Leaflet Review: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson coverThe Emperor’s Soul showcases a fascinating magic system as the clock ticks down for a condemned criminal. When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos. Shai is given an impossible task: to create—to Forge—a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days. But her soul-Forgery is considered an abomination by her captors. She is confined to a tiny, dirty chamber, guarded by a man who hates her, spied upon by politicians, and trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood. Shai’s only possible ally is the emperor’s most loyal councillor, Gaotona, who struggles to understand her true talent. Time is running out for Shai. Forging, while deducing the motivations of her captors, she needs a perfect plan to escape …

This novella from Brandon Sanderson was the first full piece I read on the Nook SimpleTouch my husband got me for my birthday. (Side note: I know I’ve never been an outspoken fan of ebooks, but I have to say, with a newborn, I love my Nook. I can hold it and turn pages with one hand, and if the little one is up in the middle of the night, it has a little light to illuminate the screen so I can read while I rock him. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.) It was well worth the money I paid for it, even though there are full ebook novels you can get for the same price. As is typical of Brandon, the magic system is innovative and interesting. The two most important characters, Shai and Gaotona, have very different perspectives on theology, the place of magic in the world, and politics, but Brandon does an amazing job of showing how similar they can be when they’re genuine with one another. There is a great deal of discussion about the nature of beauty and art, and it’s actually quite poetic. As far as intellectual elements go (rather than the fun of character and worldbuilding, which were delightful), my favorite part was when Shai begins to understand how the emperor went from an idealistic crusader to an idle ruler. It rings very true, not just for the characters in the story, but for everyday people in the real world. I have to admit that I skimmed the fight scene. Fight scenes are another thing Brandon is known for, but I didn’t fully appreciate this one. However, you can hear Brandon explain why he kept it in a recent episode of Writing Excuses. (The episode is spoilerific, so don’t listen unless you’re okay with that.) Note: If you’re a big print fan and you decide you’d like a hard-copy version of this novella, go for it. If you buy the print version from Tachyon Publications, just email your receipt or a photo of yourself holding the book to ebooks@brandonsanderson.com and you’ll get a free electronic copy as well.

Leaflet Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own MakingSeptember is a girl who longs for adventure. When she is invited to Fairyland by a Green Wind and a Leopard, well, of course she accepts. (Mightn’t you?) But Fairyland is in turmoil, and it will take one twelve-year-old girl, a book-loving dragon, and a strange and almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish an evil Marquess and restore order.

Not since Oz has there been a land—or a cast of characters—so rich and entrancing.

My last review was about a collection of Catherynne M. Valente’s shorter novels, and in this children’s novel, Valente retains her unique voice and mastery of language, but infuses it with veins of humor and whimsy. Where the other novels I reviewed are not books I would recommend for light reading, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is something you can curl up with and enjoy along with a cup of hot chocolate.

Fairyland imitates a Victorian-style children’s novel, complete with a separate narrator character. However, the narrator and the novel’s circumstances have a modern flavor on the sly. The book consists of a series of small quests—retrieving a witch’s spoon, finding a magic sword, and freeing good friends from imprisonment—but they all flow together into a nice plot arch overall.

My favorite part of the book was probably A-through-L, the Wyvern whose father was a library (making him a Wyverary, to be more exact). He’s kindhearted and quirky, and he takes huge pride in his vast knowledge of all things that start with the letters A through L (he hasn’t had a chance to study the rest of the letters yet, though his siblings have the rest of the alphabet covered).

Ell, as September calls her Wyverary friend, is fairly typical of the rest of the settings and characters in Fairyland. Everything and everyone has a few targeted things they’re really good at, but they’re also specifically limited in interesting ways. Marids grant wishes, Leopards fly on the winds, and furniture over 100 years old comes to life. But Marids must be wrestled within an inch of their lives before wish-granting, some Leopards aren’t allowed in Fairyland, and most furniture has a pretty poor attitude after 100 years of abuse at various human hands.

And through it all, September goes from being a Somewhat Heartless human child to a Hardly Heartless hero with a host of Fairyland friends. All before her airplane mechanic mother notices she’s missing or her soldier father comes home from the war in Europe. For a twelve-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska, not a bad first visit to Fairyland.

Cover illustration by Ana Juan.

Weekly Roundup: 2/18–2/24

SFWA: 2011 Nebula Award Nominees Announced

If you read speculative fiction, you should check out this year’s nominees for the Nebula. If you go to the announcement on the SFWA website, you’ll not only be blessed with a complete list of nominees, but you’ll also get links to where you can purchase the nominees, or (if possible) to where you can read them for free. I’m currently reading one of the novella nominees and I’m loving it. (Also of note, Embassytown is up for best novel. You can find my review of Miéville’s most recent release here.)

Rachelle Gardner: 13 Ways to Impress an Agent

Agent Rachelle Gardner spills the beans on how to impress an agent … or a publisher … or a reader. Admittedly, not everything on the list will impress a reader, but most of them will. The ideas  apply no matter which route you intend to take with your publishing career. Rachelle’s advice applies to both fiction and nonfiction writers, and she marks her distinctions between the two.

Jim C. Hines: Who Controls Your Amazon E-book Price?

A little more advice that can apply to those who want to self-publish and those who, for the most part, want to go traditionally. Jim Hines uses both publishing routes for different projects, and he wants anyone who’s self-publishing anything (backlist titles or new works) to keep their eyes open when it comes to who sets the prices on their work. Hint: Amazon is in the business of making Amazon happy, not necessarily making you happy.

Weekly Roundup: 1/27–2/3

I only have these two links for you this week, but they’re really good.

Kristin Nelson: The Rapidly Evolving Role of Agent

Literary agents are adapting to the changing landscape of publishing, and though some do it by introducing a conflict of interest (by becoming digital publishers), the Nelson Literary Agency has designed a platform that allows them to help their clients take advantage of electronic markets and avoid taking on the publisher role. Check it out. If you get confused on some of the finer points (Kristin is mainly giving an overview), look at Courtney Milan’s opinion on the subject (Milan is one of Kristin’s clients). She goes into some examples of how, in the NLA model, the agents act as liaisons, not as license holders.

Jane Friedman: 5 Attitudes Toward Publishing You Should Avoid

Friedman looks at five attitudes she hears people tout and that make her worry about them. She asks you to really think about the things you say and make sure you know what you want.

Honest Editorial Feedback without Gatekeepers

Iron Gate of PublishingThe rise of electronic self-publishing has led many authors to circumvent the traditional “gatekeepers” of the publishing world. In some instances that means a wonderful book with a niche audience or a cross-genre appeal finds its way to an audience even though a large press can’t afford to take a risk on it. Sometimes a great author gets more control over his or her process. Other times it means something awful joins the abundance of books already on the market because the author used self-publishing as a last resort.

Edan Lepucki, a literary fiction writer, recently talked about the issue of last-resort publishing when she wrote an article entitled “Reasons Not to Self-Publish in 2011-2012: A List.” Her reason #5 was “I Value the Publishing Community.” She talks about how she values editorial input and the layers that get added to a novel when an editor works on it. She says:

I know you can hire experienced editors and copy-editors, but how is that role affected when the person paying is the writer himself? What if the hired editor told you not to publish? Would that even happen?

As far as Looseleaf is concerned, the answer to whether or not that would happen is sometimes. It depends on what I’ve been hired to do. If I’ve been hired to copyedit, then I will copyedit. The publishability of the manuscript is not the problem I’ve been hired to solve: I’ve been hired to address its coherency on a grammatical and syntactic level. I will do what I’ve been hired to do. Likewise, the copyeditors at your favorite publishing house probably don’t control what goes to press, just the grammatical state in which it goes to press.

Copyediting is not the only thing you can hire an editor to do, though. Looseleaf offers manuscript evaluations (as do many other editing companies), which are essentially an in-depth way of answering the publishability question. In an evaluation I look at plot, character, and overall coherency, which also means I put myself in the reader’s shoes and analyze whether or not the book in my hands adds anything to the market. In the editorial letter I send to the author afterwards, I include positives, negatives, and an overall judgement on the manuscript.

Lepucki asks how the editorial relationship is affected when the editor is an employee of the author. The truth is that the freelancer–author relationship is not the same as the in-house editor–author relationship. A freelancer does what he or she is hired to do. If you want honest editorial feedback, hire a freelancer to give it to you and you’ll get it.

But Lepucki asks a question I can’t answer: “What if the hired editor told you not to publish?” That is a question for the author, a question that applies to all self-publishing authors. If you’ve decided to publish something on your own and hire someone to offer his or her opinion on your decision, are you going to listen if you get told you’re wrong?

Image by Rawich via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Weekly Roundup: 12/3–12/9

Shape Catcher

This isn’t exactly brand-new stuff, but this website is an awesome tool for anyone who presents writing on the internet. Most of the time the general characters on your keyboard are good enough for you, but if you need a special character, visit Shape Catcher, draw your character in the box, and the site will spew out code for all the characters it can find that might be what you’re looking for. Chances are, if there’s code for it, Shape Catcher will find it.

Hand-written letterDaniel Abraham: A Private Letter from Genre to Literature

Genre writer Daniel Abraham writes an elegant letter from genre books to mainstream books. I for one enjoy genre books and mainstream books, and it’s nice to see a new way of presenting the fact that neither one should be snubbing the other. Whether you read genre, mainstream, or both, take a minute to read this letter.

Chuck Wendig: The Seduction of Self-Publishing

There are a lot of good reasons to self-publish. There are a lot of good reasons not to. There are a lot of bad reasons for both options as well. Chuck Wendig, a self-published author himself, talks about the seduction of self-publishing, why he’s glad he didn’t have it as an option five years ago, and why he’s glad he has the option now. If you’re considering the self-publishing path, take a look at this post. It’s rational in a debate that has a lot of irrationality on both sides.

Galley Cat: American Booksellers Association Attacks Amazon’s Price Check App

You’ve heard about Amazon’s new app, right? The one that gives shoppers a $5 incentive if they scan the barcode of a physical book with their smartphones and then buy in on Amazon? This is the ABA’s response to that. In some ways, Amazon’s idea is like price-matching offers or coupon clipping: it’s a way for people to save money. On the other hand, it gives you an incentive to go into a store, use its space, its personnel, and its merchandise to find what you want, and give that store nothing in return. It’s basically a way of saying: “Go have Joe do all my work for me, then I’ll give you want you want.” Amazon gets the reward for the store’s efforts. Not illegal, certainly, but it doesn’t exactly thrill me either. Still, I’m not surprised. This response from the ABA is a little like that: not explicitly outraged, because this is the sort of thing the ABA has come to expect from Amazon, but peeved nonetheless.

Jessica Hische: Inspiration vs. Imitation

Jessica Hische—a letterer, illustrator, and designer—writes about the line between inspiration and imitation. What’s the difference between being inspired by someone’s work and imitating it? Hische speaks in terms of illustration and design, but the same principles apply to writing. It’s sometimes a fuzzy line—what one person thinks is a ripoff another person may think is a fresh take on old ideas—but it’s one you should consider. Are you imitating someone for the sake of learning something? Wonderful. Are you imitating someone for the sake of selling something? Probably not the best idea.

Image by Simon Howden via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Weekly Roundup: 9/10–9/16

Lil’ Ol’ Me: Working with an Editor

Since you just don’t get enough of me from my own blog, I’m linking you to a guest post I wrote for Charlie Holmberg’s blog. It’s called “Working with an Editor” and I’ll give you one chance to guess what it’s about. Charlie is a good friend, and she comes up with delightfully different ideas for her stories.

Daniel Nayeri: Editing Books for Girls (When You’re a Boy)

1981 Lego AdThis is technically from last week, but I found it this week so it still counts, right? In this blog post editor/author Daniel Nayeri talks about his views on books for girls. The way he uses a Lego ad to describe the target audience he feels is being neglected is awesome. And I think he addresses an issue we have in fiction (markedly, I believe, in genre fiction). If a woman is feminine she’s weak, and if she’s strong it’s only because she has become so masculine. There are some books that break that mold, and I love them. Finding more of them would not stop me loving them either, so I’m on the hunt as much as Nayeri is.

Publishers Weekly: Now Accepting e-Galleys for Review

For romance and science-fiction/fantasy/horror titles, Publishers Weekly is no longer requiring physical galleys for reviews. You can now submit electronically on their website. They prefer ePub format (no surprise there), though they’ll accept .mobi and RTF as well. I’m not sure how they would react to a book submitted from an indie author, but the worst they can do is trash it, right? They don’t have anything specific mentioned in the instructions regarding indie authors, so I don’t think it would be a big issue.

Alan Rinzler: What authors can learn from the bestseller lists

Developmental editor Alan Rinzler looks and what it takes to get on the New York Times Bestseller List, mostly by pointing out that conventional wisdom does not apply, and that wonderful writing and wonderful stories will always find a way to the top.

Publishers Lunch: Successful Self-Publishers Get Deals

I’ve heard people say that there’s a stigma against self-publishers that makes traditional vs. self-publishing an editor-or decision. I’d like to present some evidence to the contrary that I found in this week’s Publishers Lunch.

Author of No. 1 Kindle bestseller A LITTLE DEATH IN DIXIE, said to have sold over 250,000 units on Amazon, Lisa Turner’s two untitled Southern mysteries, to Tessa Woodward at Harper, in a very nice deal, by Robert Gottlieb at Trident Media Group (world).

Eric Kahn Gale’s debut THE BULLY BOOK, originally a self-published ebook that hit #1 on Amazon on the children’s mystery list and #7 on the children’s book list, about a boy who is just an average kid until he becomes the class grunt; he suspects a bizarre conspiracy and is determined to solve the mystery, to Phoebe Yeh at Harper Children’s, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Erica Rand Silverman at Sterling Lord Literistic (NA).

One person went from self-publishing to sell her next two books; the other is selling the North American rights to a book he’s already put out. If you reach readers, you can publish either way. It’s not an either-or choice. You do what’s best for your books and your goals.

Jon Yang: The Game of Publishing

This is hilarious. Go read it now. Because I said so.