100,000 words

I’ve just passed 100,000 words on the first draft of Fuller’s Mine. I’m guessing that by the time I finish the story and then edit, the final length will be about that. For comparison, Newton’s Ark is 76,000 words.

One of the questions I asked when I set out to write my first novel, was how how many words are required to be considered a novel?

I soon discovered there’s no hard and fast answer, but 70,000 – 100,000 words is considered typical, to the extent there can be any such thing as typical when there are famous novels of less than 50,000 words (e.g. Fahrenheit 451) and more than 500,000 words (e.g. War and Peace).

The right answer of course is it needs to be as long as it needs to be and no longer.

Angela’s Choice

I’m 90% done on the first draft of Fuller’s Mine, but I have one unresolved story line.

At the end of the story Angela Faraday, who we met as a child in book one but is now an adult, has to make a difficult choice about her future. She has three options, none of them appealing. I’ve written versions of the scene where she decides with each of the choices and still can’t decide, partly because she can’t really decide. All the choices really suck. At this point I’m even thinking of leaving it unresolved, which  in some ways rings true, although her inaction would be a choice in herself. Perhaps that is the right solution. She chooses by not choosing which is something people do all the time.

Any thoughts appreciated.

A Review, A Review, My Kingdom for a Review

If Richard III had been an author, I’m sure that would have been his most famous line, uttered moments before they killed him and buried him under a future car park.

There are now more than one thousand copies of Newton’s Ark in the hands of readers. That’s good news.

The bad news is that a grand total of 11 people have left a review on Amazon.com (but with a gratifying average rating of 4.6 stars).

At 99 cents a copy I’m not doing this for the money, I’m doing it because I want to share something I’ve created with other people. Fortunately I’m fairly sure most of those thousand copies have been read, so I suspect the real problem is that people really, really don’t like writing book reviews. Who would have thought, huh? I read recently of an author who offered his book at a significantly discounted price in return for a promise to leave a review. Turns out only 9% of those who promised to do so actually did.

Did I mention that people don’t like writing book reviews? So I know I’m swimming upstream here, but if you’ve read Newton’s Ark and enjoyed it and haven’t left a review, please, please do. I would love to know what you thought of it.

In fact even if you didn’t like it please leave a review. Even if you hated it. I mean that sincerely.

Ideally, be specific about what you did or didn’t like. That’s important for two reasons. First, if gives me something to work on for those things you didn’t like or to keep doing for those you did and second, what didn’t appeal to you might not be a big deal to someone else and vice versa.

Asteroid Strikes

Asteroids seem to have been in the news lately, especially with 2012DA14’s anticipated close call (the NASA illustration above shows it passing inside the orbit of our geosynchronous satellites) and then on the same day the totally undetected asteroid that became a meteor exploding over Chelyabisnk, Russia.

At the risk of a slight spoiler (revealed in Chapter 2, so it’s only slight) the event that threatens the extinction of the human race on December 20, 2047 in Newton’s Ark is an asteroid many times the size of either of those seen last week on a collision course with Earth.

In addition to being a high-tech thriller, Newton’s Ark attempts to explore in a serious way how humanity would react to the news that a killer asteroid is on the way knowing there is nothing they can do about it.

Book 2 Developments

Book 2 of the Emulation Trilogy is progressing well. There have been two interesting developments in recent days. The first is that I have ditched the working title of Faraday’s Mine. The new title is Fuller’s Mine.

The second is that I have finally completed the Prologue. In the same manner as the Prologue in Newton’s Ark, the Prologue in Fuller’s Mine is set after the events that take place in the book, but alludes to them indirectly. With Newton’s Ark I wrote the Prologue first, knowing where I wanted to end up, and then crafting the story to get there. This time, I had no idea where the book would end, largely because I was unsure where the break between books 2 and 3 should occur. With 250 pages completed, about 4 am one morning this week it occurred to me. Here is the draft.


January 2105

Approaching his fortieth birthday, Kevin Hargraves reflected proudly on the position he had achieved. Although his success was partly a function of the limited number of suitable candidates, the competition for every important position was still intense and ruthless, reflecting the stakes. If you wanted a wife, and every man did, you needed to be somebody. And he was; for the past two years he held the post of the Chief Engineer of the United States, responsible for the maintenance of, well everything.

Mostly it wasn’t quite as big a job as it sounded. There was plenty of pandering to politicians required, but from an engineering perspective it wasn’t particularly demanding. He couldn’t do much with really old infrastructure—stuff from the beginning of the previous century and before—but most of that had long ago fallen into disrepair and disuse. Nobody expected him to fix those relics. They just expected him to keep the current facilities running which was usually quite easy given that the modern systems and infrastructure were self-repairing—except when occasionally the maintenance bots encountered a problem outside the scope of their initial design. What he was missing then was software engineering skills. He was an excellent mechanical engineer—he inherited that from his father, and his drive and determination from his mother—and had no trouble designing physical modifications to the bots, but software was his personal nightmare. He had studied hard, he really had, but never developed the level of programming competence he needed. For him, software remained a foreign language in which he had failed to develop any fluency. He was stuck at the equivalent of schoolboy French, fine with familiar phrases, but unable to express original thoughts without enormous effort.

Kevin had succeeded despite his deficiencies because help appeared whenever he needed it. Kevin had no idea who the man was—Cyrus Jones was the name he used—where he came from, or why he helped him. He said it was because he had known Kevin’s parents. If only they could see him now. They would have been so proud. With them both gone, he had no way to know if the man’s claim was true—the things he knew about Kevin’s parents were all on the public record and the things that weren’t he could neither prove nor disprove—but Kevin trusted him completely for one simple reason; when it came to software the guy really, really knew his stuff; he was yet to encounter a software problem this Cyrus Jones couldn’t solve. Kevin Hargraves would be just another nobody, single and alone, without him. For that reason, he was very careful never to tell anyone about his holographic friend, not even the wife he had struggled so hard to win…

Decoding Amazon Best Seller Rankings

It has been interesting over the past few months to try to decode how Amazon calculates sales ranking by watching the relationship between sales of Newton’s Ark and its best seller ranking. Amazon guards its algorithm closely, saying very little about what the best seller ranking actually means or how it is calculated.

My key conclusion is that the ranking measures the rate of sales rather than total sales. That means it tells you what is popular recently, but not necessarily what has been most popular over time. That runs counter to what I always thought a best seller ranking meant – that the best selling book had sold the most copies total. But perhaps this has always been standard practice?

A sales rate based measure necessarily favors more recent works rather than classics. It also means for items with small sales volumes the ranking jumps around all over the place. I’ve noticed that two sales in a week can raise the ranking of the Kindle edition of Newton’s Ark by more than 300,000 places (it’s even worse with the paperback – once recent sale raised the ranking more than two million places!) To me that suggests the best seller ranking has a fairly low signal to noise ratio. Sure it’s still useful to distinguish between #1 and #100,000 but probably not between #75,000 and #175,000.

My other criticism is that Amazon ranks different editions of the same book separately. For example, a book that sells 100,000 copies on Kindle only would have a much higher best seller ranking than a book that sells 50,000 Kindle copies and 50,000 paperbacks. I think everyone will agree that both books are equally popular. If someone is trying to identify popular books they may wish to read, do they care what format other people are reading the books in, or just that they are reading them?

What’s my solution? Not that Amazon throw away it’s current best seller ranking but that it makes it clear what it means and also add additional measures. So for example, instead of just having one best seller ranking for a Kindle book you would have something like:

Best Seller Rankings

Kindle books – fastest selling: #102

Kindle books – most sold ever: #33,452

All formats – fastest selling: #245

All formats – most sold ever: #456,765

Sex Ratios

One of the themes I am exploring in the sequel to Newton’s Ark is the impact that our environment has on society.

When the survivors in Faraday’s Mine find their environment radically changed from the comfortable existence they knew before, they are confronted with making some social and political and economic changes that make sense in their new context but which nevertheless seem at best repugnant and at worst downright immoral.

The relationships between the sexes are fundamental to the organisation of society as demonstrated by the growing social problems China is experiencing due to increasingly distorted sex ratios. Imagine then that a group of a few hundred survivors find themselves in a position where a) they believe they are all that is left of humanity and b) there are two men for every woman. What would they do to encourage procreation? How might the roles of men and women change? To what extent would changes be imposed by the group rather than chosen freely by individuals?

Price Drop

How much? You can’t be serious!

For a short while the ebook version of Newton’s Ark will be available for the ridiculously low price of 99 cents (£0.99 plus VAT in the UK, EUR0.99 plus VAT in Europe, ¥100 in Japan).

The new price is already in effect on Amazon and should flow through to iTunes and Barnes and Noble in the next few days.