Shawn Speakman, author of Song of the Fell HammerShawn Speakman is a good friend of mine. I recently wrote a testimonial about him (HERE) and since it proved so popular, I thought a terrific way to complement it would be to interview him. Speakman’s a hard working author-to-be who’s been around the publishing industry for a long time and has rubbed shoulders with some of the genre’s biggest names (Richard Morgan, Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, Robin Hobb, Steven Erikson and Patrick Rothfuss, to name a few).

It may seem strange for me to interview an as-yet-unpublished author, but once you read what Speakman has to say, you’ll see he has a lot of knowledge about the industry, a strong philosophy when it comes to writing and an interesting story with regards to how he became web master, and friend, to Terry Brooks, one of the heavyweights of the Fantasy World.


The Interview

Q. Shawn, first let me thank you for taking the time to join me here at A Dribble of Ink!
   Thanks for having me, Aidan. It’s always fun to talk about this stuff.

Q. You are the web master for several prominent Fantasy authors, the most well known of which is Terry Brooks, a heavyweight in the genre. Can you share the story behind how you met Terry and became his web master and friend?
   I had been reading Terry for about six or seven years when I decided to go to college at the University of Washington in Seattle. At that time, even as I crossed into adulthood, I read Terry’s books as soon as they were published. They were entertaining and a release for me. That was the beginning.
   After several years, my chosen major—biochemistry—began to wear on me. I enjoyed the practical analysis and puzzle aspect of the work but I did not enjoy the lab itself. In a twist of fate eerily similar to the story that Terry tells about why he began writing The Sword of Shannara, I decided to stay sane by doing something creative while I made my way through the boredom of pipetting for hours on end. I’ve always been artistic, and the natural outlet was the interesting new world of website design. But rather than develop a website about me—I’m not that arrogant to believe I have anything useful to say, even now—I started a dedication website to Terry Brooks in 1996 and I’ve been doing it ever since.
   After a few years, I decided to try and make the site official. I saw Terry often at his yearly book signings as we share a city and that gave me the upper hand in having the most current news available to those fans who came to my website. The website grew, and I decided I wanted Terry along for the ride. He was gracious enough to jump on board, and we’ve been working together as friends for the last eight years.
   Even to this day, I don’t get paid for my efforts. But I’ve gained so much from the experience it’s hard to say that first part with a straight face. Through Terry, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many writers, publicists, editors, and even his fans. I’ve received excellent writing and life advice, and that can be worth gold for the right person. And in a weird way, maintaining Terry’s website keeps me sane from the wiles and tribulations of writing and the publishing industry.

Q. What is it that drew you to Fantasy, and specifically Terry Brooks, in the first place?
   To me, fantasy is the epitome of wonder and excitement that I see in the world every day. It has the capacity to illuminate what we sometimes can’t see in our own friends and surroundings, and despite the bulk of the genre taking place in imaginary worlds I think it can be a fantastic educational tool if done correctly. Of course, it is entertaining and that’s reason all by itself to enjoy it and read it.
   Terry is a writer who infuses a sense of wonder into his writing. He has beautiful prose, but it’s the subtexts that Terry weaves into his stories that I find so appealing. It is for that reason I enjoy his Word/Void series the best out of the breadth of his work; all three books are beautiful reads that have layers and layers of real life themes going on beneath the story everyone reads.
   Other writers who do for me what Terry does are Philip Pullman, Stephen R. Donaldson, and Neil Gaiman. There are a few others, but those are the ones who have been around longest. All of them write beautiful, entertaining language and stories but place enough subtextual meaning behind their work that challenges me to view the world in new ways. To be honest, I wish more politicians read fantasy and science fiction…

Q. Starting with Terry’s web site, you’ve been involved with the publishing industry for a long time, and I know you’ve taught me a lot about the inner workings of things and helped me feel more prepared to pitch a novel when the time come. Can you share some insight and advice for my readers?
   This is a question I could give a seminar on. It’s that large. I’ve had the chance to view the publishing industry from its offices in New York City, to writing my own novel, to owning a small business (The Signed Page) devoted to signed books, to working with publicists and community relations managers, to managing one of the largest bookstores in the world. I’ve seen this industry from almost every angle there is, and I have a lot to say on the topic.
   There is no easy way to go about being published. It doesn’t happen fast and rarely makes sense when it does happen. If you go into it with that in mind, you’ll be fine—and might even stay sane enough to write two or maybe three books.
   Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll try to keep this short. First, a person needs to love to write. They can’t want to be published and have that be their driving force. The craft must be their love. If that love of the craft does not exist—to the point not writing every day wounds the person—then this business just isn’t right for them. Publishing one or two or three books is well and good, but will the fire be there for a career? So there is that to consider.
   Second, reading is one of the most important aspects of writing. I incorporate a lot of non-fiction reading now into my fiction stacks, all of which help me understand style, set-up, execution, and idea construction—much of which grows my understanding of character development, how society works, and gives a layered feel to the writing itself. If you read a lot and from a breadth of disciplines, you’ll be a better writer.
   Third, I believe strongly that writers should work in a bookstore for at least six months, even if it is only part time. The publishing industry is a large entity, and the only way to learn it is to be immersed in it. The act of discovering what publisher or agent might be good for a writer’s finished manuscript will be infinitely easier with the knowledge they gain within a bookstore and being surrounded by books. Plus, it is good on a resume, as it lets a publisher know you have some knowledge of the industry.
   Fourth, networking is invaluable. Go out and listen to author events, invite them to coffee if they are local and learn what they know. Befriend them and other like fans. Have them read your work; the input you get is very important, especially early on. Go to conventions and writing retreats and meet agents and editors; they are there to meet you and find the next great book. If you can, be an assistant for a writer—do it for free. You’ll gain their friends and working relationships as well as learn a great deal about the publishing industry while opening those elusive doors writers have a difficult time going through.
   Finally, it takes tenacity. It takes dreaming. It takes moving forward despite the rejection letters arriving in your mailbox. It takes being so sure of yourself that you won’t let money or time or energy stop you from making your dream a reality. Passion has many colors, but the black letters on white must be the most important to a writer.

Q. How has your relationship with Terry Brooks, and the various other authors you’ve met over the years, affected your professional career?
   Read the previous question and answer about networking. Terry and my other writing friends have given me advice, encouragement, and opportunity to have my work read by their agents, editors, and publishers. Terry and I have talked about the craft of writing on so many occasions, I really wish I had taped it all. It would have made a great book, probably. Being Terry’s webmaster has given me my own fan base, believe it or not, and that could really help spread the word when my first book is published. So although I can already see how being involved with Terry and other writers have helped shape me as a writer and as a person, I think the professional aspect of the question will become more poignant if I ever receive a royalty check.

Q. Your web site (Found HERE) is home to a plethora of information on your first novel, Song of the Fell Hammer. How has your web site, and the Internet in general, helped you in your quest to sell the novel to a publisher?
   Publishing is a difficult business, not only for the writer trying to break in but for the publisher as well. There really isn’t a whole lot of money in it—for every New York Times bestseller who brings in money to the publisher there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of writers who lose money for the publisher.
   Because of this, any publicity ability a new writer can bring to the table during their discussions with a publisher are extremely important. My website already has a small readership and it will be the focal point of any publicity and marketing endeavors I may have once I have a book contract. It is one less thing the publisher must pay for out of their pocket, and it might grow sales faster than a writer who does not have one.
   As for the Internet, there are millions of people at your fingertips. I’ve discovered while growing The Signed Page that a person can help themselves out greatly if they are willing to approach complete strangers with a solid tagline and build a fan base before their book is even published.
   Plus, it’s fun. And keeps me out of trouble… mostly.

Q. According to your blog, a major hurdle you’re facing at the moment is that publishers don’t believe that Epic Fantasy (which Song of the Fell Hammer could be classified as) doesn’t sell and so they will no longer take the chance on it. With the release, and success, however, of novels and series such as Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy and Karen Miller’s Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology, this idea seems hard for me to swallow. How do you respond when your novel, which you spent so much time on, isn’t given a fair shake because of a broad generalization of its supposed sub-genre?
   It is, of course, very difficult. Any kind of rejection is a pain, at least initially. What contrasts a writer from a published writer is how one looks at the feedback being given and how that plays into the work written.
   In Song of the Fell Hammer, I decided very early on I was going to take the clichés of the epic fantasy motif and twist them to the snapping point. On the surface, Fell Hammer mimics many of the great epic stories out there—the boy who discovers he is more than he is and must go on a quest. The one editor to have read it and the multiple agents who have read it all say the same thing: I have great prose, they love my pacing, the story is solid, but traditional epic fantasy is not selling. A person must do something new and wholly different to break in, I hear. With Rothfuss, it is his main character. With Abercrombie, it is his humor. Each writer must bring something new.
   The problem with Fell Hammer is a simple one and two fold: 1) What I am bringing new to the tale is subtextual in nature. Fell Hammer isn’t about a boy and his quest; it is really about organized religion, faith, and redemption, sprung from the confines of the Bible and Paradise Lost. And 2) The bulk of what makes the Battle’s Perilous Edge trilogy unique takes place in Book Two and even more in Book Three. The first book is solid but stereotyped in many ways, but not different; the last two increasingly are more original in scope and execution.
   Marketing plays a huge role in publishing. And although I feel I have a very strong marketing platform with Terry Brooks fans, the agents and publisher feel I won’t be able to gain enough of those readers to make it lucrative to them. This is the reality of the publishing industry, and one that grates.
   But, the really good news is this: Fell Hammer is hardly a wasted effort. Del Rey read my book, and although passed on it feels strongly my next book will be my break out. My next book, ironically, is an urban fantasy I’ve had in my head for over a year. That is what I will work on for the next six months, and when I am published I have an epic fantasy waiting in the wings when they ask me, “So, what else have you written?”

Q. What can you, and other writers of Epic Fantasy, do to show publishers that Epic Fantasy is still a valid sub-genre in a literary atmosphere where Urban Fantasy is king?
   That’s easy: Buy more epic fantasy. Just kidding.
   In all seriousness, this is a phase. The industry is cyclical, and epic fantasy will come back around in its due time. You have to understand epic fantasy has been king for two decades, and despite strong sales from several different writers (ie. Brooks, Martin, Jordan, Goodkind, Williams), many new epic fantasy writers have not seen strong success in this climate. It was a foregone conclusion.
   But why is this? Why have these writers experienced lower than expected sales? That is for you to judge. But in the three or four cases that drive the opinion that epic fantasy is not selling, it is my opinion it came down to lackluster art and marketing departments. What does that do for the writer, or new writers trying to break in who write similar type stories? It leads one to the question that started this entire answer off.

Q. You mentioned earlier that you’re working on an Urban Fantasy. What can you tell us about this new endeavor?
   Del Rey Books was the first publisher to ask for and receive Fell Hammer—due to being Terry’s webmaster, the built-in marketing that comes with that made Del Rey a great choice. Terry’s editor read the book, liked it, but felt it wasn’t marketable at the moment.
   Song of the Fell Hammer is the first book of three planned. I have the other two outlined and ready to go. When it became apparent the story would have a hard time finding a home—not only due to Terry’s editor’s comments but those I’ve received from the agents who have read it as well—I decided to go a completely different direction. It is my opinion real writers have more stories inside of them than they have the time to tell, and I have several like that.
   So I began work on an urban fantasy. Publishers are looking for urban fantasy and paranormal romance right now, and I realized this was my chance to tell one of my other stories that I’ve had inside of me for over a year.
   For the last three weeks, I have been spending a lot of time with the story. The tentative title right now is The Dadga King, a reference to one of the Celtic gods of paganism. I am blending Celtic mythology, a bit of Arthurian lore, British history, and the beginnings of the Vatican in Rome into a contemporary urban fantasy that is set 1/3 in Seattle, 1/3 in the fey world, and 1/3 in Rome.
   My main protagonist is an adult male—breaking away from the young protagonist of Fell Hammer. Other point of view characters include a homeless “knight” in the dregs of his life, a Cardinal who is part of a secret society known as the Vigilo, Merlin in what I hope will be a very interesting take on a very old character, and an 18th century British second royal son who believes much is owed him after 300 years of doing his father’s bidding. I’ll get to discuss religious extremism, faith in oneself as well as in others, and the hardship and great things that come with being part of two different worlds. I’m excited about it, as you can probably tell, and I think it is a story people will enjoy.
   The ironic thing is I had dinner with Terry and his wife last night. He told me he spoke to his editor a week ago and she asked him if I was working on something a bit different from Fell Hammer. Terry knows what I am working on and told her. In a very positive remark, she said she wants to be the first to read it when it is done—she believes it “will be my breakout book.” I think that means she believes I have solid writing skills, and that gives me a lot of steam as I plow forward into this very different book.
   Of course, by the time I finish this book early next year, urban fantasy will be on its way out and something else will be marketable. It’s the game we play, but I am up for the challenge.

Q. Did writing an entire novel (Song of the Fell Hammer) change the way you approached this new series?
   Writers come in two molds, usually: Those who outline and plan before writing and those who sit down and write whatever comes to mind with no planning. There are some writers who are in the gray area between, but for the most part the former is true.
   I am an outliner. I let the story build inside me to the point it is going to burst, dreaming my way through the actual story, the development of the characters, the literary merit I want to lace beneath the story, etc. When I get to critical mass, it comes out in the form of an outline. The outline allows me to view the story physically in front of me and see areas I need to grow, remove, or expand out before I start writing.
   I outlined Fell Hammer pretty extensively.
   But what I really failed to do in Fell Hammer was have sufficient backstory for some of my characters and the world in general. The Battle’s Perilous Edge trilogy is very much my critique on organized religion, faith, and how both of those ideas don’t always coincide. I wanted the series to have a foundation in what we know to be true about the Bible, Catholicism and Christianity, and those who embrace a religious life or don’t embrace it. Much of that came along after I had begun writing.
   What does that mean exactly? It means I had to go back and find places in what I had already written to insert the driving subtexts and history of the story. And that was very difficult to do.
   With The Dadga King, I am doing a lot of research up front—probably more than I really have to do—in order to immerse the reader into the reality of the worlds and the history we all share. In this way, when I do begin to write, I won’t have to hunt and seek the anchoring elements of the story. They will be there already at the ends of my fingers.

Q. Why do you tell stories?
   I tell stories for a few reasons. The first is therapy. It’s free and it’s there for you whenever you want it. I am continually working my way through issues that arise in the real world and I use my writing to develop those issues and place a magnifying glass up to them. It is in this way I grow as a person, by analyzing who I am and how I evolve every day.
   There is great power in the written word and it can really help people. There is nothing like books. When I was a bookstore manager, I enjoyed helping people get the book they were looking for in order for them to become the person they wanted to be. In a way, I am doing something similar as a writer if I am doing it right. And adding to the world and helping people is what I’ve been doing my entire life.
   And thirdly, it is what I was born to do. Putting together words to create a mosaic is about as fulfilling a job I can ever imagine.

Q. Between The Signed Page and your connections with Terry Brooks, you’ve seen and experienced a lot of things that Science Fiction and Fantasy fans could only dream of. Of all of these, what were some of the most rewarding/memorable?
   Terry announcing to a crowded bookstore at one of his signings that I was his new webmaster (October 1999).
   Having George RR Martin in my home and speaking to him about his own writing, the craft of writing, and the industry. Then George giving me a WINTER IS COMING t-shirt.
   Visiting the home of Steven Erikson and spending an afternoon with him and his wife.
   Having lunch with Brian Herbert, who tends to be a very private person.
   Attending a Del Rey dinner with 25 writers and editors in Atlanta, Georgia at some monk monastery. Greg Keyes ordered $150 50 year old bourbon on Del Rey’s tab and no one wanted to try it upon his offering—except me. Good stuff.
   Every time I receive an email from one of my writer friends; every time I receive an email from a fan of The Signed Page or of my own writing.
   Attending the Maui Writers Conference with peers, authors, and editors/agents, in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
   Every year, my writer friends send money in support of the Light the Night walk, in support of raising funds for cancer research. These writers are all great, wonderful, supportive people and deserve respect if only for that reason.

Q. Beyond the various message boards and web sites that your run, I notice your name popping up in the comments sections of some of the popular SF/F blogs around the ‘net. What’s your opinion of the current blogosphere in general as a tool to help new authors break into the industry?
   This is a huge question, really. I’ve been doing this a long time—eleven years now—and it is still as fun as the day I started Terry’s website but I’ve seen it all evolve as time marches on. I’ve seen the industry finally embrace the internet and use it as a marketing tool, and I’ve seen a plethora of blogs rise from the ashes of the craze.
   Blogs can be very useful to distinguish oneself from the masses. There are some very good ones out there and some that are started and abandoned. But those who carve themselves out a niche in some way and can gain a readership will always have a leg up on a writer who doesn’t have a potential readership. Whether writers like it or not, marketability is an enormous factor in a writer getting published. My only advice is to find something you enjoy doing and talking about, and the rest should happen all by itself.

Q.You’re a survivor of cancer, do you mind if I ask how has this affected you as a writer?
   You know, it didn’t change my perspective on life as much as you’d think. I had a very rare, aggressive cancer, and I spent every day of three months in chemotherapy. During that time, I was obviously prone to reflection but the only thing I really incorporated from it was not letting anything stop me from attaining my dreams.
   Perhaps it forced me to see how short time can be, and from that I realized I could write every single day and enjoy doing it.
   Writing was a dream. I doubt I would be doing this if it were not for the cancer. I still look at the world with wonder and excitement as when I was growing up; I still try to help others see that wonder and excitement. But going through cancer in a way gave me the ability to do it with my dream.

I’d like to thank Shawn for taking the time for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed working with Shawn. You can check out his web site HERE.

  • Joe Sherry November 22, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    Very good interview, Aidan. Shawn had some very interesting things to say about trying to get published…some of which I have seen on the TB forums, some not. Some, I disagree with (and think he is missing something pretty essential, but this isn’t really the place), but he’s got a great perspective and commitment for writing.

  • aidan November 23, 2007 at 11:56 am

    Glad you enjoyed the interview, Joe.

    I’m curious about where you disagree with Shawn. I’d love to get some dialogue and discussion going on here in the comments.

  • Robert November 24, 2007 at 6:33 am

    Aidan, Shawn, what a great interview! Not only did you provide some valuable advice Shawn, but it was a real pleasure getting to know you a bit more :) So thanks for the opportunity and good luck with “The Dagda King”! It sounds really interesting…

  • Fernando November 24, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    Really enjoyed this interview. Disappointed to hear that SOTFH wouldn’t be coming out soon… maybe some other small press companies would consider it!

    Great work!

  • Joe Sherry November 25, 2007 at 5:06 am

    I tried to post a comment yesterday and somehow it didn’t go through, so here we go with an abbreviated version.

    Shawn seems to have an excellent grasp on the business side of publishing, but I think he is missing something essential about why his novel didn’t get picked up. He seemed confused by the “epic fantasy is not selling” vs seeing that clearly, epic fantasy IS selling. He identified that some of the hot new epic fantasists are doing something new and despite his “great prose” and “pacing”, it is still not enough because traditional epic fantasy is not selling.


    Now, I agree that sales are likely overall down, and that more urban fantasies are up (though I would suggest it is the paranormal urban fantasies and paranormal romances that are really driving those sales – i.e. Laurell Hamilton and Kim Harrison), but here’s the thing that I firmly believe Shawn is missing:

    His book just isn’t good enough.


    He can blame sales of “traditional epic fantasy” all he wants and the rise of “urban fantasy”, but if he wrote an outstanding fantasy that couldn’t be denied, he’d sell it. End of story.

    This isn’t to say that Shawn doesn’t have talent and that he won’t sell a book (next book or one later down the road), because if he is getting positive feedback and it seems like he is, he’ll be able to write that outstanding book that will let him break in.

    I hope he is. He seems to otherwise have a good head on his shoulders and his posts over at the TB forums show clear thinking about the genre and about publishing.

    I just think that he is missing the fact that if his book was good enough it would be picked up anyway, and that it isn’t the fault of epic fantasy not selling. We are still seeing new epic fantasies come out every year, so someone is buying the the books.

  • Shawn Speakman November 25, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Joe brings up a very solid point. It’s one that has gone through my own head numerous times. Was the book good enough? Was the writing good? The pacing? The character development? Is the book worthy?

    I’ve given it to several writers, several fantasy readers who read across the board, several friends and family members. About 17 people altogether, not including agents or editors. All but one thinks it is worthy to be published right now. That one person thinks it can be improved to the point of excellence.

    But here are some things I know as facts. You all can judge for yourself what they mean:

    1. Two of the newly acquired editors at Del Rey were brought in specifically to find urban fantasy and paranormal romance. That’s it. If Del Rey and other publishers were interested in finding new traditional epic fantasy, they wouldn’t be limiting their editors in finding a good, solid book. And if you look at those two editors’ purchases thus far, they echo this — all urban fantasy and paranormal romance. This isn’t an opinion on my part. It’s a fact.

    2. Over the years, I’ve built many professional relationships, some of which are friendships. Betsy Mitchell at Del Rey is one of those friendships. Matt Bialer, the premiere fantasy agent, is another. Both read the book. Both turned it down. Both said it was a solid book that 10 years ago would be published easily. But the marketing climate has changed, and with that change comes what publishers buy and publish. Betsy said she “didn’t know how to market it.” Would those two people lie to me? I really doubt it. I guess what I am trying to say is don’t think so poorly of their professional opinion — it was given in faith and fact.

    3. Pat over at Fantasy Hot List is kind of in the same boat as I am. We both have pretty solid marketing platforms behind us. Matt Bialer is his agent, and Matt took him on without the need for rewrites — which speaks volumes of the book that Pat has written. To give you some form of contrast, Matt had Rothfuss rewrite his book for 18 months. Yet Pat of Hot List is having the same problem as I am, mentioning in an interview that “publishers are not looking for epic fantasy as much as they used to. . .”

    And as I mentioned in the interview and on my website, Betsy has asked to read the urban fantasy already. She wouldn’t do that if she didn’t think I had the talent, talent she based her opinion on from Fell Hammer.

    4. SteeJans84 over at the Terry Brooks board started a thread in the Other Authors section that has people scratching their heads. He asked people for quest fantasy recommendations. So far, no one has come up with anything. Why? Because nothing has been published recently. And by that I mean years worth of no publishing. The quest fantasy is what “traditional epic fantasy” is, and publishers have stopped publishing it. It’s a dead story. Name a traditional epic fantasy that has come out recently? Joe Abercromie’s first book isn’t. Pat Rothfuss’s book isn’t. The last I can think of is maybe Robert Newcomb or Greg Keyes. And since both of those writer’s sales are extremely low (I’m talking about 2000 – 5000 copies per book), publishers have taken it to mean that traditional epic fantasy isn’t selling.

    Of course, I’d argue quite vehemently that the marketing and art departments on both of those writer’s first books in their current series blew it. And in the former, the editor hurt that writer, allowing deux ex machina in the first three books and calling it the EPIC FANTASY OF THE YEAR. Readers aren’t stupid. To make a book successful, it takes a team effort and those two writers didn’t get what they deserved, I think. Especially Greg Keyes, whose series is one of the best written that I have read and just below George RR Martin in enjoyability — yet no one reads it.

    In short, Joe, I think you are short-changing drastically the effect the marketing departments have in who gets published in this business. Trends rule money. Publishers don’t publish good books; they publish books they think will sell and that is based on trends. I mean, not to be snotty but to use a good example, why was Eragon published? Is that a “good enough book?” If you say yes, then we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    And, still, my book might not be good enough. :) You may be exactly right about that. But it certainly would sell more than 5,000 copies. And it’s a far cry better than a lot of the tripe that’s been published recently.

  • Shawn Speakman November 25, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    PS: I didn’t say this, but it is important. I think what I am working on right now is far superior to Fell Hammer. It’s a tighter story because it isn’t epic. Here are some great things why I am actually happy Del Rey passed on Fell Hammer:

    – The Dadga King is wholly self-contained. Readers will like that, as will publishers.
    – The Dadga King is 16 chapters shorter than Fell Hammer. Readers will like it, I think, and publishers definitely like shorter books.
    – The Dadga King is darker and more meaningful to me than Fell Hammer. Although the themes in Fell Hammer are important to me, The Dadga King will resonate more with readers due to being set in the real world.
    – Del Rey may have passed, but Orbit and Tor both have the book. I’m not too worried about it.

    So at the end of the day, I’m happy things have played out this way. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be working on The Dadga King. And I am enjoying myself too much with it to second guess a publisher anymore about Fell Hammer.

  • Joe Sherry November 25, 2007 at 3:48 pm


    I’ll respond in greater detail a bit later when I have the opportunity, though I’ll say that again, this is why I enjoy your posts over at TB, because you’ve put a lot of thought and time into writing / publishing.

    But, just to quick answer Eragon: Oh, dear god, no. It was wretched.

  • Shawn Speakman November 25, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    If you think Eragon was wretched, then there is a problem with your hypothesis about why books get published. Marketing drove that book being published and nothing else — just like marketing is driving the current trends we are seeing today.

    I appreciate where you are coming from, and in a way you are right. If I had written something earth-shattering, a James Joyce type book, for instance, then nothing — not marketing or trends or money — would stop it from seeing print. But a book like that comes along once a century and I know for a fact I didn’t write it. haha But neither did anyone you are reading right now, I’d wager.

    Even Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone originally did not get published. Publishers past over it without exception. So did agencies. It wasn’t what they were looking for at the time — not what the market told them to buy. It took an agency’s secretary saying she’d quit her job if they didn’t represent the book for it to get attention by an agent. Then it took 15 publishers passing on it before Philosopher’s Stone found a home — due to a daughter of Bloomsbury’s editorial chairman, of all things.

    Do you think that book wasn’t good? Why did all of those people initially pass on it?

    These are the questions you have to ask yourself when it comes to book publishing. Mostly, it takes the book finding the right person to champion it, to overcome the current trends and beliefs of a business that sometimes has a very difficult time thinking for itself. Hollywood is the same way; that’s the reason you’ll see multiple similar movies coming out within six months of one another. Trends drive the business.

    And if people are programmed to look for a particularly trend, it is easy to turn one’s head from what could be a good book.

    I’m certainly not saying your point is invalid though. It very well could be my book. But as with most things the truth lies in the gray area, most likely.

    And in the gray area, I have a lot of room to play in. :)

  • jkdr97 November 26, 2007 at 9:40 am

    Aidan/Shawn, I have throughly enjoyed reading this interview. It helped me understand a lot about how TB forum came about and way more about publishing. Although I am not a writer nor do I aspire to be (my writing would be horrid) I found it interesting the ups and downs of how it works. In many ways I found myself reading it and looking at how it applies to many areas in life not just publishing books. It continually amazes me how reading things weather the are books, interviews, or some other form of writing I find that somewhere in the mist of it I find something that will help me through some issue that I am currently dealing with. Sometimes it is just the ability to walk away from things and yet other times it is the positive attitude that I am able to feed off of.

    I truly appreciate the time that both of you spend posting and writing and I can only look forward to reading more.

    To both of you: Keep up the great work!

  • Joe Sherry November 26, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    I really don’t have a good answer for Eragon, but I think it was originally self-published and had decent sales which lead to a publishing contract. Plus, there was the built in story of a 15 year old writing a novel which, for the work of an average 15 year old, didn’t completely suck ass.

    Eragon is still a bad example, though, because I don’t think it falls into a trend. It isn’t a Harry Potter knock off, and the theme fits with epic fantasy, and we’re not seeing piles of 15 year old publishing new novels, so it didn’t start a trend. As much to say that The Da Vinci Code was published because of a trend. Dan Brown, in that instance, was more of a trend setter.

    That’s how trends “seem” to work. Something sells absurdly more copies than it has any right to, and beyond the expectations of the publisher and then everyone tries to hop on the bandwagon before the well dries up. In the case of the Dan Brown bandwagon, we got The Rule of Four and a small host of others, but the well dried quickly. In the case of urban fantasy, the well is deeper. But…when you say Urban Fantasy, do you really mean urban fantasy or do you mean paranormal romance? It seems that paranormal romance is the one selling hotcakes. I’m not sure, outside of Jim Butcher, who the big “urban fantasy” names are.

    I think I can accept a hybrid quality versus sales as a purchasing theory. The thing is, I don’t think publishers always have a good handle on what is going to sell. They can’t. It’s subjective. Granted, the better editors can tell quality over shit, and can tell which shit will sell, but in terms of publication trends…if Laurell Hamilton didn’t sell Anita Blake novels like Gangbusters, the whole paranormal romance subgenre wouldn’t be as popular as it is. And the first Anita Blake novel was pretty good.

    I’ll grant you everything you said about publication trends, but I have a hard time holding too firmly to that. Saying that ten years ago Del Rey would have picked up your book may not be the compliment you’re looking for, because the counter argument would then be that they are buying up as much epic fantasy as they can with less regard to quality. Just a thought.

    (and now that we’re discussing epic as Quest Fantasy, I would lean more towards “traditional high fantasy”, which means we don’t necessarily need a quest in the traditional hero mode of Dragonlance or Drizzt – neither of which I have read, so I’m guessing on this – but just a traditional fantasy setting with magic, low technology, wizards and thieves and younglings just learning their way in this brave new world.)

    I don’t think we’re truly at odds here, because I do not believe professional editors will praise something that does not warrant it. Which goes back to the fact that you clearly do have talent and likely will get published,just with a different book…and this goes back to my original point / belief: The cream rises to the top.

    Because really, a no still means it wasn’t good enough. The bar may be higher in a fallow time for the genre, but that just means that the bar is lower when business is booming. And perhaps this is what leads to the subsequent fallow time.

  • Joe Sherry November 26, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    Greg Keyes is only selling 2000 – 5000 copies of his novels? Is this hardcover only with additional sales in paperback? That seems way low for his level of quality (though I don’t believe that Thorn and Bone has lived up to the promise of The Briar King).

    PS: Good luck with The Dadga King. Honestly. I really don’t mean to be a dick when I say that Fell Hammer must not have been good enough, because I wish you will and I do hope that you get published. It just seemed like nobody else was talking about the elephant in the room. We have moderately differing thoughts on publishing / why books are bought, though I think they aren’t quite as far apart as they seem to be on the surface.

    Oh, I didn’t answer the Jo Rowling question. I thought Sorcerer’s Stone was wonderful and the series just got better with each book. So why didn’t it get picked up at first? I think this gets back to the subjective thing. People didn’t see it. They didn’t see it selling enough to turn a profit (or even break even) and they didn’t see it was “good enough”.

    But, didn’t it only start hitting big after the British publication and the larger contract sale to the US? I may be off on this. But Sorcerer’s Stone may also be another aberration. You never / seldom see the big ones coming. I think Locke Lamora should be bigger than it is.

  • Patrick November 28, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    Nice Q&A!

    And best of luck with your manuscripts, Shawn!:-)

  • aidan December 1, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Patrick, I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. You and Shawn seem to have a lot in common these days!

    I’ve been enjoying the back and forth between the two of you, Joe and Shawn, but I just have one little thing to add.

    Joe, I think your position about Shawn’s novel being left on the table, not because of Market trends but because of quality, is a sound one and you’ve done a terrific job arguing it. I think Shawn’s novel is an exception to this rule, however, for one simple reason.

    I’ve read it.

    I’ve also read/been exposed to most of the other Epic Fantasy that is being picked up an published today and feel like I can say, with some authority and without a bias, that Shawn’s written a novel that’s better than most of the recently published Epic Fantasies.

    Brian Ruckley’s Winterbirth got a lot of hype this year and it was a plain-jane Epic Fantasy with a unique setting. Critics seemed to like it and it appears to be selling well.

    I enjoyed Shawn’s novel more.

    Shawn tackles interesting subjects deftly and his skill as a writer extends beyond his prose. With Song of the Fell Hammer he was able to tell a tight, action packed story that made me think and ended with a bang. Song of the Fell Hammer made me more excited about Epic Fantasy than many of the recent releases.

    Is it the best novel ever written? Probably not. Does it deserve to be published? Damn rights, it does.

  • Andrew Jamison December 7, 2007 at 8:25 am

    It is a shame that the book will not be published right away the premise for the book looks great and I would love to read it :)