Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Category: Writing (page 2 of 7)

General writing related posts.

The Road to Publication: Part I

Tomorrow, Tuesday 6th October 2015, sees the publication of my second novel If Pigs Could Fly (Buy on Amazon UKBuy on Amazon US), by my own imprint Wild Jester Press. It’s been a long journey and I thought now might be a good moment to share some of what I’ve experienced along that journey, and what I’ve learned.

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JonnyOnStandNearly eight years ago, my first novel, Game Night, was published, under a sort of hybrid small/self publishing model. My very good friend James Wallis published the book via his gaming company Magnum Opus Press, but the product (editing, cover, typesetting etc) and the marketing (publicity, posters, sales at conventions etc) were both down to me. Game Night was moderately successful, achieving something like 1700 sales in paperback in the couple of years following its launch, but in many ways, I think it was just a bit ahead of its time.

Back in 2007,  e-books were just getting started, and Game Night was printed in paperback format only. (I literally recall any conversations in which anyone suggested me printing an electronic version). Social media was also in its infancy; I didn’t join Twitter until well over a year after Game Night’s publication. Game Night achieved some initial success, with an ENnie nomination and some stunning reviews, but then essentially… stalled.  I did do a Kindle release some years later, but by then the momentum had gone.

Meanwhile, I was working on my second novel, and had hit the quoted-to-the-point of cliché but nonetheless true problem of “second album syndrome”. When I wrote Game Night I’d been riffing on the gaming humour I’d employed in my gaming webzine Critical Miss. I won’t say that writing the novel was easy, but I was in my comfort zone, in a niche with which I was familiar. For the second novel, I wanted, and felt I needed, to break out of that niche in order to reach a wider audience, and frankly, I struggled.

I started an offbeat fantasy, grew discouraged in that after 60,000 words, wrote a 100,000 word time travel novel that failed to attract any agent interest, and then eventually around 2010 or 20011, started work on the novel that would become If Pigs Could Fly. During all of this, my dream was still to be a conventionally published author. I’d had enough of trying to sell my own book. I don’t think Game Night was a failure by any means, but emotionally, it felt like one.

Along the way, I’d gone from a gaming background, where “indie publishing” was the norm, to a literary one, in which self-publishing was regarded with pity at best, and scorn at worse. I wanted to go to conventions like Eastercon wearing the reassuring status of a “published author”. I’d had enough of feeling like a pathetic wannabe, trying to be something he wasn’t, fearful of the heads being secretly shaken behind him. (I’m sure this never happened, and I’m sure no-one ever felt that way towards me. But it was how I felt, and once feelings like that get a hold of your insecurities it’s hard to banish them.)

Incidents like the one I described in a blog post from 2009, didn’t help of course:

The Big Name SF Author

I was in the audience for a panel supposedly about writing courses. For the first ten minutes or so, the four panelists managed to largely contain themselves to merely being mildly smug and self-congratulatory about the courses they’d run or attended, but then for no particularly compelling reason the big name SF author segued sideways into a long, sustained, mean-spirited and frankly vicious attack on the self-publishing industry and self-published authors, with the former being described as “evil” and the latter being described as angry, socially dysfunctional individuals with an inability to take criticism, a burning belief that they were right and that everyone else in the world was wrong, and a fanatical desire to prove the rightness of that latter conviction through the successful self-publishing of their novel.

(Midway through this, he did backtrack slightly, and concede that self-publishing firms weren’t actually evil…)

As you can no-doubt guess from the way in which I’ve described it, I was somewhat enraged both by what he said, and by the cold viciousness in which he chose to say it. I’m not saying that he’ll remain at the bottom of my “writers, personal opinion of” chart for ever, but I’d advise anyone wishing to seize that bottom place from him to begin their interaction with me by punching me hard in the face if they wish to have a fighting chance, such is the degree to which I’m still outraged by what he said.

And finally, now that he’s made me aware of just how much prejudice there is against self-published books in the publishing industry, I now always feel compelled to point out that my own novel ended up being small-press published rather than self-published. This is of course the same moral cowardice that leads people to begin attacks on homophobia with the line, “I’m not gay myself, but…”, and yes, it does leave me feeling similarly disappointed in myself.

In pursuit of this dream, I was attending various “How to get an agent / how to get published” type panels at this point. Now Game Night used to get many quotes and reviews of the following sort (emphasis mine, now, and please feel free to skim over them):

“Game Night, the debut novel by Jonny Nexus, is a work of absolute genius, and is definitely ranked as one of the most fun and enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time, and in my opinion is at least as witty as the likes of Terry Pratchett. ”

“Reviews of this book have claimed that it has an air of Discworld about it. I’d agree with that, especially Pratchett’s early work; its plot is similarly chaotic and the comedic style is similar.”

“A Pratchet-esque debut novel of gods, roleplaying, and game-night kerfuffles … Buy Game Night. It’s a fun, fresh, irreverent read that’ll ring true to any gamer even if, unlike the protagonists, you happen not to be a god.”

“Game Night is on my top 5 books of all time, and that list includes such celebs as Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Jonny Nexus is hilarious!”

“I issued more laughs from reading Game Night than I do from an average Pratchett novel… Clash of The Titans meets Discworld, neatly blended with a little Red Dwarfism.”

“Start with a generous helping of Terry Prachett, add a dash of Douglas Adams, a pinch of Christopher Moore and season heavily with Dead Gentlemen’s Gamers. This is one of those few books that I actually laughed out loud when I read it. All in all, it’s a fun look at life around the gaming table through the eyes of a group of slightly dysfunctional gods.”

“Most humour books try to be novels-with-jokes, if you will. As such, aren’t as funny as say, sketch comedies which are simply a series of great jokes run together. The last novel I read that was devoted to just being a string of comedy sketches was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (taken of course, from a radio show that was a series of sketches run together). Hitchhikers was, as a result, the funniest novel I’ve ever read, and the only one that has ever made laugh out-loud. Until, that is, Game Night came along.”

All those people comparing my writing to my heroes Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett: good thing? Nope. Bad thing. Bad, bad thing. As I described in a blog post written in 2011:

…an agent who, in a very thoughtful, constructive and helpful email… turned me down. Mainly this was due to my writing not setting him on fire. That’s fine. Writing is, as he himself said, very subjective, and I think humour is doubly so. But he also said something else, that I’ve previously heard from other people, which (paraphrasing his words) is this:

As far as the mainstream book world is concerned there isn’t really such a thing as a market for, or genre of, humorous SF/Fantasy. There’s just a Terry Pratchett market, and that’s that.

Basically, the thing I’ve learned over several years is that humorous SF/F of the sort written by Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett is a genre that is regarded as, if not stone-cold dead, barely luke-warm at best. At one “How to get published” type panel, I asked a question in which I said my work typically got compared to Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and asked what the panel would advise me to do.

The reply I got from the agent on the panel, paraphrasing slightly for humour, but not by as much as you might think, was basically, “Oh you poor bastard. I’m so, so sorry.”

(I should stress, he was a very nice man. He actually sought me out later at the convention when I was doing a Game Night signing to essentially give me a personal, one-to-one apology for having to break such bad news to me. He clearly felt quite bad about it.)

Basically, it was looking like if I wanted to get published I needed to cut out the funny. And I did try, but it’s not me. (In the roleplaying field, I once observed that any straight Star Trek RPG in which I am invited to participate will inevitably turn into Galaxy Quest).

Why is humour SF/F regarded so negatively? Well to a certain extent, the why is irrelevant to me now. I accept it as a truth and will waste no further time howling and wailing at a metaphorical moon of unfairness. But if you want a theory, I think that in the 1990s, following Terry Pratchett’s breakthrough with the Discworld series, so much rip-off, derivative, copy-cat crap was published that it essentially did to the humour SF/F genre what two generations of Oklahoman farmers did to the Oklahoma soil.

Basically, the bastards dustbowled the entire sodding genre.

At one point, while trying to research what humour SF/F there was out there, I asked for recommendations from my blog/Twitter/Facebook followers and got one reply saying: “Avoid like the plague any book that compares itself to either Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett”.

Which pretty much proves the point.

Eventually, by the summer of last year – after four drafts, and two minor drafts, including a pretty radical “third act” plot transplant – If Pigs Could Fly was finished, and I started down the long, depressing, and soul-destroying path of submitting it to the handful of agents in the UK who handle SF/F (science fiction and fantasy). Alongside all of this, my situation had been changing. Work, life, family: all had cranked up over the previous two years. Responsibilities and distractions had increased exponentially. The time I had to write had shrunk.

I long known that were I to get the publishing contract of which I’d dreamed of for so many years, I’d be required to write one book a year, every year, on top of a day job, for the foreseeable future. Hell, If Pigs Could Fly had been explicitly designed to be suitable for just such a schedule. I had, and have, rough plot ideas for the first six novels.

But somewhere after the way, after a four-month work schedule in which I’d made three separate trips to Singapore, interspersed with a trip to Stockholm and a trip to Istanbul, with all those agents I’d thus far contacted coming back with rejections, something snapped.

I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do it.

So I put my spreadsheet of agents away, with its names of agents still uncontacted, and decided that from now on I was going to please myself, big shot author be damned. I was going to publish the stuff I enjoyed writing, when I wanted to write it. I was going to self-publish.

In Part II of this series I’ll describe the nuts and bolts of how I went about getting If Pigs Could Fly into the hands of readers.

Next Post: The Road to Publication: Part II >>

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IfPIgsCouldFlyCover-FrontOnly-MediumIf Pigs Could Fly is available in both paperback and e-book format, from all leading outlets.

E-Book

Amazon UK (£1.99): [link]

Amazon US ($2.99): [link]

Smashwords (£1.99 | $2.99): [link]

Paperback

Amazon UK (£6.99): [link]

Amazon US ($9.99): [link]

If Pigs Could Fly should also be available on iBooks, Nook, and Kobo within a few days of its publication.

“West Kensington Paranormal Detective Agency. Doctor Ravinder Shah speaking. No case too weird, no problem too bizarre. Strangeness a speciality. How can I help you?”

London Social Worker Rav Shah moonlights as a paranormal detective, aided by one of his clients and a Border Collie he rents by the hour. It was supposed to be a bit of fun: a search for truths out there; a quest for a life more interesting than the one that fate, destiny, and personal apathy had granted him.

But then a case involving a Yorkshire farmer and a herd of flying pigs leads him into a world darker and more dangerous than he’d ever dreamed.

The truth is indeed out there.

And it’s got Rav square in its sights.

To Specify Date or Not To Specify Date

A choice faced by novelists when starting a novel is whether to set it in specific time period, or “in the now”, where in the now means to write the novel in such a way that a reader will assume that it is set in the time that the reader currently lives in. So if a reader in 2015 is reading a book that was published in 2012 but set in the now, then the reader will assume that the book is set in 2015.

A novel that is set at a specific time will usually announce the date, whether that be 1870, 1942, or 1996. A novel that is set “in the now” will usually avoid mentioning specific dates. But it’s not quite as simple as not mentioning dates…

Imagine I’m now, in 2015, writing a book set in 2004, with a story that involves some geeky protagonists. I might have them all using LiveJournal; doing so will be a nice atmospheric touch that will reinforce the sense of time and place.

Of course, if I was writing, in 2015, a book set in the now, I’d have them using Facebook. But – and this is where the wheels can come up an “in the now” book – what if now, in 2015, I’m reading an “in the now” book that was written in 2004, and the characters start exchanging their LiveJournal account names. It’s going to be really jarring. I’m going to think, “Why are they using Live Journal? Are they luddites?”

But what if someone in 2028 is reading my 2015 published novel, gets to the bit about Facebook, and it turns out that reference has dated? Should I remove the reference to Facebook and replace it with something more vague?

ClownShoesYou have a similar problem when trying to foresee how people will perceive cultural elements you reference, something that becomes most apparent with features films. Now when a film is filmed as a period piece, the scriptwriters only reference those things that had stood the test of time.

For example, the film Grease, made in 1978 but set in 1959, only referenced those things as “cool” that had been cool in 1959 but were still regarded as cool nineteen years later, and which are still regarded as cool now.

Compare that with Saturday Night Fever, which was made around the same time but set in the then present day. It’s full of cultural references that contemporary audiences would have perceived as awesomely cool but that we, frankly, laugh at. The film simply doesn’t now work as designed, and it has dated in a way that Grease hasn’t.

This knowledge, this fear of how your novel might be perceived a few years down the road, is surprisingly inhibiting. I’m getting so I’m scared to even mention Facebook. Right now, I’m half tempted to just bottle it, and say, you know what, this novel’s set in 2015.

Amanda Rutter: A Recommendation

Over the last year, Amanda has edited my novels Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly as well as the Game Night prequel novella Saving Stone. And when I’ve bashed out an nth draft of If Pigs Could Fly’s sequel, Sticks and Stones, Amanda will be my number one choice on a shortlist of one to edit it.

I could leave this recommendation there. After all, the best recommendations in life are generally those from satisfied customers like myself, saying, I’ve used her services in the past, I’ll use them again, and so should you. But I feel that transparency and honesty both behove1 me to say something further.

In my case, I feel that having an editor like Amanda both adds to and complements my writing abilities, but also allows me to extend myself as a writer. The first of those is perhaps obvious: pointing out jokes or descriptions that don’t work; highlighting section that are either over-long and boring or abrupt and truncated; and spotting underlying flaws in plot or character actions.

The latter is perhaps less obvious, but I’ll try to illustrate it. Part of my writing style is, I’d like to think, that i use rich complex sentences that play with language. A member of a writing group I used to belong to once said that my writing was very “epigrammatic”. (I had to look that up, but it turned out to be good). But the flip side of this is that I can often go too far, producing a sentence so convoluted that a reader will find themselves getting lost in its labyrinthine structure, only navigating their way out after much head-scratching and re-reading.

Amanda is my safety net here, my security tether. With her at my back I can push my writing without fear, without second guessing, secure in the knowledge that if I fall, she’ll catch me. (Typically by highlighting the offending section and attaching a comment to it pointing out that a re-wording to simplify it would be good). This doesn’t mean that I’ll take her every suggestion or heed every warning; at the end of the day it’s still my work, and stubborn fool that I am, I probably jump out of the “safety net” more often than I should.

But I can say that every single point Amanda makes is thought provoking; where I don’t simply take her suggestion or correction as is, and in the vast majority of cases I do, I’ll think about it, consider it, and usually end up making some sort of change somewhere.

To me, attempting to self-edit your own fiction is like attempting to cut your own hair, and risks a similar humiliation when you expose the resulting “work” to public view. It’s not just that it’s hard to be impartial about your own creation; it’s that you simply cannot know how your words will read to someone who isn’t you. Perhaps you’ve make a joke that relies on a piece of knowledge that it turns out most people don’t know. Perhaps one piece of your story references another part of the story that you meant to put in, but forgot. Maybe – like a tired anecdote about a drunken escapade – a whole stretch of story is interesting to you only because it’s your story, and not through any actual, universal interest.

I cannot stress highly enough my belief that every story needs an editor, and if you’re looking for one, I’d suggest you check Amanda out. It’s always a pleasure working with her, and the feedback you get back will be detailed, complete, challenging, and insightful. You can find her at:

http://areditorialsolutions.com

1Yes, behove’s an absurdly archaic word. I’m feeling whimsical. Shoot me!

Wild Jester Press: Upcoming Conventions

On the Wild Jester Press site, we’ve posted to say which conventions we’ll be attending:

http://wildjesterpress.com/announcement/upcoming-conventions/

 

Jonnycon I: Full Story With Pics

Jonnycon1-Tw5It’s now twenty-four hours since Jonnycon I, the convention-themed launch party for my new novel If Pigs Could Fly, and while the smile has left my face, I am still very happy with how it went. It was a good night, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Drinks were drunk, nibbles were nibbled, friendships were made and renewed.

If the purpose of a launch party is to help the novel take flight, Jonnycon did that. Alternatively, if the purpose is just to reassure the nervous author that maybe, just maybe, he’s written a half-decent novel, then it did that too. Everyone seemed genuinely thrilled to be a part of the launch, and to be genuinely looking forward to reading the book. And when we decamped to the Iron Duke’s Theatre room for a reading, there were quite a few laughs, and since they were in all the right places, I’m pretty confident they were laughing with me, not at me.

Jonnycon1-Tw7I’d like to say a very big and sincere thank you to everyone who came (especially those who came from far, Somerset, and further, Dublin), to my wonderful mother-in-law Jean for helping prepare the food, and finally to my wife Jules for being at my side throughout this whole process.

Jules was a little late arriving because she had to put our daughter to bed first; for me, the event only really started when she arrived.

And finally, I should also say a particular thank you to Ian and Leigh-Ann for helping us set up, and then running the “Registration Desk”.

Jonnycon1-Tw4

So thank you everyone.

And lastly, it’s been lovely to see people talking about the event on Twitter. I’m not saying it was trending, but I’d like to think it made a little splash:

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Goodreads Giveaway

If Pigs could fly won’t be released until this coming October, but you can get your hands on an advance reading copy (ARC) right now, through a Goodreads Giveaway I’m running. There’s no catch. Go to Goodreads’s Giveaway page (or click on the link below) and click on the “Enter Giveaway” button. You then get entered into a free draw, with five lucky winners getting a copy of the book sent to them by me. I’ll even throw in a bookmark.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

If Pigs Could Fly by Jonny Nexus

If Pigs Could Fly

by Jonny Nexus

Giveaway ends July 14, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Jonnycon I: Programme Guide

I now have a draft convention programme for Jonnycon I. In true convention style, this will be given out to attendees as they “register”. It’s mainly a bit of fun, something to add to the theme. But it does hopefully have some useful information in there, so I thought I’d give you guys a sneak preview.

Jonnycon I Programme (PDF)

On Amazon Pricing Policies

When publishing a book, one of the big questions you have to ask yourself is: how much am I going to charge for it? And in an era where you will have two versions, a physical paper version and an electronic e-reading version, of which the latter is probably the most important product, this is actually quite a hard question. A lot of it comes down to the psychology of pricing.

For the new Game Night, and if Pigs Could Fly when it comes out, I’ve gone for a fairly simple policy.

Paperback (trade): $9.99 US / £6.99 UK

Ebook (Kindle + others): $2.99 US / £1.99 UK

I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t mention that those two ebook prices are the minimum price points at which Amazon will pay you a 70% royalty; anything below that pays 35%. That fact did help me pick the actual price points. But I genuinely feel that those prices are a fair price for a novel, with the Ebook prices especially hitting that point where I feel I’m getting a reasonable price for the work while the reader/purchaser feels that they’re paying a reasonable price for what is, at the end of the day, nothing more than a digital file.

Obviously, other people will come to other conclusions. It’s a confusing market. But then you see something like this:

MadKindlePrice

I’m sorry, but that’s just insane. Asking someone to pay £8.54 for the Kindle version might be reasonable if: a) the book has just come out and the only other, physical, version is say a hardback priced at £18.99, or; b) this is a very expensive textbook with the physical version being much more expensive.

But when it’s a book that launched more than three years ago, and the paperback version is barely fifty pence more, that makes no sense at all. In the US, this book is even more incoherently priced: you can buy the paperback new for $9.22 while the Kindle version will set you back $13.31.

What I think happened is that they originally launched a hardback version (there’s one now, priced at £12.95) and a Kindle version, setting the Kindle version to complement the hardback price. And then, when they launched the paperback version, they just, plain, damn… forgot to reduce the price of the Kindle version. Which in the Kindle era, in my opinion, qualifies as incompetence of the highest order.

It’s the poor author I feel sorry for.

 

Jonnycon I: Programme Grid

This is mainly just a bit of fun, but I thought I’d have a first cut at a “programme grid” for Jonnycon. It isn’t anything that anyone has to worry about. If you’ve never been to a con, you can completely ignore it – all you need to know is that we’ve got a couple of rooms in a pub and are holding a party in them from around 7pm to 1 am, and at a couple of points I – the author – might get up and talk. But this gives a bit of a structure to what will be happening, when, and hopefully makes it feel a bit more like a mini-convention.

ProgrammeGrid

Jonnycon I: The Launch Party For Wild Jester Press and “If Pigs Could Fly”

IfPIgsCouldFlyCover-FrontOnly-MediumLater this year, after a difficult gestation of more than seven years, I’m finally publishing my “difficult” second novel, If Pigs Could Fly, and creating my own publishing imprint (Wild Jester Press) to do it. To celebrate both of these events, Jules and I are holding a party, and we’d love you all to come.

The party is basically a book launch, with all the things you’d expect from a book launch (including a reading from the author, me, and the chance to get an advance copy of the book and have it signed). In addition, we’ll have a bit of food, some dancing as we work our way into the early hours, plus chat, and even a few board games.

Additional note: The official launch of the book is in October (we will be selling copies at the Irish Discworld convention in Cork from 2nd to 5th October, with the book then becoming available on Amazon on 6th October). So Jonnycon gives you a chance to get your hands on a copy of the book two months early!

Letting us Know

No invites are required. This is a public event, and it’s fine to just turn up on the night. But if you are coming, it would be good if you could let us know, either by commenting here or sending an email to jonny (at) jonnynexus dot com, just so that I have some idea of numbers.

Note: due to licensing restrictions at the venue, under-18s are not allowed after 8pm. I don’t think this would affect anyone who might be coming, but I thought I ought to mention it just in case.

When and Where

Jonnycon 1 is being held on Saturday 1st August from 7:00pm onwards at The Iron Duke pub, 3 Waterloo Street, Hove BN3 1AQ.

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