Mapping It Out

Some time ago, the early Terry Pratchett Discworld novel Sourcery (1988) featured a quip early in the text that read: “This book has no map. If this bothers you, feel free to go and draw one of your own”. I remember being so pleased Pratchett wrote that, because it meant my mind was free to imagine where things were and make features as important or trivial as I wanted.

When the Discworld was eventually mapped and drawn and catalogued and defined and filmed and all the rest, it was as if that magical butterfly of my imagination was euthanised and stuck to a board with a ruddy great pin through it. I’m sure many lepidopterists are keen to have a record of a beautiful butterfly to study, but frankly I’d rather butterflies were left to fly free, since that’s what they’re best at doing. I’m not sure Mother Nature really intended them to be stuck with a pin and kept in a drawer.

I’m not sure my imagination benefits from being mollycoddled.

These days, a map in a book of fantasy seems to be mandatory, the lack of one perhaps considered heresy, or at least discourteous to readers. I’ve been asked a few times if I’d draw maps for writers, but I’m loathe to take such work because a) I hate doing art commissions; and b) I think maps in books are contrary to allowing the reader’s imagination to roam free. If a writer needs a map to ensure their geography is consistent and authentic within their writing process, then fine. Spelling it out to the reader with an illustration included in the book just feels like another form of excessive description. Tolkien had a map, but then the map was in the story. More maps came later, and while some maps can help clarify details, such as how arduous and lengthy a trip is from one place to another, the reality is so many maps in fantasy books are either superfluous or too-much-information or both.

Cover art can sometimes be a bit of a giveaway about how certain characters might appear, but maps and props and all manner of other things can—at least for me—dampen my mind’s eye and quell my imagination’s fire a bit. It just seems a bit of a shame. My imagination is special to me. It’s one of the few things I still have. It needs exercise and expansion, not suppression and frustration. To a writer, the scale of a mountain range or the breadth of a river might mean a great deal. World building is an art as well as a science and often such a tremendous amount of work needs showing off, but to the reader, does all of that really matter, especially when it’s already mentioned or observed by one or more of the characters in the text? When does it become too much information? Some books I’ve read seem to go overboard with adjectives, descriptions, outlines and illustrations. All I’m left with is wondering how one character is going to react to another, because that’s all my imagination has left to work on. The rest has been done for me. Ho hum.

To me, less is often more. Don’t give me a map. Don’t show every character on the cover art. Give me a hint here, a shade there, and let my imagination colour in the rest.

That will be a book I will appreciate more.

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Doing My Head In

Brain at 2:37am: Hey, you know that awesome music you were listening to while revising your manuscript earlier today?

Me: It was great, but please … I need to sleeeeep.

Brain: Here it is with the volume turned up to 11!

Me: Aargh! Nooo! Where’s the volume control???

Got It Covered

One of the more common words of wisdom imparted to up-and-coming authors is to never, ever try to do your own cover art. Always give it to a professional.

By professional, we’re not talking a well-meaning friend or relative, either.

Amazon is replete with ghastly attempts by some people to skip paying a professional, and really, their notoriety ends up not being about how wonderful their story is, rather how fitting it is their cover art ends up on lousybookcovers.com

It’s hard being an up-and-coming author. The all-pervading idea of self-publishing can happen for free is just plain wrong. There are expenses. You have to pay a professional editor to comb through your manuscript and fix anything that needs fixing. You have to pay a cover artist, even if your work is only an ebook. You have to pay for this and that and the other, and even then after you’ve doled out for paid promotions and goodness knows what marketing swag, you’re not guaranteed you’ll see any of that back in sales.

Getting published by a publishing house these days is no easier. Indeed, the general wisdom is any money you might receive as an advance is best invested in the same promotions you would have done as a self-publishing indie. Don’t go spending it on extra coffee or plans to go from one meal a day to two. Spend the lot (after careful research, of course) on anything that will help sales instead. On the plus side, you won’t have to spend any of it on cover art, interior layout, ARC or promotional copies or any of the other things a publishing house will cover for you (kind of—they simply take all those expenses out of any earnings), but at least you have a promotion budget! Yay!

Above all, do your level best to avoid anything you create going anywhere near lousybookcovers.com. While a one-star review on Amazon might be easily brushed off as the ravings of a lunatic, it’s hard to argue with lousybookcover’s reckoning.

It’s that Time of Year Again

Easter is just like any other time for me. Good Friday, Easter Sunday, just days.

Living in the southern hemisphere, it’s autumn now. Sydney has lovely autumns. The weather turns milder after the roaring heat-rage of summer, with its sweat-soaked humid nights and scorching days. None of the deciduous trees have turned any colour yet. Everything is green and vibrant, blooms bob in the gentle breeze and there is a complete absence of the relief felt in the wake of a biting winter, giving way to the season for renewal and rebirth.

That’s what Easter is all about, really.

Rebirth after winter.

The egg. The hare (not rabbit), the symbol of Eostre, the heathen goddess of spring whose lunar-oriented festival became appropriated by the Christian church in the kind of corporate takeover to make modern tycoons gasp and sigh with dewy-eyed reverence and envy. In Sydney though, nothing’s being reborn. We’re not entering spring, and it’s not as if winter is ever that devastating anyway. Winter might see deciduous trees denuded of leaves, but it doesn’t snow here. Furry animals don’t hibernate as such. Birds hang around, usually demanding tasty morsels at the back door. Since Australia remains a vestige of British culture subject to religious dominance, at the early stages of autumn we celebrate a spring festival rife with heathen symbolism, overlain with Judaeo-Christian propaganda like the best of them. A salient reminder of our cultural overlords thousand of kilometres away who barely even remember us on our birthday.

My mother—being Scottish—resolutely retains all the traditions of Easter. The cards. Eggs. Various decorations. Hot cross buns. It might be autumn, but the house gets cleaned to put every spring clean to shame. Bedding gets completely changed. Floors are vacuumed with extra vigour, tiles polished to a gleaming shine. It’s Friday, and she prepares a midday meal of fish and bread, a smile on her face, humming all the while. It’s all rather sweet, and what makes her happy makes me happy. I don’t eat chocolate eggs or bunnies or hot cross buns or any of that (partly because of my diabetes but mostly because I personally feel no need to celebrate any rite of spring when it’s autumn), but I won’t begrudge her traditions. I don’t begrudge anyone their traditions, so if you get a kick out of Easter or Passover or whatever and what you find it stands for, then Happy Easter, Chag Sameach, whatever seasonal greeting you feel applies.

Me? It’s another day.

Hey, what’s that delicious smell?

Ooh yum. Fish!

Well now, there’s a thing…

So … an anthology I contributed to a little while ago called “Flashpoint: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group Flash Fiction Anthology 2018” has been released, and it has instantly rocketed to the bestseller list in France and Canada.

Incredible.

So naturally, the contributing authors are now technically bestselling authors.

Including me!

Staggering.

Me? Little-ol’-me? A bestselling author?

Inconceivable!

And yet … there it is.

*pinches self

Still feels the same.

But … best-selling.

I’m not sure it has fully sunk in yet…

Oh, if you’re interested in having a look at it, follow the link.

To Market, To Market

Did I say “Happy New Year”?

No?

Oh.

Happy New Year.

There. I’ve said it now.

Satisfied?

Good.

In the week-and-a-bit since all the excesses of ringing in the new year, I’ve been head-down. I promised myself (not a new year’s resolution, I swear!) I’d make more art this year. The trouble with that is it means less writing. I’m awake for only so many hours in the day, after all.

Sydney’s way too hot to be sculpting wax or firing up the foundry just yet. I’ll wait until the weather cools a bit before I get into bronzes this year. I have plans for some calligraphy, some oil painting, some pen-and-ink drawing, some pencil drawing and maybe a piece of jewellery or two, but the biggie is a set of bronzes.

When I’m not writing.

Writing has dominated my time, and continues to do so.

The anniversary of Terror in the Ranks came and went, but still with no interest. That’s the price I pay for not having a marketing budget. If anyone tells you self-publishing can be done for free, they’re technically correct, but incorrect if the idea had been to earn anything from the writing. To make a self-published novel work at making money for its author, said author needs anywhere between $800 and $2000 to pay an editor; and a further $1000 for paid promotions across social media. Add another few hundred bucks for hard copies mailed out to advance readers who can provide legitimate reviews, a few hundred more for promotions in traditional media, such as the local newspaper, printing bookmarks, flyers, posters and all the sundry collateral, and you’re talking a few grand all up. Costs usually covered by a publishing house if you go the trad-publishing route.

I don’t have a few grand.

I don’t even have a few hundred, so marketing and me are not a happening thing.

Spamming my contacts and friends on social media isn’t really helpful, and paid promotions on Facebook require cash and cleverness I can’t focus on in my current state. So … my book languishes at the bottom of Amazon rankings. What do I do? I simply ignore it and move on. I have other books to write, other stories to tell. I’m a writer, not a promoter, goddammit. Hell—I even have a sequel in the works for Terror in the Ranks. It’s unlikely anyone will read that either, but that won’t stop me cranking it out. One person who did read Terror in the Ranks reckoned it would make a great movie. My eyebrows shot up at that one, and I’ve been left bemused at the idea. Bemused, and indolent, unconvinced any studio would back a story based on a book that went nowhere.

If I make artwork and sell it, maybe then I’d have a budget to promote the book. If I could find an expert in book marketing, someone who can do all the necessary things for me, it would be even better. Not just someone who spruiks on Twitter. Not just somone who books ads on Facebook. It would need someone who does the lot—social media promos, keyword optimisation, SEO, brick-and-mortar placement, the whole shebang.

I wonder if anyone like that exists?