"Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone, and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day."

- Ernest Hemingway, In his Nobel prize acceptance speech
Important publishing news that will change your life!

The good folks at Nordskog Publishing have made my novel West Oversea available in e-book format now.

Your Kindle version is here.

Your Nook version is here.

Happy Easter.

'Biblically Based' Author Argues Against Biblical Morality

Matthew Vines is not a new author. He has been around for a few years, arguing that Christianity and homosexuality are not incompatible. He has a new book coming out next week making the same arguments, but the bigger news may be who is publishing it. It's Stephen W. Cobb, the chief executive of both WaterBrook Multnomah and the new imprint Convergent.

Cobb says the two imprints do not have the same audiences and editorial guidelines, so they aren't the identical, but he does call the final shots for both. With Convergent, those shots are "nonfiction for less traditional Christians and spiritual seekers who are drawn to an open, inclusive, and culturally engaged exploration of faith," such as Matthew Vines’ new book, God and the Gay Christian.

World Magazine makes a big deal about these imprints being unified under one corporate umbrella, but what strikes me as odd is Cobb's insistence that he isn't publishing heresy under the Convergent label. He claims Vines' "believes in the inerrancy and the divinity and the correctness of Scripture," so his book is "biblically based." He says he intends to publish only biblically based books through Convergent.

How orthodox does a "biblically based" book need to be in order to remain based on the Bible? The Book of Mormon and the Koran are literally based on the Bible, but would we call them "biblically based"? If this is the main criteria, then I would understand a wide variety of views being published, but we expect more, don't we?

How much orthodox stock do you put into this publisher or any publisher? Do you notice the publisher of a book and believe the topic, whatever it is, has been thoroughly vetted? Do you believe WaterBrook is still committed to "creating products that both intensify and satisfy the elemental thirst for a deeper relationship with God," as their marketing people say?

That Self-Published Book is a Bestseller

Author Robin O'Bryant writes, "I self-published my first book in shame. I was disappointed that after two years of work with my top tier literary agent in New York, editors still didn’t think I had a platform large enough to sell a book."

That book lived for about two years before hitting multiple bestseller lists, due in part to her tireless promotion. Now, Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves, is re-released, and Mrs. O'Bryant has a two-book deal with St. Martin's Press.

"Give me an E!"

I wasn't aware of this until recently,
but my novel West Oversea has been made available in e-book form, for Kindle or Nook, by the publisher, Nordskog Publishing. It's not on Amazon at this time, but you can get it from Nordskog here.

Five Writing Rules You Can't Live Without Breaking

Editor Nick Harrison talks about the writing advice he dislikes, such as writing what you know and never using passive voice.

“Write even if you know you’ll never be published.” Apparently the idea is that a writer writes because he has to (which I agree with) and that writing is somehow its own reward (which I disagree with). I don’t know about you, but I’m writing to be published. I’m glad I don’t know whether or not I will have more books published in the future because if I knew my writing would never see the light of day, I’d probably be tempted to quit.

5 Reasons You May Never Be Published

Steve Laube gives this list of reasons some writers may never see their work in print:

  1. You Won't Do the Work
  2. You Are Hard of Hearing
  3. You Aren't Ready
  4. Your Idea has Already Been Done
  5. Agents and Editors are Blind to Your Genius
"The bottom line" he says, "is that if you do the work, have a teachable spirit, are fully prepared, and with a unique idea…number five on the list shouldn’t be a problem."

Do You Read eBooks on Your Phone?

Last year, Digital Book World asked its Twitter crowd, "Do you read on your smartphone? Do you read on other devices, too?" They got 30 answers. About half said they read on multiple devices; the other half said they don't read long works on their phones.

Now, 56% of Americans have smartphones, which are also called pocket reading devices. Some companies are marketing ebooks only to their pocket readers, like the Samsung Galaxy S4.

With some many mobile devices like this, publishers should consider them first when designing ebooks and ebook marketplaces.

Investigations and Delays

"More publishers investigate Mark Driscoll: Crossway and NavPress begin reviews of the megachurch pastor’s books amid concerns of plagiarism." The company Ithenticate labels this the #3 plagiarism story of 2013.

In other news, ABC plans to stop immediate release of its shows for free online. On January 6, Hulu.com and ABC.com will release broadcast episodes 8 days after to non-paying viewers.

And here's an odd article complaining about works that are not moving into public domain.

How to Publish a History Book

Professor Thomas Kidd walks through publishing his next book, a biography on George Whitefield. He says, "There are already excellent biographies on Whitefield, written both from explicitly Christian/pastoral perspectives, and from more academic/scholarly perspectives. I thought perhaps I could bridge those two approaches, as a professional historian and an evangelical Christian. Whitefield’s 300th birthday is coming up in December 2014, so the timing seemed right."

You Gots a Big Platform? I Make You a Deal.

A platform is a way to "get noticed in a noisy world," to borrow from Michael Hyatt's book of the same subtitle. Hunter Baker has a helpful critique of this idea.

"Stop badgering would-be authors with applications designed to tease out how large their platforms are and spend more time locating the best manuscripts," he writes. In the near future, he suggests a big platform will be the very reason speakers and authors will not submit their document to a traditional publisher. They will self-publish.

Follow Chris Henley

Scot McKnight also has several questions about platform and current publishing tactics:

I get hundreds of books sent to me each year, many of them by people with a sizable platform, and I can say without reservation that the bigger the platform the less the author has to say (not always, but often). Big platform authors are guaranteed sales. They’re not guaranteed good content. I get books on my desk from no-name authors that have much better content than big-name authors. ...

I know a pastor who was given a 3-book contract, a previously unpublished pastor, had no idea what he wanted to write about, but was told “We’ll take care of that by listening to your sermons.” At about the same time a young author sent me a manuscript that was rejected by the same publisher because he had no platform, but they did agree he had very good content.
All of this is troubling, but I don't know what to recommend as a sane alternative. Aren't there publishers who print what they believe to be the best manuscripts they receive? What success are they having? Should litblogs, like this one, have cutthroat review competitions to compare good vs. big platform books?

Crouch: Plagiarism Isn't the Problem

Andy Crouch discusses the flak flying over some of Mark Driscoll's publications. Sure, some material was used inappropriately, but is this a plagiarism problem? "There is something truly troubling here, in my view," he writes. "Not that 'Pastor Mark Driscoll' carelessly borrowed a section of a commentary for a church-published Bible study, but that 'Pastor Mark Driscoll' was named as the sole author of that Bible study in the first place."

He points to St. Paul's use of scribes and partners and the unique credit given in Romans 16:22.

Prolific writer and author John Piper has taken to Twitter on this: "If lying is the 'industry standard' reject it. Come on, famous guys, if someone writes for you, put the plebe’s name on it." For more, see Warren Throckmorton's blog for many details.

Photos: How Books Are Made

Irene Gallo, an art director with Tor Books, went to their press building in Gettysburg, PA, to see A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time, Book 14) being printed and bound. "The whole process looked like a marvelous bit of Suessian-magic to me, with long conveyer belts that doubled up and looped around," she says. (via Loren Eaton)

Speaking of Mr. Eaton, his 2013 Advent Ghost Storytelling is up.

The Bay Psalm Book

In my American Literature class, professor Ruth Kantzer instilled in me a love for the Bay Psalm Book. I could hear the music, like you can below, but the words, translated for singing, captured me. At first, I believe the congregations and families sang without instruments, so what we have below came many decades later.

One of the 11 original copies of the first book printed in America will be up for auction tomorrow at Sotheby's. The video above will give you some details. You can buy your own copy here: Bay Psalm Book

Flannery O'Connor Wanted Proper Pay for Her Writing

The Billfold has a brief piece on Flannery O'Connor's insistence on being paid well.

“I do believe that she was quite savvy about the business side of being a writer, and she understood the difference between art and commerce,” says Craig Amason, the executive director of The Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation.

Printed Books or E-Books: Which Is Better?

Printed Books Or E-Books: Which Is Better?

This Infographic is produced by Coupon Audit and Brandywine Books .

'Hard Case Crime' mysteries

It’s our usual practice here at Brandywine Books to post cover art for the books we review, but I’m going to skip that in making a reading report on a selection of mystery novels from Hard Case Crime. Their publishing strategy, which I applaud in the abstract, is to try to recreate the substance and spirit of the old hard-boiled paperback detective novels of the 1950s (many of which were published by Fawcett Gold Medal, a publisher born in the town where I live). In order to do this, they put out reasonably priced reprints of out-of-print classics (including, bizarrely, The Valley of Fear by “A. C. Doyle”), and also publish new works in the pulp tradition. This extends to racy cover art with lots of blazing handguns, fistfights, and half-naked women. Which explains why I’m not posting any covers.

Having some Amazon gift card money to spend, I bought five of Hard Case’s titles. Alas, I must report that I probably won’t be patronizing them again soon. I encountered some very good writing here, but I don’t think the stories will appeal much to our audience.

The first one I read, and one I rather liked, was 361, a classic by the great Donald E. Westlake. This is a story of a man who comes back from World War II service to unlooked-for peacetime carnage. Maimed in an assassination attempt, he learns that his family is not the family he thought it was, and sets out on a vendetta.

Baby Moll, by John Farris, is also well-written. It’s about a Florida man who used to be an enforcer for a crime boss, but has given up that life and gotten engaged to a “nice” girl. But, as you’d expect, they “drag him in again,” and he goes back into a world of murder, seduction, and betrayal, and gets a taste of it all. There is some heart in this book, but the body count is awfully high.

Songs of Innocence, by Richard Aleas, left me very cold. Excellently written, it’s the story of a young private detective investigating the apparent suicide of a female friend. This is a book that should be confiscated – by force if necessary – from any person prone to depression.

Fifty-To-One, by Charles Ardai, is a very bizarre book, a novelty piece. It was written to celebrate the fiftieth book release by Hard Case, and to mark the occasion Ardai produced a novel of fifty chapters, each using one of the Hard Case book titles, in sequence of publication, as its chapter title. The story of a young girl from South Dakota in big, bad New York City, this book has sort of a lighthearted, Perils of Pauline quality, but is more interesting as an exercise than as a compelling narrative. Fifty chapters of this were too many.

And finally, The First Quarry, by our old friend Max Allan Collins. This is the first in a series of novels which constitute a kind of departure for Collins. In place of his usually more sympathetic heroes, Quarry (an alias) is a professional assassin based in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois. Collins does an expert job massaging the plot so as to make us root for a fairly repellant man in an even more repellant situation. Lots of violence, lots of quite explicit sex. Very well done, but not the sort of thing we generally boost around here.

So there you are. My advice is to be cautious with Hard Case Crime novels. Aside from the subject matter, there’s a very noir sensibility here, a consistent attitude of nihilism – or so it seemed to me. Pretty much all the elements (except for bad writing) that I generally warn readers about can be found in these books.

Does This Platform Make Me Look Talentless?

Mike Duran remarks on The Weekly Standard article on J. Mark Bertrand and his Roland March novels. Jon Breen had written of Bertrand's limited audience because his books are published by Bethany House. Duran asks, "So how does being a religious publisher limit the reach of an author’s audience? Well, it doesn’t… unless you write sci-fi, epic fantasy, ethnic fiction, espionage, horror, literary, or crime fiction." He says Bertrand's books deserve a large readership, but perhaps this publisher doesn't know how to market them.

I'm not sure I understand what's missing. Is it simply that if it doesn't sell in a Christian bookstore to a primary audience of white women, Christian publishers don't know what else to do with it?

Amazon is Not a Witch

Maybe Amazon is engaged in a price war, but maybe it's just taking advantage of publishing dinosaurs who don't want to understand what different people are willing to pay for real books.

"If the [publishing] industry can’t find a way to truly understand the new reality that has grown up around it," writes Suw Charman-Adnerson for Forbes.com, it will never find a way to survive current and future changes. Key to this is understanding Amazon’s position in the market and what impact its behaviour actually has."

She suggests Amazon is not sending the huntsman to cut the heart out of brick-and-mortar stores, but is merely playing its part in a real market. For more common sense on the real book market, see this post on Futurebook.

Platform, People Who Care, Sell Books

Joel Friedlander draws lessons from the J.K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith episode. Galbraith's book was highly praised, but sold 1,500 copies before the Rowling news. Friedlander explains: "My opinion is that it was the complete absence of any platform for Robert Galbraith, the lack of any fans, anyone who cared about him, the lack of anyone willing to host him on a blog tour or help him set up readings at bookstores, or a tribe that would greet his long-awaited first book with enthusiasm that held back sales of what’s obviously a well-written book."

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Debut Mystery Author Revealed as Veteran Writer

The Cuckoo's Calling, which Publishers Weekly described as "[combining] a complex and compelling sleuth and an equally well-formed and unlikely assistant with a baffling crime...A stellar debut," has the name Robert Galbraith on the cover, but is actually the work of veteran author J.K. Rowling. She published it with Mulholland Books under that pseudonym with the supposition that readers believe it was a pseudonym "for a retired British military investigator." Now that it is being reprinted, the publisher has let the cat out of the bag.

Rowling says she enjoyed writing as Robert Galbraith and receiving criticism untainted by her past success. Of course, the book has sold out with this news. Perhaps some critics will tell us they suspected something like this all along.

Cover Versions of Shakespeare's Play

Author Jeanette Winterson, who loves cover versions of established stories, is writing a prose version of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale as part of Random House's effort to rewrite all of the bard's plays for his 400th anniversary.

"The Shakespeare purists," she says, "miss the point about his exuberant ragbag of borrowings thrown into the alchemical furnace of his mind and lifted out transformed. He sums up the creative process, which is not concerned with originality of source but originality of re-making."

I understand retelling stories, but while West Side Story may be based on Romeo and Juliet, it isn't the same story. Play it cool, boy. And we all know you can retell essential stories again and again. People like cliches, but they will love one story over another because of the details around the essentials. When contemporary writers retell Shakespearean tales, it's usually like telling a good joke wrong.

SF Wars

There’s a Great War going on currently in the SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America; don’t ask where the second “F” went; it’s a secret). Although I’ve been a member for years, I wasn’t aware of the controversy until Vox Day started discussing it (in pretty strong terms) over at Vox Popoli, because I don’t follow the SFWA Forum. I just read the members’ Bulletin, which is what sparked the fist fight.

One of the magazine features I’ve enjoyed for the last few years has been “The Resnick-Malzberg Dialogues.” In this series, old pros Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg talk back and forth about the history – and sometimes the future – of the Science Fiction genre from the perspective of two guys who’ve been through the wars and met the people most of us never had the chance to. I’ve never been a fan of either guy, but I’ve learned a lot from picking their minds at one remove. Even when they disagreed with each other, which was fairly often.

Anyway, in a recent issue they dealt with the almost mandatory subject of women in science fiction. In the course of the discussion (which I personally judged a bit obsequious and politically correct), they mentioned that a couple of the women under discussion were quite attractive, and one of them spoke admiringly of how one looked in a bikini. Also they used the word "lady."

And the heavens parted, and the Furies were unleashed.

Sarah Hoyt, in an excellent blog post today, speaks with more authority than I can:

So how [expletive deleted] did these columns – innocuous and reminiscent – become the latest fire storm in the long-drawn civil war in science fiction. And who is fighting this war, anyway?

Ah, sit around my children, and make long ears. Aunt Sarah will tell all. Well, actually not, but I always wanted to say that. I have guesses and ideas at what is causing this series of conflagrations starting with Orson Scott Card’s non-calling-for-the-death-of-all-gays but opposing their belonging to his church (this my atheist, Budhist and various other flavors of Christian gay friends find a non event, btw.) and continuing to what can only be called the wilding hunt for Malzberg and Resnick.

This hunt has gotten out of control….

I expect I won’t renew my SFWA membership when it next comes up. The organization is growing increasingly irrelevant, especially for self-publishers like me. I’ve kept with it mostly to have credentials of some kind, because credentials are pathetically important to those of us with low self-esteem.

In any case, it looks like SFWA is going ideological, and if I want to belong to an ideological writer’s organization I ought to join a Christian one.

Just the Right Book For Your Flight

Qantas, an Australian airline, not only wants to give you a comfortable ride to your destination of choice, but they also want to give you a paperback to read on the way—a book you will be able to finish when you touch down. Figuring an average reading speed of 200-300 words a minute, Qantas offers several Bespoke books, each according to length. They call the collection "Stories for Every Journey." Apparently, their subject matter has a wide range, with non-fiction, thrillers and crime short stories being most popular.

Don't wash your hands before you touch that!

Today was the first genuinely nice day of the year. I have a window (one) open as I sit here.

Sadly for you, there was no camera present to record the hauntingly beautiful “Welcome to Spring” interpretive dance I did this morning.

On Facebook, I had a short conversation with a truly remarkable man, Norwegian artist Anders Kvåle Rue. We’re Facebook friends, but there is a division between us. Despite the fact that we’re both Christian Viking aficionados, which puts us in a fairly small minority, he’s a supporter of St. Olaf, and I’m a supporter of Erling Skjalgsson. The feud of two men a thousand years dead lives on in our hearts.

I kind of like that.

Anyway, I went on to ask him about the video below (it’s in Norwegian) done by my translation publisher, Saga Bok. It’s about their trip to Iceland to examine the Flatey (Flatøy) Book, one of the great lesser-known troves of saga material in existence. Saga Bok is doing a Norwegian translation and Anders did the art. They wanted to get a look at the original artifact so he could match colors.

I asked him about something that may have surprised you too, if you watched it. He handles this precious object, well over a millennium old, with his bare hands. “Didn’t they want you to wear gloves?” I asked.

No, he said. The Flatey Book is written on parchment, made from animal skins. Unlike paper, which deteriorates from the acid in your fingerprints, parchment actually benefits from the body oils you deposit on it.


From the English Spectator, a review by the great Paul Johnson of Alister McGrath's new C. S. Lewis biography. I might note that Johnson makes one mistake. He says Mrs. Moore was Lewis’ friend Paddy Moore’s widow, when she was actually his mother. Tip: First Thoughts.

Have a good weekend!

David Mamet Will Self-Publish

Author David Mamet intends to self-publish his next work this year. He will be using a new service offered by his literary agency, ICM Partners, which will be using Argo Navis Author Services.

“Basically I am doing this because I am a curmudgeon,” he told the N.Y. Times, “and because publishing is like Hollywood — nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”

With this service, Mamet has more options. The Times reports that self-published books were about a quarter percent of the bestselling books on Amazon in 2012. With the ICM Partners deal, Mamet's book may published in ebook and print-on-demand paperback for 30% of sales.

Pod people

I think I mentioned that I did a podcast interview for Baen Books a couple weeks back, about the "Vikings" TV series. I wasn't aware it had been posted -- last week, I think. Anyway, if you go here, you can scroll down and listen to the one second from the top.

I did not see that coming

I don't think it would be right to say that my column on Christian Fantasy for The Intercollegiate Review, posted yesterday, has gone viral. But it seems to be approaching the communicable disease level anyway. Editor Anthony Sacramone tells me it's rapidly approaching their record for hits. There've been several links, including...

Our friend Gene Edward Veith over at Cranach calls it "beyond excellent."

David Mills at First Things speaks of "good advice" and "interesting insights."

And, most amazing of all, Jeffrey Overstreet himself devotes quite a long post to it, calling me a "formidable storyteller," which is kind of like having your singing praised by Placido Domingo. Although he's visited our blog in the past and responded to some of my comments on his works, I'm surprised that a guy with so much more important things to think about was even aware of my work. He disagrees with my use of the term "Christian fantasy," a point I appreciate, but I don't think there's much to be done about it.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who's spread the word. I did not expect a response of this kind. Frankly (as I confessed to Anthony) I was a little embarrassed to submit the thing, because it seemed to me a lot of conventional wisdom that had been dispensed just as well by better writers.

But sometimes you're in the right place at the right time, like the merchant in Hailstone Mountain who brought a cat to a country full of mice.

A memorable day in literary history

Big day in my world today. Today (thanks to Ori Pomerantz for his technical expertise) my new novel Hailstone Mountain made its appearance at Amazon. In order to take advantage of Amazon’s promotional programs, we’ll be exclusively with them for a while.

Hailstone Mountain is an H. Rider Haggard-esque story, in which Erling is struck by a curse that could kill him slowly. In order to break the curse, he must sail north (along with Father Ailill, Lemming, and others) to confront the source of the magic face to face. Meanwhile, Lemming’s niece Freydis is kidnapped by her relatives from up in Halogaland, and it’s not a nice kind of family, so she must be rescued. And that sets off repercussions that could destroy the whole country. Erling must join forces with a bitter enemy to stave off a monstrous horror.

In other news, my American Spectator review of the Vikings TV series is now a citation on the show’s Wikipedia page. That’s my second citation there. So where’s my honorary doctorate, already?

It’s possibly not unrelated that (I’m told; I haven’t looked) somebody posted the Spectator piece at Free Republic, where it became the target of ridicule and obloquy. I don’t mind. I’ve heard from a couple people today looking for various kinds of information, so my profile is higher than it was yesterday, and that’s what you want when you’re trying to sell books.

Also it’s pretty much decided that I’m going to be going for my Master’s in Library and Information Science. Where will I find the time? I don’t know. If it cuts into my reading, I can always blog about library science, which ought to be within the parameters of this blog.

Oh, one more thing – if you’re a book blogger with an established blog and have Kindle reader capability, contact me at lars (at) larswalker (dot) com, for a free review copy of Hailstone Mountain. We did that for Troll Valley, and it worked out pretty well.

Sacramone sighting

I know what you really come here for. Book reviews and theological meditations are all well and good, but what you’re really looking for is information on the present whereabouts of Anthony Sacramone, who used to blog at Luther At the Movies, and still blogs at Strange Herring when he feels like it.

Through my extensive network of spies and informants, I have received information that Anthony is now the Managing Editor of The Intercollegiate Review…

And Modern Age

Both are publications of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

On my promise of total secrecy (which of course is worthless) he sent me a free copy of each publication. As you can guess from the covers, Modern Age (which goes back a long way and was once edited by Russell Kirk) is a scholarly journal, while the Intercollegiate Review is a lighter, slick magazine with more of an entertainment slant.

Subscriptions are available from ISI here.

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