I actually have two problems with Terry Pratchett, but they both have to do with the quality of his writing. It’s too good. Now, I’ve never met the man, but he’s clearly brilliant, and I’m sure he’s charming and kind to small animals and all that, but he’s upset my life in ways I am finding difficult to overcome.
Discovering a new author whose work I enjoy used to excite me. When I was young, I would pick up a book based on the front cover or the blurb on the back and, if I really enjoyed it, I’d voraciously consume all of his or her other books I could find. After Pratchett, that seldom happens because now authors have to meet a higher standard. Their books have to be as good as Pratchett’s.
I know it’s not all Sir Terry’s fault. Publishing, after all, is a business, and the big publishers tend to publish books they think will have wide enough appeal to make them some money. The way they predict what will sell is by what has sold well recently, and they therefor produce a great many books that are much the same. I’ve found few new books from traditional publishers that I found entertaining. They tend to have annoying, angst-filled characters, focus on action over plot, and include far more sex and/or violence than needed for their frequently formulaic stories. Even when I find one I enjoy, one that’s original and well-crafted with truly likeable and even admirable characters, my final assessment is normally something like, ‘That wasn’t bad, but it’s no Pratchett.’
So, when I come to the final page of a book now, rather than going to the library or the internet, or one of the few remaining brick and mortar bookstores near me, I find myself going to my bookshelves and thinking, ‘What Discworld book should I reread now?’ When I do pick up a new book, it is, more often than not, nonfiction, assuming in advance that any work of fiction that may catch my eye is not going to be as good as a Discworld novel. So why bother?
That’s my first problem with Pratchett. He’s limiting my exposure to new novelists.
The last Discworld book I re-re-re…reread was Maskerade. It has four interweaving plot threads. One is about how Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg need to find a new third witch because two witches are invariably an argument without a mediator. The second is the story of Agnes Nitt, a large young woman with ‘a great personality’ and a fabulous voice who leaves the country for the big city to be a singer. The third tells the story of Nanny Ogg’s libido-stimulating cookbook and provides a few satirical insights about the publishing industry. And the fourth is a parody of The Phantom of the Opera as well as a satire about opera in general. The characters are charming. The story is intelligent, witty, and insightful. I find myself instantly engaged, and at the end, I feel a kind a bibliophilic fulfillment that is probably similar to how a gastronome feels after an exquisite gourmet meal.
This normally would not present a problem to the gastronome unless he is also a chef and knows without a doubt that he could never prepare dishes like that no matter how hard he tries or how long he lives. That’s the feeling I get from Pratchett because I also write stories, just not as well. I’m not saying they’re bad. I wouldn’t write them if I thought that. I personally think they are quite good, but I could never create something like Maskerade, and the sad fact is Maskerade is not my favorite Discworld novel.
That’s my second problem with Pratchett. He’s giving me one hell of an inferiority complex.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to write like Pratchett. The best authors have a unique voice, and you can often distinguish one of their books without looking at the cover or title page. But there is an intrinsically satisfying feeling of completeness I get from reading a Pratchett work that I would love to be able to achieve in my own novels. Actually, I’d be almost as happy if other authors could as well because even though I now have hardcover editions of all the Discworld novels (about 40 so far) they are bound to wear out eventually.
Great news! After several months of intensive effort and coordination, The Warden Threat is now available in paperback!
The Kingdom of Westgrove faces a grave threat, but is it the one the king’s advisers are warning him of?
Prince Donald, the idealistic third son of the king of Westgrove, believes he may be the only one able to protect his country from an invasion spearheaded by an ancient and massive magical stone warrior known as the Warden of Mystic Defiance. Donald, unfortunately, is woefully unprepared. His only real understanding of such things comes from his reading of adventure stories. When he finds an ancient scroll he believes may allow him to take control of the mysterious Warden, he eagerly takes on the task. He dreams of saving the kingdom and becoming a hero like those in his epic adventure stories. To his dismay, his quest turns out to be nothing like he imagined. He finds the stories in his library seriously understate the complexities and hardships involved. He also soon realizes that the real world can be much more confusing than fictional ones and that the hero is not necessarily predestined to save the day.
This ‘laugh-out-loud’ parody is a unique book. Technically science fiction, it is almost an anti-fantasy, which pokes a fair, or perhaps an unfair amount of good-natured fun at the serious tone and dependence on magic common to many epic fantasy adventure genre novels. With its charming and truly likeable characters, witty, intelligent humor, and prose style blending humorous science fiction and epic fantasy elements, The Warden Threat is a delight. It is sure to appeal to readers of these genres who may be looking for something fresh and different.
- The Warden Threat: “it’s laugh-out-loud funny”
- “the grammar is refreshingly precise and the vocabulary, well, scrumptious”
- “The characters are believable and well-rounded”
- “the whole book is filled with little gems”
- “shows the influence of Terry Pratchett in style and current events … easy to read, but hardly simplistic.”
- “a lighthearted epic fantasy parody with a science fiction twist that kept me engaged and entertained from page one.”
Do you enjoy reading? Do you find yourself immersed in the fictional worlds you read about? Do you find written stories more satisfying than movies or TV because they allow you to understand the characters, their motivations, and their ideas far more deeply? When you read, do you often think you would like to tell your own stories? Is there something you really want to say, ideas you want to share?
If so, you should try writing.
If, on the other hand, you read fiction once in a while and think it looks easy, think you could do something similar and make money, then my advice is don’t write. If these are your motivations, you may publish and you may even make a little money, but chances are you’d be happier and more successful in a different job.
Writing has to be a passion for you but before you begin, here are ten harsh realities you should consider.
1: Writing fiction is hard work. You may have a great idea for a story but transforming this into a novel is far more than just starting on page one and banging out words on a keyboard. When you read, things seem to flow from one event to another smoothly and logically. You may think all you have to do to write your own story is start with an idea of how the story begins and ends, let the logical sequence of events unfold in your imagination and simply write them down. It doesn’t work that way. You will need to consciously develop characters, settings, and timelines and you will need to know more about each than you ever reveal in your story. The characters and settings are your raw materials. Know them well. With them you construct scenes that become components of the story you want to tell. You assemble your novel from scenes the way a builder constructs a house from bricks and lumber. Oh, and it helps to have a blueprint.
2: You first need a plan. Your blueprint is your outline, or your rough synopsis, or whatever you use to help you think out how to get from your first scene to your last. Some people are “pantsers” and essentially create stories by the seat of their pants but even they usually have notes to help them. I am more of a “plotter” and develop outlines for the novel, scene summaries, and other plans to help me make sure I know what I’m going to build before I start. Personally I think this makes for a better story and reduces the amount of rewriting that needs to be done after your first draft is complete. The time spent planning your novel before you start is time well spent.
3: It takes more time than you probably think. You can read a book in a day or a week in your spare time. How much longer can it take to write those words rather than read them? A lot longer–trust me on this. Sometimes the words don’t come; often they must be revised, replaced, or simply deleted. My personal goal for writing a first draft is to complete one chapter (normally 3000-5000 words) a week. This is not terribly ambitious. Some fulltime writers can accomplish much more. Part time writers should expect to be able to do less. At my goal writing pace though, I should be able to complete a full novel with twenty to twenty-five chapters in about thirty weeks. And I write almost every day. And then there is editing and revising. Aspiring writers must be willing to sacrifice a lot of their otherwise free time in order to complete a novel.
4: Don’t forget research. But I’m writing fiction, you say. Why do I need to do research? I’m just making this stuff up. Fiction must be believable and almost all fiction will contain elements that are real. If a scene includes people riding horses or fighting with swords, you need to know something about horses and swords. Certainly some of your readers will and if you make a mistake in describing some detail, they’ll notice and it will ruin the story for them. Fortunately the internet can make the author’s research job easier but it still takes time and effort.
5: You don’t get paid for your work. Unlike a salaried job, in which you are paid for every hour of labor, productive or not, as a fiction novelist your effort yields no money until someone buys the end result. You are likely to work for months or years on a project and never see a penny from it — ever. You hope your novel will sell eventually though, but you must be able to accept that yours will not. A simple fact is that most novels never find a traditional publisher so don’t quit your day job unless you have another source of income.
6: Prepare to be brushed off or ignored. After you’ve completed your brilliant novel, you decide you will allow an agent or publisher the privilege of seeing it. You send queries and you wait. You wait some more. If you submitted on line or through email, a response may come within days, sometimes hours. Other times it will take months and it will be a rejection. Statistically, your chances of acceptance are only about one percent. Don’t think this means you just have to send out a hundred queries. Each submission is a separate event. And the responses you get probably will simply say your work doesn’t meet their current needs, or something equally unhelpful. What those current needs might be and why your masterpiece doesn’t meet them will remain a mystery.
7: You can’t give up. You submit and resubmit your story and you keep getting rejections. Once in a while, you may get a request for a partial first. But ultimately it’s another rejection. You have to be willing to accept whatever advice the rejections offer or, more likely, be willing to accept that the rejections offer no advice at all and keep trying despite your frustration, confusion, and growing sense of hopelessness. I won’t offer any platitudes here and say that eventually you will find the ‘right’ agent or publisher. Odds are you won’t. You have to be willing to accept it and keep trying anyway.
8: Accept that you are not special. But, you might say, these gloomy anecdotes don’t apply to me. I’m brilliant and I can write a best selling novel in a month, which will be accepted by the first agent I query and immediately be sold to a major publisher. Sorry. This does apply to you because only exceptional people write novels and almost all agree it is a lot of work and almost all get rejections. In a world of about seven billion people, you are just another one of the millions of exceptional ones who write. Those who eventually – EVENTUALLY – find a publisher are a minority. Most novels remain unpublished.
9: Be willing to try again. You’ve completed your novel and queried every agent and publisher on your list (which takes even more research) but to no avail. Okay. It’s time to write another novel and go through all the work, sacrifice, and pain again. Chances are, you’ve learned something the first time and your chances may be a bit better with the next one. But you have to accept that the result may be the same as before.
10: Consider alternatives. With the rise of electronic books, self publishing can be a viable alternative for you. You can now publish e-books through Amazon, Smashwords, and other places. Publication is free, but if you want to actually sell copies, you will probably need professionals to edit your book, design the cover, and promote it. These services can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars, which you can’t expect sales of your e-book to offset. Just having your e-book available on Amazon does not mean you will ever see any sales.
So how important is writing to you? Would you continue to write even if you found it difficult, even if it took up most of your free time, even if it never earned any money, even if it actually cost you money? Can you deal with rejection after rejection and still keep writing? If you can, you’re either crazy or a writer. Welcome to the club.
I was listening to an obscure band, playing music in a relatively obscure musical subgenre last night on my MP3 player when I realized that before the age of digital music, I would never have heard either this band or this type of music. It was simply too different, too outside the mainstream, and too risky for any music producer to take a chance on. But the rise of digital music has led to the evolution of many new musical subgenres and I can’t help wondering if something similar might not be happening for fiction.
I think it may. One bit of advice I saw recently for writers of e-books seemed counterintuitive at first but it reinforces this idea. The advice? – Don’t try to appeal to a broad audience. Focus on your core group, those likely to be strong fans and don’t worry about pissing off those who aren’t, even if that’s the majority of people on the planet.
I’m not entirely sure, but this might not be bad advice. It happened with music. It split into a great number of subgenres and I doubt many of them appeal to more than a relatively small group — but those who like them, really like them.
So what does this mean for fiction? Well, possibly the same kinds of things it meant for music but possibly even more so because almost everyone listens to music of one type or another but fiction readers are already a subset of the population and possibly more discriminating about what they read than most music listeners are about what they listen to. Fiction readers are more like the audiophile subset of music listeners.
Here are a few possible impacts of the e-book revolution that come to mind. Most of this is idle speculation, of course, but since the batteries in my crystal ball died, my prognostication abilities are somewhat limited. Still, these seem to make sense to me.
Specialization – More books that focus on specific themes, tones, and moods within each genre will become available. What this means for readers, as it did for music listeners, is that there will be works more likely to really appeal to them. If you like science fiction novels with an introspective protagonist, told in a satirical tone, conveying a hopeful mood, and a humanistic theme, well, there just may eventually be a subgenre for that.
Genre melding – This is already happening. There are fantasy detective stories, science fiction westerns, horror romances, etc. Digital books, I think, are likely to fertilize such cross breeding and give rise to new subgenres mainly because it will be less risky to explore such mutations.
More books – More books will be published simply because authors can bypass the traditional gateways (agents and publishers) and publish their work for little or no money.
More variable quality – The downside of letting anyone in means, well, anyone can come in. A lot of what gets e-published may do so with inadequate editing or review, meaning the reader can’t assume a minimal level of quality. A lot of what becomes available may be overly verbose, deadly dull, full of errors, or even incomprehensible.
Smaller audiences – Highly specialized subgenres will appeal to fewer people so individual books and authors may have few readers. The plus side, of course, is that these books and authors will be available to those readers where they were not before.
Larger audiences – No, this isn’t a contraction. It is quite possible that the total number of people who read may increase as more books that appeal to them become available. Most e-published books may have few readers but a lot more books will be out there.
Disdain for works with broad appeal – At one time there was a sentiment that if a song was played on the radio, especially AM radio, it could not be good. It was “popular” or “pop” music, which, almost by definition, no serious music listener would bother with. You sometimes come across this with books, although not as frequently. The reason bibliophiles don’t normally disdain best seller lists, I think, is because, as I said before, book readers are already an elite group. But if authors feel free to explore their art with less concern over popularity, you may see popular books being looked at the same way as pop music once was; it represents the lowest common denominator and appeals to those without cultured taste or much knowledge of the art form. I personally think this is somewhat elitist because when all is said and done, different people like different things. Taste in music or literature is a personal matter. It’s like food in that way. If you like beer better than champagne, who is to tell you you’re wrong?
Harder to find – With more books available, it may be harder to find things you really want. First there is the quality issue as stated above. The reader will have more to choose from, but much of it may be dreadful. This can make the good stuff hard to find. But even if you could weed out all of the stinkers, there will still be a lot of choices. It’s like going to a Chinese restaurant with a huge menu. It’s hard to decide because so much looks good but you can only pick one thing. Deciding what you want most is difficult because there are so many options that sound good. Unlike with the menu though, a lot of the book options, as is true now with music, are not obvious. It’s like there are a bunch of addendums and footnotes with really fine print on the menu so you may have to search a lot more. The most popular stuff will still be in big print on the first page, metaphorically speaking, but what you would like most may only found written in Mandarin on the back of the napkin under the soy sauce. On the plus side, it is available somewhere.
There does not seem to be a lot of consensus on the benefits and drawbacks of e-publishing right now. There are obvious issues, quality and piracy probably being the most troubling. But I think, overall, the e-book revolution will certainly be good for readers. I think it will also good for authors and for agents and publishers but not without some paradigm shifts. Sometimes more is less but in this more is better. More books, more published authors, more perspectives, more diversity, and more choices for readers. Problems exist and I hope they are resolvable, but as both a reader and writer, I see the rise of digital books and e-publishing as a very good thing.
Oh–The band I was listening to was Magion, a progressive rock band in the subgenre of female fronted symphonic metal with Gothic metal influences — not as symphonic as say Epica or Nightwish — but I digress. What can I say? I like it. You won’t hear it on the radio and you can’t dance to it but I like this stuff and yes, I did buy the MP3 album from Amazon and I don’t care that they will never make it on anyone’s top ten lists.