Blood for Wages by Joe Coates is a western fantasy that feels like at times like Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen meets Blackwing by Ed McDonald. While it never quite reaches the heights of the aforementioned comparisons, it is a grim and gritty story for who enjoy those sorts of things…which I do. The story revolves around a woman running from her past called Fia McCrae, outlaw Torsten Gunn, and Redmon Marr, a powerful man with shady connections. The story is pretty engaging, although I found the characters not particularly likeable. At the end of the day, it reminded me a bit of Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred in the same way listening to Greta Van Fleet makes me think of Led Zeppelin. On one hand, I enjoy GVF, but I always end up getting the led out. If any of those books are your jam, check out Blood for Wages. Maybe it will resonate a bit more with you. It definitely has grit.
Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO continues to pull in authors of dark and grimdark fantasy and Ashes of the Witch by Lucas Pederson is no exception. When former witch Gorecrow is betrayed by her crew the Skulltalons, she finds herself dead with little else to do but strike up a deal with Death and return for revenge. Through the Shifting Lands she travels, reaping the souls of those who betrayed her while seeking a copper doll containing an ancient god. This is a story of revenge akin to the Crow but with even more violence. While I found the cover art a little off-putting, I found myself enjoying the tale even as the first few chapters felt a little slow. It does end up feeling necessary as Pederson builds the world. All in all, this was a pretty solid read, and I would recommend it for those folks who enjoy dark fantasy with some horror elements and an action edge.
The Moon’s Eye: The Relics of War by AJ Calvin is a truly unique book among those I’ve been assigned in the three or four times I’ve judged the SPFBO. With a half-scorpion lead, my first inclination was to get Mummy Returns flashbacks, but as I settled in and acclimated to the world, I eventually embraced this stoic warrior Vardak, apprentice to the god Blademon. Vardak is tasked with protecting Janna, daughter of another deity, as she attempts to recover the Moon’s Eye. This item is needed to counteract a different relic, which can summon a big bad known as the Nameless. With lovely prose, creative creatures, and a quick pace, the Moon’s Eye is a fresh fantasy tale that feels like a classic. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does give it an interesting wash.
The Wastes of Keldora by Alex Raizman was the last addition to my SPFBO pile, and the last one I read. One of Alex’s previous entries, Strange Theology, was my semi-finalist back in SPFBO6, and although it wasn’t our finalist, I thoroughly enjoyed his writing. To be fair, I’m not a huge LitRPG fan apart from Sufficiently Advanced Magic, but I kept an open mind and dove in. The story revolves around Julian, a failed inventor transported to a different world and given the task of merging with a godcore and fixing the world. He accidentally merges it with his smartphone instead and sets out to build a factory in order to defend against the God of Chains. At around 250 pages, this was a quick read, and I would have liked to have seen more RPG elements. Again, my frame of reference is limited. All in all, apart from some typos, I enjoyed the book and would consider giving the second one a look.
With my SPFBO 8 journey at it's end, I would like to take this time to thank all of the authors for their hard work and compelling stories. Unfortunately, I can only choose one book to select as my semi-finalist, which will be Steven Rudy's The Binding Tempest.
I was assigned six (6) books to read as part of this year’s SPFBO Phase One. It is my first time as a judge and I have had a great time on Team BooknestEU. With this post I will be summarising all of my allocated reads and announcing my semi-finalist. So, without further ado…
Greeting Gentle Reader,
I come to you today with an update concerning the eighth Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, and Booknest's role in it. Fear not for we have again returned! We have, however, adjusted our process. Typically, we have had five or six reviewers review our first crop of thirty, completing and posting a review for all entrants while allowing for one DNF. Each reviewer would then submit a semi-finalist for the site's owner to read and then select our finalist. For the most part, this structure remains unchanged. We currently have a panel of five reviewers for the first phase: Admins John & Janelle as well reviewers Rai, Al, and Max with 1 more potential reviewer to be determined. Each of these reviewers will receive five or six titles (depending on how many reviewers we have) and they will select their favorite amongst the bunch. However, and this is the big change from previous years, they will only be obligated to post a review for their semi-finalist. For all of their other titles, we are asking reviewers to post a summary and micro-review in a single blog post. This doesn't prevent them from reviewing every one of the books, but it removes the obligation to do so.
I know that is a big change and a bit of a bummer, but there is some good news.
We will be instituting our own in-house version of the Senlin Safety Net. Meaning: any reviewer who has multiple books they believe are worthy of semi-finalist consideration can submit them to a fellow reviewer who might not resonate with their titles.
Our phase 2 (1b?) will continue as it always has: Petros will read the semi-finalists and submit our finalist to the other blogs for consideration.
Our phase 2 reviewers, Sue, Jordan, and Andrew will then review the other nine entrants as they always have.
I hope this clarifies how Booknest will participate in this year's SPFBO, and we look forward to seeing who submits this year!
So after reading six of this year’s SPFBO contenders, I found myself considering three of them for my semi-finalist pick. Three extremely different books, which made it difficult to choose one as ‘the best’.
In order of reading, my contenders were:
Bitter Sky by Tim Stretton: This is a classically-written steampunk novel about morality in war, how quickly clear waters muddy and how the common people are used as pawns of the powerful, with a little demonic twist.
Empire’s Daughter by Marian L Thorpe: This low fantasy historical drama about a world where males and females have split into constrictive societal roles considers many complex questions as the two sexes come together to fend off invasion.
Daughter of Flood and Fury by Levi Jacobs: A YA revenge/coming of age story about a magically-gifted young woman driven to investigate and avenge her father’s death against a backdrop of religious dogma, global politics, corruption and, again, rigid expectations of men and women.
I enjoyed all three of these books in different ways, and their varying styles and content made it difficult to pick a ‘favourite’, in the way that asking anyone to name their favourite book with no context is just cruel and unusual.
So, in the end, I tried to just be objective about which one was the best-written book, taking into account the prose, worldbuilding, characters and plot.
And so, I came up with a winner.
My semi-finalist for SPFBO 7 is…
DUH DUH DUH…
Daughter of Flood and Fury by Levi Jacobs.
Congratulations and good luck in the next round to Levi, and I hope people will also check out Bitter Sky and Empire’s Daughter.
I first encountered the name Joe Abercrombie in 2016 when a friend of a friend recommended The Blade Itself. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I finally picked up a used copy and sat down to see what he was all about. Little did I know I was about to discover one of my favorite authors. From the very first page, I was hooked. I tore through the trilogy, becoming evangelistic about his works as I do with every author I adore, only to come to the end of The Last Argument of Kings with a hollow feeling inside. It was perhaps the first time I really experienced that emptiness you feel when you recognize the epic fantasy shaped hole in your heart. I never really found a way to fill that spot until I finished the final book in his trilogy of standalone novels Red Country. I think that feeling of contentment is what kept me from tearing through A Little Hatred. I savored that book, reading it from November 2019 through March 2020. Then, The Trouble With Peace sat on my shelf from the day it came out until August 4th of this year when I received an e-mail inviting me to the Age of Madness read-a-long. The timing couldn’t have been better. With the imminent release of The Wisdom of Crowds and my upcoming family vacation, I knew the time was ripe to dive in.
Now, understand that this Part 2 of the Read-a-long. If you are looking for the first nine chapters, you can head over to Fan Fi Addict and then come back…I’ll wait.
Alright, let’s do this.
Chapter Ten: Safe Hands
New monarch King Orso, Arch Lector Glokta, and High Justice Bruckel visit Lord Fedor dan Wetterlant who has been accused of rape and murder. Wetterlant has requested the king’s justice, which Orso is inclined to give him…Death by hanging, baby. On the way out, the trio are met by Wetterlant’s mother who makes thinly veiled threats against Orso should he not let the rapist go free.
Upon returning to his gardens, Orso meets with Bayaz who intends to leave soon. The two engage in a conversation where the weight on Orso’s shoulders is painfully apparent.
“I must confess I have always had some sympathy with villains. Heroism makes fine entertainment but sooner or later someone has to get something done.”
Orso meets later with Lord Isher, and they exchange pleasantries before discussing the Wetterlant issue. Isher suggests a compromise to potentially please the Open and Closed Councils and the common folk: a life sentence for Wetterlant. Orso finds this agreeable as he hates hangings. Lord Isher asks what kind of monster would enjoy them.
Chapter Eleven: An Ambush
Savine dan Glokta takes a stroll with her adopted father Sand dan Glokta to his place of work as she has done once a month since she was a girl. They engage in a stilted conversation despite Savine’s understandably sour mood before they encounter Bayaz near the statues of King Jezal and Lord Marshal West. Bayaz makes several confusing remarks that leave Savine confused and Glokta shaken. Bayaz believes the Burners and Breakers will need to be dealt with soon, and perhaps the Union will need a new leader…maybe even a woman of industry. Money, it seems, is the true magic of this world, and Bayaz is a wizard best obeyed.
Savine and her mother Ardee meet with Lady Finree dan Brock, mother of hero of the Union Leo dan Brock, who makes Savine an appealing proposal: marriage to her son. Zuri, out of concern for her friend, has apprised Ardee and Finree of Savine’s pregnancy with Leo’s child, and all involved agree the match makes sense. In celebration, they share a drink.
Chapter Twelve: Gentle Temperaments
Leo dan Brock, standing in the Lords’ rounds and surrounded by its majesty, is struck by the number of stairs in the world. At the bottom of the steps, he’s greeted by Lord Isher who wastes little time in exploiting Leo’s discontent with the crown before sharing Wetterlant’s plight with the young lion, stoking the man’s ego in the process.
After a long walk along the Kingsway, Leo arrives at the quarters where he meets with his mother and Ardee dan Glokta. The two women launch an even more impressive ambush than with Savine as they corner the new Governor of Angland more informing him than asking if he would like to marry Savine…like…tomorrow. Well, the following week actually…turning Lord Isher’s wedding into a double wedding. Leo is understandably rattled as a ring is dropped into his hands, and he is shown to the terrace where Savine awaits his proposal. After discussing the *ahem* benefits of the arrangement, the couple shares a passionate kiss with the Agriont spread out below them.
Chapter Thirteen: Minister of Whispers
Superior Lorsen enters his office to find Inquisitor Vick who asks him how went the vote. Lorsen smiles before informing her of their success: they have voted to remain in the Union. Turning Shudra to their side, it seems, proved to be the very thing they needed to encourage everyone to fall in line. The two share a drink of watered-down wine before Vick exits the office to find Solumeo Shudra waiting for her on the gallery. The two discuss the state of things as politicians argue the finer points of remaining in the Union.
Vick meets with Murdine to pay him for imitating Shenkt. Although the man padded his knee, he can still feel the blow Vick landed on him. The actor laments the state of theatre in Styria, stating that he seeks after truth. “The truth is overrated,” she tells him. “An actor should know that.”
Vick and Tallow wax philosophically as they walk to their ship, more than ready to leave this place behind when they’re suddenly attacked, and Vick is abducted. She removes the bag over her head to find Shylo Vitari, the Minister of Whispers for the Serpent of Talins, and Casamir dan Shenkt staring her down. Vitari reveals they were actually prepared to assassinate Shudra but were interrupted by Vick’s machinations. Vitari offers Vick a job before outlining her history with Sand “Old Sticks” dan Glokta and turning her attention to Bayaz and Valint and Balk. Vick refuses the job, which seems to interest Vitari even more. She leaves a piece of folded paper in Vick’s pocket and gives her instructions to seek someone out when she realizes how things really are. Vitari and Shenkt leave Vick and Tallow tied up, instructing Vick to figure out how to free herself.
Chapter Fourteen: Late
Rikke (rhymes with pricker) is once again caught up in a vision. This time she finds herself surrounded by lights and the face of an old woman held together with golden stitches directly before her. Strong hands pin her down as the old woman approaches her with a needle. She might be too late. She has to choose. “No,” she whispers. “This hasn’t happened yet.”
Rikke awakens to find Shivers holding her down. The two share a sentimental conversation about Shivers caring for a younger Rikke while she was ill. Soon after, Rikke realizes this too hasn’t happened yet.
Scenn, Shivers, Isern, and Rikke travel to two black stones looming against a pink sky. The group realizes as they approach that these stones are actually large Shanka said to be under the witch’s control. Scenn refuses to go further as the other three elect to go on to the misty lake. Once again, Rikke closes her eyes as she says, “No. This hasn’t happened yet.”
Isern and her brother Scenn discuss the journey up to the mountain. Scenn does not want to go. Isern believes Rikke is beloved of the moon and that the long eye is killing her. Scenn asks Rikke to tell his future to which she tells him he is going to get fatter. They share a laugh as Rikke realizes…you guessed it…this hasn’t happened yet.
“What use are straight answers in a crooked world?”
Rikke, Isern, and Shivers travel upwards through the hills, looking for where they can meet Scenn one of Isern’s eleven brothers. Isern conveys some of her family history while they take a brief rest on their trip to the Forbidden Lake. Shivers and Rikke share a bit of banter before Rikke’s vision shifts. This hasn’t happened yet.
Leo dan Brock and Rikke share a game of hide and seek in a barn. There are few kids her age in the area, and most are afraid of her, believing her to be cursed. After locating her, Leo declares it is his turn to hide. Rikke is sad to see him run away. No, she realizes. This happened long ago.
Chapter Fifteen: An Infinite Supply
Clover is interrupted by Greenway, one of King Stour Nightfall’s fantasy frat bros, while trying to teach sword work to Flick and Downside. King Stour has requested Clover’s presence. Packing up the bag of Shanka heads they collected on the king’s behalf, Clover and Flick head to Skarling’s Hall to meet with the king. Clover immediately notices a popular man of the people Gregun Hollowhead in a cage. Stour states this has to do to with the man’s propensity for stirring up trouble in response to their increased taxes. Stour tells Clover that he intends to travel to Uffrith, not to take the place but to secure it if it falls into his lap. He tells Clover he would like him to come along. He then dismisses Clover and Flick so he can look at the Shanka heads…as one does.
Chapter Sixteen: The Demon That Breaks All Chains
Finally in the moment, Rikke awakes in a cave she recognizes from her visions. At the opening of the cave stands a silhouetted woman overlooking a misty lake. This is Caurib, the deformed witch held together with golden stitches.
“But then it is the fate of hope to end in disappointment, as it is the fate of light to end in darkness and life in death. They are still worth something while they last.”
Caurib gives Rikke a rundown of the different types of magic and why the Magi, Eaters, and assorted fools all suck in their approach to Magic, which breaks all rules. Rikke learns that she will need to have runes tattooed on her face to chain the long eye shut, which seems a better alternative to eventual madness. Quoting her father, she reckons she’ll have to do it but wishes for more straightforward answers. Caurib states that if she had the answers, she wouldn’t be standing in a nearly frozen lake with her head stitched together.
Chapter Seventeen: The King’s Justice
Leo dan Brock sits with other members of the Open Council as they prepare to hear the charges and judgment leveled against Lord Fedor dan Wetterlant. The dissenting voices surrounding him suggest the crown is doing all of this in order to strip the Wetterlant’s land away from them as Fedor has yet to produce an heir.
King Orso enters the Lord’s Round, uncomfortable in his stiff regal clothing. His whispered swear seems to bounce all around the cavernous room as he takes his seat before the meeting of the Open Council is brought to order. He notices Lord Isher not seated in his proper place. Instead, the man is seated beside Leo dan Brock. As the meeting commences, Lord Isher immediately asks to speak. He uses this opportunity to congratulate Leo on his engagement to Lady Savine dan Glokta, which leaves Orso stunned and feeling betrayed.
Savine revels in the moment but still momentarily laments that she had not been able to let Orso know sooner. As she basks in the attention, she wonders what Lord Isher is planning.
Orso manages to pull his attention away from Savine and decides to follow the plan for the day despite the sudden news. Wetterlant is brought in, looking like absolute shit and completely unlike the spoiled fop Orso had spoken with. Through gritted teeth, Orso swears.
Isher whispers poison into Leo’s ear. Glokta comments that Wetterlant looks far too pleased with himself to have been tortured by the cripple.
Orso looks to Isher who feigns surprise as Wetterlant proclaims his innocence. He now realizes why his father hated this place so much.
Leo stands and declares this trial a disgrace as the Open Council is not privy to the Closed Councils information.
A manipulated Leo calls Orso a puppet of the Closed Council much to Savine’s horror.
Orso, discovering he does have a temper, orders Gorst to remove Brock from the chamber.
Leo is swept away by Bremer dan Gorst and carefully deposited by the statue of Casamir the Steadfast.
In a rage, Orso sentences Fedor dan Wetterlant to death by hanging before ending the meeting abruptly. Lady Wetterlant screams threats at the king as her son is dragged away. When asked how things could have possibly gone worse, the Arch Lector states that nothing is on fire.
Savine catches up with her new fiancé and assists him in walking as he rages impotently. The conversation quickly turns as Savine points out how foolish his anger was and how deep of shit he is in. Brock realizes how his temper got the best of him, and Savine assuages his guilt by stating that she will arrange a way for him to apologize to the king. He feels like he’s the luckiest man in the Union. Savine corrects him by stating he is the luckiest man in the world.
Chapter Eighteen: The Choice
Clip, clip. Rikke is getting a haircut. Shivers is there. He tells her the North will need her when he’s gone. Caurib foresees a great destiny for Rikke if she keeps the long eye or a regular life if she doesn’t. But she has to choose. She sees a battle. A crack in the sky. Broken pillars. A night battle lit by firelight. A lion torn by wind, ragged and stained. And a sun on a broken tower. Leo, she sees…or maybe it is Orso. She misses both. Caurib asks her if she has known a thing completely. An arrow. A sword. A crack in the sky. A series of memories, of visions, of things to come and things long past. A wolf ate the sun and a lion ate the wolf and a lamb ate the lion and an owl ate the lamb. The moment is finally upon her, the tattoo on her face – eleven wards, and eleven wards reversed, and eleven times eleven. As the two fight one another, Rikke must finally choose…which eye.
“I can’t tell what’s real and what’s a vision,” Rikke heard herself say. “I can’t tell what’s then and what’s to come. It all runs together like paints in the water.”
I know I shouldn’t be mad at myself, gentle reader, for not reading this sooner, but man is it hard. The Trouble With Peace has been Abercrombie at his absolute best. The mystery, the mayhem, and the madness are all perfectly balanced. The chapters clip along, making the reader feel every bit as swept up as Leo dan Brock in the grip of Bremer dan Gorst. Every POV is equally compelling, and I found myself excited to discover more about every storyline. Where this is heading, I have no idea, but I am here for it. The Wisdom of Crowds can’t get here fast enough. I had already pre-ordered my copy, but I am sorely tempted to do so again…harder this time. Maybe with an autograph? I don’t know. The autographed section of my library is sadly lacking Joe’s signature.
Thus ends Booknest.eu’s portion of the Age of Madness Read-a-long, and what a trip it has been. If you’re reading this, I can only assume you’re hoping to refresh before The Wisdom of Crowds comes out next month, but if you’ve stumbled along this article without reading any of Abercrombie’s previous work, allow me to direct you to the The Blade Itself. Also, if you’d like to know what we thought of all of The Trouble with Peace, why don’t you check out Gary’s review here.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine for the recommendation, Will O’Mullane for the invitation, Gollancz for hosting the Age of Madness read-a-long, and the grimly majestic Joe Abercrombie for continuing to include us in his incredible world.
If you have yet to dive into the First Law, you’re missing out. Why don’t you head to your nearest independent bookstore and pick up one or all of his books?
I'm pleased to say we have an interview with the amazing Richard Roberts, author of the Please Don Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain series as well as recent novels You Can Be a Cyborg When You're Older and Please Dont Tell My Parents I Work for a Supervillain. He was kind enough to sit down and answer some of our questions about these two new books.
1. Please tell us about YOU CAN BE A CYBORG WHEN YOU'RE OLDER.
You start with the most difficult question, don't you? Condensing a whole book into a paragraph and conveying the fun is hard! It's a YA cyberpunk book about a teenager named Vanity Rose who loves style and adventure. She lives in West Angel City, a terrible dystopia that offers plenty of style and adventure, and in her attempt to have fun earning sketchily legal money, she befriends a telepathic capybara, makes an enemy of the world's least-loved operating system mascot, and plows through a number of people's lives like a murderbot bulldozer. Also, the book includes a murderbot bulldozer. And fake elves, because cyberpunk has to throw in some fantasy and perversely human uses for technology.
2. What is the heroine, Vanity Rose, like?
Vanity Rose is heavily inspired by my friend Nikki. Vanity is passionate, intensely emotional and involved, dragged around by her anger and her joy. She is an active, energetic teenager who never stands still if she can help it, with her favorite hobby being walking around on the walls of her skyscraper city home using gravity shoes. She is literally punchy and aggressive, but has a strong moral streak. Even in a world of cyborgs and bodysculpting, death is the one thing you can't take back. She's the kind of person with energy and goals and plans that are so crazy they just might work, and will drag you around behind her as she follows them.
3. What inspired you to do an Eighties cyberpunk-themed YA novel?
Because I write YA books, and it hit me that there is hardly any currently accessible YA cyberpunk. That's terrible. Modern kids need to learn just how goofy 80s retrofuturist cyberpunk is. It's a genre of ridiculous things presented in a dark and serious way. That must be shared.
4. Can you list some of the influences for the book? [anime, books, video games, etc.)
Ooooh, my goodness. I couldn't possibly keep track of it all. I'll try. Blade Runner, Shadowrun, Rifts, Dungeons and Dragons, Asimov's three laws of robotics stories, Five Night's At Freddies, Rozen Maiden, Battletech, Evangelion, Second Life, all the real life fandoms, Tron, Battlezone, every 80s and early 90s movie where the internet was 'cyberspace' and computer hacking was playing a minigame... that's the stuff that I can put names on right now. This is a mélange of my whole life's worth of processing entertainment.
5. Is it hard to keep it PG when you're doing a YA cyberpunk novel?
No, not at all. Certainly, no harder than superhero genre books. I avoid profanity, keep my description of violence non-graphic, and talk around sexual content. I made a joke out of the profanity thing with Vanity, while using it to add to how her character is emotionally tied to AIs. I'm just keeping things non-explicit for the parents, anyway. Kids know way more than their parents want to admit.
6. Do you think fans of your PLEASE DONT TELL MY PARENTS series will enjoy this?
I tried specifically to keep the same fun tone. I wanted that fun tone, wanted to introduce modern teens to a crazy part of my world growing up. I hope they enjoy it!
7. What can you tell us about PLEASE DONT TELL MY PARENTS I WORK FOR A SUPERVILLAIN?
A lot? I mean, I wrote it. For fans of the series, Penny's story is complete, until she turns eighteen. Please Don't Tell My Parents I Work For A Supervillain is my first book using her story as a launching pad to tell the stories of other teens dealing with having super powers in a world of heroes and villains, having fun and navigating the moral tangles.
8. How does your lead, Magenta, differ from Penny Ak?
They're pretty different. Magenta isn't as fearless as Penny, or as calculated. Magenta has lived all her life with a super power that makes her unrecognizable, even to her family, and she desperately wants to do big things and make an impact. Penny was very focused on what was in front of her. Magenta has ambition. They're both a bit naive and love showing off and putting on a show. They're both very smart, smarter than Magenta realizes. All my heroines are smart. Smart people are fun to write about.
9. Is there an adjustment going from junior high school supervillains to high school supervillains?
Not much, no. They're only one year older. It feels like an impossible gulf to a child living it, but very little in the teenager or the life they lead changes between 8th grade and 9th.
10. Why did you decide to return to this series but switch characters?
Because I hate open-ended stories. When I agreed to write a sequel to Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain, I did it on the condition that Penny had a specific story to tell, and after that it was done. I started writing book two knowing how book five would end. Penny's story is over, so it doesn't ruin itself. But other people's stories? Oh, yes, I can deliver similar fun with other characters, and my fans seem to want more.
11. How has the reception to the two books been?
You Can Be A Cyborg When You're Older has not been a success. Please Don't Tell My Parents I Work For A Supervillain has gotten fantastic reviews and rocked the release. It might even get my career back on track. (Long, long story.)
12. What can we expect from you next?
Okay, this one was also asked in the other interview [Editor: for Grimdark Magazine], but I'm a big boy, I can write an individual answer. My general plan is to alternate Supervillain books with experimental books in new worlds, both for my own fun and to see what people like. Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm Queen of The Dead comes out next, about Avery special, a 15 year old girl with the super power of necromancy, and the only necromancer currently alive. It turns out the world has been saving up a lot of trouble for the next necromancer, and it starts the day she moves to Los Angeles from Kentucky.
While that goes through the publishing process, I'm writing a book about SPAAAAAACE. Ahem. Basically, the solar system is strange and fully inhabited and we on Earth don't know it because math hides the truth from us. Earth is quarantined so math doesn't spread, but Rachel escapes and runs into the kinds of trouble my heroines experience.
Publishing anthologies, like any other skill in life, is generally something you learn to do well by making mistakes. When I was pulling together all of the bits and pieces of our latest dark fantasy anthology Kickstarter, The King Must Fall, I had a few moments where I reflected on how the team and I got to this point—how much our production methodology and capability had grown since we first fumbled our way through to releasing the Stabby award winning Evil is a Matter of Perspective way back in 2017.
Let me share some of those moments with you.
After the breakout success of Evil is a Matter of Perspective our team had our second crack at a Kickstarter anthology with Landfall. We had a brilliant cast of writers who built an amazing and dark world based on Australian colonial settlers and the American frontier to write stories in, but we royally screwed up the market release. The project flopped. Didn’t even raise USD3,500.
When I realised what we’d done it hit me like crossbow bolt to the head. Behind the scenes, the project started out as a digital-only competitor to SerialBox. However, we didn’t have a distribution platform like SerialBox, and when it all came together from a financial perspective (cost of paying creators, distributing, etc, versus income from backers) we realised that we would need an inordinate amount of backers to reach the target because we didn’t have a high-income print product. We also realised this at the last minute. So, instead of pushing back the project so we could re-do the pitch, we rushed through a print production mapping-out, put in some print book collateral (essentially turning it into an online serial release that then got turned into a print anthology as well), and released what was probably the most wishy washy and confusing anthology marketing pitch ever.
When you commit to a Kickstarter and that big wad of project capital drops into your bank account, you’re committing to delivering on that project no matter what. If you’ve forgotten to cost a line item, you can’t just short-change your backers on something and expect no repercussions. That money has to come from somewhere—and the only somewhere left is you.
If you’re spending money on it, you need to put it into your costing spreadsheet. Even if you expect that money to come from your company’s coffers as a sunk cost, make sure you put it into the same sheet as the other expenses so you have complete transparency into how much you’re spending and where that money is coming from. Art, print runs, Facebook ads, freight, shipping, designer costs, ISBNs, author pay, that special splash of colour you want on the signature page—it all adds up, and it adds up bloody quickly, especially when you’ve forgotten to collect that money from somewhere.
Also make sure you’re capable of mapping out the financial impact of scale. Kickstarters can go viral, so what are the impacts on your financial model if you hit the big time and sell more than your initial print run? How much is each book after that? Is freight from the printer to your distributor increased by another palette-load? With Evil is a Matter of Perspective this is one of the main ways I hurt myself financially—scale. I did not get my spreadsheet right, and had to dip into my own coffers to finish the project. So, for The King Must Fall I hired (through the whiskey economy) a regional financial controller to create a spreadsheet that would allow me to properly map out the impacts of scale on finances.
Which takes us to my next point.
People are going to be investing a lot in your Kickstarter project. Time, money, and where they share your project to their social circles, reputation. Do not blow it by cheaping out on the production. If you’re creating an anthology, for example, that means taking a long hard look at yourself and finding where somebody else could do a significantly better job than you—usually for a cost.
For The King Must Fall, that means hiring Shawn T. King and Felix Ortiz to do the cover, Carlos Diaz to create interior art, Mike Myers to edit the stories, Pen Astridge to create a marketing animation, Greg Patmore to create an audio version, an accountant to build a pricing spreadsheet, and so on.
Getting the right people on board to cover off the things you’re not good at means you can create a product so good people will come back for more the next time you go to market with a Kickstarter.
This, I cannot stress enough. The Kickstarter creator community calls the period between the first and last 48hrs the “trough of despair” (or something similar) for a reason. Typically, your big spending products (limited editions, for example) sell out in the first 48hrs giving you a massive boost towards that funding goal as a small amount of people provide a large amount of funding. Then, once those products are gone, you need a large amount of people spending less to move that funding line north—and often your first marketing push has captured most of your established fans and customers, meaning you now need to convince a lot of people who’ve never heard of you before to trust you and back your Kickstarter.
Once the hype and the excitement of that explosive first couple of days passes, your funding tracker graph changes from the side of a mountain to a gentle slope, and you go from making sometimes tens of thousands in a day to under a thousand a day, or under a hundred in a day, it’s very easy to become despondent. But this is when it’s time for the grind. You’ll bust out that list of marketing ideas and names you spent months putting together and write articles, do interviews, re-share posts, send out emails, beg blog spots, and ask your contributors to do a little of the same. Sometimes you’ll get a nice lift, sometimes you won’t get a single extra pledge. Embrace the grind and keep going. Don’t panic.
It’s during this time that every marketing company under the sun is going to come at you, promising to help you break the trough of despair. Now, I’m not saying that all of these companies are dodgy and relying on your panic reaction to your flattening financial graph line to purchase their products, but I will say that despite every marketer’s pitch having tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people in their email lists and stories of people JUST LIKE ME hitting the big time, not one of them has been able to tell me how many people in their email lists are interested in publishing projects (let alone anthologies), or what the open rate and click-through rate of that sub-group is. And if you know, say from your day-job or from looking at Bookbub’s pricing structure, that the kind of data I’m requesting is not a big ask for a marketing company worth its salt, you MIGHT decide not to purchase their services. MAYBE.
I’m not saying never use them. Maybe there are some good ones out there I haven’t met. I am saying ask questions, demand evidence, and don’t panic buy.
As I said earlier, you are on the hook for delivering the project you’ve sold to your backers. If you’ve ever project managed something before, or if you know a project manager, you’ll know very few projects ever run perfectly. You need buffers built into your project. Such as:
· Financial: Factor in a percentage of the Kickstarter funds to cover off things going wrong. Little or big, they will hurt. I would also ensure I have some personal or business funds in the background ready to go, just in case things really go wrong.
· Time: It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than the reverse. If you think you can comfortably deliver a project in under five months, give yourself six or seven to be safe.
· Personal: If you’re like me and running a Kickstarter on top of a full-time job and a life full of people you want to retain connection with, buffer in time off. It’s very easy to get so caught up in the project delivery that you forget that you’re a human now working almost two full time jobs. Tired people make mistakes. Make sure you have personal time locked aside. Put down the phone or laptop. Recharge. Recuperate. Deliver your project to the best of your ability.
If, in the end, you manage the perfect project and don’t need your financial or time buffers, then you are absolutely gold. And better at this than I am.
Finally, have fun. Look after yourself. Deliver on the project in a way that makes you want to do it again. Because what’s the point of all this effort if you’re not enjoying yourself?
I certainly have been with The King Must Fall.
I'm very pleased to say that we have been graced with an interview from one of my favorite property's new authors. BLAKE HOWARD is one of the three writers on WINTER'S TEETH for VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE. A comic book following the adventures of former Anarch, Cecily Bane, and a current crop of Anarchs led by a Thin Blood named Colleen Pendergrass. They've just released their first volume in graphic novel form and are now seven issues into the story as a whole. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us and I absolutely loved his answers.
Hello everyone, and welcome to the announcement of the 2020 Booknest Fantasy Awards winners! In our first round, we asked you to vote for your favorite fantasy books and imprints as nominated by Booknest.eu, Fantasy Faction, Fantasy Book Critic, Fantasy Book Review, The Weatherwax Report, Novel Notions, The Fantasy Hive, Grimdark Magazine, and publishers (ACE, Gollancz, Angry Robot and Tor Books). Only 10 books made the cut into our Shortlists, which you voted for again to produce this year's winners!
Welcome to the 2020 Booknest Fantasy Awards!
In our first round, we asked you to vote for your favorite fantasy books and imprints. Now, we are thrilled to present you with this year's Shortlists! In this final stage, your votes will determine who will receive the engraved swords (pictured below). Once again, we would like to offer our thanks to the blogs,(Fantasy Faction, Fantasy Book Critic, Fantasy Book Review, The Weatherwax Report, Novel Notions, The Fantasy Hive, and Grimdark Magazine) and publishers (ACE, Gollancz, Angry Robot and Tor Books) who helped our team build this year’s longlist of nominees published between January 1st, 2020 and December 31st, 2020. Best of luck, everyone!
VOTING ENDS ON MARCH 24th
BEST TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED NOVEL
THE POLLS ARE NOW CLOSED
BEST SELF-PUBLISHED NOVEL
THE POLLS ARE NOW CLOSED
BEST DEBUT NOVEL
THE POLLS ARE NOW CLOSED
BEST FANTASY IMPRINT
THE POLLS ARE NOW CLOSED
And here’s how our swords look at the hands of a few previous Winners!