Reaching for the Stars

A question many writers ask themselves is: how much do reviews matter?

I noticed something curious when I recently withdrew a novel I wasn’t happy with, and also had some spare time to rewrite. The book could best have been described as an interesting failure, problematic in its creation. So I’d given up finding a traditional publisher and went with Lulu.com as well as putting it up on various other sites as a free download. Anyway, checking the Amazon UK page I was surprised to see there’d been nine reviews of the book, averaging 3 stars. So did that suggest mediocrity, or something more interesting? I think most writers would prefer to think – given that average – some hated their work and some loved it. But there was not that smiley face bar graph. Ok, so there were way out concepts in the book, stretching the science fiction to the fiction end at times. I half expected there to be some negative comments about certain sex scenes that were not exactly conventional (although not especially graphic). None however. Frankly, it was That Difficult Second Novel where I tried to expand my writing range, where I’d got a little too ambitions. You aim for the stars and end up getting three! It is pleasing though that even ten people (1 US) were motivated enough to write a review of a free book from a relatively unknown author, especially those who seemed just a bit disappointed. Trouble is, when you write a blog about writing you build yourself up to be knocked down. At least that’s usually the British way. But I’d be the first to admit there’s always room for improvement. It’s a constant learning process.

Well, I’ve republished Time Over on Amazon KDP. The price can’t be set at zero but is as low as possible, for now anyway. Will be interesting to see how it fails this time. I know there are those who have an aversion to paying for a novel that hasn’t been recommended or passed some threshold of star rating. But any starred reviews are welcome – if they’re well considered.

http://www.amazon.com/Time-Over-Adrian-Kyte-ebook/dp/B00NXG4EQ4/ref=sr_1_1/185-3386155-5558339?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411929363&sr=1-1&keywords=time+over

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Time-Over-Adrian-Kyte-ebook/dp/B00NXG4EQ4/ref=sr_1_1/277-0911588-5459748?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1411929652&sr=1-1&keywords=time+over

 

Advertisements

The best intention of SF?

What are the best motives for writing speculative/science fiction?

If you think it’s to make money then you’re either deluded or already successful – though perhaps only enough that you can make the next mortgage payment. There’s usually better financial reward from writing fantasy, crime or anything that’s sold at an airport.

No, it should be for the love of the genre, right?

I think it’s important to explore a possible future without ignoring the present or the past; to show what can happen if things progress down a certain path. Or put another way: to describe a future not in isolation but at least have some resonance with today. For example, in a far future war my characters have to consider whether it is worth working with an old and deadly adversary in order to defeat something even worse. Being so far in the future there doesn’t have to be an obvious link to the present; it shouldn’t matter for the reader to see any specific connection to current events.

There is a space for alternate history/timelines, but I tend to avoid those, as counterfactuals are inherently problematic. In my case, bringing aliens into the mix can give a different perspective on universal themes; not sharing the same history they are unlikely to react as we would. I mean, how much of current strategic thinking is influenced by success or failures of the recent past? More to the point, what ultimately is sanctioned by politicians in response to their electorate’s [presumed] memory and lack of historical knowledge?

Anyway, back to the main theme. How many writers can honestly say they have kept true to their vision and not been swayed by some new successful breakthrough?

It’s never a good idea to plan your book according to some formula shown to bring financial success. I’d generally avoid anything where the author is described as the new [insert best selling name]. It might not be that they planned to emulate any particular author and just happened to be inspired by them – which is perfectly fine, if they can bring something fresh to the genre.

Publishers often prefer books with the potential for sequels – it keeps the reader hooked for the next one, guaranteeing further sales (in theory). Not so bad if the reader knows in advance that they’re buying the first in a series, and better if they know how many there will be. What can be irritating is when one book ends on a cliff hanger and you have to wait six months or more for the next, which is often more expensive, since the first is designed to hook as many readers as possible. I prefer a novel that is self-contained and can be read as a stand-alone, even if it means a bit of exposition of the previous.

Having these ‘best’ motives may seem high-minded and over-ambitious. (A lack of ambition in my writing is not some something I could ever be accused of.) After all, there’s nothing wrong with providing some good old escapism and entertainment.

http://www.adriankyte.com/

http://www.scribd.com/collections/4310244/The-Captured-extracts

Appeal of the Apocalyptic

I’ve always been attracted to apocalyptic themes in fiction; these stories have resonance going back millennia, most notably Noah’s Ark and the great flood, whose origin pre-dates the Bible to ancient Mesopotamia. This idea of some great force eradicating all of existence represents humanity’s anxiety of some grand punishment for its sins; but also there are those (especially of the religious persuasion) who find a certain appeal in the notion that all will be wiped out except perhaps for a select few, who then rebuild and repopulate the land. This has also been a common theme in dystopian/ post-apocalyptic fiction. There is even an aesthetic appeal in post-nuclear landscapes, commonly featured in games: Chernobyl from STALKER; the eerie beauty of Half-Life 2, or the headily atmospheric Metro (based on a novel) with its corroded and rotting remnants of civilisation.

Although I’ve not actually read those ancient stories or many of the modern equivalents I did write a story – a novel Time Over – on a similar theme, in which planet Earth is faced with annihilation. Being science fiction it is set centuries in the future; the reason for the impending doom is not made entirely clear but suffice to say that an alien race has taken issue with humans and created the ultimate weapon to wipe out all sentient or technologically advanced life, evinced by a spreading wave that erases millions of years from star systems in its path.  Meanwhile the people of Earth just go about their business oblivious to what’s heading towards them. Those few that are aware of the threat are persuaded to remain silent. But if they did try to tell the people, who would believe them?

So if we are faced with some catastrophe of biblical proportions and can do nothing about it, is it worth worrying?

Time Over is free to download: http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/31889/time-over-limited-edition-free-version

My website: http://www.timeover-sf.com/

Making that breakthrough

If the first rule of blogging is check carefully what you’ve written before publishing, then the second should be: double-check if it was done late at night.

And if you’re sending off a manuscript submission you’d probably quadruple check. Yet it’s amazing what mistakes slip through. I often am of my own, and I think I’ve learned to be careful!  Anyway, I might give my thoughts on the submission process (to agents & publishers) in a future post.

But let’s assume you’ve completed the novel, with all the basic errors eliminated. Typically, In the process of writing, it’s been enthralling but troublesome in varying measures, and in the darkest days seemed as if it would never be finished. Then (after [insert number] rewrites) it is finally ready to be released to an unsuspecting world. And with the myriad of free self publishing opportunities it can be. Only problem is it won’t sell, or at least only achieving numbers that barely reach three figures, unless you’re one of the rare exceptions – which has more to do with gaining a following, hitting upon some Zeitgeist whereupon interest snowballs. But more likely it’s your mood that will resemble fifty shades of grey (heading nearer the black end) than sales; and if you’re writing SF, that’s a uniquely tricky proposition. Of course giving it away is far more likely to generate interest. I write from experience here. But to have a realistic chance of making money from your labour of love there’s still only one sure route: The agent.

With the second (and hitherto unsuccessful) attempt at publishing, I’ve become obsessed trying to second-guess what a publisher – or in the first instance an agent – is looking for: their filter process. Now, if they are having to apply some quick criteria to deal with the welter of submissions the process might as well be done by an AI. Let’s see … Previously successful idea+variation, at least enough to give a new spin on the genre Zeitgeist, which can be described in a back-blurb length; opening chapter that does not contain lengthy description (esp world building or biography) but instead either an immersion into an action scene or a character; plot driven by character rather than a concept; no switching POV without a clear break of paragraph; no author intrusion or omniscience; no red herrings or loose ends that are never tied up; no false cliff hangers; SF esp: no deus ex machina style contrivances; no concepts which lack any basis in contemporary science; no scenarios without any bearing on real life situations, or cannot be related by analogy, metaphor or allegory. And there’s probably much more needed to add to the programming. And you’ll notice the filtering would mostly be done through negative criteria.

Anyway, it’s likely I would fail on that test. But then good writing is not about adhering to a strict set of rules, even if it is about having an awareness of them. I can think of some great/acclaimed writers who break the rules, except their talent lies in knowing how to break them, and previous success gives them the confidence to do so. And confidence comes from finding a [writing] voice readers like but which is not pandering to some perceived market-oriented populism. So, of course, you can write something great and it will get slammed (check out Amazon reviews of classic acclaimed novels, or Booker winners) or simply have your work dismissed. Above all it’s about garnering interest. Many flawed novels can be interesting and valuable; I tried to analyse one, only to find smoke and mirrors, but the illusion was enjoyable.

So, yes, something does need to change in the publishing industry. In the meantime, there’s only the frustrating waiting process and the uncertainty of never knowing where you went wrong. Sounds like a publishing dystopia!