Month: August 2015

You know, you write really good torture….

Fresh baked bread… Kare tried to curl up against the pain in his stomach but couldn’t move his arms and legs.  

“Say it.” Beck’s voice grated. He pulled Kare’s head up, so he could see the bread as it was crumbled, smell its scent. He shook his head and Beck took the bread away. Kare drifted away, only half aware of where he was…

His head was yanked back, another smell. Meat juices dripped onto his lips, clenching his stomach.

“Say it.” Beck drizzled more and this time they were salty, mixed with tears.

He needed it.“Master.”

The chicken vanished. He needed it. Gods, he needed it.  

The chains opened and his hands fell before him and he looked at them, not knowing what to do. A hunk of bread and a bowl were set on the floor, and he remembered. He broke the hard bread, used the gruel to soften it, and ate, scooping the dregs, spilling them from his hands, they were shaking so much. He licked the bowl, needing what it had, and when Beck laughed, he didn’t care. 

He needed it.

The bowl was taken away and Beck leaned close. “Who am I?”

There was no option, nowhere to go but that moment, that need. “My master,” he whispered.

The chains went back on his wrists, pulling him against the wall. He shivered at the cold. The hood was put on; he fought against it, but it was pulled down and there was only darkness. There was always only darkness and the knowledge that he would come again, and that everywhere hurt.


One thing which gets fed back to me, time and again, is that I write good torture scenes. It will go in my writing obituary.

Good, as in memorable. Good, as in making the reader feel close to the horror. Not good in the sense of any enjoyment from the scene for me, the reader, or the character. I thought I’d muse on what makes it effective. What moves it beyond the gross, to something that drags the reader in, even if they’d prefer not to be?

This is what works for me. Not just for torture scenes – often a crude tool – but for the darker scenes that stay with us. It might not be what works for others:

Gratuitous does not work. Readers see through horror used as a cheap hook incredibly quickly. They see it for what it is – a scene placed not to have true impact, but to get people talking. And, yes, the reader might remember the scene – but it won’t be what makes the book get under their skin and stay with them.

Torture is about the psychological, more than the physical. Sure, the physical ordeal brings the fear, but the fear is what preys on a person’s mind. To really, truly, convey something as horrific and inhumane as torture, it needs to go beyond the physical. It’s easy to show pain – but to show impact is harder, and to do that, it’s about the inside of a person’s head. To that end…

Stay close. Your character is in pain. This is no time for distance. No filter words. It doesn’t feel like pain, it’s hot tearing muscles, its coiled cramps. It’s not looking and listening to what’s happening, it’s being. If there is any scene that needs the culling of filter words, it’s a torture one.

And that’s because a torture victim isn’t clear thinking. They’re not telling you what’s going on and why. This is not the scene for info-dumping. This scene is close, it’s scared, it’s the reptilian brain, not the rational. Be true to the character and it becomes much more effective.

Lastly, for me scenes like this only work if I understand the character and what makes them tick. For Kare, in Abendau, it’s reliving his childhood, it’s about being powerless, it’s about not being strong enough despite a lifetime of preparing it. In Inish Carraig, with John, it’s about his life and his need to govern it, its about freedom and that being removed from him. It’s about never giving in, no matter how scared. It’s about being a big person in a powerless world.

So, if I am good at torture, that’s my secret. Loving my characters. Liking them enough to curl up when they’re hurt. Knowing them well enough to know their fears. And then showing it, unveiled, up close, with no distance. Perhaps the skill needed is Empathy. I think, for me, it is.

Jo Zebedee writes sci fi, sometimes in her Space Opera world of Abendau, sometimes on the streets of Belfast.

Her first novel, Abendau’s Heir (book one of The Inheritance Trilogy) was released in March this year, her second Inish Carraig has just been released.

Self publishing your backlist – Teresa Edgerton


August 29, 2015 by Teresa Edgerton | 0 comments
And this time it’s me, writing about my various experiences in publishing:
I used to sell my books to some of the biggest science fiction/fantasy imprints. After eleven books (all but the first sold from a synopsis or outline, all but that one and one other part of multi-book deals) that is something I have no interest in doing again.
Don’t get me wrong. I have none of the usual complaints about working with the big publishers. Every editor I ever dealt with was someone who cared passionately about books. They liked me, they liked my books, they were incredibly patient about missed deadlines, and they always treated me with kindness and respect. They published books that they believed in by authors they believed in, sometimes continuing to carry authors whose books were profitable but not hugely successful, in the hope that the next book or the book after that would be the big break-out. 
Unfortunately, as the big corporations took over more and more publishers, putting pressure on them to bring in larger and larger profits, this kind of “midlist” writer was increasingly squeezed out. It took only one book with poor sales for the sales and marketing departments (which grew more and more powerful) to refuse to even consider the next book. This happened to me, but fortunately, editorial liked the potential of my next book proposal. We talked about it, and decided to change my name, so that the new trilogy would not be carrying all the baggage that went with my real name and the previous book. Sales and marketing agreed to take a look at the proposal under that condition, and within a couple of weeks I (or rather, the elusive Madeline Howard) had a three book contract.
So why wouldn’t I submit my next book to one of the large publishers? 
1. I mentioned deadlines. I am terrible at meeting them. Worse than terrible. Not only have I decided that I will be healthier and happier if I never have to face another deadline, but, to be perfectly frank, I am all but certain that I have already burned all my bridges with the major SFF imprints by missing so many of them. 
2. At the larger publishers, books have only a short time to make an impact. If they don’t, they are given little chance to show that they have legs. Print versions may quickly go out-of-print. These days this is partly mitigated by e-book editions, but not all readers use electronic devices to buy and read books. A book may still be available, but not to all readers.
3. The backlist. One of the best ways to build a writing career is to build a backlist. It builds name recognition, creates a larger presence in bookstores, and gives readers who have just discovered an author a chance to buy up previously written books while their interest is high. But to do any good, of course, the backlist has to be available. Which in the old days meant that it had to exist in a print version. While a few publishers routinely re-issued all of a writer’s older books when a new book came out, I had never signed with one of those publishers. Book I in a series had usually disappeared from the bookstores by the time that Book II came out, and Book II was history before Book III was published. Many readers don’t like to buy the last book in a trilogy until all three books are available. If the first two books are no longer available, they are not about to buy the third one. Even though my original publisher went on buying new books from me, and I was making money off all the advances and the occasional royalties, most of my older books were no longer available.
4. The length of time between turning in the manuscript and seeing the book published and available for sales. From the time that an author turned in the finished manuscript to the time the book was published could be anything between one year and two. Since this is considered the most advantageous interval between series books anyway, this works well if the writer is turning out books at regular intervals. But if a book is late and the schedule has to be changed, it can be a long, long time between books. 
Like many other writers, when my books had been out-of-print for a few years I invoked the reversion clause and was able to get the rights back. But what to do with the books after that? Chances of interesting another publisher in reprinting a book by a midlist author were very poor indeed, and self-publishing was hardly an option.
That last, of course, has changed, and self-publishing is a very real option. As is selling to one of the small presses that have appeared over the last decade or so, because some of the same technological innovations that make self-publishing so much easier are also favorable for small start-up presses.
Some writers have even started their own publishing companies to reprint their own backlist books, or joined together with other writers who wish to do the same. And some writers, successful, award-winning writers, have turned to the small presses, because the small presses can be more audacious than the larger publishers in the books they choose to publish.
When I decided that I wanted to see the books in my backlist back in print, I sold The Green Lion Trilogy to a small press that I thought really had a chance to grow and become a force in the field. They were successful with their first few books, but before they came around to publishing mine they had decided, for personal reasons, to go out of business. Fortunately, my contract was not one of those bad contracts that small presses sometimes offer, where the author gives up all rights forever and there is no reversion clause. (Not that I would have signed such a contract or that my agent would have let me. Still, many new writers are so thrilled that someone wants to publish their books, they are willing to sign anything. My advice if faced with such a contract is to sign nothing, make no deal, have nothing more to do with that press. Even if you could negotiate a decent reversion clause, these are not people to be trusted. Either they don’t understand the publishing business, or they are hoping that you don’t.) So the people who ran the press I had signed with, being honest and knowing the business, had provided a contract with a reversion clause. I recovered the rights to those books, and have now to decide what to do with them next.
My next move, a few years later, was to try self-publishing. I was not interested in making a lot of money—I had, after all, been paid advances and royalties on these books when they first came out. But I wanted the books to have a second chance at life. I wanted them to be available to readers now and in the future.
With self-publishing, a book can stay in print as long as the author chooses. It has foreverto find an audience. Meanwhile, with POD and electronic versions, the author is not stuck with a garage full of unsold books. When the next book in a series comes out, the first book is still available. With minimal outlay of money, an author with many out-of-print books can bring out his or her entire backlist within a relatively short amount of time. It is advisable to pay for professional quality artwork and for proofreading, but the books have already been professionally edited, so there is no need to pay for an editor, unless (as is sometimes the case) the writer has taken this opportunity to make some revisions.
As my first foray into self-publishing I chose my novel Goblin Moon, and the plan was that I would publish the sequel a few months later. With the help of some friends I was able to come up with a cover that I liked, format the book, and upload it to Lulu to publish the paperback POD, and to Kindle and Smashwords for the electronic editions. I had never been pleased with the name of the sequel, The Gnome’s Engine, and because it was a short novel (especially by modern standards for fantasy) I decided to publish it in one volume with three short stories and name the resulting omnibus/ collection Hobgoblin Night
For various reasons, some of them related to coming up with the cover art I had envisioned, I never did get around to self-publishing Hobgoblin Night. But that’s another story for another day. Eventually, I imagine, I would have gotten around to it
Goblin Moon sold about as well as I thought it would, considering the minimal amount of promotion I felt like doing. Since my main motivation was to see the book back in print, I was satisfied with those sales. Anyone who seeks to base a career on self-publishing, and who wants eventually to make a living wage so that they can write full-time, had better be willing to do a great deal of promotion—possibly, in the beginning, spend more time promoting than writing. I had no such ambition. 
But about the time those sales started decreasing, Gary Compton at Tickety Boo Press expressed an interest in publishing both Goblin Moon and Hobgoblin Night. I liked the contract and signed. Sarah Swainger was chosen as the cover artist. She took the cover from the self-published edition of Goblin Moon, cleaned it up, changed the colors, and generally improved it, and she created original and excellent artwork to grace the cover of Hobgoblin Night.
At Tickety Boo, sales of Goblin Moon went back up, and have remained fairly steady. Hobgoblin Night has just recently been released. I was able to do some light revisions, and Sam Primeau did the copy editing. It’s a lovely edition.
So will I try self-publishing again, now that I have gone back to traditional publishing, (although with a small press rather than a large one)?
Most definitely. I want to see all my OP books back in print, and I think I can manage that more expeditiously if I publish at least some of them myself.
Also, there is the matter of my short fiction. Most magazines and anthologies buy the first serial rights, which, essentially, means that after a given period of time—usually about a year from publication—the rights automatically revert to the author. A prolific author may eventually gather together a dozen or so of his or her stories as a one-author collection and sell that, but I never wrote enough of short fiction to make up a collection (though three of my stories, “Rogue’s Moon,””The Ghost in the Chimney,” and “TITANIA or The Celestial Bed” did go into Hobgoblin Night). Some stories are resold to anthologies, but for most anthologies either all the stories are reprints (for instance, best of the year anthologies) or none. This makes selling old stories to anthologies difficult, though not impossible. I did sell one story, “A Wreath of Pale Flowers for Vitri,” to Tickety Boo for Malevolence, Tales From Beyond the Veil, edited by J. Scott-Marryat.
But many, many writers—old writers, new writers, writers of every stature—are publishing electronic editions of their short fiction. For 99¢ many readers are willing to pay for a short story or novelette, up to $2.99 for a novella. They may, also, for that price take a chance on an author unfamiliar to them, and if they like the story go on to look for novels by that same author. 
And for that reason, I am right now in the process of preparing a pair of short stories for publication: “Dying by Inches” and “Captured in Silver.” They are both set in the same world, so I plan to publish them together as one 99¢ ebook. I could publish them as is, but I am taking this opportunity to revise them. Each was written for a theme anthology, at the invitation of the editor, but in each case there were approximate word limits. Since I no longer have to worry about word limits, I think the stories have some room to grow, and I plan to give it to them. Will I sell many copies? I have no idea, since self-publishing my short fiction will be a brand new venture for me. I know that to a large extent it will depend on how much promotion I am willing to do, and I have neither Jo’s energy nor her motivation. But it will help to rebuild my backlist, and that in itself should be an advantage.

A week in the life…

I get asked by my not-yet-published writing friends, ‘how much is it, really, this promotion thing?’ So, I thought I’d track the last week and give an idea of just how much goes on.
The background: my debut book, the first in a traditionally published Space Opera trilogy, came out in March 2015. Since then, I’ve been building networks on twitter and facebook, various online communities as well as face to face. I’ve had some reviews and they’ve been good enough for me to decide not to throw in the writing towel.
Last Friday, my second book, Inish Carraig was released on Kindle. For various reasons, I chose to self-publish this one. Here, then, is what I’ve spent the last week doing. If I don’t make you feel tired just looking at this little list, then I’m worried, because I’ve been fairly exhausted at my end.
Bear in mind, this has all been done around family life (I have kids), work (I’ve had a busy week with meetings, reports, office work and driving), and, you know… living.
Here goes. Deep breath.
On the Friday the book was released I decided to host a Virtual book launch party. I turned up on Facebook and chatted for an hour about my book. To be honest, I thought this one would be low key and fully expected to watch Bake Off: An Extra Slice whilst typing.
I missed the whole show, spent the hour frantically typing, and it had a great buzz.
Effective? I’m not sure – most of the people there were people who already knew me and the book. Fun? Absolutely. Challenging? Yep. The questions were good. So, worth it.
Also on the Friday, two blog posts went up – one on my site, one hosted by another writer, Stephen Palmer. I had some nice comments on them, one from someone new to me, so that makes it reasonably effective. Plus, I like writing blogs. (Hence why I’m writing a blog now.)
Saturday into Sunday, I did the sort of promo stuff I do every day. I was on a couple of sci fi forums, in some facebook groups, did some twittering about the book, responded to some blog comments, thanked everyone for Friday night and followed up anything from then. I also picked up the first reviews and facebooked and tweeted those. Let’s take it as a given from now onwards that I’ve been doing some of this every day.
Monday, I researched possible outlets for promo and followed up some dead leads. Tuesday, though, was a busy day. I wanted to go on a bit of a push, for both my books.
Contacted 2 local radio stations, contacted two blog/fb pages, joined 3 new fb groups and had a nice chat with their members, and liked lots of geek-style posts. I especially liked the dalek-toilet picture, which I can now leave to your imagination.
I also contacted a reviewer and responded to their response.
Wednesday night was fun – I went to a local writers’ group and spent a couple of hours talking about the books and writing. All in all it took about 4 hours from leaving the house to coming home, and required watching Bake Off on Catch Up, but it was really worth it. As well as the craic, useful networks were made (hopefully going both ways, I like to give back), and some copies were sold. (Big thanks to all!)
Thursday, I followed up on some promo leads from Wed night, and sent out a couple of emails to local media (no response to date.) I also contacted a convention I’m guesting at next month to catch up.
Someone kindly sent some photos from Cannes and Monte Carlo for a world tour album for Abendau’s Heir, so I saved those and then posted them in the thread, plus facebooked and tweeted those.
Today, Friday, a week on, I’ve met another writer for coffee (not onerous at all, and very nice), and I’m blogging. I’m in the mood, but not ready to write today – been too tiring a couple of days – so I think I’ll draft another after this (a masterclass on torture writing, anyone?) and then knock off.
I also researched book marketing sites for an hour and joined two that looked good and not too expensive.
Tonight, I’ll spend some of my evening on social media, following up on a great review up today (I’ve been lucky to have a lot of reviews this week, all of which get a facebook and tweet at least), chatting on communities and, in between, watching some telly and chilling with my family.
For this, will I get many sales? Honestly – probably not. But, if I didn’t do it? Then, I think I’ll have written a book that sits on Amazon’s shelves and never gets any sales.
And that’s what it’s like. Graft. Lots of it. J
My books, what it’s all for, can be found here:

Doing it for yourself


When I started writing, some four years ago, I was the least likely person to be writing an article on self publishing my book. Now, I’m a hybrid author, happily published with one project, equally happily self-publishing a second. (Out today, and very excited I am, too.)

In the beginning, I wanted the dream. I’d worked with books for years, I knew a fair bit about the industry. For me, publishing meant being on bookshelves and I decided I’d hold on for the perfect trad-published dream. Inish Carraig, my second book, got me close – I nailed an agent with it. A good one, too. But to get the agent, I changed Inish from a crossover book to a YA book.

After some more work on it, we subbed it. The dream went off-piste. I didn’t get the great publishing deal. I didn’t get the six figure advance, and the holiday to Barbados. 

I did get left with the book. More and more I found my thoughts returning to the original cross over project I’d written. I wanted to go back to what I’d imagined the book to be. I wanted to decide for myself where it would go and what it would say. So, even though I had an offer on the mss, I turned it down.

Why? Well mainly that the market conditions publishers adhere to are not the same as the reading environment. In other words, if you have something that doesn’t just fit the box for a publisher, it might not be a lost cause for readers. Talk to EL James about that one.

Inish Carraig was never easy to market.

It’s not quite YA but it has a YA protagonist. It also has an adult protagonist and it’s not always an easy call to know who’s more important to the story.

It’s a science fiction book with a good dose of police thriller.

It’s based in Belfast, but wasn’t written to address Belfast themes.

In short, it’s a pig to know where, exactly, to pitch it to. That I have interest from readers in all sorts of genres, not just sf, tells me this isn’t a barrier. If they’re interested and have heard of it, readers don’t say no just because there are different elements to it.

There are loads of reasons why a book doesn’t fit into a publishers remit, from length of book (which can be a barrier in genre writing, when books can just grow and grow and grow), to what’s out in the market to piggy-back on promotion-wise, to what’s easy to promote, to cost of production. A 40,000 word story? There used to be barely anywhere to sell it. But a 70,000 one? Roll up, roll up. Even if it should, actually, have stopped at 40,000.

Which leaves a hard decision – forget about the project that has come to the writer, that has grown to be what it wants to be and should be, or try to mould it to the market needs. Or choose to self-publish.

 Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity, because self publishing was seen as vanity. I’d have had to shelve three years of work and hope that the next book would be better for the market. In short, one of the best books I’ve written, that readers tell me they love, would have been lost.

I can say, hand on heart, moulding to the market took the soul out of my book. I would never do it again – and I still tend to write books that straddle genres and ages. No dream is worth the loss of the identity of what you create.

For me, the answer lay in self-publishing. The only parameter which is any sort of barrier go sp is page length, because Print-on-Demand is costed by page number. But it makes no difference to the kindle book. Marketing is a moot argument – even if you’re trad published, you’ll be doing much of the marketing. I’ve spent six months marketing pretty much every day – I’ll do exactly the same for Inish Carraig. 

Perhaps, it’s about changing dreams as well as the market. My book is on my bookshelf, listed on kindle, is on Goodreads. It’s out there, exactly as I intended it to be. That may be the ultimate dream – to create your world and words and have the freedom to issue it. Self-publishing gives that freedom. 

So, to everyone looking at trad as the only model, I’d say to ask the right questions, and to match the approach to the model that’s right for the project. And that may not be the dream deal. It might be the chance to do what makes the book shine.

I can be followed on twitter @joz1812, or on my website

This blog is one of a series, the next of which is posted on Friday 28th August by the amazing Teresa Edgerton. Check out the other blogs in the series:

How to Self-publish, week one – Thaddeus

So, I’m involved in four week of posts looking at self publishing, the reasons for it and against it, the mechanics and the sort of projects it can be well suited to.

Week one, is on my great writing mate, Thaddeus White’s blog page and this link will take you to it, like magic. (I hope. It’s me and tech, after all…)

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