“The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True” by Richard Dawkins, illustrated by Dave McKean (Free Press, 2011)

The Magic of Reality

Richard Dawkins, bestselling author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, needs little introduction; and neither does illustrator Dave McKean, who has worked with a number of well-known authors, including Neil Gaiman, and was the creator behind the movie MirrorMask.  Now the two have joined together to bring you a unique book of science and evolution called The Magic of Reality.

In the first chapter of The Magic of Reality, Richard Dawkins sets the stage with an important explanation of the differences between reality and how incredible it can be, and the impressiveness of magic and miracles and how they are just illusions and not real.  The book explores a number of astonishing things about our world and universe, and how we have come to know it, such as: who the first person was, what things are made of, what is the sun, what is a rainbow, and what is an earthquake, to name a few.  The last two chapters are perhaps the most important, as Dawkins talks about why bad things happen to people, and what exactly a miracle is.

The Magic of Reality is an important read for anyone who is uncertain about the world we live and how it came to be the way it is.  Dawkins puts thoughts and sayings, extreme coincidences, good and bad luck in perspective, saying you may think it an incredible series of incidents to lead to a specific point that it may seem like there is some power or force behind it, but when you study each of those incidents on a scientific level, it all makes perfect sense to be just that: an incredible coincidence.  Coupled with Dave McKean’s captivating and mind-blowing illustrations to help illustrate points and reveal the complexity of seemingly ordinary things, The Magic of Reality is an important book to have, whether you’re looking to help an adult make up their minds about something, or constructively and efficiently educating a youngster who is learning about science and the way of life.

Originally written on November 20, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Magic of Reality from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Damn You, Autocorrect” by Jillian Madison (Hyperion, 2011)

Damn You, Autocorrect!

In this incredible and wonderful period of Smartphones, it is all very likely that humanity will look back on this time as the remarkable invention of the iPhone and the power and ability that was unleashed with this invention.  And with this marvelous invention there was texting; and with this fantastic ability to text, there was . . . autocorrect.  For those who aren’t in possession of an iPhone, or may not be familiar with it, one “perk” of the texting application is the autocorrect feature that facilitates one’s typing using the touch screen to automatically complete words and make (supposedly) it much quicker and easier to text.

Of course, the adage: “With great power, comes great responsibility” is powerfully true in this case, as this feature has led to innumerable errors, faux pas, and hilarious results that have now become infamous on the internets, dutifully and thankfully collected at the brilliant autocorrect website, Damn You Autocorrect.  And now the cream of the crop of entertaining autocorrects are collected in this perfect book to just have hanging around anywhere in the house or at work, or just about anywhere in the world, Damn You, Autocorrect!   And here are some highlights from this must have book:

Texter #1: “I just fell off the chair at work.”
Texter #2: “Are you OK?”
Texter #1: “Yes.  I think I scared my coriander.”
Texter #2: “Huh???”
Texter #1: “Co-workers.”

Texter #1: “I just had a great dump.  I MEAN HUMP1  AHHHHHHH Frick I mean lube.  LUNCH.  I MEANT LUNCH.”
Texter #2: “Well, whatever it is, I hope it was good . . .”

Texter #1: “I wish we were moving tomorrow.”
Texter #2: “Not long.”
Texter #1: “I know I just need to stay busy.”
Texter #2: “You can always work on the stiff in the garage.”
Texter #1: “The stiff huh.  Sounds kind of morbid.”

Texter #1: “Traffic crap – new eta is 430.”
Texter #2: “Almighty.  Altitude.  Danger.  Blast!  What I mean is, alrighty.”
Texter #1: “Ha that’s awesome.  I thought you were having a mini melt down! 🙂 We are 15 min out.”

Texter #1: “My neck hurts so bad.  I slut wrong.  Sleep.  Jeez.”
Texter #2: “No u slut right.  Trust me.”
Texter #1: “Shut up.”

Originally written on November 20, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Damn You, Autocorrect from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns)” by Mind Kaling (Crown, 2011)

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Mindy Kaling, best known for the portrayal of her character, Kelly Kapoor, on The Office, is also one of the show’s main writers, and a talented comedian.  In her greatly entertaining book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, Kaling is not looking to just tell her life story so far, nor is she just relaying a series of hilarious anecdotes, or recommended life lessons; instead she does a perfectly blended combination of all three.

The key to Mindy Kaling is that like other great contemporary female comedians like Tina Fey and Molly Shannon, she doesn’t hold back, but is willing to make herself look ridiculous, knowing it’s incredibly funny.  The book is filled with amusing photos from her life, growing up, as she regales the reader with stories of her life in becoming a comedy writer.  The book is a short, fast read that covers important episodes of Kaling’s life, and her work on The Office, but also features some great life lessons she’s learned along the way that the reader can really appreciate, whether they’re female or male.  The highpoint of the book is her attendance at a photo shoot where she is graced by a trailer full of beautiful dresses all in a size zero, way too small for her.  After accepting this insulting setback and some inner searching, she comes back to the costume designer, demanding that he make a specific dress fit her, even though it’s too small for her.  The dress ended up getting cut and ruined so that it looked fantastic from the front.  It was a harsh lesson for Hollywood that is simply inspiring for readers.

Originally written on November 20, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Wyrd” Progress Report XIX



REASON FOR STOPPING: Hit page 250, shot past the 50,000 word mark, and finished a big, lengthy scene.

Just a quick update to say I hit my last big writing goal for 2011 by reaching page 250 in Wyrd, which makes me extremely happy.  Also beat the 50k word mark and finished a big long scene of the main character telling his story.  I think the goal for this project for 2012 is going to be to hit at least page 500, which should be the end of the book, but I have a feeling this sucker is going to keep growing and growing.


“George R. R. Martin’s Doorways” by George R. R. Martin, art by Stefano Martino (IDW, 2011)


Way back when, before The Song of Ice and Fire series, bestselling author George R. R Martin was a big guy in Hollywood, working on the new Twilight Zone series, as well as a writer for the Beauty and the Beast TV series.  Doorways is the show that very much almost, but ultimately never was.  The pilot was filmed and in the process of final editing, but was never given a slot for airing . . . disappearing into the vault of dead shows.  Martin still feels sad and very attached to this story, as he indicates in his introduction.  Now he has brought it back to life, in a sense, with art from Stefano Martino, in the form of a graphic novel.

The story opens with the main character, Dr. Thomas Mason, who is an ordinary man with an ordinary wife living in an ordinary life.  But all that changes when a doorway opens up in the fabric of reality and an incredible, young woman named Cat steps into his life and steals his mind and perhaps his heart, as he is dragged along on the adventure of his life.  Cat has the ability to travel through these doorways, taking one to different places in time and space within the blink of an eye.  The problem is that there are beings after Cat, looking to stop and kill her, so she has to keep running.  With Mason’s help she passes through a doorway and Mason finds himself potentially sealed off from his normal life in his normal world forever, but he doesn’t have time to waste, as there are creatures on his tail looking to wipe him out.

The story of Doorways is compelling, in the great science fiction way that Martin has delivered before, with a harsh and detailed art style from Martino, sucking you right into the story.  The question remains if there will be any more stories to tell after this volume . . . only time will tell.

Originally written on November 20, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Doorways from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean” by David Abulafia (Oxford, 2011)

Great Sea

The Mediterranean Sea has been there for a very long time.  Over the millennia it has shrunken and grown, given birth to islands, then drowned then, then birthed them once again; at one point it was even a dried-up seabed for a little while until the Atlantic began pouring into it once more, filling it up like a bathtub.  Humanity has also played an important part with the Mediterranean; without it our history would be very different.  From the days of the Neolithic people, to the ancient Egyptians, to the Greek and Roman empires, on through the many events of history taking place along its shores, this Great Sea has always played an important part.  Now David Abulafia, Professor of Mediterranean History at Cambridge University, brings historians and interested readers the ultimate biography of this unique sea, as seen and used and experienced by the people who lived and still live on its long coastline.

Abulafia divides The Great Sea into five parts, chronologically: 2200 BC – 1000 BC, 1000 BC – AD 600, 600 – 1350, 1350 – 1830, and 1830 – 2010.  Filled with many illustrations and maps, as well as two sets of detailed photographs, this book is certainly not a quick and easy read, but is nevertheless an invaluable one.  A lengthy index helps guide readers to certain periods and places in history and time for the Mediterranean, but what works best is to just start from the beginning and work your way through this heavy tome and learn about just how important this body of water has been for humanity.

Originally written on December 1, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Great Sea from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“A Fire Upon the Deep” by Vernor Vinge (TOR, 2011)

Fire Upon the Deep

Practically an instant classic and winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel for 1993, A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge is now available in a new quality paperback almost a decade after its release.  The science fiction here is first-rate, as Vinge delivers an acceptable reason why we haven’t traveled to the stars yet: we live in an area of the galaxy known as the “Slow Zone,” while in the surrounding area known as the “Beyond,” faster-than-light travel is a common way of life.  And then outside the Beyond is the “Transcend,” where godlike “Powers” exist.  Humanity sticks its nose where it doesn’t belong, awakening one of these powers known as the Blight, which runs rampant like an uncontrollable virus, turning entire civilizations into controllable automatons.

Hope lies in two children who crash land in a spaceship on a medieval-style civilization consisting of dog-like creatures known as “Tines.”  An evil Tine known as Steel kills many of the survivors of the crash, destroying most of the coldsleep boxes, kidnapping one of the children named Jefri Olsndot.  A rival faction of Tines, led by one named Woodcarver, rescues Jefri’s older sister, Johanna.  And so continues the war between these two factions on this strange planet.  Meanwhile help is also on the way from an unexpected entity.

Originally written on December 1, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of A Fire Upon the Deep from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

GUEST POST #5: “What Every Author Needs to Know About Writing for a Living” by Michael J. Sullivan

Michael J. Sullivan


Michael J Sullivan


Michael J. Sullivan is the author of the epic six-book fantasy series, The Riyria Revelations. Originally published with a small press, the series was picked up this year by Orbit books and is being released in three volumes. The first, Theft of Swords, released in November, contains the first two volumes. The second, Rise of Empire, features the third and fourth volumes and came out this month. The final volume, Heir of Novron, collecting the final two volumes of the series, is due out in January 2012.

This is the fifth of five posts that Michael J. Sullivan will be doing this week on BookBanter. Check back tomorrow for the next post, or you can subscribe to the BookBanter Blog by entering your email at the top right of the BookBanter Blog page.

Listen to an interview between BookBanter and Michael J. Sullivan.

What Every Author Needs to Know About Writing for a Living

It’s not good to hear, and sorry to say, but most authors simply don’t make a living from novel writing. Even those with multiple books still have day jobs to pay the bills, and many times their writing provides just a little additional cash for a vacation or a small luxury. I write genre fiction (epic fantasy) and multiple sources tell me that the average advance for a debut author is $5,000 – $10,000. Considering that most novels take years to produce, this obviously is not enough to live on. Sadly, the novel writer’s mantra really is, “Don’t quit your day job.”

I feel fortunate that I can count myself as one of the minority that does indeed support my family through my writing. For years my wife was the sole bread winner, allowing me to tap away at the keyboard without the added distraction of a nine-to-five job. I was pleased when we had enough saved up so that in April 2011 she was able to leave that behind.

One thing that I should mention is that non-fiction writing is generally easier (more books produced, higher pay, easier to find a publisher) but I’m going to limit my discussion here to novels. So, let’s say you want a shot at writing novels fulltime for a living…what would I recommend?  Well let’s break it down.

Write within a Genre

In the broadest definitions fiction can be categorized as either literary or genre (sometimes known as popular) and for a new writer, breaking into genre fiction is much easier as there are a larger number of books produced, more copies sold, and in general it is easier to find readers that gravitate toward a particular subject.  2010 book data from Simba Information shows the breakdown between the various categories as:

  • Romance/erotica: $1.358 billion
  • Religion/inspirational: $759 million
  • Mystery/thriller: $682 million
  • Science fiction/fantasy: $559 million
  • Classic literary fiction: $455 million

Write a Series

Series are very common in romance, fantasy, science fiction, and mystery/thrillers genres. Usually they follow a particular character (or set of characters) and provide repeat buyers a familiar experience to dive back into. Writing series is a key to financial security as you don’t have to rebuild a fan base from scratch with each new book. Also, series have longer legs, in other words the sales of the first book (and those in between) will receive a boost each time the next book in the series comes out.

I have some pet peeves about series writing. First I hate a true cliff hanger where you need to read the next book in order to obtain closure on the book you just read. To me this is a cheap trick to get another sale. You need to ensure that each book has its own conflict and resolution. That’s not to say you can’t have hints or tease of an ongoing mystery, just make sure that your books contain a complete episode. Sometimes books break at unnatural places because they are too long to publish as a single work. This happens often in fantasy and again is another pet peeve of mine. If you are going to write series, I recommend you design your breaks from the beginning…no one likes to be stopped in the middle of the story and your goal is to make a reader want to read your next book not force them into anther purchase.

Be Prolific

Few authors will be able to support themselves with a single book.  Most won’t be able to even with two or three (unless they are wildly popular). You must produce a body of work and you need to constantly keep your fans well fed. Putting out multiple books in a single year is most often accomplished by self-published authors and some of the most successful ones have released six or more books in a single year. This generally is not a pace that can be maintained, and I’m not saying that you have to do that. But if you are able to produce at least two books a year, then you’ll probably be in pretty good shape.

The infrastructure of traditional publishing sometimes struggles with prolific writers. Generally there are release calendars, which are basically windows when books are scheduled, and some finished books may take up to two years to hit the street. Even my books, which were finished and fast-tracked took a year to come out (the Fall 2011 was the next release calendar available) but I was fortunate that Orbit released all the books in subsequent months: Theft of Swords (Nov), Rise of Empire (Dec), and Heir of Novron (Jan). My contract has a period of non-compete…a time of exclusivity when only the Orbit books are available for sale. So I’ve been hard at work writing my next books so they will be ready once the period expires.

Write Well

In some respects I should have led with this, but I consider this as a “given.” In real estate it’s all about location, and when it comes to publishing, it’s all about word-of-mouth sales. No book can become a success without readers falling in love with it and recommending it to others. Authors today are fortunate in that there are many more ways for people to share their excitement about a book. There are thousands of book blogs, and sites such as goodreads, Shelfari, and Library Thing where millions of people are discussing books.


Most writers abhor the thought of self-promotion. Many think that this is a task relegated only to self-published authors and being published traditionally means you don’t have to dirty your feet with such activities. This is a huge fallacy. ALL authors need to promote their books.  If you are self-published you wear all the hats, so of course marketing is one of the pieces you’ll have to tackle, but many traditionally published authors complain about lack of marketing support.

The truth is that there is a pecking order in publishing, with best-selling authors at the top. Those near the bottom (midlist or new authors) may receive little marketing support. Most will only be included in a catalog that is sent to libraries and chain store book buyers. Projects that are deemed as having a higher potential of success will get more attention: print ads, online ads, co-op dollars for premium placement in bookstores, and so on. These activities are all fine and well, but even if you receive such attention you shouldn’t feel that it is “good enough.” Keep in mind that all marketing departments are spinning plates of multiple titles at once. You…and only you…will be 100% dedicated to your titles, and the more messages about your book(s), the better the chances that they will get noticed.  As mentioned above, word-of-mouth is king but you have to prime the pump and get enough people to know it exists before the self-perpetuation of one person telling another will kick in.

Subsidiary Sales

I’ve received a significant amount of income from the sales of foreign rights. I’ve signed contracts for: Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, France, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Brazil, and Japan. Although I had a higher than average US advance (six-figures instead of four-figures) I’ve made about double that through the sales of foreign rights.  Whether this is additional income, or goes to paying off your advance, depends on your contract and I’ll discuss this more in a minute.

While generally not huge (in terms of initial income), I’ve also received additional monies because Orbit has licensed the books for a hardcover book club edition as well as an audio version. I look upon these formats as a way of spreading the word. The income potential is not that high, but it does provide another way for people to discover that I exist, and besides, every little bit helps.

Earn Out

Most authors will never earn out their advances, which basically means the advance will be the only compensation they will ever receive for a book.  The statistics I’ve seen is only about 10%-20% will do so. For those that don’t understand what earning out is, let me explain.

Larger publishers pay advances for books. This is a sum of money that flows to the author before even a single book is sold.  It can, in many ways be thought of as a loan.  As books sell, royalties are earned (the author makes from $0.40 to $2.50 a book depending on format and price) but this money initially stays with the publisher because it is repaying the loan. Only if enough books sell, and the full loan is repaid, will the author will receive additional money.

It’s not only sales of individual books that can work toward “paying back the loan”. Any rights sold by the publisher as a subsidiary right (such as foreign sales, book clubs, or audio book contracts) will have a percentage of that sale going to the author, and that will be applied against the advance.  I have an author friend who was really happy because their contract was written with worldwide rights, and they received enough foreign sales to get them very close to earning out.  Personally, I think they would have been much better off if they had sold only English language rights as that additional money would have gone directly to them and essentially doubled their initial income from the books.

Earning out means you’ll have ongoing revenue (although it usually comes only once or twice a year – so you need to manage your cash flow carefully). Without it, you’ll have to ensure that contract income (from foreign rights and new books) will be enough to keep the bills paid. Without earning out you are basically treading water…consuming the income for each book as they are created. Having books earned out can help break that cycle and allow you a bit of breathing room.

An Uncertain Revenue Stream

Writing for a living can be very hit and miss and trying to determine when money will come in is almost impossible. What if the book is bumped in the release calendar? That 1/3 of the advance upon publication will be delayed. What if sales of a first book are too low and the publisher cancels the other books in a multiple book deal? Well you just lost a ton of cash. What if you earned out, but then sales decline? That ongoing stream is not so ongoing. What if none of the foreign publishers are interested? That’s a whole huge potential that is gone. You could easily have a six-figure salary one year and nothing the next.

My approach is to count no chickens before they hatch.  I make sure I always have at least one year’s worth of income stashed away and am always thinking about the date of my next book as that is the next chance for additional income. I  manage my spending…in other words I’m not extravagant in my purchases…as I feel more comfortable banking money for the potential lean times ahead.

Summing it all up

The most important take away from this post is to manage your expectations. Writing novels is not a “get rich quick” career. Sure, there are some who make millions at it…but those are few and far between. The bulk of “paid novelists” earn only a few thousand a year. Even if you are fortunate enough to earn a good sum of money, you need to realize that there is no guarantee about any future income, so the strategy of the ant is far better than that of the grasshopper.

Read Michael J. Sullivan’s previous post on “Query or Self-Publish”

You might also like . . .

Theft of Swords Rise of Empire

12/22 On the Bookshelf . . . “Discount Armageddon,” “Crucible of Gold,” “The Iliad” & “Missing Links”

Discount Armageddon  Crucible of Gold  Iliad  Missing Links

Seems like Christmas came a little early for me this year, as I have two books I’ve been anxiously waiting for: Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire and Cruible of Gold by Naomi Novik, which don’t officially get released until March 2012.  Plus a pretty new translation of The Iliad by Stephen Mitchell, and a cool human origins book that looks fascinating.

GUEST POST #4: “Query or Self-Publish” by Michael J. Sullivan

Michael J. Sullivan


Michael J Sullivan


Michael J. Sullivan is the author of the epic six-book fantasy series, The Riyria Revelations. Originally published with a small press, the series was picked up this year by Orbit books and is being released in three volumes. The first, Theft of Swords, released in November, contains the first two volumes. The second, Rise of Empire, features the third and fourth volumes and came out this month. The final volume, Heir of Novron, collecting the final two volumes of the series, is due out in January 2012.

This is the fourth of five posts that Michael J. Sullivan will be doing this week on BookBanter. Check back tomorrow for the next post, or you can subscribe to the BookBanter Blog by entering your email at the top right of the BookBanter Blog page.

Listen to an interview between BookBanter and Michael J. Sullivan.

Query or Self-Publish

Hello once again…I’m back to discuss another topic that Alex asked me to write on. This time it involves different ways of going about getting your books to market.  I’m a bit unique in that my Riyria Revelations  have been published just about every way possible: small-press (Aspirations Media, Inc), self-published (through a company created by my wife, Ridan Publishing), and big-six traditionally published (Orbit, fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group). The publishing world is going through major changes…perhaps the largest since the introduction of the Guttenberg press…and the old rules may no longer apply.

If you are an aspiring author, you are probably familiar with the standard path to publishing.

  1. You write a book
  2. Create a query letter to attract an agent
  3. The agent uses their contacts in the industry to contact editors
  4. If a match is found, and there is availability in the publishing calendar, an offer is made.

With the recent popularity of ebooks many authors, myself included, have found an audience and made a good income by self-publishing their works. The ability to successfully self-publish is a relatively new phenomenon.  It was in November 2010 that “the freshman class” of self-published authors really saw their books take off.  I was joined by authors such as Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, John Locke, David Dalglish, H.P. Mallory and dozens of others who sold tens of thousands of books (and in some cases hundreds of thousands) in a single month.

The difference is that ebook distribution networks now provide self-published authors access to readers that had been previously unavailable when books were predominantly sold through bookstores. Publishers and agents started to take notice of independent authors whose books climbed up the Amazon charts and reached bestseller status. The dynamics were set on their head and many agents started signing self-published authors and used their sales figures in proposals to the publishers, which landed contracts.

For those that have been in the industry for a long time, you may have heard that once the first publication rights of a work have been exercised, no publisher would be interested in re-publishing the work. This was true at one time, but it is no longer the case. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised that in the not too distant future, some of the slush pile moves from submitted queries, to reading books that have been self-published.

So, what’s a new author to do if your goal is a contract with a big-six publisher? The answer is…it depends. Self-publishing requires you to wear many hats not the least of which is becoming savvy at marketing so that your books get noticed. Some people may not be suited to this very entrepreneur path, and so they should continue to query.  But I also suggest that they simultaneously work on building a platform with social media, as this is an increasingly important part of the total author package.

If you do feel you have what it takes to “be your own boss” and take responsibility for all aspects of producing your book, then self-publishing will probably be a great way to prove the work is worthy of consideration. In general the numbers I’ve heard is that if you can sell 5,000 books over the course of a year both agent and publishers will take notice.

Going this route can also significantly decrease the long review time that usually accompanies the standard query process. When my foreign rights agent approached several New York publishers about taking over my series, I thought it would take years before we got any nibbles.

As it turned out there were seven or eight companies who expressed an immediate interest and I decided on a publisher and agreed to contract terms in about three-weeks from the date of first contact. I also received a higher than average advance than most debut authors. After all, I was already making six-figures from the series on my own, so the publisher needed to take that into consideration when trying to attract me into signing.

So, which route is best?  The truth is that both paths are generally difficult. I have a theory that the number of self-published success stories is essentially equal to the number of manuscripts selected from slush piles and successfully brought to market, and in both cases there are thousands of failures for each success. However there is reason for optimism, as now there are choices, one of which puts the control more firmly in the hands of the author themselves. No one can accurately predict which books will take off and which will fail to find an audience. But for those who successfully self-publish, and desire a contract with a traditional publisher, then bypassing the query process just might be the fastest path to your goal.

Read Michael J. Sullivan’s previous post on “Traditional or Self-Publish, Which do I Prefer?”

You might also like . . .

Theft of Swords Rise of Empire