One Man Reviews and Discoverability

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One Man has been on sale for nearly two months, and while sales have not been life-changing, they’ve been holding fairly steady. And that’s mainly because of the reviews.

The reviews so far have been very positive, with a number of people saying One Man was the best fantasy they read all year. To which I have to say:

Wow, thank you.

I spent two years on this book. I’m not what you’d call prolific, and I thought it might be wise to stop trying to be. What if, I thought, I stopped streamlining and started dawdling. What if I gave it extra time and attention to make something complex? What if?

Well, publishers said Meh, which has me thinking that what I want to see in a second-world fantasy is not exactly in the mainstream. (Like all my other books, I guess.) But still! There’s space outside the mainstream if I can connect what I love to the readers who would also love it.

Which is why I’m so grateful for the reviews you guys leave, and why I keep asking for them. Last week, One Man passed the fifty review mark over on Amazon, which is a huge boost to discoverability. Amazon likes to prioritize books that get a lot of reviews, and I’m hopeful that One Man will pass the next level for Amazon’s algorithms, which is 100 reviews. Child of Fire has over a hundred, and so does The Way into Chaos.

However, Game of Cages, Circle of Enemies, and several other works of mine have not, so I have to keep coming here to talk about this and ask you to drop a review if you haven’t already.

Amazon makes that easy. When I enter the book title “One Man” into their search function, the results actually include books with that title. It puts them at the top, even.

It’s different for Goodreads, though. Goodreads’s search algorithm seems like it assumes you don’t actually know the title of the book you’re searching for, and throws up a lot of weird results. For example, when I type “One Man” into a search window, the auto-complete looks like this:

autocomplete includes book titles unlike the search string I entered

What you get before you press enter

I get that Camus is more popular than I am, but are they really putting in a book that I didn’t search for instead of one that I did?

What happens, you may wonder, after I press ENTER to see the results?

Search for One Man, get a lot of books with a different title

It’s like they’re ignoring the title I actually entered.

This shows the scroll bar on the side, and you won’t be surprised to hear that my book doesn’t appear on that first page at all. In fact, it doesn’t appear on pages two through five, either.

The reason I bring this up is that some folks have said they had trouble finding the book on Goodreads, especially when it first came out. You’ll have to throw my name in there to actually find the right page, at least until Amazon brings the search algorithms on Goodreads up to the standards of their online store. Or click this link.

And thank you again for the reviews you have already written. I’m incredibly grateful.

By the way, if you want a direct link to an online vendor to drop a review, see below:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Indiebound | Kobo | Mysterious GalaxyPowell’s | Smashwords

Stop Killing the Redeemed Bad Boys: Veronica Mars and The Rise of Skywalker

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Spoilers for Star Wars and of Veronica Mars. FYI.

Before we get into the meat of this post, I want to point out that, four years ago, I made this awful prediction:

Along with a few ten thousand other people, but the important thing to point out is that this was supposed to be a joke. Seriously, I thought making Rey a Palpatine was a ridiculous idea, and it turned out that I was right.

But there’s no idea so ridiculous that someone won’t rub their chin and go “hmm”. Sometimes, on Twitter, there will be huge hashtag pitch sessions where people will tweet out a log line for their screenplays, and I used to make up ludicrous story ideas for it. No matter how outlandish, there was always someone interested in something I made up.

Terrible ideas! They’re everywhere!

Let’s seque back to the new season of Veronica Mars, on Hulu. Personally, I enjoyed it, but many die-hard fans were furious at the way they killed off Logan, Veronica’s true love.

After three full seasons, the show felt unfinished. With the Kickstarter-funded movie, Rob Thomas brought things around to an ending the fans could get behind. Veronica was a PI again. Logan had his shit together. They re-started their romance as adults. Boom. Ending. They even left things open for those awful novels.

But once Hulu came knocking for S4, Thomas didn’t know what to do with Logan. He has this idea that a romantic relationship had to be about the conflict. What would they do with Logan now that his issues with Veronica were resolved? He said he didn’t want to include Logan in the mystery of the season–nevermind that he did exactly that for S4 and it worked out fine. Nevermind that Veronica has plenty of other low-conflict relationships with people she loves. Thomas wanted her to be free for upcoming seasons, which meant Logan had to go.

And when he went, the fans went too, and they weren’t quiet about it. They were furious, vowing that they were never going to watch again.

The fallout? No Current Plans for Season Five at Hulu

There was similar fan interest for sexy villain Kylo Ren/Ben Solo to be redeemed during TRoS and have the romantic relationship with Rey that almost came about in The Last Jedi.

Personally, I thought TLJ settled that plot point. They had an opening for romance. Each thought they were going to turn the other to their way of thinking. They were wrong. Ben Solo chose to be Kylo Ren, and he was not going to give up his giant fascist army. He even declared himself Supreme Leader. Kylo Ren was established as the villain.

But the fans wanted Kylo and Rey to come together, which meant Kylo had to turn into a good guy, which meant they needed a new villain for the third act, which meant they brought brought Palpatine, which is why they decided to connect him to Rey by blood and undo the very best scene of The Last Jedi (“You’re nothing… but not to me.”)

But after fighting on Rey’s side and saving her life, Kylo gets a single kiss from Rey. and then he dies.

The replies to that tweet are a catalog of misery. Fans wanted the poor, abused, handsome young guy to be redeemed and have a happy life. Preferably with Rey. They didn’t get that.

Now, I’m not sure I’ve ever shipped a pair of characters, ever. Not Sam and Diane. Not David and Maddie. It just doesn’t occur to me. But lots of fans engage with shows this way, and they do not endure disappointment quietly. And there’s something–don’t ask me what–about that reformed evil boyfriend trope. People find it wildly compelling. (And yes, a small percentage can be over-the-top about their favorite ships. I’m not interested in using outliers to represent a group as a whole.) There’s nothing wrong with that, but any really vocal segment of an audience can have an outsized effect on the future of a show.

And this new Star Wars movie is making lots of money, but reviews have been dire. The movie is pretty, it’s fast, and it’s filled with peril, but the story is a disaster, and the even the lead actors just seem done with the whole thing.

Remember the energy and excitement in The Force Awakens? Remember Rey and Finn together? How much energy they had?

Well, all that is gone, and they couldn’t even redeem their sensitive bad boy correctly. The ReyLos and the LoVes are not happy.

Randomness for 12/8

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1. Domestic abuse: Killers ‘follow eight-stage pattern’, study says.

2. The real reason hearing your own voice can make you cringe.

3. Water isn’t the most hydrating beverage according to new scientific study

4. Twenty Years Later and the Women of ANGEL Deserve More.

5. The Trajectory of Fear – or How to Use Horror Tropes Effectively in your [TTRPG]

6. What happens when you eat like the Queen of England for a week?

7. People Are Confused About the Usefulness of Buying Fancy Things

One Man at One Week

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Publication day for One Man was Tuesday, November 26th, which means that yesterday marked the end of the first week of sales. Honestly, it’s the most important week.

So how has it gone?

Honestly, not all that great!

First Week Sales for One Man

 

“But Harry,” you say, “that’s eight days.”

Yes, but I’m on Pacific time, and the pre-orders ship out on midnight of publication day, so people in New York, for example, were getting their pre-orders while it was only 9pm on my time. Therefore, 211 pre-orders out of 249 were delivered (and registered) on the day before.

My usual practice when posting these sales graphs is to cut off the Y-axis to obscure the actual numbers. That’s because I usually talk about trends. But let’s talk numbers

Ebook sales through Amazon for the first week: 492
Paperback sales through Amazon: 4
Ebook sales through B&N: 19
Ebook sales through Kobo: 24
Ebook sales through Smashwords: 14 (higher than expected, honestly)
Paperbacks shipped from Ingram Spark: 26

Those Ingram Spark paperbacks are heavily discounted and fully returnable, so they should also be available to anyone who walks into a bookstore and asks the clerk to check for it on their computer. I’ve also added Powell’s, Mysterious Galaxy, and Indiebound to the bottom scroll of online vendors to give paperback buyers a few options other than Amazon.

What does this mean? Well, my newsletter, which is designed specifically for people who want to know about my new releases w/o following me on social media, went to 1349 addresses, announcing the pre-order. These are the people who presumably want to buy my new work, and I was hoping to turn at least half into sales.

One Man is, I believe, the best work I’ve ever done. The thought that it might reach a portion of my existing readers and only a scant few beyond that is, frankly, disheartening.

On the upside, that graph slopes down and then up again. The upsurge in sales corresponds with the appearance of early reviews.

I don’t have a big marketing budget here. The book is out for reviews at a few places, but the only way it’s going to reach new readers is through word of mouth. Reviews, recommendations to friends, a thumbs up on social media… that’s what drives sales.

So, if you have bought the book, please read it. Then please give it a review. I think this is the best book I’ve ever written, and I hope it reaches the widest circle of readers possible.

I think that’s called “burying the lede” but there you go.

Thanks.

Welp, It’s Black Friday

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Today is Black Friday, and if you’re planning to visit a bookstore to do any of your holiday shopping, I just want to make note that you ought to be able to order One Man through Ingram.

I hope so, at least. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Thanks very much to everyone who bought the book and everyone who has written an online review. Right now, the book is selling to people who already know and like my work, but spreading the word will help this book (and my backlist) reach a larger audience.

At which point I should just say: Happy Leftovers Day. As soon as I finish this, I’m having a turkey sandwich and a slice of apple pie for breakfast, then I’m heading out to work on The Iron Gate.

One Man Sample Chapters

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CHAPTER ONE

On the day after the summer solstice in the year 403 of the New Calendar, Kyrionik ward-Safroy defe-Safroy admir-Safroy hold-Safroy attended his own funeral.

As a noble family, the Safroys were expected to hold two ceremonies. One would be private, reserved for family, close political allies, those in the High Watch who thought it prudent to show respect to a member of a rival faction currently out of power, and however many of Kyrionik’s former friends his mother felt obligated to invite.

By tradition, it should have already happened. Somber guests would have worn their mourning whites. Servants wearing hoods of muslin gauze would offer each a cup of bitter tea, to represent grief, followed by drams of honeyed brandy, which represented happy memories of the loved one who had passed. After a few moments of silence, polite guests would talk about family, friends, newborn babes, aging parents—anything concerning the way people live their lives—to remind the grieving family that life goes on. Impolite people would try to talk business.

Kyrionik’s mother was a former member of the High Watch, the parsu of the Safroy family, and a rich, influential woman. She was always surrounded by impolite people.

The private ceremony was ordinarily held at home, usually in a garden or courtyard. For the Safroys, that meant everyone would be high enough on the slopes of Salash Hill that the family could mourn in direct sunlight, without the unpleasant tint of the light from Suloh’s bones. Perhaps they’d gather in the east hall, with its floors made from smooth white marble imported from Koh-Gilmiere. Or maybe on the southern deck, with its skywood and commanding view of the sea. Or the gardens, where Kyrionik and his brothers used to—

No. Those memories were from his old self. The one who lived among the wealthy, high-born Salashi. That man was long gone. Kyrionik had a new name now.

Now he was Kyrioc, child of No One, which marked him as lower than a commoner. He was an orphan. Unlike the high-born Kyrionik, poor Kyrioc had no family, no titles, and no inheritance.

But he did have an obligation.

The public funeral for hapless young Kyrionik was being held in High Square, at the southernmost end of the Upgarden deck, and Kyrioc, child of No One, stood in the long, long line of complete strangers waiting to pay their respects.

Kyrioc could not have attended the private ceremony without revealing himself. Without reclaiming his old name. The idea of reuniting with his family, of the joyful tears, the celebrations, the calls that he explain where he’d been and what had happened…

What he’d done…

And they would embrace him. His hands, responsible for so much death, would touch his mother’s small frame. They would feel her warmth and movement. Her breath. Her life.

Just the thought of it made him flinch and close down. He shut his eyes and stopped shuffling forward with the rest of the line. He could hear screaming, as fresh in his memory as if he’d heard them that morning. Then he remembered burning figures running through the jungle at night, then the darkness itself coming to life, and the sound of steel on flesh, and the smell of blood, and—

“Good sir?”

Kyrioc jumped, hand reaching for a weapon he no longer trusted himself to carry.

The woman who had spoken was a Free-Cities merchant. She’d dressed in an open green linen robe over cream-colored tunic and trousers. They complemented her bronze skin, setting her apart from the dark-brown faces all around her. Instead of a hat, she had pinned a small block of perfumed wax atop her rather ordinary bun. It had barely begun to melt into her hair, but the sharp, flowery smell was overbearing in the still air.

Her right eye was surrounded by a web of scars and was dark brown. Her left eye was hazel. If she could afford to replace her eye, she probably did not spend much time around people like him, but funerals bring together the high and the low.

She was gaping at him. He lowered his hand.

“You stopped walking,” the woman said with more kindness than he deserved. “Are you all right?”

“I’m sorry, good madam. Bad memories.”

“Ah. I thought you were grieving, and that perhaps you knew the deceased personally.”

Kyrioc wasn’t sure how to respond. “I would have been a stranger to him.”

The line was still shuffling forward without them. Kyrioc mumbled another apology and hurried to close the gap.

For the day, Kyrioc had worn simple black trousers with a black cotton tunic and vest. They were the funeral clothes of a poor man—a man with disfiguring scars and shaggy black hair hanging in his face—and they were supposed to let him blend in with the crowd.

High Square, where the Safroys awaited the long queue, was nearly two blocks away. Kyrioc could not let himself fall into a reverie again, not if he was going to hide himself in this long line of stitches.

He wished he could summon his cloak of mirrors, but that was impossible in the midday sun.

Kyrioc looked up and down the street, checking for Safroy guards. There were none this far from the square itself. Instead he saw city constables, private shop security, and the usual flash and bustle of the main street of the Upgarden deck.

Here at the southern end, with High Square and the terminus of The Freightway nearby—and with the gate to The Avenue just behind him—Upgarden was at its most luxurious. Not only were the streets themselves constructed from pale, beautiful skywood, so were many of the stores. This close to High Slope, the shops sold only the finest goods from around the Semprestian: silks from Carrig, spices from the Free Cities, furs from Katr nomads, jewels from Koh-Benjatso, Koh-Gilmiere, and Koh-Kaulma. If there was a piece of finery with the poor taste to have been made right there in Koh-Salash—or anywhere along the shores of the Timmer Sea—it was sold downcity, where the shops were made of ordinary wood and people walked about in the pale orange like of Suloh’s bones. Continue reading

The One Man Post

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One Man is a superbly realised story set in a rich and fascinating world. The horror grips, the fantasy delights and the characters remain vivid and real to the end.” — Justina Robson

It’s been four years since I released a new novel.

Four plus, actually, and I’m a little embarrassed that it’s been that long. There was the Twenty Palaces novella, The Twisted Path, of course, but still. Four years.

This book is the reason.

I spent two years writing One Man. It’s is a big book, over 150,000 words. It’s complicated, with lots of POV characters and locations. The setting is limited–almost every chapter takes place in a single city–but it’s complex.

Which is another way of saying that a lot of time and sweat went into this novel, and I’m proud of the result.

Here’s the back cover description:

———–

One Cursed City. Two Dead Gods. Ten Thousand Murderers and Thieves. One Orphaned Girl.

As a child, Kyrioc was groomed to be the head of one of the most powerful noble families in Koh-Salash, a city built inside the skeletons of two murdered gods. Kyrioc himself dreamed of becoming head of the High Watch, the highest political position in the land.

Those dreams have turned to dust.

Presumed dead after a disastrous overseas quest, Kyrioc now lives in a downcity slum under a false name, hiding behind the bars of a pawnshop window. Riliska, a nine-year-old pickpocket who sells stolen trinkets to his shop, is the closest thing he has to a friend.

When a criminal gang kills Riliska’s mother and kidnaps the little girl, Kyrioc goes hunting for her.

He doesn’t care about the forbidden magic the gangs are fighting over—the severed ear of a glitterkind, a creature whose flesh contains astonishing healing powers. He doesn’t care about the bloody, escalating gang violence. He doesn’t care about the schemes of power-hungry nobles.

In a raging city on the verge of civil war, Kyrioc only wants to save his friend. He will risk anything for her, even awakening the powers that murdered the gods so long ago.

———–

See, I wanted to try an experiment. Most fantasy novels have huge stakes: A Dark Lord trying to conquer all. A usurper seizing the throne, pushing a kingdom toward civil war. A world-shattering magical cataclysm. Invasion of monsters. Return of monsters. Whatever.

But what if I wanted to create a fantasy story about a quest for something small. Something important, but not world-shattering. For instance: the life of a single little girl. Not even his own, just someone he knows.

I wanted to see if I could make a story like that as compelling as one where millions of lives were at stake. The consequences of the protagonist’s actions were wide-ranging. They had ripple effects. The other POV characters have their own quests, and as the status quo of the city crumbles, the dangers escalate.

But for the protagonist? He just wants to save one life.

If I’m being honest with myself, I felt sure that NY publishers would really respond to this novel. I expected the mix of genres, characters, and setting to hit the bullseye. Probably, you could say that I was being ambitious.

I was wrong. One Man was on submission for over a year and a half and, while it earned me the nicest rejection I have ever seen (or even heard about) no one wanted to publish it.

It’s probably a mistake to admit that, but fuck it. I think it’s a good book. A thriller with strange magic, desperation, betrayal, and murder. But it’s an odd book, too, with bourgeois hobbit vampires, and sleeping giants whose flesh can heal you, and a sprawling city built inside the skeletons of two gods who were murdered while fucking.

What I’m hoping, if you’ve read this far down the page, is that you’re interested in a big, odd, ambitious book about crime and magic and a screwed-up guy who has one last chance to do something decent in this world.

Cover for One Man

The trade paperback should be available to order from Ingram, if you want to buy from your local bookstore, but obviously you could also buy from one of the online vendors below.

Sample chapters here.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Indiebound | Kobo | Mysterious GalaxyPowell’s | Smashwords

Mysteries, Ghosts, and Doubled Narratives: Why the New Nancy Drew Series Doesn’t Work

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Every whodunnit mystery has two narratives. The first is the crime at the center of the story. How the murder was planned and carried out. The history between killer and victim. The red herring clues that point to innocent parties, and the backstory that makes those parties credible suspects. And so on. All of that comprises a complex narrative that, at the beginning of the book, is hidden from the reader and the protagonist.

The second narrative is the one the reader reads, in which the protagonist investigates and uncovers the first narrative.

Many ghost stories have a similar structure. There’s a hidden narrative of a terrible crime or crimes that created the ghost(s) and the specific details of the haunting itself. The story of the people who experience the haunting often depends on the revelation of that hidden crime for its resolution.

You might think that similarity in the two structures would mean they’d combine well, but the new CW series NANCY DREW shows how difficult that can be.

A lot of folks think that the main pleasure of a whodunnit (or any kind of mystery, really) is that things are be set right at the end. Something awful happens. Someone uncovers the culprit. They’re arrested or killed. Order is restored.

I dunno. I’ve never experienced them that way. For me, the main pleasures of a mystery are the characters, because you need a lot of contrast to tell all those suspects apart, and the hard work.

Me, I wasn’t much of a Nancy Drew fan until after VERONICA MARS showed me that the whole teen detective thing could have real bite to it. Then Emma Roberts appeared in the 2007 NANCY DREW, and I thought that movie was delightful. Much lighter than VM, but it still portrayed the protagonist as intelligent and hard-working, someone who kept digging for clues long after I would have given up.

But ghosts take all that away. Characters don’t have to act on their own initiative because they are terrorized by the supernatural elements of the story to take action. Ghosts push them toward clues. Visions of the past reveal the hidden narrative.

In other words, what would be revealed through the brilliance and diligence of the main character in a whodunnit is now forced upon them.

For example, in the most recent episode, a ghost keeps breaking screens in Nancy’s house. Only after the third one, on her laptop, does Nancy realize they’re all breaking in the same pattern. Nancy, being brilliant, recognizes her small town in the edges of the pattern, calls up Google Maps, and realizes the breaks are pointing toward a specific place: her high school.

Cut to a scene where she’s breaking into the school, complete with black knit cap and flashlight. A ghostly glow directs her to the trophy case/memorial/(?) where she finds a photo tucked away that proves another character lied to her in Act 2 of the episode.

So, sure, it’s smart to recognize the pattern and it shows initiative to break out the lock picks (by my count, Nancy has done a B&E in three out of four episodes this season and she really ought to be better at it) but it still feels like the mystery is being handed to her. Check out the school. Look in the case. In the first episode, a medium tells her to look in the attic, where she finds a bloody dress locked away in a trunk. It’s just another example of “Go here. Find clue.”

Not only is this sort of plot easier on the main character, it’s easier for the show’s writers. You don’t have to brainstorm a reason for Nancy to hunt for that photo at the school. You just have to brainstorm a way for the ghost to point the way in a spoooooky manner.

See also, the movie ODD THOMAS, which is a reasonably effective thriller as long as you don’t think too hard about the way Odd’s magic powers lead him by the nose from one plot point to the next.

See also, redux, this quote: (Source)

The Force is really The Plot

I don’t object to the way the Force is used in STAR WARS any more than I object to Eleven’s powers in STRANGER THINGS. It keeps things moving and doesn’t take away from the story. But then, the heroes in those stories aren’t detectives. I’m not watching because I’m hoping to see brilliance.

Honestly, I think I’d like NANCY DREW a lot more if the main character wasn’t named Nancy Drew. I wouldn’t have come to it hoping to see a bright, energetic young person doing the work that the older generations couldn’t.

The ghosts are fun, though. Maybe in the back half of this first season or in season two, they’ll have ghosts who mislead or interfere rather than help. I hope so.

If you’ve read this far down, you should hear a few facts: Progress on THE IRON GATE continues, although not as quickly as I’d have hoped. In fact, I was all set to take part in NaNoWriMo this year for the first time ever, but then I took a close look at the actual numbers and chickened out. Still, even if I’m digging a ditch with a shovel instead of a backhoe, that ditch is going to get dug.

ONE MAN continues to be delayed. Maybe I should set a definite release date to stop myself from fussing with this and that and just releasing it.

Randomness for 8/16

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1. The Low-Frills Genre Fiction of 1981. What amazing covers

2. What It’s Like To Own an Electric Car.

3. Almost Every Bob Ross Painting in Existence Lives in a Virginia Office Park.

4. Brewery unveils six-pack ring that will feed sea turtles instead of killing them.

5) My son followed this recipe for making NY style pizza at home, and whaddayano? Video

6) Shipping firm automatically dispatches truck to haul freight, successfully pricing, tendering, booking, then picking up and delivering the shipment without any human interaction at all.

7) Trying to rebuild civilization? This dude is trying to open-source the blueprints for 50 essential machines.

 

13 hours left to back this: