Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Thoughts from Brandon Sanderson

image I was going through my usual blog reading routine this morning and came across a link to some thoughts from Brandon Sanderson on his history as a writer. Brandon Sanderson was tagged to write the final volumes in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, the first of which is The Gathering Storm. Jordan passed away before he could finish the series. The details of Sanderson's post are significant enough that I thought I would share.

Sanderson's Mistborn was a Tor Free E-book Giveaway back in July. He's also the guy tasked with completing Jordan's final Wheel of Time book after that author's death. There's also a recent video interview with the author that I came across.

The most profound thing I took away from Sanderson's post is that I (and I imagine many writers) found myself empathizing with many of his feelings and thoughts. I saw in his words some of the same questions I ask myself, such as "is this good enough?", "will this stand up to reader scrutiny?", "is anyone going to even want to read this let alone publish it?". It's, in an odd way, comforting.

At one point, Sanderson says this:

Here I was, having written twelve novels, and I seemed to be getting WORSE with each one. I wasn't selling, I was out of school working a wage job graveyard shift, and my social life consisted pretty much of my friends taking pity on me and coming to hang out at the hotel once in a while.

Sounds rather dismal. The thing that really blew me away was his statement that he'd written twelve novels (twelve!) without a publishing credit to his name. That's disheartening and inspiring at the same time. The latter because of his fortitude and perseverance, both obviously of heroic proportions.

Later, he says this:

I was NEVER AGAIN going to write toward the market.

After some initial failures, Sanderson changed tactics, trying to write what he thought publishers wanted. The results were sub-standard work simply because his heart was not in the material. The above statement marks a turning point, whereupon he decides to write for himself. He finds success not too long after that.

On that last point, I've seen it go the other way, too. I know of one writer in particular who also faced some small amount of defeat in getting published before he also decided to change tactics—study the market, see what publishers were buying (and what people were reading)—then take that information and write. The result was his first sale of many.

In light of that, it would seem there's no foolproof approach. What works for some may not work for others. It's both inspiring and sobering to read such posts as Sanderson's, though. Go check it out.

Writing Progress Around the Web

1017292_bar_graph_2 Since I started writing weekly posts reporting my ongoing writing progress I've found I've been more engaged with the writing process. I'm not necessarily setting any records as far as pages edited/written, but I'm making solid, steady progress. It's provided a good mechanism to keep me motivated.

That being said, I thought it would be fun to look around to see what other writers (professional or still in-progress like me) are saying about their own writing progress.

Adrian of Chronicling the Novel says "I wanted to complete the first draft of the JASPER novel by 9/30, and I did! The word count came in at 95k, which is quite a bit over the original goal of 60k, and even the revised goal of 80k. This is now technically a completed first draft…". (Nice job, Adrian.)

Scott Pearson comments "Took Friday off to attack the writing projects. Friday and Saturday I finished writing a mystery story for an open-call anthology due Oct. 1. Sunday I put the final touches on a sci-fi story for an invitation-only anthology, due Sep. 30, as well as polishing the mystery story."

Ken of The Eye Sore Times: "This weekend was one of the most productive weekends I've had in a long time. On Friday, I knocked out over 3,000 words on a new story called "Kissing Death." It's my first foray into sci-fi…"

Alma Alexander: "I've broken 90%. Whooo! I think what I have left is either one LONG chapter or two relatively shorter ones - depending if and when there is a break in what has to happen next. That, and the epilogue."

Terri of Musings from the Blonde Side: "I actually did pretty good this week…I worked on View a bit, and will continue to do so over the next two weeks, just to make sure I’m putting the best possible revision out there. On my fireman novella, I actually had to scratch at least 1500 words because the direction I was taking just wasn’t working."

Wistling of At Wist End: "First draft done: Night of the Manticore at 8,200 words, and comments back from 2 first readers."

And, last, Robin Hobb, "For the last couple of days, I've been going back through the earlier chapters, tweaking and fixing and updating my vocabulary file.  It's always a good thing for me to do at this stage of the book.  It recharges my energy for the final long run to the end.  It helps me see places where the story sags, or where the action moves too fast.  It helps me catch character contradictions and helps me see if I've got a balanced series of point of views, or if any one character dominates or is neglected. It's a general comb-through to catch any tangles before they can turn into a big snarl later on in the book."

A little insight into the writer's process by Robin Hobb

I've been trying to get away from posting a blog entry that just points to another person's blog with no new content or wisdom to add, but this one bears noting.

Robin Hobb, who doesn't post enough for my taste but whose novels are always (or almost always) stellar, talks a bit about her own writing progress.

It's a good, insightful read, and I was pleasantly surprised to find I shared some of the feelings she talks about when going through my own writing.

[ Amazon Featured Short: The Inheritance by Robin Hobb ]

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Fiction: How Long Is Too Long?

1028208_man_thinking Those of you who've been following along know that I am mired in a first-pass edit of my current novel. One of the main goals of this edit is to reduce the overall word count. Currently at 123,319 words, I still have some work to do. However, considering it peaked at 135,785 words before editing had begun, I think I'm doing OK.

Why care about word count at all? Because staying within the acceptable range is one less reason to be rejected, that's why.

Still, how long is too long? At what point do you know you're in the right, saleable range?

First, it depends on stature. Established authors have more leeway; they've got a proven track record, and a publisher is more likely to lay out the cash (longer books cost more to produce) because they are considered less of a risk than a first-time author.

Second, you have your first-time authors. Publishers want minimum risk and maximum profit, so they'll likely stick to their guns on word count unless you've produced a truly stellar, standout novel.

Third, it depends on genre.

Let's take that third one and break it down based on word count information gotten from Colleen Lindsay of the swivet blog, with an understanding that there are always exceptions to these numbers. Here's the data:

micro fiction 10-300 words
flash fiction 300-1000 words
YA fiction 50K - 80K
urban/paranormal romance 80K - 90K
mysteries/crime fiction 60K - 70K
chick lit 60K - 80K
literary up to 120K
thrillers 90K - 100K
historical fiction up to 140K
novella < 50K
space opera/fantasy up to 100K
epic fantasy 120K - 130K

I write fantasy, so the last two categories are of the most interest to me. I find those numbers a bit alarming because my book is not epic fantasy. It's more non-epic. Therefore, I need to cut out another 23,000 words??? I'm all for killing my darlings, but cutting to 100,000 words is a tough one.

Rachelle Gardner, an agent with WordServe Literary, has this definition:

Full-length fiction: 80,000 to 100,000 words is by far the best range to stay within. Some pubs will look at manuscripts from 70,000 to 110,000 words, rarely outside of that.

OK, so now we're at a maximum of 110,000 words. But she doesn't mention specific genre, which we know from above is important.

JA Konrath has this to say:

First novels have a better chance of selling if they are under 90k. The reason is wholly monetary. Your publisher will probably lose money on your first book. But a 150k book will cost more to print, more to ship, and less will fit in a carton. Cost of production figures heavily into a publisher's decision whether to buy or not to buy. 

He goes on to say this (highlighting mine):

Some genres, such as fantasy and historical romance, tend to be lengthier.

But he doesn't really go on to explain in more detail. That's OK. Joe's thing is mystery thrillers, anyway, not fantasy. (Consequently, Joe has some great advice in that post; go read it.)

So where does that leave me?

I could no doubt troll the submission guideline pages of my favorite agents and publishers and acquire more information, but I think the above more or less supports what I had originally thought on this subject. One thing is clear: I need to keep cutting. There comes a point, however, where the story itself becomes compromised. I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I have a new goal: 110,000 words.

When To Stop Listening, Part 4: Audiobooks

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A multi-part series where I address the question, When to stop reading?

So far in this series I've looked at various rules and quantifiable methods one can use to determine when it's time to give up on a book. I applied the 99 Page Test to my own novel. Finally, and most recently, I looked at when to give up on a short story. This time I'm going to break away from the printed word and take a look at audiobooks.

Audiobooks are not without their controversy. The debate of audio vs print is older than the digital age (think cassette or even 8-track tapes). Yet we often hear about how people are reading less and less and how the digital era spells the doom of the printed book, so maybe audiobooks through their inherent convenience might become a lifeline for some people who might otherwise never experience great literature again. Nevertheless, audiobooks are not so different from their printed counterparts when it comes to the question of sticking with it or stopping.

So, at what point do you quit listening to an audiobook? What are the rules (other than just your gut feeling, of course)? Tests like the Page 99 Test aren't going to work for obvious reasons. Neither is the Rule of 50 or the similar 100 Page Rule going to cut it. The 33% Rule, perhaps. You just need to count the number of discs (or tapes) or look at the total running time and divide by 3. If you hit that threshold and the audiobook ain't doing it for you, time to hit 'eject' or 'stop' or even 'delete' if you're that disgusted with it.

To answer the question, I'm going to do something different. I'm going to turn it around and instead ask what keeps you listening to an audiobook.

First and foremost, it's the narrator. The "right" narrator should satisfy the following criteria (as determined by Darren Barefoot):

  • They have distinctive voices.
  • They care about pronunciation.
  • They understand cadence, and adjust the pacing of their reading to reflect the story’s inertia.
  • If they do voice work, they do it well.
  • […] they sound like they care about and are invested in the work.

I couldn't agree more. The very first audiobook I ever listened to was Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, narrated by Lenny Henry. Henry did an excellent job. The best thing about his narration was his use of voices. When reading dialog, there was no question as to which character was speaking. Not only that, but the voice which Henry chose to use for each character is in itself a storytelling device because each illuminated my perception of that character. It's something you just don't get when reading a story yourself.

Yet this can have the opposite effect, too. I recently listened to Dragons of the Dwarven Depths, narrated by Sandra Burr. This one almost lost me when she started in with the raspy voice of the draconians. It sounded forced and I found it borderline annoying. Fortunately it was a small part in the beginning, and since I'd bought the audiobook from Half-Priced Books I only had a few dollars invested. I kept listening and (quite to my surprise b/c I loathe Weis and Hickman's writing style) I enjoyed the story.

There's also the quality of the recording. Though I have yet to listen to an audiobook that did not have "professional" level quality, with more and more amateurs recording their own audiobooks and making them available as quick downloads this may play a bigger role moving forward.

Of course, there are the usual factors, too: the quality of the storytelling (as written by the author), the choice of dialog, the characters, setting. These will always be amongst the best qualities of great storytelling regardless of the medium.

With that, I'm curious what others think. What qualities keep you listening to an audiobook? Or do you not listen at all?