Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Category: rants (Page 1 of 2)

(Mis)direct marketing

Picture of mailboxYou’re probably going to think I’m making something out of nothing, but this bugged me enough to write a post, so . . .

I get quite a few emails from strangers – readers asking when the next book’s out (I’m working on it, I promise!), moms who want to know if my stories are an age-appropriate gift for their 12-year-old’s birthday, and even a few from schoolkids who have to write to an author for their class project.

So far, so unremarkable.

The one that inspired this post was different. It was a message was from a new author, independently published by a digital-only small press, wanting me to do her a favour and tweet some links to her first book. Perfectly pleasant, with a short, well-polished pitch for her work.

BUT.

This author is a complete stranger to me, someone I’ve never interacted with, who doesn’t follow me on social media (as far as I have been able to determine) and doesn’t appear to know anything about me or my books.

Our audiences don’t overlap much, if at all. She writes contemporary romance; I write epic fantasy.

She is asking me to asking me to take time away from my own work and write a tweet just for her. The effort is minor, but it’s still an interruption, an imposition on my day.

She gave me no reason why I might be moved to help her out, and no incentive to do so. Twitter works best when users network and interact, not when they just scream into the void “BUY MY BOOK!”. Yes, I know Sam Sykes likes to do just that, but he makes it amusing; others, with less imagination, become just noise.

So why pick me? It’s not like I’m John Scalzi or Neil Gaiman who command an audience of tens of thousands – or, in Gaiman’s case, 2.26 million – for their every utterance. And this isn’t even a one-click RT request for a worthy cause, which those authors field with grace on a daily basis. I’ve got less than 1,800 followers, and as already noted, write in a totally different genre, so she’s not only expecting effort on her behalf from a stranger, it’s likely to be a waste of time in any case.

“But it’s just a quick tweet; what harm could it do?”

Am I supposed to be flattered by the attention? That I’ve been noticed? I’d like to think she’s seen me on the Twitters and thinks I’m approachable. What I actually think is that I’m just one more entry on a list of people who got a scattergun form email from an author who thinks they’re entitled to someone else’s time and effort.

Which does not make me inclined to want to help them out.

Now I’m sure there’s people saying “But it’s just a quick tweet; what harm could it do?” and the answer is “None”. But that’s the thing with these types of requests. Once you’ve agreed to do it for one random stranger, it becomes very hard to say no to the next one who asks. And the one after that. And . . . you get the picture.

I’m also sure there’s going to be people saying “Typical trad-pub snob, thinks she’s too good to help out a fellow author!” To which I say, “Clearly you don’t know me any better than Ms Contemporary Romance does”. Yes, I’m traditionally published. No, I’m not a snob; I’m probably going to go hybrid at some point in the future, when I try my hand at some not-quite-so-long-form fiction, so I’m hardly likely to sneer at authors who’ve chosen to go the self/indie route from the start.

But here’s the other thing that I am.

I am so far behind on my fourth book it’s not even funny. I’m so far behind that I jealously guard every single minute I have that could possibly be spent finishing it. In fact, I’m so far behind that this blog post has actually taken me a couple of months to put together because I felt so guilty about taking any time away from my WIP. So the chances of me sparing a couple of minutes to Tweet – and by so doing, tacitly endorse – some unknown-to-me author’s unknown-to-me book, are nil.

I’m sorry, Ms Contemporary Romance. I wish you well; you’ve got a nice pitch and your book sounds like it might be a fun summer read, but I am not your market, nor your marketing department.

 

Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Women writing fantasy, round 2

After I posted my first list of women writing fantasy, I thought of a whole bunch of other writers I should have included. Then I saw my friend and fellow fantasy writer Teresa Frohock had a similar list on her blog, and there were quite a few names in common, but also quite a lot that weren’t.

I thought it would be cool to smoosh the two lists together, and this is what happened:

AC Crispin; AC Voss; Alaya Dawn Johnson; Aliette de Bodard; Alis Rasmussen; Alison Croggon; Amanda Downum; AM Dellamonica; Andre Norton; Andrea Hairston; Angela Carter; Anna Bradley; Anne Bishop; Anne Leonard; Anne Lyle; Anne McCaffery; Anne Rice; April Taylor

Barbara Friend Ish; Barbara Hambly; Beth Bernobich; Beth Cato; Betsy Dornbusch

CT Adams; Caitlin Kiernan; Carol Berg; Carole Nelson Douglas; Caroline Stevermer; Carrie Cuinn; Carrie Ryan; Carrie Vaughn; Cat Hellisen; Catherine Asaro; Catherine Cooke; Catherine Webb; Catherynne M Valente; Cathy Clamp; CE Murphy; Charlaine Harris; Charlie N Holmberg; Chelsea Quinn-Yarbro; Cherie Priest; Chloe Neill; Cindy Pon; CJ Cherryh; CL Moore; Claire North*; Clea Simon; Cornelia Funke; Courtney Schafer; CS Friedman

Damien A Walters; Danie Ware; Dawn Kurtagich; Deborah Harkness; Debra Doyle; Diana Paxson; Diana Rowland; Diana Wynne Jones; Diane Duane; Doranna Durgin; Doris Egan

E Catherine Tobler; EJ Swift; Ekaterina Sedia; Elaine Cunningham; Elizabeth A Lynn; Elizabeth Ann Scarborough; Elizabeth Bear; Elizabeth Hand; Elizabeth Haydon; Elizabeth Knox; Elizabeth Lynn; Elizabeth May; Elizabeth Moon; Elizabeth Wein; Elizabeth Willey; Ellen Kushner; Elspeth Cooper; Emily Carroll; Emily Gee; Emma Bull; Erica Hayes; Erika Johansen; Erin Hoffman; Esther Friesner; Evangeline Walton; Evie Manieri

Felicia Dale; Fiona McIntosh; Fiona Miller; Francis Knight; Freda Warrington; Freya Robertson; G Willow Wilson; Gail Carriger; Gail Z Martin; Genevieve Valentine; Gill Alderman; Glenda Larke; Gwenda Bond

Heather Brewer; Heather Gladney; Heather Tomlinson; Helen Lowe; Helen Oyeyemi; Helene Wecker; Holly Black; Holly Lisle; Hope Mirrlees

Ilona Andrews; Ilsa J Bick

J Kathleen Cheney; Jacey Bedford; Jackie Kessler; Jacqueline Carey; Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett; Jaime Lee Moyar; Jane Emerson*; Jane Lindskold; Jane Yolen; Janet Berliner; Janny Wurts; Jaye Wells; Jen Williams; Jennifer Estep; Jennifer Fallon; Jennifer Roberson; Jennifer Robinson; Jenny Jones; Jess Haines; JK Rowling; JL Murray; Jo Clayton; Jo Thomas; Jo Walton; Joan Aiken; Jo Anderton; Joan D Vinge; Joanne Hall; Joanne Harris; Josepha Sherman; Joyce Ballou Gregorian; Joyce Chng; Jude Fisher; Judith Tarr; Julian May; Julie Czernada; Julie Hutchings; Juliet E McKenna; Juliet Marillier; JV Jones

Kage Baker; Kameron Hurley; Karen Fowler; Karen Lord; Karen Miller; Kari Sperring; Karin Lowachee; Kate Elliott*; Kate Griffin*; Kate Jonez; Katherine Addison*; Katherine Kerr; Katherine Kurtz; Kathleen M Massie-Ferch; Kathleen Sky; Kelley Armstrong; Kelley Grant; Kelly Link; Kiera Cass; Kit Berry; Kristen Britten; Kristin Cashore; Kristine Kathryn Rusch; KT Davies; KV Johansen; Kylie Chan

LA Gilman / Laura Anne Gilman; Laini Taylor; Larissa Lai; Laura Bickle; Laura Lam; Laura Liddell Nolan; Laure Eve; Laurell K Hamilton; Lauren Beukes; Leigh Bardugo; Leigh Brackett; Lian Hearn; Liane Merciel; Libba Bray; Liesel Schwartz; Lilith Saintcrow; Lindsay Barraclough; Lisa Goldstein; Lisa Mannetti; Lisa Sheradin; Lisa Tuttle; Lish McBride; Liz de Jager; Liz Williams; Lois McMaster Bujold; Lorna Freeman; Lou Morgan; Louise Cooper; Lucy Hounsom; Lynn Abbey; Lynn Flewelling; Lynn Kurland

Madeleine L’Engle; Madeline Ashby; Maggie Stiefvater; Malinda Lo; Marcia Bennett; Margaret Atwood; Margaret Weis; Margo Lanagan; Maria Dahvana Headley; Maria Snyder; Marie Brennan; Marina Warner; Marion Zimmer Bradley; Marta Randall; Martha Wells; Mary Doria Russell; Mary Gentle; Mary Renault; Mary Robinette Kowal; Mary Shelley; Mary Stewart; Mary Victoria; Mazarkis Williams; Megan Lindholm*; Megan Whalen Turner; Mel Salisbury; Melanie Rawn; Melissa Scott; Mercedes Lackey; Meredith Ann Pierce; Michaela Roessner; Michelle Paver; Michelle Sagara; Mickey Zucker Reichert; Midori Snyder; Mishell Baker; ML Brennan; Morgan Llywelyn

Nalo Hopkinson; Nancy Asire; Nancy Springer; Naomi Novik; NK Jemisin; Nnedi Okorafor

Octavia Butler

Pamela Dean; Pat Murphy; Patricia Briggs; Patricia C Wrede; Patricia Geary; Patricia McKillip; Paula Brandon*; Paula Volsky; PC Hodgell; Phyllis Ann Karr; PL Travers

RA MacAvoy; Rachel Aaron; Rachel Caine; Rachel Hartman; Rae Carson; Rebecca Levene; RJ Anderson; Roberta Trahan; Robin D Owens; Robin Hobb; Robin McKinley; Rosemary Kirstein; Rowena Cory Daniels

Sabaa Tahir; Sabrina Vourvoulias; Samantha Shannon; Sarah Ash; Sarah Beth Durst; Sarah Douglass; Sarah Hoyt; Sarah J Maas; Sarah Monette; Sarah Pinborough; Sarah Remy; Sarah Silverwood; Sharon Shinn; Sheri S Tepper; Sherwood Smith; Silvia Moreno-Garcia; SL Huang; Sofia Samatar; Sophia McDougall; Stacia Kane; Steph Swainston; Stephenie Meyer; Stina Leicht; Storm Constantine; Susan Cooper; Susan Ee; Susan Palwick; Susan Shwartz; Susanna Clarke; Suzanne Collins; Suzanne Johnson; Suzanne McLeod; Suzanne Palmieri; Suzette Haden Elgin

Tamora Pierce; Tanith Lee; Tanya Huff; Tara Harper; Teresa Edgerton; Teresa Frohock; Terri Windling; TL Morganfield; Tove Jansson; Tricia Sullivan; Trudi Canavan

Ursula K LeGuin

VE Schwab; Veronica Roth; Vicki Ann Heydron; Viola Carr; Violette Malan; Vivian French; Vonda McIntyre

Wen Spencer

Yangtze Choo; Ysabeau S Wilce

Zoe Marriott; Zohra Greenhalgh

Note: entries with * are pen-names; entries in italics have been added since the list was last published

That’s now 336 names, and I’m sure there’s more. Feel free to suggest them in the comments, and I’ll update the list. Please don’t blame me if your to-be-read list expands dramatically.

Feel free not to use the comments to tell me I’m being sexist, or that I shouldn’t have included [X] because they’re self-published, or quibble about the precise definitions of what constitutes fantasy. They identify as women, they write, and the readers who helped crowdsource this list identify at least one of their books as fantasy. That’s good enough for me.

 

Edited To Add: Please note this list is not intended to be exhaustive. For some other excellent resources on this topic, check out the following:

which include some suggested titles for each author. Happy reading!

Women writing fantasy

Fantasy fiction is being feted as never before, trumpets John Mullan in the Guardian and proceeds to laud all the usual suspects: Tolkein, Pratchett, Gaiman and the ‘reigning laureate’ George RR Martin.

Mainstream press coverage for fantasy has got to be good, right?

Wrong, when it’s as unbalanced as this.

You see, despite having a thousand words or so to play with, Mr Mullan forgot to mention that women write fantasy too. Quite a few of them, at that. Here’s a selection:

*takes a deep breath*

God's War coverDiana Wynn Jones, Anne Rice, Mary Gentle, Ursula Le Guin, Robin Hobb (also as Megan Lindholm), Sofia Samatar, NK Jemisin, Octavia Butler, Mary Shelley, Mercedes Lackey, Melanie Rawn, RA MacAvoy, Freda Warrington, Ellen Kushner, Katherine Kurtz, Fiona Miller, Katherine Addison (also as Sarah Monette), Emma Bull, Judith Tarr, Evie Manieri, Helen Lowe, Anne Lyle, Jen Williams, Leigh Bardugo, CL Moore, CS Friedman, Courtney Schafer, Marie Brennan, ML Brennan, Mary Victoria, JK Rowling, Angela Carter, CE Murphy, Lois McMaster Bujold, Nalo Hopkinson, Patricia Briggs, Susan Cooper (no relation!), Kameron Hurley, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Hope Mirrlees, Jacqueline Carey, Silvia Moreno Garcia, Susanna Clarke, Naomi Novik, Samantha Shannon, Suzanne McLeod, Patricia McKillip, Elizabeth Bear, Rebecca Levene, Helene Wecker, Ekaterina Sedia, LA Gilman, Elizabeth Moon, Lucy Hounsom, Sabaa Tahir, Juliet E McKenna, Gail Z Martin, Tanya Huff, Trudi Canavan.

*takes another, even deeper breath*

Mary Stewart, Mary Renault, Madeleine l’Engle, Andre Norton, Liz de Jager, Liesel Schwartz, Gail Carriger, Julian May, CJ Cherryh, Elizabeth Hand, Vonda McIntyre, Leigh Brackett, Jo Walton, PL Travers, Martha Wells, Kate Elliott, Joan Aiken, Robin McKinley, Deborah Harkness, Kari Sperring, Michelle Sagara, Maremperorsknifey Robinette Kowal, Joyce Chng, Malinda Lo, Storm Constantine, Andrea Downum, Clea Simon, Maria Dahvana Headley, Barbara Hambly, Anne Bishop, Teresa Frohock, Mazarkis Williams, Suzanne Collins, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Tanith Lee, Veronica Roth, Jennifer Fallon, VE Schwab, Steph Swainston, Laini Taylor, Susan Ee, Elizabeth May, Karen Lord, Kristen Britten, Sarah J Maas, Aliette de Bodard, Stina Leicht, SL Huang, Sharon Shinn, Betsy Dornbusch, Rachel Aaron, JV Jones, G Willow Wilson, Kristin Cashore, Cindy Pon, Patricia C Wrede, Nnedi Okorafor, Tamora Pierce, Jane Yolen, Margo Lanagan, Sarah Douglass, Alison Croggon, and your humble correspondent.

And that’s just the ones I thought of this morning while I ate my breakfast. Give me the rest of the day and I could probably double that list.

Women write fantasy. Why do we have to keep telling the world this? Why do we have yet another article that implies that the only fantasy worthy of calling out as remarkable is that written by white, straight men?

Seriously, Mr Mullan? Seriously?

Women have been writing fantasy, epic fantasy, fun fantasy, serious fantasy, dark fantasy, for a long, long while. We’re pretty good at it, too, judging by the various Hugos, Nebulas and World Fantasy Awards that women have won. Maybe Mr Mullan should try reading around the subject a bit. There’s lots to choose from.

 

The trouble with comparisons

No, really, it's just like it.

No, really, it’s just like it.

There’s something that keeps cropping up in commentary about my books, specifically the first one, Songs of the Earth, which frustrates me no end, because I just don’t get it. At all. And that’s the recurring comparisons to Harry Potter*.

The latest of these occurred over at Fantasy Faction, which is an awesome site and the team that run it are long-term friends and supporters of my work. They just published their list of Top Anticipated Fantasy Novels of 2014, and were kind enough to include my forthcoming book The Dragon House at No. 20:

 

Why we are excited: Elspeth Cooper has some of the best prose we’ve ever come across. We were a little unsure about Gair and this series at first, but Elspeth has really taken this series from something a little too Harry Potter-esque to a series that walks its own path and that is increasingly epic and high-stake for its characters.

 

This is lovely stuff to hear, of course, and I’m deeply flattered to be included on a list with the likes of Daniel Abraham and Jim Butcher, Carol Berg and Elizabeth Bear. But there’s that reference to Harry Potter again. I’ve also had reviews that mention it. One reviewer on Amazon even went so far as to accuse me of totally ripping off Rowling’s books.

To which I have to say: Wuh?

Songs of the Earth is a coming-of-age story, like Harry Potter. This is hardly unique in the fantasy canon. Bildungsroman is one of the key themes of genre storytelling: finding out who you are, where you stand, and what you will not stand for. Songs also takes place in part in a school for magic, like Harry Potter. It’s far from alone in that too**.

But apart from that, there’s very little similarity between the two books. They’re set in different milieus (a magical-realism version of our world vs a secondary universe), aimed at a different audience, and feature very different protagonists (adult bastard nobody-special vs Chosen One boy wizard***).

Bloomsbury cover of Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone

A bit too Songs-of-the-Earth-esque?

Even the magic itself is not the same (elemental forces vs cod-Latin spells learned by rote). Maybe you could argue that there’s a minor thematic similarity between the renegade Guardian Savin and He Who Shall Not Be Named, in the sense that they’re both powerful mages gone rogue, but is that really enough to call a book “Harry Potter-esque”?

As for the ‘school for magic’, the two are similar only in concept. Hogwarts is recognisably an English boarding-school environment with Houses and common rooms and intramural sporting challenges. It is Tom Brown’s Schooldays with wands and brooms.

In Songs, I tried to play down the actual learning part because it’d been done before, not least by Rowling, so not one of Gair’s lectures or practical lessons is described on the page in real time. Book magic or learning by rote do not feature. This was because the studying bit was less important to me than exploring Gair’s relationships with others, be they friend, lover or mentor.

Yet the comparisons persist, and I just don’t understand why. My theory is that Harry Potter has had such an enormous impact on popular culture that it’s simply the first thing anyone thinks of at the merest hint of a school for magic – even though that element is probably the least significant part of my book.

Or maybe it’s the imagery of the Masters defending Chapterhouse at the end of Songs that makes them think of Professor McGonagall and Co defending Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I can’t help that: I wrote that scene before the first Harry Potter was even published (Honest. The oldest version of the manuscript I have accessible on this PC is datestamped 6 October 1996. Don’t make me dig out the original files on floppy disk).

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. There are far worse books than Harry Potter to be compared to, after all, but at the same time I worry that these comparisons send the wrong message to potential readers (or worse yet, the parents of potential readers). That if you enjoyed Harry Potter, this book Songs of the Earth is quite like it, when it’s not. Not even a little bit.

So why do people who’ve read it, keep maintaining that it is?

***

* Disclaimer: I haven’t read the HP books, but I have seen the films. Any errors or omissions I make should be considered in this context.

** Just off the top of my head there’s Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy, in which Sonea learns to harness her abilities and rise through the ranks at the Magician’s Guild, and Pat Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind in which the University is basically a school for magic on steroids.

*** Seriously. He’s got a distinguishing mark, his parents were killed in mysterious circumstances, and he was raised in obscurity to keep him safe. If he’d grown up on a farm he’d be Belgarion from the David Eddings books – or Luke Skywalker, the most massive example of the farm-boy-comes-of-age-and-saves-the-world trope in the history of ever.

 

Communication breakdown

Satellite dishSo we’ve been customers of a certain satellite TV company for almost 13 years, and just lately we’ve got rather fed up with them. The broadband, whilst cheap, is not great. Our favourite sports have all moved to a rival broadcaster, who is offering a competitive alternative service* and a far better broadband (up to 32mb, thanks to the local network’s upgrade to fibre) at a price which will save us around £20 a month all told.

No brainer, isn’t it?

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