Oct 20, 2014

Kathleen Hale Is No Hero

Not everyone is going to like your books. Not every fan is going to like every book you write. Tastes differ, and what one person loves, another will hate. I'm perfectly aware of this, and have seen reviews of my books range from 5 stars down to just 2. And always, I keep in mind the golden rule:

Never respond to bad reviews.

There is simply no way you can do it without looking bad. There are so many things that can go wrong responding to bad reviews, even to thank the reviewer, that I could run an entire month of constant blogging just on the different problems that can arise. So don't so it.

Okay, if you've read that, and are still determined to ignore my advice, then please, for the love of everything, do not do what Kathleen Hale did.

If you want a really good analysis of what happened, including a breakdown of what Blythe Harris actually did, and the steps Kathleen Hale felt were an appropriate response, read this article on Dear Author. To sum up, a Goodreads user who liked to post anonymously (as all internet users are perfectly entitled to do), ended up with an author cyberstalking her, running a background check, using false pretenses to obtain personal information, visiting her house, and calling her at work, again using false pretenses when speaking to her.

All because "she hurt my feelings."

Let me be utterly clear on this:

You are not entitled to harass people over hurt feelings. 

I'm not a legal expert, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Hale violated several laws in the course of her actions.

What does surprise me, what absolutely astounds me, is that the Guardian ran her piece and described it at "An author confronts her number one critic" (emphasis mine). These words paint a picture of a hounded writer, nobly standing up to a bully subjecting her to unfair torment. We like stories like this. We enjoy seeing bullies taken down. But Blythe Harris is not a bully. She's certainly not Hale's "number one critic," since her book has numerous 1-star reviews on Goodreads. She's just a reader who gave an honest opinion of a book she didn't like.

Hale, on the other hand, admits to stalking and brushes off "the biggest breach of decency [she'd] ever pulled" like it was an okay thing to do. There's a scary emotional disconnect in her writing, like she understands, objectively, that she's crossing lines, but it doesn't matter as much as her hurt feelings.

Please be advised that the following links include trigger warnings for sexual assault (not of or by Hale), assault of a teen (by Hale), and animal abuse. But, this is seemingly not the first time Hale has freely admitted to causing physical and emotional harm in such an irreverent, almost justified, manner.

I've seen people post in support of Hale, and it genuinely concerns me. I'm still a pretty new author. I depend on readers, whether they blog, post on Goodreads, review on Amazon, or tell their friends about my books. I depend on honest opinions. I most certainly do not want to see reviewers (or anyone, honestly), have to fear that they'll become the victims of stalking, harassment, or assault just because the author doesn't like what they thought of a book.

Oct 16, 2014

Have Games Lost Their Innocence?

When I was a kid, a game was running around with my friends playing Ghostbusters. Video games were something very different, something you tended to play alone, or maybe with one extra player. The pinnacle of "social" gaming was to have a tournament of something like Street Fighter, where you'd each pick a character and take turns playing.

Today it's become something of a beast, and every aspect of video games is scutinised on the internet. Budgets for AAA titles rival big-budget movies. Marketing is off the scale. There's an entire second industry in telling people how to play games right.

And there's the hate.

This stuff started off small, and people dismissed it. Trash talk during tournaments and online play. Arguments over which console was superior.

Today, a video game critic can receive what amount to threats of domestic terrorism so frequently that it's regarded as being ordinary for them, and no longer considered a viable threat.

Let that sink in.

Anita Sarkeesian receives so many threats of being assaulted, raped, murdered, and blown up that the FBI didn't think that someone threatening the worst school massacre in American history was to be taken seriously as a danger to Sarkeesian and to the public.

This is what hate brings us. A world where the more someone is threatened, the less their safety is taken seriously. Where the response of many who hear that such violence has been threatened is to accuse the threatened person of falsifying the threat (see the comments to the article here).

I don't know when things started to turn so dark in video-gaming*. What I do know is the video-game industry is changing. More diverse people than ever are playing games of all kinds. They are becoming an ever more mainstream form of entertainment, and as such will, and should, be subject to a broader range of criticism than graphics and gameplay. Whoever these people are, who think they're entitled to hurl accusations and mount hate campaigns and send terror threats, if they're serious, they need to be arrested. If they're "just kidding", they need to wake up and realise that the world doesn't revolve around them and their insecurities. They're not champions protecting anything precious and sacred. They're selfish children, desperately clinging to a pastime which is no longer exclusively theirs.

Games have already lost their innocence. Now it's time for them to grow up, too. No-one, anywhere, deserves to be threatened and have their lives disrupted just for expressing an opinion or critiquing a game.

*As a roleplayer, I tend to think of "gaming" as referring to more than just video games

Oct 14, 2014

10 Dos and Don't for Writing Great Cover Copy

"Never judge a book by its cover"

That is perhaps the most willfully ignored and oft-touted piece of advice I can think of. Here's a little harsh truth: Everyone judges books (and games, and movies, and toasters...) by their cover. How you present your product is essential when it comes to marketing. 

Did you know that there's a whole industry in making movie trailers, for example? Just the 1-3 minute ads for the latest releases. Companies exist whose sole employment comes from editing trailers, or composing music for them. Marketing is everything in entertainment. And make no mistake authors, your job is to entertain.

Everyone knows you need a great cover for your book, but you also need to consider what goes on the back of your book. Call it a summary, a blurb, or cover copy, it's the brief description that every single reader will go to, in order to see if they might enjoy your book. Your cover art gets their attention, so your cover copy has to get their interest.

I'll be putting myself under the microscope here, because I love writing cover copy, and I need an example of what to look for. Below is the cover copy from my latest novel, Memory War:

War is coming to New York. Nathan Shepherd's growing band of followers is dedicated to protecting the city, but they now face their greatest threat.

Athamar returns, plunging the city into chaos. Uniting the forces of darkness against Nathan and his allies, Athamar strives to discover a secret hidden for thousands of years. A secret lost to Nathan's memories. Something so dangerous, even the gods themselves fear it.

Nathan and Elena were once the greatest of heroes, champions against evil. Now, haunted by Nathan's past-life betrayal, they must work together and brave the pain of long-buried lifetimes. Somewhere, locked within their former incarnations, lies the key to stopping Athamar, an enemy who has hunted them from one incarnation to the next.

As the city burns and innocents suffer, as heroes fall and hope dies, Nathan and Elena face their final battle, a battle where legends will be reborn.

Okay, so there's a lot in here. I'll break it down so we can look at why this works as cover copy.

War is coming to New York. 

The first thing your cover copy needs to do, the most important thing, is hook the reader. Yes, "war is coming" is a highly common trope. But it's common because it works. It lets the reader know that things are going to get messy. Also, given that Memory War follows on from two previous novels in which the reader has come to know and (hopefully) care about the city and characters, this one sentence evokes the scale of the threat that's to come.

Nathan Shepherd's growing band of followers is dedicated to protecting the city, but they now face their greatest threat.

Cover copy can be broken down into four basic parts: Status Quo, Immediate Threat, Twist, and Stakes. Here we have the Status Quo. Following from his past victories, Nathan Shepherd has given New York a fighting chance against the supernatural, but they are constantly tested. The mention of their "greatest threat" suggests that they may not be as stable a force as they think.

Athamar returns, plunging the city into chaos. 

And we're straight into the Immediate Threat. This is the event which stands to break the status quo, the primary force acting upon the heroes' environment, which they must respond to. Typically this should refer to events within the first 1-3 chapters, specifically the book's inciting event, that propels the hero into action. Any longer and you're either spoiling the plot of your book, or your starting your book way too early and need to cut some chapters from the beginning.

Uniting the forces of darkness against Nathan and his allies, Athamar strives to discover a secret hidden for thousands of years. A secret lost to Nathan's memories. Something so dangerous, even the gods themselves fear it.

Now we're expanding on the Immediate Threat. Why has the inciting event occurred? Don't give away too much here, just enough to set things up for the reader, to tease their appetite. In this case, the typical reader is coming into this having read the first two books, so they know who Athamar is and have some idea of his motivations. As such, there's no need to go into much detail about him as a character.

We can also start crossing over into the Twist, as you can see from the final line.

Nathan and Elena were once the greatest of heroes, champions against evil. Now, haunted by Nathan's past-life betrayal, they must work together and brave the pain of long-buried lifetimes. 

I kind of break the rules here, and refer to the Status Quo again, but this is necessary to bring the reader around to the Twist.

Somewhere, locked within their former incarnations, lies the key to stopping Athamar, an enemy who has hunted them from one incarnation to the next.

And the Twist here, is that while Athamar has his own plans, Nathan and Elena might be able to find a chance to put a stop to his evil once and for all. Again, this calls on the reader's recollection of the previous books, where they see that Athamar keeps on hounding Nathan and Elena, no matter how many times they are reincarnated. This is a good spot for unspoken statements, like "How do you stop an enemy you can never truly defeat?"

As the city burns and innocents suffer, as heroes fall and hope dies, Nathan and Elena face their final battle, a battle where legends will be reborn.

Finally, we arrive at the Stakes. As the final installment in a trilogy, Memory War has the luxury of going all-out. Anything goes, and the reader should be left with a sense of what to expect from that, yet still be wondering how the heroes will come through. And, in fact, if they will manage to come through at all. The Stakes are often best kept brief, small but packing a powerful punch.

Importantly, the Stakes must suggest to the reader that no matter what happens, the world and/or the characters will be changed as a result of the story. If the consequences for success and/or failure are "things stay the same as they've always been" then your story has no teeth, and if your cover copy makes it look like your book has no teeth, readers will be drawn away by the books that do have teeth.

Through these four stages, the most important thing is that the reader cares. It's a balancing act. If you try to be mysterious, and reveal too little about what's to come, the reader has nothing to connect to, emotionally. If you give too much, you risk the reader not bothering with the book, because they'll feel they know too much already to enjoy it.

Worse, you could come off as being too desperate to convince the reader that they will enjoy it. There's nothing that puts off a potential reader quite like cover copy saying "This book is awesome!" That's what reviews and author endorsements are for.

Here are my 10 Dos and Don'ts for writing great cover copy:

  1. Do provide a Status Quo, Immediate Threat, Twist, and Stakes
  2. Don't provide a flat summary of your whole book
  3. Do focus on a limited number of characters (2-3 at most)
  4. Don't start by talking about the world, and no characters for the reader to connect to, or list off dozens of names the reader will quickly forget
  5. Do give the reader a reason to care about what's happening, and what's going to happen, to your characters
  6. Don't tell the reader that they should care about what's happening, and what's going to happen, to your characters
  7. Do read the cover copy of successful books, and watch movie trailers to learn how to pack a lot of hook into a short phrase
  8. Don't just mimic the style of successful books' cover copy. It looks false
  9. Do put work into getting your cover copy right
  10. Don't assume that no-one will care about the cover copy

I hope this post has been helpful. Publishing is becoming more and more accessible, and so the competition to get sales will keep increasing. You need every edge you can get in order to keep going.

Oct 10, 2014

Ernie Hudson, I Can't Wait For The All-Female Ghostbusters Reboot

I don't usually post out of my Tuesday/Thursday schedule, but sometimes you need to get on a topic while it's hot.

This morning I read that Ghostbusters star Ernie Hudson is against the all-female reboot of the franchise. You can read his comments here.

Let me state what most of you probably already know: I am a HUGE Ghostbusters fan. I cried when I read the news of Harold Ramis' death. I met Dan Aykroyd on a film set and was the absolute worst grinning fanboy I could possibly have been. When I was a little kid, I made my own proton pack from a cereal box. In the Memory Wars Trilogy, Nathan Shepherd's father was a veteran of Hook & Ladder No. 8, the firefighter company whose firehouse served as the exterior of the Ghostbusters' HQ.

I am so utterly disappointed in Ernie Hudson's attitude. Not least of all for how dismissive it is to write off an all-female cast as a bad idea, or how horribly misogynist it is to say "I hope that if they go that way at least they'll be funny, and if they're not funny at least hopefully it'll be sexy."

So because they're casting women, there are doubts that a comedy is going to be funny? But it won't be too bad if we at least see some tits and ass? Is that the message Ernie Hudson wants to give?

Also, dude, don't call them "females." Female is a gender descriptor. Unless Paul Feig starts casting cats and dogs in this thing, the cast are going to be people. Human beings. Call them women, it's not that scary a word.

What's worse is now so many people are responding, feeling justified in their attitude that there shouldn't be an all-female cast. Now all the sexist trolls out there have one of the original Ghostbusters to validate their attacks against the movie. Well done, Zeddemore...

You know what really pisses me off about this? Every time I post an article criticising some sexist treatment of women in the media, there's guaranteed to be at least one guy who tells me to focus on the positive things instead of attacking the negative, to support the movies, books, and games that do represent women well. Here we have one of the most important chances ever for women to get a fair shot in action roles, and it's being torn down before it's even been cast.

What's it really about? Looking at Ernie Hudson's interview, it seems to me that he's just bitter because he thinks an all-female cast will mean he can't be in the movie. It's not an uncommon thing. People say "women aren't interested in this kind of movie, so why bother marketing to them?" Then when women show up and want to be a part of it, a bunch of guys push back and say it's a gimmick, or not fair to men. What it comes down to is they just don't want to share. They want their own box of toys and want women to have a different box.

Slam the movie for being a reboot if you want. Complain about the writer and the director if you didn't like their past work. But don't bitch about women being cast as the team and act like there's any kind of artistic critique behind it.

You want to know why Ghostbusters is important? And why this reboot is important?

Ghostbusters was the first thing I'd seen which showed me that yes, there are monsters and ghosts and scary things, but there are also people who can beat them head on. The Ghostbusters didn't run and hide, or use tricks to get away from the monsters. They faced them with courage, using their knowledge to defeat them and save the day. They were experts in their field, who took chances and came out as heroes.

Making a Ghostbusters movie with an all-female cast would be the biggest franchise gender-swap since Starbuck in the Battlestar Galactica reboot. We've never seen a major movie event centered around women who come together under their own initiative, using expert scientific knowledge to overcome a threat. This movie tells girls and women that they don't have to settle for being the receptionist while the guys save the world, that they don't even have to settle for being like the Ghostbusters. They can be the Ghostbusters.

So yes, I will cheer this movie. I will be there in the cinema to see it, and I will tell everyone to go see it. Because this is one of those positive things people keep saying I should talk about. And I will not stand for it being pissed on just because a bunch of men don't want to play nice and share their stuff.

Oct 9, 2014

Book Launch on a Budget

I recently celebrated the launch of my third novel, Memory War. As many of you will recall, I've had a somewhat colourful history with my book launches. I've had to change venues on the launches for both Locked Within and Silent Oath, and for both I had to cover the cost of stock myself due to last-minute distributor issues, with corresponding stress over making sure I sold enough to pay my publisher.

Suffice to say, I've learned a lot, and I've learned it the hard way.

Armed with this knowledge, I wanted to make sure the launch for Memory War went off as smoothly as possible. And you know what? It did. I had a great time, and for some the launch celebrations technically lasted until the small hours of the morning.

Of course, I had to do all this on a very small budget. I knew my publisher's distributor wouldn't have the book available in time for a bookstore to get stock, and if I were to supply books to a store myself, I'd have to invest a lot of money up front, and would probably have to wait a while before I got paid. I had to start thinking of other options, other ways to sell books. And here's what I figured out about putting on a book launch on a very small budget:

1. Pre-orders - Two words: Big. Clever. I had a couple of extra copies on order, but for the most part, I stuck to asking people to order and pay for their copies in advance. Sure, you end up with less stock and a less impressive display at the launch, but you're guaranteed to cover the cost of your stock, and you can always take more orders on the day if people show up who haven't ordered their copy.

2. Venue - Bookstores won't let you just sit there handing out copies that you've already been paid for. And most places will charge some kind of fee for room rental. You know what places tend not to? Pubs and bars. I had my launch in the Trinity Bar Venue in Dublin, and they set aside space for us for free. Bars know that a lot of people congregating in one place, to celebrate something, will result in lots of food and drink being purchased, so check out the ones in your area. See who has a suitable space, and if they're willing to reserve an area for you.

3. Refreshments - Traditionally, book launches include a certain amount of wine, and possibly finger food. The advantage of a bar is everyone can buy their own drinks! Cheap? Yes, but we're talking about sticking to a small budget, here. The nature of publishing is changing, so the nature of how we celebrate new books can change, too. Most bars that cater for parties will offer platters at a fairly reasonable rate, so you can provide some finger food. If you want to splash out, they will probably also happily let you buy some bottles of wine for tables, or if you're springing for a function room, many will also let you pay up a tab in advance, and any time one of your guests orders a drink, the price is deducted from your tab.

There you have it. Simple, huh? I think authors, especially new authors, get really hung up on doing things "right." And honestly, if you'd told me two years ago that I'd have to launch my first book in a bar, rather than a bookstore, I'd have been heartbroken. But times change, and it's not about where you celebrate your achievement, but the people you have to share in your success, and the fun you have telling people about your book.

All told, I think the Memory War launch cost roughly €60, and that includes the drycleaning bill to get my suit ready and the fee at the parking lot when we went back to the car. I'd already made that back in pre-orders a week before the launch. You absolutely can run a successful, fun event on next to nothing. It just takes a bit of planning and a lot of research.

Oct 7, 2014

Lady Raven Update

Seems like I've barely caught my breath from the release of Memory War and I'm diving head-first into my next release. 

Lady Raven is coming soon, and I expect to have a release date for you in the next couple of weeks, along with a cover reveal.

To that end, this weekend I'll be getting the photoshoot done for the cover art. This is a new, and exciting, aspect of publishing for me. Lady Raven is chock full of themes and imagery, which has made it difficult to decide exactly how the covers should look. But after a lot of brainstorming with my designer, Ciara, and my model, Claire Anne, we've got something I think will be very evocative, especially when taken as part of the whole series. 

Yes, we've planned out the covers for all four books. And if possible, we'll be getting the photography done for all four at the shoot. This is what branding is about, folks! Planning ahead.

I'll also be getting a new author pic, and looking around my blog, I think some re-decorating is in order. My New York cityscape is fine for Memory Wars, but Lady Raven is literally a whole new world of adventure.

I can't wait to share all this new stuff with you. It's going to be a very exciting time!

Oct 2, 2014

A Late Response to GamerGate

This blog post will contain... impolite language.

I'm fully prepared for the shitstorm of comments that are likely to come from this. When GamerGaters mount up it's worse than a Westboro Bapitist Church protest. All I ask is that my regular readers don't engage. They're not worth it.

You might need to do some Googling if you're not familiar with GamerGate. I'm so worn out from reading this stuff I can't do it anymore. And there are some pretty horrible people talking about this and I am not feeding them traffic.

It amounts to this: One day, the ex-boyfriend of a female game developer posted a litany of accusations against his girlfriend. He posted it everywhere he could, and when the posts were deleted, he started his own site. End result? The game developer was driven out of her home by threats of rape and murder, from people who were posting her home address.

The game developer's name is Zoe Quinn. The douchebag who she's unfortunate enough to have dated is Eron Gjoni. You'll hear a lot of accusations against Zoe Quinn which I won't repeat, because frankly, nothing she's done, or been accused of doing, in any way warrants the abuse and harassment she's received.

Worse, a series of articles about how "gamers are dead" sprang up, pretty much all in the same 24-hour period, and this became the smoking gun that GamerGaters used to point to a conspiracy against gamers. Throw in calls for "integrity in video game journalism" and you've got a major mess. 

So where does this leave us? Well let me tell you, if someone points you to the "5 Guys Conspiracy" video, as clarification of what happened, or what GamerGate stands for, be prepared for 25 minutes of utter nutjob misogyny.

Sure, there are some people who say they're part of GamerGate and believe in fighting for journalistic integrity. But, tell you what, there have been huge issues with bias, from simple friendships to sponsorship deals, in video games for decades. It's not new, and before there was a woman involved, no one really paid any attention. What you think of that is up to you, but it's hardly the conspiracy people are getting in a twist over. 

Sure, it's good to want more honest reviews. As a gamer, I depend on them, because I frankly can't justify shelling out video game prices without knowing I'll enjoy the thing. But the thing is, GamerGate, at its core, is just an excuse to hate on women.

And here's why I don't buy the "but we're not all like that" line.

Just as there are people who like to spout sexist crap against men (such as the "all sex is rape" line you might have heard around the internet), there are people who would like to have more honesty in video game reviews. But just as those man-haters aren't actually feminists, even if they claim to be, people who do want honesty in game reviews, who don't give a crap what Zoe Quinn may or may not have done, aren't really GamerGaters. Unfortunately, a lot of them have become more concerned with defending GamerGate than their own supposed ideals. I've had too many arguments on this, over something as damned insignificant as whether or not the next yearly football game deserves a 10/10 or the latest CoD clone is worth laying down $60, another $40 in DLC, and hundreds of dollars in microtransations. 

So yeah, I think game reviews are a pile of steaming crap, least of all at release. No, I don't think there needs to be a movement against it, just more people writing honest reviews. Yes, I think Eron Gjoni was an almighty asshole for airing his dirty laundry to the world. No, I don't believe Zoe Quinn has done anything close to what's been laid at her feet. Yes, I have a bit of a stick up my ass about this, but no, I am not going to consider anything that GamerGate has to say, ever again. Even the most reasonable and patient people claiming to support GamerGate have shown their frustration and anger, simply because I don't agree with them, because I believe in something better than harassing and abusing women, forcing them into hiding, making threats of death, rape, and even domestic terrorism, to scare them into silence.

I believe GamerGate is about hating women and keeping gaming a Boys' Club. It's about claiming games are art, but violently rejecting any criticism which they disagree with or that makes them face uncomfortable truths.

I know people will disagree. I know people will try and defend it. I know people will even insult me and accuse me of being a Social Justice Warrior*.

And I just don't care. GamerGate can die in a fire.

*This sounds like the name of an awesome 80s tv show, by the way.

Sep 25, 2014

He For She

This week, actress and all-round class act Emma Watson gave a speech in front of the UN. You can see the video here:


You can read the full transcript here.

This brought tears to my eyes. I am so thankful, after watching so much misogynist hate be spread across the internet lately, to see the rise of a new, and inclusive, feminist movement. Inclusive is the important word here. When I first watched this speech, it struck me that Watson is right. We can't expect feminism to succeed if there's any semblance of an impression that it's about hating men. Because yes, men suffer from patriarchy too. Not as badly as women, but it's still our problem as well. And we need to help fix it.

I'm constantly learning more about what it means to be a feminist. And while it should not have taken the birth of my daughters to make me realise just how much work where was to be done in order to build a united world where gender no longer leads to discrimination, it did, and so here I am. I am not a model feminist. I'm not sure I'm a model anything. I'm just one person who wants to do his best to help. I want a world where my daughters, where all daughters, and all sons, can have the same goals and aspirations.

I want to see women able to express an opinion without being threatened for it. Where men can cry and not be made fun of. Where parents receive equal work benefits to let them spend time with their newborn children, regardless of gender.

I've joined HeForShe. I am a feminist.

Emma Watson asks "If not me, who? If now now, when?"

Who? Me.

When? Now.

How? In everything I teach my children. In everything I share with my friends and family. And in every book I write.

Sep 23, 2014

Interview

Today I'm being interviewed by Christina Rose Asay, answering questions about my latest book, Memory War.

Sep 18, 2014

Memory War Blog Tour: Good Stories End with a Beginning

This is pretty much the last day of the Memory War Blog Tour, and while it's been a much faster run than previous tours, I hope it's still been a chance to see a little more about the series.

For my final blog post on this tour, I'm visiting Thomas R Manning, to talk about endings and beginning.