Monday, 27 May 2013

Poetry by Aki Schilz

I have always thought
laughter lines
to be

his are
delicately spun
and each laugh 
deepens them

I cannot help 
but laugh, too

It’s not everyday you have a poem written about you, so it’s nice to be able to share this one.  I met with the author, Aki Schilz (@AkiSchilz on Twitter), a few nights ago. The conversation roamed from cage fighting to Anne Summers’ parties to being banned from Bournemouth caravan parks. None of this was autobiographical, for me at least.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Great Advance Mystery

‘So do you get all the money at once?’

Quite often, the question that comes right after ‘when are the books out?’ is the one above. Money, it fascinates people. I can’t stand the stuff, largely because I’ve never really earned that much before and it seems to cause all manner of problems.

So does an author get all that filthy hard cash once the book deal is made? The short answer is no. The long answer is this (rather simplified one).

First off, take a fictional figure, let’s say twelve-hundred of your English pounds. All books sell for different amounts, but let’s say you sell your page-turning behemoth of an Epic Fantasy novel for 12 grand. Now divide by three (see, I chose 12 for a reason).

You just earned four large for signing the contract – a third of your total advance for signing two words. This often known as the signature advance. Enjoy! You just got paid for making shit up. You can now officially say ‘I’m a professional writer’ at dinner parties, assuming you get invited to dinner parties. I don’t, but that’s because I’m addicted to burritos from Chipotle.

The next third of the total advance comes for delivery of the manuscript. This is delivery of a completed and edited manuscript. My advice is finish the book before you submit it anywhere – agent or publisher – You’ll sleep better. And so will everyone else concerned I’d wager.

The last third of your advance comes on publication. As if the unalloyed joy of seeing your creative offspring on the shelves of book stores wasn’t enough, you get more money. KER-CHING! And you’ll need it to get drunk at the launch party, right?

Now factor in a few things, like lead times. The lead time is how long it takes to get the whole thing done. This seems to be about a year in the UK and a stretch longer in the US of A. So that advance will come to you in fractions over the course of 12-14 months.

Knock off 15% for you agent and put aside about 25-33% for the tax man. Now go get horribly drunk somewhere hot with great room service, but refrain from throwing the TV from the window into the pool because you’re a writer, not a rock star. 

Now think up a new book, start writing it, finish writing it, and do it all over again.

That’s the rather simplified version, obviously it gets a trickier with trilogies. Some publishers might even opt to divide the advance into four slices.

And finally, a little bit of etiquette. Don’t tell people how much the publisher paid for your book. That’s why people describe ‘six-figure deals’, or ‘significant five-figure deals’ and so on. Maintain a little financial mystique. After all, the deal should be about the books and the words and the story. Money is just the stuff we use to buy noodles so we can keep writing.

Until next time,


Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Skillful Huntsman

I’ve always loved the visual element of fantasy and science fiction. From the illustrations of  Games Workshop to the comics of 2000AD. Hardbacks full of adventurers and monsters came along in the shape of Dungeons and Dragons, whilst concept art continues to fascinate me. And let’s not forget Star Wars: A New Hope, an influence from a young age, which features pace and visuals that changed modern cinema (in the shape of summer blockbusters at least) In short I find art inspiring, even Magic the Gathering card artwork has influenced my writing. I’m a visual magpie.

I couldn’t resist picking up The Skillful Huntsman by Design Studio Press when I saw it. I was just about to start planning book 3 of The Erebus Sequence, but needed something to whet my appetite for the task at hand. I needed to know what things might look like in that world, because if I don’t know then I can’t communicate that, and the world becomes vague and inauthentic – to me at least.

The Skillful Huntsman is a concept art book that tracks three very talented artists as they  create character designs and environments based on the original tale by the brothers Grimm. Pages of silhouettes, thumbnail sketches, pencil illustrations and full colour art adorn the pages of this book, bringing a wealth of ideas and inspiration. Chapters full of vehicles and beasts of burden run alongside fairytale princesses, kings, captains and the titular huntsman himself. This book is a trove of ideas.

The art doesn’t just linger in the realm of the traditionally fantastic, but takes in post-industrial influences, even science fictional worlds. The characters are deliberately not European-analogue barbarians and knights, but something stranger, more exotic. Eastern influences combine with a modern design aesthetic to create genuinely intriguing characters; even a dash of American Indian seems to bleed into the mix.

Character designs, and by extension the apparel of those characters, also informs the reader about the nature of that person. We make many assumptions everyday based on the way people talk, walk, the way they wear their hair, and not least how they are dressed. So why not fictional characters too?

I’m not intending to plunder any of these designs for my own world, but rather use it as a jumping off point to imagine what Demesne (the castle in my novels) and Landfall, (the island where it takes place) might look like. What do those people wear? What are the customs? How does the environment they live in shape their attitudes and social lives? This may sound like daydreaming for daydreaming’s sake, but if the internal logic of the world doesn’t hold up to scrutiny the reader will stumble and be taken out of the story. Suspension of disbelief is a fragile thing.