The Definitive Guide to Selling Books sans InterWebs

Friday, April 17th, 2015 | Posted by mariebilodeau

Hear ye! Hear ye! This week, the InterWebs exploded with posts on bookselling and all their various don’ts and dos. They may speak of their crazed magical ways of InterWebs, but it is we of Black Gate who will provide you with the DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO SELLING MORE BOOKS!

"Razzle Dazzle, InterWeb razzle..."

“Razzle Dazzle, InterWeb razzle…”

Gather round, Authors of Yore, Authors of Now and Authors of Soon, and learn the true ways of book selling success.


Like any good conquest, the personal touch makes the difference. Let them see the blood lust in your eyes first-hand. Remember, the closer you are to them, the more blood lust they’ll see, the more books you’ll sell.


That’s their fear. Not yours. Make them fear that not purchasing your book will lead their villages to be burned and their crops to be destroyed! Speak fondly of past blood baths! Showcase them in a spiffy pop-up banner behind your sales table and REMEMBER TO FOLLOW THROUGH! If you don’t want to waste too much writing time destroying your non-purchasing enemies, at least steal their goat.

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Tim Akers on How His First Novel Nearly Ended His Career

Friday, April 17th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Heart of Veridon-smallTim Akers has produced some noteworthy fantasy in the past six years, including The Horns of Ruin, The Kingdom of Doors and Rooms, and The Burn Cycle (Heart of Veridon, Dead of Veridon, and the collection Bones of Veridon).

But his writing career very nearly ended after the release of his first novel, Heart of Veridon, by Solaris in 2009. Tim’s tale is one I’ve heard all too often behind the scenes and in whispered conversations at conventions. But on his blog yesterday, Tim publicly laid bare the details in a revealing and honest post — one I urge all aspiring fantasy novelists to read, and pay close attention to.

We were six months from the release of the novel… I received a call from my agent, informing me that Solaris was putting itself up for sale. The imprint was profitable, but GW had decided to put all of their eggs in the Black Library basket. I was standing in my office, at the job I hated more than I’ve ever hated anything, listening to Joshua Bilmes explain why my career may be over.

We tried to negotiate away the contract. Other authors had better luck with this, but as a debut writer, I didn’t have a lot of pull. Let me just summarize the next six months: bad things happened. Solaris didn’t do anything in terms of marketing. They didn’t send out review copies. Their sellers had no motivation to push the book. Buyers at the various bookstores were leery of picking up a debut novel from an imprint that might not exist in a few months.

The book, Heart of Veridon, got to shelves. But it arrived out of the blue, it hit the shelves at terminal velocity, and it cratered. Sales were bad. Reviews were good. The book disappeared.

See the complete post at Tim’s website.

Why I Was So, So Wrong about the Standard Fantasy Setting

Saturday, April 11th, 2015 | Posted by Connor Gormley

The Sailor on the Seas of Fate-smallSo I wrote a stonking great think piece thing about the Standard Fantasy Setting a while back and a lot of people read it. Some of those people liked it and some of those people didn’t; that’s fine, it’s got to the point where I only cry for fifteen minutes when someone criticizes me now.

The problem is, though, the more I think about it, the more I think about the points I made, the more I find myself in the latter camp, the more I catch myself bad-mouthing me behind my back and trying to suffocate me in my sleep. That’s a very bad thing when you’re a bona-fide messiah, chosen by the gods to lead the masses to enlightenment.

So yeah, I thought I’d write this follow-up post, explaining what was wrong with the article and to set the record straight. It’s more for me than anyone else… mostly because, goddammit, no one criticizes Connor Gormley better than Connor Gormley does.

I had good intentions at the start, yeah. It was going to be a much more balanced look at the standard fantasy setting, its pros and cons and a pretty mild critique; and you can still see elements of that initial idea kicking around in there, in what I actually said about the setting. The fact that it lets authors focus on narrative pacing, on character development, or outright, balls-to-the-mothertrucking walls action if they want, without having to worry about world building or introducing entirely new creations because most readers already know the characteristics of Elves, Dwarves and Orcs and what not, or at least the nature of a medieval-ish society. Michael Moorcock might be able to meet the compromise, yeah, but Michael Moorcock is essentially Jesus, so I don’t think it’s fair to count him (which, renders half of the article moot, anyway).

Where the problems arose was when I started spouting out things like “A genre that, by its very nature, should have no restrictions, that should be free of limitations and impossible to define has become one of the most rigid and easily distinguishable genres in our modern spectrum.”

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There Will be Blood Books

Friday, April 10th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Huff PriceThe great thing about the people in Tanya Huff’s Blood Books is that they act like… well, like people. This is remarkable for two reasons. First, not all of them are people; second, not all authors allow their characters to act like themselves all the time. Huff insists on it. Even when it makes writing the story difficult.

Let me qualify. All the characters in the Blood Books are people. Not all of them are human. They do act like themselves all the time, which isn’t to say that they act the way you expect them to. Not at all. More often than not, they’ll surprise you. But they’ll surprise you in a way that makes you go “Oh! Wow!” And not in a way that makes you go “Huh? What?”

The human protagonist, Vicky Nelson, was an extremely successful police detective, the kind who doesn’t suffer fools, and therefore doesn’t make a lot of friends among her peers. When she develops night blindness, she has two options, take a desk job, or leave the force. Being who she is, she chooses to leave the force and start her own detective agency. She’s stubborn, arrogant, and strong – exactly the kind of person you’d need if you were in trouble. Immanent blindness doesn’t change that.

The vampire protagonist, Henry Fitzroy, is the Duke of Richmond, the bastard son of Henry VIII. He doesn’t act like a young man living at the end of the 20th century. He acts like the son of a king, who’s been around for 450 years, has actually lived through all the changes that took place in those years, and who subsequently knows how to pretend that he’s a man living in the 1990′s. He’s a vampire, but he’s also the son of a powerful king, so for him, “territory” always has two meanings.

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Helpless in the Face of Your Enemy: Writers and Attack Novels

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 | Posted by Harry Connolly

Great-Way-Final-Cover-eBook-3-copySome writers plan their careers.

They scan the top of the best seller lists, think Hmm… here’s a police procedural, this one’s steampunk, these two are zombie novels, and this one’s about angels. Great! I’ve been wanting to try steampunk. I’ll write a steampunk murder mystery about a pair of mismatched cops. One will be a zombie and the other will be an angel. No, a fallen angel who has lost his celestial whatsit.

Which is a silly example, obviously, but authors manage the non-silly version to great success. As I recall, John Scalzi has said that he wrote Old Man’s War because MilSF seemed to be selling well. There are others, too, but I hesitate to name them because writing to the market has a bit of a stigma attached to it, although it shouldn’t. More power to them, I say.*

Me, I can’t do it. Not that I haven’t tried, but I can’t make it work. I don’t read fast enough to sample the sales lists widely, I can’t make myself write a book without screwing around with the tropes of the genre, and I suffer from attack novels.

Attack novel: ( əˈtak ˈnävəl) n: a story idea that a writer can’t stop thinking about, even (especially) when they’re supposed to be working on something else.

The first book I ever sold was an attack novel. So was the first book I ever started and abandoned. They haven’t all been, but when they come on me, all I can do is put them off until I finish whatever’s on deadline.

At the beginning of March, I released an attack novel that I started five years ago, and in every way that matters, it was a book I shouldn’t have written.

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The Forging of Swords of Steel

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 | Posted by Dave Ritzlin

Swords of Steel-small

He was met at the gate of Hades by the Guardian of the Lost Souls, the Keeper of the Unavenged. And he did say to him, “Let ye not pass Abbadon! Return to the world from whence ye came and seek payment, not only for thine own anguish, but vindicate the souls of the unavenged.” And they placed in his hand a sword made for him called Vengeance, forged in brimstone and tempered by the woeful tears of the unavenged. And to carry him on his journey back to the upper world they brought forth their demon horse called Black Death, a grim steed so fearsome in might and black in color that he could stand as one with the darkness, save for his burning eyes of crimson fire. And on that night they rode up from Hell! The pounding of his hooves did clap like thunder!

Would you doubt someone if they told you the above text came from an old sword and sorcery paperback with a cover by Frank Frazetta?

Likely not, unless you knew the source: “Dark Avenger,” a song by heavy metal giants Manowar. One day, while listening to this song, an idea struck me like a thunderbolt: To release an anthology of fantasy stories written by authors from heavy metal bands. And thus, the concept for Swords of Steel was born.

The past several decades in fantasy literature have displayed a lot of safe trends not much to my liking. What happened to evocatively-written tales of strong-willed heroes conquering (or succumbing to) exotic, dangerous landscapes? Rather than such epic fare, we’ve been treated to volume after volume of thousand-page Tolkien tributes. (Considering Tolkien spent 20 years on The Lord of the Rings, one would think maintaining quality through each successive sequel would prove difficult.) So rather than wait for someone else, I decided to publish a book myself. I simply needed to find people to write these stories; and who better than the heavy metal bards?

One prerequisite of the metal lifestyle is steadfast resistance against mainstream trends. It shows in the character of men like Cauldron Born guitarist Howie Bentley and Twisted Tower Dire guitarist Scott Waldrop, who founded their bands in the early nineties. At a time when metal was believed truly “dead,” they persevered without any establishment acceptance. This attitude, plus their lyrical talents, made them perfect candidates for Swords of Steel.

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West of January, Probably Near the Middle of Wednesday

Friday, March 13th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Duncan WestA few weeks ago I was talking about Dave Duncan’s series The Great Game, and that led me to reread his brilliant 2002 novel West of January.

West of January is science fiction that doesn’t, at first, seem to have any science in it. The story is an odyssey, narrated in first person by the main character, Knobil , who tells the tale of his life, from his childhood as part of a herdmaster’s family on the great plains, through to his days as an old man, teaching the young.

Knobil is expelled from his family at puberty and vows revenge on the intruder who murdered his father and mother. While he never completely loses sight of this objective, circumstances take him on a journey through most of the other societies on the world of Vernier, from the Sea People, the Miners, the Traders, and even the Angels in Heaven. It becomes apparent that this world is not Earth, and that while it is suitable for human habitation, its rotation and relationship with its sun causes a cyclical and catastrophic climate change which necessitates the virtual rebuilding of civilization each time.

West of January is a testament to just how important point of view can be. As in the best fiction of any kind, Knobil doesn’t explain anything to the reader that he takes for granted himself – though he might explain things that he knows to his young listeners:

The angels define the world by strips – twelves strips running north and south, seven east and west. The names of these are very old, given by the firstfolk. It is a sensible arrangement with only nineteen words to be learned. Any place can be located by reference to this grid. The west of January is but one example. Geographical features can be named also, like the March Ocean or the Wednesday Desert. This is much easier than remembering an endless arbitrary list, and much more practical when a forest may soon become a desert, or a desert ocean.

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Wanderings on Writing by Jane Lindskold: Enter to Win a Signed Copy!

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Emily Mah

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I am back! In the months since you last heard from me I started up a ebook and paperback formatting company, and we’ve formatted some very cool stuff. The coolest, I will post about here on the site (note, this is not all I will post about and I do not benefit commercially from these postings. This is all stuff I want to shout from the rooftops because of its coolness.)

First up is: Wanderings on Writing by Jane Lindskold, which is a compilation of essays about writing, plotting, storycrafting, characterization and much, much more. She is giving away a signed copy here –> a Rafflecopter giveaway.

Wanderings On Writing-small

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When I Win the Lottery; Or, I Should Be So Lucky

Friday, February 27th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Jackson LotteryThe phrase “when I win the lottery” seems to be used in two distinct ways. The first and, I hope, the most common usage, has the same “ain’t gonna happen” meaning as “when pigs fly,” and connotes a certain sense of realism on the part of the speaker. The second, and I think sadder, usage stands for a certain lack of foresight. It’s been said, for example, that a sizable percentage of people include winning the lottery as an element in their retirement plans.

In our house the phrase also stands for any unlikely event beyond our control that we would nevertheless welcome. Like “when they finally come up with a retina chip that will fix my right eye,” or, “when the Dhulyn and Parno novels are optioned for TV.”

The lottery as a phenomenon is now so pervasive that it’s almost impossible not to think about lotteries and winning/losing them. The concept has formed the basis of a wide variety of movie and TV plots – mostly on the negative aspects of winning, but I think that’s meant to comfort those of us who, well, lost.

How are lotteries treated in Fantasy and SF writing? I don’t mean games of chance as such, though that gives us magnificent stories like “Gonna Roll the Bones” from Fritz Leiber. Nor do I mean criminal activities like numbers running, or even straightforward betting, whether on or off track or line. No, I mean actual lotteries. You get your ticket, and you wait your chance.

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The Making of a Dark Fantasy Anthology

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 | Posted by Salome Jones

Cthulhu Lives-smallLike all books, an anthology begins with an idea. In the case of Cthulhu Lives! the idea was simply this: the eerie feel of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror stories without the lengthy exposition and racist diatribes. I called for submissions using the tag line “Lovecraftian cosmic horror stories with a modern sensibility.”

The cool thing about asking creative people to respond to a call is that you will often get more than you expected. For CL, I got some stories about things that Lovecraft never imagined because he was from a very different time. For example, 3D printers, spying internet programs, Higgs bosons – and steampunk Europe.

I didn’t have access to a group of known cosmic horror writers. In fact, I didn’t know when I put out the call if we would even get enough good stories to fill the book. At the same time I put out another call for a different book, this one for dark, modern fairy tales, and I got only three stories that I considered suitable, so I had to cancel that book.

After the open call for Cthulhu Lives!, I had thirteen good stories, stories I felt could make the grade either with or without a bit of extra work from the author. After putting them all together, I only had 55,000 words. Tim Dedopulos, the managing editor of Ghostwoods Books, told me I had to get the word count up to at least 70,000 before we could publish.

At that point, I asked writers I knew who I felt were up to the task. I have to say that Gethin Lynes was amazing here. He had been helping me copyedit the stories I already had. In order to help him grok some of the editing decisions I made, I suggested he read some Lovecraft. (He’s Australian, and Lovecraft isn’t as popular there as in the US.) When I needed stories, he wanted to write one. “The Highland Air” was the result, and it’s one of my favorite stories in the book.

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