That Difficult Second Novel by Jacey Bedford

First published on Jacey Bedford’s blog

This blog post was written in November 2013, after I got my first three book deal from DAW, but before any of my books had been published. My first book, Empire of Dust, was complete and going through the editing process, and I was staring my second book in the face. It had been sold on a one-page synopsis as a sequel to Empire and eventually became Crossways, the middle book of the Psi-Tech trilogy.

3bookpsitech

One of the panels I attended at World Fantasy Con was on writing that ‘difficult second novel.’ As I suspected none of the panellists had easy answers. Most of them were in the process of or had just completed their second novels and it struck me that there are no experts in this field. Writing the difficult second novel is something a writer will do only once.

So why is the second novel classed as ‘difficult’?

Most writers spend years in their first novel, which may, of course, not be the first novel written, but will be the the first novel sold and published. From concept to sale it gets written, polished, possibly rewritten (several times). It might be helped along by beta readers, critique groups, editorial comment from an agent and, once sold, it will almost certainly be significantly changed/improved by the intervention of an editor and copy editor. A published book is not the work of one person, it’s the result of teamwork by the author, her beta readers, agent and editors.

Finishing a novel is an achievement in itself; selling it and getting it published is a veritable triumph. It’s a goal so many writers aspire to and some never achieve. For those of us who do achieve it all our prayers are answered, all our birthdays come at once…

And from that point onwards our previous problem of ‘Will I ever sell a novel?’ melts away to be replaced by:

  • Will my novel be well-received?
  • Was the first one a fluke?
  • Can I really do it again?

In other words, that difficult second novel is looming. For many authors it’s pre-sold to (or optioned by) the same publisher who bought Number One, and that introduces new pressures. The first novel took years to write. This one comes with a deadline. You’re writing it in a vacuum because the first one hasn’t been published yet, so you don’t know whether it’s going to be well-received or not. You probably have to do two things at once because while you’re working on the first draft of Book Two you’re probably also working on the edits of Book One. And, OHMYGOD, you’ve already been paid half your advance for Book Two so it had better be bloody good.

In fact, the actual writing of Book Two is probably no more difficult than writing Book Four, Five or Six, but it’s the first time the pressure has been on like this. Let’s face it, it’s probably not even your second book. You’ve written several before selling the first one, right?

So relax. Take a deep breath. Stop reading this blog and get writing.

Jacey-new hairJacey Bedford is a British writer, published by DAW in the USA. She writes science fiction and fantasy. Her Psi-Tech space opera trilogy consists of Empire of Dust, Crossways, and Nimbus. Her historical fantasy trilogy comprises Winterwood, Silverwolf, and Rowankind. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic, and have been translated into Estonian, Galician, and Polish. She’s the secretary of Milford SF Writers Conference for published SF authors. (www.milford.co.uk) She’s been a folk singer with vocal trio, Artisan, and has sung live on BBC Radio4 accompanied by the Doctor (Who?) playing spoons.

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His Majesty’s Starship, part 3: a bloody children’s publisher? – by Ben Jeapes

Originally posted on Ben Jeapes’ blog

Slowly but surely His Majesty’s Starship approached completion … and approached it … and approached it. For a very long time indeed I was almost there, with just a couple of thousand words to go, and I simply wasn’t writing them. I self-diagnosed the problem, which was that I had a life and I was unwilling to lose it. The solution was to start getting up earlier, writing before going to work. It’s a habit I’ve kept.

Placing it with a publisher was quite atypically easy. Two friends from my writers group already shared an agent, Robert Kirby. Robert had been sufficiently tickled by their descriptions of the group to ask if he could have first refusal if any of the rest of us ever wrote a novel. I sent His Majesty’s Starship to him in August 1995, shortly before the Glasgow World SF Convention, which was my first worldcon. He finally accepted it, and me as a client, in January 1996. I had an agent! For a while I enjoyed dropping the words ‘my agent’ into conversation with friends, family and strangers.

(I recently came across an old letter from Robert thanking me for introducing him to his latest client, one Alastair Reynolds. Purveyor of retirement plans to agents, that’s me. No finder’s fee, sadly.)

And then Scholastic expressed an interest in it.

Scholastic?

A bloody children’s publisher?

Robert’s precise reason for sending the book to Scholastic was, and I quote, “Gilmore seemed to me a sort of modern day Biggles and the level of sex and violence would not have raised the collective eyebrow of readers of Captain W.E. Johns.” As Gilmore, in the draft he read, was a divorcee from a group marriage with a teenage son, and there is an alien sex scene in chapter 16, I disputed this point of view, but it’s amazing the effect having a publisher actually express interest will have on you.

Further, I had been put off Scholastic by hearing horror stories from a friend who had had a novel published by their Point SF imprint which was systematically neutered to make it suitable for a young audience. (Or rather, one suspects, for the young audience’s parents.) The approaching middle age, divorced heroine became a teenager. At one point, in the original draft, she comes down first thing in the morning and finds the boyfriend having breakfast, with the implication he had stayed overnight; now he had to walk up the garden path first thing in the morning and ring the bell to be let in.

I don’t know who edited that book but it certainly wasn’t Scholastic’s David Fickling, a boundlessly cheery Roy Hudd lookalike and publishing genius. (All my writing breakthroughs seem to be thanks to someone called David: Fickling, Pringle, Barrett …) Practically my first card on the table when I met David was that the alien sex scene stayed. “Absolutely,” he said cheerfully. I was to learn he said a lot of things cheerfully, including his careful enumerations of your novel’s precise faults.

David was the man who had signed Philip Pullman (Northern Lights had just won the Carnegie Medal for children’s fiction) and was looking for something meatier than Scholastic’s usual teen fare for a new imprint. Robert forewarned me that David thought the book was bogged down with too much detail. I went into the meeting determined to refute this viewpoint and I left agreeing with him. I also saw how it took far too long for the story to get going, and it finished too soon – about three quarters of the way through the book, with a lot of mopping up after. I needed to rewrite it so that it ended at, you know, the end.

The kicker was: if David suspected for a moment that I was just agreeing with him to get the book published, rather than rewriting with my heart in it, he wouldn’t be interested. Not that I would have just agreed with him to get it published … but it concentrated the mind.

This began the first of quite a few rewrites: new opening chapter, throwing us straight into the action and highlighting Gilmore’s tactical ability. A space battle, a few people killed. All good stuff. I sent off the rewrite.

Early 1997: he didn’t like it. I began to see the problem: I had added more plot but left the excess verbiage in as well. David did me a huge favour for life at this point by recommending that I read Patrick O’Brian’s Master & Commander, first of the Aubrey series. O’Brian’s characters just slide into the action: Aubrey has been through some considerable scrapes prior to the novel’s opening and we only hear about these second-hand.

I applied this to the novel and I cut out anything that didn’t directly relate to the action, including (though it broke my heart) chapter 8, in which the Rustie Arm Wild interviews the crew. That chapter was the key one to introducing not only the crew but also the alien mindset to the reader. The novel was now down to 92,000 words, from its first draft of 113,000.

Back to Scholastic, and David courted death with a casual comment along the lines of: “don’t I remember a chapter where Arm Wild interviews the crew? I quite miss that …”

I restrained my homicidal impulse and learnt the lesson: anything that develops the characters is probably acceptable, even if it doesn’t contribute to the action. The interview was reinstated.

In January 1998 I sent in the final draft at 100,000 words, and it was accepted. And despite all the twists and turns over the last two years, it really was the story I originally wanted to tell.

I was struck by all the pluses of dealing with David, as opposed to the horror stories I had heard of other publishers: incompetent editors who want to be writers themselves and fiddle at every stage; who have no idea of science fiction beyond Star Trek; who bow to the High Priests of Marketing and tell you to put the sex here, the extra 200 pages there, and where’s that dragon when we need it? And all for a product that ultimately will have a life expectancy that makes a mayfly seem pensionable, because that’s how the bookselling system works. (Note: further on and many years later, I still have yet to meet any editors who match this stereotype … but I was young then and, like it or not, the stereotype exists.)

I was bowled over by an editor who encouraged me to cut. Not willy-nilly, but surgically. Cut this, yes, but expand that, because you leave off just when the reader’s getting interested … you see? And yes, I did see. David never lifted a finger to fiddle with the science fiction – that was entirely my own. He just concentrated on the story, and I came out the other end of the process a convert to the demands of children’s publishing: proper children’s publishing, not plot lobotomy as is sometimes practised. Just tell the story, then stop. That’s it. No more. Let it be as long as it needs to be. And you end with a story to be proud of: the story you wanted to tell.

I still had to stay on my toes. There were those within the Scholastic empire who clung to the old ways and David couldn’t control everything. Like, a frowning copy editor changed one character’s “Sod it!” to “Damn it!” We compromised on “Nuts!” (I had a vision of the guy wandering the corridors of their offices in New Commonwealth House muttering “Sod it / damn it / nuts / sod it / damn it / nuts …”, perhaps looking to see which of his colleagues swooned at what.) Strangely, the occasional utterance of “Christ!” caused no upset at all; a sad reflection etc. etc.

The learning experience continued right up until the end. At proof stage, I was told it was one signature too long for its price range. Books are typically printed in multiples of sixteen pages – eight pages get printed on either side of a large sheet of paper which is then folded and trimmed. That is a signature. My choice was: cut it by sixteen pages, or let Scholastic put it up by a pound. I cut the sixteen pages. It’s humiliating to realise your book has sixteen dispensable pages in it, but it was an invaluable exercise.

His Majesty’s Starship was published in December 1998. My author copies were delivered while I was at work on the last working day before Christmas, so I had to go and collect them from the depot. As I drove away from the depot, with the holidays ahead and my first novel in the boot of my car, the radio announced that Peter Mandelson had resigned from the cabinet. And then it played the third part of Vaughan Williams’s English Folk Song Suite, a piece of music I really enjoy with a triumphant trumpet fanfare.

I was pretty pleased with myself and with life generally.

Still am.

Life goes on …

It enjoyed modest success and some fairly nice reviews: I still relish the tingle when I saw SFX had awarded it more stars than the other book on the same page, a Star Trek: Voyager novel. It went out of print in 2002. A few years later I did a print-on-demand version because I was still getting a trickle of enquiries. And then I heard my friend Cheryl Morgan was starting a new e-book publishing company …

Andy Bigwood did an awesome cover for it – see above. It’s now available as both software and treeware (i.e. e-book or print).  The original Scholastic edition was also published in America under the utterly baffling title The Ark … presumably as in Ark Royal, and in deference to the United States’ anti-monarchical past, and because if you want an exciting novel about starships, obviously you go for one named after a big wooden boat. But that is out of print too, and the only edition available anywhere for new has the right title. The one God intended. His Majesty’s Starship.

Accept no substitutes.

 

BenJeapesBen Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be quite easy (it isn’t) and save him from having to get a real job (it didn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of several novels and short stories, he is also an experienced ghostwriter, journal editor, book publisher and technical writer. His novels to date are: His Majesty’s Starship; The Xenocide Mission; Time’s Chariot; The New World Order; Phoenicia’s WorldsThe Teen, the Witch & the Thief; The Comeback of the King; and H.M.S. Barabbas. His short story collection Jeapes Japes is available from Wizard’s Tower Press. He is now a fulltime ghostwriter, writing stuff for other people which annoyingly makes more money than his own does.

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His Majesty’s Starship, part 2: B5, bad guys and by golly, a sequel – by Ben Jeapes

Originally posted on Ben Jeapes’ blog on 10th December 2018

Like me, Babylon 5 was also on a mission to do right what Star Trek got wrong. Its key innovation was the story arc – the idea of an overall plot across the entire series that would take many episodes to unfold. Nowadays it’s almost unknown for a series not to have an arc. Babylon 5 gave us a universe of consequences – if a character broke a leg in one episode, they were on crutches in the next. In one episode a fighter pilot was killed and the closing shot was of Commander Sinclair composing a letter of condolence to the next of kin. Humans in Babylon 5 were a minority species, one among many, as opposed to the apartheid-like setup of Trek in which humans are clearly the minority yet equally clearly in charge of almost everything. It was a universe where it was okay to be religious, without the right-minded good guys on the one hand ‘respecting’ your faith until their hearts bled and on the other quite obviously despising it as primitive superstition.

None of it was actually original in comparison to written science fiction, which had grasped all these innovations in the fifties or earlier. For television science fiction it was brand new and I felt a lot of moral support.

Babylon 5 also gave us a feisty Jewish-Russian female second-in-command; not a combination of features you would expect to be duplicated easily. Well, I got there first! Hah!

I enjoyed dividing the Earth into the political map of 2148, including such nations as the Confederation of South-East Asia, the Pacific Consortium, the Holy Arab Union, the South American Combine and the United Slavic Federation – and of course the Vatican. Then, once I had the entire planet neatly divided into political entities, I suddenly realised to my horror that I was doing what Trekkies do – I was neatly delimiting and parcelling up a potentially fascinating future to make it manageable. So the published version names a few nations, but many more are now implied.

One of those entities is the EU. Ho-hum. Innocent days.

Books need antagonists and it would have been too easy to make the Rusties the bad guys. In fact their invitation to the nations of Earth was pretty straight, for the amount of information they chose to reveal. So, the tension had to come from within the humans. For the baddies I chose the Confederation of South East Asia. This was a superstate India and its puppet satellite states; Pakistan, Bangladesh (I take credit for the first ever Bangladeshi on a starship, I think), Afghanistan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Burma. I really should add I had and have nothing against India – but the baddy had to be a global superpower of 2148, and I have no doubt that India will be one. Europe and North America will have long had their day by then. Whether India is a good or a bad superpower, only time will tell. In His Majesty’s Starship it’s just emerging from a mad and bad period, and there’s a tension between different factions who have different views of the past. Several of the Confederation characters are perfectly decent guys who just happen to have been born into this situation and so I gave the Confederation the NVN, an equivalent of the Waffen SS, who unquestionably are bad and not necessarily well liked by their compatriots. As I don’t speak a word of Hindi, NVN stands for ‘Not Very Nice’. NVN uniforms were plain green, based on the pyjamas I was wearing at the time. Depending which part of the novel you read, the uniforms are either dark or pale green, which has two possible explanations: dark green for dress uniform, pale for combat (or vice versa); or, they left the dark uniforms in the wash too long.

Then I unexpectedly started thinking of a sequel …

I honestly hadn’t intended to. But I showed some chapters at Milford 1994 in Rothbury, Northumberland and they came up with two unforeseen reactions. First, I explained the background plot and an immediate reaction was: that’s what the aliens want, and we’re the best they can do?! And second, a criticism was made that Gilmore was a bit bland. He needed more background. He needed a family! Thus his eighteen-year-old son Joel was generated spontaneously from the ether, together with a perfect rationale for the Rusties’ actions, and these two things together gave me enough material to write The Xenocide Mission: the only sequel I have written so far.

In part 3: finding a publisher and discovering I’m a children’s author.

 

BenJeapesBen Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be quite easy (it isn’t) and save him from having to get a real job (it didn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of several novels and short stories, he is also an experienced ghostwriter, journal editor, book publisher and technical writer. His novels to date are: His Majesty’s Starship; The Xenocide Mission; Time’s Chariot; The New World Order; Phoenicia’s WorldsThe Teen, the Witch & the Thief; The Comeback of the King; and H.M.S. Barabbas. His short story collection Jeapes Japes is available from Wizard’s Tower Press. He is now a fulltime ghostwriter, writing stuff for other people which annoyingly makes more money than his own does.

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His Majesty’s Starship, part 1: origins by Ben Jeapes

Originally posted on Ben Jeapes’ blog

His Majesty’s Starship hit the stands on 10 December 1998. I am inspired to reminisce. In the best spirit of present-day science fiction I shall do it in three parts.

When I was young I read Robert Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast. This proved upon retrospect, and indeed upon actually doing it, to be a bad idea because it’s terrible and I couldn’t believe it had been perpetrated by the same author as my beloved Starman Jones, which I read and re-read compulsively up to the age of about 13. However, there is a very brief mention in it of a Royal Space Force. That was an image that hung around in my mind for a long time after, but I didn’t just want to fling it straight into a story as a given. I wanted to know how such a thing had come about.

Also, much as I love good ol’fashioned space opera, with space battles and hyperspace jumps and lasers, I grew up on much more plausible Arthur C. Clarke-type spaceship stories, where there is no artificial gravity and ships must obey the laws of physics. I wanted to write a story that could start in a Clarke-type universe and plausibly end with whizz-bang-splody ships.

In my twenties, I read Hornblower. I had dipped into this before but now at a stroke I now read the entire series. I was struck by an aspect of Hornblower that eluded me as a child: his self-loathing. He is a hero and can never believe it. Every mission he undertakes he is convinced will be his last – and this at a time when the English had shot Admiral Byng on his own quarterdeck for messing up. That was my hero!

I almost had a novel. I didn’t know back then that the phrase ‘Hornblower in space’ was already fast becoming a cliché; I only had a vague idea who Honor Harrington was and David Feintuch’s Hope series had yet to be published. It probably wouldn’t have been a problem if I had, though, because both those others are set well after the start of their respective eras. I however wanted to cover the beginning. For example, why exactly would anyone want to arm a spaceship?

I also wanted to bring the limitations of nineteenth century naval warfare to space, as I think the principles will be pretty similar if it ever happens. In Hornblower’s day, ships were big and slow and couldn’t hide. If you were doing five knots and your enemy came over the horizon doing five and a half, then sooner or later there would be a battle, but you could spend all day just looking at your enemy as he crept closer and closer without being able to do a thing about it. There was nowhere to run to, and when the fighting started you just sat there and took it. And so, these principles were applied to the big space battle in the novel, when it came.

Mix ’em all together and I had my background.

In Asimov’s Foundation trilogy there is a throwaway line about Gilmer, the man who sacked the Imperial capital Trantor and brought down the remains of the Empire. This led to a vague resolution as a teenager, filed away at the back of my mind next to the Royal Space Force, that I would one day chronicle the future history of the Gilmer family. To kick them off, my depressive spaceship captain was named Gilmore. Michael Gilmore, because I’ve always liked Michael as a name: I’ve never met a Michael I didn’t like.

I kicked back against Hornblower’s depressive excesses. He never really accepts that actually he’s quite good and his self-pity becomes actively annoying to the reader. Thus by the end of the story Gilmore has good reason to believe he’s actually quite good at what he does.

Never assume an author is putting himself into his characters, but Gilmore’s lack of self-belief certainly mirrored part of my own personality. I began to write His Majesty’s Starship in 1993; I was still in my late twenties and had no idea what the future might hold. I had no idea if I would ever be called upon to lead a large body of people, or even a small one. I did know I didn’t fancy the idea in the slightest because I had no confidence that I could. And so far in my life, I’ve managed to remain a lone wolf.

And the required jump to a Trek-type universe by the end? Okay, I begged the question here: aliens, already technologically advanced, come to Earth with an invitation to the human race to help them develop a world they have available. I called them the First Breed, for reasons which become apparent; the humans nickname them the Rusties. When someone in my writers group said ‘First Breed’ sounded vaguely threatening, hinting at ideas of racial supremacy, I knew I was doing this right.

It took a while to finalise their physical form. At first I played around with all kinds of shapes in my mind but they all came back to the ‘man in a rubber suit’ syndrome; I could take them about as seriously as I could take Trek’s alien of the week. I certainly wasn’t thinking of them as non-human. Then I remembered the Hefn of Judith Moffett’s wonderful (and underrated) Ragged World (tales of the Hefn on Earth – geddit?) series, who are as at home on four feet as they are on two. I put the Rusties on all fours and, voila, aliens!

This also helped me right a grievous wrong that was perpetrated upon science fiction in the early nineties. There was an especially irritating story in Asimov’s called ‘The Nutcracker Coup’. Quite apart from being nauseously cute and upholding the right of all decent Americans to interfere in the affairs of less developed planets if they find the culture un-American or even if they are just plain bored, it featured a four legged intelligent race which – and I gaped with astonishment when I read it – still carried things about in its front legs, so that if one of them was holding a gun on you, say, it hobbled along on three legs while it kept you covered. An interesting take on evolutionary theory, I thought. How would these creatures ever invent the gun? Or any human-type tool that effectively disabled an entire limb if it was going to be used?
Thus, my Rusties had grasping tentacles on either side of their heads which they used the same way we humans used hands. Other things about them just came off the top of my own head. Rusties appear to human eyes to be flaking rust, hence the name (first I actually wanted them to be sweating iron oxide, but my biochemistry isn’t up to it), and when they are conversing face to face, humans have to fight the urge to pick the flakes off the alien’s skin. A Rustie’s nostrils are at the top of its domed head, above the eyes – they come from a relatively predator-free stock that evolved on the plains, so need to keep their airways free of dust and dirt – and thus humans tend to make eye contact with the alien’s nose. They communicate very much by body language, managing to transmit whole concepts in an instant with a gesture or a scent that would take a human much longer to say out loud; this meant I had to find a way of writing down a Rustie conversation from a Rustie’s point of view. And they are herd animals, which is very important.

Finally, the ship itself: His Majesty’s Starship, HMSS Ark Royal. This was originally Raptor, a pun on Trek’s Bird of Prey, until I decided that the UK probably would call its first starship Ark Royal – and anyway, it pushed up the word count.

Much too much of my motivation for His Majesty’s Starship was wanting to do right what Star Trek did wrong; like, emphasising that my ship’s have seat belts and depressurise during battles. At the time, Star Trek was the only viable space-based series on television, other than repeats of the original Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century – both of which could only be loved for their classic cheese status. But then, in 1994, a few thousand words into the first draft of His Majesty’s StarshipBabylon 5 hit our screens and changed everything.

BenJeapesBen Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be quite easy (it isn’t) and save him from having to get a real job (it didn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of several novels and short stories, he is also an experienced ghostwriter, journal editor, book publisher and technical writer. His novels to date are: His Majesty’s Starship; The Xenocide Mission; Time’s Chariot; The New World Order; Phoenicia’s WorldsThe Teen, the Witch & the Thief; The Comeback of the King; and H.M.S. Barabbas. His short story collection Jeapes Japes is available from Wizard’s Tower Press. He is now a fulltime ghostwriter, writing stuff for other people which annoyingly makes more money than his own does.

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Science for Fiction 2020 by David Gullen

Imperial

The excellent Science for Fiction (S4F) event at Imperial College, London, properly known as The Imperial College & Science Fiction Foundation workshop, is back once again. Designed specifically for SF and other writers to meet and talk to scientists presenting their research and knowledge in a very accessible and easy-going way, Science for Fiction 2020 runs on the 1st & 2nd July.

I’ve been to several of these events and they are not only great, at £30.00 GBP they are an absolute bargain. S4F 2020 starts after lunch on Wednesday 1st July, and runs all day on Thursday 2nd.  Admission covers catering, including a buffet lunch on the 2nd.

Some financial support is available via the Science Fiction Foundation if necessary. Overnight accommodation is also available if you wish, at extra cost.

Details of subjects to be covered are still being sorted out, but will certainly include astronomy, physics and biology.

I can’t make S4F this year and am disappointed to miss it. In the past the events have been packed with research Doctors and Professors, NASA engineers and scientists, and more. If you like the idea of a day and a half of informative talks by friendly experts in the company of other writers – go!

To attend, email Dr. David Clements at D (dot) CLEMENTS (at) IMPERIAL (dot) AC (dot) UK.

Please include any specific requests for subjects to be covered as it may be possible to do so! Please also say if you have any dietary restrictions that would affect the order for lunch and tea.

This blog post is based on Dr. Clements own blog, which you can read here.

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Writing: Art or Craft? by David Gullen

I remember a conversation in my first writing group from many years ago about whether or not writing could be taught. Some people thought no, that writing alone in all the fields of human endeavour, was somehow special and the ability was innate, Gods-given. The best you could do was encourage, but teaching, darling, was simply not possible.

As a journeyman writer still wet behind the ears I soaked this up. Was it true? I had my doubts. Later I realised this was nonsense. Everything other human activity is taught, from acting to zoology, writing is not that special, not that precious. The conversation moved on to whether writing was art or craft. Over time this has interested me probably far more than it reasonably should.

In paraphrase, the great French poet Paul Valéry wrote that a work of art is never finished, merely abandoned. You can read the full quote in French and translation here, including his reasoning for why he thinks that is.

From my own experiences, and listening to other writers, that’s pretty much true for novels. There’s either not enough time because of a deadline, or you’ve drafted it so many times you’re tired of it. So there we have it – writing is art.

image

Except there’s a craft to writing too, the developed skills in use of language, tension, characterisation, and all the other tools in a writer’s toolbox. Skills that, one hopes, never stopped being refined and improved in breadth and depth. And of course we change too.

The other thing I can’t seem to leave alone is leather craft. Is this a craft? The name implies as much but I’ve seen work that has amazed me with its artistry, and with its origins in the working classes isn’t this classification as much a social construct as anything?

I have a theory: The difference between Art and Craft is that craft can be finished.

When I write a novel, given time and inclination I could redraft it forever, but if I make a leather belt when it is made it is done, finished, there is nothing more that could be done to make it more the thing that it already is. In fact doing more would risk ruining it.

Except the learning of the craft never ends. Skills improve, the links between mind and eye and hand strengthen, new tools and techniques are discovered or learned. There’s an art to all this after all.

I still like my theory, but I think what it really shows is art and craft are two hands working together, inspiration and application. If I cook a meal, that is a piece of craft, once it’s done it is done, but the learning (and believe me in this realm I have much to learn) never ends.

Is writing an art or a craft? It’s both, obviously, just like everything we do. And yes, it can be taught. And learned. But what about reading, a lone and possibly snarky voice calls? Reading? Don’t get me started.

Fin.

gullen-dkg1-2012That so-called David Gullen has sold around forty short stories, with recent sales to F&SF and Stupefying Stories, and Eibonvale, and he is the editor of the well-received Once Upon a Parsec: The Book of Alien Fairy Tales from NewCon Press. David currently lives behind several tree ferns in South London with fantasy writer Gaie Sebold, and is the current Chair of Milford SF. His craft work can be seen at Nellug Crafts on Etsy.

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Useful Tools for Writers: Book Covers by Jacey Bedford

Self publish or self publicise?

Whether you’re self-published or traditionally published there’s a good chance that you’ll need to shout out about your new book release. It’s only a smallish number of best selling authors that have the might of their publisher’s publicity department behind them. The rest of us might get a few hours of a publicist’s time if we’re lucky. So that means getting your shoulder behind your own book and giving it a shove. To do that it helps if you have some good images.

There’s a website called the Free Online Book Mockup Maker

1 Winterwood 1I’m reasonably good with Photoshop, but this site makes life really easy. Instead of a flat cover you can present your books like this.

Or like this.

1 Rowankind 3

 

You can download your mock up as a .jpg or a .png. A .png file gives you the option of adding a background picture, like this.

Silverwolf sea

There are choices of template, so check it out and enjoy playing with it.

Thanks to Jane Friedman’s Electric Speed email for the link to Derek Murphy’s DIY Book Design

If you’re an indie author (or even if you aren’t) there’s a really interesting lesson on book cover design on Derek Murphy’s DIY Book Covers site . It takes forty-three minutes, but listen – it’s time well spent. I learned a lot, especially about keeping it simple. I’m very lucky, my editor asks for my input of the cover image, so this gives me some information on the kind of thing that works (and doesn’t).

Cover image quote

Remember, it’s not the job of the cover to sell the book, its job is to get the potential reader to pick it up. The sales pitch is the cover copy on the back. All your cover needs to do is to entice a potential reader to pick it up and turn it over.

 

 

 

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