And the map comes down.

The map of Somaliland, that is. Along with the list of Shift Tense characters, chapters, and blast pattern of plot point post-it notes. The lads of Eshu International are back in Die Nerdshanze in Belfast for a well-deserved rest.

The edited, formatted manuscript for the third and final portion, ANGELS, arrived yesterday. Another thorough, professional job from Mark at Angel Editing. Can’t recommend him highly enough. Michal Oracz finished the cover a while back. He makes it look better than it is, IMO. Errors and delays were all on me.

Pretty much sums up the last two years. All chuffed after Running Black, I figured I’d bust out the sequel in like nine months. Right?

Live and learn.

Now I’ve heard the second book is harder than the first, that part-time indie authors have a tough time juggling the demands of marketing, writing, editing, with family, job, and the usual obligations. I could talk about chasing Clar1ty Wars inspiration, about my stained glass business picking up, but they’re really beside the point.

The main reason I opted to serialize Shift Tense was a mounting discomfort at not keeping my personal deadline. I didn’t want to disappoint those folks who’d been gracious enough to purchase and read my work. Add to that several articles on the rising ebook tide, the small portions preferred by Kindle readers, and a reader preference for spec-fiction series, and it looked like an attractive, sensible option.

Now I’ve received two complaints about this release schedule/experiment, (In fact, it earned me my first One-Star review) but kicking it out the door not only widened the net, so to speak, it forced me to finish.

ANGELS_final_rgb_flatten_6x9inches So far, I have no serious concerns with the Shift Tense ebook serialization. In the past six months, I’ve sold copies in Germany, Italy, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and France, plus the usual US and UK. I suspect this fifth title will put me consistently over the 100 sales/month mark, which ain’t NYTimes Bestseller list, but is pretty damn remarkable considering how technology allows a no-name like me to publish and distribute material. Hey, John Scalzi even stopped by to comment. (Maybe he’ll blurb my next book?)

I do have a plot seed for another Eshu International novel set in space/on the moon. It’ll get written, but it’s definitely on the back burner for now. Last October, a Celtic-flavored ghost tale popped into my head, and what began as a wee short story transmogrified into a novella. 4/5ths of the way through, I should have it to my beta-readers before the end of Feb.

Next in the queue is ‘Under Strange Stars’, the second installment of The Clar1ty Wars. A sci-fi re-imagining of the 19th Century Opium Wars, it’s about to get vicious. Ten scenes/chapters are outlined, three are written. Then there’s a large, three part fantasy piece simmering, as well as a modern exorcism/terrorism piece. Spec-fiction junkie that I am, I’m excited to start digging away at both, as well as any other settings/characters that pop in unexpectedly.

To end, I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to everyone who has waited so patiently, followed this blog, reviewed and read my work. A thousand thanks. I sincerely hope your time spent in my stories is enjoyable. That’s the idea.

Best to all of you,
P. Todoroff
Cape Cod, MA.

My Cyberpunk Christmas wish

I miss Fringe. (Or at least the first few seasons before Peter died in that split-universe machine. Or whatever it was he did there…) I’m still waiting for Almost Human to get good. I liked the lion’s share of the updated Battlestar Galactica, (There’s a damn fine reason the BSG episode “33” won a Hugo) and I think I’m one of the few who found the sequel/prequel Caprica intriguing. I was disappointed to learn the LucasArts recently cancelled Star Wars 1313. Is it me, or would bounty-hunting in the undercity on Coruscant be pretty cool?

So my inner nerd is pining for some real cyberpunk in 2014. Get Ron Moore in a room with the writers from “The Wire”, then hire William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and maybe Richard K Morgan as consultants. (Nab John Scalzi too. IMO, he kept Stargate: Universe going past its freshness date) Gimme a movie, a mini-series, web-isodes even – just so long as it has grit, depth, and story arcs that last longer that 42 minutes. Slalom past tropes and easy-peasy laughably predictable endings, and gimme real characters wrestling with brutally honest futuristic themes.

Please, Santa.

What’s in a number?

Review Numbers, that is.

My puzzlement has been brewing sometime, not only over inflated ratings but the sheer volume of reviews. I’m looking at Amazon, specifically here.

Now before anyone accuses me of whining, of course I want my books rated and reviewed. This isn’t a ‘cry for help’; I straight up ask for reviews. They make a difference. And no shill and gush, please. Every honest rating adds value and provides information to potential readers/buyers. (I have a review to write for a fellow writer, in fact.)

That said, if you go by the flood of Five-Stars floating around Amazon these days, you’d think we’d entered a new Golden Age of Literature. Either that, or there’s serious fan-boy/fan-girl (fan-person? person of fandom?) inflation going on.

Congrats to anyone who writes and finishes a novel. It’s a serious accomplishment. I applaud your courage in publishing it too. Really.

But I think a lot of readers have lost points of reference. Does anyone read great literature anymore? Scratch that, does anyone even read the classic, defining works in their preferred genre? In my experience, most books are competent, coherent, exhibiting a working knowledge of plot, character, and the fundamentals of grammar – in other words, Three-Star books. It’s the minimum requirement for a decent, solid story. It’s the median, the AVERAGE.

A One-Star equates to treachery: the author should re-take Freshman English Comp, and return the purchase price along with some recompense for pain and suffering. Five-Star means not only does it exhibit exceptional literary skill, but had a profound impact on my life. Two and Four-Star ratings fall below and above average, respectively. It’s not rocket surgery. Yes, much of the process is subjective, but there are benchmarks. Objective Standards have to enter the equation somewhere.

I get daily BookBub alerts – notice of new releases, deals, freebies – and the descriptions always tout phrases like “over seven-hundred 5-star reviews on Amazon!” and “Highest rated in xyz category” Seriously? For “Shaniqua – Elven VampireHuntress of the Lycan Wars, Part 7“*

Three-quarters of the offerings are like that. It’s gotten so bad, I don’t believe any of it. Worse, I’m auto-hitting ‘Delete’ about half the time.

Even allowing for passionate fans, a new generation of readers, a failing educational system, what’s up with the atmospheric review numbers?

For example, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that popularized, even defined the Cyberpunk genre, currently has 625 reviews and is holding steady at Four Stars. The author’s debut novel won the Hugo, Nebula and PKD Awards in 1984. The archetype, it represents a tectonic shift in science fiction and is counted among the top 100 english books of the last century.

Contrast that with Hugh Howey’s “Wool Onmibus” at six-thousand plus reviews and Four and a half Stars as of this writing. Now I’m not slagging HH. All props to him. I bought the W:O ebook. Yes, I want those sales numbers. But Wool is a stock, serialized Post-apoc tale. It’s derivative. It’s average. Those numbers are Marketing fluff, not indicative of quality.

Cyberstorm by Mathew Mather: Pubbed this year in 2013, 1,808 ratings at Four and a Half Stars.
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War (Hugo Nominee, btw. Pubbed in 2005) Only 861 at 4.5 Stars.

Patrick Rothfuss’ very excellent Kingkiller** novels Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear have 2,000 odd and 1,000 plus ratings respectively, whereas Ilona Andrews’ brand new Magic Bites is already rocking 426 at 4.5 Stars.

Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator (Dire Earth Cycle, book 1) is my most recent disappointment. Heavily Suggested, it had 48, 4 and 5-star reviews prior to being released, via something known as the “Amazon Vine Program.” We’re at one-hundred eleventy solid Four-Stars at the moment, and they’re already pimping books 2 and 3. Which aren’t even out yet. I slogged through to 80% and finally deleted it from my Kindle. It was steaming pile of tedious pedestrian trope.

We could go on and on, finding more extreme examples, but my real questions are (aside from how can I legitimately boost my own numbers) how to sift the wheat from the chaff, and how to counter-act loss of credibility due to Rampant Review Inflation?

Any ideas?

*not a real book. Names have been changed to protect the clueless
** Him and Joe Abercrombie restored my faith in contemporary fantasy.