Urban fantasy and finish your book

Two interesting links this week:

I found this post by Carrie Vaughn quite thought-provoking. In The Great Urban Fantasy Crash, she writes:

So the word around writing and publishing circles over the last couple of years is: urban fantasy isn’t selling anymore. Publishers aren’t buying it. What was hugely popular five years ago is now done. That ship has sailed.

I’ve seen some commentary about this being some big publisher conspiracy to kill the genre — just as I also saw commentary that the popularity of the genre was a publishing conspiracy in the first place.  But I’m here to tell you, as an urban fantasy author and someone who worked in a bookstore twenty years ago, publishers are highly reactive and not very good at manufacturing any kind of popularity. They react to sales numbers, and they’re usually chasing trends rather than creating them. (One of my favorite statements ever about publishing trends: everyone was looking for the next Harry Potter, which turned out to be Twilight, then everyone was looking for the next Twilight, which turned out to be The Hunger Games.  They’re still looking for the next Hunger Games…)

However it happened, the results have been increasingly clear: authors are having a harder time selling urban fantasy, and readers have had a harder time finding a good series to follow.

In the comments, she writes this:

A lot of authors moved to Kindle after getting dropped by publishers. A lot of UF readers figured out there’s a lot more stuff on Kindle. There’s some speculation that e-pub is replacing that niche once filled by mass market paperbacks. It seems to me there are several vicious circles fueling each other in this whole scenario.

I have some thoughts about Kindle and the Amazon ecosystem, but they’re not yet fully formed. I’m a bit worried, from the authors’ side, but I’m also seeing stuff, like this post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, about how traditional publishers are screwing over authors (more so than usual).

One last point: this is all academic if one doesn’t have a book to sell! Here’s Chuck Wendig: Here’s How To Finish That Fucking Book, You Monster

Gollancz tips

Gollancz has started a series of writing tips from various authors. From Part 1:

Miles Cameron:

‘There is no substitute for experience. If a character needs to have a skill, it’s better to try and do that thing, no matter how difficult, than to pretend the knowledge, even from an expert opinion. I learned more from an hour of trying to write on parchment with period ink than all the books I read on calligraphy.’

The advice from Connie Willis is typically witty, and it starts with:

I suppose I have learned a couple of things that might be useful.  They are:

– Never slap anyone, no matter how satisfying it might be.

– Instead, practice something polite to say to all the people who offer you unsolicited advice and/or criticism. And practice a smile that is not a grimace while saying it.

– Never wear anything white to a booksigning. It immediately attracts coffee stains, soup stains, spaghetti sauce, indelible ink, and unflattering comparisons to Emily Dickinson and/or Tom Wolfe (for which you will need the polite response and the smile.)

Hines on cultural appropriation

Jim C. Hines summarizes a recent controversy and comes to this conclusion:

As a writer, I do have the freedom to write whatever I want. But to my mind, with great freedom comes great responsibility. I have an obligation to get it right, to the best of my ability. To recognize the power of stories. To understand that publishing is not an equal playing field, any more than the world as a whole. To listen. To recognize that there are some stories I’m not the best person, or the right person, to tell.

With a handy list of resources.

Fictional vs real

Charles Stross talks about some outrageous real personalities in Sometimes I don’t know why I bother:

Two serious points for any fiction writer emerge from this meditation on eccentricity.

Firstly, any accurate depiction of mundane real-world life has to take into account the fact that reality contains multitudes, including outrageously and larger-than-life figures like La Maupin and Trebitsch-Lincoln. You can write hyperrealistic literary character studies of protagonists who are utterly barkingly implausible except insofar as they are based on real people; or you can write escapist genre fantasies about utterly plausible normal people thrust outside their comfort zone (a vampire! Except he just happens to be a low-level banking IT dogsbody turned civil servant). What you can’t do is one-up reality, because reality has a bottomless magic wallet full of colourful surreal excess.

Secondly, if one wishes to add spice to a work of escapist SF or fantasy, sometimes we can do better by looting the historical archives than by trying to roll our own characters. La Maupin would work perfectly as a foil for the protagonist of a secondary world fantasy yarn (set in I-can’t-believe-it’s-not 17th century France, with added magic), or perhaps even as the protagonist herself. Trebitsch-Lincoln is of course the Bond Villain Who Got Away (because Ian Fleming forgot to write about him), a Bizzaro-world hybrid of Doctor No and Ernst Stavro Blofeld (and, on reflection, it’s possible that Fleming did know of him; it has been several decades since I read the original novel of “You Only Live Twice”, but Trebitsch-Lincoln’s eastern self-reinvention may well have informed Fleming’s depiction of Blofeld in Japan). But if we employ characters like this, we have to dial back on the weirdness of the setting, lest the dish come out excessively spiced to the point of implausibility. Better, I think, to dump the protagonists of a literary novel out of their comfort zone in the deep end of a space opera, than to try to write La Maupin in orbit.

Keeping Up With Publishing Changes

Here is Kristine Kathryn Rusch on a bad bit of news: Business Musings: A Real Book Contract

Folks, this is why I’m asking you over and over again why you would ever want a traditional book contract. Traditional print-only contracts (you indie writers) are just like this with the ebook stuff removed.

And so many of you indies want to hire an agent to handle your foreign rights. The publisher stuff here is bad, but the agent clause is ever so much worse.

Please, do your homework this week, and read this contract. Print it out. Try to understand it. Realize that all of the clauses work together to form a whole contract, that’s binding on the author.

Learn from this free information that has come from another writer’s bad situation.

This is how writers learn their business.

A complementary post by Rachel Aaron: Know Thy (Publishing) Self

This is the part of the self pub vs. trad pub debate that I hate the most. Not the discussion–that’s very good, very necessary, and a great tool for bringing to light the pros and cons of each path–but the absolute division. The constant refrain–sometimes boldly shouted, sometimes tacitly implied–that the other side isn’t just wrong, they’re dangerously, career wreckingly wrong. That if you sign with a traditional publisher, they’ll hit you with an abusive contract to take all your money and keep your rights forever. Or if you self publish your first novel and it flops, no traditional publisher will ever look at you again.

To be clear, this isn’t fear mongering. Both of the examples above can and do happen, but they’re also both worst case scenarios, and that’s what makes the question of what you should do with your novel so difficult. Because the truth is that both trad and self publishing have horrible pitfalls and incredible heights. Neither of them is easy and nothing is guaranteed. So how do you know which is right for you?


Lovecraft Country

I loved Lovecraft Country, so I’ve been on a bit of a Matt Ruff kick. Here is a great piece where Ruff and Victor LaValle talk about their recent Lovecraft-related reimaginings (lots of spoilers though):

Shadows Over America: Matt Ruff and Victor LaValle Take on Lovecraft and Race

I recall one conversation that could qualify as the inspirational Ur-moment for Lovecraft Country. I’ve always liked to take long walks so I can be alone and think, and Cornell, for me, was paradise for hiking. I used to go for these epic rambles in the farmlands surrounding the campus. And one day I was coming back and I stopped by Ujamaa to see Joe, and I told him what I’d been doing and suggested that he might enjoy hiking, too. And he kind of laughed and said, “Yeah, that sounds like fun, but I can’t go walking around in white farm country.” And I’m like, “What are you talking about? This isn’t the Deep South. We’re in New York State.” And he laughed again and said, “Yeah, Matt. We’re in New York State.” At which point I stopped and actually thought about it — thought about the people I’d see when I was out hiking. It’s true, they were all white, and a lot of them had dogs with them, or gun racks in their pick-up trucks. I never got hassled, even when my hair was long, but if I’d looked like Joe, things might have gone differently. And those back roads were awfully lonely, if you did get in trouble.

So in part because the hiking was such an essential thing for me, this made a lasting impression, and I understood in a way I hadn’t before that even though we shared the same geography, Joe and I were in a sense living in two different countries, with the borders drawn much more tightly around his.

I also liked this link from Ruff’s About the author page: “An Interesting Moral Education”.

The way I tend to deal with tragic events is by containing them in narrative. If something bad happens to me, I’ll tell it to myself as a story, and keep telling it until I’ve got it in a form I can live with.

In the case of my parents’ deaths, the story I came up with was that they had done their jobs. They had seen me through childhood to the brink of adulthood and set me on my way, and if it was a bit bewildering to suddenly find myself without them, it did not seem unreasonable, or even entirely unexpected. I’d known, going out into the world, things were going to be different.