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Indie, Trad, and the future of Publishing

Last weekend, I was adjacent to a conversation between a couple of indie and trad publishers, and it got me to thinking about the future of publishing. I’d like to unpack some of this for you, with the intention of sparking a discussion about what comes next for publishers, writers, and readers.

The core of the conversation was this: the indie author had recently released a book through a trad publisher. There are a number of reasons an indie writer might want to do this. The writer in question had a successful indie career, and I won’t speculate on their personal reasons. The point is that the launch kind of flopped. They attributed the failure, at least in part, to price point. A number of their fans reached out to say that they would have purchased the book, but it was just too expensive. They usually put their titles up for $4 or less, and the kindle of the trad book was $9, with the paperback retailing at $17. How could their fans be expected to pay two to four times as much for what was theoretically a book of equal quality?

There are a lot of things you can take away from this, but the one I want to focus on is how different trad and indie are in terms of expectations. Because of the infrastructure involved in traditional publishing, they have to sell at a higher price point. There’s no math that can change that. Printing, distribution, salaries for editors, artists, marketing teams, etc, et al take up space in the budget. The margins are thinner, the costs higher, and therefore the expectations for final price have to reflect that reality. Sure, if you have a popular product and can massively increase your print run, you can lower the final price. That’s what you see in a lot of YA hardcover books, especially in the fantasy space.

Ultimately, it means that traditional publishers are selling a different product than independent publishers and writers. Whatever else is involved, they have to present a book to potential readers that is somehow worth three to four times as much as other available books. Since art is subjective, it’s hard to say that it’s the writing that makes the difference, especially since I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of indie novels and found them just as good as a lot of traditionally published books. So what’s the key?

Let’s talk briefly about the changes at B&N, because one of the ways traditional publishers were able to elevate their books over the crowd was through distribution. Once upon a time, having a book come out from a trad publisher guaranteed one or two copies in every B&N in the US, which would lead to a certain number of sales simply through browsing and discovery. We really saw proof of this during the pandemic, when everyone’s sales numbers cratered while bookstores were closed.

Times have changed. B&N strongly restricts which books it selects, taking only one or two titles from publishers each month and leaving the rest of the selection up to local managers. While that’s great for readers (local booksellers know local tastes), bookstores (they’re not saddled with corporate selections that don’t sell), and B&N overall, it’s pretty terrible for traditional publishers and authors. I’m okay with it, because the alternative was B&N eventually going into bankruptcy, and the industry needs national book chains to thrive. But it’s left a lot of us in the lurch.

Combine these two facts and you’ll see a common theme. Publishers need to sell books that justify their price point, and bookstores are only stocking books they know will sell. Aside from direct sales and local heroes, it’s my belief that publishers are going to have to start trimming their release schedules to match this new reality. More authors are going to have to go indie or hybrid to maintain their careers. There will be less thematic diversity on shelves, and more bestsellers.

It’s a tough time to be writing. But it always has been. The reasons keep changing, that’s all.

B&N Thoughts

I recently drove around to some of my local Barnes & Noble locations to sign stock and to advocate for Wraithbound. At time of writing, the book comes out in less than three weeks. Once upon a time, I could count on every B&N in the country to order a copy or two, but with the new distribution model, that is far from guaranteed. Lots of books get published, only to not get stocked on any shelves. It’s a big concern for midlist writers, like yours truly.

On this particular day, I made it to three stores. Back when I could track sales by region, Chicago was consistently my highest selling area, which makes sense considering that I’m local and the kind of guy to handsell. So if sales history was going to matter anywhere, it would matter in Chicago. Right?

Um, no. Of those three stores, only one location had ordered a copy of Wraithbound, and they only had a single copy coming in. With the powers of persuasion I was able to crank up those numbers, and now there will be a healthy stock of Wraithbound in Chicago come release day. But that trend, one in three in my highest selling region, doesn’t bode well for the national release.

People ask what’s the best thing a fan of a writer can do to help that writer’s career. The answer is simple and universal. Preorder the book from a local store. Advocate for that author with the booksellers, so that maybe they’ll stock it. Encourage your friends to buy the book from a local store, so that the beancounters will see that the title has sold through, and perhaps order a restock.

It’s getting rough in the midlist, folks. And it’s only going to get rougher as publishers adjust their publication schedules to match what bookstores are buying. Because no one can afford to keep publishing books that aren’t reaching shelves, not finding new readers, and not creating that long tail effect that comes from lifelong fans. It means fewer titles, less interesting books, and less choice on your local bookshelf.

The Writing Life — Episode: No One is Counting

Many things have wrapped up, and many more are still up in the air. It’s difficult to know what’s going on for writers from the outside, so I thought I’d take a moment to peel back the curtain and talk about where my various projects stand and what I’m doing on a daily basis to bring you more Akersian Weirdness (not a trademark, but I *do* like capitalizing things).

I’ve spent the last few months finishing the first draft of Valhellions, which is the second installment of the Knight Watch series. This is a book that I made good progress on last spring, then kind of stalled out over the summer because I was working on finishing revisions to Wraithbound. I started in on it again in the fall and had a lot of trouble getting back into the project. This was further interrupted by hernia surgery in February which took me longer to recover from than I hoped. My initial goal was to have the first draft done by the end of March, giving me April for revisions and then another two weeks of scheduled padding before the due date of May 15th. In reality, I finished near the end of April and sent it to my agent and some beta readers. Feedback was positive with minimal changes needed, so I spent a week on those and then sent it my editors at Baen about a week ago. So that’s done, until I get edits back from Baen, which may be at any time or not for a long while. The book is scheduled to come out next April.

The second I finished Valhellions, I started working on a novella that’s been kicking around my head for the last few months. It arose from a conversation on twitter that I won’t get into, but at the time I was working on Valhellions so all I could do was write up some notes about the inspiration, outline a couple scenes that spoke to me, and put it aside. When I came back to it, it was incredibly easy to just dive in and work. The story ended up at 20k words, which is too long for most markets. I’ll be passing that around my writing group in a couple weeks. After that, who knows?

Just to catch you up on Wraithbound, the book is still out for submission. The first round of submissions included fifteen publishers, including Baen, who have the right of first refusal on the project. They also got a couple months head start on the submission queue. We haven’t heard back from them yet, so it might end up there, or it might not. That’s the joy of publishing. We’ve gotten five rejections back, some quickly, some slowly. The manuscript has been out for almost four months now. That feels like a long time, but this is a pretty typical rate in trad publishing, and the pandemic/WFH thing has thrown a lot of schedules off.

So what am I working on now? Good question. It’s not worth developing a pitch for Knight Watch 3 at this point. Wraithbound is meant to be the first book in a new series, and I have a general idea of what’s coming next, but it’s certainly not worth starting book two until book one sells. So what does a writer do?

I could take a break. Sit around and paint miniatures and play video games and read books. That would be nice. But this business is about always moving forward, and none of those things move me forward professionally. So instead I’ve started a new book. It’s tangentially related to Wraithbound, so if WB sells you can market it as being in the same universe, but if it doesn’t then no big deal, here’s something new. It’s tentatively called The Language of Swords, and follows the adventures of a deergirl whose brother is kidnapped by a red-eyed mage. She has to infiltrate the mysterious cabal of mages to learn his identity, etc, et al, darkness and light, romance, weird things floating in the sky. And yes, the magic system is based entirely on sword forms and dueling and those weird things floating in the sky. The whole thing started with a card game that I’ll probably never make and kind of rolled out from there.

Speaking of games, I’ve casually started making the D&D killer I’ve always wanted to design. Not that I’m actually going to kill D&D. I just want to make a ruleset that pleases me, and maybe it will please other folks as well. Because RPGs are my life, friends. And games could be so much better than HPs and spell slots and so forth.

Book Insights — Mass Market edition

One of the questions I get from interested fans and aspiring writers is whether I will be releasing hardcover versions of various books, or why this other book is only available in trade paper, etc. My first answer to these questions is always “Well, I don’t decide, the publisher does” but then I usually talk a little bit about how those decisions get made and why. And since it seems to be something some people are interested in, I thought I’d do a post discussing it.

As with all these types of posts, a reminder that I’m only a writer. I’m sure people even deeper inside the industry than I am will dispute some of my claims, and that thinking about these kinds of things changes over time, or from house to house. But these are my observations.

With that out of the way, let’s start by discussing the three types of editions. They are Hardcover (HC), Trade Paper (TP), and Mass Market (MM). I’m using the abbreviations that Borders used to use, because that’s where I worked.

Hardcover books are large format, hard cover, usually with higher quality paper, probably color illustrations on the front and back matter, maps, etc. Used to be the industry standard, and for certain genres (looking at you, YA) they still are.

Trade Paper is almost the same size as HC, but with a soft cover and usually more resilient but slightly lower quality pages. Rapidly becoming a favorite for the reasons I will discuss below.

Mass Market is your stereotypical pulp edition. Smaller, less wasted space on the page, soft cover, cheaper pages.

The first thing to discuss is the margin on each of these editions. Margin is simply the profit the publisher makes on each copy sold; the difference between how much it costs them to produce the book and amount of money they receive for it. The secret sauce is that there’s not a huge difference in production costs between MM, TP, and HC. Sure, there’s some, but it’s not commiserate with the increase in cost to the reader.

In adult fantasy, your typical MM costs around $8-10, while TP is $16-20, and HC goes for ~$30. But everyone involved is making a higher percentage of money back on both the HC and the TP than they are on the MM. It simply doesn’t cost two or three times as much to produce a hardcover book as it does a mass market.

So why not produce everything in hardcover? Because of demand. Readers aren’t going to spend $30 every time they want to read a book. So there need to be lower price points to meet demand. Mass Market was the original answer to this, but it’s starting to leak into Trade, because publishers have found they can train the reader to pay a little more and make a better margin without taking the HC jump.

One of the considerations for booksellers is shelf space. When shelved spine out, TP and MM take up just about the same amount of real estate, but the margin on that space is much higher for the Trade. That means bookstores will have a tendency to keep TP releases on their shelves longer than MM, because the potential sale is higher value.

Hardcover in adult fantasy is usually used in two situations. First, if you have an incredibly popular or hyped release that you know is going to sell a lot of copies no matter what format it’s in. Why not make as much on that event as possible? The second situation is if you have a release that has a small following, but an incredibly dedicated one. Again, these readers will pay whatever you ask, so why not make as much on that as possible?

Just a quick note to point out that most YA fantasy comes out in HC, and is priced considerably lower than adult fantasy. The typical new release in YA comes in at around $18, while the exact same size book, with the same treatment and paper stock, will be $28 on the adult shelf. They charge what they know the customer will pay.

Once the publisher has capitalized on the initial release, they’ll usually rerelease the book in TP once HC demand has tapped out, and again in MM a year or so later. Only incredibly successful books see this kind of treatment.

A lot of fantasy releases start in TP and then go to MM a year or so later, especially if they’re part of a series. For example, my Hallowed War series came out in Trade, each one year apart. But the same month the last book came out in TP, the publisher rereleased book one in MM, and the rest of the series in MM six months apart.

Trade Paper is popular because it’s a nice balance between price point, margin, perceived quality of product, bookstore reception, and cost. If a reader’s going to pay $10 for a tiny mass market, why not pay a little more and get a larger book that is easier to read, is more durable, etc. The bookstore is happier with this purchase, the reader is happier with this purchase, and the publisher is much happier.

There is a strategy among some publishers to release books in MM initially. This is simply a form of market research. Let’s be honest, publishers aren’t really sure which books will do well and which will fail, so they’ll put out a bunch of books in MM and see which ones get traction, then maybe rerelease those in Trade or omnibus editions. I don’t think this is terribly fair to the authors, nor do I think it’s good business, but I’m an author, not a publisher, so I might be biased.

There are publishers that work almost exclusively in MM, TP, or HC. They have a business model and understand their version of publishing extremely well.

I think that’s enough for now. Do you have any questions about this side of publishing? Are you a publisher who wants to correct me stridently and with great authority? Please leave a comment below! And thanks for listening!

Book Recommendation, Day One: The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham

Click the link to buy the book!

One of the things I said I wasn’t going to do in this series is recommend really popular books. You’re not going to see Sanderson or Rothfuss or Martin on my list, because they’re doing fine without my attention, and the publishing houses behind them aren’t scratching their heads trying to decide if they should cancel those series.

However, the first book I’m going to recommend is from a very popular author, Daniel Abraham. Dan is half of the writing team that brings you The Expanse, and while that series is fine and good, I’d much rather he go back to writing stuff like The Long Price.

The magic system in TLP is fascinating. Mages called Poets are able to capture the essential essence of ideas and turn them into human-like servants. Most of the first book is about the relationship between one Poet and his servant, Seedless, and the way they can be manipulated simply because they’re human and fallible, despite being incredibly powerful.

The world building and character development drives the narrative. It’s cognitively dense fantasy, an epic that focuses on the individual, and includes some of the best writing of our generation. There are a dozen award winning and nominated fantasies that can’t hold a candle to TLP.

But it didn’t do that well the first time around. Happily the series is being rereleased in an omnibus format, so everyone can enjoy it in a single volume without scrambling to find the individual issues.

It’s the best fantasy series most folks have never heard of. You should read it.

A Call to Action for Readers and Writers

Let’s all be clear about something. The coronavirus lockdown has been terrible for the publishing industry. The whole industry, from top to bottom, from writers, to publishing houses, to agents, to bookstores, to readers. It’s been a shitshow. Debut novels have fizzled, bookstores have struggled, writers have seen books delayed or even cancelled, and the books that have gone out have struggled with anemic sales figures. There are exceptions, of course, but overall we’re looking at a bad situation for people who love books.
Who does this hurt the most? Well, I can tell you that writers are in a bad way. But more than writers, I think readers are the ones who will lose out. Maybe their careers aren’t at stake, but if publishing can no longer put out an interesting and exciting line up of new books then readers are faced with a very dull future. Decisions are being made today that will impact what you can read next year, or even two or three years down the road.
What the industry is facing is a problem of discoverability. Amazon is fine for what it is, but what happens is readers who want a specific book go to Amazon, they pull up the book, they buy it, and they log off. That’s it. Amazon can talk about its recommendations algorithms, but anyone with access to sales numbers can see what happens when potential readers are no longer actively browsing bookshelves. Sales drop. Debuts flounder. Series disappear.
All of this is going to affect the decisions publishers make in the years to come. They’ll be less able to compete for exciting debuts. They’ll be less willing to sign longer series (and in my genre, fantasy, that’s a killer). Everything will focus on known formulas and proven sellers. It’s a vicious cycle.
What can we do? I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to start a project to recommend books to my readers and fans. Every day between now and Thanksgiving I’m going to spotlight one book and tell you why you should buy it. Some will be titles that came out this year, some will be old favorites that never got the attention they deserve. What I won’t be doing is recommending books that are already popular. Those already have their place on Amazon. They don’t need my attention.
If you’re a writer, I urge you to do something similar. Make an effort to promote and tag other authors. If you get tagged, please don’t just recommend the books of the people who tagged you. Don’t just recommend your friends, or people you want to be seen promoting for social standing. Point to books you enjoyed reading, and think other people would also enjoy.
If you’re a reader, please feel free to do the same. These days, word of mouth is simply the best algorithm we have. But most of all, buy some books. Show some love. These are hard times for all of us. Books make them easier. Writers make the world a better place. Do what you can to ensure writers can continue to share their dreams and enrich your lives.

A Cyberpunk Reanimanifesto

Ask any writer and they’ll tell you that there was a book that made them want to be a writer. That’s pretty obvious. It might even be a series of books, or simply a particular period in their reading life when they graduated from consumer to creator, from reader to writer, from being a fan to deciding that you wanted other people to be a fan of you. But we all have an origin story.

For me, there are two origin stories, which is why my body of work is kind of a hash of different influences. The first one, the… shall we say… inciting incident of my writing story was Tolkien. Obviously. And from there I went to Brooks and Saberhagen and McCaffrey, reveling in swords and dragons and the kind of things that heroes do. My writing story is also closely tied to my gaming history, so while I was reading about these fantastical worlds I was also gaming in them (since my particular upbringing forbade D&D, I had to make up my own game systems and worlds and magic, which was pretty good training for what was to come).

But I have a second origin story as well, and it came around high school. Rather than making me want to be a writer, because I already had that going on in spades, this second origin story made me want to be a *good* writer. It made me realize just how much a writer could do with a story, and a world, and the words on the page. It happened in a high school writing elective. The teacher, Mr. Bonner, set down a story I had turned in and said “Oh, you’re a cyberpunk.” And I said “What?” because that word meant nothing to me. So he sent me home with a reading list, and it changed my world.

The first book I could get my hands on was Count Zero, by William Gibson. It’s actually the second book in his Sprawl trilogy, and some would argue the better of the three, but at the time it didn’t matter. As I read that book I could feel my brain changing shape inside my skull. New pathways were burning, new ways of thinking about story and world and character. A whole new narrative landscape was opening for me, and I was hooked. Like, hard man. I was chipping in.

The games I played changed too. R Talsorian had just released the black box edition of Cyberpunk, with three thin manuals and some dice. I absorbed that game whole and inflicted it on my gaming group. Then Cyberpunk 2020 arrived, and I had the game I was going to play for foreseeable future. There followed a whole raft of other games, from Shadowrun to SLA Industries to Cyberspace, but Cyberpunk was the native language of my dice for a long time.

So when I first started talking about being a writer in any professional capacity, of course I said I was a cyberpunk. I wrote stories about netdeckers and samurai and synthpop kids, about invasive technology and neo-capitalist murder squads. Unlike in high school, my college level professors didn’t really know what to do with this stuff, but I could feel it in my bones. I knew what I was writing, and I knew it was good.

Unfortunately, the publishing industry moved on without me. By the time I was sending stories to magazines, cyberpunk was a distant idea that had glimmered and then been snuffed out. The market had changed. Even William Gibson, King Chrome himself, started writing near future technothrillers. Very good ones, mind you, but the neon had died out.

But now it’s coming back. Maybe it’s the resurgence of nostalgia for that era, maybe it’s the realization that the things cyberpunk warned about instead became blueprints for hyper-capitalization, or maybe it’s because fashion is just a mindless beast regurgitating the styles of old, and cyberpunk’s ticket has floated to the top of its vast belly. I don’t care. I want my street samurai. I want my hacking ninjas. I want my punks, and I want them cybered to the bloody teeth.

If you love cyberpunk, be sure to check out my short story Bulletproof Air. I’m going to write an entire series of these, all interconnected, released one chapter at a time. There are also new editions of Cyberpunk and SLA Industries coming out. Let’s reanimate this manifesto! Mirrorshades! Lasers! Dystopia!

Margin of Prophet

How many of you remember Christian bookstores? There are still some around, of course, and the big chains only collapsed in the last few years, but it’s been a while since they were ubiquitous. I want to talk a little about the decline of Christian bookstores and the subsequent change in Christian publishing, and what that might mean for genre publishing in a post-Covid world.

Keep in mind that I’m not an industry analyst, or a publishing insider. I’m a writer who has been publishing traditionally in the genres for a little over a decade. Before that I worked in various bookstores, and my father has been involved tangentially in publishing for the last forty years. I’m just a guy with opinions. None of this is a divine proclamation.

So. Let’s begin.

I was a child of the 80s, living in a part of the country very heavily influenced by American Evangelicalism, and so Christian bookstores were a foundational element of my early life. I was a fantasy fan from the outset, but my parents distrusted the genre. This proved difficult. My early reading was carefully curated by their concerns and the recommendations of people they trusted. I only got to read Terry Brooks because my seventh grade English teacher (at my conservative Christian school) had a reading closet that you got to borrow from if you did well in class. There was a battered copy of Sword of Shannara in there, opening the door to a lifetime of Shannara related joys. I read Anne McCafferey, because a pastor my parents respected mentioned reading the Pern series in a sermon. And of course I had Lewis and Tolkien. It wasn’t until high school that I had better control of my reading, simply because I had a car and cash in my wallet. But that’s not the point of this post.

The point, dear reader, is that all of this restriction created a market for Christian fantasy and science fiction, and publishers filled that need. I won’t go through the books I picked up at the enormous Christian bookstore my family frequented, because they were largely cheap imitations of better books. But I was a kid who didn’t know any better, and I ate them up, hook, line, and awkward conversion story shoehorned into the narrative sinker.

But Christian bookstores have largely collapsed. Family Christian and LifeWay shut down in the last few years, victims of the same headwinds that killed Borders, with the additional difficulty that their most profitable products were appearing in Walmart and Costco at lower prices. Traditional Christian publishing has mostly abandoned the genres (with the exception of Romance) and focused on celebrity authors who bring their audience with them from another channel. I heard an interview with the head of a major Christian publisher recently. The core message of that interview was that they make acquisition decisions based entirely on the notoriety of the author; how famous are they, how many followers do they have on social media, how likely is that audience to convert into book buyers, etc, et al.

It’s kind of a horrible thought. You can’t get published in that space unless you’re already famous in that space. You have to be something else first, and then maybe you can be an author. There is no midlist. There are only celebrities signing their first contract, and aspiring writers who simply can’t get signed, regardless of talent.

Why is this relevant to non-Christian publishing? Because this is what happens when markets narrow. There used to be a captive (ha!) audience for Christian fantasy, now there isn’t. Christian publishers are forced into more and more narrow catalogs focused on celebrity rather than quality. What’s the aspiring Christian fantasist to do? Become a ghostwriter, I guess. Or write well enough to make it in the traditional markets.

How does this relate to post-Covid publishing? Simple. The market is narrowing. There’s been tremendous financial disruption in retail. For years, bookselling has been an anemic performer in the retail sector, losing ground or making slight gains during periods of broad economic growth. When the overall retail environment craters, booksellers are going to face the greatest losses, with the least financial buffer in their bank accounts to compensate.

Major retailers have pivoted to address this. B&N is making sweeping changes to its stores, carrying fewer titles and focusing on books that sell. The stated aim of the changes at B&N is to reduce the number of returns. Publishers depend on the churn of selling titles that will eventually be returned to fund their operations, keeping a lot of plates in the air in the hopes of finding their next big hit somewhere in the midlist. If B&N cuts back on that churn, publishers will have no choice but to reduce their midlist. It’s inevitable. It’s just math.

What does that mean for authors like me? I think a lot of us are going to be forced into the self-publishing world. That’s where Christian fantasists mostly are these days, especially those intent on message-fantasy. I used to belong to an informal internet group of Christian fantasy writers, with hundreds of members. All of them were aiming for sustainable self-publication. None of the talk in that group was on how to break into traditional publishing, or how to get an agent, or what conventions to attend to meet publishers. There are advantages and disadvantages to that, but this isn’t a post about indie authors. It’s about the future of traditional publishing and what it’s going to look like in the near future.

Narrowing markets, fewer titles, stricter gatekeeping. That’s the future. That’s what’s happening today. Booksellers are pivoting, and publishers are going to be forced to keep up. There are a lot of changes they can make, but publishing is a nostalgic business. We cling to dead models because we’re all pursuing dreams in here. Our name on a cover. An office in New York. An award on our mantel. But dreams don’t pay bills, and the margin for error is shrinking by the day.

Influences and Inspirations

Some influential books in the making of Knight Watch

*Disclaimer: none of this implies an endorsement on the part of the authors mentioned. I just want to outline the writers and works that influenced me while I was writing Knight Watch.

Let’s take a moment to look at the formation of a book. Specifically, the formation of Knight Watch, my seventh novel and the first in a new series. Knight Watch is somewhat different from my previous books, and I thought it would be helpful to examine the influences and inspirations that formed the book in my head. The above image tells most of the story, but I’d like to unpack these things a little bit for you, my loving audience.

First, Correia’s Monster Hunter International. For those of you who don’t know, MHI is all about a secret, non-Governmental organization who hunts and kills monsters for fun and profit. I’m a big fan of the series. It’s got a lot of the things I love in a book: violence, secret histories, cool monsters, bad-ass operators, more violence, and a healthy dollop of humor. There are times in Knight Watch when MHI’s influence is only thinly disguised. Especially the violent parts. The public facing pitch for Knight Watch has always been “Men in Black goes to the Ren Faire” but the pitch I gave Jim Minz (my editor at Baen) the first time we talked was “This is MHI for sword nerds and gamers.” And I think that holds. So if you like MHI and swords, you’re going to find a lot to like in Knight Watch, and vice versa.

Secondly, Butcher’s Dresden series. I think one of the things that makes Dresden so popular is how grounded it is in the real world. Harry is just a guy who happens to be a wizard. He’s relatable, and he’s funny, and we get a kick out of exploring the world with him. That’s what I was trying to do with John Rast, the hero of Knight Watch. John’s just a guy who wants to be a hero in a knightly tale, and then quite suddenly he is, and the world kind of falls apart around him. He’s funny, he’s relatable, and you’re going to enjoy exploring the Unreal world with him.

Finally, PG Wodehouse. This one might not seem to fit with the above examples, but let me explain why it’s a central influence on the book. You see, while I’m certainly a grimdark guy, going back to before that was even a phrase people used, I’m also a goof. I like absurdist and gallows humor, I like puns, I like wordplay. Frankly, I like joy, and there’s not enough of that in the genre. And the main reason for that is PG Wodehouse. Because while everyone else’s parents were reading them bedtime stories, my dad was reading me Wodehouse. From a very early age I was acquainted with Blandings, and Bertie, and Jeeves. I grew up in their company. That dry British wit has been written into my DNA. Maybe that’s why I’ve had such success in the UK (five of my first six books were published by British houses, and all of my short fiction appeared in Interzone). So while Knight Watch is all about monster hunting and clever heroes, it’s also about joy.

That’s the list. I hope Knight Watch brings you the same joy reading it as it brought me writing it.

Pitch Wars 2019 Wishlist

I am participating in Pitch Wars this year. Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to spend three months revising their manuscript. It ends in February with an Agent Showcase, where agents can read a pitch/first page and can request to read more. If you’re reading this because you’re a fan of mine, then hopefully you’ll become a fan of my mentee once this whole process is over. And if you’re reading this because you hope to become that mentee, then here’s my wishlist!

Who I Am: My name is Tim Akers, and I write fantasy and science fiction. Over the last ten years I’ve published six novels, about a dozen short stories, and written nearly 100k words of material for various games, including Pathfinder, Malifaux, Wild West Exodus, and the Midgard setting for 5e. My first three novels were steampunk noir, mixed with a healthy dose of New Weird strangeness. My last three books form the Hallowed War trilogy, and are epic fantasy as influenced by Miyazaki, the Final Fantasy series, and a childhood fascination with knights and druids. I am represented by Joshua Bilmes of the JABberwocky Literary Agency.

What I’m Looking For: While I read broadly, I have focused my writing skills on producing entertaining, commercially viable stories that are fun and satisfying to the reader. For the purposes of this wishlist, I will only be accepting Adult pitches. For Fantasy, I’m open to epic fantasy, portal fantasy, low magic hijinks, sword & sorcery, steampunk, and New Weird. For Science Fiction, send me cyberpunk, space opera, milsf, and clever near future work that falls outside the typical climate change dystopia.

What I’m Not Looking For: Erotica, re-hashes of established tropes, a narration of your last D&D game, or time travel unless it’s particularly clever (See Hurley’s Light Brigade for a sterling example). Fantasy is a genre that depends on established tropes, but in order to stand out from the crowd you need to do something interesting with them. That doesn’t mean “the exact opposite of what’s expected”, because that’s not interesting, it’s just the opposite.

Caveats: If I think you’re good enough of a writer to be my mentee, it also means that I think you’re good enough of a writer to face hard criticism. I edit honestly, and directly. Writing is a difficult business, because writers put a lot of themselves into their work, and when that work is criticized it’s very easy to feel attacked. If I’m your mentor, I’m going to work hard to make your book the best it can be, but that means I’m going to take a knife to it. It’s going to be messy. If you don’t think you can face that, then save yourself the heartache and submit elsewhere. But if you seriously want to be a better writer, then I think we can work together.

Reading Lists: Here’s a comp list to give you an idea of the sort of books I enjoy.

Fantasy: The Dragon and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham, Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, The Red Knight by Miles Cameron, Name of the Wind by Pat Rothfuss, Blood of Ambrose by James Enge, The Scar by China Mieville, Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith, The Thousand Names by Django Wexler, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin, The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb.

Science Fiction: The Expanse series by James SA Corey, Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan, Outriders by Jay Posey, Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos.

Final Notes: This is my first time serving as a PW Mentor. I don’t yet have best practices in place for reading submissions. If you submit to me, please be patient. Know that I’m going to give all the submissions my full attention and, if I choose you as my mentee, know also that I’m going to give your manuscript the same care with which I handle my own work.

Click here to return to the Pitch Wars Mentor List

Thanks for your interest!

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