My first series is complete! Woohoo!

As of today all four books in my Andoran’s Realm sword & sorcery fantasy series are available. (A four book series is called a tetralogy, in case you were wondering.) The four covers, which don’t exactly go well together, are shown below.

After writing 600,000 or so words of fiction, I feel that I am now a much better writer. It also means that the later books in the series are probably better written. But that’s how it is with a beginning author.

Even though this series is complete, I’m not through with Andoran’s Realm or the wider world around it. I’m planning another series that takes place afterward as well as writing short stories that take place at earlier times (and in a variety of locations). I’ve got enough source material to keep me busy for quite some time.

Anyway, I hope that those of you that have read one or more of my books have enjoyed them.

Listening to Books vs. Reading Books

Audiobooks are clearly growing in popularity. They are convenient, something that can be listened to while driving or exercising or doing chores. But do they really, as so many people insist, provide the same experience as sitting down and reading a book?

First, a bit of history. There was a time when I did a lot of driving, either long commutes or trips to other places. That was when I discovered “books on tape”, which were the precursor of the digital audiobooks we have today. A book on tape consisted of numerous cassette tapes (later transitioning to compact discs as they became common components of car stereos). They could either be bought in stores or borrowed from libraries. I listened to many books in this fashion, and they really did help to pass the time.

Many titles in those days were abridged, meaning that they had been shortened. And often that was done poorly, resulting in confusion on the part of the listener as the story bizarrely jumped forward without explanation. I quickly learned to avoid abridged titles, and the practice is rare today.

Let’s start by considering a more extreme example: Can someone who has watched the three Lord of the Rings movies claim to have read the trilogy? The answer is obviously no. The movies omit scenes from the books, change some events, and add others. On the other hand, the viewer has experienced the same basic story, and could discuss it intelligently with someone who had only read the books. Still, watching a film version of a book is clearly different from reading the book.

Reading is all about using ones imagination. A fiction author is trying to convey with words something that they have imagined. The reader uses their own imagination to form images in their head that certainly differ from what the author had in mind. In that sense, no two readers experience a book in the same exact way, which it the complete opposite of two people that watch the same movie.

Now on to the real question: Is listening to someone narrate a book equivalent to reading it? It’s obviously much closer than watching a movie version, but the answer is still no. The narrator is coloring the experience, even if only slightly. They might even be coloring it severely, employing different accents and speech patterns. The listener is thus deprived from fully employing their own imagination.

There are other issues. Many books, particularly fantasy ones, have one or more maps at the beginning. (Even a non-fiction work might start with maps or other visual information.) Not being able to see (and refer) to those maps may make the book confusing to listen to at times. The listener also can’t tell if a sentence is all in italics, something that is often used to portray a character’s inner thoughts. Again, that can lead to confusion on the part of a listener.

So, does this mean that I’m against audiobooks? No. They serve a useful purpose, and they are a necessity for the blind. Eventually, I may even offer audio versions of my own works. Audiobooks are fine. I really just want people to be accurate. If you listened to a book then say just that. And if you listened to something that your really liked, then maybe considering reading it next time to get the full experience.

My thoughts on Inkshares

Beginning authors have to decide how they want to publish their works. The options range from self-publishing all the way up to trying to attract the interest of a major publisher. In between are crowdfunding possibilities, including a site called Inkshares. I was initially excited after I discovered Inkshares. At one time, I planned to publish my first book that way, but ultimately decided against it for a variety of reasons.

First, some background information. People join Inkshares as either readers, authors, or both. Authors post drafts of their books, usually including background information and excerpts from the actual text. The initial goal is to attract followers. At some point the author might launch a preorder campaign for their book, which has a fixed time period such as 90 days. If they get sufficient preorders before the end of the campaign, then their book will be published in both electronic and physical form. At present, 250 orders is the minimum, the so-called Quill level. A book that reaches 750 preorders receives full publication, including editorial and other assistance. It is this level, obviously, that everyone hopes to reach, but the majority end up settling for Quill.

This all sounded reasonable to me at first, but I soon began to see issues. There are talented writers trying to publish through Inkshares, but they are in the minority. Many of the posted drafts are of poor quality, not even close to being ready for publication. Ideally, none of these would ever be published, but that isn’t how it works. Anyone with a significant social media following can hit the Quill level with little effort. Another issue is preorder swapping amongst authors, which completely defeats the purpose of the site. (To be fair, Inkshares has tried to put an end to this practice.) The end result is the publication of many poor quality books by Inkshares, because at the Quill level there is no editorial oversight. This, to me, is a real problem. It sullies Inkshares’ reputation, and, by extension, all of the books that it publishes.

I have had other issues with Inkshares involving changes made without warning or consultation of their users. Shortly after I joined, they made it much more difficult for authors to connect with readers. A year later, they still haven’t addressed this huge problem. Inkshares used to offer credits for recommendations, but abruptly pulled them due to abuse. Despite assurances that the credits would be restored, they are still absent. Most recently, they retroactively removed the option to sell signed copies of books, leaving authors in an embarrassing situation of having sold something they can no longer deliver. Another issue is the incredibly long publication time. You would think a Quill-level book would be published within at most a month or two, but it usually takes over a year.

One simple step that Inkshares could undertake to address their problems would be to implement a simple vetting process before a book can be put up for preorder. This would really be about reviewing basic grammar, not the overall plot or writing style. That alone would greatly improve the average quality of their published books by weeding out those whose writing abilities are nowhere near good enough to be publishing.

Despite all the negatives, I think that Inkshares is a reasonable choice for some authors, and I encourage people to check out the site for themselves.

How realistic should a fantasy story be?

First, let’s distinguish between fantasy stories set in what is basically our own world, and those set in different worlds. A fantasy set in our world can leverage existing settings, cultures, languages, etc. This simplifies some aspects of the writing process, but can add complications, particularly if set in the modern era. But it’s the other type I want to discuss.

Tolkien’s Middle Earth is the iconic example of a fantasy set in a world that is distinctly different than ours, but still has many similarities. There are different races, different languages, strange monsters, and powerful magic, but the world itself looks much like our own in terms of the flora and fauna. The technology level is medieval, with castles and keeps and walled cities. It’s swords & sorcery, in modern terms. Many fantasy novels hew to this pattern, including my own.

It is certainly possible to write a fantasy set in a completely different world. The world can have a green sky, ten moons, and three suns. All of the animals and plants can be different. There can be unique races, each with differing language, titles, units of measure, religion, magic, culture, government, etc. But unless the author is incredibly talented, I can pretty much guarantee it will turn into a confusing mess for the reader. I know, because I’ve read both fantasy and science fiction novels that have taken things too far. The reader needs something to identify with, and they don’t want to be constantly having to look things up in appendices.

Dungeons & Dragons was heavily influenced by Tolkien, and my world was based off of my own D&D campaign. That provided the basis, and I made a deliberate decision to not make any drastic changes. Medieval fantasy worlds of that kind are traditional now. The familiar elements comfort the reader and make it easier for them to imagine what is being described. And the magic and fantastic creatures thrill them, or so the author hopes. It certainly seems to be working for George R.R. Martin.

In a future post, I may discuss the specific decisions I made, and some of the unintended consequences that resulted. Happy writing.

Pronoun Trouble


(image from the classic Warner Bros. cartoon “Rabbit Seasoning”)

In the process of reviewing my first book and looking for issues, I noticed something that I could then not unsee: I underuse personal pronouns. What do I mean by this? I mean that I tend to repeat character names when I could just as well have used “he” or “she” or “they”, as examples. Fixing this issue is taking considerable time, and is complicated (as I will describe below). When I am finally finished, I will upload a revised version of the book and ask Amazon to push out the changes to anyone who has automatic updates turned on.

My primary concern is that I will go too far and end up erring in the other direction. If the reader can’t figure out who is speaking, or who is being referred to, then they’re probably not going to keep reading. A sentence like “She told her that she wasn’t interested.” can be a nightmare. Each of the three personal pronouns could potentially refer to a different person, e.g. “She told Jane that Sally wasn’t interested.” But even that version requires that the reader understand who “She” refers to.

The use of personal pronouns depends on both the number of characters involved and their genders. If there is only one male, then “he” and “his” are clear. Two of the same gender makes it much more difficult to use personal pronouns. Three or more speakers in a single conversation almost always requires the repeated use of the actual names.

This issue is something that I am still struggling with, and it’s probably only a matter of time before I discover yet another of my bad writing habits.

This is a Bestselling Post!

In this exciting post, I will argue why I think the term “bestseller” no longer has any meaning.

Long ago, in a much simpler publishing world, describing a book as a bestseller actually meant something. Specifically, it implied that the book had been listed as one of the  top-selling books by a respected publication, such as The New York Times. The ranking was typically based on sales for a one-week period, and there were only a small number of very broad categories, e.g. “fiction”. These books were often featured prominently in bookstores. Actually, they still might be, but who goes to a bookstore these days?

Now consider the following: An author writes a novel and self-publishes it as an ebook on Amazon (or some other similar site). The author runs a promotion in which the book is free for a few days, and they advertise the living hell out of it. Lots and lots of people “buy” the book, and for a brief period it ranks in the top ten of its incredibly narrow and highly-specific category, for example “coming of age, zombie techno-westerns”. (Okay, I just made that up.) From then on, the author proudly brags to anyone that will listen that their novel is a bestseller, and even adds that claim to the cover. Woohoo!

I wish that the previous paragraph was fiction, but sadly it’s not. There are an incredible number of people that no one has ever heard of now claiming to be “bestselling authors”. They’re everywhere. There are even businesses that guarantee to make your book a bestseller, and measure their success as described above. It’s actually rather sad if you think about it. It would be far better to write a book that actually sells well based on its merits.

In conclusion, the term “bestseller” has now been abused to the point that it’s practically meaningless.

Stay tuned for a future post in which I explain why an award your book received from a six-month old website run by your cousin out of his parents’ basement should not be plastered all over the cover and included in the blurb. 🙂

The Editing Never Stops

I am currently making another pass through my book, Audrey of Farmerton, preparatory to offering a paperback version. Despite the best efforts of both myself and my beta readers, I am still finding typos and minor mistakes. It appears that no amount of copyediting will ever find all of the mistakes. The good news is that when I am done, I can update the ebook version, and the new version will be automatically pushed out. You can’t do that with printed books.

It is my contention that there simply aren’t that many decent editors left out there. These days, even books by popular authors are published with obvious typos and grammar errors. Last year, I read a science fiction novel that had won major awards despite having significant plot holes and the author not really understanding how to use commas. The editor was either incompetent, or was too rushed to do a good job.

The advent of easy self-publishing is probably to blame for the current situation. The publishing industry in general has dealt poorly with  emerging technologies. That has led to cutbacks, including editorial staff. And when cutting staff, it is invariably the most experienced (and best paid) people that are let go.

What makes a good editor? They obviously need to have a good knowledge of the English language (or whatever language they are editing). This includes both spelling and grammar. But they also need to understand composition. They need to be able to judge if sentences are properly grouped into paragraphs, paragraphs into scenes, and scenes into chapters. They also need to understand what they are reading, otherwise they will be unable to spot larger issues such as plotting and pacing. To be perfectly honest, a good editor first needs to be a good writer. But a good writer isn’t likely to be interested in editing the works of someone else unless they’re a close friend or relative. A good writer would rather be writing.

I can’t offer any magical solution. For now, I’ll just rely on my own editing skills, resigned to the fact that the things I write will never be perfect.

Cover Art


I want to discuss how I ended up with this particular cover, but first I wish to inform you that Audrey of Farmerton is free as a Kindle ebook through Sunday January 8.

I decided to go with a professional artist for my cover because I’ve heard that it’s important both to have a good cover, and to have one that looks good even when reduced to a thumbnail. My cover was done by Brandi McCann, who is very experienced at creating book covers. She works primarily be compositing existing pictures, which has both advantages and disadvantages. Despite this limitation, she gave me a cover that I’m very happy with.

The cover depicts an actual scene in the book, with Audrey in the foreground, and Saxloc farther back. The artist quickly found an excellent background, as well as wolves and a man in chainmail that was easily modified to portray Saxloc. The real issue was Audrey. Finding an appropriate picture was a challenge. After several false starts, I finally realized that a traditional karate uniform had the kind of look I wanted, similar to peasant clothing. In the original picture, the woman is wearing an all-white uniform with a karate belt. The artist was able to make the top look more like a shirt, alter the belt, and change the cloth colors. She also had to add the boots, because people in karate uniforms are nearly always barefoot.

I think the final cover turned out remarkably well. She even added paw prints in the snow and shadows. I also like the fonts she picked. I will definitely being employing her services for the sequel, The Witch’s City.

Dialog and Dialect

People from different backgrounds, or different places, speak in different manners. This can take the form of a different accent, altered vocabulary, or variation in how a sentence is constructed. Accents are difficult to convey in writing, and when attempted are often annoying to the reader. For example, I have relatives that pronounce the word chair with two syllables (chay-are). I know of no way to put that in writing that isn’t both awkward and confusing. So it’s best to focus on the other two methods and simply mention when someone has an accent.

Consider the following sentences:

  1. Dontcha worry, Audrey.
  2. Don’t you worry, Audrey.
  3. Don’t worry, Audrey.
  4. Do not worry, Audrey.
  5. Be not concerned, Mistress Audrey.

The first example uses English slang, which is a way to make someone sound informal (and less educated). The second example sounds more folksy than the third because of the added (and unnecessary) you. The fourth differs from the third simply by dropping the contraction, and it is a simple way to make a character sound more formal. The final example is designed to sound extremely formal, pretentious even.

Simple word choice can help to differentiate characters. Where one person might say “okay”, another might say “all right”. Something might happen “a lot”, “often”, or “frequently”, depending on who is speaking about it.

Deciding on just how a character should speak is a challenge, and the way they speak might change over time or even depending on who they are speaking with. (Think about how most adults simplify their language when talking to small children.) But it is definitely something that a writer needs to keep in mind.