Would you turn the page?

Here’s a recent “Flogging the Pro” post from Ray Ramey at Writer Unboxed: Flog a Pro: Would You Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?

Here’s the first part of the page:

Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second thought; back before anyone knew there’d even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when the big wars were over and the secret wars had just begun and people were starting to think fresh and believe everything was possible, the thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.

Despite that certainty, she made her way to the lab to pack her daughter’s lunch.

And I actually like this a lot. It reminds me of … something. I’m trying to think what. This opening, with “Back in the day, when this and that, when the other, when this other thing …” and then bringing the reader actually into the pov right at the end of the paragraph … definitely reminds me of something. Not just “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” although that is actually similar. Something else.

This also appeals to me. I like the way this starts very wide and then abruptly narrows, and I like the way we start with a huge thing — “her life was over” — and then immediately transition to something very prosaic — making her child’s lunch.

Now, I mean this appeals to me stylistically. In other ways, this opening makes me suspicious. Is this some sort of grindingly depressing literary novel about the hopelessness of finding meaning in life, or something like that? Because ha ha ha no, not interested in that at all, and these paragraphs sure look like they could go that way.

Here’s the rest of the first page:

Fuel for learning, Elizabeth Zott wrote on a small slip of paper before tucking it into her daughter’s lunch box. Then she paused, her pencil in midair, as if reconsidering. Play sports at recess but do not automatically let the boys win, she wrote on another slip. Then she paused again, tapping her pencil against the table. It is not your imagination, she wrote on a third. Most people are awful. She placed the last two on top.

Most young children can’t read, and if they can, it’s mostly words like “dog” and “go.” But Madeline had been reading since age three and, now, at age five, was already through most of Dickens.

Madeline was that kind of child — [snip]

I’m still torn.

Giving advice to a child who is, perhaps, a genius: okay.

Telling this child that most people are awful: Good God Above, woman, what is wrong with you?

So, stylistically, this is very good. The writing is definitely solid. I like this a lot, in that way. But wow, I am repulsed by the protagonist. Would I turn the page? Yes, I would. Would I expect to read more than one chapter? No, I would not.

Okay, I’m going to click through and hit the “yes” for turn the page, even though I strongly doubt that I would actually read this book. I don’t know what book this is or who wrote it yet — I haven’t looked — and I haven’t yet looked at Ray Ramey’s comments either.

Okay, he voted Yes-ish, but for different reasons than mine. About 80% of readers would turn the page. I’ve never heard of the author, but nothing surprising there, of course. Great heaping gobs of authors I’ve never heard of.

What did you think of the first page?

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Update: TANO moves into the proofing stage.

So, I finished the basic revision to TANO on Saturday.

I immediately put it into the correct template for a paperback and ordered a proofing copy. Well, two, so that my mother and I can read it at the same time. I may well do some revision still, but probably not anything huge. I sure hope nothing huge! When I read the paper version, I’ll be reading it not only for proofing, but for purposes of smoothing it out. I hope there’s not much to do there, but I’ve only read it through from the top once and then still added one conversation in the middle.

Even though I’m pushing to get everything done faster than usual, honestly, I’m super happy with how TANO is coming. I really didn’t dream it’d be practically finished a week before February! I really am thinking early March, not late March, for the release date. I’ll decide that as soon as I have a finished cover, because that’s when I’ll be able to put the ebook up for preorder.

This is definitely not a novella, by the way. I just want to make that clear. It’s 5×8, sure, not 6×9 like the main trilogy, but it’s 115,000 words and will be well over 400 pages, something like 450, I think. And yes, I’ll do a 6×9 hardcover version as well.

Anyway, to fill out the “Details” page at KDP, I had to do back cover copy. Rather than just putting in “Back Cover Copy Here,” which I sometimes do when all I want is a proof copy, I actually took a stab at writing back cover description because I’m going to need to do that in a couple weeks anyway, so why not now.

Here it is, and please tear into this. Does it look like a good beginning, or should I start over? Those of you who have read it are particularly likely to have suggestions, but remember, total accuracy is not the goal. The goal is to look enticing, particularly to people already familiar with the series, though without being terribly misleading. Also, I’m adamantly against important spoilers in cover description.

I think this book sort of stands alone kind of okay, but I expect 99% of all readers will pick it up in order, not in isolation. Nevertheless, I’m trying not to throw too many names into this description because I don’t think name-heavy description appeals to people. Also, lots of readers are bad at remembering names. (I mean, I’m terrible at remembering names). But I did put in “inTasiyo.” It could be “the enemy tribe” again, or something like that.

So, what do you think?

*** *** ***

Tano may be inGara now, but he’s not at all sure how long that’s going to last.

Already suspect because he was born to an enemy tribe, already distrusted because of his role in destroying that tribe, now that he belongs to the inGara, Tano fears that his next misstep could be his last, causing him to be cast out of his new people, maybe even worse. 

Then another young man who used to be inTasiyo brings Tano a serious problem, asking for his help. Tano owes him too great a debt to refuse … even if trying to help costs him everything.

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SF for readers Who don’t like SF


And I’m skeptical for a couple of reasons. I don’t think anything is “must read” when it comes to genre fiction, that’s one. And I hate the term sci-fi (you may have noticed I never use it myself; always SF). And of course this is Book Riot, so who knows what they might consider the ur-SF novel that everyone must certainly read?

On the other hand, sure, I’m interested. What DO you think are good SF books for people who don’t read SF? Not must-read titles, not books that formed the foundation of the genre, not seminal works or important works. I mean: Titles that would be enjoyed by someone who doesn’t like SF? Books that would stand a chance of coaxing them into the genre?

I think this kind of book should:

–Be compelling from page one, possibly because the protagonist is immediately relatable even if the setting is an SF setting, but possibly because the situation is exciting and understandable.

–Offer a setting that gives a non-SF reader somewhere familiar to stand; eg, not too weird even if it’s definitely an SF setting.

–Kind of reduce the importance of classic SF trappings, at least early in the story, because this reader is by definition someone who “doesn’t like SF” and therefore may well be pushed away by spaceships, rayguns, aliens, and so on.

–Yet at the same time, I sort of feel that if you don’t have “real SF elements,” then you’re cheating. That is, suppose you offer someone who reads historicals or fantasy something like Kindred by Octavia Butler. In what sense is that a departure for that reader? It isn’t a departure at all. It’s historical fantasy, and don’t try to tell me that time travel is an SF concept. No. In this case, time travel is an element used to build a fantasy novel, not an SF novel.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no point saying, “Let’s introduce readers to SF” and then carefully picking books that are actually much more fantasy than SF. If you’re introducing readers to SF, then do that. This also takes out a bunch of post-apocalyptic novels. If there was a plague and everyone died and now we’ve got this new society emerging from the rubble, that may well read much more like a historical or a fantasy novel, or a literary novel, or something that isn’t what people actually think of when they hear the term “science fiction.” I think that’s cheating.

As a side note, my mother always reads my books, even though she never reads fantasy ordinarily. She’s murder mysteries all the way, and strongly prefers murder mysteries written in, oh, the 1960s and before, such as the Nero Wolfe mysteries and Ellis Peters and classics like that. She thinks modern mysteries are too silly (lots of them are, the “Cutsies” that occupy the lightest part of the Cozy spectrum), or badly written (sorry, but lots of them are, especially when compared to Nero Wolfe and Ngaio Marsh and so on), and she detests cussing (she leaves me many little notes about this when she reads a Black Dog book).

So, as I say, she doesn’t read fantasy except for mine. And she has never, ever read an SF novel. And here I am, with two SF novels coming out (three if you count Invictus twice), and of course she will read them. I wonder very much what she will think. No Foreign Sky emphatically fails to meet the above criteria. The opening scene very definitely throws the reader into a hard-core SF setting and situation. Invictus is definitely more approachable. But still very much SF and not fantasy or anything else.

I wonder if Book Riot’s list will include anything at all that fits those criteria? I’ll look in a moment, but first, here are four novels that I think perhaps many readers would enjoy even if they (think they) don’t like SF.

a) The Martian. My mother wouldn’t like this, probably. All this technology, Mars, I don’t think it’s her thing. But I do think someone who ordinarily reads thrillers, say, would probably love this book. Trilling events, check. Familiar setting, check. Not too weird, check.

b) Midshipman’s Hope by David Feintuch. I’m not picking this one quite at random, but I do think a lot of military SF is pretty accessible. This particular example doesn’t have aliens — I mean, not in the first book. (As far as I can remember.) The setting should feel rather familiar to anybody who’s read and liked Horatio Hornblower. Midshipman’s Hope is also just a good story that stands alone really well. Various things about the sequels don’t work as well, but still.

c) Shards of Honor. I mean, if you’re going to have alien planets and spaceships and other obvious SF-style worldbuilding elements, then you can’t do better than LMB. It seems to me that practically anyone who reads any kind of genre fiction ought to like the Vorkosigan books.

d) Illuminae trilogy by Kaufman and Kristoff. Zillions of classic SF elements, from crazy homicidal computers to brain-eating parasites, but wow, what a fun trilogy. Just delightful. I’m not sure my mother would like it, but seriously, almost anyone else.

Now, after all that, what does the Book Riot post say? Here’s how it starts:

Sci-fi can be intimidating. Let’s not pretend it isn’t. There’s a whole set of rules to the genre and a new vocabulary to keep up with. On top of that, sometimes sci-fi can feel unwelcoming to the uninitiated. Where do you even start? Don’t worry, I, a very casual reader of sci-fi, am here to guide you. I read sci-fi the same way I watch it — infrequently and usually with popcorn.

Science fiction does not have to be all battle sequences and triangulating flight paths. The beauty of speculative fiction, which is the umbrella that sci-fi resides under, is that there is room for the fantastic, and for questioning the mundane.

Sci-fi, like most fiction genres, goes through trends. While this does mean that older sci-fi can feel extremely outdated in terms of values and even technology, it does mean that there’s an abundance of different sub-genres of sci-fi to choose from now. Even if you decide that space operas and hard sci-fi are not for you, there are still space westerns, dystopian worlds, and first-contact novels for you to check out. My best tip for finding a sci-fi book you’ll actually like is to try looking at your favorite genres for a sci-fi twist like time travel, aliens, or space travel. Ready for more? Let’s go!

Notice that the author of this post doesn’t really like or read SF. I have to say, that’s not a good sign. This person isn’t going to be widely read in the genre and they’re almost certain to try to suggest books that are as light as possible on SF elements. That’s what I’m betting. Also, of course you noticed they mention time travel. This is so very much a fantasy plot element so very much of the time, and I’m not betting that Kindred is going to appear on this list. I would bet money. Five bucks says Kindred is on this list. (I am not cheating my looking ahead, I promise.)

Oh, you can definitely tell I wasn’t cheating because I lost this bet. (With myself, so that’s the cheap way to lose a bet.)

We do have Station Eleven here. That’s very good, but it’s not that science fictiony. It’s post-apocalyptic, a slow apocalypse, with a lot of the story set in a contemporary world. People who go for literary novels like this, as is signaled by putting “A Novel” on the cover. As far as I can tell, that’s always a signal that literary readers are expected to like the book.

But there’s a lot of definite no-hold’s-barred SF on this list too, including The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and This is How You Lose the Time War.

Oh, there’s Airborne by Kenneth Oppel! That’s really interesting. My first reaction: Oh, that’s a charming story, I liked it a lot, good job picking it! My second reaction: Wait, this is fantasy, not SF!

Here’s the description:

Sailing toward dawn, and I was perched atop the crow’s nest, being the ship’s eyes. We were two nights out of Sydney, and there’d been no weather to speak of so far. I was keeping watch on a dark stack of nimbus clouds off to the northwest, but we were leaving it far behind, and it looked to be smooth going all the way back to Lionsgate City. Like riding a cloud. . . .

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt’s always wanted; convinced he’s lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist’s granddaughter that he realizes that the man’s ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.

In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwing trilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.

We have zeppelins and the air is populated by magical creatures and somehow this strikes the author as a good example of SF? How is that possible? This is an alternate history FANTASY. It’s not SF, and the word “hydrium” doesn’t make it so. This isn’t as weird as declaring that Watership Down is an example of classic urban fantasy, because nothing in the world is that weird, but it’s definitely a misstep. I’m not sure if anything else on this list is actually fantasy because I haven’t read most of them, but I’m now suspicious about the criteria used to select books for this list.

Okay! How about you? ONE SF novel that is definitely SF, no fooling, and that you think might be a good choice to appeal to readers who are into other genres, but not really familiar with and perhaps suspicious of SF.

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Wow, So Fast: or, observations about editorial comments

So, everybody got comments about TANO back to me super fast, for which I thank you all. I’m going to try to get entirely through all the revision before Monday, then start the proofing process. If I wind up being able to release this on March 1 rather in late in March, I will bless all your names.

Which leads me to the next comment:

This doesn’t surprise me one bit, in fact I would absolutely have predicted it, but I thought you might be amused to know that once again everyone picked out almost entirely unique typos. Proofreading was not the focus, of course. Nevertheless, even after all this time, I’m still amazed to see that (a) I can miss so many totally obvious typos, and (b) so can everyone else. Those of you who noted typos each got a reasonable number, and, as I say, almost all different.

Other comments:

I hate the way M-dashes look on the computer screen. There’s no other reason that you may see a draft from me with N-dashes and spaces rather than M-dashes with no spaces. I just like the way that looks better. So I do a Replace later, during the formatting process. I have a list of things to do so that I don’t forget, and this is one of those things.

This wasn’t an issue this time, but if you see anything bolded, that is never, ever supposed to be bold in the final draft. That was a note to myself. I ought to catch and remove everything bolded before anyone else reads a draft, but sometimes I goof. This is also just something to ignore, as I’ll catch it during the revision process.

Let me see, what else?

Five people have read TANO so far. Every single one of you pointed at one, occasionally two, important elements of the plot that didn’t really work. (Plus many less important details, of course). However, much like the typos, most of those important elements were unique to the reader. That was a surprise to me. I thought everyone would say THIS RIGHT HERE, I’M NOT BUYING THIS. This was the element I personally thought was weakest. Three of you did point at that, but the other two didn’t. Instead, they pointed at something else. Different things.

Once several readers confirmed that the plot element I feared might be weak actually was weak, it took like maybe five minutes to think of how to shore up that weakness. Heaven knows why I didn’t think of that before. Well, no, I know exactly why. That’s because I was thinking maybe it was passable until three of you said NO. After I had to acknowledge the weakness of that plot point and sat down and actually considered the problem properly, boom, it was not at all difficult to solve. I did that part of the revision last night and this morning and now it’s fine, or I’m pretty sure it’s fine.

This should be a lesson to me, but I expect I will continue to feel like various plot elements are possibly okay until a reader makes me acknowledge that they’re not okay.

I will add, in my opinion, one of the most crucial revision skills in the universe is the ability to read editorial comments and be able to tell whether they’re accurate. Generally speaking, I don’t have a problem with that. Mostly I either think, “Alas, I suspected that was weak,” or “Wow, I didn’t see that weakness at all, but it’s obviously weak now that you point to.” Then I fix whatever it is.

At other times, of course, I consider a reader’s comment, but decide not to revise that element. It depends, and again, the ability to decide not to change something is an important revision skill.

Let me see, what else.

Oh! One more thing.

TANO contains the very first epilogue I’ve ever written. It takes place only a few days after the close of the story, but there is that several-day gap and that’s why it’s an epilogue.

Everyone totally approves of that epilogue, and every single reader had something DIFFERENT to say about why it worked for them. I loved all the comments about this and I now I feel that the back of my brain did a really good job, because I didn’t necessarily have all those things in mind when I wrote it. It just seemed right to me.

Anyway, TANO is, I believe, well in hand, and again, thank you; you were all super helpful.

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How to write a blurb for someone else’s book

So, I was recently … semi-recently, I got behind for this sort of thing … but some time ago, I was asked to blurb an upcoming book for another author, and I said sure, and I’ve (finally) read the book and so now I am musing about how to write this blurb.

So, I happened across this funny and yet potentially helpful post at Writer Unboxed: How to Blurb Someone’s Book, which offers a helpful template, thus:

[TITLE] by [AUTHOR] is __________

(choose one)

  1. an emotional tour-de-force
  2. a pure laugh riot
  3. a chilling vision of things to come
  4. a rollicking adventure
  5. a non-stop rollercoaster ride (the loop-de-loop kind, even; don’t get me wrong, though, wooden coasters are cool, too)
  6. more suspenseful than when your in-laws’ car won’t start just as they’re about to head home
  7. a cry for help
  8. sturdily bound, printed in an inoffensive typeface

that will leave you __________

  1. on the edge of your seat!
  2. behind at the scene of the crime, police sirens rapidly approaching.
  3. begging for more!
  4. drowning in your own tears : (
  5. staring blankly into the void, waiting for death.
  6. mentally casting the movie adaptation.
  7. reaching for a stiff drink.
  8. home alone on Christmas, defending the house against incompetent burglars.

Do yourself a favor and __________

  1. buy this book.
  2. buy two of this book.
  3. at least pirate the ebook version.
  4. call up the New York Times and politely ask if they could please help you understand why they only gave the author’s last book two stars despite its obvious brilliance, and could they perhaps run a correction and apology.
  5. maybe also pick up my book, which is kinda similar and has a 3.81 on Goodreads.

So that’s not exactly helpful, but I hope you enjoy stringing some of these together!

XXXX by YYYY is a cry for help that will leave you staring blankly into the void, waiting for death. Do yourself a favor and at least pirate the ebook version.

is certainly not a blurb anybody would want to see on their own book, but possibly we can think of books we might have suffered through that might deserve it.

Bonus tip: Do not pirate the ebook version.

I should add, the actual book I just read deserves much better! But I guess I will have to put a blurb together without a helpful fill-in-the-blank template.

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Guest Post: More on Foreshadowing

Okay, everyone liked the previous post on foreshadowing, and it certainly is an interesting topic. I agree, by the way, with Mary Catelli’s comment that this topic can perhaps be usefully divided into Setup vs Foreshadowing. I was conflating the two. If we wanted to do some sort of quick definition of each, then let’s say that setup is stuff the author builds into the world and the backstory in order to make the plot work, or also things that the author puts into the front part of the plot in order to make the back half of the story work out. Foreshadowing is more like the subtle hints and lines of dialogue that the reader half-notices, and that then fall suddenly and neatly into place when the reader arrives at an important downstream moment.

That’s pretty vague, and the two categories certainly blur into each other.

So let’s think of some stellar examples of foreshadowing and/or setup! And by “let’s do that,” I mean I’m going to offer you all a guest post that pulls out three examples, written up by commenter Elaine T. after the previous post spurred conversation in her household. The rest of this post is Elaine’s, with exceedingly trivial editing to improve clarity. I mean, I’m adding boldface and things like that; also links.

Forthwith, the guest post:

*** *** *** ***

The Teen and I like to discuss writing and we really got into the foreshadowing article.  Then the Teen went off and wrote up some thoughts, which I have now made comprehensible to others who weren’t part of our conversations.  We pulled together three examples of stellar foreshadowing that we don’t think were covered in the original article:  one novel from 1903, one manga from 2006-2015, and one video game from 1997.

The novel presents itself in the beginning as a mystery.  Upon rereading it, one sees even the first page is full of ominous foreshadowing.  Such lines as: “Once more the wisdom of my manhood and the experience of my years laid themselves at the girl’s feet.  It was seemingly their own doing; for the individual ‘I’ had no say in the matter, but only just obeyed imperative orders.”  A few paragraphs onward, we are presented with the following: “It seems there is never to be any perfect rest.  Even in Eden the snake rears its head amid the laden boughs of the Tree of Knowledge.”  In context it looks like a elaborate realization by the narrator that he’s actually waking up.  (It does date to 1903.)

These pages are the only examples in the book of “active foreshadowing,” which is to say:  foreshadowing by actually saying specific things. There are other fragments that might be called foreshadowing, but I believe they qualify as setup.   Every other true instance I discerned is where absences cast their shadows into the narrative.  People do not think of certain things, primarily under specific circumstances.  The alert reader will notice these and realize what started out like a mystery story is actually a horror novel of mental manipulation. 

There are repeated mentions of strong odors due to the Egyptian antiquities in the house.  The odors affects thinking.  The alert reader, or the re-reader can notice that once the smell is remarked upon certain thoughts leave the narrator’s mind; never to return. Similarly, thoughts along certain lines get derailed by natural-seeming interruptions, again, never to return. The author writes subtly enough that it’s easy for the casual reader to miss.  This is what I term the negative foreshadow; which works by absences, a ghost on the page, a shape made out of absence.  In this book what is going on and what the characters don’t think about shapes the entire story.

 It isn’t Checkov hanging guns on the wall, it’s places where guns should be, but no one notices if they are there or not.

The novel is Bram Stoker’s Jewel of Seven Stars, which has two endings, one hopeful, substituted from an early draft is our guess; one ambiguous, the author’s final word.  The ambiguous ending fits more naturally into everything that went before. (The book is also the likely inspiration for various “Mummy” movies.)

This manga series is the most twisty thing I’ve ever read, and I’ve read some twisty stories – we’ve counted sixteen plots all running concurrently through it.  We don’t find out about the existence of some of them for a while, but the shapes were there from the beginning.  Half of the foreshadowing is in the art, which is a problem for me, but not the Teen, who is an artist.

Very nearly every single scene and line of dialogue in this series foreshadows something; and that’s not always what readers expect, either.

Background information on the setting, as provided in chapter one: a century ago, the capitol of the country was massacred, before building, corpses and all, it vanished from the face of the earth.  Repercussions are still rippling through the present day.  Someone appears to be trying to restart it. Either reincarnation or possession is involved in returning the original players to the stage.  Among this sixteen-card shuffle, there exists a subplot; concealed so cleverly we didn’t really know it existed.  Then mid-series, it reared its face. It’s relatively easy to pull out and describe, the rest are so interwoven it would be far too confusing to try.  So:

One of the characters has been established to have a recurrent nightmare, and his descriptions of it are close to the ones used about the massacre that took place one hundred years ago: “Buildings on fire. People lying dead. And wherever I look, my sword was stained with blood.”

 Most readers assume he’s a reincarnation of the guy behind the massacre, or possessed by him.  One reader – the Teen – looked at the art used to lay out the massacre he dreamt of, compared it to the memory-echo we’d already had of that first massacre; and said ‘The hands in the frame are wearing modern gloves and cuffs. The architecture doesn’t match up either.’

 Something else was going on. It foreshadowed quite another card entirely, one needle in the convoluted haystack of plots.   I would call it ‘misdirection foreshadowing’ in that it seems to set up expectations of a particular reveal in a particular plot.  Instead it focuses the reader on that one plot, only to have the author turn over a card that relates it to an utterly different sequence.  To use a poor metaphor from Wonderland, when this card was flipped we found that we weren’t chasing the White Rabbit, instead we were in the garden of the Queen of Hearts: authorial sleight of hand.

It’s very well done.  And the whole tale is full of such misdirections, I wasn’t joking when I said it’s the most twisty story I’ve ever read. 

The manga is PandoraHearts by Jun Mochizuki, and it’s well worth reading. Most of it anyway. The ending was unsatisfactory. She tied up the structure, but forgot some of her own worldbuilding at the close. Ah, the curse of a pre-planned epilogue.

The third, the video game.  The scene I’m discussing here is a flashback, a flashback so famous that it redefined for games how flashbacks worked, what information they provided and more.  Its fame amongst the community of players is well deserved.  It bombards the audience with a series of half-truths, inconsistencies, and otherwise nigh indiscernible flaws.  Unlike the first example here, this absolutely required the visual medium and animation. The flashback is about the visit of some very important people to a rather small, isolated town.

Example One, visual and animation: the character it centers on, when remarking to narrator “this is your hometown?” looks to the right, when he should have looked to the left. The person he is speaking to appears from the left moments later. This is a small thing, the whole game has them scattered throughout.

Dialogue alone conveys nothing odd.  If the player is alert to some discrepancies, it is easily waved off as a minor programming error.  There are more graphical things along the same lines.

 Interestingly, the character of the narrator seems to have changed a lot between the flashback we’re in and his mannerisms now.  He was much more excitable in the past.  Player thinks, well, time has passed, he must have mellowed.

 There are a couple remarks from the people in this hometown about the narrator/player character that are… odd. Such as the photographer who shows up and asks for pictures with the visitors.  Narrator wants to be in it.  Photographer says “I don’t take pictures of nobodies.”  Pause.  Then “hey, you grew up nice!”  Obviously recognizing the hometown boy at last.

But he was part of the group of very important people.  Why was he dismissed as a nobody?    Other moments are equally confused, or confusing.  Some can be put down as due to painful memories: last conversation with his mother before her death, and it’s not relevant to anything in the game plot. Just characterization.

Or so we think.

As far as we know, when we see it, the sequence in question details the downfall of the man who is now the Villain.  There’s some overt foreshadowing about him and his fall:  He says he’s never had a hometown; this place seems familiar; monsters who were once men had been created here. After spending seven-to-ten days digging through documents like a man possessed; he goes on a rampage, razing it to the ground.  Mid-Flashback, the narrator reacts oddly, considering this is his hometown. Instead of reacting personally, he reacts “this is horrible’. 

The most subtle bit in the whole sequence is that the villain is an unstoppable warrior who can effortlessly dispatch any foe.  Not Superman, maybe Captain America, incredibly tough, fast, and smart (not Superman, since he can be wounded).  Our narrator/player character is supposed to among those closest to being his equal. Yet, the alert player (the Teen) can spot that the narrator’s abilities shown in this flashback demonstrate only the capability of a normal human. 

What this foreshadow here is concealing is that the narrator was not actually directly experiencing about half of the events of the flashback.  He somehow wound up with the memories of another participant in it all:  The memories of the guy on the left at the beginning of the flashback.  When this is figured out within the game it is a huge reveal.  It’s also a unique use of amnesia, but this isn’t the place to expand on that.

The game cleverly uses its own progression curve – how things grow – to misdirect the player.  From apparent programming glitches to dialogue, to the way the game conveys capabilities to the players it both tricks the players and tells them the truth.

*** *** *** ***

End of the guest post; it’s me again.

These are very interesting examples, none of which I’m familiar with. I’m trying to visualize how the game would work. It’s hard because I’m not at all familiar with video games. This is no doubt as famous as you say, but nevertheless, for the sake of completion, what game is this?

How about the rest of you: other examples of particularly clever or successful foreshadowing and/or setup?

It’s probably too obvious, but: the movie The Sixth Sense offers the single best example of brilliant foreshadowing that I can think of.

And The Scholomance Trilogy may offer the second best example.

What about you all? Have you read (or played) the examples above?

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Update: Many Annoying Tasks


So, last Friday, I sent TANO off to first readers. Then, I put the draft into a paperback template so I could get a paper copy and start proofing. Doubling up on revision and proofing would mean every proofing copy I read (at least two, maybe three paper copies) would be a little different as revision would be ongoing. This is not ideal, but I thought it would be faster.

But no! I already have comments back from three readers, each noting a handful of small things to address, one or a few medium things, but (alas) two biggish things. Not super big, but I have to come up with a better justification for two plot elements. As I say, alas!

So revision first, then redo the template, THEN proofing.

But in the meantime, I’ve made decent progress with –>


Okay, so right now I have four versions of No Foreign Sky open simultaneously. Having contemplated this mess, I have decided upon a basic approach.

The original version (the longest) doesn’t have the smooth plotting of the final version, but it has more worldbuilding. Too much? Not sure. It also doesn’t have the neat secondary relationship that appeared in later versions.

The second version has smoother plotting, but other things may not be as smooth, sigh.

The third version may be the best overall, but the fourth version has some better stuff in it, especially at the paragraph level.

So right now, I am reading through versions C and D side by side. I read a bit of C, then the same bit of D, adding to and modifying C as I go.

Wow, is this tedious. But I’m almost finished.

Then I will ditch D, open B, and again skim through B and C together and tweak C.

Then the same with A and C.

Deciding which versions have things I want for the final draft and then making sure everything’s in one version and that version flows smoothly from front to back … sheesh. Did I say tedious? Because this is SO TEDIOUS. No wonder I put this off so long.

I’ll do the Tano revision before going past the C and D comparison,c and wow am I looking forward to that. Much lower degree of tedium there.

I finally bit another bullet for No Foreign Sky, however, and ordered a cover. An illustrated original cover. Ouch, that’s the expensive way to get a cover. But I would like the cover to show a turun, and I said very specifically, “This has to look like a real animal, this cannot look cartoonish in any way.” The cover artist said no problem, so we’ll see!

Oh, you don’t know what the turun look like. Well, they look like troll-centaurs with four arms as well as four legs, very large and intimidating. Think really big Clydesdale-sized centaur, only bigger and not that horselike. No fur. No tail. Four arms. Tusks, too. We’ll see what the artist does with that! I haven’t suggested any other cover elements because that’s the important element right there.


Do you think it’s important if the cover shows an action scene, or is a static scene just as good? Vote, please. There is an action scene that might be okay, but on the other hand it might be something of a spoiler. I’m inclined to make it a bridge scene rather than an action scene. But maybe that’s not a great decision?



For science fiction, should I put Rachel Neumeier on the cover, or R Neumeier, or make up extra initials and put something like RE Neumeier? (I don’t have a middle name, so I would have to make up something in order to have more than one initial.) But basically, what do you think? Initials or the full name?

This is a tactical question. When stepping into another genre, do you think it’s sensible to change the author’s name at least somewhat? I don’t think there’s any great reason to change the name completely, but I thought initials might be one more way, along with the cover art, to signal to readers that this is a departure.

Here’s a different aspect of that same question: Do you think that any significant proportion of male readers would hesitate to pick up SF novels with a woman’s name on the cover? I am actually not sure! But I’m feeling like that’s a possibility! Years ago, I thought, if I were doing it over, I’d have gone with initials right from the beginning. Now I’m thinking I might do that for SF at least.



I also ordered covers for the Invictus Duology. I rapidly tired of looking through great heaps of premade covers that weren’t really what I wanted, and went back to the same cover artist and dropped a couple more orders in his schedule. (This is the artist who did the Death’s Lady series plus Sphere of the Winds.)

This time, I don’t need illustrated covers. These should be simple. Spaceship, stars. Since I’m paying for original covers, though, I went ahead and added elements that are suitable for both covers.

When he gets around to these, I will have to think of actual subtitles. On the order form for the covers, I just said Part One and Part Two. I need something much better than that! I might do the names of the two primary characters:

Invictus: Syova or Invictus: Sevastien

Invictus: Ila

But I’m not sure. It’s true that Syova is the most important pov character for the first half while Ila gets to carry the pov more in the second half, but they both have pov scenes in both halves. I’ll have to give this some thought. I realize none of you have read this except Craig, so you probably can’t make suggestions.

Hey, Invictus is a Latin word! Maybe something in Latin for prelude and finale. Let me see, looks like that would be praeludere, which is fine, but “finale” is ultimo, which I don’t like. “Finish” is “metam,” which is not much better. Oh! “Downhill” is “declivis.” Well, what’s “Uphill?” Looks like “Ascensus.” That’s not bad! What do you think”

Invictus: Ascensus

Invictus: Declivis

Titles: so difficult and annoying! (!!!!!) At least I’m not trying to think of titles for everything else too at the same time.

I can see that I’m going to be hip-deep in revisions and formatting, back cover description and titles, for AGES. Sigh.

(Actually, I hope to be finished with ALL revision, have everything up for preorder, and move on to Silver Circle by May at the latest. Preferably sooner. Ideally much sooner.)


I’ve started The Unselected Journals of Emma M Lion, and it’s delightful, so thank you to everyone who kept getting me to shuffle it toward the top of the TBR pile.

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A Teaser for TANO

As promised, a little snippet from the beginning. This is not in fact enough to show you the central problem, but I think it’ll give you an idea about Tano himself — what he’s like, the problems he’s facing.

Let me know what you think! I hope you want to turn the page!

*** *** *** *** ***

Ryo came to his father’s tent alone, which for one breath frightened me very much.

Koro inKarano had declared that the gods favored the Lau and he would not put Aras to death, but I thought something else might have happened; I thought perhaps our king had found some reason to change his mind. Indeed, after Aras had set sorcery upon Koro, no matter how briefly, it seemed to me that king might very well have found any number of reasons to change his mind and put him to death even though he had said he would not do it.

Or perhaps Aras had done some other thing with sorcery, even a very small thing, and the king had put him to death for that. Koro had sworn to set aside only the forbidden acts Aras had already committed, not anything further he might do, and plainly Aras now found it much more difficult not to commit those acts than had been so before.

All those thoughts went through my mind very fast.

But almost at once I saw nothing like that could have happened. Ryo was not upset. A warrior should have more pride than to carelessly show anger or dismay or grief or any such feeling, but if Aras had been killed, Ryo would not look like this: quietly calm in his mind and his heart. He had not looked as quiet as this for many days. I thought he might not have looked as quiet as this since we had all returned to the land of the living from the land of the shades.

Obviously nothing else terrible had happened. Obviously Ryo had come to a better accord with Aras. That was one good thing that had come from everything that had happened. That was probably the only good thing that had come from all those events.

That, and the destruction of the inTasiyo, and the death of my father.

I caught that thought almost at once and made it into a different thought: the destruction of the people who had once called themselves inTasiyo, and the death of their warleader, Yaro inTasiyo, who was not my father. I had made that mistake more than once. No one had corrected me for it yet. But it was very important that I stop making that kind of mistake before someone took offence.

He would not yet be dead. They would not even have cut out his tongue and cut off his hands, not yet. Koro had told Royova inVotaro to take him a whole day’s ride from this place and do it there. Perhaps that was the custom; I did not know. But I wished Koro had ordered it done at once, here, in front of everyone. I knew Royova was a very great warrior; I knew the inVotaro were all great warriors; but I could not help but fear that the inTasiyo warleader might escape. I was very certain he would try to escape, or fight, or else he would try to bring Royova himself or some others of the inVotaro warriors under his will. Perhaps even now he might have done one or another of those things. Perhaps he had done all those things. They might be very great warriors, but they did not know him. They had never faced the burning forcefulness he owned, the forcefulness that made people give way to him and want to do as he commanded.

Even if nothing I feared had happened, even if Royova carried out the king’s commands, my fath—the inTasiyo warleader – would not die quickly. He was too strong to die quickly. He would probably live until he died of thirst. Even with the loss of blood, that would take more than one day. It might take more than two. If he came upon someone willing to help him, if his own people found him before he died, he might not die at all.

He would not be able to speak to anyone. Royova would have cut out his tongue. Unless Yaro had persuaded him not to do it.

I knew very well that was not at all likely. Yet I could not imagine my – the inTasiyo warleader voiceless. That was impossible to imagine. It was much, much easier to imagine that he might persuade Royova not to do it, not to carry out any of Koro’s commands.

I pressed all these thoughts aside, as I had done again and again since the king had spoken that sentence. I knew these thoughts were very foolish, entirely foolish. Also, I did not want to think of anything having to do with Yaro inTasiyo or with all the people who had been the inTasiyo. I tried instead to think of the people who had left the inTasiyo before the king had spoken his sentence. Especially Vayu.

I was very glad Vayu had left the inTasiyo and gone to the inKera. I was very glad he had taken his little brother Darayo into the inKera with him. Vayu had not been my friend – I had not had friends among the inTasiyo; the very word friend sounded strange when I thought of the word in any way that involved me. But Vayu had been kind to me when I had desperately needed that kindness. Later, he had extended to me an act of generosity more important than simple kindness.

I had sworn to remember nothing of any people before I had come into the inGara, but that kind of oath is kept with the tongue and the teeth, not in the heart. Or for me that was how it was. Perhaps other people might forget when they swore they would forget, perhaps it was a flaw in me that I remembered everything.

I would much rather have forgotten almost everything. Nearly all those memories were bitter; more bitter now that I understood better what my father had done to me, to the inTasiyo.

But a few memories were not like that. I was glad Vayu and his brother had not become nameless people. They would do so much better with the inKera. I knew the inKera warleader would treat Vayu justly and kindly. I did not know the lord of the inKera at all, but he was Hokino’s brother and Ryo spoke well of him. Also, he had been very generous to take in so many of the people who had been inTasiyo. Not only Vayu and his brother, but also others. Lisig and her baby. Lisig had been brave to walk away from the inTasiyo. Her courage had grown from her bitterness, I understood that very well, but it had still been a brave act.

So those were good things that had happened. But it was hard not to think of the many bad things that had happened because of the acts of the inTasiyo warleader.

I had come to Sinowa inGara’s tent partly because I had no real place within the inGara camp and did not know where else to go; and partly because I wanted to know what the lord of the inGara might do and say regarding all that had happened and hoped he might let me stay near him and listen if I stayed very quiet; but mostly because I knew that after everything was finished, Ryo would almost certainly come to his father’s tent. I had come there with Garoyo, settled to one side of the entry, and waited quietly. Garoyo had gone out again later, but I had stayed where I was. Other people had come to speak to Sinowa and then gone out again. The lord of the inGara paid no attention to me, so everyone else pretended not to notice me either.

When Ryo came in, he did not bother with that kind of pretense. He nodded to me. Then he knelt and waited for his father to acknowledge him. He was not afraid. That still struck me, even after all this time. He knew he had displeased Sinowa; he expected his father to be angry with him; but he was not afraid. I knew it was different between them than it had been between my—between Yaro inTasiyo and me, but every time I saw the difference, it still struck me.

After a little time, not long, Sinowa looked at Ryo. “My son.”

Ryo stood up, came forward the small distance, and knelt again. “Lord,” he said. “I apologize for my disgraceful behavior. I was insolent to you, to your warleader, and to our king. I deserve your punishment for it, lord.”

“You do. I will consider that in a moment,” his father answered. “Tell me how it happened between Aras and Koro.”

“I was not there when they spoke to each other. I do not know how it happened. I know that Aras will take another oath at dawn. He will swear again not to use forbidden arts against any Ugaro. He will swear this beneath the light of the rising Sun. I am certain he will keep this oath.”

He could not possibly be certain. No one could be certain of Aras now. But his father only nodded and waited for him to go on.

Ryo continued. “I know our king commanded him to go back to the summer country and forbade him to return to the winter country unless Koro himself gives him leave to do so.”

Sinowa nodded again. “All this, I knew would happen, unless something else happened.”

“Yes,” said Ryo. “Nothing else happened, or nothing else I know. Aras will go back to the summer country soon. I do not know how soon. Perhaps my father discussed this with our king.”

“A handful of days, perhaps two handfuls. Probably not longer than that, no matter that the cold will linger for many more days than that. He will stay with the inGara until he leaves on this journey. He will stay near my wife for those days. When he departs, you will go with him, my son. You will go with him into the summer country. If he can find a way to do so, he will remove his leash from your mind and free you from every manner of his sorcery.”

Nothing in this surprised Ryo at all. “Yes, lord. I think he will try to do everything you say, though some of that may not be possible. Darra inKarano and Elaro inPorakario will accompany us as far as the river and then return. Perhaps my father knows that as well.”

“Ah.” Sinowa lifted a bowl of warm berry cordial, turned the bowl in his hands, and set it down again without drinking. “I had not heard this, Ryo, but I heard some things that make this news a little less surprising than it might have been. Though nothing could make this decision less than remarkable.”

I did not understand why this was remarkable. I could think of several reasons the daughter of Koro inKarano might wish to make that journey, and other reasons the poet from the east might wish to do so, but none of those reasons seemed remarkable to me. I turned Sinowa’s comment over in my mind, but still I did not understand, so I set the puzzle aside to consider later. The lord was going on. “Or have you made a firm decision? Perhaps you intend to consider this decision for all the days you ride south. Perhaps everyone intends to consider this important decision that long.”

“This may be so,” Ryo answered. “But I think I have almost decided, Father. I think we have all almost decided. I hope this does not displease you.”

“I have not discussed the matter with your mother. But I think she will probably not disapprove, as long as your decision in the matter is firm when you make it. If your mother does not disapprove, then I will not disapprove either.”

Ryo bowed his head. “I will discuss this with her before we leave.”

“That might be wise,” Sinowa agreed. He picked up the bowl again. This time he sipped the cordial. For a little while there was quiet, as both of them waited to see if either wished to say something else on that subject.

I certainly wondered very much what problem had arisen that they both thought should be set before Ryo’s mother. I wondered whether they wanted Marag inGara’s opinion as a woman or her opinion as a singer. Of course I could not ask. I breathed evenly and slowly, keeping my eyes lowered, making myself as unobtrusive as possible.

After some time, Sinowa said, “Now, let us consider the other problem. My son, you are old enough to understand you should not give way to temper. You were angry and upset. That does not excuse your behavior, which was indeed disgraceful. I would be ashamed for the inGara even if you had spoken insolently only to me. That you spoke so sharply to our king was worse. That you spoke to defend Aras was well enough. You should have requested Koro’s permission to speak. He would have granted it. But it was not your place to put yourself forward in that way. I am embarrassed that I failed to teach you to do better when you were much younger than this.”

Ryo bowed in acknowledgment. He was genuinely ashamed, I knew, although I did not fully understand why. Except that I knew Ryo always thought he should behave perfectly and was deeply ashamed when he failed in any way. It had taken me a long time to understand that.

I had no idea whether I had ever been ashamed of my behavior that way until Ryo made me understand that some actions were shameful. I had only ever been afraid of punishment, if my father decided I had behaved in a way that displeased him. I had never thought of shame. I still had only a very imperfect understanding of what actions were shameful and what actions were honorable. This was something I knew I must learn to understand much, much better. For now, I watched Ryo and his father, trying to guess what each would do and say so that I could test my understanding against their actions and their speech.

“Our king was generous to declare himself unoffended,” Sinowa said. “But your behavior was still disgraceful. What punishment would be just for your insolence today?”

I had not expected that. My father would never have asked a question like that.

Obviously Ryo was not at all surprised. He answered, “I understood I was wrong, yet I still spoke intemperately to you and to my eldest brother and to our king. That is a worse fault than temper alone. Twice twenty.”

His father nodded thoughtfully. “As you say, you understood your temper was too high and too hard for that moment. In some ways, that is indeed a worse fault, but in other ways, it is not as bad. I prefer that my sons understand at once when they fail in some way, without requiring anyone to explain the fault to them.”

That thought seemed important. I knew this was a problem I had, that I did not understand anything until someone explained it to me. I felt a rush of heat to my face and bowed my head so that neither Ryo nor his father would see I had flushed – though of course they were not looking at me.

Ryo’s father continued. “You apologized to Koro and you apologized to your brother. You tried hard to control your temper, and you almost succeeded. Twice twenty is too severe.” He paused. Then he added, “Still, I agree you should have done better, my son. Twenty. Stand up and take off your shirt.”

My father – Yaro inTasiyo – would never have stated the punishment before picking up the whip. He would never say first what might be enough. He would beat someone until he chose to stop. But I had already guessed Sinowa might handle the matter differently. When Ryo had beaten me, both times he had beaten me, he had given the count first. That had made even the terrible beating he had given me first easier to bear. Several things had made that easier to bear.

Ryo bowed, accepting his father’s decision. He stood up as his father had ordered and took off his shirt. The bandage across his chest showed where the inTasiyo warleader had cut him. The cut had not been bad. It had taken only ten stitches to close the wound. If the knife had struck a handsbreadth lower, the cut might have been much more serious. He had taken a cut across one arm as well, but that was nothing. Older scars showed the many wounds he had taken that had been more serious than these. Those were healed now, but some of those wounds had been so recent that the scars were still obvious. Some of those scars would fade, but some he would surely carry all his life no matter how long he lived. I was pleased, for no clear reason, that the wounds Yaro inTasiyo had dealt were not serious enough to leave scars like that.

Despite the whip that lay near his father’s hand, Ryo showed no sign of fear or dismay or even reluctance. But once he had tossed his shirt aside, he suddenly faced his father again, knelt, and said, “Lord, may I ask someone to help me stand? I would prefer to ask Tano to help me.”

His father looked at him in surprise. Then he looked at me. I was staring, entirely astonished. Many times, Ryo inGara had surprised me very much, but perhaps never more than in that moment. I knew – anyone would know – that he did not need help to stand. Least of all did he need my help. I would have thought I had imagined that request, except that his father had also plainly heard him make it. When Sinowa looked at me, I realized I was staring and lowered my eyes at once.

Sinowa turned his gaze away from me, back toward his son. He said, “I know you find the whip hard to bear. Have I chosen too harsh a punishment, my son?”

That astonished me almost as much as Ryo’s request. I had lived among inGara and inGeiro for many days, but still, I had not realized a man might ask his son a question like that – or for such a reason. Certainly I had not imagined Ryo might be afraid of a beating. He was not afraid of anything, as far as I had ever seen – certainly not of his father, nor his father’s anger, nor his father’s punishment. I was staring once more. I had to learn to do much better, to hide my reactions much better. I dropped my gaze again, but watched Ryo through my lashes, trying to understand this.

“No, lord,” Ryo answered at once. “Your punishment is not as severe as I deserve. But even so, I would prefer to ask Tano to help me, if you will permit this.”

Sinowa inclined his head. “You may ask someone for help if you wish. As Tano is here, if you find it convenient to ask him, that will do, though he is young for it.”

“He knows how it is done.” Rising again, Ryo turned to me, beckoning to me to stand. He saw how surprised I still was – obviously they both knew that – but he did not laugh at me, only held out his hands for me to put my own up against them. Getting to my feet, I did as he wanted, though hesitantly. He set his palms against mine, a light pressure, not gripping my fingers.

He said, in the quiet way he usually spoke to me, “After a man takes a very severe beating, so severe his pride breaks, he will be much more afraid of the whip. That fear will linger for a long time, even if the whip is not held by an enemy. It will remain even if he knows that this time a beating will not be that bad. Perhaps you already understand all this. You may not know that I once took that kind of beating. It happened more than two winters ago. The fear is less than it was. It is an echo of the fear I felt at first. But I think that echo may never pass away completely.”

I had had no idea. This had never occurred to me at all. Of course I had heard tales of the Lau sorcerer who had made trouble for inGara and many other tribes, who had been an enemy of Aras Eren Samaura. I knew this sorcerer was probably the enemy whom Ryo meant. I would have liked to hear that tale. But none of that concerned me as much as other things I suddenly understood. I had never known why Ryo let Rakasa inGeiro help me when he beat me. I had never known why Rakasa had chosen to help me, or why they had both said afterward that I had done well enough when I knew I had not done well at all. I had been surprised and puzzled when Ryo permitted the Lau to give me their salve afterward. Now I thought I might understand all those things.

I also understood why he had asked me to help him. He did not need help. Of course he did not. He wanted to show me that this kind of fear, the cold dread of the whip, was nothing. For him, perhaps it was nothing. He might fear the whip – perhaps that was true – but I doubted very much he feared it as I did. I did not believe he could fear anything that much.

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The Ten Awful Truths about Book Publishing

Well, THERE’S an eye-catching post title. This is a post at Berrett-Koehler Publishers, which I saw via the Passive Voice blog — The Ten Awful Truths about Book Publishing. Fine, what are these truths and just how awful are they?

-The number of books being published every year has exploded. [N]early 1.7 million books were self-published in the U.S. in 2018, which is an incredible 264% increase in just five years.  By 2019, the total number of books published in the U.S. exceeded 4 million in that year alone.

Yes, that isn’t so far an awful truth, just a truth.

–Book sales are stagnant, despite the explosion of books published. U.S. bookstore sales have declined 42% from their peak in 2007.

That’s admittedly not great. That’s a lot worse than stagnant. That’s falling off a cliff. Although bookstore sales doesn’t count ebooks, so … not sure this is actually super relevant to overall book sales.

Ah, here we go, this is more relevant:

–Despite the addition of e-book sales and downloadable audio sales, overall book sales have shrunk. Even adding in e-book sales and audio sales, the total book publishing pie has shrunk since its peak in 2007—yet every year it is divided among millions more titles because of the explosion of new titles and because most titles ever published are still available for sale.

But then we go back to excluding e-books!

–Average book sales are shockingly small—and falling fast. The average U.S. book is now selling less than 200 copies per year and less than 1,000 copies over its lifetime. According to BookScan—which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail print sales of books (including Amazon.com)—only 690 million print books were sold in 2019 in the U.S. in all publishing categories combined, both fiction and nonfiction.

Look! This says “print sales.” It’s ridiculous to exclude ebooks and then draw conclusions about book sales overall. If you don’t count ebooks, you’re just pretending to address sales. [Also, they mean FEWER. Just didn’t want you to think I didn’t notice.]

-A book has far less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.

I think most traditionally published fiction titles are, right? But not for very long, probably.

–It is getting harder and harder every year to sell new titles.

Could be, but I’m not convinced yet.

–Most books today are selling only to the authors’ and publishers’ communities. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.

Bold is mine. This post is emphasizing nonfiction, as far as I can tell, though I imagine many of the broader points could apply to fiction as well.

–Most book marketing today is done by authors, not by publishers.

–No other industry has so many new product introductions.

I think I disagree with this definition of “product.” I wouldn’t treat each individual book as a new product. I think it would make a lot more sense to treat each individual author as a product. It doesn’t matter what cover or title a publisher puts on a book by Nora Roberts; all her books will sell no matter what the publisher does.

–The book publishing world is in a never-ending state of change.

That isn’t an awful truth. Like the first point, it’s just a truth.

I will say, that thing about the average US book selling fewer than whatever number of copies, well, even if we correct the numbers by including ebooks, “average” is a word that disguises an awful lot of what is going on. Do they mean mean or median? I hope median, as megabestsellers would haul the mean way far over one direction, while a ton of books selling in the single digits will haul it way back the other direction. Neither would be useful in seeing what’s really going on.

Also, it’s an obvious truth that a large proportion of all books published are on one playing field and the rest are on an entirely different playing field. I don’t mean self- vs traditionally published. I mean extremely terrible books vs readable-to-good books. The former should be discounted before asking how the picture looks.

Here are some actual numbers from traditionally published authors who are all clients of a particular agency:

Let me give you some real numbers from real royalty reports received by our agency without revealing the author name or the publisher (note the different genres and number of books):

Author 1: novelist – 3 books – avg. lifetime sales per title = 8,300

Author 2: novelist – 12 books – avg. lifetime sales per title = 19,756

Author 3: novelist – 3 books – avg. lifetime sales per title = 7,000

Author 4: novelist – 7 books – avg. lifetime sales per title = 5,300 (two different publishers)

Author 5: nonfiction devotional – 5 books – avg. lifetime sales per title = 10,900

Author 6: nonfiction – 2 books – avg. lifetime sales per title = 5,300

Author 7: novelist – 4 books – avg. lifetime sales per title = 29,400

Author 8: nonfiction – 3 books – avg. lifetime sales per title = 18,900

Author 9: fiction – 7 books – avg. lifetime sales per title = 12,900

Author 10: nonfiction – 5 books – avg. lifetime sales per title = 6,800 (three different publishers)

That’s all very well, in fact it’s quite interesting, but it raises a different question: What in the world do you mean by lifetime? If Author 1’s debut novel came out three years ago, then their numbers are 8000 or so copies per book over one to three years. If Author 2’s debut novel came out twelve years ago, then their numbers are about 20,000 copies over one to twelve years.

8000 copies per three years is 2600 copies per year.

20,000 per twelve years is 1666 copies per year.

For all we can tell, Author 1 is selling better, not worse, than Author 2! Lifetime is a stupid measure unless you define lifetime! Right? Or am I missing something obvious? It sure looks to me like the relevant measure MUST include time interval: how many sales per year, or how many sales per ten years, not how many sales per lifetime when at any moment, the lifetime of any random collection of books has to vary from less than one to over fifty years.

Regardless, the picture may still be bleak in some ways, I know. In a lot of ways, really. Authors Guild Survey Shows Drastic 42 Percent Decline in Authors Earnings in Last Decade. That was in 2018. The Authors Guild’s 2018 Author Income Survey, the largest survey of writing-related earnings by American authors ever conducted finds incomes falling to historic lows to a median of $6,080 in 2017, down 42 percent from 2009. This included traditionally, hybrid and self-published authors who have commercially published one or more books. When discussing median incomes, the survey looked at both full-time and part-time authors.

Now that’s bleak.

On the other hand … I’m surprised to see no pushback on this from The Passive Guy. I think it’s quite obvious that a rather large absolute number of authors, including a fair number of self-published authors, are earning some reasonable income via writing. Once you define the playing field to exclude the hordes of really terrible, unreadable books, then the proportion of authors earning some reasonable income is probably higher than it looks at first.

This reminds me in some ways of that famous post Slushkiller by Teresa Nielson Hayden. When you submit a query to an agent or a book to a publisher, you’re not competing with ALL the query letters or ALL the books. You’re only competing with whatever fraction of query letters are not terrible, or whatever fraction of books are not terrible.

I’m not aware of anyone who has ever worked out even the roughest possible average for book sales or author income AFTER excluding unreadably terrible books. But this would be, in a way, easy to do. I mean, this is a quick-and-dirty method that would lump some unknown percentage of perfectly decent books in with the unreadably terrible ones. In fact, really this is a division that isn’t about quality as such, though unreadably terrible books would almost all fall into just one of the categories, which is the point. This division is about cutting the world of available titles into two categories: Books That Aren’t Selling At All vs Book That Are Selling.

Just exclude all titles that haven’t sold a single copy in a whole year. Or the equivalent in KU reads, of course. Or you could make it six months or whatever you preferred. No matter what else may be true, books that aren’t selling at all are just not relevant data points if you are interested in sales numbers for books that are in fact selling some copies. Then you can cut both categories again: Nonfiction vs Fiction. Sales of nonfiction are not relevant to sales of fiction and vice versa. I think most writers who have the remotest clue, and who want to succeed, and who are writing readable books, can get almost any readable novel to sell enough copies to move from the first category into the second. That category is the one that actually matters.

Once you exclude books that aren’t selling at all, you can actually look at median copies sold per year for books that are selling or median income per book for novelists who are selling books and various other interesting data. Maybe that would make it easier, or at least possible, to draw conclusions that are somewhat valid.

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