Awards Eligibility 2019

As the year draws towards its close, we’re entering awards nomination season again. The BSFA Award is already accepting nominations from members, and it will soon be time to put forward works for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. So, with that in mind, I’d like to remind you of the three works I had published this year.

  1. Novel: FLEET OF KNIVES (Titan Books, Feb 2019)
  2. Novella/Short Fiction: RAGGED ALICE (Tor.Com Publishing, April 2019)
  3. Nonfiction: ABOUT WRITING (Luna Press, June 2019)

In addition, I *think* the Embers of War trilogy is eligible to be nominated as Best Series. I might be wrong, though. You might have to check the rules.

Your support is VERY MUCH appreciated. Every award my books win attracts more readers, and the goal is to share my work with as many people as possible!

The Secret Formula for Pitching a Novel or Movie

One of the hardest things about writing a novel or screenplay is succinctly summing up the plot–but that’s exactly what you need to do if you’re going to pitch it to an agent, editor or studio.

To help you out, here’s the formula I use. I find it incredibly useful to fill it out at the start of the process, before I start writing, in order to make certain I’ve got all the essential ingredients of the story in place.

Here it is:

In order to [avoid problem] a [flawed character] must [try to achieve goal] but when [complication] they realise they must overcome [antagonist] and [personal flaw] by [action] before [deadline].

Wherever you see brackets, insert the relevant parts of your plot.

Want an example? See if you recognise this:

In order to ensure others haven’t fallen victim to the monster that killed her crew, a trauatised spacer must return to the planet where the killings started, but when she and her marine escorts are trapped on the surface, she realises she must defeat the aliens and her own feelings of loss for her daughter by facing the queen alien and escaping before the nuclear power plant explodes.

Yes, it’s ALIENS. How about this one:

In order to respond to a distress call from a princess, a naive farm boy must travel to the stars in order to return the plans she hid in his newly acquired R2 droid. But when his hired ship is captured by the Empire, he realises he must deliver those plans to the rebellion and exchange the cynicism of his uncle for a belief in the Force before the rebellion is forever destroyed.

Still not convinced? Here it is applied to my novel, EMBERS OF WAR:

In order to redeem herself a disgraced warship who accidentally developed a conscience must rescue the passengers of a crashed star liner. But when she comes into conflict with former comrades, she realises she must learn how to outhink rather than outfight her opponents, and solve the mystery of the alien objects in the star system known as the Gallery, before their skirmish sparks another devastating war.

Try it with your work-in-progress. It might point out gaps in your plot, and it will certainly make your pitching easier!

Any input? Comment below!

Moving The Moon

The first of my columns for The Engineer has appeared online. It’s about exploring different ways to use the Moon to help climate change on Earth. Some of these ways are more feasible than others…

However, if we could use giant motors or near misses by large asteroids to move the Moon closer to the Earth, we could maybe reset this process, using a faster-orbiting Moon to increase the Earth’s rotation and shorten our days. Why would we want to do that? Well, assuming we could withstand the resultant earthquakes and manage not to drop the entire Moon into the Pacific, the main effect of a shorter day would be that it would give the East and West hemispheres of the Earth less time to warm up in the glare of the Sun. The oceans would have less time to absorb heat, and winters would become colder. In addition, a faster-rotating Earth would give us faster-moving tides, which could have implications for tidal power generation – not to mention surfers.

Read the entire article here: Moving The Moon.

Twitter for Authors

Whatever other social media platforms you may be on, Twitter seems to be the main one where writers hang out. Maybe we like the fact it’s almost all text based. Maybe we like the brevity.

If you’re an author setting out on your Twitter journey, here are a few do’s and dont’s that really seem to help.

USE A HANDLE THAT WILL STAND THE TEST OF TIME

Using a cute name may be an option if you want to stay anonymous online, but if you want to build an author platform, it’s probably best to use your own name (or pen-name) as your @ handle. You may also be tempted to use the title of your debut book, but I would advise against it. Hopefully, you’ll write many more books, and might regret being forever saddled with the title of your first, especially if those later books do much better.

CREATE A PROFESSIONAL BIO

People are going to need a reason to follow you, so give them one! Tell us who you are and why you’re here. If you’re an author, say so. And if you can tell us your genre, so much the better. There’s about a bazillion “bestselling writers” on Twitter, so you need to find some way to stand out. If you really are a NYT or Sunday Times Bestseller, then mention it. Also mention any awards or relevant experience. If you write sci-fi and once worked for NASA, mention that. If you don’t have anything like that, try telling us why you’re writing.

GET A DECENT PROFILE PICTURE

Your profile picture will be a huge part of your Twitter “brand”. People will recognise it as they scan down their feeds, and associate it with you. So, maybe ditch the picture of Garfield or Rick & Morty, and use something that epitomises who you are. I use a professional-looking headshot on my profile, because I am open and personable on Twitter. What you see is what you get. Others may choose to use book covers or caricatures of themselves, which is fine, but think long and hard about how you want to be perceived.

DITTO FOR THE HEADER IMAGE

A header image is another opportunity to give your tweets context and tell us something about who you are. It’s also a great chance to show off your book covers or post up an image that reflects the tone and subject of your work. So, if you write gritty murder mysteries, you could use a darkened city street. If you write international romances, maybe a yacht or a tropical beach.

PINNED TWEETS

Twitter allows you to ‘pin’ a tweet to the top of your feed, so it will be the first thing seen by visitors to your profile. This can be a handy way of posting links to your latest books, deals, or news. But agressive “buy my book” tweets can be off-putting, and the visitor may click away without reading the rest of your feed. So, try to be welcoming. Show off your wares, but don’t try to jam them down our throats. Also, it’s a good idea to change your pinned tweet every now and again. A pinned tweet dated six months ago gives the impression that nothing much of interest has happened since.

DON’T BE A JERK

There’s a line in Bugsy Malone that goes, “You give a little love and it all comes back to you / You’re gonna be remembered for the things you say and do.” And this applies double to social media. The way you appear online is the way people will think you really are. So, if you act like an agressive jerk, readers will assume you are one. And if those readers include prospective agents and publishers, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. Nobody wants to work with an asshole, far less read their book or be friends with them, so be careful how you behave.

I try to treat Twitter the same way I would treat a bar full of people I want to get to know. I’m polite, respectful and try to be helpful where I can. I don’t wander around starting fights, or jump on the table shouting “BUY MY BOOK!”

DON’T SPAM

People don’t react well to a hard sales pitch. If I follow someone and they immediately hit me with an automated “check out my book / facebook page / website message, I immediately unfollow them. At the very least, I will mute them.

The same goes for hijacking other people’s conversations. If two or more people are discussing something, don’t leap in with an advert for your book. And don’t use popular hashtags to try and get exposure for your work, either. Not unless it’s relevant. If people are using a hashtag to talk about a political issue and you jump in with an advert for your murder mystery, you’re going to look like an idiot (however, if you’re a political pundit whose book happens to be relvant to the discussion, feel free).

QUALITY NOT QUANTITY

When it comes to followers, you want people who are interested in what you have to say. Trying to get a million randos to follow you won’t be nearly as useful as having 1,000 engaged and interested friends. The former may buy a book from you, the latter almost certainly will. At the very least, they’ll retweet your tweets and help you spread your message.

BE CAREFUL WHO YOU FOLLOW

Follow people who are relevant to your interests. Use the list function to segment your timeline. Have one list for agents, another for editors. Create a list for your most engaged followers, and your favourite authors. Choose successful authors and watch how they use twitter. Learn from them. Listen to what they’re saying and how they say it. Maybe even reach out to them to ask them questions about their craft.

But don’t just follow other writers. Try to follow readers and reviewers, bloggers and publishers. Anyone with an interest in your particular genre. Because it never hurts to know what’s going on in your field.

And for the sake of your mental health, block anyone who trolls you. Don’t try to argue with them, just block and move on (and report if necessary). Mute topics that stress you out, and try to cut as much negativity from your feed as possible.

But most of all, have fun!

You can find me @garethlpowell where I regularly host question and answer sessions for aspiring authors, post writing tips and offer encouragement, and occasionally share pictures of my cats.

Entire Embers of War Trilogy Now Available!

I hear tell that there are some people out there who won’t buy the first book in a series until the final one is published.

Weird, right?

Well, if you’re one of these people and you’ve been holding back on buying Embers of War and its sequel Fleet of Knives, you need hold back no more!

The third and final instalment, Light of Impossible Stars, is now available to pre-order in paperback, which means there’s no reason for you to delay ordering the entire trilogy!*

Click below to find out more info and place your order:

Embers of War

Fleet of Knives

Light of Impossible Stars

*Unless you’re waiting for Kindle or audio formats, which will be along closer to the publication date

Fan art

I am absolutely smitten with these pieces of Embers of War fan art from Snowball Art.

Alva Clay
Sal Konstanz and the Trouble Dog (on screen)
Ona Sudak confronts the avatar of the Marble Armada

Embers of War becomes a bestseller

I am hugely pleased to see Embers of War on this month’s Locus Bestseller List.

Competition: Win Some Exclusive WorldCon Swag

Win one of these!

My publisher, Titan Books, produced these paperback samplers exclusively for WorldCon, but now they’ve kindly given me six copies to offer as prizes to my newsletter subscribers.

The samplers include ten tasters from forthcoming books by Charlie Jane Anders, JS Barnes, Agnes Gomillion, Paul Tremblay, Marian Womack, Lois Murphy, Jennifer McMahon, Sarah Maria Griffin, AJ Hackwith, and yours truly.

My contribution is an entire chapter from Light of Impossible Stars, which won’t be published until February next year. So, if you’re dying for a sneak preview of the final Embers of War novel, this is what you need.

In addition, each one comes with a special Dublin 2019 book plate signed by me.

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning one is to subscribe to my newsletter by August 31st. I’ll pick six winners at random and announce who they are in the September issue of the newsletter (due Sept 1st).

Subscribe to my newsletter

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My newsletter comes out once a month with updates on forthcoming books, recommendations of other books to read, personal news, and anything else I think you might find interesting. Your privacy is of great concern to me, so I will never share or misuse your address, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

WorldCon 2019 Report

I got back from Dublin last night. I am footsore and tired, but really enjoyed myself. If you’ve never been to a WorldCon, it’s difficult for me to convey just how massive they are. 6000 people attended the event over the weekend, spread between various venues and hotel bars around the city.

The great thing for me was that so many of my patrons and Twitter followers were there, and I got to meet people in person who I’d only previously known online. I also got to hang out with authors such as Joe Hill, John Scalzi, Cat Valente, Marina Lostetter, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Amal El-Motar, Jonathan Howard, Emma Newman, Paul Cornell, and many more.

Dublin is also a vibrant city. It feels very European with its trams and grid layout. And the CCD was an amazing venue, with a huge glass frontage that meant you could see the sea from the top floor.

I did a reading on Friday night, which went very well. The audience laughed in all the right places. Then on Saturday, I did two panels, one on Patreon and the other on social media. I said that Patreon makes me feel I have a community of people interested and invested in my work, which is a huge boost. It also lets me afford to go to events like WorldCon, which are so important from a networking and promotional point-of-view.

I came home with some exclusive WorldCon swag, which I’m going to be giving away to subscribers to my newsletter. Stay tuned for details…

Creating Characters

Hello friends. I’m currently in the throes of preparing for WorldCon in Dublin while also acting as an unpaid Uber-style driver for my children, who are on their school summer break and need endless lifts in and out of town.

While sitting in traffic earlier, I started thinking about the way I create characters, and I thought you might find it interesting and useful for me give you an insight.

When starting to plan a novel, I’ll usually have a vague situation or event in mind. With the Embers of War books, it was the idea of a space-going rescue service that first inspired me. But an idea like that isn’t a story; you need characters to inhabit and change it.

So, I started thinking who I’d need. I’m not much insterested in writing stories about emperors or politicians. I’ve always been more drawn to the everyday men and women in the street. The grunts doing their jobs and trying to get by as best they can. Which meant I decided my story would be from the point-of-view of one of the rescuers, rather than the beauracrats directing them. At the same time, I hit upon the idea of setting the story after a cataclysmic war. So, my crew would be a group of veterans from both sides of the conflict.

And that was when I discovered the Trouble Dog. A warship that had accidentally developed a conscience. And suddenly, I had my story. Everyone in the book is acting in reaction to the parts they played in the war; some are trying to hide from their pasts, some trying to come to terms with what they did, and others trying to atone. All their motivations clicked into place and became the heart of the thing, rendering the situation and setting as a backdrop against which they played out their inner struggles.

I chose to write the captain and her ship as female, because I feel more comfortable writing strong female characters than strong male ones. They are more interesting to me. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been very aware of my female side, and I’ve spent most of my life surrounded by strong, complex women.

I gave each character a number of defininng incidents in their past. For Sal Konstanz, it was the loss of her parents and the accidental separation from her boyfriend. For Alma Clay, it was her experiences crawling through a sentient jungle. And for the Trouble Dog, it was the loss of her siblings and the horrific nature of the war crime she was ordered to perpetrate.

I didn’t plan how these traumas would affect the characters, I just knew they were there, and let their effects emerge organically as I wrote. I’m not one of these writers that completes a full D&D style character description before starting out. I enjoy writing to discover who these people are. That’s where the creativity comes in, and I love the process of finding out and watching as they come alive on the page.

When writing characters, the old phrase, “Write what you know,” becomes especially important. If you want your creations to live in breathe, you need to write honestly and authentically about what it feels like to be human. You have to know people. Know how they react in certain situations. Know the small gestures and phrases that give away how they really feel inside. If you want to write convincing characters, you need to spend a lot of time observing people in all sorts of situations. Pay attention to what they’re not saying as much as what they are. And look inside yourself. Take a flashlight and explore the murky interior of your own heart and mind. Because authenticity also comes from within.

If you have any good character tips, leave them in the comments below. Also, any requests for topics to be covered in future blog posts.

Right, now where did I leave my suitcase…?