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So How Are You Doing, Clover Island Publishing?

Aha, pretty good lately? Getting a little better? I mean I can’t say it’s been a great year, in terms of productivity. I hit a low point around the start of the year, sick, tired, no energy, sales were hilariously terrible—in January I sold less than twenty books, in February less than ten—and generally I felt that whatever my personal thoughts about my books, the fact was that not a lot of people were much interested in them. Still, I kept at it, my pace reduced but still trying to do at least something every day, even if that was just reading over draft manuscripts and murmuring “hmm yes what a clever author person I can be sometimes” (we all need a little ego boost from time to time). So it was that I somehow managed to finish off Charlotte Powers 4, and without all that much enthusiasm publish it (the previous month had seen a grand total of zero sales of the first book in that series). To my surprise people actually bought the blessed thing, around thirty in that first month and then another thirty the second month, and then maybe they told their friends about the series or something equally wondrous and splendid because the first book started selling again. Which was lovely! I mean it’s all very well to be all ‘art for art’s sake create for the sake of creation the reward for making something good is having made something good’ but when you’re sharing stories it’s nice when other people are a bit interested in them.

So! I figured that I should do a bit of an update on everything, because it’s only fair to be upfront about where you are with series and such. So here we go:

Resonance
Oh, I love this series. But nobody else does. In three years the series has sold less than a hundred copies, and in the entirety of this year the grand total of sales is … zero. None. Not one single book sold. On top of this the second book wasn’t well-received even by people who liked the first one, so … I don’t know. I guess it’s one of those things where I’m completely in love with things that other people just don’t care about. Also, writing a Resonance book takes at least twice the effort and planning and time as another book—book two took over eight hundred hours just to write, not even counting planning and research and outlining and most of the edits. That is a hefty chunk of time and energy to put into something that people just aren’t interested in. So I can’t really justify continuing it right now. It’s a shame because I had such big plans for it, but there you go. You don’t get to choose what works and what doesn’t.

Miya Black
Not doing quite as poorly as Resonance, but pretty close. This year I’ve sold about thirty in the series, although in the last few months this has dropped to nothing. The main problem here is that I have the figures showing exactly how many people have bought the fifth book—the latest—and it is a nicely round but not overly large twenty. That means that the potential market for the sixth book is currently twenty people. It’s just not enough to justify putting it out. I mean it’s pretty much written, I’d just have to add a couple of things, put in maybe ten thousand words in the middle, do a bunch of editing and it’d be done. But the real problem is that the sixth book kicks off the next arc of the series and it ends in a way that I’d feel really uncomfortable just to leave hanging. Maybe in the future the series will attract more attention. For now, with the latest arc finished, I think it’s best to set it aside.

Charlotte Powers
Finally, some positivity! This is the one series I’ve written that actually sells. I don’t know why, maybe people like first person, maybe they like journals, maybe it’s the superhero thing, maybe it’s just more accessible. In any case it’s selling about two a day across the series, which is, like, amazing. Not to most authors, sure, people writing in popular genres can brag about dozens or hundreds or even thousands of sales a day, but for me in my comfortable little niche even a single sale a day is just brilliant. I mean, that’s progress! That’s one more copy of one of my books out in the big wide world. If a book isn’t selling at all it’s really hard to get enthusiastic about continuing the series—I know where the story goes, I’m interested, but if nobody else is then, well, what’s the point of writing it? Just keep it in my head, that’s the best place for it. But if people ARE interested in the story and the world and the characters, well, that’s a definite wellspring of motivation.

So anyway. Charlotte Powers is the series that’s selling—the series that people are actually interested in—so Charlotte Powers is the series that I’m focusing on. The fifth and final book is almost finished, and I fully expect to have it out before Christmas. After that, well, I do have an idea. Something I’ve been working on and aiming towards. I’m pretty excited about it, to be honest. But best to keep it under wraps until I have something more solid. For now I’ll just say that while this fifth book will provide a definite (and hopefully satisfying) ending to the series, as with all my stories Life Goes On (except when it doesn’t, on account of people being deaded).

Other Books
I’ve had a pseudo-sequel to The Boy & Little Witch in the back of my mind for years, but haven’t quite summoned the motivation necessary to write it. It’s always been a bit of an odd duck anyway, kind of a throwback thing, aimed basically at a target audience of “me when I was eight”, and there’s not much of a market for kid’s books in any case. Well, not this kind of kid’s book, anyway. Similar situation with Imogen Shroud, have the sequel in the back of my mind, can’t quite get excited about writing it—although partly that’s because I’m just a bit sick of zombies. It’s kind of like, there is so much zombie stuff in the world right now, I almost feel guilty contributing to it. Also the first book occupies an uncomfortable middle ground where people who are really into zombies don’t much like it and people who aren’t really into zombies won’t read it because zombies. For a certain kind of person I think it works really well, but that certain kind of person certainly isn’t in the majority. So. Set aside for now.

Future Projects
I do have a couple of things I want to do. The first is Bright Battle Story: Tactics Heart, my underdog sports story set in a kind of fantasy MMO SRPG, which I’ve been putting off releasing for just ages, literally years. Partly it’s because I know it’s so niche and odd, limited appeal, kind of a bit self-indulgent. Again, that ‘certain people’ minority demographic. Also because I’ll release it as a web serial and kind of keep waiting for a really good easy way to do that. But anyway. I do want to start putting it out there. Maybe a project for the new year, although I said that two years ago and look where that went.

The second project is something that I’m currently calling EndSong, or The Song That Ends The World. It’s a really, stupidly ambitious project that I’m a bit nervous about even starting. Massive story told over multiple series of books, kind of a light novel approach, multiple timeframes, locations, politics, timeskips, oodles of characters. Currently my focus point is another web serial-type series called Death Theory, which would be a very tight, plotty, fast-paced story set in the world but apart from it. Kind of a tester, to see if anyone would even be interested in what I’m doing. Anyway, it’s the kind of thing I have to plan and plan and PLAN and plan so I’m not expecting anything of it any time soon, but who knows.

That’s About It
So that’s where I am right now, and that’s where I’m going. In short, expect more Charlotte Powers, expect less everything else, maybe expect some new stuff sometime.

Just as a final note, kind of out of place but it’s something I’ve wanted to say for a while, if you like something—not even one of my series, just anything really—then dropping a note to the creator is a really good thing to do. Not just for the sake of the artist’s ego, but to pump up motivation and get the next one out sooner. Honestly, there have been a bunch of times where I just did not feel like being remotely creative, but just a little note or something charged me up and got me going again. It’s also a good way to get creators to pay attention to a series they haven’t been thinking about. Just knowing that someone out there is interested is enough to get me to look over my project files and remind me why I love that particular thing.

To get a bit painfully earnest for a moment, if it wasn’t for those brave and splendid few who have mentioned to me that they like my stuff, I might not even still be doing this. Certainly you make it more fun and easier and just generally better. Thank you for being there and for digging my offbeat little stories. I do not have a great quantity of fans, but you make it up in quality.

Okay, that’s it from me for now. Remember, be good to yourselves. And each other.

Love,

BJK White

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2013 in Of Writing

 

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Jolly Motivation: Goals, Dang It

Jolly Motivation: Goals, Dang It

Lately I’ve been lazy; so very lazy. (“Lazy” in this case meaning “Still working like an electric beaver, except on ‘easy’ things like proofing and making notes and research and such; not actually producing anything new and that’s what needs to happen”.) I’m out of the habit of writing and into the habit of all of the other activities that surround writing, and that’s not such a good place to stay for extended periods. I have all these projects and so many notes but very few actual written words—I mean, I do feel that when I actually do write those words that they’ll be very splendid words indeed because of all this groundwork I’ve done, but I also feel that until you’ve actually produced those phantom words that nothing’s worth much of anything. First drafts are the only currency of worth, everything else is just … everything else.

Because posts are more interesting with pictures, here’s a picture of the gaang as fruit.

With all of that out of the way, I think what I should do—and what I will do—what I will attempt to do—is begin using this bjournal as more of an update on where I am and what I’m doing. I’ll set goals and then chastise myself for failing to complete them, or else congratulate myself on a job jolly well done. And so:

STATE OF BJK
I just released Miya Black V: Every Glorious Tomorrow, which was good. I sat on that one for probably too long. In any case it completes the first ‘arc’ of the Miya Black story (two more to go, phew), and is perhaps a good place to rest the series for a little while. Not that I don’t love Miya and want to continue her story, but I think at this point what I need to do is spread out a little more, try new things, and see if I can’t connect with readers with fresh projects.

With that said my priority right now is Charlotte Powers. #4 and #5, to be specific. The thing with those two books is that they’re pretty closely linked, and although #4 could be considered ‘done’ I just really feel that I need to get #5 into at least an advanced outline state before releasing #4. So, that’s what I’m mostly doing at the moment, working on #5 and figuring out a bunch of really quite astonishingly fiddly things. It’s not so much that I wrote myself into a corner, more that I made quite a few promises with books 1 – 4 and #5 is where I have to deliver on those promises in the most satisfying way possible. It’s a book that I just really, really want to get absolutely right. So, the bad news for Charlotte Powers fans is that #4 isn’t going to be out for a month or two, but the good news is that #5 will follow relatively closely, maybe even before the end of the year if things go that way. It’d be nice to have a completed series out, although (typically) I’ve already started sketching a follow-up series that could be pretty exciting. More on that after #5 is released.

Bright Battle Story: Tactics Heart is another focus right now. Serialised story, free to read, with an ebook to be released once it’s done. I know most serials are a ‘write/release as you go’ kind of thing, and I was originally going to do it that way, but with this one … I just kind of want to get more of it written before I start releasing. Just in case I need to add foreshadowing or something, you know I love sneaking a tiny detail in at the start that becomes vitally important near the end. Anyway, I really really love this story and these characters (all seven hundred of them) (just kidding) (kind of) and really just want to get it out there, but I have to go with my heart on this; needs more time, needs more effort. I’ve already got the first nine episodes written, and it looks like there’ll be twenty-five in the series … I mean, I could start releasing now … and I kind of want to … actually, that might be a good ‘goal’, get Tactics Heart sorted out.

Other projects are other projects. I pick away at them now and then but it’s probably best to keep them in the background for now. So then!

WEEKLY GOALS

1) Charlotte Powers #5 outlined to a basic degree; connection with #4 firmly dealt with.
2) Episode 10 of Tactics Heart outlined and written.

Everything else can be worked on or not worked on as it happens; these two things are what I will have accomplished by next Tuesday. See you then!

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Of Writing

 

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Creation of a Cover

I love mucking around in Photoshop. It’s so relaxing and fun, not like that troublesome ol’ writing lark.

Troublesome Writing Lark

why did I make this

Sometimes this mucking around leads to a cover, sometimes for a book I haven’t even written yet. I often find it to be a good sort of semi-distraction, something to focus on while my subconscious figures out little things and tries to find the shape of the story. Recently I’ve even been sketching out rough ideas before doing any actual fiddling. With the most recent story to occupy my head space, Blood Sisters, I had this grand idea for a dramatically epic cover featuring the protagonist standing over her wounded sister, facing down dozens of murderous bandits in a night forest lit by torches. I even sketched out a rough outline before remembering that I can’t draw. I’ll save you from having to see the offending sketch; instead here’s a portrait of James Townsend (Esquire), Lord Mayor of Olde London Towne:

James Townsend, Mayor of London and Gentlemanly Poisoner

“Hello.”

So then, given that my grand, overly-ambitious ideas for a cover were nothing more than idle dreams, I went the other way; simplicity! Striking central image! Colours! Bright colours! Red is a bright colour! Aren’t there some red flowers? I could make it a BLOOD flower!

Blood Sisters Cover 1

Unt I did

Pretty decent first draft cover for a thriller, I feel. Except this book’s a fantasy story. Ho-hum. Still, I really liked the central image and the basic thing of the thing, so once more I fiddled and I faddled and I mucked and I … micked, eventually deciding that a more comic booky style might be more ‘fantasy’.

Blood Sisters Cover 2

Or should I say, Doctor VON Scott?

Here I felt that I was on the right track, but that font … that FONT. (Trajan, incidentally, a good go-to font for mucking around with.) I decided that the best way to say ‘fantasy’ was to make a fantasy-ish logo-title-thing. Looking a bit like a comic book would not, I felt, be a bad thing. And so:

Blood Sisters Preview 3

Just what exactly are you implying?

Now it was starting to feel more like a book I wanted to write. Still, it needed something else, it needed something more, it needed … fiddly bits.

BS Cover 4

So fiddly

At this point I started playing around with different ‘moods’ for the cover:

BS Cover 5

Literally hours of fun

Then I got distracted making a ‘series logo’, as this book would (eventually) (possibly) (hopefully) (if all goes as planned) be part of a larger collection of vaguely related but ultimately stand-alone stories united under the title of “The Song That Ends The World”. So, I made this:

Song That Ends

Bang, zoom! Straight … to the moon

Which, to be perfectly honest, still needs a lot of fiddling to get right and I might change the font and blah blah blibbity blah-blah-blah. It’d do as a placeholder for now in any case, and so:

BS 7

Phew

Still a lot of mucking around to do and who knows, I might abandon the whole concept or even go with a completely different title, but that’s the story of this first draft of the cover for Blood Sisters, possibly the first book in the Song That Ends The World series. (Potentially.)

In other writing-related news, since I’m here, Charlotte Powers 4: Rising Power is nearing first draft completion. Miya Black V is also in a state of near-readiness; just a couple of proofs before it’s ready for release. I’d say Rising Power is on track for a late-August release, while Miya Black V could be out before the end of this month, depending on how things go.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2012 in Of Writing

 

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Good & Evil (less important than right and wrong), Heroes, Choices, Themes, Necessary Purging

There was a Twitter tag-discussion-thing I followed today, without participating (for several reasons, mostly because it moved far too fast to just ‘jump in’), about YA fiction, specifically about religion in YA fiction. There were arguments about good and evil, how good is represented, how some authors preferred to represent evil, about the place of strong religious themes–about a lot of things.

The thing that interested me the most about the discussion, which was between I guess a couple of dozen writers, wasn’t what was discussed, but rather what wasn’t discussed. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ came up again and again. But there wasn’t one mention of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

As a writer, good and evil don’t interest me–not in the sense in which they were being discussed. I think ‘evil’ especially is a label that gets tossed around far too casually, a kind of catch-all that covers over the real issues and causes of ill behaviour. Too many writers use it as an excuse, too–“It’s fine to have the hero kill these sentient creatures because they’re evil and he’s good”, no, that never sits comfortably with me. Good and evil are about perspective–if you have elves who are ‘good’ and orcs who are ‘evil’, then clearly you’re siding with the elves. If you wrote the story from the orcs’ perspective, the labels would be reversed. Real life is, of course, more complicated, which is why I have little interest in good and evil and far more interest in right and wrong. Because although what’s ‘right’ can get blurry at times, there are certain things that are, to me, ‘right’, and certain things that are, to me, ‘wrong’. I’m less about ‘sides’ (good vs evil) and more about ‘actions’ (doing what’s right).

So the themes that excite me, as a writer, are things like … things like ‘if a wrong act is necessary then could it become, in some way, right?’ and ‘how can you know, truly know, what the ‘right thing’ to do is?’, these questions that have no easy, simple answer, these questions that have to be explored in order to find some kind of understanding–and of course I love it when characters do the right thing even when it’s hard–even when it’s impossible–and when they refuse to do wrong even when it’d make things so much simpler and easier–even when ‘doing wrong’ would get them everything that they want–these are the things that I love to write about. It’s most prevalent in Miya Black, because she’s my interpretation of the hero archetype–she is, in every sense, MY hero–but I think it comes through in a lot of my main characters. I don’t think my books are preachy and I certainly don’t intend to stand on a soapbox and tell people what to do, quite the opposite, another theme I come back to time and again is “Think for yourself, don’t let other people think for you, and DO NOT blindly accept that those with power have your best interests at heart”. And ‘doing the right thing’ doesn’t make my characters universally loved, again, quite the opposite–as in real life, the ‘right thing’ isn’t always the ‘popular thing’. But that’s part of it too–Miya does the right thing, no matter what, and this polarises people, they’re either repulsed by or attracted to her. She makes enemies but she also makes friends–she inspires loyalty from those few who understand.

My characters don’t always make the right decisions, either–just like the gap between ‘right’ and ‘popular’, there’s also a big difference being ‘right’ and ‘smart’. The two could almost be said to be mutually exclusive a lot of the time. In fact, book two of Miya Black could basically be subtitled “Every Single Decision Miya Makes Is Wrong”. But all of her bad choices come from good intentions, of her trying to do the right thing. That’s another theme I like, “Action without understanding is futile, even dangerous”. You can’t do ‘good’ unless you understand the implications of your actions–you have to know who and why the bad guys are before you can fight them. Book three of Miya Black is really where these themes start to come through, most of the plot wouldn’t have occurred if Miya had sense enough to leave well enough alone, but that’s part of who she is; she is a person who will fight wrong wherever she finds it, whatever the personal cost. In book three, she starts to realise this–that this is who she is, because she’s put in situations where she’s faced with wrong, where she’s given a free chance to walk away, where nobody would blame her for doing nothing–in fact, where she’d be rewarded for just walking away. Does she? Of course she doesn’t. That’s not who she is, that will never be who she is. Book three is really where Miya starts to grow into herself, where she starts to grow up, and her personal character development from the start of the book to the end is my favourite thing about it. If you read the first chapters and then skip ahead to the last chapters, there’s a stark difference in how Miya acts, even the way she talks. But if you read through, you might not even notice the change. It’s actually even more noticeable if you go back to the first book, she’s so idealistic and young and naive and romantic in that one, it’s almost hard to read when you know what happens later. And yet her ideals, her core, that’s something that never changes. She’s uncompromising in her beliefs; you don’t suffer bullies, you stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, you do the right thing. All of my main characters have a ‘curse’, some more obvious than others. Miya has a couple, actually. But her big curse, the curse at the core of her character, is that she (almost) always (eventually) knows what the right thing to do is. And I believe–this is my personal belief–that if you know, truly know, what the right thing to do is, then you cannot ignore that. It’s not even a choice. Of course, Miya learns other things too, things that challenge these beliefs–that the world is unfair, that people aren’t always what they seem, that being right isn’t always enough. That even if you fight your hardest, you can still lose. This forms most of the internal conflict of the series, Miya trying to resolve the gaps between her beliefs and the harsh realities of the world. Of course, there’s always that secondary conflict, the conflict central to Miya; freedom and responsibility. She’s a pirate, she’s fiercely independent and adventure-loving and she doesn’t need ANYONE to do ANYTHING. She’s a princess, she’s compassionate and sensitive and bound to her kingdom–to the people she’s responsible for–with chains stronger than steel. Pirate. Princess. Can you truly be both? Can you embody both freedom AND responsibility? That’s the central question behind the whole series. Exploring possible answers is fun. Well, so is having Miya kick ever-increasing amounts of arse, of course. It’s all layers.

Phew! That was fun, I needed to get that off my chest. Have you noticed that writers like to talk? I mean a LOT. Especially about their own writing. I think it’s necessary sometimes, though. When you’re working at the fiddly sentence-by-sentence level every day, working on making things flow and using the right words and hunting for typos, it can be easy to forget the themes and reasons for writing. Even at the ‘plot’ level, I sometimes let myself slip–I let the themes I’m trying to explore get buried by events. So I think it’s good, sometimes, to step back and think/talk/write about things at a higher level, about the whole big thing.

Now back to nitty-gritty low-level editing.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2011 in Of Writing

 

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Miya Black, Pirate Princess is a #1 Bestseller (technically)

Genre. It’s a word that’s been on my mind lately. I write in the genre of ‘Young Adult’. Sub-genres being low fantasy/adventure, superhero, whatever Resonance is–dark superhero fantasy possibly–zombies for Imogen Shroud (or possibly action-horror or something), but it’s all under that umbrella of Young Adult.

Or is it?

Because lately I’ve been wondering. Is what I write really YA fiction? I label it that because there’s nothing better–and don’t get me wrong, I love young adults, I think they’re great, so-called ‘juveniles’ too, babies, kids, teenagers, all fine by me. It’s grown-ups I have trouble with. But that’s not really the point, because kids and teenagers can and will read beyond what’s prescribed for them, I know I did. Back in MY day we didn’t even HAVE a ‘young adult’ section, and we had to walk twenty miles in the snow uphill both ways just to get a LOOK at the library.

Ahem.

So if it’s not YA then what is it? Let’s look at Miya Black. Recommended reading level (according to complexity of vocabulary, length, violence etc.) 9+. Classification? Juvenile – Adventure – Pirates. Yes, delightfully this is a real category. Also delightfully, and … well, completely surprisingly, actually, Miya Black is number one in the Kindle section on Amazon, in the Juve-Adv-Pirate category. It doesn’t have much competition but still, that’s kind of nice, don’t you think? It’s number five in the Juvenile – Adventure category too. If only people actually looked at these lists, I might be selling more. Maybe I could use that as a selling point, as ‘social proof’, “It’s number one!”.

Let’s get back on track. What genre could Miya Black be? Well, Pirate Adventure, naturally. Low fantasy, seeing as it’s not set on Earth but there’s no magic or elves or anything (there are some pretty awful sea-beasts but that’s about it). Or, well, just YA. Young Adult Adventure. I think that might be what needs to happen, YA can still be an umbrella-like classification but there needs to be more than that. Miya Black is nothing like the paranormal romances out there, or the gritty urban fantasies, it’s separate from them. Maybe something like a code could be good, P for pirates, A for adventure, Nm for No Magic, Ne for Not Earth, Nv for No Vampires.

Well, anyway. All of this is partly because I’ve looked around at some of the books I’m sharing this ‘genre’ with and I don’t entirely like what I see. YA has something of a reputation now, and having read a lot of YA samples recently, I have to agree with people when they say “YA as a genre is full of rubbish”. Because it is, well and truly, CROWDED with terrible writing, poor editing, the loosest of plots, the most ridiculous of excuse-characters … there’s good stuff out there. Truly, there is. But it’s becoming more and more difficult to find. And I’m starting to think that labelling myself as a YA author is hurting my chances of finding readers–because if you say “YA” to someone they get an idea in their head, and either they’re not even going to sample my books because they don’t like that idea, or they’re not going to like the samples of my books because they’re too different from that idea.

Which is a thorny problem.

Also, if I stop calling myself a YA author I wouldn’t be able to say “Kicking it OS on the YA!” any more. Granted, I never say that now, but I like that I could if I wanted to.

For now I think I have to keep the label. But I also think that in promotion I’m going to be downplaying that aspect of things, I think I will start referring to Miya Black as a pirate adventure story rather than YA adventure.

Aha, correction. #1 BESTSELLING Pirate Adventure story.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2011 in Of Writing

 

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