State of the Writer, December 2013 edition

This was supposed to be a post at the end of November, but November kind of got away from me, in the sense that a book was due at the end of it and it was not finished yet.

But it is now December, and the book is finished, so I am allowed to post. Or sleep. Or both, although it’s harder to watch what I say when I’m sleeping. I am behind on email. I am behind on tumblr. I am behind on facebook. I will be behind on twitter as of tomorrow. I am about a week’s worth of words behind on Oracle.

But: I am finished Cast in Flame.

November was largely one small first world crisis after another (things like: washing machine dying), with writing wedged in between moments of “OMG can’t any of this wait until December???”. And bonus shrieking.

I was very happy when I had 80K words of Cast in Flame because I was certain the book would only be 120K words long (which is generally considered long in today’s market). I was wrong. Again. The ending got kind of complicated. It’s easy to think “and then (elided) will happen, and then it will be over!”. Generally it takes more words than that to actually write the (elided) section.

So the book I was certain would be finished by 30 November wasn’t finished by 30 November. Apparently, according to Amazon & B&N, the book’s On Sale date is the 29th of July, 2014. And no, there is no cover art. Or if there is, I haven’t seen it yet :).

I have also been–except for the last “OMG IT’S DECEMBER!!!” week, been working on Oracle. It’s not finished. I think it will be finished in three months–but I have no publication date for it, yet. Because it’s not done. I mentioned I’m a week behind in Oracle words. I have difficulty working on two projects simultaneously at the end of a novel. So the first writing thing I want to do is catch up on those words.

After which I will start Grave

I’ve also written a book review column for F&SF.

I haven’t done much of anything else. At all. And no, I have not even started Christmas shopping.

I feel as if I am always struggling to catch up. I often think if I were more focused or better at organization, I would never fall behind. Or if I had a more realistic idea of how long things would actually take. It’s not like I haven’t been doing this for two decades now. And, to be fair to myself, until Touch, I was in a good writing space. But Touch, being what we affectionately refer to as a book from hell in my writers’ circles (the unaffectionate references being NSFW), knocked everything off the table, and I have been trying to pick up all of the things that fell and return them to their proper places.

But: when I’m writing actual book words, when I’m writing and things I’ve been struggling to keep in the air finally fall into place, I love writing. And in spite of all the whining, that hasn’t changed.

I have a new web-site!

I have a new web-site (and a new blog, although I think I’ve imported almost everything from this one). The URL, which is imbedded above is: http://michellesagara.com.

I will be blogging there in future. Go and take a look :).

State of the Writer, April 2012

Writing was severely truncated for about ten days while I and a strep bug had a heated battle over who was in charge of my throat and ears. I won. I fell behind in, oh, everything, while I was sick.

I have an on-sale date for Cast in Peril, as the sell sheets arrived at the store while I was sick. The date is September 25, 2012. I’m waiting copy-edits and line-edits, but for the moment, the book is out of my hands.

Touch, the sequel to Silence, is possibly the most difficult book I’ve ever attempted to write, which, given Silence was one of the easiest, is responsible for the loss of great clods of hair. Sometimes books surprise me.

My new web-site is almost ready to launch. I’ll post here when it’s good to go.

And…the real reason I’m posting tonight: at 178k words, I have finally thrown in the towel: War is not going to be a single book. My long-suffering editor was, well, long-suffering. The book that is scheduled for January is therefore titled Battle, and it is not yet done. I almost did what I frequently do – write while the words pile up and hope and hope and hope that I will be finished it any word now. But I did that with City of Night and House Name, and had to split the book anyway, which meant there was a much longer gap between publication of City of Night than there had to be =/.

So this time, I tried to look at things realistically. I expect Battle to be at least as long as Skirmish.

I am going to try to get through the page proofs for the print-on-demand version of the Essalieyan short stories this weekend, because I have let that get completely away from me, and someone in email reminded me of it. I am also going to be working at the Bakka-Phoenix table at Ad Astra on Friday and Sunday this weekend (I’ll be in the store on the regular Saturday hours).

Answering email: Release Weeks & me.

Two people, because of discussions elsewhere on the internet, have sent email asking me questions about release weeks, and how when a reader buys a book affects me, personally. I thought I would take the opportunity to answer them here. But, as usual, before I answer a question, I need to explain the context.

(This might be a little on the long side – and because I want everything to be clear here, if anything I’ve said is confusing in any way, please ask me to clarify).

First: Everything I am saying about release week refers to traditionally published books, in large part because most of it relates to the sale of physical books through traditional outlets. Ebooks figure into the discussion, but not in the same way.

If you haven’t heard the phrase “release week”, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re probably someone who goes into a bookstore, browses, finds a book (or more) that looks interesting, and buys it. The book is either in the store, or it’s not. However.

Every book has an on-sale date. In most cases, this date is “soft”. It is the day by which every bookstore that ordered the title, prior to its release, can be expected to have copies. In order for the book to be on the shelves of stores in CA and also in NY, they need to be picked, packed, loaded onto trucks, and delivered. The location of the warehouses define, in part, which stores will get copies first. Clearly the books do not arrive at the vendors on the same day.

When the books arrive, the bookstore people will receive the books, which are invoiced from the time the books were picked for packing and shipping. They price them, and they put them on the shelves. Is there an On Sale notification? There’s a sticker on the outside of the box. It’s often small, green or yellow. It’s not always at the top of the box. And, in most cases, it is functionally invisible. A large store will receive a hundred boxes, many of which do not have these stickers, but all of which require the same receiving & stickering.

What this means in a practical sense is that the book will begin to appear on bookshelves before its theoretical release day as it arrives in the various stores. There are a (very few) occasions when the bookstores have signed binding legal agreements not to display a book before a certain date (Harry Potter’s later volumes); if you don’t sign, no books. For the most part, though, the books get put on the shelf.

People find them. People buy them.

Why, then, does release week matter to some authors?

The NYT (New York Times) Bestseller lists.

The NYT Bestseller lists are aggregate and weighted surveys of (totally unnamed) bookstores and venues in which books can be purchased. They are reported to be primarily brick-and-mortar outlets. In order to prevent authors from deliberately gaming the system (by, say, ordering 500 copies of their own books through an NYT store), the list is kept private.

They accumulate numbers for each of the fifty-two weeks of the year. Once a week, they tabulate and release their list.

The theory behind release week is this: it’s when the greatest concentration of sales should occur. If you are desperate to make the NYT list in any position, you want all of your initial sales to occur during the same week.

Why would an author want to be on that list so badly?

Let me make a small list.

1. Increased visibility

2. “New York Times Bestseller” appended to your author name forever.

3. Marketing buzz. If you make it onto the list, it means you have reader-momentum.

4. Escalators.

There are additional reasons. Some authors feel that if they don’t crack that list, their career is over. Their books won’t sell to publishers, and they won’t be able to continue to write them.

However: in my very, very humble opinion, if you’re not cracking the top 10 – the print list – it’s insignificant. As a reader, I generally consider “NYT Bestelling author” to be an insubstantial bit of fluff. I don’t pay attention to it because it doesn’t matter to me as a reader.

Obviously, the way I respond as a reader influences my thoughts on the matter as a writer. If something says #1 NYT Bestseller, that’s impressive. (Not that it influences whether or not I want to read the book). Short of that, I don’t pay attention. My husband feels that I am somehow not the typical consumer – but really, I have a lot of books, and it’s one of the few areas in which I do feel I am the typical consumer — inasmuch as any reader is.

So here’s my take. Well, no, let me say instead: Here’s Ilona Andrew’s take.

How does all of this silliness affect the reader? It doesn’t. You shouldn’t have anxiety when you go to a book store or when you preorder. You shouldn’t worry about when to buy the book or how it will affect the author. If you like the book, get it. A sale is a sale and we thank you for it.

So, the plan is, if you find the book early and you want it, buy it. If you see it early – score! You get the book early. Email us if you liked it. We’ll be totally happy for you.

They have a much larger audience than I do, but started out from the same position; they sell well, but they do it because people liked their books and told other people about them.

It’s interesting to note that they hit the NYT list on the week before release week. (I say they rather than she because it’s a husband & wife writing team, not because I am bad at pronouns. Well, okay, I’m sometimes bad with pronouns, but.)

Having said all of this, it’s normal for authors to worry about how a book is selling. This is actually much, much easier to do as time passes, because after a couple of decades, we become more aware of writers we know and love that can’t sell to publishers because of prior low-sales records. Series that we love writing/reading aren’t viable anymore.

In my less sanguine moments, I’m looking into a gloomy future left in the wake of the death of Borders, because Borders did carry my books, and they did carry my backlist. Loss of that shelf-space across the US makes keeping books that have been in-print since their first publication almost impossible; the West novels are too long for the current PoD reprints that are occurring for other mass markets, and they don’t have the sales volume of, say, Patrick Rothfuss. (A volume which I think he deserves because I think his writing is brilliant).

But with the broader acceptance of self-publishing and e-publishing, there are at least options.

Silence, cover


Silence, the first book in the Queen of the Dead trilogy, will be published in hardcover in May, 2012. In any practical sense, this means the book will be available in North America sometime at the end of April, 2012.

People have asked me what it’s about; some have assumed because of the cover, that it’s a paranormal romance. It is paranormal, but for reasons that are entirely in character, it’s not a romance – and I am really hoping that this does not disappoint people =/.

The cover flap is a bit of a spoiler, IMHO. So if you hate spoilers, and you want to read this book, you’re probably better off not reading it.

Emma Hall is a high school student whose first (and only) boyfriend died in the summer in a car accident — before the book starts. Nathan was almost her entire world, and she’s now left with the bits and pieces of life that weren’t Nathan–her friends, school, her mother. She spends far too much time in the cemetery at Nathan’s grave, because it’s quiet there and she doesn’t have to make excuses for how she feels, or how she doesn’t feel.

She doesn’t expect to meet people in the cemetery, but one night she does, and as a result of that disturbing meeting, she begins to see things she’s never seen, and to hear things that no one else hears.

Quick, quick update

I have just had word from DAW about Riven Shield:

THE RIVEN SHIELD will be put out for distribution Friday, so that should
start appearing at vendors in the next ten days or so.

As I’ve mentioned previously, DAW, while being distributed by one of the ‘Big Six’, is actually a small, privately owned publisher, with the attendant number of staff. Getting new books into production, catalogues, and stores eats up about 140% of their time, and the other 10% (because no one expects to work in publishing at less than 60 hours a week) is left for things like digitizing the backlist.

Hunter’s Oath and Hunter’s Death have started to appear as ebooks in the wild. Riven Shield should join them soon, followed by Broken Crown and then the rest of the series in order.

When I realized Riven Shield was no longer available, I asked (where asked is the euphemistic form for ‘begged, pleaded, whined, cried, demanded’) that it be the priority in the Sun Sword universe, and I’m happy to say that it was bumped up in the “omg we have no time” queue.

ETA: Riven Shield will be available in ebook format; I realized that I had not made this sufficiently clear. At the moment, there are no plans in the near future to reprint it =/

State of the Writer, February 2012 edition

First: Joey Shoji has mentioned here and elsewhere that there’s a cover for Silence posted elsewhere on-line, but only in thumb-nail. I will be doing a post – and uploading the cover image – later this week; possibly later today, depending on how the writing goes.

And now onto the report:

Cast in Peril is off to my editor at Luna; I finished and submitted it late last night.

Peril was difficult for me, in part because I realized at about 130k words that there was no way the events in the West March were going to be resolved in one book unless I threw away most of the 130k words I’d written by that point–because, well, there weren’t nearly enough words left. Unfortunately, most of those words are plot, and are required for the events in the West March. I phoned my editor, we talked, and after much discussion, she said “Yes, you can write two West March books, but only if there is a reasonable and satisfying arc that is self-contained in Peril.“ I returned to Peril. I revised Peril. I restructured Peril, and now, it is in the hands of my editor.

War is not yet done. I have 160k words, and it is not closing in on the end, but it is going well — for a variety of well that frequently involves hair-pulling.

Touch, the second book in The Queen of the Dead trilogy, is in progress. That’s the book I started over, when I realized that it had to be from an entirely different viewpoint, and it follows Silence.

And that is it for me. I will be continuing to work on War and Touch.

Meanwhile, the web-designer is now working on translating the mock-up of her design to an actual web-site, which will relaunch sometime in the near-future, which is exciting (at least for me!). I asked, a while ago, for opinions about web-sites, usability, and etc., and the end results should reflect some of that advice.
——
A little bit of a process coda (and the usual disclaimer, that no two writers have the same process and that I can speak emphatically only about my own):

If there was one thing I would teach myself, it would be the relation between story and length. Other writers, other professional writers, can and do come within natural striking distance of the word-length they’re given. Regularly. It sometimes makes me feel like I still haven’t found big-girl pants =/.

I always start out thinking “this will be short”. Sometimes it’s more of a prayer, but you get the general idea. I have good intentions. I tell myself this will be the book in which I come in at the right length.

Silence is, in fact, under 100k words. But it’s under 100k words in large part because it takes place in the here-and-now and the setting isn’t an issue in the same way it is for secondary worlds. The strangeness of Silence is entirely in the situation & the characters, at least until the second book. But this incredible success at finally writing something that is marketable length obviously went to my head.

So: a bit about story and Michelle.

I always think “this will be short” because the kernel of the story, in my mind’s eye, is easily grasped (usually because it’s the end). It’s easily written in a paragraph or less; it is entirely what it is and it feels contained.

Getting to that point, however– building the story that resonates with that kernel, is never completely predictable. Ever. Elements of story rearrange and reinvent themselves in my subconscious, introducing factors that add to, and strengthen, the whole – but all of these take actual words on the page. Sometimes it’s conversations. I have a very long conversation (between Jarven and Finch) in War; I think, at the moment, it is my favorite thing in the book. But if you asked me how long it would be before I started writing it, I would have said it would be half its current length–at a maximum.

Add to that the elements of the world that exist in the background that suddenly and inexplicably enter the foreground in ways that a) feel completely true and b) are not going to make your book any shorter or any less complicated (in Skirmish that would be almost everything that happens from chapter five on). The only thing I have found that works to kill this type of length is to immediately delete the written words and start again in a more orderly fashion. In the case of Skirmish, mentioned here because it is much on my mind, I couldn’t. I could not do it. Because sometimes the story as it unfolds on the page is the story. It wasn’t exactly what was planned, but it is viscerally, emotionally true.

So at some point, “this is going to be short” turns into “this might be long” and that turns into “OMG I AM DOOMED”. It’s like clockwork.

And if you remind me, after Peril is out in the wild and discussion will not be spoiling, I will tell you exactly where all the length was, and why it wasn’t immediately obvious to me that it would be long.

Skirmish: Spoiler discussion thread

People who post here are going to be discussing evens in the book itself, so if you hate spoilers, this is not the thread for you :).

Skirmish Summary, part 2 of part 3, and a note about the differences between reading and writing

This is the final part of the summary of the events of The Sun SwordSkirmish Summary 03.b.

There are — as I think Michael pointed out in the previous thread — events that I didn’t mention, in part because it would add enormously to the length of the summary, and if I hit 60k words, it pushes the meaning of the word “summary”. It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone, but it also wouldn’t be finished until next month.

I think the summary contains the backstory necessary to understand what’s happening now in Skirmish, but if there are points that are confusing, this is the post to ask questions in. I will try to answer them as they come up.

I also want to add something here. I did have a spoiler thread for Cast in Ruin discussion. I am happy to have a similar thread for Skirmish discussion, but when people begin to discuss, in depth, the contents of one of my novels, I try to absent myself from the discussion. This isn’t because I’m not interested; it’s because I don’t want to be a damper on the discussions that do arise, and if I weigh in, it frequently has that effect. What we perceive as writers and readers are different.

There are characters that I love that some readers hate. (I think Sendari holds the title as the character that’s caused the most conflict: my editor and several of my friends really loved & empathized with him; my mother and Kate Elliott loathed him). I obviously can’t argue with their reaction. I have my own — but my reaction in no way invalidates reader reaction. I didn’t intend that he be hated. I can’t change him after the fact, and to be honest, wouldn’t. He is, in my mind, who he is.

That’s an obvious example. But when discussions devolve into “what do you think the author intended”, it gets trickier. I can tell you what I intended (or didn’t intend, see: Sendari above), and I can sometimes do that without killing discussion completely, but not often. “Where do you think the author is going” is another example. I can’t really weigh in, because some people hate spoilers of any kind; even if I say “it is never going there”, it will close off those possibilities in a way that will leave some readers disgruntled.

I’m happy to answer questions — but some readers prize the discussion itself, and answering questions often kills that discussion. So: if you want my (non spoiler) answers to questions you have about my books, ask me here or in a blog post that’s not devoted to spoiler discussions, and I will try to answer them in a way that doesn’t step on reader toes.

Skirmish, and the story so far

First, noting the tags, I want to apologize for a number of things.

I did not intend to write a series of books that would break in the middle this way. What kind of an idiot writes a series that requires another entire series to be read in the middle? Apparently, me. Had I realized, when I finished Hidden City, that there would be three books that would cover one arc, I would have called the series something else, and had one “early years” trilogy.

I like to believe that I learn from my mistakes. I promise that I will never make this one again.

It didn’t occur to me, while writing Hidden City, that people who hadn’t read The Sun Sword would actually be reading these books. I am enormously grateful that they are — but it wasn’t something that I considered at the time. I know I should have. I am, I think, a clearer writer than I was when I first started writing The Sun Sword, but one of the things I’ve struggled to accurately understand is how much needs to be said for clarity’s sake. But when it became clear to me that I had new readers for this series, I was left with a large problem: How could I make the actual House War make any sense to people who hadn’t read The Sun Sword? I wrote several versions of a first chapter in Skirmish in an attempt to cover the story-so-far in a way that wasn’t intrusive.

But I realized, with each variant attempt, that it was a lost cause. I couldn’t do it in the book itself unless I changed the start point, and I couldn’t do that because the events are written, published; they can’t be conveniently moved or changed–and so, for better or worse, I didn’t, but instead, decided that I would have a summary, a story-so-far, for people who hadn’t read The Sun Sword.

When I approach a novel, I know what it’s going to be about. I have a plan. I don’t know it in every small detail; I know the world, I know the characters, I know what they want – but there’s an alchemical reaction that occurs on the page when two characters actually meet and talk. Whole conversations veer in directions I hadn’t anticipated, because people are like that. It’s like when you introduce two of your best friends to each other. You love them both; they love you. You naturally assume that they will love each other because it makes sense.

Except that they don’t, always. You know them. They know you. But what happens between these two people you know and care for is outside of your control, and often confounds your expectations. Writing is like that, for me. I know a lot about things in stasis. But things in action (where action in this case means the actual writing) move or change in ways that surprise me while still remaining utterly true to what I know of the world or characters.

I sat down to write the story so far, and as usual, I had trouble summarizing. In part, I have trouble because what I know and what is in the text are not the same; the text is a subset of the knowledge. (The other part: I wrote six books when I thought I had two. I am so not the person to write a summary of anything). I dragged my heels. I worked on Peril and War. In my mind, it’s still the end of November. And yes, our Christmas tree is still up.

So: There are three parts of the story so far. The first is a simple point by point recount of events that involve House Terafin leading up to the moment Jewel leaves for the South. These events are largely contained in The Broken Crown and The Uncrowned King. I don’t think this will be of interest to anyone who’s read the actual novels: Skirmish Summary 01

The second is a conversation between Finch and Jewel on the night Jewel returns from the South: Skirmish Summary 02

The third, and by far the longest, takes place in the kitchen, between Jewel and her den. In Skirmish, Jewel does speak with her den in the kitchen; this is in some ways a longer version of that discussion. This actually takes place before the conversation between Finch and Jewel. It is the longest because it touches on the larger issues that affect Jewel and the Empire: the wild magics, the hidden paths, the gods. A much shortened version does appear in the book. Because I’m so late with this, and because it is not finished, at 15k words, I am posting the first part of the third section, and will post the last part tomorrow (or possibly the day after): Skirmish Summary 03.a

The reason parts two and three are written as if they were novel text, rather than point-by-point summary is selfish, in some ways. The first section recounts events that the den as a whole experienced. But for the last four books of The Sun Sword, Jewel is not with her den. She is with Avandar Gallais, Lord Celleriant, Kallandras and a number of other characters. Her life is not political; the events she witnesses and participates in do not reflect the increasingly dire situation in House Terafin at all.

Jewel doesn’t see what’s happened in her absence; the den doesn’t know what’s happened to her in theirs. It made sense to write these sections as if the characters were attempting to fill each other in on what occurred, when time is a constraint, but it also tells me what they know, and what they won’t say.

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