the scenes people and how different their real personalities are from the on-stage persona.

Books were sold, fun was had, new people were met, fans spoken to (Taos Hermit and his family stopped by) and I’m already looking forward to next year and doing it again. [For those of you who want books autographed sooner and not in Phoenix, I’ll be autographing here in Albuquerque on March 30, 1-3pm, at Hastings Entertainment, 840 Juan Tabo NE)

The book that garnered the most attention from Ren Fair attendees.

Career Guide Your Job in Hell

Career Guide Your Job in Hell

You Don’t Have to Be Crazy, But It Helps February 28, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in autographing, awards, business, conventions, e-books, fantasy, VIPub, writing.
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Writing can be so strange. Sitting and writing is great, but no much else is required now. A writer is a small corporation, a business doing everything from thinking up the ideas to marketing them (I call this VIPub–Vertically Integrated Publishing).

I’ve spent the past month working on an sf book. It’s done, it’s sent out and when I get the okay, I will let you know all about it and the exciting project surrounding it. Since I spent most of January coughing up my lungs, not as much work got done then as I’d’ve liked. So, two months gone, only one book written so far this year.

Now that it is off to the editor, I had to catch up on other writing chores today. Updated my website. Wrote this blog. My accountant is asking where all my financial stuff is. Yeah, tax season. But then it’s always tax season when you need to file quarterlies and tons of other forms. This morning I went through a half dozen questions–Q&A–for an Writer’s Digest article on tie-in writing. Sent it off. Jeff Mariotte asked if I’d like to join him in an autographing at the end of March. Sure, it’s here in town, 4 miles from my front door and a block from the high school where I graduated, uh, er, a while ago. Looks good to get Ian Tregellis and Steve Gould there, too, plus some western fiction and nf writers. I sent out a bunch of emails and am happy at the response. Struggled with Walgreen’s over my online account, did too many mundane things like laundry and packing and…you get the idea. Not writing things.

But one writing thing I am delighted about was a fan letter from “Raven Van Helsing.” He’s the guy whose YouTube videos
I used as a guide for both God of War 1 and 2.

I had sent him a copy of GoW1. Here he is with it.

Raven Van Helsing with GOD OF WAR 1

Raven Van Helsing with GOD OF WAR 1

I’ll be autographing this, God of War 2 and Career Guide to Your Job in Hell at the Arizona Renaissance Faire March 3, all day at Lady Ann’s Book Shoppe along with the inimitable Michael Stackpole.

Stop by and see us. If you can’t make it, you can still snag the books here. Huzzah!

Scribe Award nominated novel

Scribe Award nominated novel

God of War 2

God of War 2

Career Guide Job in Hell

Career Guide Job in Hell

Been There, Done That…But… December 9, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, fantasy, ideas, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
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A couple years ago I came up with a dynamite idea. Super stuff. Still think it’s great but there’s only time to do so much, and this one has been sitting on the cerebral back burner. Imagine my horror when I came across other authors’ use of that very idea. How dare they!

Ideas can’t be copyrighted, of course, and I looked this “usurpation” over. It’s, let’s be polite, terrible. Nothing like the idea still churning away like a green chile burrito in the gut, only in my head. I may still give this a try, but it has dropped a notch or two on my to-do list because of possible perception I was just copying what has already been done (and not too successfully if the Amazon sales # is accurate, which I doubt, but that’s another story).

Harken back to 1973. I had gone to Torcon World SF Convention and had a chance to meet one of the greats in sf fandom, Bob Tucker. We’d written a few letters back and forth and he had done a couple articles for my fanzine (think dead tree blog with staples, if you will). I had the horrible, awful, sinking feeling I would be introduced and have nothing whatsoever to say to him–and vice versa. Turned out to be a misplaced fear. Tucker greeted me like a friend of a thousand years and the first words out of his mouth were, “I stole an idea from you!” What? How can that be? And we spent the next hour talking…like friends of a thousand years.

But he had only taken something I’d written and run with it in a direction I never considered. Therein lies the truth about ideas.

They are never unique. It’s how you use them in a story that’s most important. Last night a friend said that Steinbeck stole Of Mice and Men from a social worker. I couldn’t pin him down if he meant flat out plagiarism or simply using information about the Dust Bowl. One is completely different from the other. It’s hard to believe anyone could see such social upheaval and physical destruction without thinking what a novel it would make. Ideas are out there everywhere.

The old story about John Campbell assigning the same idea to 3 writers might be apocryphal but the punch line is worth mentioning. Two turned in stories so far apart in treatment it was almost impossible to figure out what the kernel had been. What you do with the idea matters. And what writer hasn’t read something and thought, “I can do better than that!” And with elements completely missed and adding a character, and getting rid of that annoying part, but I can…

You get the idea. Which is the idea.

frankernest2