Author Newsletter: 2016 Review

It’s the end of my first year as an actual author. A time for celebration perhaps, but certainly a time for reflection. So, how is this self-publishing gig working out?

  • Was it everything I dreamed of? Of course not.
  • Was it everything I expected? Err, no. Not by a long shot.
  • Was it successful? Perhaps on a moderate level, but not really.
  • But did I learn a shit load? Yes.
  • So was it a success? Definitely.
  • And did I enjoy myself? Absolutely.

But let’s look at this a bit closer. What did I really love and hate in 2016? Well, here’s how I’ll break it up:

  1. Top five reads of 2016
  2. Blogging experience in 2016 & plan for 2017
  3. What I’ve achieved as a very amateur author

Top 5 Reads of 2016

Reading is good for the soul. Reading fantasy is good for the imagination. And reading great fantasy is better than … many other things. I’ve read quite a lot this year, ranging from indie newbies to stellar megastars, and I’ve really loved the experience. But some books stick in your head more than others. That is their nature. This is my top five reads for 2016.

# 5: The Destroyer by Michael-Scott Earle

This is a great novel from an up and coming indie author. Mixing a fantasy world, elves, magic, sex, violence, and an interesting story-line, there is much in here to enjoy. It certainly felt accomplished and with a depth which is very enticing – I congratulate the author. I look forward to reading the second book soon.

# 4: Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

It’s fair to say that Mr Abercrombie is a bit of a hero of mine. I bloody love his work. The First Law trilogy is simply stunning, and I feel inclined to revisit it soon. Half the World is a YA (or cross-genre) novel, and while some of the blatant grit is removed for the younger target audience, it still retains a stunning “essence de Abercrombie”. This is book two, so make sure to pick up book one first!

# 3: The Thief Who… by Michal McClung

This book won the “Self-published fantasy blog-off” which is “hosted” / “championed” by Mark Lawrence. Having read this, it’s easy to see why it won. It’s brilliant. Fast-paced and energetic, and wonderfully inventive too. This feels professional on every level, and after just one book, the series feels sure to deliver. A must read.

# 2: The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

My first foray into the world of Mr Weeks. And what a pleasure it was. Some of the detailing in this is exquisite, but in such a fast-paced novel with a heavy spoonful of action, it’s almost possible to lose sight of this finery. Almost. Rumour has it that the Lightbringer series is even better, so I look forward to treading that path when I get to it.

# 1: Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

On the basis of pure scope, depth, and execution, this has to win my vote this year. It’s brilliant. Is it vast? Yes. Is it full of action in every corner? No. Is it therefore my natural choice for a book? No. But the characters are achingly lovely, and it is such a pleasure to read that it only felt half its length (which is still long). A masterpiece.


Blogging Experience

One of my major achievements of 2016 was getting the website setup. It doesn’t get much traffic, but it has become a personal hub for recording my writing experiences, which is actually really nice. It’s something to be proud of (I think it looks quite cool) and it offers an ongoing incentive for me personally. Hopefully others find it interesting too!

And one of the big parts of the website is the blog. I decided to start blogging about four things:

  1. Author Newsletter (what I’m up to)
  2. Writing Experience (experiences as a self-published writer)
  3. Book Reviews (why not?)
  4. Beagle’s Blot (a meandering adventure around my fantasy world)

Writing the blog has been an interesting experience. It’s a completely different type of writing, so definitely good to get some practise. And I think I’ve got better. Then again, I’ve got more to write about now, so things should get easier!

Then again, at times it has rather felt like I’ve been spending more time on blogging than writing. So I thought: how much effort has actually gone into these blogs? Well, being a statistician and accountant by trade, here’s the lowdown:

 

First thoughts: that’s a lot of blogging. To put it in context, a good length novel is 70,000 words, and Fear’s Union (which is “long”) is 120,000. So 100,000 blogging words looks like quite a lot. No wonder it felt like I was spending as much time blogging as not!

And you may not think that 100k words on blogs may not equate to 100k words in a carefully constructed novel, but you’d be wrong. Well maybe not wrong, but blogging takes more time than you might think. Even a 60 word picture-based newsletter takes about an hour or so just because of the formatting, review, setup, and inevitable IT hitches. There’s always something to sort out with the IT…

But let’s leave the effort aside and think about the output. By any mechanistic measure, if I look at the engagement on these blogs, it has been an … absolute fail. But that’s not really the point. I could have done a lot more to promote the blog, not least by looking at SEO-type stuff, but I’m not really inclined at the moment. As much as anything, this has been good experience and a documentation of my experiences over 2016. So that’s okay. It was worthwhile.

Then again, I would rather spend my time practising my craft and writing books. That is after all why I’m doing this, and I don’t exactly have a large doting audience to disappoint if I trim back my blogging. So, with that in mind, this is what I’m planning to do in 2017:

  • Author Newsletter: Two half yearly newsletter blogs (I will continue to do more frequent email newsletters).
  • Writing Experience: This was never quite monthly, although it was intended to be. However, I do actually have quite a lot to write about at the moment. I think I’ll alternate between Writing Experience and Beagle’s Blot – so one every two months.
  • Beagle’s Blot: I really like writing this one, mainly because it is a chance for me to get to know the world I write in. However, I’m actually planning some more heavy duty ‘world-crafting’ next year, and the extra time would be invaluable. So I will alternate with Writing Experience – so once every two months.
  • Book Reviews: These are probably less effort anyway, so I will continue as is. However, I did do a lot of review exchanges last year and ended up reading c. 30 books. No bad thing, but quite a lot of time if you consider that each review takes about an hour to craft. Next year, I’ll read as I read, but will target c. 12 books.
  • Book in a Blog: This was a bit of an experiment, and I’m not convinced it worked. There are better forums in which to post one’s book (e.g. Inkitt and Wattpad). I will probably stick to those in the future.

Experiences as an Author

Right, so this is where I was at the beginning of the year:

I have a really strong proposition in Fear’s Union. Now I just need to reach out and get people to find it and read it. I’m sure people will like it.

So, I built the website, decided to write a prequel novella (Mandestroy) which I would make available for free, and even entered Fear’s Union into a “self-published fantasy blog-off”. I had high expectation, but why wouldn’t you? Then again, I’m also a realist, which was a good thing, not least because expectations were well off the mark.

Here’s where I am with my current and past projects:

Fear’s Union

I spent quite a lot if time in the middle part of the year getting reviews of FU. Though there were certainly many positive points, there was also quite a lot of negative. Suffice to say that I quickly realised it wasn’t quite as polished as I thought it was… And just to confirm this, I re-read the first 10% on my way back from holiday, and didn’t like it. Hmm.

Aside from this, I’ve been thinking more about the wider fantasy world, taking influence from all the great books I’ve read this year, and had some really interesting ideas from people who reviewed it. Suffice to say that I think the entire shape of the novel needs to change and that a full re-write is on the cards.

Will this be in 2017? I don’t think so. I have other areas I’m going to focus on in the meantime, not least more comprehensive world building. What I am planning to do is rewrite the first 10% which I think is the weakest part, just so that anyone picking it up is given a fair product, but when it does get re-vamped, it will probably be only loosely recognisable. The title is likely to change too!

Mandestroy

I really enjoyed writing this. And having re-read it recently, I still like it. It’s fair to say that my Deep POV investigations have highlighted substantial prose edits, but the bones are thoroughly recognisable. And it is being picked up in a steady stream, which is nice, with positive feedback so far. So, what to do with Mandestroy?

You might think the answer is “leave it alone”, but you’d be wrong. This is my plan:

  • Release a v2 when the edited version is finished and checked over. I might also enter it into the blog-off this year.
  • Release the “full version” more widely by the end of the year. At the moment the extended version is a reward for subscribing to the newsletter, but when I have other gifts available, then I may decide to release the full version through all the usual channels.
  • I may also release a “first person” version too – as part of the deep POV experiment. I’ll have to think about the best way to do this, though.

The Mikaetan Chronicles

This is an interesting series. The first volume, the Dark Side of the Stone, is written and will be released this year. But this is actually the third book in the “chronicle”. The other two (Book of Elai and unnamed) are independent of DSotS, and chronologically before it. But having thought about it, I think it’s actually possible to connect them backwards. So it will be a loose series in reverse chronological order. Hence interesting.

Books 2 and 3 (or in fact 1 and 2) are not likely to be out this year, but I will look to make progress with them. I’ll update with the next newsletter in mid-2017.

Destination Happiness

This was a NaNoWriMo project in 2015. It is not fantasy at all, and is actually a bit of a love story, so completely outside my usual sphere. But if I recall, it was quite a nice little story that I think could have some legs. So I will try and edit that and get it released into the big bad world too. Can’t do any harm…


Thanks for Reading

So that’s my 2016. It’s been a huge learning experience, full of frustrations and head scratching, but if I look back, I am now in a much better position. A great place from which to move forward. Here’s to an equally interesting 2017!

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