Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Turning a 1 Star Lemon Into Lemonade

The Five Elements has a 1 star review. It's been out there for a while. I haven't tried to hide it. In fact, I called it out, especially since the person who left it gave away a fairly big spoiler in his review. I went back and forth with Amazon on it. The review's still there, unaltered, so you can guess how that went.

***** SPOILER WARNING ******

At this point I have to issue a spoiler warning. If you haven't read The Five Elements then I have to first ask, why not? One reviewer said "the pace is rapid and there's a dizzying array of twists and turns". Another called it "vibrant and entertaining" and said it "far surpassed my expectations". Also, "I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next". It's a blend of pseudoscience, alchemy, and elemental magic with a varied cast of deep characters. It's usually $2.99 or less, too. You should go buy it now.

In any case, there are spoilers below. You've been warned.

***** SPOILER WARNING ******

I've decided to take this person's 1 star review:

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And make something out of it by leaving the following comment for the reviewer:

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You're reading that right. If this person contacts me I will let him (or her) decide if Shanna returns or not. This is an absolutely sincere offer. Things happen in The Nullification Engine such that it is a definite possibility. It's big, too. If she comes back she can potentially really tip the balance. She has a connection to the elementalists as well as the druids. Then there's the Five Elements. At the end of the book they were lost to the ocean, but if she comes back, would she still command their power? Guess we'll have to wait and see.

If aalleexx212 does not contact me, then oh well. Unfortunately, because of Amazon's inane review system I have no way to contact him (or her). So, if I don't hear, the decision will fall to yours truly.

Blogging Every Day Redux

I've been blogging every day since October 26, 2012. Not a very long time in the grand scheme of things but one that has made a difference in a lot of varying areas in just the short amount of time I've been doing it. What are some of those ways? It's made me more disciplined as a writer and has allowed me to continue writing even when the creative well has run dry for the day. I'd like to take a look at some other metrics, namely traffic to this site, but in a future post and once I've been doing this for a longer period of time. While I've definitely seen traffic increase every month since October, I know some of that is seasonal as people tend to not go out as much during the winter months.

It is kind of interesting how a lot of people say blogging is on the out as it's been replaced by more concise mediums such as Twitter. I don't know. Twitter works for a lot of people as the only outlet they now need. But I don't think it satisfies all agendas. I think it's all about how you approach it. Blogging every day doesn't produce books (unless you meld the posts into a book, of course, which some have done). But, as a fiction writer, most of my blog entries aren't going into one of my stories. I do want to steer some topics more towards the content of my writing, though. I've been doing that on Friday's, doing map reveals, chapter breakdowns, and other info specific to one book or another. I'd like to continue with that, discussing my magic system, some of the races and people that populate my world, and other things.

But, for now, I just want to call out the three part series on blogging every day. Here it is.

  1. Why Blog Every Day
  2. How to Blog Every Day
  3. What to Blog Every Day

A new post, Part 4, will deal with some of my thoughts now that I've been doing this for about 4 months as well as taking a look at traffic, book sales, etc. I might post that one as early as next week though I might wait a bit longer to accumulate some more data. Until tomorrow.

The Structure of an eBook

A book, whether electronic or not, is traditionally divided into three parts:

  1. Front Matter
  2. Body Matter
  3. Back Matter

Front matter typically includes but is not limited to the title page, foreword, an acknowledgments section, dedication, table of contents, and a prologue. Body matter is the content itself. Back matter, like front matter, can vary, but might include a glossary, bibliography, index, or an about the author page.

Of course, the structure of a book depends largely on its type. A history textbook is going to be quite different from a fictional novel which is going to be different from a picture book and so on.

I grabbed a couple of print books off the "to read" shelf here in my study to see how the publisher chose to organize their structure. One of the books is Stephen F. Hickman's The Lemurian Stone (which I read a long time ago but want to re-read because it's been so long I hardly remember it) and Stephen King's It (which I've never read).

The following is an amalgamated list of the two:

  1. Cover
  2. Excerpt/Praise
  3. Other Works/Also By
  4. Title Page
  5. Copyright Page
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. Dedication
  8. Maps
  9. Table of Contents
  10. Content
  11. About the Author

That's a pretty traditional list. Really no surprises.

It's no surprise either when you bring up an eBook on your eReader and find much the same structure. Most eBooks follow the above conventions because that's the traditional way.

But, of course, times have changed and so too should a book's structure. Or at least an eBook's structure.

I'm not suggesting anything drastic. Just because something has been done a certain way for a long time doesn't make it wrong or ripe for drastic change. In fact, I think altering the structure of an eBook from what people are used to might just generate confusion and put off an otherwise interested reader.

Here is the structure I've settled on for my own eBooks with some comments on each part. The biggest change I've embraced is including various links to my online presence and a shout-out to readers (item 10).

1. Cover

Exactly what you might expect.

2. Copyright Page

The usual legal mumbo-jumbo, but also a link to this web site.

3. Table of Contents

This is more than just a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. The table of contents in an eBook should include links to any section the reader might want to easily access. The TOC of my eBooks includes everything from item 4 down to the end.

4. Other Works

This is a complete list of not only my novels but also some short stories which I encourage any one to read for free.

5. Informational (link to World of Uhl site)

The World of Uhl is where I showcase and, quite frankly, personally keep track of many of the aspects of the world in which I set my novels. It's a work-in-progress in the sense that it's constantly growing as I come up with new characters, places, bits and pieces of Uhl's history, and other pieces of information. I include a link on this page to the site in case it's something readers might be interested in.

6. Informational (Maps)

Fantasy books should have maps. I'm currently rolling out the maps for both of my novels and will be doing the reveal for the map to go along with The Hall of the Wood in a couple of days.

7. Informational (Players)

This is a list of all the characters featured in the novel along with a very brief description of their role. This is reference material meant to assist the reader in keeping track of who's who. You can see all the characters featured in my novels under the People tab of the World of Uhl site.

8. Quote

The Five Elements has one of these. It's an excerpt from The Life of Apollonius of Tyana by the Greek sophist, Philostratus. This obviously should have relevance to the story.

9. Content

The story itself.

10. Request for Reviews

This is a gentle push for readers to return to the retailer where they bought the book in order to leave a review.

11. About the Author

In the end, it's all about me. Just kidding. This is your basic informational page about the author.

Conclusion

There's a lot of innovation going on in eBooks. They're becoming more social, interactive, immersive, and dynamic. I've barely scratched the surface with my own. But considering more and more people are reading eBooks on multi-function tablets with sophisticated graphics and fast internet connectivity, it should be interesting to see what new innovations people come up with for redesigning a format that hasn't changed much in a very long time.

Further Reading

How important are maps to fantasy books?

I love maps.

Maps in fantasy novels are as much of what attracted me to the genre as the fantastic elements and artwork did. I can still remember reading the Lord of the Rings, the Shannara books, and others and following along with the characters as they went about their quest. It was fun and even motivated me to keep reading late at night since I would often stick with the story until they reached the next outpost, tavern, city, or whatever it was the map indicated would be their next stop.

The vibe over on Goodreads is that maps in fantasy novels are a good thing. The same goes for some people over on the Terry Brooks forum. Some won't even buy a fantasy book if it doesn't have a map.

While it's not a deal-breaker for me when it comes to buying a fantasy novel, it certainly doesn't hurt the decision. If a map is professional as well as detailed, it's probably going to help, in fact.

Tegan Beechy over on Fantasy Faction has this to say:

But just as a good map can bring a novel to life, a bad map can highlight an author’s shortsightedness, reinforce weak conceptual links between the stages of a plot, and direct reader attention to lazy writing and worldbuilding.

Similar to a good quality book cover, a professionally done map is really the only way to go. I used to use Paint to work up gaming maps. They were fine for what I was using them for, but I'd never put such a thing in a novel for which I'm expecting people to pay money. If one considers a book cover the first thing a reader sees, then the map isn't far behind. A poorly done map can really turn off a reader and is perhaps an unfair sign of the quality of the writing. But a sign nonetheless.

A good fantasy map lends authenticity to the world it depicts. It makes the story—and the characters—more real because one can more readily believe the fictitious world is real. Also, it signifies a higher level of professionalism on the part of the author. It shows that he or she cares about the product being delivered to readers.

A map, however, can also mislead a reader:

…creating a map and then letting most of the story take place in one location was seen as a deceit, as if the map was a broken promise

I have to watch out for this one as the next book in the Alchemancer series takes place all in one location even though I've got a map coming from my illustrator which will detail the surrounding area as well. On the plus side, I'm also having a map done of the city in which everything happens. Hopefully that will balance things out for anyone who shares the 'broken promise' opinion.

While it would seem a lot of people consider maps important, I can't help but wonder how relevant they remain considering that quest novels and books that have a lot of "characters going places", where maps really shine, have fallen out of favor. I know GRRM's novels have maps, though, and I don't remember too many quests going on in those books.

Another reason I wonder about maps in today's world of eBooks and eReaders is because it isn't easy to navigate back and forth between your current reading place and the map itself. At least not as easy as flipping pages in a paperback. I probably need to test this out on my iPad before I go on about this point too much, but I've not found it to be the greatest experience with my Kindle 2. But this is a problem technology can solve. It may have already.

Which brings me to my next point, which is that with the proliferation of tablets maybe maps in glorious color and detail are more important and relevant then ever before. While black and white does just fine for maps, fantasy maps in particular look so much more vibrant and alive in color.

Of course, with all of this talk of the importance of maps the astute reader will notice that I don't have any maps in my own eBooks. Not yet, anyway. I think they're important enough, though, that I commissioned an illustrator/cartographer to work some up.

I've already revealed the map for The Hall of the Wood. Other maps to follow include a regional map for The Five Elements, a world map of Uhl (the world I set my novels in), and two for the next book in The Alchemancer series—one regional map and one of the city where most of the story takes place.

What are your thoughts on maps? Good, bad, or indifferent?

Further Reading

Art Sites for Inspiration

I'm not an artist in the visual sense. I can imagine what my characters should look like. I can see scenery in my mind. I can play out a scene as if it were a movie. I can even relay these things to other people via the written word. But there's no way I can represent them via an illustration. A visual artist I am most certainly not.

While my desire to write came from reading, artwork has always been an inspiration as well. Fantastic artwork is part of what attracted me to, well, fantasy. The work of such luminaries as Boris Vallejo, Keith Parkinson (who unfortunately died of leukemia in 2005; he was always one of my favorites), Frank Frazetta, Larry Elmore, and others fed my imagination in ways mere words never could.

While I still look to those individuals for creative inspiration, the Internet has opened the field to a truly vast scale. Much like authors have been freed of the traditional publishing gatekeepers, anyone can upload a sketch or illustration to their blog, web site, or to one of the sites below. Quality varies as one would expect. But there's so much amazing artwork on these sites I wanted to share the ones I routinely check.

Keep in mind, of course, that content belongs to the creator unless you work out a license agreement. I do a lot of looking, but I never touch, so to speak. It's not OK to download and use someone's artwork without compensating them for it, same as writing. It's easy to work with most of these artists if you're interested in using one of their images for something. The illustration I use for the cover of The Hall of the Wood and as the header for this site was purchased from an artist on deviantart.com, for example, after I contacted him and we settled on a price. It was a win-win for both of us.

Here are the art sites I frequent. I know there are others. Please comment below with your own favorites.

1. Concept Ships

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2. It's Art

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3. Cool Vibe

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4. Art of Fantasy

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5. CG Hub

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6. Ninja Crunch

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7. Deviant Art

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8. Creature Spot

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