Tag Archives: random thoughts and mutterings

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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Making Terrorism Work

As I mentioned in my last post a few months ago I changed jobs. Part of my duties in my new employment is to look through archives – which currently includes documents from the 1920s. How is this relevant? Well in Ireland between 1916 and about 1923 you get a particularly exciting period of Irish history. The Easter Rising is followed by the War of Independence, which in turn is followed by the Irish Civil War. Having grown up in England I would describe my knowledge of the period as being fairly basic but the rough flow of events was this. In 1916 there was in Dublin an attempted rebellion. Lacking widespread support it failed. Following the rising the British authorities cracked down on those involved or judged to be sympathetic. Several of those captured were shot as traitors. Legally the British Authorities were on solid ground the rebels having received arms from Imperial Germany, that Britain was in the middle of a bloody war with at the time. However politically – combined with the round ups – it was a horrible mistake as in doing so they changed the perception of the rebels from terrorists and failures into heroes and martyrs. Those uninvolved who were rounded up were put into jails with committed republicans and in many cases, converted to the cause. After the end of WW1 the Republicans started again. This time with what would now be called an insurgency. The republicans targeted barracks, police stations and other instruments of state, to make Ireland ungovernable. The British responded with additional troops and auxiliary police, the best remembered of which were nicknamed the Black and Tans. In most cases these were ex-soldiers who had fought in the Great War – a conflict with clearly defined sides in terms of a front line and uniformed enemy. In Ireland there were neither of these things, these forces were often poorly trained, weakly disciplined and in lot of cases I would guess frightened. My grandmother who was a child at that time and living in County Kerry remembered being told if she heard a lorry it was likely the Black and Tan and she wasn’t to run because they would likely shoot. Files I’ve seen indicate that this was good advice. Their actions during the War of Independence caused grievances that remain to this day and are the reason the Irish tend not to react well to calling anything ‘black and tan’.

In Manchester about a week ago a suicide bomber blew himself to the four winds. At time of writing twenty-two people were killed or have died of their injuries with a another fifty plus injured. It would appear the bomber motivation was Islamic extremism. It’s not the first terrorist attack by such individuals and unfortunately, probably won’t be the last.

His target and this is worth making note of wasn’t an army base, power station, government building or even a police station. Nothing that you could say would materially affect the functionality of Great Britain. His target was a music concert. One by a singer who’s primary fan base is teenagers and young girls. In other words the softest possible target. What was he hoping to achieve?

Retaliation

I don’t think the Irish Republicans of the War of Independence foresaw the creation of the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans but their actions which included reprisals, murders, beatings and mock executions did much to turn the population against the British Authorities. For the Islamic terrorists the ideal response would retaliations, restrictions, internment or best of all – as one foolish radio presenter put it – a ‘Final Solution’. Because each one would push more people into their arms.

There are individuals, some dishonest, some merely hysterical that claim that Islamic terrorism is a threat to the western world. They are wrong. Islamic terrorists are a threat to individuals but to be a threat to the western world they world need tanks, jet fighters, nuclear subs and ICBM. They do not have these things. They have weak minded individuals who are willing to commit suicide and the hope that we will overreact.

There is unfortunately no easy road against terrorism. We must stand the line and above all else, not do the terrorist’s work for them.

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Star Trek – Sad Opportunity

Finally, finally got around to watching Star Trek Beyond, on the whole Meh. Still I was left thinking that with the sad death of Anton Yelchin, the Chekov character has to be either written out or re-cast. No matter what they choose there will be people shouting that they were wrong so with that in mind what about going forwards with confidence and putting in a new (ish) character? Say Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah from Beyond – if she’s willing – who would also increase the female main character count by 100%.

Either that or take New Trek out back and like Old Yeller, put it out of its misery.

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End a job, start a job

So my current WIP has been brought to the second draft and has now been unleash (inflicted?) on a small number of volunteers. I frankly wait with baited breath because for one I know there are a lot of error still in there. In my defence time travel makes tenses rather awkward (will have going to have been?) and logic can go a bit circular. So while I wait for feedback I’m moving on to a new project.

In the past I’ve always found that for me at least there are two kinds of writing. The first is starting something new, not quite a case of throwing it all on the page and seeing what sticks, but certainly starting to nail things down, taking the individual ideas, putting them all together and start to get an idea of what kind of material is needed to link them together. I’m not saying it is the bit of writing I enjoy the most but it is certainly the kind where it is the easiest the feel you’re making forward progress. The second kind is the editing process. I don’t know about other writers but my first drafts tend to be extremely rough, with ideas thrown in or abandoned. I’ve learned that when when it come to first drafts not to go back, start at the beginning and keep going forward until the end, resist the urge to tinker because then you go round in circles. So the editing tends to at least start as an exercise in pruning abandoned ideas, building foundations for developed ones and eventually becomes the final removal of errors.

I’ve always found going from editing mode back to writing mode to be a bit of a difficult one so this time round while I’m in the lull with one project I’ve decided to start another just to see if I can keep the writing and editing mental muscles going simultaneously. So far so good but one page and five hundred words probably isn’t enough to prove anything.

So wish me luck.

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Fiction adapting to reality

So this weeks hot news is that Britain has voted to leave the European Union, a decision I view as being the wrong one but that’s a rant for another day. Over the weekend – while still in a state of disbelief – the thought crossed my mind how does this effect my writing?

Now for once I’m not talking about the economics – although God knows given the way sterling has nosedived against… everything, I’m glad I didn’t have anything new come out this month – I’m talking about the settings of my work. For those who haven’t read the Nameless War, it is only set a few decades into the future and it is one where nation states still exist, including the United Kingdom. My current WIP is set even closer to the present and spends much of its time in the UK.

Out in the real world, the Brexit vote has made it very uncertain what way things are going to go. Given that within the last two years Scotland only narrowly voted to remain in the United Kingdom, but last week voted to stay in the EU, there is a fair chance that the Scots will now attempt to bailout. As for Northern Ireland – a province sandwiched between two countries, neither of which really want it – that’s anyone’s guess. I’m not going to speculate here how likely any of this is, what I am going to speculate on is how or whether I reflect it in my work.

There are a couple of options. The first would be to keep things so ambiguous that no matter what ways things go, it won’t be wrong as such.  The problem with this is that you might find the work ends up lacking a sense of realism. Also attempting to twist words to avoid saying a particular detail might leave the reader feeling the book isn’t particularly well written.

The second possibility is go with yesterday’s status-quo. Basically ignore the uncertainty and proceed with things as they were until a new point of certainty has been established.  The virtue of this approach is safety, it will be for at least a time correct. Comic books do this periodically with US Presidents, I suspect opinions vary on whether it is a good idea or bad but it does very definitely date the work within a maximum of eight years. In the case of Brexit you could find the work dated before it’s even published and that could be a problem. In my experience most science fiction readers will accept that the older a book is the more allowances have to be made for the fact that it was written in a different time. If that different time was only six months ago that’s possibly a harder one to ask.

The third and final option is to decide what way you think things are going to go and run with it. Frankly unless your story is flat out about the possible consequences of the change I think this is the riskiest option. Unless you are a dab hand with the old crystal ball you will probably be wrong without – unlike option two without the virtue of every having been right.

So folks any thoughts or additions on the matter?

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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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Is Military Science Fiction looked down upon and why?

As mentioned in an earlier post I recently attended Octocon 2015 and during the course of the Military Science Fiction the question was asked ‘do you think military sf is a genre that is look down upon?’

My answer was weak and forgettable, which has been bugging me.

So what is Military SF? According to Wikipedia it is:

a subgenre of science fiction in literature, comics, film and video games that features the use of science fiction technology, mainly weapons, for military purposes and usually principal characters that are members of a military organization involved in military activity; occurring sometimes in outer space or on a different planet or planets.

Which is a pretty loose definition, within which some very well known works can be grouped. One of the best known of examples of the genre is The War of the Worlds, a book which can be described as a classic by simple virtue of the fact that more than a century after its original publication, it remains well known and read. With such a wide definition we can find such varying works as the Forever War (Haldeman) to Hammer’s Slammers (Drake) to the Honorverse series (Weber), beyond literature we have cinema’s Aliens, Star Wars and Star Trek – which despite Roddenberry’s vision does have some very military features – through to tabletop gaming like Warhammer 40K. All which can be grouped under the Big Tent of Military Science Fiction.

War is probably humanities most destructive urge, one that out in the real world we have refined to the point that we could probably sterilise this planet. One of the strongest arguments I’ve heard is that Military SF glorifies war – a criticism that is also leveled at military stories set in the real world. There is no doubt that some works that fall into the genre do glorify violence but equally there are works, the Forever War being a good example, that highlight both the personal and social cost of conflict. Much of Military SF that I’ve come across even when extremely gun-ho, has at least brushed across the fact that the passage of war tends to leave devastation in its wake. Not to mention with few exceptions, stories regardless of genre are about human drama, for example Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes was a memoir of the writer’s impoverished upbringing. Would you argue that it shouldn’t read because to do so means the reader is using grinding poverty as a form of entertainment? If we’re going to say that certain parts of the human experience are off limits for fiction because they aren’t nice, well pretty soon we aren’t going to have much to write about.

It was mentioned at Octocon that the recent Hugos/Sad Puppies fuss did see a number of Military SF writers comes down on the Puppies side. I didn’t pay much attention to the Hugos fuss as what little I did hear convinced me early on that the whole thing wasn’t worthy of my time/interest/respect but did seem at the most basic level to be a bit of a political left/right thing. Military SF has a bit of a rep for the writers coming down on the right of the politician spectrum and certainly I know my own politics lean in that direction but Hugos/Sad Puppies is a recent affair while the dismissive attitude to Military SF is much older.

I’ve certainly had it said to my face that Science Fiction in general must my easy because I can make stuff up, I could go into a rant at this point but I think it would probably easier to ask you to imagine a scenario. Imagine saying to someone who’s writing setting is in the contemporary world ‘It must be easy, no imagination or creativity is needed because you can just look stuff up.’ Added to that is the popular conception that action equals dumb. Sure some action can be deeply dumb but is say Saving Private Ryan a big dumb action movie?

So given that every for every weak example of the genre there is a stronger counterpart why does Military SF have such a poor rep? Well lets look at another long disparaged genre – romance. It is huge area with all kinds of sub sections none of which are regarded with much respect. While I don’t write or read in the field, I did hear another writer say at a convention that while Mills and Boon novels are extremely formulaic, if you could write to that formula there was quite a good living to be made*. Like romance, Military SF is very mainstream, so mainstream that it could be described as one of the entry ways into science fiction in general and perhaps it is here we find the answer.

Military SF with its rayguns, space battleships and alien invasions represents the public face of science fiction, the popular perception of what science fiction is. Those of us in the genre are aware that it is much broader with ideas a good deal more subtle than does applying laser cannon A to alien forehead B solve the problem. Those who produce SF without military elements attempts to distance themselves but that I think is counter productive. As public face of science fiction Military SF is a potential entry way, a way to discover the wider world of Science Fiction. For other other branches of SF to try to distance themselves is futile, while rubbishing it becomes a case of stone throwing in glasses houses.

So I think to sum up we shouldn’t be trying to sweep Military SF under carpet, we should be saying yes there is Military SF and so much more as well…

 

 

 

 

 

* I remember being in Chapters a new and second hand bookshop here in Dublin and watching a lady trade in an entire suitcase of romance novel and what was even more amazing was the shop worker, she didn’t even blink, it was not a noteworthy event!

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