Write to Market

I belong to a wonderfully supportive writer’s group where, over the years, we have struck a balance between supporting each other and offering constructive criticism to help each other improve our craft and our manuscripts. It is a multi-genre group, primarily fiction, but with poets and non-fiction.

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This week, John Putnam, one of our most successful authors, who has written several historical Western novels about the Gold Rush, explained how having taken our prior comments into account, is keeping a specific action scene. He had given it some thought and decided that it aligns with his target audience. None of us generally read Western novels and I admire how he has stuck to his guns (probably Colt 45’s or a trusty Winchester!) and, while considering our advice, has stayed focused on what his readers want and expect.

At the same meeting, a wonderful colleague mentioned how she thought some of my female characters in Kingfisher: Slave to Honor were too dark for her taste. It is a fair point and I am wondering about balancing her feedback with the fact that this manuscript is meant for a Grimdark / adult Medieval Fantasy audience (think Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks, George R.R. Martin). 

The concept of Write-to-Market is to know who your target audience – your readers – are and what they expect. Your mother might not like it even though she still claims you’re the greatest author ever, but then she does not buy other novels in your genre.

I listen to many podcasts, read marketing books and articles, hopefully by successful authors as I try to fathom my way through the ever-changing tools available to market the Wycaan Master series. A commonality among these authors is the need to write for those who read your books. It sounds simple, but I’ve lost count of writers who have assured me that everyone would love their novel – and I ran a writer’s marketing group for years for the California Writers Club and spoken to various forums on the topic.

It is incumbent to understand who are reading your genre, where they hang out, and what they want. How do we find that out? Here are a couple of ideas:

  1. Goodreads – the Facebook of bibliophiles has groups dedicated to genres. Hang out there and don’t just sell your books, ask good questions to mine for data you really want.
  2. Follow Successful Authors – choose 3-5 authors who are several rungs ahead of you and follow them. Check out their website, subscribe to their newsletters, follow them on twitter and, read their books (buy them – they rely on royalties just like you).
  3. Kindle Boards – I feel a bit hypocritical here because I only go there when I want an answer to something. But I am always so impressed by the enthusiasm and honesty of those who hang out there.
  4. Survey – solicit your contact list for advice. I did this years ago when The First Decree was published and learned a lot about who was reading my novel and how popular the Young Adult epic fantasy is with adults.

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I hope this blog post has inspired you to focus on your target audience and take the time to research before you invest time and money in certain marketing tactics. It has helped me. I am planning a survey of Grimdark / adult Medieval Fantasy readers. If you’re a member of the tribe, I hope you’ll participate.

Good Writing,

Alon / elfwriter 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books.

More on the author can be found at his website and you can sign up for his quarterly eNewsletter here.

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A Painful Letter to Those Who Download Pirated Novels

Dear Fans,

Yes, it seems strange to open such a letter with this salutation, but I can only conclude that if you are tempted to illegally download one of my books for free from any of an alarming number of websites now offering such a dishonorable service, then you must enjoy my novels.

I’m going to divide you into one of two groups. Please bear with me.

  • If you truly cannot afford the $2.99 for most of my novels, then please go ahead. While volunteering at (I think) Project Homeless Connect, I talked with a boy (I think he was 11 or 12 years old) who said he loved that the service offered books to take, but he wished there was more about elves and dwarves. I went and gave him a copy of At The Walls Of Galbrieth and would have given him the whole series if I had brought copies in my backpack. My then 8-year-old once begged me to give a homeless man (a poet we discovered) a copy of The Accidental Activist, after they had a wonderful conversation and the man had told him how much he enjoyed reading and writing.

 

  • If you can afford to buy my books, and I believe most of you can, I am not going to lecture you. I just want you to know that I poured years into each book, that I drove myself to write the highest quality possible, relentlessly edited and nurtured each book into existence. Just because someone is offering you something for free, doesn’t mean you should take it. That goes for music, movies and novels. Like so many artists, I am not wealthy. I am Mr. Average-American who works hard to put food on his family’s table and wonder if he will ever be able to retire. I am probably no different from you.

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So next time you see the advert for a free copy of someone’s novel, please take a moment to consider before you click and download. Go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble, Apple (ibooks), Smashwords, or wherever you purchase a novel and consider the 99c – $2.99 that will show respect for those who toiled to produce that work, those who keep producing the stories you enjoy.

And if you have already illegally downloaded a copy of one of my books and feel bad – I FORGIVE YOU. Perhaps consider buying a copy and gifting it to someone, whether it is one of my political novels to a disillusioned non-Trump supporter, or a young adult who loves a coming-of-age novel and would benefit from seeing the strength of true friendship.

Please reblog or send this post on to others to raise awareness of this issue. It is not as important as helping those who have suffered from earthquakes, fire, or ethnic cleansing, but it is another wrong that we can right.

Thank you,

Alon / elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth and five other novels in the Wycaan Master series, all released by Tourmaline Books. More information about Alon and his novels can be found here.

Download a free copy (offered with author’s consent!) of Alon’s new medieval fantasy novel as a publisher gauges interest and reader feedback.

 

 

 

Happy Eragon Day!

It’s true! August 26 has been designated Eragon Day. I’m not sure who decides such things, but fourteen years ago, on this very day, Christopher Paolini realized Eragon, the first in an incredibly rich series that would turn a generation onto epic fantasy.

The four-book trilogy (every fan remembers the thrill at some point in the middle of the third book when they realized it wasn’t going to end and another 800 pages of Eragon would have to be written) provided a magically bonding experience for my family, and stands along with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings in Shalev family history.

My sons and I devoured every book: pouring over every word, listening to the audio versions on vacation, and watching the (only!!!!) movie. And yes, as loyal fans, we loved the movie even if it was not the greatest. Come on Peter Jackson – work your magic here, sir!

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When Paolini released Brisingr, my then 10-year-old son stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders (RIP), falling asleep on his feet literally as the clock approached midnight. I will never forget the lady who was working there, encouraging him to stay awake and hang on. At exactly midnight, she put a copy that she had hidden under the counter into his hands and whispered that he should buy that very copy. It was the only book in the store that Christopher Paolini had personally signed. Five minutes later, my son was fast asleep in the car clutching his autographed copy by his hero who was barely ten years older than him.

Pele w:Eragon

My son holding his autographed copy at the midnight release… a priceless moment!

I wrote a while back that Paolini must be one of the most underrated authors and shared that he disproved a number of important assumptions:

1. The young generation will read 400-page novels if the material is gripping enough.

2. They will read rich descriptions, convoluted plots, and identify with characters that are deep, vulnerable, and profoundly human (or elf or dwarf).

3.  They will thrive on a high level of language.

4. Tolkien might still be king, but he has good company. Paolini is young. His level of craft is only going to improve and that is an exciting prospect.

I have to admit to selfish disappointment when Paolini decided to stop writing after Book 4 and go to college. He had every right to want that rite-of-passage experience and, as a loyal follower, I had no right to resent him that.

I owe Christopher Paolini a lot.

As my sons and I bonded over the Inheritance series, a seed was sown. We sat together to write our own epic fantasy novel. At The Walls Of Galbrieth went on to win the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA and was a Grand Prize Finalist. Every summer for the next five years, I read the new manuscript to my sons while we camped under redwood trees that could have graced Alagaesia.

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Writing At The Walls Of Galbrieth – a family effort!

The uncompromising standards that these fierce young editors applied to our work was harvested from the lessons learned from reading the Inheritance Series. Earlier this month, I took my boys (now 18 & 14 and towering over me) on our annual camping trip. I read them the first 150+ pages of Kingfisher: Slave to Honor (minus a few adult scenes) and their edits were sharp and erudite. I am extremely proud of them (I know, I am totally objective!).

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

Reading Book 6 in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

So Christopher, if by any chance you ever read this: Thank you, as a reader, a fan, and a father. How about Book 5?

While on the topic of Kingfisher: Slave to Honor, you can help me with a publisher (Inkitt) who is interested in the book. Please go to http://bit.ly/2ttpqt9 and download for FREE, this new medieval fantasy novel. The publisher is gauging interest by analyzing how much you read and by your honest review.

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Thank you for your support. Who knows, maybe Peter Jackson will one day make a movie of it because of your help. A boy can dream, no?  

Happy Eragon Day!

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth and five other novels all released by Tourmaline Books. Through August, all ebooks are 99 cents each.

Downloaded your #FREE copy of Kingfisher: Slave to Honor – http://bit.ly/2ttpqt9 – the new magical realism novel by award-winning Alon Shalev? Publisher gauging interest by analytics including how much read and your honest review.

More about the author at alonshalev.com.

Valentine’s Day – Epic Fantasy Style

What made the great authors and world-builders of our time overlook such a special occasion? Was Valentine’s Day not celebrated in Middle Earth? Shannara? Odessiya?  Where does Terry Brooks,  R. A. Salvatore, Christopher Paolini, Robert Jordan and others stand on this?

Perhaps it is not a question of the author’s epic battles for love. Perhaps the characters need to take a bit of responsibility. How would they have gone about it?

Elves: the sophisticated romantics. On this special day, elves would often take their beloved on a romantic walk, deep into the ancient forests. Alone, they would visit a favorite pool, fed by a sparkling waterfall, with a noble white heron keeping watch from a rock nearby. Butterflies of every color would hover over the water.

Each elf would produce a small flute and serenade each other. Then one would draw his (or her) intricately carved bow and shoot into a nearby tree. A shower of fragrant petals would fall around them, settling in their perfectly coiffured hair. The other would produce a carefully wrapped, gluten-free, artisan pizza, magically still warm and with crispy crusts that were calorie-light. They would recite poetry to each other, eat, and then bathe in the pool, coincidently illuminated by a full moon on a cloudless night.

Oh, to be an elf!
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Dwarves: The romantic dwarf is meticulous in her (or his) preparation for Valentine’s Day. The previous day is spent washing, conditioning, and combing their beards. Oh, those curly locks challenge even the most finely made comb.

A dwarf Valentine’s Day is all about the rocks. A conscientious romantic will travel deep into the mines to find the perfect gem and then forge a unique ring and necklace set, never seen before … since last Valentine’s Day.

The morning of Valentine’s Day, one often awakes to see their axe newly sharpened and oiled, the hilt freshly bound with clean leather or copper wire, the shaft gleaming. That night around a roaring fire, with an ox dripping grease into the flames, the dwarves consume tankards of ale and sing deep into the night. The songs, however, are not of mighty battles and bountiful treasures as they are every other night, sung as one mighty chorus. This night the dwarves sing only to their beloved, and the songs are of mighty battles, bountiful treasures, and furtive kisses for the hero (or heroine). The next morning, all you remember through the hangover is hazy and askew. But you still have the ring and necklace, and oh your axe is gleaming and sharp! images-6

Humans: As Valentine’s Day approaches, the scribes of the mighty House of Hallmark are almost out of scrolls, quills, and ink, their arms limp from Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. They don’t complain, few have health coverage, but they have made their money. They bless the Great Goddess of Consumerism, though they will never quite appreciate the theology until the Revelation of the Coming of the Internet. For now, electricity seems fantastical and visions of deluded priests, court jesters, and coders and entrepreneurs.

The gardeners have been preparing all year. Every self-respecting knight requires a bouquet of at least 10 long-stemmed reds to fit over the tip of their lance, which they will offer to a sweet virgin in the admiring crowd. If she accepts the roses, then she replaces them with her silk ’kerchief, piercing it gently over the young knight’s lance tip. Many a young man has, at this point, fallen from his horse in anticipation. The definition of virgin, it should be noted, is pretty relaxed in the world of fantasy.

After the obligatory jousting and archery competitions, the virgins retire to their rooms and surreptitiously peer over their balconies. After slaying dragons and defeating barbarian hordes on the battlefield, the young knights return, and once bathed, shaved and smelling of Old Spice, serenade the young virgins. They toss a twisted vine with grappling hook up to her balcony (many a venture capitalist squire made his fortune investing in the grappling hook industry). The virgin slides down, having practiced for hours how to keep her flowing dress from either ripping, getting dirty, or ending up awkwardly around her head. She lands sidesaddle on the knight’s noble steed.

The rest of the evening: a dinner, movie, and long walk along the moonlit battlefield, gazing together upon the vultures and ravens picking the entrails of the vanquished, have passed from tradition into our everyday rituals.
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Pictorians: The pictorians (read Wycaan Master series for background, but not while on Valentine’s Day date) are very secretive about their romantic rituals. Court anthropologists believe the couple sneak off after the pictorye are asleep, both wielding gleaming axes or thick clubs. Working in perfect synchronicity and without need for verbal communication, they bring down a wild buffalo bull, ripping its flesh with their bare hands and teeth, while feeding each other in a raw, bloody passion. The horns of the bull are carved out and used to toast the night with a dark beer imported from the mythical land of the Four-leafed Clover.

The female pictorian then beats her mate unconscious with the two bull horns, drags him back to their ice homes, and has her way with him, which often includes him skinning the buffalo and cleaning out the hearth, a rare feat for such mighty warriors. They are also expected to provide her with breakfast in bed, the Venti Mocha half-caf still steaming.

 

If, by chance, you are still reading this post, you probably have a pretty good idea why our literary greats chose not to dwell on such rituals as Valentine’s Day. I would elucidate further, but my mate awaits with expectations high, and I have her axe to sharpen, parchment to gather, and, where did I put my lance…

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Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

BREAKING NEWS: Tourmaline Books have announced they are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of February though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

The Paolini Empire Reawakens

It was confirmed over the summer: Christopher Paolini is writing a new Inheritance novel. I somehow missed the news while a depressing Presidential election held my limited attention. I’m not sure why: there is more depth in 50 pages of one of his novels than this issue-lite election. Let’s be honest – which of the three would you prefer?

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The four-book trilogy (every fan remembers the thrill at some point in the middle of the third book when they realized it wasn’t going to end and another 800 pages of Eragon would have to be written) provided a magically bonding experience for my family, along the lines of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and others.

My sons and I devoured every book: pouring over every word, listening to the audio versions on vacation, and watching the (only!!!!) movie. And yes, as loyal fans, we loved the movie even if it was not the greatest.

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When Paolini released Brisingr, my then 10-year-old son stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders, falling asleep on his feet literally as the clock approached midnight. I will never forget the lady who was working there, encouraging him to stay awake and hang on. At exactly midnight, she put a copy that she had hidden under the counter into his hands and whispered that he should buy that very copy. It was the only book in the store that Christopher Paolini had personally signed. Five minutes later, my son was fast asleep in the car clutching his autographed copy by his hero who was barely ten years older than him.

Pele w:Eragon

My son holding his autographed edition at the midnight release… a priceless moment!

I wrote a while back that Paolini must be one of the most underrated authors and shared that he disproved a number of important assumptions:

1. The young generation will read 400-page novels if the material is gripping enough.

2. They will read rich descriptions, convoluted plots, and identify with characters that are deep, vulnerable, and profoundly human (or elf or dwarf).

3.  They will thrive on a high level of language.

4. Tolkien might still be king, but he has good company. Paolini is young. His level of craft is only going to improve and that is an exciting prospect.

I have to admit to selfish disappointment when Paolini decided to stop writing after Book 4 and go to college. He had every right to want that rite-of-passage experience and, as a loyal follower, I had no right to resent him that.

I owe Christopher Paolini a lot.

As my sons and I bonded over the Inheritance series, a seed was sown. We sat together to write our own epic fantasy novel. At The Walls Of Galbrieth went on to win the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA and was a Grand Prize Finalist. Every summer for the next five years, I read the new manuscript to my sons while we camped under redwood trees that could have graced Alagaesia.

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Writing the 1st novel – a family effort!

The uncompromising standards that these fierce young editors applied to our work was harvested from the lessons learned from reading the Inheritance Series.

Now, just a few weeks before the launch of Calhei No More, the sixth and final book in the Wycaan Master series, it feels fitting to acknowledge the seeds were sown in the land of Alagaesia, on the wings of dragons, and in the art of an incredibly talented young man.

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

Reading Book 6 in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

So Christopher, if by any chance you ever read this: Thank you, as a reader, a fan, and a father. Welcome back! We missed you. Roll on Book 5! ——————————————————————————————————
Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth and four other novels all released by Tourmaline Books and currently all ebooks are at 99 cents each to celebrate his latest, the sixth in the series, which will be released on October 15, 2016.

More about the author at alonshalev.com.

The Changing Pace of Novels

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post highlighting my favorite novels from 2015. The list included the venerable George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss. I am currently reading the third Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind. Followers of this blog will know that I hold Terry Brooks, Christopher Paolini, and Robert Jordan in high regard, and that I am somewhat obsessed with a certain Oxford professor.

What do they share in common? Okay – they are wildly successful and have dedicated hordes of followers – no need to rub it in. But I am referring to their writing styles. All these authors write slow-paced novels with intricate details about characters, their actions and personifications, and the world they exist in. Each writes thick tomes that you need to make a commitment to reading.

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The industry, so the experts expound, believes novels should be fast-paced. They demand that we hit the ground running: “Show me a hook!” we demand in our writer’s group. “You only have 20 pages to grab your reader,” “10 pages,” “5.” Sometimes it is the first paragraph or sentence.

If you look at the reviews of my Wycaan Master series, you will see compliments such as:

– The plot and action keep you turning pages 

– It’s fast paced

– Shalev delivers a well-paced novel

And my favorite:

– Fantasy that moves at a blistering pace

I am proud of these reviews because this was my intention. I wrote the series fast because I believed that is what the industry (which purports to know the readers) demands.

But I am having my doubts. I want to add the layers that the aforementioned wrote and I believe that a large segment of epic fantasy readers crave this too. I want to create a rich world in which the readers lose themselves. I want to offer a deeper insight into the mores of the society and analyze the intricacies and inconsistencies of my characters.

Tolkein spends three pages describing Mirkwood. I probably skimmed over it when I first read The Hobbit, but as I have grown older, I seem to enjoy it, thrive on it even.

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I see how this does not pan out on the screen. I have watched all fifty episodes of Game of Thrones, and am now enthralled with The Shannara Chronicles. But if I were to be critical (perish the thought), I would say they have missed out so much. Of course, this would mean that each GoT season would last a couple of years but hey, you won’t hear any complaints from me!

But back to the world of novels: What do you prefer between the fast-paced, action-packed novels and those that take their time?

Love to hear.

elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and three more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, is the latest in the series. The story continues.

Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+ 

Chicken or Egg: Book or Movie?

There is a story going round of a young man who enters his grandfather’s study. The room is a homage to the epic fantasy world in which he writes. There are helmets on shelves, swords on wall, and hundreds of books. The boy peruses the books and exclaims:

“Grandpa! You have so many books, but you are missing two of the most famous.”

“Oh? Which ones?”

“Tolkien’s The Hobbit.” When he sees his grandfather’s confused expression, he continues. “Look you only have one book. There should be three.”

The epic fantasy/magical realism world, received two big pieces of news this week: The first Shannara episode was aired and George R.R. Martin announced that he would not have the next Game of Thrones book, Winds of Winter, out before HBO releases the TV series.

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Fans of Terry Brooks (is there any fantasy reader who is not?) were ecstatic that the waiting was over. I worked that night and then waited 48 hours to watch it with my 12-year-old son. After all it was a coming-of-age thing, like a coronation – I’m that kinda father. I sat there for two hours, desperately not stopping the program to tell him some spoiler or … well, some spoiler! It was just as hard for him to watch having never read the books.

There is such a difference between watching a movie after you have read the book and the opposite. Call me old-fashioned, but it is simply not the same reading the book after watching the movie. There is so much texture in the books that the movie (hopefully) intensifies. But the depth of a book cannot, and there should be no expectation, be conveyed in a two-hour movie.

Which brings me to George R.R. Martin. Last time he announced that a book (Book 5) was not ready when it should have been, fans got really angry and, bravely hidden behind their computer screens, quite abusive. 

Now I don’t want to risk the wrath of Mr. Martin. After all, my favorite Game of Throne character is still alive at the time I’m writing this post and Mr. Martin holds all the power. It is not worth the risk. Neither do I want Neil Gaiman is tell me off and exhort me not to treat Mr. Martin like my bitch.

I would have no choice but to respond to Mr. Gaiman that Mr. Martin could do a lot worse than have me spoil him like I do my female Labrador. But I have seen Neil Gaiman speak. He is funny, smart, sincere, and he was very supportive of Terry Pratchett in the twilight of the latter’s life. He is also considerably bigger than me.

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Let me state up front. I am a big fan of George R. R. Martin, have read all his GoT books, and many articles and interviews. I love his work despite the sadness and despair he has caused me along with so many of his characters. As a humble author, I admire his craft, technique and vision.

But I do question his work ethic and organization. Everyone writes differently and Mr. Martin’s books are longer, more convoluted and evolved than mine. They also sell considerably more, have been made into HBO’s TV series and sprouted models, replica weapons and jewelry.

I hold down a full-time job that demands above and beyond a 9-5 day commitment. I still write a 100,000-word novel in less than a year. Actually, I write the shitty first draft in about 100 days, arriving in my office 1-2 hours before work, staying an hour or so afterwards, carving out large parts of the weekend, and neglecting my patient wife and children … and the dog!

So I do have a beef with Mr. Martin not finishing The Winds of Winter in five years. I understand his desire for perfection and I deeply admire his detail and research. But really four years? Now, it is not like he has done nothing in the meanwhile. He wrote (and I loved) A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.  

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I am currently on my final round of edits before I send Wycaan Master Book 6 to the editors. I loved writing the book and set about it with all the vigor I poured into the first five. But in the ensuing rounds of edits and rewrites, I began to feel a desire to finish the series, to look ahead at the dozen or so next projects that hover in my mind. Still, I am singularly focused on completing Book 6 and getting it into my readers hands as promised. This is not a one-way relationship. Even the A-list authors are nothing without their fans. Respect is a two-way thing.

However, I think my biggest problem is not Mr. Martin’s drive for perfection or whatever is holding him back. I might ordinarily enjoy the tension and anticipation waiting for the next book release. It is the idea that the TV series preceding the book, will have a huge influence on how I experience the book, and perhaps on how the author writes it. Could an exceptional scene or twist on TV not influence what Mr. Martin writes?

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I hear some of you say: Then don’t watch the movie, Shalev. I can hear Neil Gaiman extorting me to take long walks with my bitch. They are all, of course, right, and totally wrong.

What Game of Thrones fan, five books and fifty episodes in, is going to wait one day?! Rest assured, I will be on the couch watching HBO on Day 1 of series 5, with my faithful dog by my side, Mr. Gaiman!

Summer Cute

My Khaleesi – she’ll watch every episode, Mr. Gaiman.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).