Thursday, December 26, 2013

Read "Child Soldier" in Daily Science Fiction

If you're a subscriber to Daily Science Fiction's free email list, you should find a story of mine called Child Soldier in your inbox this morning. Edited to add: The story is now up on their website, as well.

As I've mentioned here before, DSF has been one of my favorite markets, so I'm excited to see my work appear there for the first time. They publish original science fiction and fantasy every weekday, often by some of the top names in the field. If you'd like to give them a read there are two ways: you can subscribe to their mailing list and get a new story in your email inbox every day, or you can visit their site if you'd prefer to read from a web browser (the content on the site runs a week behind the mailing list, however, so my story won't be up there until January 2nd). Both are free of charge, and many of the stories DSF publishes are flash length, making them perfect fodder for that morning coffee break.

Child Soldier is a flash story inspired partly by my ponderings as a kid, when I would sit in front of the television watching G.I. Joe, thinking about my dad's real-life service in the Vietnam war. When you're that young, it's hard to wrap your mind around the complex reasons for military conflict, and everything gets painted in shades of black and white—the Good Guys versus the Bad Guys. Obviously, this can change quite a bit when you grow up and gain a little perspective.

Happy holidays, everyone. I hope you're all having a great year's end and you're looking forward to the new year as much as I am. Here's to much success in 2014!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Read "Item Not As Described" in Unidentified Funny Objects 2

Today marks the official release of Unidentified Funny Objects 2, an anthology of humorous science fiction and fantasy edited by Alex Shvartsman. Inside, you can find a story of mine called "Item Not As Described," along with stories by awesome authors like Robert Silverberg, Ken Liu, Mike Resnick, Jim Hines, Esther Friesner, and many more.

The book is available in both paperback and ebook editions, and you can buy it online at AmazonBarnes & Noble, or direct from UFO Publishing. The first review is already up at Amazing Stories, where David Kilman had this to say:

"I am very happy to report that not only is the story quality on par with anthologies put out by the major publishing houses, but I would consider UFO2 a contender for best anthology awards. I'll admit my opinion is probably due to my predilection for humor, but I can't deny that this was one of the most enjoyable anthologies I've read in the last few years."

I didn't get to brag about it here on the blog when I made the sale to UFO2 (as I was away at Odyssey Writing Workshop at the time), but it is definitely a big deal for me. Not only was this my first sale to an anthology, but it was my first sale at pro rates. And I couldn't help but feel giddy when I saw that I'd be sharing a table of contents with some of my favorite authors for the first time.

To celebrate this milestone, I've decided to give away a paperback copy of Unidentified Funny Objects 2, signed by both the editor, Alex Shvartsman and Yours Truly, J.W. Alden (though an unsigned copy is available if you'd prefer). I've never done a giveaway before, so I don't know what the response will be, but if you'd like to be the proud owner of a collection of hilarious speculative fiction, simply leave a comment below. The winner will be chosen at random next Monday (Oct. 14) via random.org.

Update:
A winner has been chosen. Congratulations to Luftwaffle! I'll be getting touch with you soon to get your details. Hope you enjoy the book. To those of you who missed out, consider picking the book up at one of the links above. It's worth every penny!

Edited to add: Editor Alex Shvartsman is doing a giveaway over on Goodreads, as well.

Edited again to add: Author Jim C. Hines is also giving away a copy of either UFO2 or Heroes In Training to help raise funds for author Eugie Foster, who is fighting cancer.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sold: "Child Soldier" to Daily Science Fiction


I have some good news to share. This past week, I sold a science fiction story called Child Soldier to Daily Science Fiction.

If you're unfamiliar with them, DSF publishes original science fiction and fantasy every weekday, often by some of the top names in the field. If you'd like to give them a read there are two ways: you can subscribe to their mailing list and get a new story in your email inbox every day, or you can visit their site if you'd prefer to read from a web browser (the content on the site runs a week behind the mailing list, however). Both are free of charge, and many of the stories DSF publishes are flash length, making them perfect fodder for that morning coffee break. I'm a regular reader of theirs, so as you might imagine, I'm pretty excited about this sale. I don't have a date of publication yet, but rest assured I'll let you know here when Child Soldier goes live.

This also marks another milestone for me this year, as this is not only my second sale at professional rates (my first was "Item Not As Described" to UFO 2 earlier this year while I was away at Odyssey), but also my first to a SFWA-qualifying market. I now qualify for an associate membership, and with two more sales to qualifying markets I can become an active member. This has been an aspiration of mine since I began writing short fiction a couple years ago, so I'm very pleased to take a huge step forward in that regard.

As my last entry detailed, 2013 has been a year of major growth for me, and I'm hoping to use this momentum to continue pushing forward. As we move toward the last quarter of the year, I hope to finish strong and come out swinging in 2014. I've never been more optimistic about the future.

photo credit: Gene Wilburn via cc

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Growth: The Odyssey Debriefing (and a State of the Blog Address)


I'm now over a week removed from my time at Odyssey Writing Workshop, where I holed myself up with fourteen other writers on the campus of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. For six weeks, we toiled under the tutelage of Jeanne Cavelos, who crammed an ungodly amount of knowledge into our heads in that relatively short period of time. We also got to learn from (and hangout with) an awesome group of guest lecturers: Jack Ketchum, Patricia Bray, Adam-Troy Castro, Holly Black, Sheila Williams, and our writer-in-residence, Nancy Holder. Those six weeks felt like a lifetime, yet were woefully fleeting. Now I'm home, trying to parse all that knowledge and readjust to real life.

So How Was It?


After I received my acceptance letter, I did a lot of googling and blog-crawling, looking for stories from alumni about their workshop experience. Reading the various blogs and articles that turned up, I noticed the term "life-changing" thrown around quite a bit as a descriptor of the Odyssey experience. While it was nice to see such positive remarks from graduates past, for the most part I chocked that sort of thing up to typical internet hyperbole. However, now that my own year is in the books, I'm pleased to report that this was not an exaggeration. Odyssey was an amazing, transformative experience for me. I can say with confidence that I grew both as a writer and as a person. As my time in Manchester came to a close, I was both sad to see it end and excited to put everything I'd learned to use.

Speaking of which, it terrifies me to think that in some alternate universe I might never have gone to Odyssey. When I wrote down my list of goals for 2013, "get accepted to a major writing workshop" was one of them, but it was almost an afterthought. It was one of those "it would be nice" goals that I took half-seriously. Now that I've actually done it, I can't believe I was prepared to struggle onward as my pre-Odyssey writer self. I look back at that guy and pity him. I feel like he didn't know anything.

I mean, obviously I knew a thing or two before Odyssey, but so much of my writing was instinctual and subconscious, like I was feeling my way around a dark cave, one careful inch at a time. Jeanne Cavelos aimed a spotlight into the recesses of my muse-brain and taught me the important WHATs and WHYs that I didn't have a firm grasp of before--and clarified things that I thought I already had a handle on, but clearly didn't. Before Odyssey, I thought I knew what "show don't tell" really meant, or what three-act structure really was. But I didn't have half as much nailed down as I thought I did, and Jeanne showed me where and why. She illuminated my strengths and weaknesses, diagnosing specific opportunities for improvement and highlighting elements of my own writing that even I didn't realize were there before she pointed them out. After my first meeting with her, I felt almost like I'd been psychoanalyzed. In other words, Jeanne is a phenomenal instructor.

And perhaps the most valuable resource Odyssey brought was the group of people who went on the journey with me. It was amazing to meet fourteen other people who shared many of my own quirks and interests, and who were struggling toward the same goals. By the end of that six weeks, we knew each other well enough that we could have turned in manuscripts without our names on them and had no problem identifying whose was whose. Not to mention, everyone there was awesome. It was a drama-free workshop from open to close. Hell, it was like a built-in support group. I made lifelong friends at Odyssey.

The State of the Blog Address


In addition to her awesome lectures and critiques, Jeanne also helped me evaluate my routine, the work I'm doing, and my goals for the future. Which brings me to the State of the Blog.

One of the things I really appreciated about my time at Odyssey was the disruption of my routine. It felt like I was in a bubble, detached from the outside world, and it was enlightening to find out how much more I can accomplish when I unplug from the various distractions I've surrounded myself with. Unfortunately, I've come to the conclusion that this blog is often one of those distractions. While I've enjoyed blogging, and especially enjoyed meeting all of you lovely folks out here in the blogosphere, at the end of the day it's my fiction that I need to be spending my time on. That feeling had been building in my mind for a while leading up to Odyssey, and my time away only enforced it. In my final one-on-one meeting with Jeanne, I asked her opinion on this, and she agreed that I should focus on writing and submitting fiction, not blogging. So that's what I'm going to do.

What does this mean for the blog? Well, it's not going away or anything. But I'm going to be transitioning this site into a more traditional author platform. I'm still going to blog from time to time, but I won't be sticking to a regular weekly schedule anymore, and most of my posts will be related to my fiction in some way--announcements of story sales, publications, when I'll be attending conferences, etc. I'll probably drop the occasional musing here and there as well, but I will unfortunately not be continuing my regular series. My Speculative Fiction Tropes, Speculative Spotlight, and Forging a Universe series--while not cancelled outright (since I may still post an entry for fun from time to time)--are no longer going to be regular monthly features here. I'm also going to have to pull out of the Insecure Writers Support Group, as I'm not sure I'll be able to devote the proper amount of time posting and visiting other blogs every month.

I know this may cost me some of my readership. And that's okay. I've really enjoyed meeting all of you people, and I hope to keep touching base with everyone out here in the interweb. But if you want to bail due to this change, I understand. If you'd like to keep in touch, consider hanging around. Better yet, add me on twitter or facebook (if you haven't already). I'll still be pretty active on social networks.

I want to thank all of the guest bloggers who kept things going for me while I was away. And most of all, I want to thank all of you awesome people for reading. I hope you'll stay with me on this new leg of the journey going forward. Wish me luck! I'll need it.

photo credit: MightyBoyBrian via cc

Monday, July 29, 2013

Read "Battle Lines" in Plasma Frequency Magazine

For the record, I'm now home from my adventure at Odyssey Writing Workshop and doing my best to readjust to normal life. There will be a full debriefing coming soon, along with an impromptu "state of the blog" address. In the meantime, however, I wanted to share my latest publication news.

A science fiction story of mine called Battle Lines is featured in issue 7 of Plasma Frequency Magazine, which is now live. You can read the digital edition for free at the link above (or buy a copy of the print edition, if you prefer to hold it in your hands). If you dig Plasma Frequency, you might also consider supporting their fundraising efforts on Indiegogo, so they can stay in business and keep paying the writers and artists that contribute to each issue.

Battle Lines is a flash fiction piece about a soldier at the end of his rope following a battle aboard a starship. I wrote this story as part of an online writing group a couple of years ago. In fact, it was one of the first flash-length stories I ever wrote, and I'm happy to have found a home for it in Plasma Frequency. This is also the story I read at the Odyssey Science Fiction & Fantasy Slam at the Barnes & Noble in Nashua, NH (though the version I read there is a little different from the one featured in PFM).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Challenge Yourself (A Guest Post by DES Richard)

While I'm out of town, toiling away at Odyssey Writing Workshop, I've decided to open up the blog to guest posts. Today's entry comes from author DES Richard. I'd like to send a big thanks his way for stopping by and sharing some wisdom. If you like what you read, be sure to stop by his neck of the web and say hello. Better yet, buy his book!

~  J.W.



Challenge Yourself

by DES Richard

One of the best writer-ly quotes out there is from William Faulkner, when he said "I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning". It’s a great piece of advice, highlighting the need for routine in writing effectively. The downside is that the writing itself can fall into a routine - and no one likes a formulaic story. If you find yourself falling into that trap and thinking haven’t I written this story before, how can you shake yourself out of it?

Try Something New


Try another genre, another character, something. Given that you’re reading this blog, you probably write mostly spec fiction, but stretching your legs in another field (even if it never sees the light of day) can help you to break out of a rut and look at your main works in a new light.

My personal goal along these lines is to write one thing per month that makes me uncomfortable. Most of what I come up with is probably terrible, but like ‘being inspired at nine o’ clock’, forcing myself down that road helps me stay fresh and nimble. Chuck Wendig has some excellent generators on his blog, and I find playing with those are tons of fun when I get locked into spec-fic cliché.

Make Your Characters Hurt


It’s been said by the guy who usually writes this blog, but sometimes your characters need to be hurt, and they need to be hurt badly. Why should you suffer because your writing is in a rut? Make them pay for it. Take your outline and pick the moment where it all comes together, where he gets the girl, saves the world, whatever and cross it out and write everything goes to hell. The girl dies, the world burns and it all falls apart.

Then fix it.

My story already has that, you say. That conflict is central to the whole thing, you dork. Great! Now it has two! Write a sequelinstant cliffhanger! You’re welcome.

Or maybe it’s not that extreme. But do something unexpected. Not what your audience doesn’t expect, but what you don’t expect. What your character doesn’t expect. Make them cry in the shower and eat cookies.

Clear Your Head


On the list of phrases I use to often “get out of my own head” is No. 4 (note: not a real list). This ties back to the first part a little bit, but sometimes you just have to get away from it all. Don’t wreck your actual routine, but set a timer and go play a video game, build something out of Legos (yes, I know, but no one says LEGO, ok?), go for a walk, whatever your relaxing activity is. Just don’t think about writing for a while, even just 15 minutes.

This is probably news to no one, that getting out of your own head (see?) for a bit is something you should do, but we so often forget to do it. We sit there (or, I do, anyway), staring at our outline or the flashing cursor thinking I have to write when a walk around the block will rejuvenate us and give us all the inspiration we need to be productive.

Write it Anyway


So maybe it’s a little cliché, or it’s been done before. Write it anyway, and write it better than anyone else. Sometimes it’s better to just press on and have faith in yourself than change it because it’s been done before.

DES Richard is the author of 3024AD: Short Series One among other mostly-sci-fi works. He blogs on writing, bookselling & publishing on his blog and tweets a lot

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Is Trade Publishing a Dying Dream? (A Guest Post by Chris Andrews)

While I'm out of town, toiling away at Odyssey Writing Workshop, I've decided to open up the blog to guest posts. Today's entry comes from author Chris Andrews. A big thanks to Chris for stopping by. If you like what you read, consider checking out his website for more.

~  J.W.

Is trade publishing a dying dream?

by Chris Andrews

Have you ever had a dream? Not the kind you wake up from, but the kind that motivates you to achieve something?

Since I was a teenager, my dream has been to get a novel published – my epic fantasy, the one I've loved for so long.

Back when this dream formed, success meant you got a book to hold and display on your shelf.

The publishing landscape has changed drastically since then, with self-publishing now an easy, affordable reality thanks to the electronic format.

Which is a problem, at least for the dream.

My nightmare scenario is a trade publisher offering to publish my book in electronic format only – not that it would be a bad thing, but not entirely the success I've wanted for so long.

Yet it's so close!

It would be an acknowledgement that my book was good enough to warrant a business investment – but holding an e-book reader in my hands and saying one of these files is mine?

That's not the vision I've nurtured.

My dream involves book tours, signings, and browsing through random bookshops to discover the shelves where my novels entice readers with their covers and blurbs.

It includes handing copies to friends and family and all the people who've helped me along the way, each copy personalised with a message inside the cover.

Despite the fact there's never been more opportunities for writers, the reality is that my dream is getting less and less likely – and not just for me. Others share it.

Is it worth hoping an electronic edition will sell well enough to warrant a traditional print run? Maybe.
The dream is being corroded by reality. Perhaps the dream needs to change, because it demands thousands of copies, the smell of newly printed paper, and a publisher's logo.

A download button would be a welcome addition – don't get me wrong, but it's not the dream.

The reality is that part of the dream was always going to be out of my hands, so maybe it was never the right dream to start with, but then what dream is?

Maybe it's time to expand the dream to include electronic publishing? I guess that's what dreams are about.

They grow.

Chris Andrews began his writing career when he boldly and ignorantly announced he could write a better novel than the one he’d just read. While he’s no longer ignorant about the challenges of writing novels, the dream remains. Find him on twitter: @ChrisAndrewsAU or at his website: http://fandelyon.com/


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

IWSG: 2013 Halftime Report

It's the first Wednesday of the month, which hails the regular arrival of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, hosted by Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh. The group offers a place for writers of all kinds to support each other in those moments of insecurity.

It's hard to believe it, but we're about halfway through 2013 already. Like many of you, I set a lot of goals for myself at the start of the new year, both personal and professional. And I'm happy to report that I've knocked a few of those ambitions out of the park. One such goal was to be accepted to a major writing workshop, and as this entry goes up, I'm in the middle of my adventure at Odyssey.

But I'll still have a lot of work to do when I get back. As happy as I am to have accomplished what I have so far, the goals I haven't managed to tackle yet are glaring at me as the weeks and months tick away. We all know what that feels like. Whenever New Year's Eve comes around, talk of resolutions almost always garner a few eye rolls and sarcastic laughs from the cynical among us. It's practically expected that most New Year's Resolutions are just flights of fancy that will never be kept. 

Today, I thought I'd share an infographic that was passed along to me from Allison at OnlineEducation.net. It highlights some of the points I made in a post about setting goals for your writing last year, but does a better job conveying the importance of writing those goals down (with some stats to back it up).

Setting Goals Infographic

Well, folks, it's July already. Have you kept your resolutions thus far? If so, congratulations! If not, why do you think that is? Did you write them down? Did you give it your all? And more importantly, do you still have time? I bet you do.

Don't concede defeat yet. Don't let failed goals be one of your insecurities, and don't wait for January to renew those resolutions. There's no time like the present. You can do it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I Self-Published a #1 Amazon Best Seller, but It Was Dangerous (A Guest Post by Gruff Davies)

While I'm out of town, toiling away at Odyssey Writing Workshop, I've decided to open up the blog to guest posts. Today, author Gruff Davies is stopping by to share some insight gained from his unique road to publication. His piece is a bit longer than my usual fare, but absolutely worth the read (especially to those of you still weighing your options between trade publishing and self-publishing). 

If you like what you read, consider checking out his website for more. Better yet, buy his book!

~  J.W.


I Self-Published a #1 Amazon Best Seller, but It Was Dangerous. Don't Try This at Home . . .


In November 2010, I held the launch party for my debut science fiction novel, The Looking Glass Club.  About six weeks after launch, the book became an Amazon best seller. In fact, it reached #1 on Amazon UK's genre best seller lists (Science Fiction > Mysteries and Crime).  The CTO of Amazon actually tweeted that he'd started reading it! I was beyond ecstatic as you can imagine.  You'd be forgiven for thinking I'm now a card-carrying member of the self-publishing movement, but I'm not.  This is my account of just how tough the whole process was and how close it came to being an absolute disaster.  In retrospect, it was a rash and dangerous choice that could have destroyed my writing career.  Hopefully, this story will help you decide whether trade publishing or self-publishing is the right route for you, and if you do decide to self-publish, maybe you can glean from my experiences what to do and what not to do to give your book—and your career—its best chance.

Firstly, let me say up-front: I have a respectable strike rate with agents.  I'd already approached what I considered to be the top UK literary agency (for SF) with one of my science fiction stories early in my writing career and they loved it and asked me for more.  Years later when I'd finished writing a mature draft of The Looking Glass Club they loved that too, calling it 'a corker'—at first anyway.  Recently, I submitted a sample of my second novel—again to just one agent—and received extremely positive feedback.  I've only ever contacted six agents in total, and achieved a 1 in 3 strike rate, with two 'bullseyes' on first subs.  So why on Earth would I choose to self-publish in the first place?

Beware of the Hype


Well, partly, I was taken in by a lot of hype about how easy it was to do.  By all the success stories.  And it's true.  Partly.  It is easy.  But publishing a book is not the same as marketing a book and making it a success. And if you self-publish, this is an enormously difficult thing to do, and it's getting harder, not easier.

I realise now I was extremely naive about the work involved in publishing a book in today's market.  Understand that getting an agent interested in your novel is really just the first step in a long process.  It can take years of work and rewrites after you finish writing what you thought was the 'final' draft to get it on the shelf.  Publishers receive enormous amounts of submissions, and use agents as a quality filter.  Some publishers only accept submissions from agents.  Agents therefore receive enormous amounts of submissions too.  They read a huge number of books per week each. One I met claimed to read ten novels a week. That's two novels every day in a five day week!  They are not reading your work the way a reader would, for pleasure.  They're not reading your work to 'get it' they way you intended it when you wrote it. Agents live on the commission they earn from books. They skim read. 

They read to reject.  They have to, to get through their workload. And they have a glut of choice of talented writers.

They're looking for commercially viable prospects that will feed and clothe them and make them money in an increasingly difficult market. Even if they've expressed initial interest in a book, if you are not willing to mould that book (and indeed yourself) into something that they think will fly commercially, they will rapidly lose interest.  It can be a bit like X factor for books but without the dramatic music and fireworks. 

I didn't understand any of this.  It was my first book.  I had a vision for it that I didn't want to let go of.  I was attached to it being my book, my way.  I made major revisions to the book twice over about 18 months based on their feedback but I didn't rewrite it the way one of the agents wanted.  He'd basically asked for a complete rewrite and a simplification that I felt totally compromised the integrity of the book.  In the end, it became clear the relationship was going cold and, frustrated and exhausted by five drafts over six years, I finally snapped and decided, what the hell, I'll publish myself.  I didn't use any of the existing services for authors though, like Lulu. They seemed expensive and low quality.  I wanted to be totally professional—I wanted to publish as if I'd published it traditionally.  I was just making my own a shortcut.  I took advice from a friend who was very senior at Bloomsbury, hired an editor, set up my own micro-publisher and tried as much as possible to mimic the process of trade publishing to ensure the same quality.  Paying an editor was a great decision.  But trying to mimic trade publishing marketing was a big mistake, and I almost totally messed up the marketing side.  It could have ended my career instead of boosting it.  I was lucky. 

Very, very lucky.

The Uncomfortable Truth About Publishing


When I started out writing around 1999, I was warned that new novels sell fewer than 2,000 copies on average.  Around 2005 I was told that a quarter of a million books were now published per year - a figure that staggered me.  In 2010 more than three million books were reported published.   Average annual sales for U.S. non-fiction books are now fewer than 250 copies.  I believe it's now about 400 for novels.  It's hard to get reliable data though.  That two-thousand-sales-for-a-debut figure is now considered to be well above average.  Averages are, of course, drastically affected by the explosion of new self-published books, but, the uncomfortable truth is: the more books there are published, the more competition there is in the market and the lower sales will be overall per book.  In this new global world, you're competing with every other English language writer in the world.  There's no escaping this fact.  It affects you as an author whichever route you take.  And to make matters worse, people are reading less and spending more time online.

It's not all bad news. The industry still generates billions in sales, but the best-selling books dominate those sales completely.  In the few graphs of (questionable) data that I've managed to hunt down, even when you plot the volume of sales against sales rank on a logarithmic scale, the relationship is still one of exponential decay.  It's a double exponent.  If that's just maths gobbledegook to you, all you need to know is: if you're not in the top 1% you won't sell enough copies to cover your marketing costs.  Let me paint this another way: the Fifty Shades trilogy accounted for 1 in every 20 book sales in 2012.

Statistically speaking, most books lose money.  Publishers are very open about the fact they expect to lose money on new authors' first books.  I can tell you first hand this is true because I did.  Fortunately, I had prepared myself for this and viewed it as an investment in my career and a risk I was willing to take.  The Looking Glass Club was not merely in the top 100 books on Kindle in Amazon in the genre lists, it was #1 (I took a screenshot that day), how could it lose money?

I hadn't any idea how hard it was to promote and market a book before I tried it.  Naively, I figured, hey, I'm an experienced entrepreneur, how hard can it be?  I've been on BBC Tomorrow's World (twice), Bill Gates presented one of my inventions at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2003.  If I can get his attention, surely I can get anyone's; it's a great read. A unique story and there's even a competition relating to the theme*; I'm well-connected thanks to my education and social circles; I could pull some strings, ask for some favours...   You get the idea.  I completely bought my own hype.  And I misled myself almost catastrophically as a result. 

Promoting a new book isn't like promoting a new business, product or invention.  All new novels are competing for the same marketing space.  All new products are differentiable in their marketing promise. All new novels are conceptually the same: they promise to entertain you while you read them.  You're competing for attention with every other novel published - now perhaps millions per year.  Agents and publishers know this instinctively because they do this day-in, day-out.   I didn't throw a huge amount of money at marketing my book, certainly not enough, but I did ask favours of people: three wonderfully generous friends in PR in the UK and US agreed to help.  The reaction from press editor they contact on my behalf was almost unanimous: practically no-one in the major press wanted to know about it.  It sounded too complicated (a self-published SF book about physics and philosophy in this TV era where TOWIE, X Factor and Britain's Got Talent reigns?).  Journalists are busy trying to save their own careers from the tectonic shifts of the technology era where profits from paper sales are dwindling to nothing and few in publishing appear to have successfully worked out how to monetize the web.

Getting Reviews is Almost Impossible


After many weeks of zero press responses to read requests (baffled apologies from my PR friends who are all very successful at promoting other things), I began to panic.  I started to realise no journalist was even going to waste time turning the first page of a long, complex novel by an unknown author.  Why would they risk the time?  I'm not Stephen Fry or Jordan.  I had three people on the case, and zero results.  I woke up in a cold sweat one morning realising the whole project could tank.  Then I remembered an old friend from University wrote for New Scientist.  Could he help?  I emailed him: No, he'd already left to become a doctor, a more reliable career than journalism.  Fortunately for me, he offered to pass my details on to another journalist for the magazine, who, solely trusting the relationship, agreed to read my book.

After months of graft, one journalist had agreed to read my book.  And it was via a personal contact of mine.

Realising I was going to have to take massive evasive action to avoid a total disaster, I started to contact my own network in earnest with thinly disguised pleas for help. Various people at my alma mater, Imperial College, fortunately, were delighted to help - especially since the novel is partly set there.  In the end, I even hosted the launch party at Imperial.  I'm eternally grateful to them.

Meanwhile weeks past and nothing from New Scientist.  I almost panicked as the launch date approached.  I was committed.  I recontacted some people that some of my PR friends had and tried again.  Fortunately, another PR hit: a book had gone missing and I was asked to repost it in time for a Science Fiction special.  The editor emailed me a week or two later to tell me it he'd found it such an exciting read he actually switched off X factor to finish it.  A hint of sunshine in the gloom.  He ran a whole page on me and the book, but this was relatively small circulation magazine.  It was great PR but this wasn't going to turn into sales. 

Then out of the blue, I heard back from New Scientist.  She was only half way through the book but the journalist not only loved it, she thought New Scientist readers would too.  Especially the puzzle aspect.  This call came five weeks after sending the book off (during most of which time I was panicking).  To my inexpressible relief she told me she was wanted to set up an interview and planned to write up a review of The Looking Glass Club in New Scientist's Christmas Special.  New Scientist has a global circulation of about 130,000 readers - many of whom are the just sort of people I knew would love the book.  I was overjoyed, but mostly I was relieved.

Luck, Luck, Luck


As a result, shortly after Christmas 2010, The Looking Glass Club went soaring up the best seller charts to reach the #1 spot on Amazon UK's sub-genre category: Science Fiction > Mysteries and Crime.  My credibility as a writer was salvaged.   Had I not pulled out all the stops and achieved a glowing review in a major publication like this, my book and career would have completely bombed.  The web is full of people who will tell you that the stigma of self-publishing is changing (and I believe it is, slowly) but if my experience is anything to go by, don't think for one minute that you will find it easy, if at all possible to get reviews in anything with a decent circulation.  Editors and journalists are bombarded with book review requests from trade press as well as people self-publishing.  They simply don't have the time to check if your self-published book is any good. Requests from trade press are simply a safer bet: they've been through at least three experienced human quality filters that they respect: an agent, an editor and a publisher.  If you self-published, you are very unlikely to get reviewed by a major publication.  You need to factor this into your marketing.  You need to do it differently.

So, I'd managed the highly-sought-after Amazon #1 ranking (on a sub-genre list mind you, not a major genre or their overall list, these are in turn orders of magnitude harder to get ranked on), now what? I hadn't a clue.  I had no idea how to profit from this result and turn it into more PR and more sales.  I floundered.  I had nothing left in my PR sleeves apart mini-competitions which generated piddling results by comparison.   Two weeks later, I lost the #1 position and I never regained it.  Sales during that time accounted for the vast majority of the sales of the book to date.

The following  year, with Christmas approaching, I thought I should employ a PR company specialising in books to run a six week campaign to promote the book again.  To be fair to them, they advised against the timing and suggested a post-Christmas campaign would be less likely to get lost in the noise.  I made the mistake of ignoring that advice.  Thousands of pounds later the result were: one radio interview on barely known European station.  Again, by using my own contacts, I managed to get a second higher profile interview myself. 

Now, I know The Looking Glass Club is niche, but it is (apparently) a bloody good read if you happen to be my target market (it gets consistently high star ratings and excellent reviews on Amazon and Good Reads).  I'm no celebrity, but I am quite well-connected.  The problem wasn't with any of this.  As an experienced entrepreneur I thought I understood business and marketing, and that was my mistake.

The problem was—is—the unique nature of the marketing landscape for novels. 

Pushing Boulders Uphill


Remember tragic Sisyphus, pushing his boulder uphill for all eternity? Well, for authors that hill is has the shape of the double exponent decay curve I mentioned before.  It gets steeper as a double exponent as you try to push your sales up and your rank down.  If I hadn't managed to get that review in the New Scientist Christmas Special, my book would have sold minuscule volumes.

And, even during the period where The Looking Glass Club was ranked as a #1 Amazon Best Seller, I'd set pricing as low as possible to make the book attractive -  I was barely making a margin on each sale.  My books were all print-on-demand which is cripplingly expensive.   Kindle sales made slightly more but not enough to compensate.  I didn't have the time (or knowledge, or money) to do a guerrilla web-marketing campaign (I'm doing more of that now and it seems to be a far better option for both publishing routes).

So do I regret self-publishing?  Oddly, no.  I still think it was the right choice for me at the time.  After six years of pain, I was done with the book.  I needed it out there.  I needed to know there was a market for my writing.  I needed a confidence boost: you don't really know if you can write until you have book sales and fans writing in with wonderful praise. And you don't learn how to handle negative criticism until people scorn your work publicly either.  Yes, so far, I've lost money self-publishing The Looking Glass Club but sales pick up for all books when authors publish subsequent novels.  It'll pick up again. What I gained was self-confidence, very public praise for my work, credibility as writer, proof there was market for my voice, and a brief but fantastic #1 ranking.  But more than that I gained an education about the reality of book publishing.

I've mentally put my losses down as the "course fees" for that education.  I hope this blog post will save you paying the price I did for those lessons.  The good news is: self-publishing can be a platform to help you on the route to being trade published if your book does well.  16 of the top 100 books on Kindle for 2012 were self-published, of which only 5 remain self-published.  That figure is encouraging but do keep in mind the vast number of Kindle titles self-published that year.

I'm happy to be wrong, but the data support me in this: there aren't many options if you want to be a self-publishing success story:

  1. Be very famous already (or have a large following somehow)
  2. Write dozens and dozens of fun, easy-read, cheap novels very quickly
  3. Write well, have connections and money, and work damn hard on marketing, or
  4. Just be very, very, very lucky.


Whatever you do, set your expectations for the long haul.  Believe in yourself - if you don't others won't.  Don't rush the process.  Don't "end game"—enjoy the writing process itself, because if you're going to be a writer, statistically speaking you're probably not going to make much money from it, if any at all.  You may even lose money so treat it like a hobby that you'd spend money on.  If you write for the love of writing, the other rewards are plentiful. 

And if you work very, very hard at it.  You might just be lucky enough to get into that top 1%.

Good luck!

Gruff


Gruff Davies is an inventor, entrepreneur, and novelist and the author of the Looking Glass Club.  He's currently writing a second novel, Supernova.  A keen linguist, he’s also the co-founder and CEO of Bitesized Languages, Kwiziq and French-test.com.  He invented the Exertris Gaming Exercise Bike featured on BBC Tomorrow's World and presented by Bill Gates at the Consumer Electronic Show in 2003.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Forging a Universe: Worldbuilding Religion (A Guest Post by Melinda Moore)


While I'm out of town, toiling away at Odyssey Writing Workshop, I've decided to open up the blog to guest posts. Author Melinda Moore is kind enough to stop by today and contribute an entry to my worldbuilding series. When I'm back and defragged, I'll pick up where I left off in the series. Thanks very much, Melinda!

~  J.W.



World Building Religion

by Melinda Moore


Over a decade ago I played in a Dungeons and Dragons game run by my husband using a pantheon that he had created. Most of the players understood and embraced the variations from real world religions, but one player could never quite get it. He played a cleric of a goddess who raised education above all else, but every time the player filled us in on what the character was doing during his down time, the character would be polishing candlesticks or reciting something similar to hail marys--- something from the real world Catholic church. It never occurred to him maybe his goddess would want him copying texts or tutoring orphans. He could not or would not buy in to this different religion created for the game.

When writing, reader's buy in is essential. How do you get them to accept a different religion for the time it takes to read your story? Start with the idea that gods are people too. They need to have their own motivations and histories. The Greek and Nordic gods are wonderful examples. They have alliances, enemies, petty brawling and humans caught in the middle. In the fantasy world I'm currently writing I have my gods united in the same end goal, but they all have different ways of getting there. One reveres education, one reveres sorcery, and one reveres strife.

Which brings me to my next point: the people should reflect the desires of the gods. The people in the country of the goddess who upholds education are governed by women, teaching is a prestigious occupation and science is far more important than magic. Their next door neighbor worships the god who holds magic above all else. They mostly are governed by men, but a woman sorceress isn't that unusual. But on the other side is chaos because their god holds up strife as the essential ingredient to the progression of the soul.

The trickle down from gods to people ends in the details. What are the religious leaders called? What do the structures look like where they worship? Do the gods intervene regularly? For my world, I've tried to find neutral words that people can still connect to. I use mystic for the religious leaders though for a long time I was using sage. I think both those words have real world religious neutrality but still imply spirituality. The structures for the goddess look a lot like Greek temples because the ancient Greeks had a love for knowledge and I'm hoping that will subconsciously work its way to the reader. It's been much harder figuring out the structures for the god of strife. For now I've settled on the very back of the cavern the people dwell in as opposed to making a special structure out in the open. The darkness seems to fit better.

But what about stories set in an alternate universe of our own? I think in that case continuity and balance are essential. I know everybody loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that world seems really off balance to me. The demons and vampires had structure and hierarchy, whereas The Powers that Be for the good just seemed to cross their fingers and close their eyes and hope that Buffy and Angel would save the day again. It never rang true to me that Buffy would never seek out any of the real world religions available to her. A better example for writers to follow is Xena. While it's ridiculous to think about the amount of miles Xena and Gabrielle walked in the short amount of time they had, at least they made the effort to seek out help from gods outside of Greece. They covered India, Israel and China and a bit of Amazon religions thrown in for good measure.

Outside of good/evil balance, when writing stories about religions in our own world where the gods make material gestures seen or felt by the human characters, realistic reactions are important. In my novella A Sunset Finish being published by JupiterGardens Press, my protagonist perceives the Tao or the Watercourse way inside herself while her love interest has lived all his life seeing the Sunset People--- guides to the afterlife for his pueblo. The protagonist always feels like she's drowning in the Tao and is constantly on the verge of suicide, making a rocky journey with her love interest who's been taught by the Sunset People the sanctity of life. The push and pull of their religious experiences provides part of the tension of the story. I think one of the reasons it got accepted for publication is the believable reactions to each other and the religious experiences.

So don't shy away from religion when world building. Embrace it. For three hundred pages make your reader a believer in Xanton God of Treasure of Kyra Goddess of Light. Just remember: Gods are people too.

Thanks to J.W. Alden for allowing me to guest blog here while he's away at Odyssey. If you enjoyed my post please visit enchantedspark.com. I talk about what inspires stories and host a monthly writing contest for a $30 prize.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Adventures in Serialized Fiction Writing (A Guest Post by Zachary Bonelli)

While I'm out of town, toiling away at Odyssey Writing Workshop, I've decided to open up the blog to guest posts. Today's entry comes from author Zachary Bonelli. I'd like to send a big thanks his way for offering some insight into the world of serialized fiction, a form that seems to be making a comeback these days. If you like what you read, consider supporting his endeavors!

~  J.W.

Adventures in Serialized Fiction Writing

by Zachary Bonelli

In 2000, I sat down to write a novel. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I had the concept of ‘novel’ in my head. I think I sat down to write whatever happened to flow out of my mind and onto the page. Anyway, I started writing about this guy who was travelling between alternate reality versions of Earth. What started out as random vignettes turned into a fully realized novel.

I struggled for many years to complete that novel to no avail. I straggled behind and slacked, focusing on other areas of my life for many years. The ideas piled up, and I wrote them down as notes, occasionally as small vignettes, and the “novel” remained stalled.

Last year, when I began working anew, I came to a very important realization. My novel was not a novel, at least not in the traditional sense, but a sequence of short stories, internally consistent and coherent individually, but which tell a bigger, more epic story when you add them all up together.

This was not a traditional novel, or even a trilogy of novels, but a series. The short stories I had come up with were not chapters, but episodes. Those names are not arbitrary. Episodes of a serial have important distinguishing features from chapters of novel.

Chapters & Episodes: Distinguishing Characteristics

1. Completeness

In a novel, a chapter does not necessarily tell a complete story. An episode does. An episode has a rising arc of action, conflict of some sort, and a resolution. Chapters may accomplish these too, but they don’t have to. A chapter usually only produces momentum toward one of them, and it doesn’t have to even do that.


2. Marketing

Chapters are never marketed to readers individually, only as part of a complete story. Episodes are sold individually, and may be collected up into groups, though it’s not necessity.


3. Length

Since episodes tell a complete story, it’s difficult for an episode to be as short as a chapter. Depending on your style, a chapter can be as short as a couple hundred words. Even expert writers will have a hard time telling a complete story at that length, and since episodes are marketed individually, they will need to be at a length that will be palatable to readers. At the time of this writing, the minimum price for an ebook on many vendors, most importantly Amazon, is $0.99 USD. At this price, I recommend your episodes be at least 4,000 words long (that’s about 15 pages) at minimum. Optimally, I would recommend an episode be about 8,000.


4. Time

It is unusual for each chapter in a story to be separated by an enormous section of “missing” time. Perhaps the author skips over a couple of hours of the characters’ lives that would be uninteresting to the reader, or occasionally a couple of days of time, but temporality remains largely consistent (unless the whole point is that it doesn’t, ala The Time Traveler’s Wife).

In serials, each episode of the adventure can begin presuming that any number of major events occurred since we saw that character last. The scene movements and transitions inside the episode follow the rules of chapters in a book, telling a coherent story by leaving out only uninteresting bits of time. But episodes themselves have the potential to be more “distinct” and “separate” from one another than chapters in a book are from one another.

Many serials utilize this technique, but many others don’t. Nonetheless, it’s a technique that’s very difficult to do with chapters of a novel.

~

It took a lot of energy for me to realize that I was writing a serial at all. However, recent technological advances have made production in the serialized format more practical than ever, and we are poised for a resurgence of this style of narrative.

Now is a great time to experiment with the format, come up with something new and original, and discover what style works best for you.

~

Zachary Bonelli is the author of the ongoing Voyage Along the Catastrophe of Notions series. It is currently in the middle of its first sequence, Embarkation. He is active on the Google+ Science Fiction Writers community, and muses about serialized fiction, and randomly as well, on his blog.

Insomnium, Zachary’s second serial, is due out this October. He is currently attempting to raise money for the series’ cover art on Kickstarter.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

IWSG: Dream, Doubt, Determination (A Guest Post by Henry J. Olsen)

I'm just a few days away from my trip to Odyssey Writing Workshop, which unfortunately means I won't be able to visit any other IWSG blogs today as I make my final preparations. I have, however, opened the blog to guest posts while I'm away, and author Henry J. Olsen was gracious enough to write an inspirational piece for the Insecure Writer's Support Group on my behalf. If you like what you read, consider checking out his website for more. Better yet, buy his book!

~  J.W.

Dream, Doubt, Determination

by Henry J. Olsen

There is no single blueprint one can follow in his or her quest toward becoming a secure, confident writer. Yet for many, there are three phases in the journey: the dream, the doubt, and the determination, as I've laid out below.

The Dream



For most of us writing begins as a dream, in which we envision ourselves churning out page after page of gripping, tension-filled literary drama. We imagine that the stories inside of our heads will flow out from our brains, through our hands, and into our notebooks or computers in a smooth and seamless fashion, requiring only a bare minimum of rewriting and editing.


Many people never venture beyond the dream, and thus their desire to write remains forever an unblemished fantasy. And perhaps that's just as well, for as with most dreams, the dream of being a writer is far more idyllic than the reality. Those who proceed forward may be surprised at what awaits.

The Doubt


One day, you take a leap of faith and begin to write. Suddenly, the dream becomes reality, but not in the way that you'd expected. Though you do in fact type page after page of text, you quickly realize that your work is nowhere near as intriguing as it seemed while the ideas were still brewing in your head. You reread your sophomoric prose and wonder how real writers craft sentences that are concise yet full of vivid imagery. You begin to wonder why you ever chose to write at all, and worry that perhaps never will you create a story that you, much less anyone else, will enjoy and appreciate.

What's worse is that you often can't keep your doubts to yourself. When friends and family ask what you're writing about, you struggle to describe your story in a way that piques their interest. When new acquaintances ask you what you do, you meekly tell them that you're a writer, finding the look of doubt in their eyes regardless of whether it truly exists or not.

What you don't yet realize is that the doubt you see in others is merely a reflection of the unease within yourself. No writer can exist in this state forever, yet how best can you escape it? One option is to give up. Few will fault you if you do. The other option is to push through the doubt, accepting that you may never escape it completely, and to write and create with a renewed determination.

The Determination


The determination isn't a thing you discover overnight. Rather, it's a feeling that grows as you push through your doubts and continue to write, eventually finding that despite your doubts, you do possess a certain pride in your abilities as a writer. It's the belief that with effort you can improve, and that it is possible to blossom into the writer that you've always dreamed of becoming.

Each day you come closer to understanding what it truly means to be a writer and not merely a doubt-filled impostor, frantically pounding away at the keyboard. With each chapter written you come a little closer to realizing that your voice as a writer isn't something you find, but rather a property that you develop over time. And finally, you come to see that if in your interpersonal interactions you express yourself with confidence, the people you describe your work to are often legitimately curious as to what you're writing about.

Determination can't completely replace doubt, yet in my experience I've found that adopting the right mindset is 90% of the battle against insecurity.

How do I know this? I know because my name is Henry J. Olsen, and I too am an insecure writer. Yet as of today, June 5th, I am not just a writer — I am also a freshly minted indie author. And though my book, The Northland Chronicles: A Stranger North, isn't likely to be mentioned alongside The Caves of Steel or Stranger in a Strange Land anytime soon, I'm still extremely proud of it, and I'd love if you could join me for a post-apocalyptic romp through the Northwoods.

In closing, I'd like to extend a big thanks to J.W. for allowing me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you

Keep writing,

-Henry J. Olsen

simplyunbound.com

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I Want to Write Like... (A Guest Post by Cas Webb)

As you may have noticed, there was no blog entry last week. While I'm gearing up for my trip to Odyssey Writing Workshop (and while I'm there toiling away), my schedule may be a little irregular. Posts will always go up on Wednesdays, but I may miss a week here or there.

And starting today, I've decided to open up the blog to guest posts so I can devote all of my energy to Odyssey. Writer and artist Cas Webb is kicking things off with today's entry. A big thanks to Cas for stopping by. Be sure and visit her site if you enjoy her post.

~ J.W.


I want to write like . . .

by Cas Webb

Last week I happened across a library flyer that announced Kate Forsyth was coming to town. After sitting up till midnight devouring her latest work I am still only a small chunk into ‘The Wild Girl’ and I can’t stop saying wow. I write fantasy, very often set in a medieval world where there needs to be some description of places readers have never been to, kings and queens and distant royal family. As I read passages from Kate’s work I am loving the way she is doing all of these things.

So who do you want to write like?


Now let’s get technical. I want to break down a passage of Kate’s work. Here she introduces a large family of 6 and gives them all personalities in a short paragraph. As a writer I can look up to her work, learn from it and grow. In my book via blog my protagonist befriends a family of 7 children.

From page 16-17 of ‘The Wild Girl’


In the glow of the lamp, she saw two young men, both thin and dark and shabbily dressed. The elder of the two had a straight face, with straight hair hanging past his ears. The younger was the more handsome with pale skin, hollow cheeks and wavy dark curls…
 … Ferdinand said. He was the fourth of the five Grimm sons, seventeen years old, with the families dark hair and thin, sensitive face.
‘I guess he’s changed his mind,’ Jakob replied drily.
 ‘Do they march against Austria?’ eighteen-year-old Karl demanded.
‘I suppose it was to be expected,’ nineteen-year-old Whilhelm said. 
…Ludwig asked. At fifteen, he was the youngest Grimm brother and three years older than Lotte.


As you can see I have edited out a bit. But essentially we’re given this over two half pages.

In contrast I’ve grabbed an extract from my current book via blog, NEW. Here’s how my readers are introduced to the Meadowsblade family.

“Kemla, these are my children. Laura and Remy yu’ve already met,” Sara explains pointing to the two youths that were in the yard grooming horses earlier. 
With a smile the two nod and take seats opposite Sara and I.
My gaze remains locked on the two men.
“The little one’s Alex.”  The baby giggles at the mention of his name and the twins also take seats on the opposite side of the table. “The twins names are Zara and Zoe.” 
“Don’t worry if y’ can’t tell them apart, they never leave each others side anyway,” Laura laughs. 
The twins give her angry stares, but offer warm smiles in my direction. 
“And I apologise for my over defensive boys,” Sara starts. 
“Hello, my name’s Wilf,” the younger boy smiles, letting his arm fall away from his sword. I examine his smile carefully - it doesn’t seem to harbor any malice or false pretences. Wilf walks around the table and extends his hand. 
...The last person, the eldest with striking dark eyes and he’s almost a head taller than I am. I’d have to use the table to my advantage. The room’s quite crowded now, would he risk drawing his sword? I’m at an advantage with my dagger. My racing heart doesn’t agree with me. 
He walks around the table. Kicking my pulse into a quicker rhythm. I’d step back, but backwards is a cowards direction, so I force my feet to stay put. 
“Orin,” he extends his hand.

The main difference is that Kate’s extract is in third person from the perspective of Dortchen. The extract from my work is in tight first person. And I realized only as I was thinking about writing this piece that the main flaw of a tight first person perspective is that EVERYTHING my reader discovers essentially must be told to my main character in some way if it is not existing knowledge for my main character. So I’ve discovered that after my first few chapters when my reader knows everything about my characters current situation and something dramatic has happened to change that situation I need to create a lot of opportunities for dialogue for my story to move forwards.

This insight only came to me as I was thinking critically about my work and consciously trying to learn from the achievements of others. What can you learn from your favorite writer? What can you learn from the excerpts above?

I guess another way we can view this is by saying, ‘I want my work to read like . . .’

When someone new reads our work what level of imagery or poetry or elegance do we want them to be elevated to?

I’d like to leave you with a writing prompt. Grab a character, your own or one you love, and introduce them to a family of six in less than a page.

Cheers,

Cas Webb
of Lifefamilymagic.wordpress.com and Caswebb.wordpress.com


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Speculative Fiction Tropes: Deflector Shields

This post (and many this month) will be a little shorter than my usual fare, as I'm devoting an increasing amount of time to preparation for my trip to Odyssey Writing Workshop. Speaking of which, I still have a few spots left for guest bloggers while I'm gone, so take a look at that link if you're interested. Sadly, this will likely be the last Speculative Fiction Tropes entry until I get back.

Deflector shields are not only one of the oldest tropes in sci-fi, but they've become synonymous with space opera. The use of energy-based shielding can get a story around a number of problems that arise in a setting with lots of space travel, from the danger of micrometeoroids penetrating the hull of the ship to the harsh radiation of space that might otherwise cook the crew. In addition, if your ship's combat defense systems are primarily dependent on these shields, you have a dramatic element already built-in when it comes time for a little ship to ship warfare. This is something that every incarnation of Star Trek has taken great advantage of over the years. Everyone say it with me now: "Raise shields!"

Now, this is the part of the article where I usually look as far back into history and mythology as I can to find the roots and early examples of the trope under discussion. And I know what you're thinking. "You'd have to be stretching on this one, Alden. This trope is about as pure a product of modern genre fiction as you can possibly get. There couldn't have been any deflector shields in the epics of yore."

And if that is what you're thinking, I find your lack of faith disturbing. Clearly, you've underestimated my nerdry. And more importantly, you've clearly never heard of Svalinn. In Norse mythology, Svalinn was the magical shield that stood between Sol and the nine worlds, protecting them from the destructive rays of the sun. According to Grímnismál, of the Poetic Edda, were it not for Svalinn, "mountains and sea would be set in flames." Of course, it's hard to read those ancient descriptions of Svalinn without drawing a connection to Earth's magnetic field and ozone layer, which protect us from solar wind and ultraviolet radiation, respectively. In many ways, these components of the atmosphere are Earth's personal deflector shield, and we'd all be toast without them. So thanks, Svalinn. 

It's difficult to point out the earliest use of the trope in modern fiction, however. Many early authors of science fiction used concepts similar to the deflector shield, from Isaac Asimov to E.E. "Doc" Smith. But the first use may have been a novel called The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson. In this classic sci-fi/horror tale about a future in which the sun has gone dark (written at a time when we knew far less about the lifespan of stars), Hodgson describes a great pyramid called The Last Redoubt. The enormous city is surrounded by an "air clog"—a circle of energy that protects it from the unspeakable creatures lurking in the darkness outside.

Regardless of who made it there first, deflector shields have become one of the most common tropes at work in science fiction. And considering we're doing our damnedest to make this trope a reality, I don't think we've heard the last of it anytime soon.

Recommended Reading:
Dune by Frank Herbert
The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein

Recommended Viewing:
Star Trek
Star Wars
Independence Day

Recommended Gaming:
FTL: Faster Than Light
Mass Effect
Halo