Tag Archives: Edmond Barrett

Flops, Failure and Learning Experiences

So, about a month later than usual, I’ve finally gotten around to starting my taxes for 2017. Which gives an opportunity to reflect on my situation as it pertains to my writing.

2017 was the year I released my most recent book, namely this one:

It was also the first year since 2011 – when I first started publishing – in which I have not made money from my writing, in fact I racked up a financial loss large enough to be uncomfortable if bearable. The reason for the loss is on the face of it simple, Out of Era flopped. Completely and utterly. A bit of a pisser but there we are; it reviewed well but it didn’t sell beyond a handful. You hope that somewhere down the line it will pick up but really that’s grasping at straws, if it doesn’t kick off pretty much straight away it’s not going to.

So where did it go wrong?

So from here on we’re going firmly into the realm of anecdotal evidence. The last of my successful Nameless War series was released in September 2014, Out of Era came out in October 2017. That’s a big gap. In fact to be brutally honest it was probably too big a gap. I never stopped writing during that time but there were other priorities – I started dating a woman who I’m please to say has recently become my wife, I moved house into what was a bit of a fixer-upper and changed the day job for the first time in over fourteen years. The time slot for writing and its attendant activities basically took one hit after another. Meanwhile the world moved on and I suspect, most of the people that read and enjoyed the Nameless War forgot me enough that the name Edmond Barrett, stopped triggering any kind of mental response when looking at Amazon for something to read. Years ago, before I started publishing I heard another writer claim that to make a living at it you needed to put out at least one book a year. I always found that extremely believable but I never came even close. To manage it I would have had to give up the day job, which when you have a mortgage and are the sole source of income to your household, isn’t really a runner unless you’re prepared to really live up to the starving artist cliche.

The next factor which compounded the first was that I changed genre. My name and reputation as a writer was made in military science fiction; Out of Era is time travel. If you aren’t into science fiction that distinction might sound wafer thin but in fact is a significant gap. I’m not a known name in time travel stories so Out of Era had to go it alone. Had there been less of a gap between books, meaning had it come out while the final book of the Nameless War – the Last Charge was still selling in significant numbers there would have been a better chance of readers following me into the new genre. Which in turn would have boosted my visibility to potential readers who never heard tell of me. So Out of Era just got lost in the crowd. I did try some advertising but the problem there is you can burn a lot of money very quickly for very little return.

Another fact is that to my mind self publishing in 2017 isn’t what it was back in 2011. I know e-readers have been around since well before then but in 2011 they were the new must have gadget. Since there is nothing as useless as a e-reader with no books, people were looking for content and when Amazon opened its system to the self publishers there was suddenly a lot of cheap content. There’s no doubt a lot of it was bad but there was also some real gold and I had the good fortune to be a part of the first wave of e-book self publishers. There were a lot predictions that self publishing and e-books were going to kill publishing and paper books stone dead. That hasn’t worked out. What I think has happened is that e-books found their level. They aren’t going to go away but equally that first great rush came to an end.

My run with writing has been a pretty privileged one. I got to make money in reasonably significant amounts straight off the bat which certainly did a lot to justify the time spent on it. I knew the figure weren’t going to be good but it’s another to look at the cold hard numbers. I’m still going to write, it is and always has been as much a pass time as a profession but have had to re-think my expectations.

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TV Tropes

The Nameless War is now on TV-Tropes. Click the link at your own risk. (Edmond Barrett accepts no responsibility for loss of time and productivity that tend to be the result of trips to TV-Tropes)

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The end of the line… and pauses along the way

I don’t know what proportion of science fiction and fantasy novels are part of series as opposed to stand alone but it is fair to say that they are far from uncommon. Now it should be pointed out that there are different kinds of series. There those like say the Chronicles of Narnia which use the same setting and have some character overlap but are basically stand alone books that can be read in any order. Then there series like Lord of the Rings in which there is a single grand story arc across two or more books, all of which need to be read and read in one fixed order. It is the latter category I want to say a little about.

It isn’t hard to see from where the lure of the series comes; creatively it gives more room in which to develop and flesh out a story, this is specially important for science fiction and fantasy since we have to burn so much word count on world building. Since an individual novel is limited to between forty and a hundred and fifty thousand words(1), while even a short series can be multiples of that, the extra words allows the writer to avoid having to make compromises to keep the word and page count acceptable. From business standpoint it looks even better, sell one large book for twelve Euros (dollars, pounds, shillings, rubles, yen, goats, whatever) or two for nine, ninety-nine. If the reader wants to get the complete story, they have to fork over for each and every book. In fact on that later point occasionally publishers have split into two books that were intended as a single volume. But in doing so a new problem is introduced.

The ending of any story is the pay off, regardless of genre or style, a bad ending can completely undo any good work that has been done up to that point. The ending needs to resolve the major plot threads and if the reader is left unsatisfied or feeling cheated, well then that’s a reader who won’t be looking that writer up again. But for a single arc series it can’t tie everything off, it needs to provide a satisfactory close and at the same time provide a launchpad for the next book of the series. What is needed is a sub-ending.  The writer Shantnu Tiwari makes an impassioned case that the very worst sub-endings are cliffhangers. While I can’t get quite as worked up, thinking back across my own reading history I can think of a few cliff hanger ending I’ve read and while they didn’t make me throw the book across the room, they didn’t make me rush out and buy the next book either because there was that lack of pay off. The other problem with the cliffhanger is that there is likely a gap between the publication of individual books, of between months to years (20+ and counting in the case of one series I know of). Will the reader still have excitement to pick it back up, will they still remember what was going on? The best sub-endings I seen are the ones that felt like they could have been the end of the series, for my money Juliet E McKenna‘s first series nailed this perfectly.

So, if you are sitting out there somewhere idly considering writing your own series what am I saying? I’m saying you need to plan ahead (2). You absolutely must know where each book is going to end. Even if the big finish at the end of the series is absolutely amazing, it’s going to count for nothing if most readers abandoned ship at the end of the first book.

While we’re on subject of endings, lets move onto big ones, not just the end of a series but the end of a setting. It’s a personal belief of mine that all setting have their limits. Regardless to genre or even medium, each setting has its limits. Now quiet where those limits are depends on the nature of the setting. It is hangs off a single character then the limit will be reached fairly quickly (3) while one based on a large world or universe in which individuals can come and go will have more legs (4) but even there are limits. I suspect it’s one of the reason I never got into comic books, by now Batman should have either cleaned up Gotham City or be dead, either way as a story without a final end holds no attraction to me. Obviously there is a damn good reason why the likes of Batman, Star Trek or any other property keeps soldiering on:

Here's Johny!

Here’s Johny!

Be you an individual author or a good old fashioned soulless corporation walking away from an cash stream is going to be difficult to do at best and often impossible. Search the internet on any particular established series or franchise and it won’t be hard to find someone somewhere who feels its gone off the boil, the glory days are gone, it’s now just ploughing the same furrow. The solution to this if a solution is needed is in the hands of the consumer. We need to be ready to pursue to new and original. While we can continue to enjoy the glory days of our old favorites we should be ready to abandon them if they don’t come to an actual end.

FINAL THOUGHT: I say all that as someone who is very much a hobby writer. I don’t rely on my writing to pay the bills, just pay for the luxuries. I’ve certainly not had anything like a huge hit which I’ve continued to milk. Obviously if I do I may well turn into a huge hypocrite but at least if that happens, I’ve given everyone some good material to work with.

 

 

 

 

 

(1) Ref SFWA Award FAQ and Writer’s workshop.

(2) Yes I do know what I said in a previous blog entry about my tendency to do more winging it than planning. I did know where the Nameless War and Last Charge were going to end when I started them, the Landfall Campaign it was figured out while WIP, which is a writing technique I call ‘making life difficult for yourself’ [patient pending].

(3) Say a few books, two or three of films or a television series

(4) Example Star Wars or Star Trek

 

I can now be found on Twitter.

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Right… now what?

Okay, second attempt at writing this entry after accidently kicking the plug out of the computer – twice.

I haven’t been very active on the blog front of late; this is because over the last six weeks I have been busy, very, very busy. This busy-ness has come in the form of attending Loncon, making my panelist debut at Shamrokon, taking on new duties in the day job and of course doing final preparation for Book Three of the Nameless War – The Last Charge, which goes live tomorrow morning – in fact the paperback is already available. That last point I really didn’t think I was going to achieve on time, but I guess practice does make perfect.

Tomorrow morning the book will hit the digital shelves, the six hundred odd people who have pre-ordered will receive their copy and I – at risk of sounding over dramatic – will finish what has over the last ten years, become a fairly major part of my life. So I suppose the question becomes what do I do now, now that I have completed my side of the bargain and finished the series?

Well I can tell you one thing I am NOT going do: that is follow the suggestion of one friend who has put forward the idea that I should write trilogy in four parts. No, NO, NO! I am not Douglas Adams.

I will continue write. Writing is and remains a pass time I enjoy (the money angle doesn’t hurt either), I enjoy the process of getting the collection ideas down and linking them into a coherent whole. I enjoy the creation of my characters, I enjoy building the worlds they inhabit. I enjoy self-publishing with the challenges and opportunities it brings.

I have ideas for the future; readers of this blog will be familiar with my Ships of the Fleet project, its future depends on how the first one is received. There is also a long parked side project which I have begun to look at again and perhaps longer run the Battle Fleet universe has more tales in it.

When it comes to the immediate future one thing is for sure though. I’m taking October off and booking a holiday – Malta looks nice.

See you.

Oh PS, for anyone who hasn’t yet read The Nameless War, on the 1st October to celebrate the arrival of Book Three is it going on sale.

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The winning typo of Book Three (I hope)

Typos: the bane and torment of the self publishers. Book Three has now gone through, multiple edits by me, plus through two test readers, a professional editor, one final proofreader who hadn’t seen any of it before and still the on one creeps through.

This week I think I’ve found the winning typo for book three (at least I hope I have). There’s a line where a character is drifting off to sleep and it is supposed to read ‘his eyes flickered shut’ except the U from shut was an I.

Whoops. That character might want to see a doctor about that!

 

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Better to give than receive?

What is the hardest thing about writing? Coming up with an idea? Turning an idea into a coherent whole. Knowing what to keep and what to ditch? Nope, as tricky as all of those can be, compared to the task of getting an honest opinion of your work from someone, they’re mere child’s play. I’ve heard it said that friends are kind and family is generous yet a writer needs feedback. The reason I’m making this entry is in regards this post which concerns how NOT to give constructive criticism.

Personally I’m of the opinion that it is actually pretty tricky to write something with absolutely no redeeming features. Sure I’ve come across work with good ideas badly executed or that is well written but based on weak ideas. But something that is irretrievably rubbish, that’s hard to do.

So what are my tips for giving useful advice?

1) Find the bad and the good, at least one example of each.

2) Start with the bad. Yes I know every writer wants to hear their work is great but really if any of us are to grow then it is our weakness that need work. If there are a lot of weaknesses, better to focus on one, Rome wasn’t built in a day and no one became a great writer overnight.  If a particular aspect is good, well great then we don’t have to worry about that.

3) End with the good. Constructive Criticism is meant to be just that Constructive, you’ve broken them down looking at the bad, now you build them back up.

But what about the writer any advice there.

In a nutshell: Take it.

If people learn that the first word of criticism results in them either attempting to pry your teeth from their throat or you bursting in to tears, then you’ll never get an honest opinion again. Which will come back to haunt you because if or when your work gets out into the world, criticism it will receive and not all of it will be fair.

Until next time.

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Confession

Hello, my name is Edmond and I have a confession:

I haven’t watched Game of Thrones.

I know! I’m sorry, I really meant to but I have a lot on, a Philips DVD that went on the blink over a year ago  and a really bad memory. I know it’s no excuse but look, I have a box set, I can change!

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