Passing into a new world: Portal fantasy

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Rachel Manija Brown posted something provocative about so-called “portal fantasy.” For those who didn’t click the link: essentially it’s a Narnia-style story, in which a person or persons from our mundane world is transported to a second-world fantasy setting. Apparently, agents reject those stories at the query stage without ever requesting a full manuscript, and the reasons described in the post (all frustratingly second-hand) strike me as extraordinarily bogus.

They’re talking about non-adult books: YA and MG, but I don’t remember seeing a lot of adult-oriented portal fantasies.

But it’s only after I read a post on Making Light that I realize I myself have been All Over Portals in my books.

Now, that Making Light post is talking about Fantasy With Portals In Them rather than Portal Fantasies, which is not exactly a subtle distinction. For one thing, modern person transported to fantasy world setting is a very specific thing. Still, Circle of Enemies and Twenty Palaces both contain literal portals in which Things Intrude Into Our World, and the other two books have implied portals.

What’s more, EPIC FANTASY WITH NO DULL PARTS is full of portals; the barely-Iron-Age society conducts trade through them and they are the center of the plot.

It’s not portal fantasy, per se, but… is this my subconscious calling to me? Has the online discussion finally made me look into my heart and realize that what I’ve really longed to do all this time was write a book about a mafia hitman transported to pseudo-Narnia? Or a pipe-fitter in Osgiliath?

Well, maybe not, but it’s fun to think about.

One year anniversary of the end of 20 Palaces

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I’m writing this ahead of time because I expect to be hanging with my son at the tournament when this posts, but today is exactly one year since I announced that Del Rey would not be picking up any new Twenty Palaces novels and that I was putting the series on hiatus, with all the ominous implications of the word.

And that fucking post is still the most popular thing on my blog. More people have read about my failure than ever read my books.

What has changed since then? Well, A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark is on indefinite hold. The book itself is a major misfire–not in concept but in execution. It needs a massive rewrite before it’s ready to be shown anywhere and that’s not a very high priority for me right now.

What about Epic Fantasy With No Dull Parts? aka A Blessing of Monsters? Well, shit. We’ll see, won’t we? One big change is that I seriously underestimated the amount of story there; what I’d planned to complete in one volume is not, in fact, complete after 140K words. So it will become two books. Possibly three. We’ll see what my publisher says, assuming I find one for it.

As for me, I’m working on a Twenty Palaces short story, which won’t be told from Ray’s POV. I’m hoping to have it finished soonest so I can get to work on Epic Sequel With No Dull Parts. I’m still waiting on editorial notes for King Khan, the game tie-in book I wrote for Evil Hat’s Spirit of the Century role-playing game, and that will likely be the only book release for me in 2013.

I know. 2012 saw only two anthologies: Don’t Read This Book and Tales of the Emerald Serpent, and next year will almost certainly be a single game tie-in novel. I like all of that work and I’m proud of it, but I need to put out original novel-length fiction if I want to keep my career going.

A letter to Baby Author Me

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On her blog, novelist Ally Carter wrote a letter she wished she could send to herself back when she was just starting out. I thought it was funny and interesting enough that I stole the idea. Being me, this particular letter might not have the wide applicability that Ms. Carter’s does but I’ll share it anyway: a letter to myself in 2008.

First of all, old self, today isn’t the day your agent sent your first book on submission. That was back in mid-January some time. So yeah, this is late. Then again, you’re the guy who received a birthday card that his sister had bought for his birthday the year before then never got around to sending. You’re a Connolly; you’re used to it.

Second of all, Twenty Palaces was not rejected because of the story. It was the writing. You haven’t realized this yet, but you’d be better off not sending it to your agent or editor. The truth is, you made a big leap in your understanding of the language while you were revising Harvest of Fire, and you haven’t realized yet how rough that earlier book is. Seriously. Keep it to yourself until after you have a chance to revise it.

Third, don’t bother scrounging for reviews. Interviews are great. Definitely do that Big Idea piece for John Scalzi. Guest blogging is also cool (in fact, ask around if anyone would like you to guest blog).

But that thing where you spend hours and hours looking for reviewers, working out what sort of books they review, try to judge their readership, contact them and mail off books? Just don’t even bother. You’d be better off spending that time working on new books or being funny online.

In fact, being funny and/or interesting online is really the best marketing you can do. Have fun with that and skip the reviewers. The ones that find and review your work on their own will be good enough, but beyond that it’s too big a time sink.

Fourth, you aren’t really going to find yourself joining a new community of writers and genre fans, the way so many others seem to. Don’t worry about it.

Fifth, and last, I’m not going to spill the beans about how well your books are going to do, but I will say this: Write the books the way you think they should be written, and don’t agonize about it too much. Whether you succeed or fail, you’ll at least be doing it on your own terms.

Okay, that wasn’t the last. Here’s the last: You’ve worked pretty hard to get to this spot, but you’re going to have to work even harder to stay there.

Audiobook for CHILD OF FIRE, if you can believe it.

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I’ve been sitting on this news for about two weeks as I tried to get some further information on it, but SDCC is this week and I’m not going to wait any more.

Child of Fire is out in audiobook right now.

Now, I didn’t know this was going to happen. I didn’t even know there was a audio deal in the works. I went back to my email and searched for the word “audio” and found that the only mention was back in September 2009, when my agent mentioned in passing that she had received a note of interest from an audiobook company, which she forwarded to the publisher (since Del Rey had retained the rights).

After that, I never heard a thing about it until last month when I went to Amazon.com to create a link to the book and notices a new line in the “editions” box. I know there are some authors who are pretty heavily involved in the creation of their audiobooks, but I knew so little about it that I’ve been telling people there was no chance of an audiobook because of low sales.

So! The question you might be asking is “What about Game of Cages and Circle of Enemies? Will they be out as audiobooks, too?”

Unfortunately the answer is still “I don’t know yet.” I’m still waiting to hear back, and I don’t expect an answer on the week of (or after) SDCC. However, when I do hear, I’ll blog about it.

I should also mention, apropos to yesterday’s post about whether book reviews actually sell many books, that the initial note of interest was based on early positive reviews, so reviews can have that sort of positive benefit at least.

By the way, author and bookseller Michele Sagara weighed in on the review conversation yesterday on my LJ. She’s a smart person and if you don’t follow her you should.

Okay, Book. You don’t like me and I don’t like you…

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I just returned from the SFWA business meeting, where I learned All The Secrets. Sure, it was 40 minutes long and I left home at seven am to get there and only arrived at the library to start working at noon (thanks to a missed bus connection) but those secrets were totally worth it. [1]

I probably should have loitered afterwards to socialize, but Saturdays are a big writing day for me and I really really didn’t want to lose any more work time today. Besides, I suck at socializing. I’m the boringest guy ever, so it’s best for everyone if I just walk into a room, sit quietly, then walk out again later.

Actually, here’s a tip: If you hear there’s going to be a SFWA business meeting going on at a convention or whatever, just go ahead and crash it. No one checks IDs or anything; just walk in, help yourself to a coffee and a danish, then sit somberly while the nice folks run through the agenda. If they pass a paper around to record who attended, just write “Harry Connolly” on there or some other unrecognizable nobody, then you’ll be able to kick back for some private time with a bunch of pro writers.[2]

The meeting was at Norwescon, which I attended last year. Considering the public transit times involved, I’ve decided it’s just too far to go. Sure, the crowds will also keep me away, and my weak chat fu, and my general disinterest, but the travel times are another arrow in my quiver.

At least I got to use the nice hotel bathroom rather than the downtown library.[3]

Other news! I created a Facebook Page, and will slowly be changing my FB time to that, and trimming back my “friends” on my regular FB account. Nothing personal, but I need to recapture some of my time. If you find yourself unfriended over there, it’s only because I don’t know you really or I see the content you post elsewhere.[4]

Finally, I have something else I need to mention that keeps coming up. I shouldn’t bury it in a weekend post, but what the hell:

I’m not going to do a Twenty Palaces Kickstarter.

Yes, I’ve been involved in two Kickstarter campaigns. The Spirit of the Century one panned out pretty quickly, and the Tales of the Emerald Serpent shared world anthology is still working its way toward the goal.[5]

But neither campaign has been “mine.” I placed fiction there, but I haven’t set the goals, the pledge benefits, the timelines, none of it. I haven’t made the videos and I don’t post the updates. Those projects are someone else’s babies.

A number of people have asked: why not Kickstart a new Twenty Palaces novel? Here’s the answer: While I’m sure I could set a pledge level that people would be willing to meet, it’s not money that’s stopping me. It’s readership.

Each of the Twenty Palaces books sold fewer and fewer copies than the one before. They diminished.[6] As much as I loved the series (and believe me, I love them like crazy–those books are ten years of my life) continuing to push them would be career suicide.

I have new books I’m working on. Some of you will hate them, some will like them–I’m comfortable with that idea. But I have to be writing books that increase my readership, not shrink it.

The Twenty Palaces setting is a dead horse, and my whipping arm is tired.

Okay. Time to make pages.

[1] I’ll even share one with you: It’s hard to get rich in sf/f publishing. You heard it hear first.

[2] As far as you know.

[3] Confidential to the dude in the next stall: Holy Christ, you have my utmost sympathy.

[4] Stupid timeline.

[5] Check out the $5 and $10 pledge levels. They seem like a great bargain.

[6] Circle of Enemies has sold one-third as many books as Child of Fire, and the numbers have pretty much played out. These books are not going to make a surprise resurgence.

Hello, BoingBoing readers

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Yesterday, two and a half years after it came out, Child of Fire got a great review from BoingBoing.

And, because my luck is so very perfect, the Kindle store has gone down–apparently because of a database error–so the link from the review takes you to the physical book. No worries, though! I’m sure they’ll have it back up again in no time (grumbles). I’ve heard rumors that there are other places to buy ebooks, but who can tell whether that’s true or not?

The series runs to four books, which you can see over there on the right hand side of my blog. It’s also been cancelled. If you’re curious, I blogged about the reasons why it ended. You can also go to my home page to see the fantastic book trailer made by the guys at Wyrd.

Currently I have a new series in the works I’m about to send to my agent, an epic fantasy about two people caught up in the sudden collapse of an empire. Check out my Upcoming Books page for more info about that.

And welcome.

Pat Rothfuss reads Twenty Palaces

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Bestselling author (and my new BFF) Pat Rothfuss did a Google Hangout–aka, a webcam video interview–for Trey’s Variety Hour while I was offline dealing with my father-in-law’s passing. It’s a long interview, guys, but of course I assume you’ll want to listen to the whole thing, since my new BFF is totally interesting.

But if you want to skip straight to the good part (which would be the part about me) go to the 1 hour, 19 minute, 50 second mark where he talks about reading all three books in two days, and what he thinks about them.

Let’s embed, shall we?

I’m glad he liked the books, but whenever someone says: “They’re really different,” the tiny, pitchfork-wielding, scarlet-skinned dude on my shoulder says: “Too different!” Not that I listen, says the guy writing an epic fantasy at the end of the bronze age.

Anyway, new readers! New two-star reviews on Goodreads! It’s all a blessing, and I’m glad people are still finding the books.

I don’t hate Valentine’s Day

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I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it, either. Even before I got together with my wife, I didn’t begrudge a holiday for love, lovers, and people with strong romantic feelings.

Still, for me it’s as private as most every other part of my marriage. And I know there are lots of folks out there who hate the day with a passion.

In that spirit, let me offer my sorta-annual pitch for the Twenty Palaces books: The male and female leads do not romance each other, and do not fall in love (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Magic! Violence! Problematic work relationships!

They’re in the little-recognized genre of Paranormal Unromance.

I assume most of the people reading this post will have either read them or decided they’re not interested, but if you know someone looking for some Anti-Valentine’s reading…

Twenty Palaces fading

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Twenty Palaces, the prequel to Child of Fire and the other Twenty Palaces novels has been doing fairly well in online sales, but the numbers are going down, as I expected.

I often have people tell me that the series will become popular once enough people find out about it, but the numbers say otherwise. When I see writers posting about their self-publishing success, the month-by-month numbers always go up. Yeah, I know: December. Also: First month of release of a book with a built-in audience.

Still, January sales are less than half what they were the month before, and they’re slower at the end of the month than the beginning. What’s more, Del Rey still has Child of Fire at the 99 cent price point.

If the series was ever going to take off, it would have happened by now. I’ve decided that is vindication for my decision to move on. We’ll see how the next thing does.