Being edited (and sent out into the big wide world)

My wonderful agent, Julie Crisp, just did a great blog post on the process of editing a client’s MS (mine!) and sending it out on submission. As you may know, she was the commissioning editor for UK Tor in her former life, so she’s likely more editorial than a lot of agents out there, but the article is a great read about editing in general, giving insight into how the process works for the author, the agent and the publishers. You can find it here.

Go read it if you’d like to know what happens after you get an agent, or whether agents get nervous too! Oh, and it includes an extract of my wee project (blurb and the first page) if you’re interested in that. 🙂

Mini review – City of Blades

City of Blades

I’ve been under a self-imposed ban on recreational reading for several months now, while I was using all my free time to finish the revisions on my MS. But when that wrapped up a week or so ago (freedom! blessed, blessed freedom!) the first thing I did was get on the ole Kindle and read a book I’ve been gnawing my arm off waiting to read since it tantalisingly downloaded itself earlier in the year.

It’s a tough gig, writing a follow up to an amazing book. Robert Bennett hasn’t previously delved into series so I’m guessing it was an interesting experience for him. City of Stairs  (you can read my review of it from last year here) was so different and so brilliant, it was going to be hard to match.

City of Blades didn’t match City of Stairs. I’d say it exceeded.

I just finished it this evening and my partner, watching a movie, turned around to ask me what the weird noise I just made was. Well, how do you describe the weird little sigh of loss and satisfaction when you finish something great?*  RJB is nailing unique worldbuilding; fresh magic; part crime/mystery/spy thriller, part fantasy mashup; compelling plots; and character – jesus, the characters.  I actually let out a small shriek of delight when I got a few pages in and realised the main character this time round was going to be General Mulaghesh. Bad-ass, brilliant, one-armed Mulaghesh. I LOVE HER. I LOVE HER WITH EVERY FIBRE OF MY BEING.**  The more obvious  choice with the sequel would have been to continue to follow Shara or even fan-favourite Sigrud on the next stage of the journey, but I’m so pleased he didn’t do that. Mulaghesh was the right person to tell this part of the story, and she is fucking awesome in any case.

This is only a short review, because it’s late but I want to get something up because otherwise I may not get around to it, and you should review books you like, you guys, and especially books you love, not just to  make other people read it and thus force the world into your image gently encourage others to enjoy excellent things, but also because it really really helps those authors you love to afford the fingerless gloves that will keep their joints working at keyboards over the long bitter winter. So anyway, quick blurb – Mulaghesh has retired to a backwater, but now-Prime Minister Shara pulls her (with something between persuasion and force?) into one last mission, investigating a strange substance found in the continental city of Voortyashtan: “ass-end of the universe, armpit of the world”. There she finds her old commanding officer, who brings back memories she’s been burying for decades, a missing person, magic that shouldn’t work but does, local tensions, grisly murders . . . a whole heap of shit, basically. Which is all very exciting and clever and tense, and should satisfy any reader looking for action and intrigue. But character wise, it’s more personal and wrenching than City of Stairs, which in the end is probably why I loved it more – I felt that I knew Mulaghesh in a way that I didn’t know Shara. Perhaps she’s too unpolished to hold us at arm’s length the way Shara could.

And you already know because you read his other stuff that RJB will do more than tell you a great story. He’ll also explore uncomfortable themes that sometimes get glossed over in epic fantasy (or indeed in our own modern world). In Stairs he said some things about colonisation and clashes of culture and religion; in Blades it is about violence and war and death and what it means to be a soldier, and forgiveness and weariness and long battles with no end in sight. At times it hurt to read. It is a sadder, less hopeful book than its predecessor. But in my view, it’s a better one.

So anyway, get out there and read it. This is an author to watch closely, my friends.

—–

* Don’t say I’m the only one who gives the book a little hug when they’re done. I know you other book huggers are out there. Don’t be ashamed! Come into the light! It’s warm and we have pizza!

** I am now suddenly thinking that I love her like I love DI Steel in the Stuart MacBride Scottish crime novels and realising that if there was just a genre called grumpy tough blunt older women own everybody all the time, I would read the hell out of it.

 

Long absences and red pens

I’ve been very quiet here lately, which is slack but also for a good reason: I’ve been working on the edits requested by my agent, and they’ve been, well, let’s just say ‘challenging’.

To give you an idea, here’s what happened when I accidentally looked at the marked up manuscript at 10% zoom:

Julieedits

Eep. That’s a sobering picture.

But wait! That’s nothing! Here’s how it looks now, with those changes accepted and my additional ones marked up:

Post structural edits

If you’re thinking wait but that’s worse, you’ve got a solid point. Can’t fault you there. It isn’t pretty.

I’ve always liked editing. But I have to say, I’m so sick of this book now, I’ve started using sarcastic voices in my head when thinking about the characters. Ugh, go ahead, Jov, moan about something else. Oh, sure, Kalina, you would say that.

I think that might mean it’s nearly done.

Anyway, if all goes to plan, I should be fit for company again in 2 weeks time, so I will be back to writing useless tips and rants for your (possible) entertainment. Until then,since I’ve been offering no new content, here is a puppy to cheer you up.

CbH8yJsUEAAB2gi

 

Ciao!

On fiction out of its time

My son Loony is 4 and moved this year into preferring chapter books for his bedtime stories. We have been working through the Enid Blyton books my partner and I both adored as children – so far the series we have done have been the Faraway Tree, the Wishing Chair, the Children of Cherry Tree Farm and Mr Galliano’s Circus. Mostly these have been the copies of the book from the 70s/80s that belonged to me or my siblings but one or two have been my mother’s from the 50s.

I love sharing these books with my boys, and they hold up, to varying degrees – I loved the Cherry Tree/Willow farm books to bits but in hindsight they’re basically just long lessons about English animals and plants;* the Faraway Tree ones are way more exciting than I remembered, and Mr Galliano is still top notch, with solid plots and genuine heart. If you’ve ever tried rereading books from this era, though, you’ll know what I mean when I say they need a bit of… mid-reading editing.

By this I mean that you need parenting ninja skills to spot troublesome bits of text moments before they come out of your mouth, and adjust without your kid noticing (the 80s versions are better than the 50s because they’ve mostly had the racism cut out, at least, but they’re still sexist as all hell). Some are easy – OK, that pixie is called…’Cheeky’. And those dogs are ‘Barky’ and ‘Tigger’, no worries – others require a bit more effort, like swapping some of the more fun adventure roles and better dialogue between the boys and girls, and removing references to girls needing to learn to sew and clean because they are girls. It keeps me on my toes when I’m reading.

But we’ve just hit the Famous Five. The whole ‘George wants to be ‘as good as’ a boy’ part of the story can’t really be insta-edited out of the story as we read. Instead, I had a talk to Loony about what those parts of the book were going to be about. He thought it was completely hysterical that that people ever thought boys and girls couldn’t like anything they wanted or be good at the same things.** This was actually a crazy concept to him. And I was frantically thinking ahead and then consulting Sister the Younger*** about what bigger parts of the books might need adjusting – would Anne be constantly too afraid to go on the adventures, and prefer to ‘play house’ and cuddle her dolls than to go with the others? Is that OK because she’s the youngest, and might just be scared because she’s only 9 fucking years old and her parents routinely abandoned her for weeks at a time to thwart bands of criminals, survive kidnap attempts, travel 100km on a bicycle carrying a picnic with enough food to feed six times the population of the Dorset town she will save from the nefarious plans of the local smugglers?

Anyway, because I had forgotten to plan ahead and borrow the hard copies from my parents, I’d bought Five on a Treasure Island on my kindle and I realised as I was reading that it was already edited. The first warning sign was the kids calling their parents ‘mum and dad’. Surely it had been ‘Mother’ and ‘Daddy’ before? We googled and found that this new version has been super sanitised. Apparently there’s this whole controversial movement and the new versions are all adjusted not just to remove the casual racism (which I am appreciative of) and the overt sexism (I don’t think the line ‘as good as a boy’ will be appearing in the kindle version) – but also to modernise the dialogue and make it more relatable to today’s kids. Barney can’t just work occasionally at the docks anymore – he has to go to school. I assume there aren’t servants (no sign of a cook at Kirrin cottage yet, but I can’t remember if they had one in the original version of book 1 since George’s family was supposed to be struggling pre finding the ingots J). The kids don’t even wear jerseys and go bathing, they have jumpers and swim. This sort of stuff makes me a little less comfortable.

I mean, yes, I’m definitely adjusting the books for my boys. I don’t want anything I tell them, even through fiction, to lead them to think that boys aren’t supposed to cry or be afraid or that girls are the ones who clean up after you, or indeed that being brave and loyal and kind and generous and honest aren’t all 10,000 times more important than, and completely independent from, your gender.**** And absolutely, I won’t have racial slurs finding their way even innocently into my kids’ vocabulary, no matter how accurate they were for dialogue in the time period. But there comes a point where you have to say, look, these books were written in a particular time period, about a particular kind of family, and back then kids MIGHT have just been sent away to a farm after they’d been ill, and mightn’t have gone to school. Some kids didn’t have reliable adult care. And FFS, they’re set in 1950s England, I don’t care if my boys have to learn some new words for things – frocks and jerseys and bathing costumes won’t hurt them or anyone else.

What do you guys think? How far should you go to modernise a book that’s very clearly stuck in a particular time period? Should it be left up to parents to perform verbal acrobatics to make sure Bessie gets as much of the action up the Faraway Tree as Jo? And for books they’ll read to themselves, do we trust them to understand for themselves that people treat each other differently now than they did 70 years ago?


* Graph of my long term memory

pie graph

** Disclaimer: Loony has so far had basically none of his beautiful natural worldview pounded out of him by socialisation yet, so it would not occur to him that some people might even in our current day and age think he was odd for having pink as his favourite colour.

*** I can’t be arsed drawing a graph of what I see Sister the Younger’s long term memory looking like, but let’s just say there is a fucking massive wedge devoted to ‘the plot of every novel she has read since age 5, including entire paragraphs of dialogue from Enid Blyton books’

**** To be fair to Enid, some of the time the casual sexism seems almost forced in. Yes, when she has a group of boys and girls she’ll allocate the housework to the girls and have the boys be baffled with their obsession with dolls. But in general, and particularly when she wrote JUST about girls (as in the school stories), Enid’s young women (unless she was cruelly satirising American girls) were all concerned with being genuine, hard-working, sporty, adventurous, kind, generous, loyal, stoic types. With enormous appetites.

Review: Fool’s Quest

Fool's Quest

My love for Robin Hobb’s novels is pretty all-encompassing. She’s my favourite writer and has been from the first time I read one of her books. Her worlds are immersive, her characters more real to me than any others, and her prose beautiful and effortless. In fact, I love her so much that I’m not even capable of being flippant in this review, not even a little bit (I know, right?). So watch out, unabridged sincerity ahead!

Housekeeping stuff first: I’m talking about Fool’s Quest, but much of what I have to say is about the broader story as much as this particular book. While the first & second trilogies (Assassins and Liveships) and the later quartet could be read as independent pieces*, this series can’t – don’t even think about picking it up unless you’ve read the first 6 Fitz/Fool books first, and preferably all 13 prior books in that world. However, I’m not spoiling anything and I hope if you’re reading this and you haven’t read any of Hobb’s books, this will encourage you to go and fix that right now.

So. First up, the Feelz.

God, this book. As we near the end of 20 years of storytelling in this world, each layer on the Farseer story becomes more finely tuned, more exquisitely complete in its exploration of the lives of the characters. My heart hurts just thinking about the end next year. After so many stories, so many intertwined characters and plotlines and long term plans that we have glimpsed, fragmented, over the last 14 books, Hobb manages to bring them together so masterfully that you cannot doubt she (or possibly more accurately, at least in part her subconscious) has been perfectly controlling every thread the entire time. She throws the contents of a kaleidoscope into the air but when it lands the thousands of little chips form a seamless, effortless, inevitable picture. I don’t know how this story will finally resolve next year: what I do know is that it will be a viscerally satisfying conclusion of a journey I have travelled for two decades. That, and I’m probably going to cry some more.

Now to the more technical stuff.

As always, her writing is so smooth and rhythmic, an invisible first class carriage of the story (albeit with an occasional polite throat-clearing drawing attention to a sentence or analogy too perfect not to make me smile). But this has never been about her prose, beautiful though it is: that is just the vehicle by which she takes us through an utterly immersive world and a story that, while fantastic in nature, is (like all the best of the genre) really about humanity.

It occurred to me, first when I picked up Fool’s Quest and again throughout the reading process, that the prevailing emotion I associate with these books now is fear. Hobb doesn’t write thrillers or horrors. But she is a master of fear: not shock, not terror, but a deep, subtle, invasive dread, the kind that only comes from deep investment in characters and an unshakeable awareness that the author will follow through the full and sometimes terrible consequences of every choice and mistake they make. She has trained her readers in fear and consequences and the desperate lure of the possibility of perfect emotional satisfaction.

I will pick a corner against any challengers to my claim that no writer in the fantasy genre properly and emphatically explores consequences like Hobb. There are many ways in which she demonstrates mastery of this, but the two that stand out are her treatment of violence and her regard for the relationships that bind us in myriad small and significant ways.

On the first point, without spoiling anything, the Fitz & Fool stories deal with violence, including torture, and its aftermath, both physical and emotional. The torture occurs both on page and off, but never gratuitously, never without purpose – characters neither use violence or suffer it to move conveniently through plot points, and they are never free of those decisions or those events. Characters who were tortured scores of years before in book terms are still feeling the effects, and always will. While I have a reasonably high tolerance for violence in storytelling, I find it infuriating to see it used in otherwise solid novels as though it is a fleeting, momentary thing, easily forgotten. In Hobb’s worlds there are no heroes casually torturing villains to get key information, then walking away untouched by the incident. There are no victims of serious violence who bounce back after that event has served its story purpose, never to be gripped by terrors and memories and reactions to others that they can never learn to control. The things we do and those that are done to us have consequences, and Hobb never lets her characters – or us – forget it.

On the latter point, perhaps it is because I come from a large and close family, or because I live in the (smallish) city in which I was born and grew up, that this resonates so strongly with me. The entanglements of long relationships are as much a part of life to me as breathing. So it always with a degree of frustration that I observe the majority of characters in fiction – not just SFF – blithely roaming throughout their lives and often the entire world with only the bare minimum of connections with other people: a love interest, a couple of friends or colleagues, an antagonist, and maybe a sibling or a child (though usually a dead one, to go with the dead or invisible parents, especially mothers).

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that things are popular devices for a reason, and that reason is convenience. If you’re writing a workplace based bit of fiction, it muddies the waters if you allow your protagonist relationships outside that space. If your story is an epic, wouldn’t it be a lot easier for your hero if you maybe killed off their entire family or even their whole hometown, so they’re free to go off revenging or exploring or questing or whatever without having all those pesky relationships to deal with? Although Fitz is (effectively) an orphan, and one who at least some of the time actively believes he seeks solitude and freedom from these exact entanglements, it is a tribute to Hobb’s understanding of humanity and the common themes of society that he fails at this so regularly and spectacularly at this. I mean, the poor bastard can’t even escape the repercussions of grandchildren of people he let down 30 years before coming in to have a dig, let alone the full gamut of (often… mostly) well meaning interferences and expectations of his family. Nor does Hobb fail to explore the different kinds of feelings and interactions he has with a range of characters, and the differences in how he has interacted in his different roles – child, assassin, tool, warrior, strategist, husband, father, friend…It gives his character and the world a level of realism about the core of what makes us human. Looking for realism in fantasy? You’ll find it in extensive connections of all kinds, and not in convenience.

And all of these consequences – consequences from actions, inactions, interactions – are what create the fear. Reading these books is an exercise in increasing tension. Imagine someone is very carefully binding you up – starting with something small – dental floss around your little toe, round and round, then your other toes, one at a time, and it’s uncomfortable but it’s not painful, just THERE, then it’s your other foot, the whole feet, and your ankles, and it’s getting tighter. Now it’s unnerving, and the tension is constricting you. It’s up to your calves and the anticipation is making it worse; you know it’s going to continue, and you can see where it’s going. But you’re being carried along with the careful rhythm and symmetry of the binding: circling, circling, tightening. Sometimes the thread is harsher – fishing line, steel wool – and it cuts in, and you’re afraid all the time as it keeps winding round and round. Sometimes the thread will go the other way, and it’s suddenly a silken wrap, looping your waist gently, giving you a moment of respite. But even while you’re enjoying those moments the dread doesn’t abate, and sure enough, it’s a short respite. By the end of the book you’re head to toe, constricted, dragged inevitably to a conclusion.

The tension is built in various ways. Often, it’s crafted from the contrast between your awareness and Fitz’s – warning signs you catch that he misses, advice you want to scream at him to heed, decisions characters make that you know they will make (because you KNOW these characters, I mean, you really know them like they’re facets of yourself, by now) and you know will be wrong. Sometimes it’s from direct portents gifted to us in the text (a story referenced within the story, or insight from the extracts at the beginning of each chapter). Sometimes it’s just from experience of Fitz’s world that makes you distrust and question everything. The pervading dread is masterfully handled and balanced with lighter moments — smatterings of humour in banter between characters, glimpses of precision insight into a new animal’s character,** or Fitz’s ongoing and bitter war with clothes in general and buttons specifically. Occasionally Hobb gives you a few moments of genuinely unexpected joyful payoff as old wrongs are put right.

Usually, the ending of each novel ends with the final tugging of either end, and all the binding falling away (sometimes it leaves scars, some that can still trigger pain to touch more than a decade after you first read them). In these last two books, she has left us bound up with effective cliffhanger endings so that we get to carry the memory of all that tension around until the next book comes out. There is no space for relaxation or, god forbid, boredom, in these books. You have to pay attention so you don’t miss the many, many pieces she’s juggling and which ones fit together as they fall, but some part of you is always afraid to do so.

So when I hear Hobb’s work described as ‘slow’ or even ‘glacial’*** I just want to reach into the computer and give the other person a virtual shake and demand to know how they could get it so wrong? To say that the pace of the books is slow is to imply that there is time wasted, words spent that don’t contribute to the story, scenes that take too long. It isn’t true. Unlike this blog post, they’re exactly the pace they need to be. Nothing is there that doesn’t belong.

OK, I think I have probably ranted long and hard enough here. I could say more, and probably will when the series concludes next year. For reasons that should now be clear, I both long for and dread that time.

Well done, as always, Robin. You’re everything I strive for as a writer, and everything I adore as a reader.


* Though they shouldn’t be, ideally – it’s a massive pay off reading them and enjoying the connections between the stories.

**I consider it a non-zero possibility that Hobb is in fact Witted.

***I am more active online than I used to be, which has inevitably meant that I am more aware of other people’s opinions than I once was. This can be a good thing, sometimes. But it has also exposed me to the baffling world of People Who Don’t Like Things That Are Awesome. I know, right? There are people out there who just flat out don’t like the things that I like which, I think you’ll agree, must objectively be the best things! It’s crazy. Sometimes I can be the bigger person. Hey, so you didn’t like Scrubs or Gilmore Girls or Buffy or the West Wing. We can…we can still be friends. I guess. [One of my best mates, whom I shall call Nigel for the purposes of anonymity,**** has managed to remain one of my best mates for 15 odd years despite me being obsessed with various forms of pop culture the entire time and the Venn diagram of our tastes in these things encompassing only the tiny slice of TV that is Broadchurch and Rake. We had a 1:1 policy of movie exchanges in uni where I had to watch one independent Australian film about suicide for every time I made him watch something with sword fighting. Yet, still friends!] But sometimes those opinions are so baffling to me that it triggers a silent nerdrage in my head: such is the case with fantasy readers who don’t rate Robin Hobb.

**** His name is Nigel. I’m not that good at deception. Sorry, Nige.

Garbage People

Book stack (1 of 1)

Do you ever suspect that some people around you, walking around like little Rory Calhouns, talking and breathing and in all ways impersonating people, are actually sacks of rats and garbage just taking the rough form of a human? Made up of dog shit and the messy lids of yoghurt tubs and apple stickers and blue cheese rind and nappybombs?

Yesterday I woke to the rather disturbing news that an author I greatly admire – Jennifer Fallon – had had her new book stolen and released to pirates and available for others to steal months in advance of its actual release. You can read the gross story here. But the gist of it is, someone Jenny trusted with an unfinished version of her newest novel, the Lyre Thief, chose to leak that beta version to pirates. I would just like to say, if that beta reader ever reads this: you are the garbage person. You don’t deserve trust or respect or frankly the company of regular humans.

Pirating books is a shitty thing to do. Providing those pirated books to others is even shittier. Taking advantage of the trust an author put in you to intentionally leak that book in advance of its actual release to the kinds of arsehats who run pirate book sites is a whole new category of shitty. Congratulations, you’re the CEO of Shit Mountain Adventure Park. I don’t recommend the snacks. Or the waterslide.

Pirating books – downloading them or selling them for download for money or for free – is stealing. It’s taking something you are not legally entitled to take, and it’s stealing no matter what veneer you try to put on it. You probably know this. So listen, if you pirate books – I don’t love it. It’s not cool. You telling me you pirated a book and liked feels kind of like you told me squatted in your neighbour’s backyard with your computer using their internet download quota. But I’m also conscious that it can be easy to roll with simplistic arguments to justify it, and even easier to go with a convenient option even if you know it’s not ideal, because you think you’re just one person and you’re not making any difference. I don’t think it’s right, but I get that.

Unlike the occasional pirate, though, I suspect the person who leaked the Lyre Thief belongs to the contingent of garbage-people who not only are totally OK with stealing people’s works, and have a bevy of reasons to pretend this is not morally awful, but who actively get angry at being called on it. Not embarrassed or uncomfortable or uninterested: angry. Because they have convinced themselves they are entitled to things for free, and any challenge to that is greeted with outrage.

Allow me to run through the usual arguments I see about why they’re justified in stealing your stuff. Spoiler: they aren’t good arguments.

It is NOT STEALING, it is only ‘copyright infringement’. Stealing intellectual property is different from tangible property because you’re not depriving the owner of the work! I’m not a thief!

Calling a rat a short-haired Mongolian toothy-dog doesn’t make it show ready. What the author of a book is selling is the right to read that book. Whether it’s in hard copy or electronically, you’re not just buying paper and glue or 1s and 0s. You’re buying the right to enjoy the author’s story. If you take that without paying (or accessing it some other legal way), you’ve stolen it.

I appreciate that it can FEEL like it’s different because hey, the author can still sell the book* – you haven’t taken a physical thing that now can’t be sold to someone else. But forget about the physical format of the book. It’s meaningless. What the author is selling is the right to read their novel, and that’s something with value that they worked for. You’re taking that value and not paying. You wouldn’t (I hope) sneak into a concert without paying even though in theory it makes no difference to the band. Be honest about what you are taking.

OK even if it’s stealing, it’s a victimless crime because no-one is harmed!

If you took something that someone worked on and offered for sale, without paying them, I’d say you harmed THEM, and anyone else entitled to profit from your access to the book (the publisher, the retailer you didn’t use, etc). You took the benefit of what they made and didn’t compensate them as legally required. OK, you’re not sneaking into their house and slashing their clothes and emptying their handbags but that’s not the only way to harm people. Having consumers pay for the right to read their book is literally the reason they publish that book; they offer it for sale and people pay for it – that’s the entire point.

If you’re just downloading, not actively copying and distributing things yourself (because that’s a whole extra level of terrible), you’re still contributing to the greater problem because your actions reward the person you downloaded it from, encouraging the kind of evil arses** who run these sites to continue to steal and profit from authors. You’ve got a part in the future harm to those authors – and their publishers and retailers and staff and anyone else who depends on the (legal) sale of books for their career. Maybe you’ve cost them sales, maybe you’ve made it that much harder for them to justify publishing another book or for the publisher to keep supporting them or for the publisher to take a chance on the next author who comes up. Maybe you’ve contributed to the author having to continue to work a full time other job, so that they can’t write as fast as they and their fans would like. You’ve definitely contributed to the general modern internet culture of devaluing art and claiming it as an entitlement instead of a privilege or a product of worth. Your part may be small if you’re just downloading but you don’t get to pretend it’s not a part.

[And, of course, the bonus crapcake type of jerk who steals at beta stage and leaks it, as in Jenny’s case, has also sabotaged the release of the author’s book, putting an unfinished work out before they even got a chance to sell a single copy and potentially negatively affecting those critical pre-orders and first week sales. The thief has taken the author’s control of their product and its value away from them. He or she has eroded the author’s faith that humans are humans and not sacks of shit, and made sure that aspiring writers and editors and great readers and fans are cut out of their pre-publication process forever. Thanks a heap, arsehat.]

But pirating books is the only way I can afford them. Ergo, I must steal them. Otherwise I’d have to go without altogether.

Leaving aside the fact that there are plenty of ways you can still get to enjoy the benefits of reading for free – libraries, friends – or very little money – second-hand bookshops, discounted books, very cheap e-books – that’s still utter bullshit. I can’t afford a new shirt so I’ll have to shoplift or else I’d have to keep wearing my OLD one? I can’t afford a car so obviously I have to steal one, because otherwise I couldn’t drive! What’s the alternative? Save up the money or…or… do without?

Guess what, sunshine, that’s what every person ever has to deal with when deciding whether or not they can make any purchase. If you can’t afford a car you catch the bus or walk or get a lift or you make sacrifices in other areas to save up for one you can afford. If you can’t afford it you go without, just like everyone else.

But books are too expensive! It’s not fair that an e-book costs $(insert whatever price a thief finds unreasonable).

Look, you totally have the right to assess whether a price is reasonable or not. I don’t think the almond croissants at my work cafe are worth $5.50, even though they’re delicious. So I don’t buy them.*** If you don’t think the book is worth $16.99 then by all means, do not buy it. Buy a book at a price YOU think is reasonable. Or wait for a sale, or for the price to come down. Up to you. You don’t know if you’re going to like the book? Your call whether you take the risk based on the blurb/sample/reviews/recommendation that led you to consider it in the first place. If you’re not willing to risk a couple of bucks in case you don’t like the book, then don’t. Spend your money buying a burger or a t-shirt or more twine to hold together your shaky human form. Whatever. That’s the alternative – spending your consumer dollars elsewhere.

I’m taking a risk when I pay to go to the movies. I have small kids and I don’t get to go very often, so it’s pretty disappointing when I fork out for the ticket and the bucket of sugar and the overpriced cardboard bites flavoured with yellow and salt and then the movie turns out to be 2 and half hours of noise and people with distractingly good teeth delivering dialogue my dog could have written. But you know what? I don’t sneak in and watch it without paying just in case. Someone else sets the price and if I don’t want to pay it I go without. If everyone agrees the price is too high, sooner or later the market will adjust to bring the price down to what people WILL pay. That’s capitalism, baby.

Additionally, this argument requires accepting that the thief would happily pay for books legally if only they were just within their determined range of what is reasonable. I’m dubious. Someone who’s proven they’ll take what they want regardless of whether they’re willing or able to pay for it will have a stretch making me think they wouldn’t just find a new way to justify things if the silly market obeyed their will and the price came down.

But I am HELPING authors! I would never have bothered to read the book if I’d had to pay for it, but if I steal one I will pay for others later. You’ve won me as a fan when you never would have if I’d had to forego one cup of coffee to read your first book. How dare you insult us by (accurately) calling us thieves?

This is the particularly odious one that these indignant self righteous serial thieves like to throw around. I’ve tried to keep the tone of this post below crazy-level-rant status but this argument is simultaneously hilarious (in a disbelieving you’re-not-serious sort of way) and rage-making, so I’m wavering a bit.

You’re doing authors a favour? Sure you are. It’s very generous of you to have made the author’s marketing decisions for them. Maybe you could steal some cakes from your local bakery and hand them out for free – after all, maybe the people who eat them might then shop at the bakery later? (Of course, you and others like you will still be stealing their cakes and giving them away, and after people pay zero dollars for something once, guess how much they want to pay for it the second time?). Even if it was demonstrably true that free books didn’t hurt authors, it’s STILL up to the author and publisher make the decision about whether they want to give away their property in exchange for added exposure. Bear in mind that pirating an author’s works to people willing to steal them is only giving them exposure to thieves, and I gotta tell you, people accustomed to getting something for nothing are not everyone’s favourite customers and fans.

I’m aware that this view I’m expressing here, this open distaste for the argument that stealing is OK and actually beneficial, will make people angry. Authors are expected to be gracious about the stealing because of the perceived benefit to their careers.**** Here’s the thing: if you’re the kind of person who will only give an author a try if you can steal from them first, then expect them to be grateful for the ‘help’ you’ve given – I just don’t know how to be delicate about this: you can fuck right off. If you take offence that people don’t want you stealing from them, go ahead and shove your offence up your arse. Pretty sure the author would gladly forego your dubious claims of future fandom and sales.

[At this point, rational people might be wondering what kind of lunatic would be actively angry at an author for preferring that their property isn’t stolen. To answer this question, have a browse on reddit every time piracy comes up and an author goes so far as to suggest that they’d prefer people purchase their works. This is not an outlier view. There are crowds of them. They don’t just want writers to accept their stealing and not call them rude names. They would really rather be THANKED for it. I swear to god actual supposed adults will even contact authors to tell them they liked their work and that they didn’t pay for it. What the fuck do they expect people to say to that? Thanks for the thievin’, hope you accidentally spill your coffee on your keyboard when you’re reading it?]

Anyway, I’m aware the tone of this has been, in places … well, less than charitable. But I also know that sometimes people do dodgy stuff without really meaning to be a terrible person. Most people who pirate the occasional bit of media probably genuinely mean no harm. If that’s you, just please have a think about it next time you do, and consider whether what you’re gaining is worth what you’re doing.

And listen, there is even hope for garbage people who’ve been pirating everything they read and trashing authors for daring to express displeasure over it. You too can stop being awful and become a real boy! Realise that by choosing to pirate books you’re stealing and facilitating stealing and you’re hurting people you should be supporting. Consider not doing that anymore. If you really want to start making amends, go and buy the back catalogue of authors you’ve stolen from. Keep the books and bask in the goodness of owning them legitimately, or give them to others and enjoy the sensation of ACTUALLY helping an author by giving them exposure. Before you know it you’ll be a regular human again.

If you’re the person who stole the Lyre Thief, well… I’m not sure how you make up for something that awful. Write to Jenny and ask.

One final note. If you got this far in my lengthy rant, consider checking out Jenny’s back catalogue. (In support of her I just bought e-versions of a trilogy I already own because honestly you can never have too many ways to read). She’s a great writer with a bunch of intelligent, non-traditional fantasy (and occasionally SF) novels, with a particular skill in political intrigue and multidimensional characters. There’s no bad choice you can make there. Go forth and purchase! Or if you already own them all, consider leaving a review on whatever site takes your fancy – every review helps.

One more final note. I mean no insult to garbage men or women – as in the type who drive trucks as opposed to the time who merely suck badly as humans. I love garbage truck drivers. They’re super friendly and they always wave to my kids.


* Not to you, of course. But, as you’ll argue below, you weren’t going to buy it anyway.

**If it makes you feel good to imagine an actual pimply gross butt here wearing a monocle and a smirk, then go for your life and know you aren’t alone.

*** Except when I’m really hungry and/or have poor self control and a wallet with a comfortable amount of dollars in it.

**** Some authors, including some big name ones and some that I like and respect, have agreed that piracy hasn’t hurt them, and has given them greater exposure to people who might not otherwise have tried them. I mean, I COULD speculate that it’s easier to hold that view when you’re already wildly successful. But really, it’s actually cool – if you don’t mind having that control taken from you, that’s fine. It’s your business and I’ve got no beef with it. But a lot of authors demonstrably are NOT OK with it, and that sure as hell doesn’t stop the pirates from stealing from them anyway. Invoking supportive (or non-caring) authors isn’t a defence unless those authors are the only ones being stolen from. And let’s face it – they aren’t. I’ve never heard a pirate say they only pirate off authors who specifically say they don’t mind. Sure, some pirates probably prefer they are OK with it because that reinforces their world view, but they’d keep stealing either way and they know it.

One step* for a Sam; one giant leap for…well, OK, Sam also.

boll

I realise that despite promises to the contrary, I haven’t actually written much about the querying journey on this blog. Mostly that was because it’s slow and boring and I can’t even make decent Simpsons jokes about it. Partly because if there was no happy ending coming (and who knew, at that stage), it would make for pretty bloody depressing reading: Here, let me tell you about how I tried something and it didn’t work. Maybe it could not-work for you too! Let’s go drink lukewarm tea and watch sad youtube videos of animals in cages.

So let me summarise the past 6 months or so: I sent out queries, time passed, I checked my emails too many times (sorry, actual employer), I made spreadsheets (sorry Jane), I alternately felt incredibly encouraged and discouraged about my book’s prospects. If that was the end of it, it wouldn’t make much of a story.

So luckily that’s not the end.

Instead, let us drink champagne and watch happy youtube videos of dogs and birds making friends and cute children being reunited with their deployed parents, because I have an aaaaaaaggggggent!

I am so, so thrilled to say that I am now represented by the absolutely wonderful Julie Crisp, who only last month was the commissioning editor at Tor UK (working with amazing genre authors like Peter F Hamilton, China Mieville, Ann Cleeves, Jay Kristoff) but – to my great good fortune – has had a career shift to now work more directly with authors as an agent and script doctor. I feel so lucky to be working with Julie that I can’t even make a decent joke here. Not even a rambly footnote. You can check out her stupidly great list of testimonials at www.juliecrisp.co.uk. Go on, go check them out. She’s totally brilliant.

We will be working together to get Proof into the best shape possible over the next few months. I’m looking forward to being the beneficiary of her insightful red pen and in the meantime will be hard at work on the next project. Stay tuned!


* Yes, I do realise the word ‘small’ is missing from the quote. It didn’t feel right for the context. 🙂