Audio and other formats

Production has started on the audio version of BLACK RUN. It’s in the eminently capable hands of Audible, and I’ll be announcing the narrator shortly. It’s a very long book even by my standards – about 18% longer than GOING GREY – so if you’re one of those people who listens while you drive, you’d better start route planning for Land’s End to John O’Groats now. It isn’t abridged. Abridgement is the handiwork of Beelzebub as far as I’m concerned, so you’ll be getting the full-tar version.

Would-be writers often ask me how long a book should be, and I always say the ideal length is as long as you need to tell the story. Having dished out that sage advice, I then spent too long trying to cut BLACK RUN to an arbitrary length for no good reason before taking my own advice, putting the proverbial blue pencil aside, and letting it be whatever it wanted to be. The only physical constraint on the length of a book, apart from the reader’s patience, is manufacturing. You’re going to run into binding problems eventually. Digital books can run as long as they need to, though. So in some ways, the choice of available formats can shape the book’s content.

In traditional publishing, authors don’t usually have control over formats, sometimes with results that do neither the writer nor the customer any favours. (See this FAQ on abridged audio books.) Nobody would take a painting and strip out most of the colour to make it cheaper or more convenient to reproduce as a print, so why do it to a book? You lose too much in the reduction. It’s de-enriched, no matter how well done the abridgement is. The author has decided those words need to be there for a reason. Any that aren’t required are taken out at the editing stage, not on publication. If there are too many, that’s the reader’s verdict to pass: but anything that’s abridged is essentially a different work.

I know many indie authors don’t bother with physical editions and only publish digitally, where most of their sales are. It’s certainly less hassle. But as long as offering dead tree versions doesn’t make me run at a loss, I’ll always provide at least a paperback edition. Real books are good to handle, dress a shelf well, and look way better gift-wrapped than a digital download. There’ll always be a market for them. For those of you who’ve asked me for hardcover editions, I’m now looking again at the feasibility. When I last checked it out, my work was generally over the page limit for short print runs even before I started worrying about the retail price. But the industry’s changing all the time, and it now looks like there’s a chance a hardcover might be practical.

It’s not going to be cheap, because we indies don’t have the purchasing power and big print runs of a multi-billion dollar publishing house, but if you’re paying $22 for a trade paperback then you’ve already bitten the bullet and paid a premium for a physical format. That $22, by the way, will be within a few cents of the absolute minmum I can sell a TPB for – CreateSpace sets the minimum price, presumably to maintain the free-upfront service. Other printer-distributors have different business models based on authors paying for set-up and/ or buying stock, which means you could make a real loss. At the moment I’m working through different companies’ costings, which vary more than I’d imagined. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

In the meantime, I’m working on the next couple of books – SACRIFICIAL RED, and a new universe – and a comic series. More on that later.

A technical interlude

I’ve got a few ongoing production problems with the trade paperback edition of BLACK RUN at the moment. Copies that reached me yesterday had paper warping issues (i.e. the pages have a ripple and the book won’t lie flat when closed) as well as variations in cover reproduction that I’m pretty sure can be improved. The paperback will be temporarily unavailable while I get those things fixed. I’ve altered elements of the cover to compensate for what I think the repro problem is and sharpen up the type and image (matt finish covers can be a challenge because of the filter effect of the coating) but the design’s the same. It’s just technical tweaking at the file level.

For the technically minded, the gradients and effects on the cover type worked fine for GOING GREY (also a matt finish) but just didn’t fly at all this time around, despite going through exactly the same process. I’m unpicking that at the moment.

If you’ve bought a trade paperback of BLACK RUN and you’re not happy with the physical quality of your copy or you’ve returned it to the retailer, let me know so that I can feed back the information to the printer. The cover artwork is mostly in my hands until I hand over the file, but the printing and binding isn’t, so all information is useful.

In the meantime, the Kindle and iTunes versions are immune to that sort of thing, so if you can’t wait for the paperback, there’s an alternative. If you don’t use iTunes or Kindle apps to read your digital books, I’ve made sure that the e-book can be run through Calibre to convert it to the format you need. Read More...

Black Run, and those lost

After a very long delay and numerous false starts of extraordinary length, BLACK RUN is finally on sale. To all of you who’ve been waiting patiently for the book – thank you. Your patience and understanding has helped a lot. The book was written long before certain events overtook me, and it’s proved sobering to compare personal reality with the fictional perspective that preceded it.

If you’ve been following this blog, then you’ll be aware I had things to attend to that mattered more than writing. My father had been ill for some time, and he finally passed away at the end of last month. I was very close to my dad, and I’ll have something more substantial and fitting to say about him in March, but for the time being, I’m coming to terms with a changed landscape.

A couple of months earlier, I also lost a dear friend, Sean Baggaley. It was a sudden death at an unfairly early age. Sean was one of the best writers I’ve ever known, a genuine polymath and a kind, funny, patient guy, and he’s very much missed. Again, I’ll have something more measured to say about him in a proper obituary in a few weeks.

I have no idea if I’ll ever return to the old schedule of three or four books a year, but I’m picking up speed again. Some people stop writing after life events: some write more. I appear to be in the “more” camp, but we’ll see. I’m working on a new comic series – more of that later – which is something of a departure for me because it’s traditional fantasy, albeit it with an untraditional twist. There’ll be another Ringer book next year as well in the shape of SACRIFICIAL RED. In the meantime, I might also write some shorter novels in various series that I’d put on a back burner, including some full-tar science fiction and even a fantasy.

Twitter, for all its flaws, became a very quick and painless way to stay in touch with at least some of my readers over the last couple of years when I lost the inclination and the time to blog. I’m going to have another stab at blogging regularly and see if this time I actually manage to mean it.

But for now, buy BLACK RUN, and enjoy.


I wasn't myself at the time: a theory

Where did the year go? It’s been another long hiatus, I admit. Black Run is nearing the end of the editing process, and I’m still learning lessons about why it’s taken me more than a year (or two) to do what I used to do in six to twelve weeks on the previous twenty-odd books. Some switches don’t reset as fast as others, and I think it’s related to the subject of this blog today: getting into characters’ heads so profoundly that you aren’t yourself for the duration of the writing process. I haven’t been able to do that properly over the last couple of years because of real life events, and the amount of revision that’s been needed to fix “non-immersed” writing has been extraordinary.

Anyway, thanks to a question on Twitter from a reader – was I interested in what had happened to franchise stories I’d worked on in the past? – I started thinking again about why I can close the door and move on immediately from a project without a backward glance.

And I do. The moment I stop working on something, it’s almost like it never happened. I just move on to the next job, and it’s not even because I’m not getting paid. In a very short time, I forget most of the story, and not long after that, if I have to read what I wrote, it feels like a stranger’s work. On occasions, I’ve actually been convinced that it was edited and that I didn’t notice, but when I check it against the manuscript, it’s all my own words.

I used to think it was just a habit picked up from decades in journalism, where moving on is the only way to work, but while thinking about what this reader had said, I realised it was something different. The cognitive process wasn’t the same. Any journo worth their salt doesn’t forget a story. It just sits on the back burner indefinitely. You think you’ve forgotten it, but as soon as something relevant triggers the memory, you’re on it again like a rat up a drainpipe. You might not recognise your copy when you pull the cuttings from the archive (and in many cases, that’s because the subs cut it or merged it with another reporter’s story) but you’re back on the case. It’s yours.

So what was happening with me and fiction? It was a very different experience. The story never “came back” like it did when I was reporting. Then the penny dropped and I realised it was an inevitable part of the dissociation process I use to write characters. You’ve seen me blog before on how I write characters, that I stop being me and see the world entirely through the characters’ eyes so much that I’m in someone else’s mind, which is often a pretty uncomfortable feeling when you step out of it. There’s no authorial overview in any of my books. My novels are a jigsaw composed wholly of each character’s personal experience of events.

It should have been obvious that I didn’t recognise my own writing because it wasn’t me “talking.” It was the characters. When I’m back to being me, I really am reading what a stranger wrote, or to be more accurate, what a stranger said and thought. It’s not my heart that’s in the book; it’s theirs. And, of course, the ability to step in and out of multiple characters is essential when you write the way I do – very tight third person point of view for a cast of six, seven, or more characters. That adds to the tendency to walk away from something I’ve been immersed in and not think about it again. If I couldn’t do that, my tight third person technique would lock me into doing something akin to first person, the world seen through one set of eyes instead of many.

I feel better knowing that it’s not my memory playing up. (That starts to be more of a concern as you get older, believe me.) I simply wasn’t experiencing the events of the book at the time – it was the character I’d immersed in who was living it. The real me would now have to make an effort to think myself back into that character’s mind, which I’d only do if I had to.

Mystery solved, thanks to a reader.


Back in the land of the living

I know it’s been a very long time since I last blogged, but the simple answer is that I had nothing to say – nothing entertaining, anyway. There are few things worse than (a) spraying your personal woes all over the internet, and (b) depressing everyone else at the same time.

I’ve just resurfaced after a really, really bad year which started in earnest last December. It’s down to Real Life, which is a pain in the arse when it intrudes on work. In short, I’ve had a long-term family illness to manage, I’ve had surgery (with a good outcome, thankfully), and I’ve had another medical issue of my own to resolve. This has involved being unable to avoid the NHS, which I’d done quite successfully for the last decade, and having some bad experiences with it. (There’s been a hospital enquiry as a result of one of them. But that’s all I can say.) So although I wrote about half a million words this year trying to keep up with my schedule, I might as well not have bothered. I should have had the sense to hit the pause button and focus 100% on the domestic front, but I didn’t.

Sometimes work is a respite when you have an ongoing problem at home, but sometimes it simply spreads you too thinly; you can’t fight on two fronts without the risk of losing on both. My writing during that time is best summed up by paraphrasing the excellent and much-missed Eric Morecambe. They were all the right words, but not necessarily in that order.*

Anyway, long and nose-bleedingly depressing story short, I stabilised the problems (some things can’t be fixed, just contained) and decided to restructure a lot of stuff on the home front to avoid hitting that kind of wall again, all of which drained my batteries. I’m now back on recharge, and I’ve (re)written more (and more coherently) in the last few weeks than I ‘ve managed all year.

So Black Run really is coming soon, and I mean in English, not whatever the hell the previous version was written in. And there will be other stuff in 2016. Stand by for more news.

Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year. And thanks for sticking with me.

*Re Eric Morecambe – seeing as it’s Christmas, I’d be remiss if I didn’t show you the clip in context. (It’s all funny, but the relevant part starts around 10.00.) One of the great comedy classics. For you young ‘uns who’ve never seen this, that really is Andre Previn being a good sport. Thank you, Mr Preview.